A (Kind of) Confession and a Challenge We’re Facing

Is it seriously already Wednesday? We have been busy with VBS and check-ups at the dentist and the OB, but I have been thinking about writing this all weekend!

Wow, friends.

You guys came out of the woodwork to introduce and share a little bit about yourselves. I tried to respond to every single comment and I hope I didn’t miss anyone (I also asked a few follow-up questions, ahem-hem). I absolutely loved reading a bit about who YOU areand why you read here.

The biggest questions it seemed people had were in relation to our solar set-up, our plans for our (un)expected arrival, and why exactly we’re going to build a large house if we seem to be doing a-ok in an itty-bitty space, so I am planning posts addressing each of those issues specifically in the upcoming weeks (when I say “planning posts” what I really mean is that I think about them for a while before sitting down at the computer and hammering one out while Finn is napping – just so we’re clear).

One of the things that struck me the most is how many of you have your OWN stories to tell. Some of you own land that you want to build on someday, some of you have spent time living in unusual spaces. Many of you are just interested in a simple, less expensive, less consumerist lifestyle. Me too.

My confession is this (and maybe it’s not much of a confession because it’s probably glaringly obvious): I have no idea as of yet what exactly a simple, less expensive, less consumerist lifestyle consists of for us, necessarily.

So far, living in the bus hasn’t been exactly simple OR less expensive and we’ve had to buy a lot of things! There have been a plethora of problems to deal with and some additional costs that we hadn’t really planned on.

As far as living with less is concerned, there are things that I packed away thinking that they would only contribute to cluttering up the small space that I really wish I had out right now (certain electric kitchen tools specifically, since our electricity is free and propane is not). There are other things that I kept out or even purchased that are turning out to be a pretty useless waste of space (most of the under-couch storage that I bought from Ikea is practically empty and just makes it harder to sweep under the futon). There is also a ton of stuff we have packed away in storage that I think is going to go directly to Goodwill when we finally unpack it.

I think, though, that all that is just part of the journey. We’re not experts or professionals in any capacity (except the capacity that Noah is a professional in… which doesn’t relate to bus-dwelling at all). We really are just a normal family trying out a very un-normal situation in the hopes that it will help us reach our goal. We are bound to make a huge load of mistakes along the way, but hopefully we’ll come out the other end stronger and wiser and with lots of stories to tell!

Having said all that, and now that we all know each other, can I present to you a particular challenge that we’re facing?

Since a big part of this endeavor is about saving money, it is terribly frustrating when certain aspects of this lifestyle cost MORE than when we were living in a house. I’ve mentioned before that one of those higher cost areas is our grocery budget. Many of you noted that you found this blog after my guest posts at Money Saving Mom and at Southern Cali Saver, so I feel confident that I’m dealing with a group of financially savvy individuals.

However, our situation is rather unique due to the fact that one of the big principles of saving money on your grocery budget – Stock Up on Good Deals – is harder to do when you don’t have a freezer and your fridge space is very minimal (think hotel mini-fridge size). I find that I keep having to go to the grocery store to buy fresh food (milk especially, since we can only fit one or two gallons and we go through much more than that weekly), when before I could buy and cook in bulk and freeze a large portion of food. I have also had to pass up deals on meat on clearance because I had no way to save it before it would go bad (I’m thinking of you, giant, half-off ham).

Some of the things I’ve been doing to try and combat this include buying lots of shelf-stable fruits and veggies and keeping them out on the counter (works quite well), buying canned goods (although not my favorite thing health-wise) and baking more (which uses more dry ingredients like flour).

Weย  do own a full-size fridge/freezer, but it won’t run off our little solar set-up (one thing I’ve learned since being out here is that the appliances that take up the MOST energy are those whose purposes are to heat or cool things). Our current fridge actually runs off propane, and propane freezers are crazy expensive (from what I’ve seen).

So, any ideas on how to save money on fresh food without a freezer and only a teeny fridge? Running to the store all the time is killing me AND our budget and definitely not contributing to “living simply” in any way, shape or form.

*Interesting side-note: In relation to the issue that we’re having, it strikes me that there are probably many people who are unable to afford to eat fresh, healthy food due to the inability to stock up or store it properly. What are your thoughts?

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29 thoughts on “A (Kind of) Confession and a Challenge We’re Facing

  1. You could dig a root cellar. More space for fruits and veggies, and as fast as you go through dairy, you could probably keep that in there too. And it would be a great way to escape the summer heat!

      1. It would cost more per gallon, but you could also sign up for home milk delivery so that more dairy came when you needed it. Not going to the store again (gas, unnecessary purchases) might help offset the cost.

  2. As far as the milk goes, since this is just a temporary situation for you, what about buying a gallon of milk and then mixing it with milk powder to make 2 gallons? I did that when my boys were small and we were living on an extremely tight grocery budget that usually only had meat on the menu once a week. No one ever said the milk tasted funny or whatever. I did mix it up the night before so it was cold like milk should be. And now, I saw in the grocery store organic milk powder! The Carnation instant was the best I could do.
    As you well know, staying OUT of the grocery store is the best way to save. If you are running to the store to buy a gallon of milk, not only are you burning gas but who can just go into the store to get milk? Oh, look at the peaches? And mom, they have cauliflower…. etc., etc.
    We ate a ton of dried beans, peanut butter, and pasta and rice. None of which had to be refrigerated and all really, really cheap.

    1. You know, I had previously dismissed the idea of powdered milk because my husband is the big milk drinker and he’s not a fan, but I bet I could get away with using it with the kids, which would make at least a dent. Do you mix the power with water and then mix it with the milk?

      1. Yes. Mix up the half gallon of instant. Then add half gallon of ‘real’. I did do half ‘real’ milk and half ‘instant’ milk. When I finally confessed to what I was doing, my boys just shrugged and asked if they could help measure. It really is just what you are used to.
        Maybe you could tell if there was a side by side comparison but I never did. And in your case, it isn’t forever. It is just until you can get a refrig that holds enough milk for a week. There are a ton of things you are doing that aren’t ‘forever’ changes due to your situation.
        And I saw in some previous comments that you are thinking of replanting your garden. Here in Georgia, fall gardens are often the most prolific and satisfying. The weather is cooler for the gardener and the mosquitoes seem to be less. Try again. Summer scorches like you have in California are demoralizing for a first timer. Heck, even someone like me who has been gardening for almost 30 years will boo hoo when the sun burns the squash leaves to pulp. I just pulled up my green bean vines and replanted. I also am planting my spinach, salad greens and carrots.
        Good luck!

  3. Hi Sarah,
    You have family close by right? Is it possible to use a freezer at some one’s home? At least you could take advantage of sales on meat. Before we were married, my husband used to mix powdered milk with 1/2 regular milk. He said as long as it is really cold you don’t taste the difference. And I would think on cereal it would be fine. I use powdered milk in recipes to save money.

    1. We’ve talked about plugging our full size fridge in at my parents’ place, and we still might see if that’s an option. They’re over 10 miles away though, so it’s not super convenient. We’d have to work out logistics for that one. Good idea though!

  4. We once lived without power AT ALL for 20 days…

    At first we kept an ice chest for stuff like milk, cheese, and sandwich meat…

    Toward the end is when I got really creative-

    The Lipton Rice Sides that say to simmer for 7 minutes? Add 3/4 the amount of boiling water called for and let sit covered for 15. Mix in a drained can of chicken, serve with a pouch of instant potatoes, and a can of veggies. (Which, by the way, can be heated in the can by draining the canning liquid and replacing with boiling water!)

    Probably not the healthiest meal, but better than fast food, and total cost for 3 hearty appetites was about $5.

  5. Seems like you could be saving some money by just opting to go meatless.. since you cant store it anyway. Load up on cans of tuna! I’ve found the majority of sales and good coupon deals are for the canned and packaged foods, rather than the fresh stuff.

    Otherwise, meal prep around the weekly ad. If the half ham was such a killer deal then make the family eat it immediately and for every meal until its gone.

    1. Yes to tuna – I have a stockpile – and yes to planning around the ad. One of the positives about going grocery shopping more is that I’m able to hit up different stores for their loss leaders. Also, not 20 minutes ago I got a call from the paper offering a year of delivery for only $12.50, so I’ll be able to start couponing again, which is a plus.

      Meatless would only be an option if I were planning on not remaining married for long. The main problem with the ham was that it wouldn’t fit in the fridge at all. I mean, unless I wanted to serve it for breakfast, lunch and dinner in lieu of any other food. Which, you know, maybe if I happen upon it again I will!

  6. I love the root cellar and mixing milk with powdered milk ideas! Since your husband is the main milk drinker, can you get him to cut back while you’re living in the bus? I used to be a huge milk drinker and switched to water for weight loss purposes – my husband and I only go through about a gallon a week now that it’s mainly for on cereal (plus a half gallon/week for the kids). We can afford to buy organic now that we’re not buying so much of it!

    1. You know, to be honest, Noah has a much more strenuous time out here than the rest of us because the brunt of all the heavy lifting and repair work is on his shoulders. He loves his milk and if there’s a way to make it work without him having to go without or cut back, that’s what we’ll try to do, but I totally see where you’re coming from – that’s usually my first solution to things too!

  7. Stocking up when you have little space is a challenge for sure, but not one that awesome people like you can’t conquer! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Having a garden is a great way to have fresh fruits and veggies at your fingertips that are stored in the ground until you need them. That won’t help you out a lot right now (sorry!), but you could certainly plant some lettuce and spinach as the weather cools off and have “free” salads.

    We have a three tiered hanging basket for fruit. It screws into the ceiling and has the fruit off the counter to give more space. I found it at a yeard sale, but it looke just like this: http://www.amazon.com/DecoBros-3-Tier-Hanging-Basket-Chrome/dp/B008UP233O/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1406225731&sr=8-2&keywords=hanging+fruit+baskets

    In your under-the-couch storage (which you just confessed was empty), you could store potatoes, onions, or containers of dry ingredients.

    Some ideas on milk:
    -When we have no-spend months and we’re out of regular milk (a month where we don’t go to the grocery store, etc at all), we drink powdered milk. Definitely not my fav, but the kids and hubby don’t mind it. If you add a splash of vanilla and sprinkle a wee bit of sugar it tastes better.
    -I have a good friend who has dairy goats that give them fresh milk every day, so they never buy milk at all. Now, adding a goat to the homestead probably isn’t what you want to do right now, but I’m just putting it out there as an option.

    Maybe you already do this, but could Noah pick up a gallon of milk every couple of days and bring it home after work? That way you wouldn’t have to run to the store with all the kiddos just to get milk. It would save on gas since he’s already out.

    I think you’ve already figured out the best way is to stock up on what you can, like shelf-stable stuff. When we lived in an itty bitty place once, we had cases of food (a killer deal on cold cereal) stacked up as a nightstand for our high bed (up on cinder blocks so we could store other stuff under it).

    1. Fantastic ideas! We we’re just talking about adding a milk run into Noah’s drive home (assuming he goes to the grocery store instead of a convenience store!) And I am going to look for one of those hanging baskets asap – that would be a huge help.

      Honestly, I don’t even really need to use the under couch storage yet because we still have a TON of built in storage that we’re not fully utilizing. Dry goods are fully stock-upable, its just the cold stuff that’s an issue at this point! Thank you for the tips – I knew you’d have some good ones!

    1. Are they really big? We have a regular cooler that we were using, but ice got too expensive and things kept getting ruined as the ice melted. Plus, it doesn’t actually keep things frozen. Does dry ice keep things frozen?

  8. Sarah,
    Hello again! You scared me off a bit asking if I would be interested in doing a guest post ๐Ÿ™‚ I am way to shy for that, sorry. But I am still here, enjoying your adventure with you!
    Here are some of the things we used to do living off grid.
    If we wanted to stock up on fresh veggies we would by a ton and then home dry them. So simple without an electric dryer. All you need is a tray of some kind and a car! Especially if you have a parked, broken down car as we often did. You slice your veggies and put them on the tray. Sit it in the hot car for a day or 2 and they will dry without being exposed to bugs or dirt or whatever, and they are out of the way. There are lots of good resources on-line about drying foods. I just finished drying mini-bell peppers that I found at the 99 cent store. They are only 99 cents a pound vs $5 a lb at the grocery store. I bought 10 lbs and froze half an dried half. I dry most of my stuff like that so I don’t use up precious freezer space. Also, dry food isn’t at the mercy of a power outage! My mom also did a LOT of home canning.
    A great resource for gardening in hot weather is theprudenthomemaker.com. She lives in Nevada I think and their temps top out at 112-115! I myself am still trying to learn to garden here in So. Cal (vs the pacific NW). I don’t know what your water situation is, so that will also affect things. There are lots of great ideas on youtube about off grid gravity fed drip irrigation systems. May not be practical for you guys but you might take a look.
    As far as milk, we were big milk drinkers since my stepdad worked on a dairy. However, he just brought home a gallon every night and we always made space in our tiny fridge. And yes, we drank a gallon every day. If any managed to be left over, it was fed to the animals. You can afford to do that when you get organic milk for free!
    It may be easier to buy smaller containers OR put your milk into a different shaped container that is taller and thinner to use your fridge space better. I think having the hubby bring it home after work, as was suggested, is the way to go.
    We only bought ice cream if we were going to eat it ASAP, since we had no freezer.
    We used to rent a freezer space at a small butcher shop. All our meat was stored there and we would pick it up when needed. It was frozen so deeply that we could get a couple days worth out at a time since it took so long to defrost. If you could put a freezer at a parents house, that would be ideal, you just have to be organized with picking up the meat when you need it.
    Not sure what other foods you are trying to keep cool. What kinds of things do you guys eat?
    Have you checked the temperature under the bus? It may be possible to keep some stuff under there if you don’t have time to dig the root cellar ๐Ÿ™‚ If you stock up on dry goods like wheat or rice, you could keep it in 5 gallon buckets under the bus (again, assuming its cool enough). Powdered eggs are a great way to go for baking. Don’t buy the tiny containers of “egg whites” though, too expensive. You can get the gallon size can that is intended for food storage. I got mine at a super walmart in WA.
    Guess that’s enough running on… I will ask my mom for other ideas. She does have the advantage of living in a much cooler climate, so I am not sure if she can help.

    1. I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you off! Your story is fascinating though, so please do let me know if you change your mind. I have read The Prudent Homemaker before – she is quite inspirational!
      We do have a water meter, so that’s not a concern. Our irrigation system definitely needs to get dialed in a bit, though.
      My husband would be insanely jealous of all the fresh milk. We eventually plan on getting a miniature jersey cow to milk at some point, to help in that area.
      I love the idea of renting a freezer space at the butcher. I will have to look into that.
      My concern with things being under the bus or porch would mostly be bugs and snakes and creepy crawleys either getting into it or getting into us while we try to get it out! I will talk to Noah about that though, he’s always full of ideas about that sort of thing.

      Thank you again so much for your input. It’s very thoughtful and interesting! I hope you don’t hesitate to comment in the future ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. I was about to suggest The Prudent Homemaker to you as wellโ€”I think you could grow a lot of the things she does. I’m not sure whether you have the space/equipment to can, or the know-how, but that would give you a lot of food that didn’t need to be kept cold. Do you have a nearby farmer’s market that might have better produce prices than the grocery store?

        1. I don’t know anything about canning or have any of the equipment… but I have neighbors who do! It is definitely something I want to learn about.

          And yes! There is a local weekly farmer’s market, however, I don’t often find that things are less expensive there. I still love to go though!

  9. Hi. I’m having a hard time with fridge space in our 5th. My husband takes his yogurt or cereal for the week to his jobs break room fridge. I start work next week and will do the same. He also tries to take his lunch for the week on Monday, sandwiches for the week or left overs. I menu plan and list things they will eat. If we go out to eat on the weekend, I take a paper and pen to hear them out on what they want to eat and what I can make. I still use crockpot, but invested in a nu- wave cooker and love it. We had fried egg sandwiches, ravioli casserole finished off in toaster oven. Tuna mixed with Mac n cheese. Just like cooking in our apt but way smaller space and have to be careful with plumbing. I like trader joes cause their pkg sizes are small, not bulk, but its not close. Albertsons has a great produce section and nice diced onions and vegetable diced. I pay for the convenience, cheaper than eating out, and less work, and it smells great and I feel somewhat normal. Take care. Oh, heat has been an issue, so I drove to mall with my 15 year old daughter for free air conditioning and exercise, window shopping. Also hanging out at library every other day to stay cool.

  10. I just discovered your blog (I think from Money Saving Mom) and I have LOVED reading your story – so inspirational! I know your husband works ridiculously hard (mine does too!) but maybe he wouldn’t mind stopping for milk and such on his way home from work once or twice a week if he passes a grocery store?

    Another thing you could do is possibly buy milk that doesn’t need refrigerated until it’s opened. Rice milk, some coconut milks, and some soy and almond milks are delicious and can be left at room temperature until they’re opened. If your husband doesn’t like the taste, those milks could be substituted in baking (and you and the kids could drink it!) but Noah could still drink dairy milk.

    As far as meats and other frozen items, I’ve seen some deep freezers outside, right next to the house. It seems like that may not work for you but I thought I’d mention it just in case!

    Good luck with the food storage situation – if you figure out a good food system for your family, please post an update!

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words! Unfortunately, at this point we can’t run a normal fridge or freezer off our solar set-up, but the rest of the suggestions I am already starting to put into practice. Thank you!

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