How to Be Cheap: Waste Not, Want Not

Waste not, want not. This phrase, first recorded in 1772, is valuable wisdom for those who wish to live frugally. Consider the original audience. In the 1770s you had to make the most of what you had, because you couldn’t just drive to Walmart and get more when you ran out. And even if you could have, you probably wouldn’t have the money to buy it.

Now open up your ‘fridge and venture to ask yourself how much old or rotting food it contains. Think about how much you throw away because you forget to use it, or don’t feel like eating leftovers. I’m sure your parents pulled the whole starving Ethiopian card innumerable times during your childhood. And it’s true. But try this one out instead: perhaps you can’t buy something you want or give more generously because you throw out $100s of dollars worth of food and other products.

This is a small tragedy.<

It really bothers me to waste things, and it bothers me even more when other people waste things. Which is not to say I never waste anything, but I certainly try to avoid it. Perhaps it’s just a pet peeve, or maybe it’s an extension of my cheapness. But it’s not a bad idea to develop a healthy aversion to waste.

So here are my tips on how not to waste, and hopefully not wanting will follow.

1. Keep stock of what you have. Don’t buy so much that you can’t keep track of it, particularly with perishable food. Buying similar items each week makes this easier. For example, I always bag one bunch of bananas and one bag of fruit. I know how much I have, and we eat about the same amount each day. This way we don’t let it go to waste.

It is hard to predict how quickly bananas will ripen. But you can always freeze them when they get too brown to eat. Next time you want to make banana bread or a smoothie, you’re ready to go. Here’s my favorite banana bread recipe. It’s also good with oatmeal or chocolate chips added:

The Best Banana Bread: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/The-Best-Banana-Bread/Detail.aspx

2. Along these lines, learn how to use ingredients in a variety of recipes, and plan your menu accordinly. If you buy a big bag of potatoes, you’d better know how to use them before they go bad, especially if you’re single or don’t have kids. You don’t have to eat potatoes every night, but plan for three meals a week using them. And make them three different ways so you won’t get sick of them and not want to eat them.

If you buy a special fresh ingredient like herbs, scallions, or vegetables, make sure you have planned several recipes using them (if you won’t use it up in one recipe). For example, if you buy cilantro for Mexican food, consider making Thai as well.

3. Learn how to re-invent leftovers. What do you do with all the chicken breast from the whole chicken you cooked? Shred it and make barbeque chicken sandwiches or maybe enchiladas. Turn your leftover mashed potatoes into delicious gnocci. Make your extra spaghetti noodles into Thai Peanut Butter noodles. If your eggs are almost experied, make a quiche. (See Part 5 for recipes). Or go on Allrecipes.com and use the “Ingredient Search” to find recipes you can make with what you already have.

4. Freeze what you don’t use. If you just can’t bring yourself to finish that dish of lasagna, give it to me. Just kidding. Actually, you should freeze it in an airtight container. Then you’ll have a convenient meal later on which you can grab instead of prepackaged groceries or fast food. You didn’t waste it, and you weren’t lacking something to eat later on. See, now this waste not, want not phrase is starting to make sense.

I wish this was my freezer!

This sounds so simple, but the only tricky part is you have to remember to do this before the food goes bad. As a general rule, if you haven’t finished it four days after making it, you should freeze it. It’ll probably be bad after a week passes, so get it taken care of well before that. Four days still gives you plenty of time to enjoy the leftovers.

5. Learn how to cook for two. Our four. Or however big your family is. Figure out how much they generally eat, how much you want to have leftover, and make that much. Then you won’t have mysterious containers of food rotting in your fridge all the time. Allrecipes.com allows you to scale your recipe for smaller or bigger quantities. I usually cook four servings, because Neil will eat 1.5 servings at dinner, I’ll eat one, and that leaves him 1.5 more for lunch. Sometimes the lunch gets the shaft but then you can make up for it with sides and snacks.

6. Neil has a trick to make his pop last. I usually buy one 2-liter a week for $1. So he gets his beloved pop and we spend less than $5 a month on it. But to keep it from going flat, he treats it with special care. He screws the cap on as tightly as possible. I can’t get it off, but that’s how he keeps me from drinking his pop. Kidding again. But it keeps it carbonated. And he feels good when he has to open something because I’m not strong enough. Also, he tries not to jostle the bottle (and commands me to do the same). And he says to pour it like a beer, down the side of a glass held at an angle. So that’s how to not get flat pop that you’ll want to waste.

7. If you have something you can’t use or don’t want, try to find someone who can use it. While we’re on corny axioms, I’ll point out that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. When it comes to food, you can usually find someone to feed your unwanted leftovers to, as long as they aren’t actually spoiled. This is why I’m always force-feeding people bakery; I like making it but don’t want to it, so I must find others who will waste not, want not for me.

8. Don’t waste energy either. Now that I’m writing Ted’s newsletter I can’t help but mention a few ways to save: Turn off the lights when you’re not using them. Put your computer in sleep mode. Use natural light from windows. Using caulk and weather strips to seal the heat in your home. These may be obvious but many of us find it more convenient to waste than to convserve. But you end up paying for it in your utility bills.

9. Reject the “throw-away” mentality prevalent in our culture. Water bottles, grocery bags, Ziploc bags, Gladware, and many other “disposable” products can (and should) be used more than once. Just rinse out your water bottles, wipe out sandwich crumbs, and wash your Aldi’s brand gladware and set them to dry. You won’t die.

Also, if you need more plastic containers, don’t buy them. Instead, save containers from sour cream, cottage cheese, and other products you’re already buying. Then wash it out thoroughly and you’ve get “free” Tupperware. Now that’s something worth throwing a party about.

The Culture of Complaint

I’m going to take a break from the cheap blogs (don’t worry, there’s more to come) to write about a topic that’s been on my mind lately. In fact it’s closely related to lifestyle and thus holds significance for frugality. So here it is: I believe we are living in a culture of complaint, or at least a subculture of complaint among my generation, the millenials.

What do I mean? Listen in on the conversation of complaint:

“Hey, what’s up?”
“Not much. How are you?”
“Tired. I’m so friggin’ tired all the time.”
“Yeah, me too. And I have a headache.”
“That sucks. How was your day?”
“Awful. I went to the grocery store and kept getting behind slow people, and then some lady in the parking lot almost hit my car as I was leaving. Then I had to go home and clean and everything was a mess, and my vacuum is a piece of crap. And I forgot to buy pop so now I have to go back.”
“I hate the grocery store. It’s just full of million slow people and food I can’t afford. It’s depressing. And I hate cleaning, too. Everything just gets dirty again soon, anyway. What’s the point?”

Basically the entire content of this conversation is complaint. And sadly, this example is typical of the conversations I hold with others. I enumerate the WASP tragedies of my day in a sarcastic, exaggerated way. But I don’t like it when other people complain about their so-called suffering to me. It seems so negative. Of course when I do the same I’m just making observations about my day.

We complain about cold. The snow. The sun. The rain. The laundry. The traffic. The food. Our pets. Our friends. Our families. Our cars. Our hair. Our bodies. The dentist. (This last one I believe in complaining about, for the record, and don’t plan to stop).

I hear the conversation of complaint among myself, friends, the high school students, and strangers. When you don’t know what to talk to someone about, what do you do? Complain about how much snow there is and how much the local sports team sucks. When you know someone well, what do you do? Unload in great detail every pet peeve and inconvenience that affected you that day.

But complaining isn’t just the content of our conversation; it’s also the substance of much humor, the comedy of complaint. We joke about how big our butts are, how stupid those customer service people are, how evil our professor is. Listen to a comedian like Dane Cook and you’ll have the idea. He has quite a rant about people turning around in his driveway, for example.

I realize that comedy seeks to make light of life’s difficulties, and that’s fine. But so much humor is sarcastic (which I love) and negative (which I am). Is it funny? Often. But is it edifying? Rarely. At least not in the larger context of a culture of complaint, when such humor only further engrains whininess in us. Perhaps it would be just as funny to joke about how great things are, for the novelty of it if nothing else. “I’m so glad there’s three feet of snow in my yard. If there’s a fire I could just jump right out of my window and it’d break my fall!” (Okay, we’ll need to get someone funnier to write the grateful jokes).

Some might say that people just need to vent; there’s nothing wrong with letting out some steam when you’re frustrated. I certainly like to do this. But this culture of complaint coincides with the highest rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, and other emotional problems America has ever known. So is venting really helping? I’m not suggesting we keep everything inside, but the excessive complaining practiced by many Americans (including myself) may be seriously contributing to our lack of contentment and emotional stability.

In Calm My Anxious Heart Linda Dillow cites an African missionary’s prescription for contentment. The very first point was, “Never allow yourself to complain about anything–not even the weather.” (And this from a woman who lived in a place where the temperature could surpass 120 degrees).

That’s amazing! If a woman living in the African bush can be content and live without complaint, why can’t we, the most comfortable people in the world, be less whiny? We can if we want to be. The secret to contentment is gratitude, and to become more grateful I think we need to repent of our whiny, unthankful attitudes.

I complain about nearly everything, but I don’t like how I sound. I so wish I could stop complaining, but that will have to be a work of the Holy Spirit. There’s no way I can change this on my own. I realize this goal could become legalistic, but when approached with an attitude of gratitude, is seems quite useful. As I said, I give myself (and everyone else) a free card to keep complaining about going to the dentist, but I’d like to be more grateful for the provisions and opportunities God’s given me. And I’d like to be more forbearing in difficult, uncomfortable, or inconvenient circumstances.

Expressing gratitude is just one more way we can stand against the world system and its culture of complaint. And in light of eternity it makes a lot of sense.