Becoming Jill: Adventures in Adulthood

Chapter 12: In Which I Support the Local Immigrant Community. Massive Amounts of Produce are Procured.
August 3, 2010, 4:00 pm
Filed under: Food, frugality, money | Tags: ,

One of my favorite things about living in a real city is the abundance of food shopping options! Here in the Twin Cities, there are more ways to get food than I can even list. We have super-fancy high-end markets like Byerly’s and Lunds, middle of the road options like Cub, Rainbow, and Super Target, and of course, my new favorite budget-grocer, Aldi’s. However, in the summer, we also have innumerable farmer’s markets, hooray! The big markets in the two downtowns are a really fun shopping experience, but the prices aren’t much (if any) cheaper than you would find at the store.

Since this is a real city, however, I don’t have to settle for the big, overpriced markets! Minnesota is home to a large immigrant community, mostly from Southeast Asia and Africa. The twin cities are dotted with ethnic markets catering to these populations, but nothing stops me from shopping there, too! In the summer, many of the stores also have weekend farmer’s markets, and this is where you can find some of the best (and cheapest!) produce around.

There’s a good-sized Hmong farmer’s market about a half-mile from my apartment every weekend during the summer. I absolutely love going there! I take my own bags in my ongoing efforts to be environmentally friendly, and I come home loaded with more produce than I can easily fit in my little refrigerator. I am usually the only white person there, and most of the vendors don’t speak English. If they have their kids along, they usually speak English, but most of my transactions are accomplished with pointing and smiles. I don’t even recognize a lot of the traditional Asian vegetables, but they also sell all the boring things I want, like lettuce and potatoes and cucumbers.

I usually spend about 10-12 bucks per trip, and I get so much stuff that I couldn’t possibly eat it all in a week! Once tomatoes are in season here, I’ll be going every weekend, though. Mmm, tomatoes! The place is always packed, and negotiating the parking lot can be hazardous! Lots of people bring their whole families, and things can get a little crazy. I just go with the flow, and wander around smiling and pointing when I find 20 cucumbers for a buck. You heard me! One dollar.

Here’s my latest haul: Lettuce, cucumbers, potatoes, carrots, zucchini, yellow onions, red onions, and green peppers.

Price: $12. Not bad, huh? Who wants to come to my house for a giant salad?

Chapter Two: In Which I Become a Cheapskate and a Trendy Environmentalist at the SAME TIME!
March 12, 2010, 9:42 am
Filed under: Food, frugality | Tags: , , ,

I didn’t get into this position by spending money with wild abandon. Mostly, it’s a combination lifestyle choices (eternal grad school), unemployment (what happens when you quit grad school during a recession), vet bills (when diabetes strikes!), an extremely low income (join AmeriCorps, receive foodstamps!), and poor money management (you mean you really need to PAY your bills? What’s that all about?).

I’ve been living on a fairly low income for years, but when I made the decision to join AmeriCorps, I knew I was going to have to make some changes to get by. Clearly, not enough changes were made, which is why you are reading this blog, but I think I have hit upon some fairly decent ideas in the past year or so.

On the plus-side, I have also found that being broke is really eco-friendly! So not only am I poor, but I am also “green,” which immediately makes me cool. I’ve never been cool before— it’s kinda weird.

  • Instead of wasting money on paper towels and paper napkins, I started using the great collection of cloth napkins I have, but had only used on special occasions. I had always been a big user of dishtowels in the kitchen, but now I use them for even more things, like using a terry-cloth towel to clean the floors (more on that later). I do keep some paper towels on hand for cleaning up things like cat barf that I want to throw away instead of throw in the washing machine (gross! ). Instead of disposable Swiffers, I dust with re-usable microfiber cloths. I kill fewer trees and save money, hooray!
  • Buying regular fruit and veggies and chopping them myself. No baby carrots in my fridge, but carrot sticks. Takes time, yes, but saves cash. Also, during the warmer months, there is an amazing Hmong farmer’s market near my apartment, which is incredibly cheap and delicious. I come away with huge bags of amazing local produce for less than 10 dollars! I just wish they took foodstamps! Yummy, trendy, eco-friendly. Go me!
  • Along the same principle, grating my own cheese. Not only is it cheaper, but it tastes better, too! I have grated my knuckles a few times, but that’s mostly because I am a klutz.
  • I clean pretty much everything in my apartment with white vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice. It’s pretty much the best thing ever! Good for the wallet, the lungs, and the environment. My studio apartment is really tiny (about 250 sq ft) and has wooden floors.  I mix some vinegar and warm water in a re-usable spray bottle, and just kneel on the floor and clean with a terry cloth towel. Works great!
  • I work in downtown St. Paul, where the parking rates are exorbitant. For example, in the parking ramp across the street from my office, the daily rate is something like 17 bucks. No thanks! Taking the city bus system is a better option, but at up to $2.25 per one-way trip, not exactly  cheap. Luckily, I live very close to downtown, so instead of getting on at the closest bus stop, I walk half a mile to the edge of the bus system’s designated “Downtown Zone.” If you get on and off within the downtone zone, the trip only costs 50 cents! So I get to work and back for a dollar a day, and I get to walk a mile, too! Again, better for my wallet, my health, and the environment.
  • OK, this one isn’t a win for anyone but me, but I’ll include it anyway. The lovely and amazing Karen and her wonderful husband Jeremy generously let me do my laundry at their house for free! This isn’t without its hassles, since they live about 20 minutes away, but the savings far outstrip the annoyance of lugging around huge bags of laundry. I try not to abuse their generosity, and still do some laundry in my building’s coin machines, but it is a HUGE budget saver.
  • I have started cooking lots of things from scratch, which saves a ton of money, and generally tastes better. I do use my Crock Pot once in a while, but mostly I just do things on the weekend. Here’s a list of things I have learned to make all by myself:
    • The world’s best tomato sauce- very flexible, very cheap
    • No Knead Bread! It’s really easy and yummy.

    • Corn bread- it’s almost as easy as mixing a box of Jiffy, but tastes way better!

    • Dried beans- I was scared of dried beans for a long time, but it is so simple, cheap, and fairly yummy. My advice: add a little bacon, serve with sour cream and cornbread.

    • Banana bread- I am super-picky about my bananas, and won’t eat them once they get a single brown spot. I used to throw them away, but now I just make banana bread!
    • Soup- you really can throw a bunch of random things in a pot and make a pretty tasty meal. Triumphs have included potato soup made of things from the Hmong farmer’s market, and what I called “VISTA Foodstamp Surprise,” made out of random canned goods from the pantry.
    • Steel-cut oats are amazing! I have always hated rolled and instant oats, but I recently decided to give the steel-cut variety a try, and they knocked my socks off! Great texture and taste, and a batch only takes 30 minutes to make. I make a batch every weekend and eat it for breakfast every day with some milk and jam stirred in. Yum!
  • Instead of plastic baggies, I store most things in reusable containers. I already had some pretty high quality Rubbermaid things, but I also repurpose things like empty glass pickle jars.  Again, cheap and green. I am so cool, I can hardly stand myself.

That’s all I can think of now, but since I am increasingly interested in frugality, I am sure to write about it again. Please pass along your own tips!