All Posts by Chloe

How to Prep for a Summer Power Outage

Sometimes people think that a summer power outage is easier to deal with than a winter one. After all, in the summer, you don’t have to worry about freezing to death, which is a very real threat during a long-lasting winter outage.

However, a summer power outage carries its own set of problems. Foremost are heat-related illnesses and the higher potential of spoilage for your food.

Even if you aren’t convinced that hardcore preparedness is for you, it would still be difficult to argue against the possibility of a disaster that takes out the power for a couple of weeks. Basic emergency preparedenss is important for everyone, not just us “crazy preppers.”

Just ask the people who lived through the Derecho of 2012 how unpleasant it was.  Severe, fast-moving thunderstorms (called derechos) swept through Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, and Washington DC. Millions lost power, an estimated 4 million for an entire week. As if a week-long power outage wasn’t miserable enough, that part of the country was in the midst of a record-setting heatwave during the time period.

Also keep in mind that summer stresses our fragile power grid to the max, as everyone increases their usage of electricity to try and keep cool with air conditioners and fans. This ups the chances of an outage even when there’s not a cloud in the sky.

Back in 2003, a software bug caused an extremely widespread power outage in the middle of August. It was a very hot day, and increased energy demand overloaded the system. Because of the issue with the software, engineers were not alerted of this, and what should have been a small local outage turned into an event that took out power for over 10 million Canadians and 45 million Americans. I remember this one clearly because the little sub shop beside my workplace gave away all the perishable food that they had out at the time before it spoiled and I took home fresh sandwiches for my girls’ dinner that night. We sweated uncomfortably through the next two days until the power was restored.

Beware of dehydration and heat-related illnesses

On of the most serious concerns that sets apart a summer power outage from that of other times of the year is the heat. When you don’t have so much as a fan to move the air around, heat-related illnesses and dehydration are strong possibilities. From my book, The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide, here’s an excerpt from the chapter on dehydration:

Dehydration is the state that occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions. Your electrolytes are out of balance., which can lead to increasingly serious problems.

Symptoms of electrolyte imbalances include dizziness, fatigue, nausea (with or without vomiting), constipation, dry mouth, dry skin, muscle weakness, stiff or aching joints, confusion, delirium, rapid heart rate, twitching, blood pressure changes, seizures, and convulsions.

Dehydration can lead to very serious side effects, including death.

Following are the most common dehydration-related ailments.

Heat cramps: Heat cramps are painful, brief muscle cramps. Muscles may spasm or jerk involuntarily. Heat cramps can occur during exercise or work in a hot environment or begin a few hours following such activities.

Heat exhaustion: Often accompanied by dehydration, heat exhaustion is a heat-related illness that can occur after you’ve been exposed to high temperatures.

There are two types of heat exhaustion:

  • Water depletion. Signs include excessive thirst, weakness, headache, and loss of consciousness.
  • Salt depletion. Signs include nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness.

Heat stroke: Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat injury and is considered a medical emergency. Heat stroke results from prolonged exposure to high temperatures—usually in combination with dehydration—which leads to failure of the body’s temperature control system. The medical definition of heat stroke is a core body temperature greater than 105°F, with complications involving the central nervous system that occur after exposure to high temperatures. Other common symptoms include nausea, seizures, confusion, disorientation, and, sometimes, loss of consciousness or coma.

Dehydration can lead to other potentially lethal complications. The Mayo Clinic offers the following examples:

  • Seizures: Electrolytes—such as potassium and sodium—help carry electrical signals from cell to cell. If your electrolytes are out of balance, the normal electrical messages can become mixed up, which can lead to involuntary muscle contractions, and, sometimes, loss of consciousness.
  • Low blood volume (hypovolemic shock): This is one of the most serious, and sometimes life-threatening, complications of dehydration. It occurs when low blood volume causes a drop in blood pressure and a drop in the amount of oxygen in your body.
  • Swelling of the brain (cerebral edema): Sometimes, when you’re taking in fluids again after being dehydrated, the body tries to pull too much water back into your cells. This can cause some cells to swell and rupture. The consequences are especially grave when brain cells are affected.
  • Kidney failure: This potentially life-threatening problem occurs when your kidneys are no longer able to remove excess fluids and waste from your blood.
  • Coma and death: When not treated promptly and appropriately, severe dehydration can be fatal.

How to Treat Dehydration

People who are suffering from dehydration must replace fluids and electrolytes. The most common way to do this is through oral rehydration therapy (ORT). In extreme cases, fluids must be given intravenously. In a disaster situation, hospitals may not be readily available, so every effort should be made to prevent the situation from reaching that level of severity.

Humans cannot survive without electrolytes, which are minerals in your blood and other bodily fluids that carry an electric charge. They are important because they are what your cells (especially those in your nerves, heart, and muscles) use to maintain voltages across cell membranes and to carry electrical impulses (nerve impulses and muscle contractions) across themselves and to other cells. Electrolytes, especially sodium, also help your body maintain its water balance.

Water itself does not contain electrolytes, but dehydration can cause serious electrolyte imbalances.

In most situations, avoid giving the dehydrated person salt tablets. Fresh, cool water is the best cure. In extreme temperatures or after very strenuous activities, electrolyte replacement drinks can be given. Sports drinks such as Gatorade can help replenish lost electrolytes. For children, rehydration beverages like Pedialyte can be helpful. (Source)

Store lots of water

One of the best ways to avoid the heat-related problems above is to store lots of water.

You can’t always rely on the faucet in the kitchen. In the event of a disaster, the water may not run from the taps, and if it does, it might not be safe to drink, depending on the situation.  If there is a boil order in place, remember that if the power is out, boiling your water may not be as easy as turning on your stove. If you are on a well and don’t have a back-up in place, you won’t have running water.

Each family should store a two week supply of water. The rule of thumb for drinking water is 1 gallon per day, per person.  Don’t forget to stock water for your pets, also.

You can create your water supply very inexpensively.  Many people use clean 2-liter soda pop bottles to store tap water.  Others purchase the large 5-gallon jugs of filtered water from the grocery store and use them with a top-loading water dispenser.  Consider a gravity fed water filtration device and water purification tablets as well.

Try to keep cool during the blackout

This is easier said than done when it’s 105 and you can’t even run a fan.

I’m not a big user of air-conditioning, so I recently wrote an article about staying cool without it. Be sure to check it out HERE – there are some suggestions on keeping your house cool naturally that will help in the event of a power outage.

Here’s an excerpt from the article with some tips for keeping cool when the grid is down:

  • Channel your inner Southern belle.  Slowly fan yourself with a handheld fan. Mint juleps are optional.
  • Keep hydrated.  Your body needs the extra water to help produce sweat, which cools you off.
  • Change your schedule.  There’s a reason that people who live near the equator close down their businesses and enjoy a midday siesta.  Take a tepid shower and then, without drying off, lay down and try to take a nap. At the very least, do a quiet activity.
  • Play in the water.  Either place a kiddie pool in a shaded part of the yard or use the bathtub indoors. Find a nearby creek or pond for wading or swimming. (Note: Playing in the water isn’t just for kids!)
  • Soak your feet.  A foot bath full of tepid water can help cool you down.
  • Avoid heavy meals.  Your body has to work hard to digest heavy, rich meals, and this raises your temperature.  Be gentle on your system with light, cool meals like salads, cold soups, and fruit.
  • Make sure your screens are in good condition.  You’re going to need to have your windows open, but fighting off insects when you’re trying to sleep is a miserable and frustrating endeavor.

Be very conscious of food safety

If a power outage lasts for more than 4 hours, you need to err on the side of caution with regard to refrigerated and frozen food.  Coolers can help – you can put your most expensive perishables in a cooler and fill it with ice from the freezer to extend its lifespan. Whatever you do, don’t open the doors to the refrigerator and freezer. This will help it to maintain a cooler temperature for a longer time.

According to the Red Cross, if your freezer is half-filled and is not opened the entire time that the power is out, the food in it will remain sufficiently frozen for up to 24 hours. If it is completely filled, your food should remain safe for up to 48 hours.  If the worst happens and your freezer full of meat does spoil, keep in mind that most homeowner’s and renter’s insurance policies will pay for their replacement, but unless you’ve lost a whole lot or your deductible is very small, it may not be worth making a claim.

I strongly recommend the purchase of a digital, instant-read thermometer. This has many kitchen uses, but in the event of a disaster is worth its weight in gold for determining food safety.   You can use your thermometer with this chart (print it out so you have it on hand in the event of a down-grid emergency) to determine the safety of your food.
If a power-outage looks like it’s going to be lasting for quite some time, you can be proactive if you have canning supplies on hand and a propane burner, and you can pressure can your meat outdoors to preserve it.   If you decide to get one, THIS PROPANE BURNER is probably the closest one to a kitchen stove out there. It works well for keeping your product cooking at a steady temperature. Don’t cheap out on this purchase, or you will stand there in front of this burner for a long, frustrating time and still end up with food that has not been canned safely. Be very careful to supervise the canning pot: you don’t want the pressure to drop to an unsafe level and you want to keep kids and pets away from this project.  Added bonus – when you have a propane burner like this, the sky is the limit as far as cooking in a power outage.Another way to combat the potential losses of a long-term summer power outage is to use other methods for preserving your feed. Canning and dehydration are not grid-dependent and can save you a whole lot of money and prevent a mess of rotting meat in your freezer.

Most stuff is the same as prepping for any other power outage

Many preparedness concerns are the same, no matter what time of the year your power outage occurs. Here are some of the basic things you need for any power outage.

* Getting Started: Prepping for a Two Week Power Outage

If you’re new to preparedness, you may be reading some of the excellent and informative websites out there and feeling quite quite overwhelmed.  While many sites recommend a one year supply of food, manual tools, and a bug out lodge in the forest, it’s vital to realize that is a long-term goal, not a starting point.

A great starting point for someone who is just getting started on a preparedness journey is prepping specifically for a two-week power outage.  If you can comfortably survive for two weeks without electricity, you will be in a far better position than most of the people in North America.

Even if you aren’t convinced that hardcore preparedness is for you, it would still be difficult to argue against the possibility of a disaster lasting for a couple of weeks.  Major natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy down to lesser (but still damaging) weather events like the derecho in the Metro DC area are  incontestable – storms happen and all you can do is be ready to weather them.  As well, shortages are a concern. A couple of years back, a large western US power company recently announced that they did not foresee the ability to keep up with electrical demand and were considering instituting rolling blackouts to cope with it.  But here’s the best part: if you are prepared for two weeks without power, you are prepared for a wide range of short-term emergencies, including quarantines, interruptions of income, or civil unrest.

But here’s the best part: if you are prepared for two weeks without power, you are prepared for a wide range of short-term emergencies, including quarantines, interruptions of income, or civil unrest.

To prepare for a two-week emergency, think about what you would need if the power went out and you couldn’t leave your home for 14 days. Once you begin creating your plan, you may be surprised and discover that you already have most of what you need to batten down the hatches for a couple of weeks. It’s just a matter of organizing it so you can see what you need.

Use the following information to create your personal 2-week preparedness plan.  Modify the suggestions to adapt them to your particular home, family, and climate.

Water

Everyone knows that clean drinking water is something you can’t live without. In the event of a disaster, the water may not run from the taps, and if it does, it might not be safe to drink, depending on the situation.  If there is a boil order in place, remember that if the power is out, boiling your water may not be as easy as turning on your stove.

Each family should store a two week supply of water. The rule of thumb for drinking water is 1 gallon per day, per person.  Don’t forget to stock water for your pets, also.

You can create your water supply very inexpensively.  Many people use clean 2-liter soda pop bottles to store tap water.  Others purchase the large 5-gallon jugs of filtered water from the grocery store and use them with a top-loading water dispenser.  Consider a gravity fed water filtration device and water purification tablets as well.

Food and a way to prepare it

There are two schools of thought regarding food during a power outage.  One: you need a cooking method that does not require the grid to be functioning.  Two: you can store food that doesn’t require cooking.

If you opt for a secondary cooking method, be sure that you have enough fuel for two weeks.  Store foods that do not require long cooking times – for example, dried beans would use a great deal of fuel, but canned beans could be warmed up, or even eaten cold.

 

Heat (depending on your climate)

If your power outage takes place in the winter and you live in a colder climate, heat is another necessity.  During the first 24 hours after a power outage, you can stay fairly warm if you block off one room of the house for everyone to group together in.  Keep the door closed and keep a towel or blanket folded along the bottom of the door to conserve warmth.  You can safely burn a couple of candles also, and in the enclosed space, your body heat will keep it relatively warm.  As well, dress in layers and keep everything covered – wear a hat, gloves (fingerless ones allow you to still function), and a scarf.

However, after about 48 hours, that’s not going to be enough in very cold weather. You will require backup heat at this point in certain climates.  If  you’re lucky enough to have a source of heat like a fireplace or woodstove, you’ll be just fine as long as you have a supply of wood.

Consider a portable propane heater (and propane) or an oil heater.  You have to be very careful choosing the type of backup heat you plan on using, as many of them can cause carbon monoxide poisoning if used in a poorly ventilated area. Also, invest in a CO2 alarm that is not grid-dependent.

Sanitation needs

A common cause of illness, and even death, during a down-grid situation is lack of sanitation.  We’ve discussed the importance of clean drinking water, but you won’t want to use your drinking water to keep things clean or to flush the toilet.

For cleaning, reduce your need to wash things. Stock up on paper plates, paper towels, and disposable cups and flatware.  Keep some disinfecting cleaning wipes and sprays (I don’t recommend using antibacterial products on a regular basis, however in the event of an emergency they can help to keep you healthy.)  Use hand sanitizer after using the bathroom and before handing food or beverages – there may be a lot more germs afoot in a disaster.

Look at your options for sanitation.  Does your toilet still flush when the electricity is out?  Many people discovered the hard way that the toilets didn’t work  when the sewage backed up in the highrises in New York City in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  At our cabin, the toilet won’t flush without power because the pump is electric.

If you are on a septic system, with no risk of the toilet backing up into the house, simply store some water for flushing in the bathroom.  (At the first sign of a storm, we always fill the bathtub for this purpose.)  Add the water to the tank so that you can flush.

If this is not an option, another solution is to stock up on extremely heavy duty garbage bags (like the kind that contractors use at construction sites) and kitty litter.  Place a bag either in your drained toilet or in a bucket.  Sprinkle some kitty litter in the bottom of the bag.  Each time someone uses the bathroom, add another handful of litter. Be very careful that the bag doesn’t get too heavy for you to handle it.  Tie it up very securely and store it outside until services are restored.

Light

Lighting is absolutely vital, especially if there are children in the house.  Nothing is more frightening than being completely in the dark during a stressful situation. Fortunately, it’s one of the easiest things to plan for, as well as one of the least expensive.

Some lighting solutions are:

  • Garden stake solar lights
  • Long-burning candles
  • Kerosene lamp and fuel
  • Flashlights (don’t forget batteries)
  • Hand crank/solar lantern
  • Don’t forget matches or lighters

Tools and supplies

Some basic items will make your life much easier during an emergency. Here are some things that are essential in the event of a power outage:

  • Lighter/waterproof matches
  • Batteries in various sizes
  • Manual can opener
  • Basic tools: Pliers, screwdriver, wrench, hammer
  • Duct tape
  • Super glue
  • Sewing kit
  • Bungee cords

First Aid kit

It’s important to have a basic first aid kit on hand at all times, but particularly in the event of an emergency.  Your kit should include basic wound care items like bandages, antibiotic ointments, and sprays.  As well, if you use them, keep on hand a supply of basic over-the-counter medications, like pain relief capsules, cold medicine, cough syrup, anti-nausea pills, and allergy medication. Particularly important if sanitation is a problem are anti-diarrheal medications.

Special needs

This is something that will be unique to every family. Consider the things that are needed on a daily basis in your household. It might be prescription medications, diapers, or special foods.  If you have pets, you’ll need supplies for them too.  The best way to figure out what you need is to jot things down as you use them over the course of a week or so.

Get started today

You can start right now – this very minute – all you have to do is grab a pad of paper and a pen.

  1. Begin by personalizing the suggestions above to fit your family’s needs and make a list of your requirements.
  2. Next, do a quick inventory – as I mentioned above, you may be surprised to see that you already have quite a few of the supplies that are recommended.
  3. Make a shopping list and acquire the rest of the items you need.  If you can’t afford everything right now, prioritize the most important things first.
  4. Organize your supplies so that they are easily accessible when you need them.

The peace of mind that comes from being prepared for a disaster before it happens cannot be measured.   You won’t have to fight the crowds or be faced with empty store shelves. You won’t have to sit there, cold and miserable, in the dark.  You won’t be hungry or thirsty.  You will be able to face the event with the serenity that readiness brings, and this will also make it less traumatic for your children when they see that you aren’t afraid.

 

How to Still Be Chill Without a Refrigerator

Looking for a fun way to spend the hottest week of the summer thus far?

I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say that spending it without a working refrigerator is NOT it.

Last Wednesday I was out for the day.  I got home and opened the fridge and grabbed a drink. I though, “Hmm….that isn’t very cold.”

And indeed it was not, because my refrigerator had stopped working properly sometime earlier that day. Because of the 4th of July weekend, I wasn’t able to get anyone to come and repair it until Monday. Then, after it was diagnosed, a part had to be ordered which will not arrive until tomorrow. So there you have it…a solid week in 90+ weather with no fridge.

In a power outage situation, this is not an unlikely scenario at all.  So  in the spirit of making this a “chance-to-practice-preps” experience instead of a “dad-gum-it- I-had-to-throw-out-a-bunch-of-groceries” experience, here’s what I learned.

Food safety rules

I was absolutely loathe to throw away groceries, but after having a recent bout of food poisoning after a dinner out, I wasn’t will to take any chances.  The dog thoroughly enjoyed her bowl of roast beef with potatoes and carrots though.

FoodSafety.gov offers these guidelines:

Is food in the refrigerator safe during a power outage? It should be safe as long as power is out no more than 4 hours. Keep the door closed as much as possible. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers) that have been above 40 °F for over 2 hours.

Never taste food to determine its safety! You can’t rely on appearance or odor to determine whether food is safe.

Note: Always discard any items in the refrigerator that have come into contact with raw meat juices.

You will have to evaluate each item separately. Use this chart as a guide.

Food Categories Specific Foods Held above 40 °F for over 2 hours
MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD Raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood; soy meat substitutes Discard
Thawing meat or poultry Discard
Salads: Meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken, or egg salad Discard
Gravy, stuffing, broth Discard
Lunchmeats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef Discard
Pizza – with any topping Discard
Canned hams labeled “Keep Refrigerated” Discard
Canned meats and fish, opened Discard
Casseroles, soups, stews Discard
CHEESE Soft Cheeses: blue/bleu, Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella, Muenster, Neufchatel, queso blanco, queso fresco Discard
Hard Cheeses: Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano Safe
Processed Cheeses Safe
Shredded Cheeses Discard
Low-fat Cheeses Discard
Grated Parmesan, Romano, or combination (in can or jar) Safe
DAIRY Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk Discard
Butter, margarine Safe
Baby formula, opened Discard
EGGS Fresh eggs, hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products Discard
Custards and puddings, quiche Discard
FRUITS Fresh fruits, cut Discard
Fruit juices, opened Safe
Canned fruits, opened Safe
Fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates Safe
SAUCES, SPREADS, JAMS Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish Discard if above 50 °F for over 8 hrs.
Peanut butter Safe
Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, catsup, olives, pickles Safe
Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, hoisin sauces Safe
Fish sauces, oyster sauce Discard
Opened vinegar-based dressings Safe
Opened creamy-based dressings Discard
Spaghetti sauce, opened jar Discard
BREAD, CAKES, COOKIES, PASTA, GRAINS Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas Safe
Refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookie dough Discard
Cooked pasta, rice, potatoes Discard
Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette Discard
Fresh pasta Discard
Cheesecake Discard
Breakfast foods –waffles, pancakes, bagels Safe
PIES, PASTRY Pastries, cream filled Discard
Pies – custard, cheese filled, or chiffon; quiche Discard
Pies, fruit Safe
VEGETABLES Fresh mushrooms, herbs, spices Safe
Greens, pre-cut, pre-washed, packaged Discard
Vegetables, raw Safe
Vegetables, cooked; tofu Discard
Vegetable juice, opened Discard
Baked potatoes Discard
Commercial garlic in oil Discard
Potato salad Discard
Casseroles, soups, stews

Discard

The one guideline I felt comfortable not following was the eggs. Mine came straight from the chicken that day, and since they could have been sitting under a hen for another 10-12 hours, I was willing to take the risk.  The rest of the items had to go, unfortunately.

Damage control

Had I been home and realized there was a problem in time, I would have immediately canned, cooked, or otherwise preserved the food in my refrigerator.

Since this is not an area-wide power outage, I have access to ice.  The freezer works somewhat so I am able to make more ice. I’m keeping delicate items in the freezer, like milk, mayonnaise, and meat. (I have been buying about 2 days’ worth of fresh items at a time for the past week.)

Basically, a refrigerator that doesn’t work can be used like a large, standing cooler.  If you keep replenishing the ice, you can keep things at a moderate temperature. Here is a picture of my fridge. You can see the large blocks of ice on the sturdy bottom shelf, and bowls of ice on the other two shelves.

fridge

Unfortunately, it still isn’t that cold, so I’m using it for drinks, butter, veggies, fruit, hard cheese, and my beloved chocolate.

Here’s the ambient temperature in the fridge after having the door open for a moment to get this photo. This is with all of the ice in it.

temp

Power outages

In a grid-down situation, things would be different. I am able to use my freezer sort of like a cranky refrigerator as long as I don’t mind things potentially getting partially frozen.  As well, I have easy access to ice as near as the closest gas station.

For keeping your food safe during a power outage, take these steps to be prepared:

  • Use your deep freezer to freeze gallon bottles of water (leave space for expansion).
  • You can use these to keep the contents of your refrigerator cool.
  • Have a cooking method that does not require grid power in case you need to can your perishable food.
  • Print out the food safety guidelines above and keep them near the fridge. If you have no grid, you won’t be able to access the list on the internet.
  • If you don’t already have one, invest in a thermometer for your refrigerator so that you can monitor the temperature.
  • Store food in ways that are not grid-dependent: dehydrate or can when possible.
  • Learn how to make a clay pot refrigerator (and get all of your supplies)

When in doubt, throw it out. Food poisoning is horrible, and can even be deadly. It’s just not worth it.

In a long-term scenario, it would be an entirely different ballgame. We’d begin to rely on the methods our ancestors used: we would cook only amounts that could be immediately consumed or items that did not require refrigeration of the leftovers. As well, we’d eat more fruits and vegetables in hot weather.

As for me, a part has been ordered and I should have a working refrigerator by tomorrow afternoon.  It has been a little extra work, what with shuffling ice back and forth between the fridge and freezer, but, in the grand scheme of things, this has only been a blip on the radar, aside from the loss of some food.  However, I’m definitely going to freeze some jugs of ice as soon as things are working again!

* The Heat is On: How to Stay Cool without Air Conditioning

When the mercury is climbing…and staying there, way up at the top of the thermometer, but running an air conditioner at full blast to combat the heat is not an option, what is a family with no air conditioning to do?

Avoid heating up your house.

Many of the things that we do without thinking are unconsciously adding 5-10 degrees of heat to an already uncomfortably warm house.  In the hottest part of the year, I avoid running certain appliances. Some folks say to run those heat-creating appliances at night, but I depend on the cool night time temperatures to bring my home down to a comfortable level the next day.

In the summer, avoid or limit your use of the following:

  • Dryer: Make use of the hot sun and hang your laundry outside. Not only will you have fresh, clean smelling laundry that no dryer sheet can top, it’s free and it won’t warm up your house!
  • Washer: Washing machines can also generate a great deal of heat and humidity, particularly if you wash your clothing in hot water.  If at all possible, wash your laundry in cold water during the hottest parts of the year.
  • Oven: Rely on outdoor cooking methods or crockpots
  • Dishwasher:  Think about how hot the dishes are if you reach in the second the dishwasher is finished running to grab a plate. Now, consider how much heat that adds to your house! It is much more efficient to wash your dishes by hand in the summer.  A sink full of soapy water and one full of rinse water will add far fewer degrees to the temperature of your house.
  • Lighting: Some bulbs, particularly halogen bulbs, generate a great deal of heat. If a light bulb is hot to the touch, it’s adding to the temperature of your house. Look into LED lights or compact fluorescents to keep your home cooler.

Cool it down naturally.

Air conditioning is a fairly recent invention. It is only in the past few decades that most people decided that air conditioning was a “necessity.”  Unfortunately now, most houses are built without consideration for natural cooling.  If a new home is being built, chances are, it will have central air conditioning. While this is a nice perk, it’s important to note that in the midst of a power outage, these houses with stunning floor to ceiling windows are going to be hotter than blue blazes.  Older homes  have a lot of advantages over their newer counterparts when it comes to cooling them without air conditioning.

I used to live in a sweet little 100+-year-old Victorian house that is perfectly comfortable in all but the very hottest of weather. The windows were placed across from one another throughout the house, for optimum cooling and cross-breezes.

Here’s the technique that kept our home pleasant when the mercury climbs into the 90s:

  • As soon as it starts to cool down in the evening, open all of the windows and blinds.  Run the ceiling fans at all times.
  • Use window fans in the evening.  These pulls in the lovely cool night air.
  • In the morning, the house may be so cool that sometimes you need a hoodie during that first cup of coffee!
  • Then, go around and close all of the windows and blinds.  This keeps out the heat and keeps the house from passively warming up from the sun. (In the winter, I do the opposite of this in order to heat the house using the sun.)  The ceiling fans continue to run all day and we have small oscillating fans to use in the rooms we are in.
  • Rarely did the temperature in that house ever rise about 85 degrees.  That’s pretty warm but certainly not intolerable.

Evaporative cooling for humans

Here’s the thing – we have basically evolved ourselves right out of being able to cool down without the aid of an air conditioner.  We go from an air-conditioned home to an air conditioned car and have lunch at an air-conditioned restaurant. Then we drive our air conditioned car back home, suffer through perhaps 20-30 minutes of necessary outdoor work, and then go in, gasping for air, to cool off in front of another air conditioner.

Our bodies no longer know how to cool themselves because they never have to do so.  We suffer far more in the heat than previous generations ever did.  That’s why this year, my family is eschewing the air conditioner.  What is going to happen in a long term grid-down scenario?  I’ll tell you what – people will drop like flies of heat-related illnesses.  But you can train your body to tolerate heat again.

A good friend of mine lives in the desert and has no air conditioning.  It regularly gets to 110 degrees in his home and he is barely affected. That’s because his body’s cooling system is efficient – he uses it on a regular basis

I’m not suggesting that you go run a marathon in the midst of a heatwave, but perhaps people need to stop being so uncomfortable with sweat.  Sweat is the human body’s evaporative cooling system.  Here’s the rundown on how the human body cools itself from an article called “The Physics of Sweating“:

When we sweat, our skin and clothing become covered with water. If the atmospheric humidity is low, this water evaporates easily. The heat energy needed to evaporate the water comes from our bodies. So this evaporation cools our bodies, which have too much heat. For the same reason splashing water on ourselves when it is hot feels good. Being wet during cold weather, however can excessively chill us because of this same evaporation effect.

Sweating is therefore the human body’s primary cooling mechanism. Because this mechanism uses water, we need to replace lost fluids by drinking more fluids in hot weather. This is especially true after exercising or working in hot weather.

When it is very humid, our sweat does not evaporate as easily. With the body’s primary cooling process not working efficiently, we feel hotter. That is why a hot humid day is more uncomfortable than a hot dry day.

As the air near our bodies absorbs evaporating sweat, the humidity very close to our skin increases, so our sweat does not evaporate as easily. If there is a breeze or wind, the air near our bodies is replaced by dryer air that can continue to absorb evaporating sweat. Hence a breeze on a hot day has a pleasant cooling effect. On a cold day it produces a wind chill effect making it seem much colder than it actually is.

Despite the fact that sweating can make us feel unpleasantly sticky, the principles of thermal physics make sweating a very important mechanism for cooling the body in hot weather.

By allowing yourself to get hot and letting your body cool itself, you can build up a tolerance to the heat.  By avoiding heat and sticking to chilly air-conditioned rooms, you will be far more uncomfortable in a situation in which air conditioning is not available.

When the grid fails…

The situation that comes to mind is the Derecho storms that struck metro DC a few years back. The power was out for a week in the midst of a terrible heatwave and people died from heat-related ailments.  Many others were sick, suffering from heat exhaustion and heat strokes, and others were miserably uncomfortable.  As mentioned above, homes really aren’t built to be cooled without air conditioning anymore, and humans aren’t used to letting their bodies cool themselves.

Here are some strategies to help you cool off when you can’t run fans or air conditioners:

  • Channel your inner Southern belle.  Slowly fan yourself with a handheld fan. Mint juleps are optional.
  • Keep hydrated.  Your body needs the extra water to help produce sweat, which cools you off.
  • Change your schedule.  There’s a reason that people who live near the equator close down their businesses and enjoy a midday siesta.  Take a tepid shower and then, without drying off, lay down and try to take a nap. At the least do a quiet activity.
  • Play in the water.  Either place a kiddie pool in a shaded part of the yard or use the bathtub indoors. Find a nearby creek or pond for wading or swimming. (Note: Playing in the water isn’t just for kids!)
  • Soak your feet.  A foot bath full of tepid water can help cool you down.
  • Avoid heavy meals.  Your body has to work hard to digest heavy, rich meals, and this raises your temperature.  Be gentle on your system with light, cool meals like salads, cold soups, and fruit.

fan

Staying Warm During a Winter Power Outage

Depending on where you live, a winter power outage can quickly become a life-threatening emergency.

Winter storms with heavy snowfalls, high winds, and a coating of ice are a threat to our vulnerable power grid. Making winter even more of a threat recently is the current economic upheaval. In economically depressed places like Detroit, many residents have had their utilities shut off due to an inability to pay their bills. With temperatures in the negatives, people could quite literally freeze to death in their homes.  You don’t have to be a prepper to realize that secondary heating systems, some specialized skills, and a frigid weather plan could be vital to your survival in the winter.

Are you prepared for a winter power outage?

No matter how you heat your home, it’s vital to have a back-up method. Even if you have a non-grid reliant method as your primary heat source, things can happen. Chimney fires occur, wood gets wet, furnaces of all types malfunction…while these scenarios could be unlikely, you have to remember, “Two is one, one is none.”

Here are some options for heat that doesn’t come from a thermostat on the wall..

  • Wood Heat: Everyone’s favorite off-grid heating method is a fireplace or woodstove. The fuel is renewable and you have the added bonus of an off-grid cooking method. Unfortunately, if your home doesn’t already have one, it can be a pretty expensive thing to install.  If you rent, it’s probably not going to be an option at all to add wood heat to someone else’s property. If you have wood heat, make sure you have a good supply of seasoned firewood that is well-protected from the elements.
  • Propane Heaters:  There are several propane heaters on the market that do not require electricity.  I own a Mr. Buddy heater.  These small portable heaters are considered safe for indoor use in 49 states.  They attach to a small propane canister and use 2 oz. of fuel per hour to make 100 square feet extremely warm and toasty.  A battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm provides an extra measure of safety when using these heaters indoors. If you have a bigger area to heat, this larger unit will warm up to 200 square feet. Be sure to stock up on propane if this is your back-up heat method.
  • Kerosene/Oil Heaters:  Kerosene heaters burn a wick for heat, fuelled by the addition of heating oil.  These heaters really throw out the warmth.  A brand new convection kerosene heater like this one can heat up to 1000 square feet efficiently.  When we lived in the city I was lucky enough to have an antique “Perfection” oil heater, which was a charming addition to our decor that was be called into service during grid-down situations.  Click here to read more information about the different types of kerosene heaters that are available.
  • Natural Gas Fireplaces:  Some gas-fueled fireplaces will work when the electrical power goes out – they just won’t blow out heat via the fan.
  • Pellet Stove:   Most pellet stoves require electricity to run, but there are a few high-efficiency beauties that will work without being plugged in.

What if you don’t have a secondary heating method?

Sometimes things happen before we get our preps in order. If you don’t have a secondary heating method, you can still stay relatively warm for at least a couple of days if you are strategic. Even if you do have a secondary heat source,  in many cases it’s important to conserve your fuel as much as possible.

If you have no additional heat at all, you can usually keep one room tolerable for 2-3 days.  If the cold is relentless and the outage lasts longer than that, you may need to seek other shelter.  Watch your temperatures. If the daytime temperature in the house dips below 40 degrees, the night time temperature will be even colder, and it won’t be safe to stay there, especially if you have children or family members who are more susceptible to illness.

These methods can help you stay cozier during a storm.

  • Heat only one room.  One year, our furnace went out the day before Christmas. We huddled into a small room with just one window.  We closed the door to the bedroom and used a folded quilt at the bottom to better insulate the room.  If you don’t have a door to the room you’ve opted to take shelter in, you can hang heavy quilts  or blankets in the doorways to block it off from the rest of the house.
  • Cover your windows.  You can use a plastic shower curtain and duct tape, topped by a heavy quilt to keep the wind from whistling through your windows.  Take down the quilt if it’s sunny outside for some solar gain, then cover it back up as dark falls. If you have reason to be concerned about OPSEC, use heavy black garbage bags to cover the windows to keep light from escaping.
  • Light candles.  Even the small flames from candles can add warmth to a small area.  Be sure to use them safely by keeping them out of the reach of children and housing them in holders that won’t tip over easily.
  • Use kerosene lamps.  Those charming old-fashioned lamps can also add warmth to the room.
  • Use sleeping bags.  Cocooning in a sleeping bag conserves body heat better than simply getting under the covers.
  • Have a camp-out.  This works especially well when you have children because it adds an element of fun to an otherwise stressful situation.  Pitch a tent in your closed off room, get inside with a flashlight, and tell stories.  When you combine your body heat in a tiny space like that, you’ll stay much warmer.
  • Get cooking. If you have a propane or gas stove in the kitchen, your cooking method may not require electricity.  So bake a cake, roast a turkey, or simmer a soup. You can use it to warm the room while making a hot, delicious feast.
  • Heat some rocks.  Do you have a place outdoors for a campfire?  If so, put some large rocks around the edges of it.  They retain heat for hours.  When it’s bedtime, carefully place the rocks into a cast iron Dutch oven and bring this into the room you’re going to be sleeping in.  Be sure to protect your floor or surface from the heat of the Dutch oven. The stones will passively emit heat for several hours without the potential of a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning during the night.

How to stay warm with less heat

Not only do we need to be concerned about a power outage due to the weather, but we also need to realize that utility bills could be extraordinarily high this year due to rising prices and an increased need for heat as temperatures plummet. When we lived in our drafty cabin up North, we had to take extra steps to keep warm. Here are some things we learned that will help out in either circumstance.

  • Keep your wrists and ankles covered.  Wear shirts with sleeves long enough to keep your wrists covered and long socks that keep your ankles covered.  You lose a great deal of heat from those two areas.
  • Get some long-johns.  Wearing long underwear beneath your jeans or PJ’s will work like insulation to keep your body heat in.  I like the silky kind for indoor use, rather than the chunkier waffle-knit outdoor type.
  • Wear slippers.  You want to select house shoes with a solid bottom rather than the slipper sock type.  This forms a barrier between your feet and the cold floor.  We keep a basket of inexpensive slippers in varying sizes by the door for visitors because it makes such a big difference.  Going around in your stocking feet on a cold floor is a certain way to be chilled right through.
  • Get up and get moving.  It goes without saying that physical activity will increase your body temperature.  If you’re cold, get up and clean something, dance with your kids, play tug-of-war with the dog, or do a chore.
  • Pile on the blankets. If you’re going to be sitting down, have some blankets available for layering.  Our reading area has some plush blankets which we top with fluffy comforters for a cozy place to relax.
  • Use a hot water bottle.  If you’re just sitting around try placing a hot water bottle (carefully wrapped to avoid burns) under the blankets with you.
  • Use rice bags.  If you don’t have the cute ready-made rice bags, you can simply place dry rice in a clean sock.  Heat this in the microwave, if you use one, for about a minute, or place in a 100 degree oven, watching carefully, for about 10 minutes.  I keep some rice bags in a large ceramic crock beside the wood stove so they are constantly warm.  You can put your feet on them or tuck them under the blankets on your lap. (The insert from a defunct crockpot will work for this as well.)
  • Insulate using items you have.  A friend recommended lining the interior walls with bookcases or hanging decorative quilts and blankets on the walls to add an extra layer of insulation. It definitely makes a difference because it keeps heat in and cold air out. If you look at pictures of old castles you will see lovely tapestry wall-hangings – this was to help insulate the stone walls, which absorbed the cold and released it into the space.
  • Layer your windows.  Our cabin had large lovely picture windows for enjoying the view.  However, they were single pane and it’s hard to enjoy the view if your teeth are chattering.  We took the rather drastic step of basically closing off all the windows but one in each room for the winter.  First, we used the shrink film insulator on every window. Then, we insulated further by placing draft blockers at the bottom in the window sill (I just used rolled up polar fleece – I’m not much of a sew-er.)  This was topped by a heavy blanket, taking care to overlap the wall and window edges with it.  Over that, we hung thermal curtains that remained closed.
  • Get a rug.  If you have hardwood, tile or laminate flooring, an area rug is a must.  Like the blankets on the walls, this is another layer of insulation between you and the great outdoors.  We have no basement so our floor is very chilly.  A rug in the living room protects our feet from the chill.
  • Wear a scarf.  No, not like a big heavy wool scarf that you’d wear outdoors – just a small, lightweight one that won’t get in your way and annoy you.  This serves two purposes.  First, it covers a bit more exposed skin. Secondly, it keeps body heat from escaping out the neck of your shirt.
  • Burn candles.  Especially in a smaller space, a burning candle can raise the temperature a couple of degrees.
  • Wear fingerless gloves. Gloves like these allow you to still function by keeping the tips of your fingers uncovered, while still keeping chilly hands bundled up.
  • Drink hot beverages. There’s a reason Grandma always gave you a mug of cocoa after you finished building that snowman. Warm up from the inside out with a cup of coffee, tea, cider, or hot chocolate. Bonus: Holding the mug makes your hands toasty warm.
  • Cuddle.  Share your body heat under the blankets when you’re watching movies or reading a book.

What if you’re stranded due to icy roads?

What if you’re not at home when a winter storm strikes?  In a previous article about preparing your vehicle for winter, I brought up a couple of situations that occurred last year.

During one scenario, a freak snowstorm struck the Atlanta, Georgia area.  Because weather like this is such a rarity, the area was completely unprepared, officials didn’t have the experience or equipment needed to deal with it, and traffic gridlocked almost immediately. Hundreds of people were stranded as the freeway turned into a scene reminiscent of The Walking Dead, with bumper-to-bumper vehicles at a standstill.  Those without food and water in their vehicles went hungry, and many people ran out of gas as they tried to keep warm. No matter how comfortable you are with winter driving, in a situation like this, you are at the mercy of others who may not be so experienced.

Regardless of why you’re stranded somewhere besides your cozy home, you should have supplies in your vehicle to fend off frostbite (or even death) due to frigid conditions.

Include things like:

  • A first aid kit
  • Winter gear like heavy coats, snow pants, boots, extra socks, hats, gloves, and scarves
  • High quality mylar space blankets
  • Sleeping bags
  • Food
  • Water
  • Portable water purification system
  • Small collapsible stove for cooking

Even if you aren’t a prepper, it only makes sense to get ready for a storm.

Unless you think the entire process of weather forecasting is some sort of insane voodoo, then it’s pretty undeniable that a big storm is coming. Winters in America have been setting records for bone-numbing, snot-freezing cold for the last couple of years, and it appears that this winter will be no different.

While some folks aren’t quite ready to plunge whole-heartedly into prepping, it’s hard to deny the common sense factor of preparing for a likely scenario.  You should have at the minimum, a two-week supply of food and other necessities.  Before the power goes out, develop a plan to keep your family warm, even while the mercury outside reaches near-Arctic depths.

* Emergency Lighting: The Importance of Illumination in Your Preps

How important is light?  Never underestimate how vital a role illumination plays in  any situation. Beyond the practical matter of not being completely blinded in the absence of it is the security that comes from even a hint of light.

Any person who has ever moved from the city to the country can agree, there is no darkness quite like that of being in a place where there are no streetlights, no neon signs, no car headlights, and no light from nearby houses.

When we first moved far away from the city to our little cabin in the woods, the darkness there was of an entirely different variety from city darkness. I’ll never forget the first evening when the moon was hiding. It was a cloudy night that also hid the stars and the blackness was almost palpable. I had stepped outside to take the dog out for her last walk of the evening, and even she was disconcerted by the thick darkness. You literally couldn’t see your fingers waving in front of your face. I like the night – the stillness of it, the rustling music of the nocturnal world going about its business – but when you suddenly become essentially blind, it can make you feel a little panicked or afraid. You can’t see, but you wonder what is out there that can see you.

Multiply that feeling greatly if you are in a situation that is already dangerous or unfamiliar, and then you can start to contemplate how vitally important to your psyche a reliable source of emergency lighting will be in a crisis scenario. While fear can be a very important survival mechanism, you don’t want it to overwhelm you to the point that it becomes debilitating.

Complete darkness after a disaster

This was the kind of darkness experienced more than a year ago when Hurricane Sandy took out the power in New York City.  The city that never sleeps was suddenly cast into the same kind of pitch blackness as you would find in the middle of a forest on an overcast night.

The extreme darkness wrought psychological havoc on many people.  Not only were children afraid, but adults found the complete blackness of the nights to be unsettling, at the very least.  Crime went up when people realized they had the complete cover of a pitch black night.  Instead of being a restful time, night became something to endure until the sun came up.  Small tasks were difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish once the sun went down.  For those who had a few flashlights or candles on hand, those light sources soon ran out as the crisis extended into yet another day without power.  Add the darkness to the lack of power, heat, and sanitation facilities, and it made a terrible situation even harder to withstand for many who were not prepared with emergency lighting sources.northeast-blackout_10825192

The psychology of why we fear the dark

Psychologically speaking, emergency lighting should be near the top of your list for preps.  Although most adults would be loathe to admit it, nearly everyone is unsettled in complete darkness.

This fear is not necessarily irrational. It may be somewhat ingrained in our DNA, as many predators are nocturnal.

It isn’t always so much a fear of the darkness itself, but more a fear of the unexpected: you can’t see what is out there in the blackness with you.  You have lost one of the senses that you rely on the most to assess impending danger – your vision.

Emergency lighting sources

You should have several different sources of light included in your preparedness supplies.  Some of the sources should be easily renewable, in the event that a situation exceeds your supply of replacement batteries.

Here is a list of a few alternative light sources to consider adding to your preps:

  • Flashlights
  • LED penlights
  • Headlamp for the ability to light a task hands-free
  • Solar garden stakes: Charge them outdoors during the day and put them in vases throughout the house at night
  • Oil lamp (in a pinch, you can burn used cooking oil in an oil lamp)
  • Kerosene lamps
  • Propane camping lanterns
  • Solar lanterns
  • Hand crank flashlights
  • Hand crank lanterns
  • Candles
  • Heat sources like fireplaces or glass-fronted wood stoves provide a little glow on a cold night
  • Push lights (the kind you put in closets)
  • Night vision goggles (pricey but extremely worthwhile in a long-term situation)

Safe emergency lighting for children

Emergency lighting for children can pose some very real concerns. You don’t want to give them a light they might accidentally leave on as they fall asleep, using up valuable battery life, nor would most parents want to leave a child in the room with a candle or oil lamp because of the risk of fire.

Here are a couple of safe options for kids:

  • Consider adding a toy that offers a soft light when hugged to your emergency kit. (Remember Glo-worm?)  This allows them the comfort of control over light when they feel afraid.
  • Stock up on party supply “glow bracelets”  for children.  They don’t give off an enormous amount of light but kids would enjoy the novelty and the items will most likely last long enough to allow your youngsters to fall asleep. As well, if you are camping, a glow bracelet will help you find your child in the dark more easily should they wander off.

Don’t forget these supplies to go along with your emergency light sources

Some complimentary supplies to keep on hand along with your alternative lighting sources:

  • Batteries
  • Rechargeable batteries and solar charging device
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Lighters and matches

Prepping your home for a power outage

Be sure to keep your supplies where they are easy to find in the dark. We don’t always have a warning before a power outage occurs, although when a bad storm blows up you might want to consider having your alternative light sources at the ready.

When my daughter and I spent a winter in a little cabin in the north woods of Canada, we lost power so frequently that we kept candles and a box of matches out as part of the “decor” in every room in the house. We also had flashlights in the top drawers of our end tables.  It was a quick thing to immediately be able to supply light when the electricity failed. As well, several lovely old kerosene lamps were scattered around the cabin.

Depending on the situation, you might not want your home to be the only one in the neighborhood that is well-lit.  Consider having supplies to cover your windows so that your home is not a beacon to those who are less prepared.  Blackout curtains or heavy duty garbage bags duct-taped to the windows can keep most of the light contained.

Don’t sit there in the dark during a crisis

Proper lighting is one of the most psychologically vital preps that you can make.  Being scared of the dark isn’t just for kids.

The Lost Art of Scratch Cooking

If you compare the meals served in many of the kitchens today to meals served 100+ years ago, there is one very big difference.  Nearly every meal served in North America has at least one dish that has come from a box, bag, or pouch.

Take breakfast, for example.  Did you have toast?  If so, did you make the bread?  Cereal?  One of those little packs of Quaker oatmeal, all flavored up and just waiting for you to add water?  Did your breakfast originate in the freezer?  Frozen toaster versions of pancakes, waffles and pastries abound in many kitchens.

Several years ago, I did a “Scratch Challenge” during which everything we ate had to be made from scratch – no convenience ingredients allowed.  It wasn’t until I did this that I realized that even in my fairly “clean” kitchen, there still remained a lot of processed items.

If you do a quick survey of your own kitchen, you may be surprised at what you find.  I discovered that the best way to clean up my act was to focus on cooking only from scratch.  Now, my kitchen has only a few holdouts, most of which are there for food storage purposes.

Some of the most common processed items that “sneak in” are dairy and grain products:

  • Bread
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Crackers
  • Pitas
  • Tortillas
  • Cereal
  • Pasta

None of these would be incredibly difficult to make, but they ARE time-consuming.  In a world that is ever-increasingly geared towards convenience, few people take the time to roll out noodles or bake cookies these days.  Birthday cakes come from the bakery, cookies come from a bag with a convenient tab to reseal it, and bread comes from a shelf at the grocery store, so perfectly uniform that if you put it back and mixed all the loaves up, you’d never find the original loaf.  (Anyone who has ever baked a loaf of bread will tell you, they all get a funny lump here and there!)

All of this easy-access food has taken a deeper toll than you might imagine.

…A toll on our health.

…A toll on our waistlines.

…A toll on our ability to make the simplest item on our own.

…A toll on the time we spend with our families.

…A toll on the next generation, when we fail to teach them the arts that are vanishing as our grandparents pass away.

Cooking from scratch is actually an analogy for today’s society.  Those who take the road less traveled are considered eccentric throw-backs to a far away time.

People feel that we are making unnecessary work for ourselves and that our lives would be vastly improved by tossing a shiny cellophane bag of bread into the grocery cart instead of taking a couple of hours to mix the ingredients, knead the dough, let it rise, knead it some more, then shape it into the desired form.

But when you toss that bag of bread into the cart, you are getting undesirable ingredients (and in many cases, toxins).  You are missing out on teaching your child how to judge the composition of the dough by the feel of it in her hands when she kneads it.  You don’t get to inhale that delicious aroma emanating from your oven, and you totally skip that mouth-watering anticipation as you let the loaf rest long enough for you to slice it.  Packaged bread from the store doesn’t serve as so fine a vehicle for melting fresh butter and transferring it your mouth once you finally get to cut into your fresh, wholesome bread.

Scratch cooking is easier than it seems.

Media is partly to blame for making it seem difficult to actually cook.  Most of the advertisements for processed food available at the grocery store tout the convenience of these items.  You never see a mom with flour all over the front of her apron and her hair in a pony tail.  Instead, the TV-commercial mothers are perfectly coiffed, wearing high heels and a skirt, placing a dish on the table with a flawlessly manicured hand.  They are never rushed or harried, of course, because they’ve used pre-shredded cheese along with their premade noodles and their can of sauce.  They look like they just stepped out of the office and “poof” a dinner has appeared in their kitchens.

If you can read and possess the ability to use a measuring cup, you can cook.  It’s that simple.  It seems almost fashionable lately to claim an inability to cook, as though preparing food is beneath a certain level of sophistication.  When you start out, sure, there is some trial and error.  Sometimes you end up having a peanut butter sandwich in the early years.  But for the most part, with some very basic tools, cooking is foolproof.

Case in point:  my oldest daughter was a little bit behind on reading when she was in 3rd grade.  However, she had a fascination with cooking.  So, to help improve her reading skills, I began letting her cook.  She would pore through my cookbooks and choose a meal.  She’d make a list, then we’d check what we had in the house and what we needed from the store.  When she was 9 years old, she made a cheese lasagna, from scratch, including the marinara sauce, completely unaided. (And it was delicious!)

Basic scratch cooking is not some mysterious art that requires 4 years at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris – it’s just a simple matter of reading  instructions and putting them into action.

It doesn’t take that much additional time.

The thing is, with a bit of pre-planning, even the busiest working mother can cook from scratch, without the use of convenience items.

Every weekend I spend a few hours in the kitchen prepping food for the week ahead. I do some baking (cookies, granola bars, and bread), clean and chop up veggies, pack little containers of healthy snacks for my daughter’s lunch, and cook a few items to be used throughout the week.  I usually roast something on the weekend and cook up some seasoned ground beef or turkey, then add these things to meals throughout the week.  I was more focused on this when I worked outside the home, but still do it to some degree.

Never forget about your crock pot!  That valuable kitchen appliance can have dinner ready and waiting when you get home from a long day at the office, in the garden, or out with the kiddos.  It makes delicious pot roasts and even rotisserie-style chicken!  It’s also great for soups, stews, chili and spaghetti sauce.  You can make the cheapest cut of meat tender and delicious by slow-cooking it for 10 hours on low, so this is helpful to the budget as well.

There are many healthy foods that are convenient when you’re in a pinch.

If you’re looking for convenience (and let’s face it, we all need convenience sometimes!) here are a few “fast foods” that fall into the scratch category.

  • Nuts
  • Trail mix
  • Fresh fruit
  • Dried Fruit
  • Salad (extra points if you’ve already assembled it and just need to dip some out and add dressing!)
  • Veggies like carrots, radishes, sugar snap peas, celery and cherry tomatoes
  • Steamed veggies with cheese
  • Eggs (super fast to fry, scramble or boil)
  • Yogurt (that has already been made earlier) topped with fruit and granola)
  • Leftovers
  • Cheese (opt for a healthy version without additives and artificial colors)

It’s healthier.

Any item you make from scratch is going to be far healthier than its convenience food equivalent.  Take cookies, for example.  Who doesn’t love cookies?  I bake them 2-3 times per week – there are always some in the jar.  However the ones I make at home contain wholesome ingredients like freshly ground flour, organic sugar, coconut oil and dried fruit.  The ones that I would buy at the grocery store, 9 times out of ten, would contain unsavory items like HFCS, genetically modified ingredients and fruit preserved with sulfites.

The sad thing is, if you look at the labels on the convenience items at the store, they like to tout the health benefits all over the brightly colored package. It makes me livid that people are being fooled by this.  Stamps of approval from the FDA, the American Heart Association, the USDA and other nutritional agencies mean absolutely nothing except that the manufacturer of the product has made all the right donations.  If a food has to be “fortified” with vitamins and minerals, that essentially means that the basic food has been depleted of those beneficial nutrients and that they had to be added back in artificially.  Your body is miraculously designed to take nutrients from food and doesn’t recognize many of these artificial versions of nutrients as such.

When you make it yourself, you know precisely what is in it. You know that your family member with allergies is safe, that you aren’t unknowingly consuming GMOs and that you aren’t ingesting preservatives that do double duty as drain cleaner.

It’s cheaper.

You will save a TON of money cooking it yourself.   For example, a one cup serving of brown rice, cooked in broth and prepared from scratch costs less than 10 cents (and contains nothing yucky).  A one cup serving of flavored Uncle You-Know-Who’s rice costs up to $1.  A cup of oatmeal from bulk-purchased steel cut oats costs about 5 cents, but a little brown packet that you pour boiling water over costs 50 cents.

The reason for this?  Time is money.  Whether it’s your time or the food manufacturer’s time, there is a cost involved.  Some people feel that it’s worth it to pay for this convenience.  What they don’t consider is that the hands-on time in cooking these items from scratch is often minimal.  I use the oven to bake my brown rice and all I have to do is bring the pot to a boil on the stove top, put it in the oven for 1 hour, and walk away.  If that hour is not “hands on time” then I really don’t think that it could be considered an hour of actual work, do you?

Shopping to stock your pantry and purchasing basic items in bulk will save you a fortune at the grocery store.  As an added bonus, you’ll find that by keeping a good supply of all of your basic items, you will end up having to make fewer trips to the grocery store.  (And come on, every time you go to the store, if you’re anything like me, you end up with at least ONE thing that wasn’t on your list!  See?  More savings!)

It’s a necessary skill for a prepper.

When you think about the skills you need for preparedness, cooking might not be the first thing to come to mind.  You might consider marksmanship, carpentry, bush crafting or first aid, but keep in mind that a good hot meal is too valuable to be overlooked.  Not only does it nourish your family, but it is also a comfort in a world that might have just become incredibly frightening.

Many of your preparedness purchases will be “ingredients” rather than meals.  Many preppers have pounds and pounds of rice, beans, wheat berries and oats, but they won’t do you much good if you don’t know how to prepare them. It’s important to learn now what to do with these items when back-up is as close as the grocery store or pizza delivery.  It takes practice to make a tasty pot of beans or too cook brown rice to the perfect fluffy consistency and in an SHTF scenario, you don’t want to risk wasting precious food.

The other thing to consider from a preparedness point of view is that if the supply lines are down, you won’t be able to go to the grocery store to replace your boxes of Rice-A-Roni.  You may, however, be able to replenish basics like flour or grains through barter with local farmers.  One of these days, so-called convenience items may be a thing of the past, an artifact from a world rocketing towards collapse.

Here’s how to get started with scratch cooking.

The first thing you need to do is acquire a good cookbook.  I have lots of cookbooks that have been purchased at yard sales and library sales over the years. I find that the most valuable, the ones I turn to again and again, are the old books.  I really love cookbooks that were written during the Great Depression, or even earlier.  My prized possession is my Fanny Farmer cookbook, written in 1896 and originally published as The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.  I have referred to this book again and again, because it has instructions for things that are rather difficult to find in more modern tomes.  As well, you don’t find ingredients like canned “cream of chemical” soup – you are walked through making a basic bechamel sauce instead.

With the internet you can find basic instructions for making just about anything.  Find an author that doesn’t use hard-to-find ingredients and that shows step by step illustrations.  I really love the Martha Stewart website for the clarity of the instructions, but Martha is in a rather different economic bracket and sometimes her recipes contain very pricey ingredients.  Her 101 articles can’t be beat, though!

Next, be sure you have some basic kitchen supplies.  You need basic cookware and utensils, obviously.   Other useful (but not 100% necessary) items are:

  • a kitchen timer (this is very very important unless your attention span is far more keen than mine)
  • an inexpensive little food processor
  • an instant-read thermometer (more important when your just starting out – later you will be able to judge when something is the “right” temperature)
  • a good sharp knife
  • a box grater with different sized holes
  • a set of measuring cups and spoons
  • a colander
  • a whisk
  • a potato masher
  • a crock pot

I’m not a huge fan of gadgets, particularly electric ones.  You don’t want to be reliant on those and then suddenly have to make everything without them in the event that the grid goes down.  Bread machines, for example, while wonderfully convenient, would be of little use without power.  If you are already faced with having to cook using alternative methods (like over an open fire) you don’t want to also have to learn how to knead dough.  Trust me, in such a situation, you’ll have enough challenges!

Experiment!

Once you have the basics down, you can begin to experiment, and this is what separates the “decent” cooks from the really “great” cooks.  Initially, don’t veer too far from the original recipe.  You can start by altering the spices to suit the preferences of your family.  Next thing you know, you’ll look at a recipe, get a general idea of what they’re making and then set off to create your own unique dish!

The Fine (and Frugal) Art of Repurposing Leftovers

In these times of budget cuts, rising food costs, job losses and ever-increasing expenses, we can’t afford to let anything go to waste.  In fact, it isn’t far-fetched to consider this our practice run for the tough days that may be ahead.

One way to stretch your food budget is with the humble leftover.

Have you ever been really poor?  I don’t mean “I can’t afford Starbucks until my next paycheck” poor.  I mean “Should I buy food or pay the electric bill before the power gets shut off” poor.

I have absolutely been that poor, back when my oldest daughter was a baby. When you are that broke, every single bite of food in the house counts.  You cannot afford to let anything go to waste.  This is where the “Menage a Leftover” bucket in the freezer comes in.

In our freezer, we kept an ice cream tub.  After each meal, those tiny amounts of food that don’t add up to a full serving got popped into the bucket.  And because of our situation, I often would take food that was uneaten on a family member’s plate to add into the bucket.  Desperate times, desperate measures.  What people might consider “gross” in good times, they would feel lucky to have in bad times.  Then, usually about once per week, the contents of that bucket in the freezer were turned into a meal.

I drew some criticism from friends and relatives during that time for the distance I went not to waste a single bite of food.  A few people commented that it was ridiculous, others thought combining all those different foods in the freezer was  disgusting and one person even referred to the meals as “garbage disposal meals”.  It stung a little at the time, but looking back, I’m glad to have had that experience.  I can draw upon it if times become difficult in the future.  While other people are trying to figure out where their next meal is coming from, I know that I can take the same amount of groceries and make at least 2 more meals out of them.

I always considered meals from the leftover bucket to be “free food” because they were items that you’d normally throw out.  So, let’s say, you have a little bit of broccoli, some mashed potatoes, some beef gravy, a scoop of ground beef, some corn…you know?  The remains of meals.  What can you do with that?

This is where being creative with the spices comes in.  I might take the above, add a can of beans and a tin of tomato paste, and turn it into a chili-flavored soup.  Alternatively, I could stir in some yogurt and some noodles and make it into a creamy casserole, well-seasoned with thyme.  I could sprinkle a bit of cheese on it, wrap it in pie crust and make turnovers.  The trick is to make something totally new and different from it so that it doesn’t even seem like leftovers.  Some of the concoctions were absolutely delicious – so good that we recreated them with fresh ingredients later on.  Others were not-so-great. Only a couple of times did we end up with something that was really awful.

If you can serve your family one “freebie” meal per week that results in a savings, for a family of 4, of about $10 – $520 over the course of a year.  It doesn’t sound like much until you add it up, does it?

We don’t always do the leftover bucket these days because times are not as tight as they were back then.  However, we do creatively use our leftovers. Here are a few ways to remake leftovers into something new and delicious.

Leftover Buffet

We have some nice little oven safe dishes that are divided.  We use these on “Leftover Buffet Night.”  Simply put, all the items from the fridge are placed on the counter.  Everyone takes their divided dish and helps themselves to whatever leftovers they’d like for dinner.  The dish is then placed in the oven and heated up – sort of like a “TV Dinner” of choice.  Aside from the kids scrapping it out over the last enchilada, this is generally very successful.

Soup

When I don’t have quite enough to make 2 full servings, but it’s a bit more than one serving, I often make soup.  I can broth on a regular basis, so it’s an easy thing to grab a jar of broth, chop up the meat and add some vegetables and a grain.  You can stretch your soup by adding barley, pasta or rice.  If you have fresh bread to serve with it and a little sprinkle of parmesan or cheddar for the top, you have a hot, comforting meal for pennies.

Puree

I use this technique quite often with leftover root veggies.  Using a food processor, puree potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips or other root vegetables.  You can add milk, broth, or even water to thin the puree to the consistency of soup.  Season with garlic powder, onion powder and other appropriate spices, and garnish with a tiny amount of bacon, chives, cheese or sour cream.  Other vegetables that are suited for puree are cauliflower, broccoli, and squash.

Pie

This is a great way to use up leftover meat and gravy.  In the bottom of a pie pan or cast iron skillet, stir  meat that has been cut into bite-sized pieces with gravy.  If you don’t have leftover gravy, a creamy soup, a bechamel sauce, or a thickened broth will work.  Add in complimentary vegetables, also in bite sized pieces.  We like peas, corn, and carrots with poultry, and green beans, carrots, and potatoes with beef.  Add seasoning if needed.

Top your pie with either a standard pie crust, cornbread batter, or with a biscuit dough topping.  (2 recipes below)  Bake as directed, then allow to cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

For even smaller amounts of leftovers (or picky eaters) you can use individual sized ovenproof containers or ramekins to make single serving “pies”.  I’ve also used  muffin tins designed for the jumbo muffins to make individual pies.  When using a muffin tin, you will want to make it a two crust pie to enclose the filling.

Pockets

If I bake it in a pocket, my kids will eat it.  Whether the filling is savory or sweet, there’s something about a piping hot turnover that makes anything delicious.

The key with a pocket is that the filling cannot be too runny.  So,  for a savory pocket, you can mix a small amount of gravy, tomato sauce or cheese sauce with your meat and/or veggies, but you don’t want it to ooze all over the place as soon as someone takes a bite.  If you want to eat this as a handheld food, allow it to cool for at least 15 minutes before eating it.

You can use pie crust or pizza dough for your pockets.  Pizza dough is our personal favorite because it is a bit more filling.  I make pockets and keep them in the freezer.  I take them out the night before and place them in the refrigerator – by noon the pocket is thawed and makes a delicious lunch-box treat at school.

We like pockets with veggies and cheese sauce; meat, mushrooms and gravy; meat and bbq sauce; pizza toppings, marinara and cheese; and meat and cheese.   Another favorite is empanada style: meat flavored with Mexican spices, mixed with salsa, beans and cheese.   As well, you can fill pockets with chopped fruit that is  topped with either cream cheese or syrup for a dessert-style turnover.

Casseroles

The fact is, you can mix nearly anything with a creamy sauce and top it with a crispy topping and you have a tasty down-home casserole.   A basic casserole consists of pre-cooked meat, a veggie, a sauce, a grain and a topping.  Bake at approximately 350 for 30-45 minutes until bubbly and the top is browned.  The less meat and veggies you have, the more cooked grains you should add.  Try barley, quinoa, rice, pasta or wheatberries to stretch your casserole.  Instant comfort!  For toppings, you can use stale bread that has been finely chopped in the food processor, cheese, crumbled crackers, crumbled cereal, or wheat germ, just to name a few items.  I often use things that have perhaps become a bit stale – just another way to use up a food that would otherwise be discarded.

Be creative!

You’re only limited by your imagination when it comes to turning your leftovers into delicious, tasty new meals.  Think about your family’s favorite dishes.  For us, it is anything in a pocket, pot pies and creamy soups.  Therefore, when repurposing my leftovers, I try to frequently gear the meals towards those types of foods.  A hint of familiarity makes the meal more easily accepted by those you are feeding.

Recipes

Pie Crust

The beauty of my granny’s pie crust recipe is the versatility – you can use what you have.  Ideally, I use butter and water for the fat and liquid, however, I have used many different ingredients with excellent results.  This recipe makes enough for one double crust pie or two single crust pies.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of flour
  • 1 cup of fat (butter, shortening, coconut oil, lard, vegetable oil)
  • 2 tsp of salt
  • ½ cup  of liquid (water, milk, whey)

Directions

  1. Place your liquid in a dish with a few pieces of ice, if available.  Keep this in the refrigerator while you’re combining the other ingredients.
  2. Combine the flour and salt.
  3. Cut the butter or fat into tiny pieces and incorporate it into the flour mixture, either with a pastry cutter, a food processor, or a couple of knives.  Once the mixture resembles cottage cheese curds, you have combined it sufficiently.
  4. Add your ice water to the mixture a couple of tablespoons at a time.  This is where practice makes perfect – after you make this a couple of times, you will begin to know when it looks and feels “right”.    Use a fork to mix this into the dough – if you use your hands you will heat up the dough too much and the crust won’t be as flaky.
  5. You don’t want to dough to be wet and sticky – you want it to be sort of stringy and lumpy.  When you think you have the right consistency, squeeze some dough in your hand – if it stays into a nice firm ball, it’s time to move on to the next step.  If it is crumbly and doesn’t stick together, you need more water.
  6. Make the dough into 2 balls and press them down.  Place them, covered, in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
  7. On a floured surface, roll out the dough with a heavy rolling pin until it is thin but not broken.  Fold your circle of dough into quarters and carefully move the dough over to your pie pan.

Bake as per your recipe’s directions or at about 375F for approximately 45 minutes for a two-crust pie or 35 minutes for a one crust pie.

Pizza Dough

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of warm water
  • 1 tbsp of  sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp of active dry yeast
  • 3 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 tsp saltDirections
  1. Stir water, sugar and yeast together and allow it to sit for 5 minutes.
  2. Add olive oil and salt, then stir in the flour until well blended.
  3. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, then let it rise, covered, for 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 425F.
  5. Knead the dough again, then break off balls of dough.  Roll them out and cover one half with the desired topping.
  6. Fold the other half over the topping, moisten edges with water, and press them together with the tines of a fork.
  7. Place the pocket on a greased baking sheet.
  8. Once all the pockets are on the baking sheet, brush them lightly with olive oil.  If desired season the top with a sprinkle of garlic powder and salt, or whatever herbs are appropriate.
  9. Bake for  20-25 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.

Biscuit Dough

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 3 tsp of baking powder
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of  milk
  • 1 tbps of white vinegar
  • 3 tbsp of cooking oil
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Mix milk and vinegar in a small bowl and allow it to sit for about 5 minutes.
  3. Mix flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a bowl. Add milk and vinegar mixture, and oil.
  4. Stir just enough to hold dough together.
  5. Knead lightly about 10 times on a well-floured surface.
  6. Pat or roll dough about 1/2-inch thick .
  7. You can move the dough in one piece over to your pie pan or you can cut circles with a floured drinking glass and place the individual biscuits on the dish you are topping.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Top with butter if desired.
This recipe can be used for biscuits – simply bake for 10-15 minutes.  
As well, you can roll this dough out and cut it into thin strips, dropping it into boiling broth until it floats to the top (7-10 minutes) to make dumplings.

* 5 Frugal Shopping Strategies to Help You Build a Pantry for Pennies

One of the most common reasons that people give for not prepping is the cost involved.  People seem to have this mental image of a bedroom or basement dedicated to being filled to the rafters with cans of Chef-Boy-Ardee.  They imagine someone going out and spending $5000 at a time for a year’s worth of food, or perhaps an 18-wheeler backing up into their driveway and unloading the contents with a forklift.

It’s time to learn a whole new way to shop. Thrift is of the utmost importance if you want to be able to afford to build your pantry quickly.

The fact is, a pantry is a work in progress and a whole new type of personal economy.  You can save a fortune on your food budget by shopping carefully and in quantity.

A well-stocked food pantry is an investment: purchasing food at today’s prices is a great hedge against tomorrow’s increases.  The cost of food will only be going up.  Consider the drought that has ravaged California, the number one producer of fresh fruits and vegetables in the entire country. Farmers there have been forced to cut back on the amount they produce, due to water shortages.  Livestock herds have been culled because they can’t grow enough to feed them. Winters are longer and more severe in other parts of the country, leading to shortened growing seasons and freak storms that destroy newly planted crops.  Your pantry is your insurance against drought, pestilence, bad weather, and rising prices.

Take peanut butter, as an example:  A few years ago, I purchased a store-brand peanut butter for $1.88 per jar when it was on sale.  The following year, that very same brand in the very same sized jar was $5.99 on sale because of a poor peanut harvest.  Each jar of peanut butter on the shelves represented a savings of $4.11  – there is no other investment that gives you over a 200% return.

Here’s why I keep a well-stocked pantry

Before I even knew what prepping was, I had a well-stocked pantry because I learned the hard way how quickly things can change.

When I was first married and had a newborn baby, I was struggling to put food on the table with our tiny grocery budget.  Then, as life often has it, things got even worse when my husband got laid off. We had a few dozen bags of sale-purchased bagels in our freezer, a few jars of peanut butter in the pantry, and high hopes for the garden we had just planted. Our situation was desperate, and the new little addition to our family added to our panic.

As we rationed out our bagels with peanut butter over the next few weeks, waiting for unemployment insurance to finally kick in, my husband frantically searched for a job and I became determined to never be in such a position again. (Think Scarlett O’Hara waving her dirty fist around.)

scarlett i'll never be hungry again

Since we had absolutely no money for entertainment, the library was my saving grace throughout this time.  One day, searching for answers among the shelves, I stumbled upon a series of books by Amy Dacyczyn called “The Tightwad Gazette“.  These three volumes gave me a whole new perspective on grocery shopping, and is still the shopping basic philosophy I adhere to today. (By the way, I highly recommend the books – you can get one big compendium containing all 3 titles for less than $15.)

The TG recommends something called “The Pantry Principle.”  It’s a process that saves both time and money. The idea is to consistently stock up on items at the lowest possible prices, creating a supply of ingredients at rock-bottom cost.  This means sometimes you have to say no to preparing a meal just because it sounds good. You have to discipline yourself to adhere to a whole new way of shopping that does not supply just food for the week, but replenishes your pantry, again, at the lowest possible prices.

#1 Create a Price Book

First, start a “price book” – this is a vital tool. Without it, you can’t really be sure if that sale is really a sale at all.  A price book is simply a notebook that you keep with you when shopping, into which you write down the price that you pay for certain items.  You should always update your price book with the lowest price for these items.  This is what allowed me to see that at one point I paid $1.88 for peanut butter and a year later the lowest price I could find was $5.99, like I mentioned above.

In The Tightwad Gazette, Amy Dacyczyn wrote:

My price book is a small loose-leaf binder. Each page contains prices for one item, and the pages are in alphabetical order for quick reference. I include my code for the store name, the brand, the size of the item, the price, and the unit price.

I began by writing down prices on sale flyers and from my grocery slips. I made a few trips to compare prices of specific items. It quickly became evident that not every sale was really a sale. But when I did find a good buy, and I could verify it with months of records…what power! I could stock up with confidence.

At first you may think this is too much work and the idea of shopping at so many stores will be inconceivable. It will pay off. A good strategy is to shop at different stores each week of the month so that within a 30-day cycle you can hit them all. We have our shopping system down to once a month with only a few short trips to hit unbeatable sales.

[A price book] revolutionized our shopping strategy more than anything else we did. For the first time we had a feeling of control over our food budget.

It might take you a total of five hours to make up a price book for comparison shopping, but after several years of supermarket excursions, you may discover that your hourly “pay” for those five hours was over $1,000.

You’ll discover all sorts of trends with this type of record keeping:

  • Your local sales cycles
  • When certain items tend to be loss leaders
  • Which stores are consistently cheaper for specific ingredients
  • Whether a highly promoted sale is actually a good deal or not
  • Whether a big package of whatsits is a better deal than individually purchased whatsits at a different store

Speaking of sizes…

#2 Always Calculate the Unit Price

Be sure to record the size of the package you are purchasing so that you can accurately calculate the unit price. A unit price is vitally important.  If you happen to go to one of those giant, members-only warehouse stores like Costco or Sam’s Club, you may discover that although a huge package seems like a good deal, it was actually cheaper to purchase the items in smaller quantities elsewhere.

The unit price tells you the cost per ounce, per gallon, per pound, etc., of what you want to buy.

Just divide the cost by the quantity.  Here’s an easy-peasy example:

$100/25 pounds = $4 per pound

The goal is to compare the unit prices to find the best deal. Here’s an example of this:

  • 2 pounds of chocolate at $3.80
  • 1.5 pounds of chocolate at $2.70

In this case the unit is 1 pound, and the unit prices are:

  • $3.80/ 2 pounds= $1.90 per pound
  • $2.70/ 1.5 pounds = $1.80 per pound

You know how most businesses try to convince you the bigger package is always the better deal? That’s not always the case. In this situation, the second package of chocolate, although a smaller quantity, is actually a better bargain.

Another reason you must compare unit prices as opposed to simply grabbing a package that looks the same is the sneaky maneuver that food manufacturers use of reducing the contents of a package and selling it for the same price as before.  For example, one company used to sell 1 pound cans of coffee.  As prices went up, it appeared their price was the only one to remain the same. However, reading the label showed that they had reduced the amount of coffee in the can to 14 ounces.  This misleading marketing ploy will become even more common as production prices continue to rise.

#3 Turn Pennies into Dollars

Now that you know you can confidently identify a good bargain, let’s move on to the next step in your new shopping style: saving pennies that add up to dollars.

When you find a staple at a good price, purchase in as much quantity as you can afford and reasonably use before it expires.  This will allow you to begin building your stockpile.  After a couple of months of shopping in this manner, you’ll discover that you don’t actually “grocery shop” anymore – you shop to replenish your stockpile.

Items that you stockpile should be foods that you regularly consume.  If you normally eat steak and potatoes, for example, but you fill your pantry with beans and rice, when the day comes that you are relying on that pantry you will suffer from “food fatigue” and you will also feel deprived. Start now by adjusting the food that you consume on a regular basis to foods that will be sustainable in a food storage pantry.

Once you have the hang of it, you can apply this same pantry principle to nearly everything that you purchase. Your pantry doesn’t have to stop at the kitchen. Use your theory of Preppernomics to keep your household running smoothly on far less money!

  • Soap
  • Toilet paper
  • Shampoo
  • Kitty litter
  • School supplies
  • Garbage bags
  • Toothpaste

You get the idea – anything that you normally purchase, if you purchase it at deep discount, will add up to tremendous savings.

You may be saying, “Wait a minute, Daisy. I don’t have time to run all over the place just to save 10 cents here and 25 cents there.  This is ridiculous.”

It’s not as crazy as it sounds.  Here’s why.

It’s a cumulative savings.

Think about a cart full of groceries during a weekly shopping trip. You might have 100 items in your cart for the week ahead, right.

So, let’s say you save 10 cents on every single item in your cart. (Which, when you’re shopping like this is a very low savings – you’ll probably save far more.)

In a cart with 100 items, you’ve saved $10 in a week.

If you do that every single week over the course of an entire year, you’ve saved $520.

If you apply this to everything you purchase, can you see how quickly this could add up for you? You can save thousands of dollars per year and have a loaded pantry, ready to sustain you through emergencies.

#4 Plan your shopping trips with the precision of a military maneuver.

If you’re driving without a plan all over the place to hit the sales, you aren’t really going to save enough money to make it worthwhile in most cases. You should shop with a plan in order to maximize your time and fuel costs.

Most areas distribute free weekly flyers to your house. These are good for more than just lining the bottom of the litter box.  If you are in an area where you don’t get sales flyers, you can generally find them online.

These sales flyers will help you to identify “loss leader” items that are geared to get customers in the doors. The loss leader is simply the unbeatable, oh-my-gosh-what-a-sale bargain to get you in the door at which point they hope you’ll purchase other dramatically overpriced items just because you’re there.  This is a technique usually used by big corporations, so I have no qualms whatsoever about beating them at their own game and stopping JUST to purchase the loss leader items in quantity.

It isn’t always worthwhile to go far out of your way to purchase the loss-leaders, though. You have to establish a sensible route and pick up sale items along the way. Wasting half a tank of gas just to save 50 cents per item isn’t thrifty at all.

Spend a couple of hours each week writing down the sales that seem good.  Then, check your price book and compare the unit costs. Are the advertised items really a good deal?

While I do recommend making a list, it’s vital to remember, the list is not the Gospel – it is just a guideline. You know how some of those websites preach strict adherence to your lists and menus?  Ignore them!

Here’s why: Let’s say you have a whole chicken on your list, but chicken is outrageously expensive this week. But, pork is on sale. Doesn’t it make a lot more sense to take that into consideration? Be flexible.

For the thriftiest possible shopping trip, your list should include:

  • Items that you have coupons for
  • Sale items, listed by store, that are a good deal
  • Must-have items, like milk if you have small children (there should be very few must-have items – flexibility is the key to a barebones budget!)
  • Ingredients that you require for your meal plans (again, this should be flexible – also, don’t waste money on an ingredient that you can only use in one dish if your budget is tight!)
  • Map your route before you go – if you have several stops to make, do so efficiently and without backtracking.
  • Organize your lists by store

If a store is out of the way from the other shops you plan to hit, think about the week ahead. Do you have any errands or obligations that will take you to that store?  There is a warehouse store about an hour away from us. Any time we have an appointment in that city, we plan ahead to allow some extra time to stop at the warehouse store and stock up.

When embarking on an afternoon of sales shopping, it can be a good idea to put some ice in a cooler for housing perishable food. Try to plan to pick up most of the perishable items on your last stop.

Here are a few more tips to help you keep the budget under control if you are spending an afternoon stockpile shopping:

  • Eat before you go – hunger can impair your judgment because everything just looks so darned good!
  • Take a bottle of water or a cup of coffee with you so that you aren’t tempted by the coolers or the Starbucks at the front of the store.
  • Go alone – it is always far more expensive with a spouse or a child in tow. Admit it, who among us hasn’t bought something frivolous just to make another family member happy?

#5 Make bulk purchases

It gets even better when you begin purchasing in bulk quantities instead of grocery store quantities.

Let’s look at some more math – and you’ll see why maintaining a pantry beats out weekly grocery shopping every time.

I purchase my beef in bulk from a local farmer through a butcher shop.  They raise hormone-free meat, the cattle are grass fed, the animals are treated humanely, and the quality is superior.  Because I purchase 1/4 of a cow each year, I’m able to get all of my beef at $3.99 per pound.

Compare this to the grocery store (and we’re only talking about price, not the superior quality of the meat purchased farm direct):  the best price this week for stewing beef was $4.99 per pound.  The best price for ground beef was $2.99 per pound.  The best price for roast was $9.99 per pound.  When you average all of these together, I pay slightly more for ground beef and far less for everything else. As well, I have the added benefit of excellent quality meat that is cut and wrapped to order, and I’m avoiding the nasty chemicals and factory farming practices that taint the grocery store meat. The average grocery store price per pound, on sale, is $5.99

·         Pantry method: $3.99 per pound

·         Regular shopping method: $5.99 per pound

Now, for another example, let’s look at grains.

When I lived in Canada, I bought organic wheat berries. I paid $17.04 for 10 kg (about 22 pounds).  The shipping was $21.78, bringing my total to $38.82, delivered to my door – or $1.76 per pound. I couldn’t get wheat berries at the local store.  I had to drive an hour and 15 minutes to get them, resulting in a tank of gas. At the closest place I can find wheat berries, the cost in bulk is $2.60 per pound. Yes, I could buy a smaller amount, but purchasing the larger amount also results in savings because of fewer trips to the store.

Most food calculators recommend 300 pounds of wheat per person per year.  This would be wheat for making bread, pasta, cookies and other baked goods.   If you are buying your wheat already processed into bread, pasta and cereal, the price continues to climb.

·         Pantry method: $1.76 per pound

·         Regular shopping method: $2.60 per pound

At $1.76 per pound, that costs $529 per year. Per person. At $2.60 per pound, that costs $780 per year.  Per person. If you can do this with all of your staples, you can see the savings that can be achieved. That is over $1000 per year for a family of four, for just one item.

Some of the things I buy in extremely large quantities are:

  • Beef
  • Sugar
  • Wheat
  • Cornmeal
  • Oatmeal
  • Coconut Oil
  • Quinoa
  • Beans
  • Popcorn
  • Tomatoes
  • Dry milk

You’ll be astonished at how life-changing it is to shop for your pantry instead of to fulfill your weekly grocery list. Stock up and prepare for that rainy day that could be just around the corner.  And if the rainy day never comes, you’ve saved time and money while providing healthy food for your family.

 ***

This is an excerpt from  The Pantry Primer: A Beginner’s Complete Guide to Creating a Food Stockpile on a Budget.

* Cheap by Choice: When Frugality Means Freedom

As a parent, sometimes I’ve asked my kids to do things they don’t want to do.  (Haven’t we all?)  The biggest key to their success in the endeavour is their attitude.

Scenario #1:

Me: Kiddo, it’s time to swap your winter clothes for your spring clothes. Please go through your closet, sort through your winter clothes and get rid of the stuff that’s too small or that you don’t want anymore.

KiddoI don’t want to!  I hate this! It’s not fair!!!

Kiddo goes through the closet, angrily shoving things in a garbage bag without taking a good hard look at things.  She sulks, pouts and is otherwise miserable.  She gets the job done but makes sure that it is unpleasant for all of us.

Scenario #2:

Me: Kiddo, it’s time to swap your winter clothes for your spring clothes. Please go through your closet, sort through your winter clothes and get rid of the stuff that’s too small or that you don’t want anymore.

KiddoOkay – this gives me a chance to see if there’s anything I can re-purpose, too!

Kiddo goes through the closet, eagerly sorting items into piles.  She comes up with a good stash of ‘new’ materials for craft projects, a bag of donations, and 2 shirts that were buried at the back that she forgot she had.  The job is done and the end result is its own reward.

Switching over to a more frugal lifestyle can be just like the above scenarios.   You can embrace it and relish the challenge of it, or you can sulk, pout, and be absolutely miserable.

Sometimes a reader comments on my website or sends me an email telling me that by preaching a frugal lifestyle, I am, in fact, giving in to the financial elite who have destroyed our nation’s economy.  They feel that I should be recommending other types of resistance.  They say, “Why should I have to do that when THEY have trashed our economy?  Why should I do without?”

I understand, truly, where these readers are coming from.  They’re right – we shouldn’t have to be thrifty because the “elite” have trashed the economy for everyday people.  However, I choose to.  I opt to live a frugal, non-consumer lifestyle because of my personal experiences. Disengaging from the uncaring financial machine has provided me with a freedom I never had when I was pulling down close to six figures.

The Story Behind My Advent into Cheapskatery

I suffered some great financial losses back in 2010. I lost my house, my car, and my business.  We had been living frugally in comparison to many people, but not frugally enough to counteract that personal economic disaster. Looking back, I’m not sure if any amount of frugality could have really made a difference.

It was a devastating blow, and it came right on the heels of the loss of my dear father.  We became even more thrifty of a necessity, and I resented the need to do so every single time I stepped into a mall, purchased groceries, or emptied my bank account on payday to keep the utilities on and a roof over our heads, with nothing extra left over for fun, or even secondary needs.  It was a very grim time for our family.

When the depression began to lift, I saw that getting out from under that mountain of debt had actually provided me with a gift of enormous freedom. I realized that my life could take a different turn. I was no longer tied to anything.

And that’s when I began to embrace my cheap side.

I realized that I no longer needed to buy into the system that had been the source of my economic collapse. By supporting them, I wasn’t supporting us. By being as self-sufficient as possible, by cutting my spending, and by not needing “the system”, I was winning.  I was becoming truly free.

When an entity has nothing to hold over your head, all the options are your own.  You can make your decisions based on what is good for you and your family, not on what terrible things might happen to you if you don’t “toe the line.”

Embrace your cheap side

Hard-core frugality is not just making a choice to buy the generic brand of laundry soap instead of a jug of Tide with scent beads.  Hard-core frugality is buying the ingredients to make 5 times the amount of laundry soap for half the price of that name-brand detergent, all the while LOVING the fact that Proctor and Gamble are not getting your money.

When you can cross that line between resenting the fact that you have to strictly budget to embracing the fact that by being as frugal as possible, you have a freedom you never dreamed of before, then you have begun to embrace your cheap side.

Being a black belt in frugality takes creativity and an optimistic outlook.  It should never be some grim, sad thing that you have to do.  It should be something that you choose to do.  By finding joy in your non-consumerism, you will be far more successful at it. It becomes a game that you win if you can do something for free that others spend money on.

When you feel like you require less, then you are happy with less.  This means that you have to spend less time working at things you may not truly enjoy to pay for the things that you never actually needed in the first place.  This means that the money that you have goes a lot further

You might be a cheapskate if….

Here are some surefire signs that you are embracing your cheap side:

  1. Before throwing anything in the garbage you take a few seconds to ponder how it might be reused, and then either compost it, put it aside for a re-purpose, or you turn it into a homemade “log” for your fire.
  2. You have an ice cream tub in your freezer nearly full of odd bits of leftovers, awaiting their reincarnation into “leftover casserole” or “leftover soup”.
  3. It’s physically impossible for you to drive past an interesting-looking garbage pile at the curb during somebody else’s spring cleaning frenzy.
  4. Your first stop at the grocery store is the “last day of sale” rack in each department.
  5. Your kid looks at a necklace or pair of earrings at the “cool” store and scoffs, “We could make this.”  Then she puts it back and asks you to take her to the thrift store for items to disassemble for the supplies to make her own accessories.
  6. A day of yard-saling is planned out like a military invasion: you have a Mapquest route of at least a half dozen sales, a thermos full of coffee, a wallet full of small bills, and a list including measurements of all empty spaces in your home that need to be filled, kitchen items you are seeking, books your daughter wants to read, and upcoming birthdays.  Your alarm is set the night before, a blueberry muffin is wrapped up and ready to go on the counter, and your comfy clothes are laid out.
  7. If something must be replaced or purchased, you always look for a used version first before doling out the money for a new one.
  8. You know how to darn socks….and you do it.
  9. You wash and re-use sandwich baggies, and you’ve even rigged up a little drying rack for them beside your sink.
  10. You are outraged at the idea of spending $18 on a jug of laundry detergent because you could make a year’s supply for that amount of money.
  11. You have recently advised your child to cut off that teeny bit of mold on the brick of cheese because the other side is just fine.
  12. You don’t carve the Jack-o-Lanterns until the day before Halloween so that you can cook, puree, and can the pumpkin the day after Halloween.
  13. You have (and use) a clothesline.  Year round.
  14. You know how to repair a plastic clothes hamper by “welding it” with a bread tag and a hot glue gun.
  15. The dish soap beside your sink is actually 50% dish soap and 50% water.

How to Become a Happy Non-Consumer

Be grateful.  An “attitude of gratitude” is the most vital part of embracing your cheap side. If you’re happy with what you’ve got, you will find that you “need” far less than you did before.  That’s because you aren’t seeking some momentary hit of joyous adrenaline by purchasing something.  That rush rarely lasts and you’re just left with more stuff and less money.

Be creative.  How can you make something, save something, or repair something in a totally original way?  Embrace the challenge and tap into your creativity – you may just discover that, in your originality, you’ve come up with something far better than the purchased alternative. (We’ve found this to be especially true with fashion accessories, home decor, and birthday parties!)

Give.  Don’t let your pursuit of frugality make you stingy.  There are always people who are worse off than you. It’s important to give a hand up to those people.  If your kids were hungry, or cold, or without shelter, wouldn’t you hope that some kind person would help them?  Even at our absolute rock bottom financially, we donated one can of spaghetti sauce and a package of noodles to the food bank every week, which hopefully provided a warm comforting meal for someone who needed it. It isn’t really necessary to debate whether people are truly in need or just milking the system.  That is a subject for them and their consciences.  Just give.  You are responsible for your intentions, not theirs.

Spend your money where it really matters.  We opted to move to a very small community into a drafty little cabin in the woods.  We made this decision as a family, in order to reduce our monthly output.  By getting rid of “city rent” and all of the bills that came with it, we cut our monthly output in half.  This means that I can spend a little extra on high-quality meats and dairy, for example.  When my daughter needs new glasses, it’s not a problem to pay for them.  It means my older daughter can get through college without crippling student loans.

Less need equals more time.  Not only does a thrifty lifestyle mean that I can refocus where my money goes. It means that I can refocus where my time goes.  I don’t have to work quite as hard on stuff outside the home and can focus on farm and family.  I have the time to make hats and scarves instead of purchasing them. I have time to garden and can the harvests.  I have time to perform money-saving tasks like cooking from scratch, which goes into a big happy circle of having more money to put towards important things.

Stay home.  When you stay home more, you are tempted less.  You aren’t thirsty, requiring a beverage. You aren’t hungry, requiring a snack.  You aren’t using the car, requiring gas.  You aren’t tempted by all the colorful and wonderful things in the stores.

Hang out with like-minded people.  It is so much easier to embrace your cheap side if you don’t have people telling you how deprived you are all the time, or berating you for being too cheap to spend $27.85 on a movie ticket, popcorn, and a soda pop.  Most of my closest friends are thrifty.  We swap  clothing, we borrow and lend tools, and we cheerfully hang out without spending a dime.  Instead of going out to sit in a boutique coffee shop sipping a $6 latte with whipped cream, we sit in the garden at one of our houses sipping a coffee that one of us made, along with a nice fresh blueberry muffin.  We enjoy the same conversation we would have had at that coffee shop too. Instead of heading to the mall, we chat on Skype.   When your nearest and dearest are on the same page, life is a whole lot easier.

Turn off the TV.  People go to school for years to study how to make people want what they don’t need.  That great big brainwash box sitting in the living room is a direct pipeline into your brain.  From the beautiful homes on the TV programs, the fancy clothes and cars, and the ads for food, recreation, and new cars, the whole racket is designed to make you feel you what you have now is inferior to what you could have.  Kids are the biggest target of product placement advertising in popular shows.  If you watch TV, limit it.  Become aware of the scams and discuss them with your kids so that they can easily identify how marketers are attempting to manipulate them.  (Confession: we do watch a little bit of TV in our home, and when we do, it’s a big game to identify the hidden ads. While this may sound contrary to the advice to turn the TV off, I believe that some limited viewing coupled with an awareness of the marketing techniques  inoculates my children against the sales pitch.)

The Two Week Challenge

Okay….do you want to get started on your journey to frugality, freedom, and fun?

Make a list of the things that you absolutely require over the next two weeks.  This, for most of us, is the distance between one paycheck and the next.   So, if you need some milk and other supplies, pick that up.  (If you are already a prepper, you probably have enough food to get by for several months!)

Then – lock up your bank card, your cash, and your credit cards (if you use them).  For the next two weeks, I don’t want you to spend a dime.

(Obviously, the bills that must be paid, must still be paid – I’m not suggesting you stiff your landlord or skip a car payment!)

But for EVERYTHING ELSE…..put it off for two weeks.

Every time you have the urge to spend money, write it down.  (You can cheer yourself along by promising to make this purchase when the two weeks are over, if you still want it.)  You are going to be AMAZED at the things you spend money on, as well as the amount that you would have spent.

Come up with creative solutions for your “needs” and most likely, you will discover that they were actually “wants.”

So for two weeks you will NOT be purchasing….

  • Additional groceries
  • Drive-thru coffee
  • Take out pizza
  • Movie tickets
  • New clothes
  • Books and magazines
  • That adorable pair of shoes – you know, the ones that are ON SALE!!!!
  • Gasoline (unless this is absolutely necessary for work – but try to get by on one tank of gas if you aren’t a commuter)
  • A candy bar or a pack of gum (easy since you won’t be at a checkout stand – right?)
  • Music downloads
  • Greeting cards
  • Special ingredients for a meal
  • A sweater for the dog
  • A throw pillow for the sofa

You get the idea.  If you cannot go for two weeks without spending money on any of the above, it might be time to take a critical look at how you’re living your life.  What will you do if you lose your job? If the economy gets worse? If all of your money goes to keep a roof over your head and you have nothing left for discretionary spending, it’s going to be far worse to have that lifestyle forced on you by circumstances.

At the end of the two weeks, take a look at your handy-dandy notebook and tally up the money you would normally have spent.  Are you surprised?

*******

To switch over to a frugal lifestyle successfully, you really have to want to do it. If you’re constantly bemoaning what you don’t have, you’ll be miserable.  If you are resentful that you can’t have “stuff” then you won’t stick to your frugal plan.  The most important thing of all is to switch off your personal “want” button.  When you don’t want or need the things that the  big corporations are selling, then you are suddenly free of their restrictions.  You are no longer a slave to the wages you must earn to pay for the things they tell you that you should have.  You don’t have a lifestyle built on expectations, debt, and the never-ending search for happiness bought from a store.