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What You Really Need For a Baby The Prudent Homemaker

 

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

 

When I was pregnant with my first baby, money was super tight. I wondered what I really needed for the baby, and everyone would tell me the same thing, "You need everything." 

"But what about __________?" I would ask.

"Oh, yes, you have to have that," they would say.

It didn't seem possible to me that I had to have all of these many things for a baby, but no one could guide me to what a baby really needed, and what I could skip spending money on.

Eight babies later, I've found that a lot of those things people said I had to have (and that I thought I probably didn't) are things I didn't have to have, and even a lot of the things I thought I would need are things I have either done without or gotten rid of (because we rarely or never used them!)

I have received a lot of emails over the years from readers asking what items they have to have and what they can do without, because they have a small budget for their baby.

If you have a small budget and want to make sure you have the essentials, here's my list of what you really need--and remember, you can get almost all of these items used via yard sales, hand-me-downs, children's resale shops, thrift stores, Craig's List, and local Facebook garage sale pages.

 

1. A car seat

It needs to be rear-facing and up-to-date (not expired).  

In the U.S., you must have this in order to take your baby home from the hospital. Even if your children are all born at home, like mine have been, you still need a car seat. You'll also need an infant insert to hold a newborn's head.

 

Sleeping Baby The Prudent Homemaker

 

2. A place for the baby to sleep

More than likely, you'll need a crib of some kind. It can be a small crib, it can be a used crib (try Craig's List, garage sales, Facebook garage sales, and children's resale shops). You'll also need a crib mattress and bedding. For bedding, you need 2 bottom sheets, 2 mattress pads, and 2 blankets. I personally also like waterproof crib pads that go in between the waterproof mattress pad and the sheets; they save you from having to take off the mattress pad every time your child spits up or has a leaky diaper while sleeping.

What you don't need:

A bassinet, a cradle, or a matching bedding set with a quilt. The baby will quickly outgrow the first two, and the big fluffy quilts that come in the sets are too large and too thick. A crib bumper is no longer recommended in the U.S. (as it is considered a suffocation hazard) and is also difficult to tie on and off every time you change the sheets.

Gender-specific crib sheets. If you opt for neutral colors, you can feel good about using the same sheets for each baby (of course you can use pink sheets for a boy, but many people would prefer not to. If you start with a neutral color, you won't have to feel obligated to buy different sheets if you have a baby of the opposite sex later).

Note that many places recommend not using blankets but using sleeping sacks instead. Despite this recommendation, I have never known anyone who didn't use blankets with their baby at some point, whether in the crib, while sleeping elsewhere, while being held, while swaddled, to cover the car seat when the sun in shining in the baby's eyes, or to lay down on the floor for the baby to play on. Chances are good that you won't need to buy any baby blankets; they are a gift that everyone loves to give. I've received over 80 baby blankets with my 8 children!

Receiving blankets are too tiny to be of much use. Many parents prefer a larger muslin blanket like this.

 

3. A place for the crib

This can be in your room or in another room. 

What you don't need:

A decorated nursery. Yes, it's pretty. Your baby will still be just fine without it. Your baby will notice your love and affection more than anything on the walls, a mobile, a rug, or coordinating decorations.

 

4. A place to feed the baby

A chair with arms is the most comfortable option. A place to put your feet up is a bonus but not required. I've nursed most of my children at the computer sitting in the computer chair, because it has arms. This website was started while I fed my 5th baby!

What you don't need:

A glider rocker with matching gliding ottoman.

I really wanted one of these with my first baby. We had 7 chairs at our house when my first was born--4 metal folding chairs that we used as kitchen chairs, 2 computer chairs without arms, and one broken recliner with wood arms. I used the rather uncomfortable recliner with my first two babies, until we bought a computer chair with arms when I had my third. Some type of chair with arms is helpful for nursing or bottle feeding.

 

5. A way to feed the baby

 

If you nurse your baby, you'll need at least 2 to 3 nursing bras. I cannot recommend getting fitted for a nursing bra enough! Department stores have women trained to fit you for a bra, and even if you've been fitted for a regular bra, your size will change when you are nursing. A comfortable nursing bra is important, and a properly fitting bra will be much more comfortable than one that rides up or pinches you.

Nursing pads are essential to keep you from leaking milk through your shirt. I like these disposable ones and these washable ones.

A nursing cover is wonderful for discreetly nursing (and fastening your nursing bra and shirt after you're done nursing). I've used blankets before, but the cover doesn't slip when I'm buttoning my shirt or the baby decides to flail his arms. 

If you're formula feeding, you'll need formula (of course), bottles, nipples with different numbers of holes depending on the baby's age, and a bottle brush.

If you're planning on pumping your own milk, you'll also need those items (minus the formula). You'll need a breast pump. This may be covered by your health insurance.

If you don't know what brand of formula you want to use, you can sign up before your baby is born on different companies' websites, and they'll send you free samples and coupons.

Burp cloths. Babies spit up. Some babies barely spit up, and some babies spit up a lot. Prefold cloth diapers work as great burp cloths, or you can purchase or make some.

 

What you don't need: 

Special nursing clothing. A regular t-shirt and/or button-front shirts work fine. If you like to wear a dress, a button front bodice or a criss-crossing bodice (such as in a wrap or faux wrap dress) will work for nursing.

A nursing pillow. If you really want a pillow, try using a pillow you already have.

A bottle sterilizer. You can wash bottles in the dishwasher, and if you don't have one, you can dip them in boiling water in a pot on the stove--or simply wash them well.

Nursery water. As long as you have clean, safe drinking water where you live, you don't need to mix your formula with bottled water.

 

6. Diapers and Wipes

Cloth or disposable, you'll need something. Baby wipes (cloth or disposable) are also needed. You'll want a place to dispose of the diapers (if disposable) or a bucket to put cloth diapers and wipes in until you're ready to wash them. You'll also want something to put them in until you're ready to use them (a basket, a drawer, etc.) 

Both cloth and disposable diapers can be done on a low budget. I have done both and prefer disposable. I buy the Target brand diapers when they have sale and gift card offers. I use the Costco wipes (a box is $20 but it also goes on sale for $16 a few times a year). I find that one box of wipes lasts me 9 months. I usually spend around $250 a year for disposable diapers and wipes.

You'll likely also want to use a diaper rash ointment and some baby powder.

What you don't need:

A diaper pail. This is one of those items that we registered for, received as a gift, used for the first two children, and then we decided we didn't need it. We had a diaper pail that took regular trash bags. Starting with my third, the babies have all been changed in my room. We found it easy enough to put the diapers in the bathroom trash can (under the sink in a cabinet) and to empty that trash can every day. Emptying it every day is the best way to not have a stinky nursery. If you are changing a baby in a nursery, you may find a trash can with a lid (that you can line with plastic grocery sacks) to be the easiest option.

 

7. A place to change the baby

Somewhere to change diapers is important. If you have a two-story house, you'll want somewhere to change diapers on each level. 

This can be as simple as a waterproof pad. I use a waterproof crib pad with two cloth prefold diapers on top. If the baby spits up on the top or the diaper leaks while changing a diaper, I can replace that cloth diaper with another for the next time. You can also opt for changing the baby on a bath towel folded in half. Both of these options will can be done on a bed or on the floor; I change my babies at the foot of my bed.

A portable diaper changing pad is useful when you leave the house--and you can use in to change the baby on at home, too!

What you don't need:

A changing table. They're an expense that wasn't in our budget with our first, and we made it work without one. It worked fine, and so, 8 babies later, I've never used one. Are they nice? Sure! But if one isn't in your budget, you can put down a waterproof crib pad on your bed or on the floor and change a diaper there (and if you have a two-story home, you might not always change the baby in his room!) Don't stress over having one if it isn't in your budget. I did--but we made it work without, and once I realized we were fine without one, we never bought one, even when we had the money to do so.

 

8. A place to wash the baby

I had a baby bathtub that I used with each of my eight babies, and I gave it away after our eighth. I won't be getting another one for my ninth.

I only used the baby bathtub on occasion, when my babies were younger than four months. After that age, you can sit up (while you hold the child) a baby in the kitchen sink for a bath. 

Most of the time, however, we bathed the baby by having dad hold the baby in the shower while I washed the baby (standing right outside the shower). This was the simplest way for us and why we rarely used the baby bathtub.

Used baby bathtubs are usually free for the asking; people can't seem to give them away. If you want one, ask around, and the chances are pretty good that you can find one for a song or even for free.

You'll want some baby soap. I highly recommend smelling the different brands if you can before you commit to a brand; you may find that you like the scent of some and hate the scent of others. This is a gift that you may receive in a baby shower, too, giving you the chance to try out a couple of different brands in small bottles.

A couple of small, soft baby washcloths are nice, but you can also use a regular washcloth.

What you don't need:

Baby towels; they are rather small and thin. They never kept my babies warm when taking them from the bath (even when it's 78ºF in my house half the year) and my babies outgrew them in the first few months. A regular towel will do just fine, be large enough, and be thick enough to keep your baby warm between the bath and getting dressed (and not be too wet to dry your baby like the thin, tiny baby towels).

 

8. Clothes for the baby (and a place to put them)

There is a reason so many people say that their baby outgrew clothing before it was already worn. If you have more baby clothes than you need, this can easily be a problem.

If you have a baby shower and people know what sex the baby is, you will most likely receive a lot of clothing, and it will quite possibly all be in the 0-3 month size. Don't be afraid to exchange clothing for a larger size.

A new baby spends most of his time sleeping. When your baby is less than 3 months old, you can easily have the baby wear pajamas all day long.

How many clothes you need in each size depends on a couple of things: how often your baby spits up, how often your baby has a leaky diaper, how many times you want to change the baby's clothing, and how often you do laundry. How many layers you need will depend on the season, the climate you live in, how warm you keep your house, whether or not you keep your baby swaddled in a blanket, and if you take the baby outdoors often or keep the baby inside.

Baby clothes are often freely handed down; you can quickly end up with more than you will use. They are also a great buy at garage sales.

Any dresser will do for your baby; if your baby is in your room, one designated drawer will keep all of your baby clothes handy. Baby hangers are very helpful for hanging clothes in a baby's room (or in your own closet, if the baby is in your room) and you'll use the fo years until your children need adult-sized hangers.

What you don't need:

Baby shoes. Babies won't need shoes until they are walking, and even then, they will do best barefoot most of the time. My babies have almost all walked early (at 9 months) and I don't purchase shoes until they have been walking for a few months. 

12 of everything. 6-8 of most items of clothing per size is more than sufficient if you do laundry every couple of days. A couple of hats (or even just one) when your baby is brand-new to the world are useful, but you'll quickly no longer need them (and your baby will quickly outgrow them).

Special baby detergent. Babies clothing can be washed with your regular clothing. You will want stain removers.

 

9. A few hygiene items

Baby nail clippers are one of the best things ever.

A small comb with fine teeth works well for combing fine baby hair--but it doesn't have to be a special baby comb. 

A nasal aspirator (referred to as a "booger sucker" at my house) is extremely helpful in unclogging a stuffy baby's nose. The larger the aspirator, the better; tiny ones are not worth your money.

What you don't need:

Baby brushes. These usually come packaged with a baby comb and sometimes with nail clippers. If your baby has fine hair, a comb is more useful than a brush. 

Special wipes for the baby's nose.

 

10. Baby medicine

When your baby is fussy, crying, and won't sleep, it can be overwhelming. It's helpful to have a few items in the medicine cabinet before your baby is born.

Gas drops. The store brand of these works just fine, as this tiny bottle can be expensive. I always find I need these in the middle of the night the first couple of weeks after my babies are born, when they won't stop crying and arching their backs from stomach pain.

Baby acetaminophen. Babies can only have acetaminophen during the first six months to reduce fevers. You can add infant ibuprofen to your medicine cabinet after that.

Garlic Ear Drops. These are amazing. Everyone I've told about these (and loaned my bottle to) has ended up keeping the bottle and buying me a new one, because they loved the product so much! If your baby (or child, or YOU) has an earache, these drops get rid of it very quickly (only 4 times have I ever needed to administer a second round of drops), and save you a trip to the doctor for an earache (and ten days of antibiotics)!

Oral Relief Tablets. I found these easier to administer and more effective than teething ointment.

 

11.  A stroller

I thought I needed a large stroller that my car seat could clip into, with a big basket underneath and a place for me to put a drink.

By the time my third baby was born, I had used that stroller less than 10 times with my first 2.

When I went shopping, I would put the baby's carseat into the shopping cart. Once the baby was bigger, I would put the baby right in the child seat in the cart. Most places I shopped (grocery stores and big box stores) had carts, so this worked fine.

When we went places, I usually found it easiest to just carry the baby. I rarely needed the stroller.

Eventually, I bought a smaller umbrella stroller at a garage sale for $7 (after my 5th was born). We were going a few more places and I found the lightweight stroller to be so much easier to use. I sold the big stroller at a garage sale.

Whether or not you need a stroller (and what kind) really depends on your lifestyle. Realize, too, that you may decide to stay home more once you have a baby.

 

Ivory Baby Toys The Prudent Homemaker

 

12. A few baby toys

Babies are curious about new things. Once they've learned all about something, they often tire of it and want to learn about something new. Once they can crawl and walk, they no longer want baby toys--they want to play with everything else in the house (including everything in your kitchen cabinets).

Before our eighth was born, I narrowed down the baby toys to the toys my young babies liked the most, and I donated everything else. What we kept for our eighth baby included the following: Sophie the Giraffe, Oball shaker, and Links

 

What you don't need:

A bouncer, a swing, playmats, and large baby toys that take up huge amounts of space. 

None of these made my babies happy. The baby would constantly slide sideways in the bouncer and preferred just to be held, and once the baby was 4 months old, all of my babies preferred time on a blanket on the floor instead. The swing had similar issues, and once I had a couple of children, the swing became something that the toddler just want to push really high and really fast! Every mom told me these were necessary items, but we found that they weren't something we had to have at all.

 

13. A diaper bag--or something to carry your baby supplies in when you leave the house

You don't have to have an actual diaper bag with pockets for bottles inside. If you bottle feed, they are certainly helpful, but any bag will work to transport diapers, wipes, a baby blanket, a nursing cover, bottles and formula, burp cloths, a diaper changing pad,  and a change of baby clothing. You can use a large purse, a backpack, or a tote bag.

I found it heavy to carry around a large number of supplies in a diaper bag while also carrying a baby (or a sleeping baby in the carseat!). To make my life easier (and to relief the back pain) I started keeping a large container of wipes, several diapers, and an infant bodysuit in the car. In my bag I have 2 to 3 diapers and a small container of wipes (and when I am nursing, I have a nursing cover, 2 burp cloths, and a change of clothing for the baby). With a one-year-old currently in diapers, I can fit a couple of diapers and a small package of wipes in my vintage 1950's handbag, and I don't have to carry a large bag.

What you don't need:

A designer diaper bag.

 

14. A high chair and baby feeding supplies

You won't need this until your baby is able to sit up and eat food. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting babies on solids at 6 months or slightly later.

Baby bibs are important for feeding to keep your baby from staining his clothes. The larger the bib, the more of the baby's clothing that is protected. I use homemade bibs in dark colors (so that I don't need to use stain remover) that are large enough to cover their entire outfit. In the beginning, at 6 months, I'll use a slightly smaller bib that covers their entire torso.

Two baby spoons is more than enough for a baby; you can quickly wash them by hand and have them ready to use.

You can mash up what you're having; steamed fruits and vegetables are easy items to give to your baby. A blender can be used to puree your food and you can freeze food in ice cube trays to use later to feed your baby if you're making a bunch at once.

What you don't need:

Baby cereal, individual baby food containers, teething cookies, Cheerios, veggie straws, and toddler food. These can quickly add up and make your grocery budget double, with half the budget going towards baby food!

Not convinced you can do without baby food? French Kids Eat Everything is a book I highly recommend getting from the library and reading at least once! I watched the truthfulness of this when a French friend of mine came to visit and gave his 8-month-old steamed broccoli from his own plate at dinner at our house. The baby loved it!

 

Every mother is different, and every mother has her own personal favorites that she has to have. You'll find favorite brands of baby products, favorite kinds of baby blankets, and favorite products. You may find you can't live without some of the items that I mentioned as not being needs, and that's okay! In the end, you are the parent, and you get to choose what you want for your babies.

 

Ivory Blessing Day The Prudent Homemaker

 

 You may also enjoy reading: Our Baby Naming Day Tradition

 

Last modified on
A Penny Saved The Prudent Homemaker


I know that many of you are really struggling with your inability to make ends meet right now. This post is for you. I hope it gives you hope--as well as some ideas for how to live well, even when you are living below the poverty line.
 
Some of you know our story, how we went 8 months without any income in 2007, and bought nothing for a year--no clothes, no food, no diapers (for my three in diapers), no toilet paper--and certainly nothing else.
 

We made more in the four months of income we did have in 2007 than we did for all of 2011, and more than we did in 2012, too, by a considerable amount.

How have we lived on so little?

I've learned to do things differently.

One thing I have learned is that there is always something more that can be cut.
 
You may have gotten rid of cable years ago (we did in 2007 after only having had it for a few years), you don't go out to eat, you have one car or perhaps no car, you make your own laundry soap, you clean with rags and use cloth napkins, you've recently lowered your insurance rates, you cut everyone's hair at home, you make birthday and Christmas gifts,  you already turn off the lights diligently, you bake your own bread, you have a garden, you cook from scratch, you drink water at all meals, and you don't even own a cell phone.
 
So what else can you cut if you already don't have those expenses?
 

One of the biggest things to amaze me is that we continue to find ways to cut our expenses. It's a regular thing for us to do. Both my husband and I evaluate each of our expenses all the time.

If you're struggling with making ends meet due to a loss of income, evaluate your expenses--every single one--on a regular basis.

Even tiny changes make a big difference. You may think something that only saves you 5 cents a day isn't worth doing. However, that one thing will save you $18.25 a year. If you find 20 tiny ways to save that each save you 5 cents a day, you've saved $365 a year.

Of course, not all changes are tiny. Some changes may be a lot bigger than you think!

If I hadn't made changes, I can tell you that we would have lost our home years ago. The changes I've made have been essential to our survival.

If you feel like you've already cut everything, here are some suggestions to cut some more. What seem like simple, tiny changes, will often result in bigger savings than you imagine.

Penny and Penny The Prudent Homemaker

 


Electricity:


Assuming you're already turning off any lights, appliances, unplugging things, etc., here is more that you can do:

When you eat dinner, make sure that the only lights on are the ones above the table. Turn off any other kitchen lights. When the nights are long in the summer, don't turn on any lights at the table.

Use less light while showering. If you have a single light choice in your bathroom, use that instead of one with multiple lights. If you shower after the sun is up and you have a window, don't turn on the lights at all.

When you're in a room at night, consider what light you really need. If you're reading, turn on a lamp with one bulb instead of the overhead light with several bulbs. If you're cooking early in the morning, turn on the light over the stove, instead of all the lights in the kitchen. During the day, don't turn on the lights--just open the shades or curtains.

Shut your computer off at night, and make sure it's set to sleep if you'll be off it for a while.

I read a study that evaluated the cost of turning lights of and turning them back on versus the cost of leaving them on when you leave a room. They found that if you are going to leave a room, it's worth turning off the lights with incandescent bulbs if you will be gone for 2 seconds, and with fluorescent bulbs, for 2 minutes. When you leave the room, turn off the light.


Heating:

Use old towels, blankets (baby blankets work too), or t-shirts to roll up and put in front of drafty doors and window sills.

Challenge yourself to keep your house colder in winter. Set the thermostat 2 degrees colder than you usually do. Layer on more clothing, including thermals and wool socks. Put more blankets on the beds. These don't have to be the proper size for the bed; use crib-sized baby blankets and throws if that is what you have.

Open the oven door after cooking to warm the room.

When it gets warm enough to not need the heater, turn it off completely.



Cooling:

Keep the air conditioner set at 79ºF. Resist turning on the air conditioner for as long as possible. When it begins to be hot, but is still cool in the mornings and at night, open the windows early each morning to allow the house to cool down. Close them as soon as it starts to warm. Open them again in the evening when it is cool again.

Only run ceiling fans in rooms while you are in them.



Cooking:

Turn the pot of rice or pasta off a minute or two before it's done cooking. It will keep cooking and use less fuel. You can also turn off the stove on vegetables that you are steaming after the water has boiled; leave the lid on and the vegetables will still steam. Likewise, turn off the oven 3-5 minutes before you're done cooking.

When you're using the oven, use the whole oven. Bake four loaves of bread at once.


Water:

Bathe a baby or young toddler in a sink or tub instead of the bathtub.

When starting a bath, fill the bottom immediately, rather than letting the cold water go down the drain. If possible, have more than one child use the bath water. Fill it a little lower than you usually do. If possible, shower instead.

When showering, put buckets in the shower to catch the water while the water is warming up. You can also leave the buckets in to catch water while showering. Use that water to water potted plants, to water your garden, to pour into a top-loading washing machine, to flush the toilet a few times, or to scrub the floor.

Take shorter showers. Challenge your children to take 5-minute showers as well.

Use the water from steaming vegetables, canning, and what is leftover in drinking glasses to water plants.

Fill water containers from the faucet and put them in the refrigerator to keep cold. You won't be wasting water waiting for cold water and the chlorine will dissipate, leaving you with better tasting water.

Thrift Store Skirt Refashion The Prudent Homemaker

 

Clothing:

If you're finding the thrift store too expensive, try garage sales instead. Aim for prices that are .25 to $1, spending up to $3 or $4 for something more expensive, like a child's coat. Keep a running list of needed items so that you only purchase the number of items you need. To maximize time and minimize gasoline costs, stick to community garage sales, and consider going with a friend. You can drive one time and she can drive the next.

Mend and makeover existing clothing. Turn long-sleeved shirts with worn cuffs into short-sleeved shirts.

Repurpose old sheets into clothing (garage sale can be a good source for old sheets, eepecially top sheets, as the bottom sheet wears faster).

Attend a clothing swap. If you can't find one, set one up and invite other people.



Gasoline (Petrol):

Stay home more.

Take a bicycle instead of driving when possible. Or walk!

Cut your grass with a push mower.

Carpool.

Check out more books at once from the library and renew them online to reduce trips to the library.

Ride a scooter to work. If you get one under 200cc's, it doesn't have to be registered or require insurance, which saves more money. They get 60 miles to the gallon. You'll need to figure in more time to work (they go 20-30 miles an hour), but even a short commute can save you several dollars a day in gasoline. Purchase a used one. Keep a gasoline can at home for fill ups, since they only hold one gallon of gas.




Cleaning:

Much cleaning can be done with just water and a rag. If grease is a problem or there is a lot of dirt, a few drops of dish soap in a bucket of warm water will go a long way.

For killing germs on non-porous surfaces, vinegar works well. Soak orange or other citrus peels in vinegar for three weeks to make your vinegar smell like citrus (note: granite and marble are porous surfaces that will be pitted with vinegar and should be cleaned with water, and a mild amount of dish soap).

Cheaper than vinegar and newspaper for washing windows is a few drops of soap in a bucket of water.

Oatmeal

 

Food:

If you are still able to shop (i.e. not living from your pantry exclusively) but need to lower your food budget, check out my series on Eating for 40 Cents a Day.

Stop buying things you don't need.



Toiletries:

Switch brands to lower cost brands.

Compare the price of toilet paper by the length (not by the number of rolls). I switched to purchasing POM toliet paper from Sam's Club, as it the lowest price I can find.

Regularly evaluate where you can purchase items for the lowest cost. I found, to my surprise, that our grocery store has the lowest price on both mine and my husband's deodorant. They have it on sale as part of a mix and match ten items sale. Deodorant isn't always listed in the ad when they have this sale, but on arriving at the store, I have found that it is often part of the sale. Their sale price is 50% to 60% lower than I have paid anywhere else.

Make homemade hair detangler. You can even make it using free samples of conditioner. It's just a small amount of conditioner (a tablespoon) mixed with a squirt bottle full of water. I used an empty spray gel bottle for mine, but you can also purchase a bottle for $1 in the travel section.

Sign up for free samples.

When you get to the bottom of a container, cut it open to get several more days to a week's worth of product from it.

Take your own bags to the store. Several stores will give you a credit of 5 cents (Target) or 6 cents (Winco) back in credit per bag that you take

Dorsett Golden Apples The Prudent Homemaker 


Gardening:

Look for less expensive sources for seeds.

Grow open-pollinated and heirloom varieties and collect the seeds to reduce your need to purchase seeds.

Make changes to your garden to grow more in the space that you have. This can be accomplished in several ways: growing more vertically (such as pole beans, 6-foot tall varieties of snap peas, and cucumbers), converting more of your non-garden areas to garden by building beds or adding pots, growing food in the front yard, and adding edibles to your flower beds.

Grow more fruit. Add fruit trees, grape vines, and berry bushes.

 

July Harvest The Prudent Homemaker


 

Instead of feeling like you can't possibly cut anything else, look around to see what else you can find. Every month I find at least one way to cut our expenses. Last month I saved $110 in utility expenses just by making more small and simple changes.

What have you cut when you thought you couldn't possibly cut any more?

How to Cut Expenses Sidebar

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While our income has been decreasing and our children's appetites are increasing, food prices are increasing. Some things have doubled and even tripled in price in the last few years. The 50 pound bag of popcorn that we buy in bulk went from $17 a bag in June of 2012 to $29 a bag in July of 2012. The less-expensive cuts of beef (chuck roast, ground beef, and London Broil) have increased from $1.79 a pound to $2.99 (and usually $3.49) a pound on sale. Potatoes went from 10 cents a pound in season in November 2012 to 30 cents a pound in November 2013.

Not everyone has an increasing income to keep up with the rising cost of living. While we're already feeding our family of 9 for $3.33 a day, I can't just spend more on the same things because the prices have gone up. It's time for some changes.

Here's what I intend to do to keep food in our bellies:


Waste less:

Food waste happens a lot more than any of us would like. I want to be more diligent about using what I have purchased and grown. To help ensure that I make better use of the resources I have, I plan to do the following:

1. Clean the refrigerator more often. This will help me to make sure I don't miss something I've moved to the back.

2. Be more diligent about using food that is about to go bad in our meals.

3. Be quicker to can items that need to be canned, even if it means staying up late to get them done

4. Chopping small amounts of vegetables before they can go bad and putting them in a bag in the freezer to use in soup. This means if I have a couple of carrots that need to be used before I can eat them, they'll be stuck in a bag for a soup later on.


5. Drying and putting away herbs from the garden to use later. In the past I have mostly used the herbs from my garden as fresh herbs. I want to be better about drying and storing them.

6. Incorporate more rice-based meals into our menus


Shop wisely:


1. Continue not to purchase the items on my list of food items that I don't buy

2. Stick to my price points for food, even when it means doing without items that have risen above those price points

3. Focus on meats that are under $1 a pound when buying meat, with most purchases being under $0.88 a pound. (Fortunately I have a freezer full of hams and turkeys purchased under $1 a pound during the holidays. This will be the bulk of our meat for the year).

4. Continue to stock up with large purchases on items when amazing in-season prices come along (like the 152 pounds of oranges  and 80 pounds of onions that I bought for .20 a pound in December).

4. Eat more soups


5. Eat more salads from the garden while lettuce is in season. I expect we'll have salad as a first course every day at dinner for 3-4 months, starting in late January. We may have some soup and salad lunches with homemade bread as well.




Grow more in my garden:

In 2013, I ripped out our front yard, brought in new dirt, and planted fruit trees, herbs and vegetables. The walkway to the house is lined with parsley, basil, and lettuce.

I added 6 semi-dwarf fruit trees in the front yard. Two will need to be kept smaller for the space that they are in, and 3 will be trimmed as a hedge, but they can still get quite large. I planted a lime, 3 Meyer lemons, an apricot (that blooms and ripens 3 weeks earlier than the apricot in my backyard, which will mean fresh apricots twice), and an Early Elberta peach.


On my back patio, I planted 2 oranges in pots and a pomegranate in a pot. (I moved another pomegranate in my garden to another pot on the patio last week).

I'm also growing more of what works well for my area--and gives me a great return on my money. Lettuce, Swiss chard, and green onions do really well for me, and they are also a great way for me to save money.

Just a few years ago, looseleaf lettuce was $0.79 and $0.99 a head on sale where I live. Now a sale price is $1.49 a head, and a more regular price is $2.49 a head.


I can purchase 400 lettuce seeds for $2.95.  That's a much better deal! As an additional bonus, each head can be harvested 2-3 times, by either harvesting outer leaves and allowing it to continue to grow, or cutting the leaves off at the base and allowing it to regrow. When lettuce is in season, we can have a salad every night as a first course. With some homemade dressing, it's a great way to keep our meal costs down.

Swiss chard grows year-round here. It's not-only packed full of vitamins, it's a cut and come again plant, like lettuce--but I can harvest it even more times! I grow the Fordhook Giant variety, and the leaves can grow 16  to 24 inches in length. We'll steam it, chop it in soups, blend it in soups, and every once in a while, toss it in salads.

Green onions grow year-round in my garden, and they self-seed every year. I haven't bought green onions in 7 years. Like lettuce and Swiss chard, I trim the side leaves of the plants, and they continue to regrow. In the late spring they go to seed, and pretty soon I have new green onions growing. I will be making an effort to collect seeds as well to plant additional onions in the garden this year.

Zucchini and green beans are difficult to grow here, as they won't flower much in our heat, but in many places, these are two other plants that will produce food in abundance for a family. I grow a bush variety of zucchini to save space, and I found last year that a mid-summer planting will allow me a plant that flowers when it cools below 90º in October, so I plant some then to allow us to have some for our family.


In short, I plan to:


1. Grow more of what works well and grows abundantly where I live; for me, this is more lettuce, more Swiss chard, and more green onions

2. Expand the garden by growing in pots and planting food in the front yard

3. Grow heirloom and open-pollinated varieties of food so that I can collect seeds to use in the future, reducing my need to purchase seeds

4. Use my garden space more efficiently; this includes lots of vertical growing

5. Be more diligent in planting and maintaining a fall garden; this includes covering all fall lettuces with mason jars before the first frost, so that I can harvest earlier and better protect the plants

6. Grow more herbs to keep me from needing to purchase them at the store





What new things are you doing this year to keep your grocery budget low?
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Sandwiches

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One of the most frequently asked questions in my inbox is, "What do you use for sandwich bread?"

The answer is simple: I use French bread.

I sometimes will make baguettes and have sandwiches like I did in France: ham, cheese, and mustard on bread. More often, though, I'll slice the bread, and just use it that way.



For meats, I'll cook a bone-in ham, or a whole turkey. I use an electric knife to cut the ham from the bone in several large chunks. I then use my meat slicer to cut in into deli-thin meat. I was using a $5 meat slicer that I picked up used from a garage sale, until the motor burned out. We decided to replace it with a nicer slicer this time (with a stronger motor). I saved up my Amazon credit (thank you dear readers for purchasing through my links!) and I bought this one. I use it to slice bread as well. I can slice bread thinner on the slicer than by hand.

Turkey sandwiches on French bread with mayonnaise, tomatoes, basil, and Italian dressing


I will sometimes shred the cooked turkey and mix it with barbecue sauce, and add tomatoes from the garden (in summer).

I purchase ham and turkey on sale for under $1 a pound at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter (usually $0.75 a pound and under). I freeze them to use throughout the year.

When I have lettuce or arugula from the garden in spring and fall, I'll use that on my sandwiches. In summer (when it's too hot for lettuce to grow here), we'll often have tomatoes and basil on our sandwiches, (or just tomato basil sandwiches!) We love Italian dressing on our sandwiches.

We'll also have Thanksgiving style sandwiches, with mayonnaise, turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing.

I've planted a lot of basil up the walkway in front of our house so that I'll be able to make pesto, which is delicious on a turkey or chicken sandwich with cheese. I plan on making these this fall when we have lots of basil.

Tuna melts are another favorite at our house, made with tuna fish, pepper, mayonnaise, homemade sweet pickle relish, and topped with cheese. We make those on our griddle. We also make grilled cheese sandwiches.

To go with our sandwiches, we'll have homemade pickles, or giardiniera. We also always have some type of fruit with our sandwiches, depending on what is in season. Last week I cooked a ham and we had apples, peaches, and grapes from our garden with our sandwiches. I've also served carrots and dip made with homemade yogurt alongside our sandwiches.

What is your favorite kind of sandwich? What inexpensive sides do you serve with your sandwiches?



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Washing Windows For Pennies

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When we moved into our house, we gutted it. In the living room/our dining area, we knocked out the entire wall. We took out the corner fireplace (the first thing to go), the windows, the sliding doors, and made a new wall, with tall windows and French doors. It's a lot of windows to wash, and my husband washed them inside and out in under 15 minutes on Tuesday.

Otherwise known as how to get a picture of you and your husband at the same time!

He used a little (just a small squirt) of  Dawn Dish soap (note: you can use any dish soap, but that is what I had) squirted in a bucket with water, a sheepskin cleaner, a squeegee, and a rag (to wipe off the squeegee) to wash the windows inside and out.

I wear that apron every day, most of the day. Behind me you can see our merry-go-round and our 10-foot high swing set that my husband and his brother made.


It was fast, it was simple, it required no paper towels or special glass cleaner. It didn't leave a strong odor of ammonia or anything else behind. It was pennies and faster. It's not often that something saves you money and time.

Yes, there is some upfront cost.



You'll need a sheepskin cleaner (pass on the sponge ones; they don't work well).

Get a good squeegee; it makes a difference. You can get a two-in-one squeegee/cleaner, which is actually what we have. My husband wasn't happy with the performance of the squeegee on it, so he bought a nicer squeegee.

The bucket can be anything; a dishpan or even water in your kitchen sink is fine.

The rag can be an old shirt or towel. It's good to wipe off the squeegee in between swipes across the window--especially inside, so it doesn't drip on the floor.

The dishsoap cuts the dirt on the outside, and the haziness inside, as well as all of the tiny handprints.

Go, go wash your windows the easy way--with soap and water. (Or have your husband wash them!)
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Encouraging Frugality Through Conversation

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After church today, a woman I didn't know came up to me by my car as we were leaving. She had been waiting for me.

She said to me that she had been a visitor today, and that when she was talking with my son, he mentioned my website. She wanted to know what it was.

I told her, and then on the way home I asked my son about their conversation.

He told me that she was sitting in his class today, and that each student had been asked to name his or her favorite breakfast cereal. (I have no idea what this had to do with the lesson).

He replied that his mom didn't buy breakfast cereal, because it was too expensive. He was asked what was his favorite thing for breakfast, then?

"Yogurt and granola," was his reply. Then he added that his mom makes it and that it is on her website.

I'll be making a batch of granola tomorrow morning for breakfast!

My cranberry almond granola recipe is here.

I make Greek yogurt following the directions here.
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