With so many of us confined to home these days, now might be the perfect time to discuss what it means to "manage" the home. I fear we have let the world tell us that being an organized, hardworking, guardian/teacher of one's home and children isn't anything to be proud of—we must have something "fulfilling" to do with our lives. One of the ways we perpetuate the myth of a soap opera addicted, bonbon munching idler is by a slapdash effort and constant complaining about the tedium of it all, finding every excuse to sleep late and post on Facebook forty times a day. Let's see what we can do to change that.
When we become stay-at-home moms, and later, stay-at-home workers/servants in the kingdom, our husbands are treating us as managers of the shop, so to speak. He leaves every day to work in another venue and expects that the home and family he has entrusted into our care will be run economically—within the living he brings home—and efficiently. It is up to us to know who needs to be where and when and get them there—doctor's appointments, school functions, recitals, etc.—in clean, appropriate clothing. It is up to us to keep track of the supplies everyone in the house depends on—toothpaste, deodorant, toilet paper (a little tricky these days), ibuprofen, bandaids, etc. And it is up to us to fill those needs as thriftily as possible.
We are now in a time when jobs have disappeared or hours been cut, when some groceries have become hard-to-find, and prices accordingly higher. How we manage the home matters more than ever before—at least more than it ever has for most young people. They never had a Great Depression to learn in. I hope this post today will help you out, and you won't mind it being a bit long—or a lot long, actually.
I am sure most of these things have been listed elsewhere on the internet. You can probably find more exhaustive lists, and other ideas of accomplishing the same things. These suggestions—and that's all they are—are just to help you begin thinking on your own, to supply a little inspiration as you deal with your own family's particular needs. We have been through several personal economic depressions, and this is how we got through them.
As the manager of my home, I spend a good two hours every week going through sales flyers, cutting coupons (sometimes digitally these days), planning menus based on those sales, and making a shopping list. As for coupons, I do not buy anything I won't eventually need. I prefer to use a coupon when something is on sale so I get a double whammy. I go to town ONCE, so as not to waste gas, and get everything done in one day. I used to do that with babies in tow, too. I keep my lists on one of those postage paid envelopes people are always sending you in the junk mail, with the appropriate coupons inside, along with things like dry cleaners receipts and bank deposit slips. As I make every stop, any new receipt goes inside the envelope so everything is together when I get it home.
As for cost saving tricks, do not think in terms of disposables any more than you can help it. One bottle of dish detergent will wash a hundred times more plates, cups, and bowls for the money than the same dollar amount will buy paper goods. I am sure the same is true of dishwasher soap, but I don't have a dishwasher.
Save plastic bags, especially freezer bags which are thicker and tougher. Wash them out and dry them, which usually means to hang them somewhere. (Sometimes my kitchen looks like a laundry room.) Fabric softener sheets can be used more than once, in fact, until they get flimsy and crumpled.
Take all those singleton socks that have been bereaved of their mates by the sock-eating washer, slip them on your hand and dust to your heart's content. Then throw that one in the washer. Who knows? It might even find its missing mate that way, or join it in the great Sock Beyond.
You know that bottle that says, "Shampoo. Rinse, and Repeat?" You don't have to repeat! Just make sure your hair is really wet the first time and you will have plenty of lather to wash it with. Especially if you are one of those people who wash their hair nearly every time they shower, you do not need to repeat. It's just a waste of shampoo. But I am sure these are things you have heard again and again as thrifty homemakers have been doing them for decades.
Now to practice a little self-discipline. When you have been able to buy whatever you want for most of your life, it may come as a shock that you can't do that any longer. But here is your new rule: if you can't afford it, you can't have it. Sometimes credit cards make us think otherwise. Learn this now. If you no longer have the money, you have to stop the buying one way or the other. For some people it takes cutting up the credit card to get the point. Do what you need to do.
Tap water will hydrate you. That's all we had when we were kids. None of us died. Get rid of the sodas. Period. Eventually, we reached the salary point that my boys could have Kool-Aid. I did not have the luxury of avoiding sugar—the alternatives, like fruit juices, were simply too expensive. When my mother was growing up during the Depression, even sweet tea was for Sundays only. Every other day of the week, the family had tap water with their meals. She lived to be 91, and her mother 97. See? It won't kill you!
Get rid of the snacks. All mine had were homemade cookies, which were a fraction of the cost of Chips Ahoy or Oreos, and the boys thought they were better off than their friends. This, and some of what I add below, may mean your family needs a major attitude adjustment. I remember my mother telling me how Daddy turned up his nose and complained when she put oleo on the table. He made $30 a week and she had a $10/wk. grocery budget. She took him shopping with her. When he saw the price of real butter, he changed his tune. Sometimes you have to make do, and the Lord expects us to be grateful for the fact that we have what we need to survive. He will NOT be happy with the ungrateful who demand luxuries.
We might very well have to change our minds about what we will and won't eat. Organic, cage-free eggs cost over twice as much as regular eggs. If you don't have celiac disease, you might want to forego your gluten-free diet. Those things are always far more expensive than the usual varieties. It costs extra money for most of these fad diets.
Save oil you have fried in, and all bacon grease. (If you are a true Southerner, that last should go without saying.) I actually had a small stovetop percolator for years into which I poured used oil. The grounds basket sieved out the impurities and pieces of leftover fried food, and all it takes is a tablespoon or so of fresh oil to refresh the used. I have had the same old coffee can, back when you could still get metal ones, for bacon grease that I had when the boys were growing up. What do I use the drippings for? Seasoning Southern vegetables, greasing a biscuit pan, making cornbread, frying eggs or potatoes, or anything else that might benefit from bacon flavor.
If you use a lot of canned goods (vegetables, I mean) keep any drained off liquid in a glass jar in the fridge to use as broth when you make soup. Just add to it all week. I usually made soup at least once a week because I always had a good quart of makeshift broth by then. Potato soup, French onion soup, tomato soup, root vegetable bisque, plain old vegetable soup—none of these contain meat and all are made with relatively inexpensive items.
There are any number of meatless meals, or meals where the meat can be skimped on. Usually these meals are heavy on the starch (carbs), but that's what fills people up. You yourself may need to cut back (diabetics, for example), but if you have teenage boys as I did, you will want to keep them satisfied and starch does the trick. Beans and rice are the ultimate example. Red beans and rice, black beans and rice—same dish, different spices and seasoning. True Cuban black beans and rice contains no meat whatsoever. If your recipe does for either of those dishes, cut the amount in half, or consider using a bone. (Save all of your bones, by the way to make stock or to season soups and vegetables.) And cut the meat into smaller pieces so more mouthfuls will have meat in them. Then there are pinto beans and cornbread, Great Northern beans and cornbread, dried baby limas and cornbread, and on and on we go. Lentil soup is basically a bean dish. Pasta fagioli is an Italian soup with very little but white beans and pasta in it, and it is delicious.
Eggs are another standby. You can make omelets with whatever bits and pieces of leftovers you have—a few ham cubes, a shred or two of cheese, some chopped peppers and onions, etc. Do not throw any bits and pieces of anything away!
Pasta with Eggs and Cheese is quick, easy, and cheap. Boil a pound of spaghetti in heavily salted water. Beat together three eggs and 2/3 cup of shredded Pecorino Romano or Parmagiana Reggianno cheese (pecorino is cheaper). Drain the spaghetti and while it is still hot, pour the eggs and cheese over it and toss constantly, allowing the heat of the pasta to cook the eggs, until every strand is coated with cooked egg and melted cheese. If you want it creamier, add ¼-1/2 cup of the pasta water (or milk if you want to splurge). Some people add a couple tablespoons of butter, but we never did and it was just fine.
Pancakes and waffles will also fill the bill—cheap and satisfying. Biscuits and gravy are a favorite for many. We couldn't afford the sausage, but even cream gravy made with milk, flour, and plenty of bacon grease was wonderful over hot biscuits. When I was a child, my mother would sometimes make a huge pan of biscuits and then pull out everything she could find in the fridge and pantry to go on them—butter, jam, preserves, peanut butter, honey, maple syrup. We kids loved it. We had no idea that the money had run out that week—we thought it was a treat!
I never pay full price for meat, but always buy it on sale, plus one thing extra to freeze. As the weeks go by, you will find yourself needing to buy less meat at the time. A couple of paragraphs ago I talked about cutting the meat in half for your bean dishes. Do it for everything. For chicken breasts, lay your hand on top of the breast, and cut horizontally beneath your hand. Every breast will make two servings, and your eye will be fooled into thinking it is a whole breast. Do the same with boneless pork chops. If they have been frozen, do the slicing while they are still a little firm in the center and it will be easier to control the knife and keep the slice even.
Then there is the tale of the three night whole chicken, something I did again and again so long ago a chicken could be found for 19 cents a pound, and even then it was almost more than we could afford.
Take the breasts and do the trick above, cutting them in half horizontally. That is your splurge meal, assuming there are no more than four in your family. Bread and fry, or oven fry, or grill, or use in any other recipe, including something a little nicer, like Chicken Milanese. The second night use the thighs and drumsticks for a potpie or other chicken casserole your family likes. Double up on any vegetables or starch the recipe contains. Who knows? That one might even last you two nights if you do it right.
On the last night, use the back and wings to make the broth for chicken and dumplings. In the Deep South and parts of Appalachia, our dumplings are called "slicks" or "slickers." A dough of flour, eggs, butter, salt, and some of the broth is rolled out flat on a heavily floured board and cut into strips about two inches long. Because of the eggs in them, when they are boiled, they become fairly thick and all that flour you rolled them in will help thicken the broth, especially if you have cooled and then reheated them. What you will have is more like dumplings and chicken rather than chicken and dumplings, but that's the point here—how to get by on a shoestring budget. Chicken and rice is another good option. Just use the same philosophy—less meat, lots of starch.
This is how the world survived during the Depression and we can do the same. I am sure this is far more information than you actually need. You are smart enough to see the pattern and implement it in ways that meet your families' needs and tastes.
We have much to be grateful for. This is a time to learn some lessons our culture has sorely needed to revisit for a few decades now. We will get through this because our God is in control, and He expects us to be good stewards of the blessings He has showered upon us.
Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. (1Cor 4:2).