Sunday, April 29, 2012

You can't get soft in these hard times.

The day before the super bowl this year I got a phone call while I was doing my taxes online. On the other end was the co-owner and manager of the bar and restaurant where I was hired as kitchen manager. Without warning, just out of the blue, she said that my services were no longer needed and thank you very much. That was almost three months ago and only recently did I land a job with the public library here in Tucson. In all honesty, getting canned from that poop farm was a blessing in disguise. Although being unemployed is pretty rough, in the long run I came out a better person for it.

How did my tenure as a jobless slob help me you might ask? Well, it taught me a lot of things; mainly humility, but beyond that I was quickly introduced to having to be extra thrifty about our food shopping. Not that we shouldn't be on a day to day basis due to our current economic vexations but I was introduced to some simple cut backs and tricks to make that dollar stretch just a wee bit more. Or even further. You'll see.

Okay, first thing we did was become almost extreme couponers. I mean, I have never if rarely used coupons but thanks to reality based TV (that doesn't involve anyone with the last name Kardashian) light was shed that literally free money is out there. For us, a local supermarket, Albertsons, always has like some kind of game thing going on and this time around they're doing a Monopoly themed one. Best part is, each piece has a coupon in it. Well, most of them do. Luckily for us, She-Ra is a very popular bartender with a lot of loyal customers and when they found out she was collecting Monopoly game pieces, people would just give her theirs and before long we were inundated with in store coupons.

This combined with raiding the Sunday paper, clipping stuff from mailings and even trolling the internet for deals, we got a $100+ shopping trip down to about $40. You have to get over the fact that clipping coupons makes you feel like a mid-west housewife, but, c'mon! We got a month's supply of, for almost free. Sure it's kind of embarrassing to hand over a wad of coupons over to the cashier making the folks behind you wait a bit longer but, fxxk it. With the money you saved you can fill up the car with gas because there will NEVER be a coupon for that stuff. Or is there? Let me know if you have a hook up.

Another thing we do is comparative shop. We know the deli at once place has a better product at a better price and another has a better bakery for a decent deal, etc etc. Recently our local Food City was selling chicken breasts for .88 a pound. Mind you it was skin on and bone in but if you have any type of knife skills you can fillet that stuff and have a perfect chicken breast. See, the boneless skinless chicken breasts that cost $5 a pound is jacked up because someone making $30 an hour to de-skin and de-bone the stuff did the work for you. There are even YouTube videos on how to fillet chicken and all other types of meat. No really, go check it out. Sure you gotta have a stomach for that kind of work (luckily for me my five years as a chef really paid off) but now we have our freezer stuffed with chicken. We eat a lot of chicken. Apparently. Maybe I should also learn to butcher my own steaks. But...we'd need a bigger house for that one.

On a tip from a good friend, we discovered a store that sells perfectly good, normal store brand products for a fraction of what you would normally pay. Now, we've driven past this place a lot only to stick our noses up and go “Aw hell no.” Because who would buy food at a .99 Cent store? I mean, could you imagine the back alley garbage food that must be infesting those shelves? Forget it. No way.

But our friend, a medical doctor, shops there all the time. So, taking her advice we checked it out one day doing errands.

We were stunned. Yeah, there's a lot of creffy looking folks mingling around and, yeah, it is a .99 cent store so there is a bunch of cheap birthday decorations and cleaning products that just read 'Sanitary' but the food area was pretty decent.

At first we were just window shopping. Then we picked up one item. Then another. Then another. Then I had to retrieve a hand basket. Pretty soon the thing was full and before we knew it, we had become fans of the .99 Cent food store. Why? Because this haul right here cost us just $12.

For real.

As cooks and fooders, we go to a lot of diverse grocery stores. So, with this experience and knowledge, we knew that the same canned good they sell at Sprouts or Whole Foods for $6 goes for .99 cents at this place. Just like the boneless/skinless chicken that costs more than skin on and bone in, you are literally paying for ambiance. We have a really upscale market here in Tucson called AJ's and it has mood lighting, a sommelier, decorated chef's and all that stuff, but they also carry the exact same products the .99 Cent store has. You are not getting a better item just because the clientele stink of money and the vegetables have their own personal mister, you are being fleeced because they can. So, on this note, I would check out your local .99 Cent food store and stock up. Just beware of a brand of spicy chips called Takis. I'm pretty sure there is bovine hormones injected into them. Either that or my Spanish needs some dusting.

Lastly, as big time water drinkers, buying water almost every other day was starting to get pricy. Not tom mention we were getting pretty tired of throwing away large plastic containers on a regular basis seeing as there is no recycle bin nearby and hauling those things around in the car was starting to get silly.

What we finally did, but was putting it off for some bizarre reason, was purchasing refillable water containers. Now, a lot of people think you can just refill store bought water bottles, you know like in the gallon or three gallon jugs. This is something that you can do once maybe twice, after a while the plastic fibers on the inside begin to break down and before long you are ingesting synthetic grit that affect your stomach lining and make you ill.

Being the super cheapskates that we are, the idea of paying $10 to $20 for empty plastic containers seemed silly. But when we figured out that we would save over $300 annually just by using the water filling stations that are in front of most markets, we bought them and couldn't be happier that we did.

Here's the thing: Those water fill stations in front of supermarkets have to be authenticated clean water or otherwise you might as well fill up your containers from the hose. Tucson, much like my last home of San Francisco, is a bit hippie and really adamant about being “green”. In fact, I'm pretty sure Tucson just usurped San Francisco in green technology. Go look it up. No really, there are a lot of crunchy people in this weird desert town.

The one near us, which is an old school windmill looking thing, is certified clean filtered water and even has the process on the side to prove itself. And you know what...the water is pretty darn good. Thing is, we go through so much water that we are literally there almost everyday. We should have bought bigger containers. Darn it.

Oh, and I know I'm quoting a blog from the past, but to save cash and room in your fridge, something that we always do is plan our meals for the week. Like one head of romaine lettuce could be a salad one day and a Caesar wrap another. That meatloaf you made last night could be sandwiches for lunch another. Stuff like that. It's really fun and quite challenging to make the most out of your money but it is possible. You just have to be a little open and imaginative about it and you should start to see results almost immediately. We have. Enough that I'm considering buying a new pair of socks.

And maybe some underwear. Because, well....damn.

Have fun!

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