Thursday, August 19, 2010

The beginning-- 3 tips and a bread recipe

It has recently bubbled up in my awareness that, as bad off as we are, economically, we're still doing better than a lot of people. We've learned to count pennies, and that a dollar or two matter and while we sometimes have our difficulties with the utility companies, we do manage. Our house hasn't been foreclosed upon and we manage to eat. I thought that this spot to drop tips and recipes for the other un or under employed people -- other '99ers' as it were, might be a good thing.

So first, a little background--
I'm an IT manager who has been unemployed for more than 3 years. I live in a very economically challenged area, which currently has 12% unemployment rate (yes, 12%). We own (along with the bank) a house built in 1885 (bought in more economically optimistic times). We have 3 children, 2 still at home, and 1 or 2 grandchildren (depending on how you count, as I make ends meet by taking care of a difficult little boy whose mother works 2nd shift, who calls me grandma).

My husband runs a consulting company, altho for the past 3 years his primary job has been a part-time cashier at Wal-mart. The job at Wal-Mart pays the bills (HA!) and provides him with a version of health insurance. My insurance is provided through the VA(I'm a vet) while the kids get theirs thru Mi-Child, a medicaid program in Michigan.

This is quite the downturn from a few years ago when we were making $150k/year. We're learning to live like that...

At this point, we've run through any savings we had, and we're living on a part time salary from Wal-Mart, food stamps and prayer. I run a little sock yarn web site--Lady A's Yarn, and we occasionally get something thru my husbands consulting company-- Tau Seven Solutions-- tho for the last couple of years that's less process or project management and more web development and fixing home computers. But hey, whatever pays the bills, right?

Actually, that's my first bit of advice... do whatever you can that's legal to pay the bills... if that means working at WalMart or babysitting the neighborhood children, if it brings in money it's a good thing.

Second bit-- If money goes out make sure it's absolutely necessary. That means cutting out Starbucks and driving somewhere you can walk to, among other things. The walking is good for you, and the gas saved will help get you to work or the grocery store or where ever. That $25/week saved from Starbucks means $100/month. $100/month can pay a gas bill or help make a house payment.

Make a priority list of money going out. Groceries, house payment, gas bill, electric bill, water bill, phone bill, fuel for the car, and whatever you have. Every time you're tempted to spend a couple of dollars not on the priority list, look at the list.

I'm not suggesting that you not do stuff for fun, but you have to think about what it is you're used to doing and what you can do to replace it that doesn't cost as much. Do you like to go to the movies? What about getting a Redbox DVD instead? That's $1 instead of $20 or more. Like fancy coffee? You can buy a Mr. Coffee espresso maker at WalMart for $30... that's less than a weeks worth of Latte's at Starbucks and it'll make fancy coffee for you for a year. Instead of going to Starbucks, make your latte at home and drink it on your porch. Quieter than Starbucks and costs a lot less.

That's 3 pieces of advice in 3 paragraphs and is probably enough for the first day. The money saving recipe for the day is a bread recipe.

For $10, you can buy 25 lbs of flour and a jar of yeast. This will make enough bread for 4 people for at least a month. Believe it or not, bread is very easy to make and home made bread tastes a LOT better than store bought.

So, a basic bread recipe:

2C warm (skin temp) water
1 T yeast
2T sugar
1T salt
5C flour -- you can use white, bleached flour or a combination of whole wheat and white or fancier when you get going, but you might want to start with white flour until you're more sure of yourself. (And I'll post more recipes as we go on).

Start by mixing the dry ingredients together (everything but the water).
Add the water, and start mixing, using your hands (or a wooden spoon, but clean hands are the best).

When it starts to come together, you want to knead it for 5 minutes to 10 minutes. There are several videos on how to knead, but this one is as good as any.

Let rise for about an hour, punch it down (that means knead it again for a little bit) shape it into loaves and put it into 2 bread pans. Let rise a second time for 45 minutes to an hour, then bake it for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.

If you like a soft crust, spread butter over the crust when it comes out of the oven. Believe me, you won't go back to store bought bread without a fuss. You can also set the bread to rise in the refrigerator, which will slow it down enough that it should be ready for punch down after a day spent working (or looking for work).

If you figure 3 loaves of bread a week for a month, that means $6/week times 4 = $24/month. So making your own bread (not counting the fuel for the oven) is a savings of $14/month. That's a savings of $168/year. That's one winters gas bill here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

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