Bulk Buying and Cooking for Singles

There are some great sites out there lauding once a month cooking which usually involves large casseroles, piles of waffles and pancakes and a quantity of food that is staggering to me.

And yet I have a Costco membership I use frequently, buy in bulk packages at the co-op and often have enough food in my freezers and pantry to eat for a month or more without shopping.  It’s a fine balance between getting the best price for food (usually in bulk) and not throwing money out by dumping spoiled food in the trash.

Here are some of my tricks.

Snacks

I make granola in huge portions and keep it fresh in a glass jar to top yogurt or to mix in with cereal. Rolled oats, raw sunflower seeds, raisins and cinnamon.

Costco sells a 5 pound bag of organic carrots for just a few dollars. I divide the bag up into 12 small bags of carrots for snacks

Great for eating raw or dipped in hummus.  Other vegetables good with hummus include peppers, cucumbers and broccoli.

My co-op sells peppers in bulk bags of 2-3 pounds for under $2/pound. These red peppers were under $1 a pound in the half price bin.  I like peppers fresh in a variety of dishes but they are a bit of a pain to wash, prep, slice and keep these from going bad. So when I buy in bulk I take the time to pre-slice and chop to freeze in smaller portions. Some are sliced for fajitas and burritos,

and smaller pieces are great for stuffed zucchini boats and scrambled eggs.  Since my freezers are full it’s tough to make room for flash freezing peppers. Ice cube trays are great for this,

Side Dishes

Typically I buy just one or two bags of dry sides (rice, pasta and lentils) at a time. I use glass jars from Ikea to store these sides and it’s simple enough to pour a half cup or more.

A bulk bag of broccoli is incredibly cheap at the co-op – less than one bag of steam fresh from the grocery store.

This was about a fourth of the broccoli I bought and couldn’t eat before it goes bad. So after steaming I let the broccoli cool and bagged it in smaller portions.

The chicken cutlets I picked up this summer ( 8 – 2.5 lb bags) is still in the freezer. It’s super easy to pull out one or two pieces, defrost and and add to the George Foreman grill.  In the coming month I may buy a bulk container of ground beef at Costco to brown and divide into smaller pieces.

Fruit

Summer is gone. Sigh.

But during those fruit filled months I stocked up on a variety of fruits including cherries, bananas, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, pineapples and blueberries. Flash frozen and then in small containers, it’s easy to use these in small portions for smoothies year round.

Remember these fruity summer drinks? One of the most complicated parts is adding a cup of lemon juice (fresh is best). So I take the lemons I get in bulk from my Grandma’s tree or direct from the farm and freeze them in ice cube trays.

Just a few tricks I use to save money on a few items I use over and over all year long.  I stagger these purchases to keep my grocery budget from getting out of control but in the long run it’s a simple way to make the most of low prices despite the fact I never make casseroles or pounds of pancakes.

June Project Update

How are your June Projects going? Mine is squeaking by, I definitely need to finish some chores this week to keep on track. The magazine stack is slowly growing smaller and I’ve been adding new recipes to my binder.

The ‘to be filed’ pile can be done in ten minutes and I might even clear out my ‘to be shredded’ box. When it comes to going through a lot of paper and recycling I find it’s easy to designate a bag. I use paper bags from the grocery store so I can dump all of my paper directly into the recycle bin.

If you think it’s too late to get started, don’t worry! Here are three tips to get you started tonight:

1. Set up a filter – an email filter is a great way to avoid distractions and save time. I’ve mentioned before that Costco sales emails have their own folder, photo deals from Shutterfly, Hotbook, Walgreens and Snapfish go to one folder and correspondence for my volunteer projects go to another. So easy! Check out this article on what types of email to filter and how to get started.

2. Put like things together – if I asked you to grab a red pen would you know where to look? How about a spatula? Puzzle? Shampoo? If two or more places come to mind then you can start simplifying by moving like items together.

In my house black sharpies go in the middle desk drawer. Cleaning rags under the bathroom sink. This saves SO much time trying to find something in place A only to find it’s not there, looking in place B and giving up by buying another at Wal-Mart. Another benefit is knowing how much you have! If your towels don’t fit in a large basket do you have too many? If you gather all your printer paper and only have a ream should you buy more? Do you find duplicates that you don’t need or would you benefit from a backup set?

True story: I have 5 pair of scissors for little ole me. One pair goes in the office for paper only, the rest reside in the kitchen. This way if I grab one for scrapbooking or another to open a bag of pretzels I don’t have to spend an hour hunting down a pair to cut out a coupon.

Grouping like items also makes it easier to get dressed, pack and clean. The best part of “cleaning up” is knowing that when you come across something you know where it should go.

3. Gather and toss – do you get advertisements in the mail every week like I do? Such a waste… if I want to view deals I go to the site directly to view the grocery flyer and I never buy those pizza or oil change deals. But since I can’t find a way to stop the mailman from leaving me those papers I gather and toss them once a week.

When you collect your mail sort into two piles: to do and to wait. If it’s a bill, birthday card, or other important document it becomes a “to do.” Bills should be paid, cards acknowledged, checks cashed, coupons sorted, etc. If you have no immediate use for the mail it becomes to “to wait.” This pile has a shelf life of 7 days, no more. Every other day I get an advertisement for a new cable service that I’m never going to use. That skips the “to wait” pile and goes into the recycling. Same for credit card offers (which are shredded first), pet food offers, and grocery stores I do not frequent. What remains are circular ads for stores I do shop at and those are only good for a week. At the end of the week they go straight into the recycling.

Magazines go right into the “to read” magazine file and I try to keep just the last 3 months on hand at once. After all, recipes for Christmas ham and soups to ward off the cold are not very useful right now!

I don’t have a cute little box or basket for this type of mail, just one bar stools in the kitchen. Everything in my “to do” pile gets move immediately. Bills go on the calendar and then filed in my “to be paid” folder. One of these days I’ll go paperless but I’m not there yet.

Furlough Lessons

Last week I learned an important lesson in furloughing – get stuff done! Instead I reasoned that since I’d be working all weekend I could relax a little, didn’t really need to work on my projects and could in fact lie around reading books and playing with puppies.

Wrong.

Not only was I rushed beyond the limits of my fragile sanity but just one event had the potential to throw everything off. Friday that event was a group lunch. A required group lunch. Which left me no time to run to the printer during my lunch hour. Doh! Friday after work I managed to run to the printer, take home my work, pack for the weekend, change for the gym, workout, shower and then leave town. It was entirely more exhausting than it had to be.

This week went a little differently because I had several time benchmarks. They were:

8:10a Doctor appointment

9:30a Dance Class

11:10a Brunch with Friend

between 12 and 4p Visit another friend at work

4:30p Library Event

With that in mind I added in a half dozen errands based on where I needed to drive. I was able to pick up vegetables at the co-op, shop for books in downtown Sacramento, pick up presents for an upcoming baby shower and buy cookies for my Grandpa (who has probably never used a computer lest read my blog).

I was back home by 3:30 to get ready for our Annual Board Meeting at the Library which was a blast!  While this weekend isn’t as busy as all my travel and work like last weekend I am really glad to have a jump start on the week. There’s food in the fridge, gifts to wrap, books to read and cookies to deliver.

Love my Bag

My bag is amazing. It holds damn near everything I need which saves me a whole lot of time running back and forth to my car or house.

My laptop and charger:

a binder and my cell phone:

all the little things that make my life run, pens, a timer, glasses, a book and my purse:

The purse was a souvenier from my trip to Scotland and I picked it up in Stornoway and it holds all the money and jazz I carry:

(yes I still write checks on occasion, so sue me!)

and there’s usually room leftover for a reusable shopping bag, sweater, papers or a second book. And a third book…

My camera fits in nicely if I arrange everything well enough but if I’m going out on a photo shoot it’s easier to move my Stornoway purse to my camera bag. This weekend I’ll be covering an event and my shoulder bag, camera bag and overnight bag is all I need!

Simplify Your Life

As time goes by we all need to simplify things just a little. Instead of taking on one big project at a time, I find it easier to make a little progress over several non-urgent projects. This method holds my interest a bit longer and allows me to do a little at a time.

EMAILS
I’ve synched my email accounts so everything goes to one account. The most common emails I get week after week are filtered into folders and one look tells me if I have something to read. Most of them are archived for later.

Costco – promotional emails go straight to the Costco folder. I use these to look up pricing for larger purchases ONLY.

Mileage – I email myself mileage information from the gas pump and archive those for the day I can sit down and figure out my mpg numbers

Blog – comments and notifications go to one folder so I can deal with those just once a day. I love getting comments and responding to questions and now they don’t get lost in my in box.

Another side project is tagging. I love Gmail because you can assign one email to multiple folders without copying the email. So the confirmation for my new camera lens goes into Orders in case I have a problem and need to contact the seller, and into Work Related so I can track these expenses. Easy as pie.

NOTES
I take a lot of notes. Daily. Hourly. On so many random subjects it’s impossible to summarize. So I’m using the free version of EverNote to capture everything in one place. When I read an amazing blog post or get a link to a site I want to check out: it all goes into EverNote.

Sometimes I want to do something at home when I’m at work and vice versa. Again, email comes in handy because I can shoot myself a reminder to ‘scrub dog pool for summer’ or ‘scan April spending logs.’

I do keep a running to do list that I write out by hand on scrap paper. It’s so much easier than typing some times and I like keeping

WEBSITES
There are so many good sites out there. Blogs, businesses, news sites… how can you possibly keep track of them all? First I use the site All My Faves which gives you the top 8-15 sites in a number of categories like Money, Sports, News, Maps, Videos, Weather, Community and a lot more.

But for sites that I like to read from regularly I found an easier way: my Google Reader. This tool works with my email and lets me read all the sites I subscribe to on one page. No more flipping around the internet to find out if someone updated. Right now I have 15 subscriptions and I only includes the ones that I am interested in reading every day. They cover a wide range of topics: finance, food, news, business, marketing, travel…

If there’s a site that isn’t updated or that I don’t read frequently I’ll add it to my bookmarks. Some examples include photography sites with inspiring albums, friends who no longer blog, and sites I use for reference or inspiration.

SCANNING
Some day, when paper is obsolete, I’ll never have to worry about archiving bills and paperwork again. Until that day I am slowly keeping up with my current files, usually just one day a month and even more slowly scanning older bills to digital and backing them up. I need to research how long I must keep all this paper but once I know it’s safe to toss the shredding party begins.

ELECTRONIC FILES
If you’ve ever had to back up a computer quickly you’ll know how easy it is to just throw files together. I’ve done it thrice and it never gets easier. As a result I have countless unorganized files, CDs and yes, even floppy discs, that need to be sorted out.

Common sense says there is nothing remotely of value on those floppy drives but my curiousity must be satisfied! I’m hoping to locate at least one high school English paper by which to torture myself by.

What I’m still working on:
streamlining my blog categories and re-tagging posts
revamping my blogroll (If you’d like me to consider featuring your blog please leave a comment!)
sorting my digital pictures by year and event and backing up