Thursday, February 23, 2012

Poor People Things That Make Me Feel Rich

Recently some friends brought up the topic of unnecessary frugality. They specifically remember their parents taking gallon-size freezer bags, washing, then reusing them. This image is familiar to me, not only because I recall my mother doing the same, but because I too engage in this behavior. The truth is—I can't really say it is motivated by ecological-concern. You see, there's something about those bags that makes them feel like they're made of gold.

Why? The price of a single, resealable, one-gallon-size freezer baggie ranges from 13 to 19 cents. Is the time it takes to wash and dry one of these worth 13 to 19 cents?

The trend towards saving, simplifying, de-cluttering and reducing is growing and growing. It stands in stark contrast to consumer behavior of the 1980s and 90s when excess was sexy (exsexy—hybrid neologism?) and spending was equated with power, and that power infiltrated everything from ballads to suits.

Most of us are a part of this shift out of necessity. But also, we are realizing that "stuff" just doesn't make us happy. Studies have shown that, among people who have amassed a comparable amount of debt, those who used credit to purchase "stuff" (material goods such as shoes, furniture, electronics) experience more symptoms of depression and anxiety than those who used credit to purchase "experiences" (think: travel, a trip to the symphony). 

But the truth is, sometimes you just want to be fancy. Thankfully, this isn't difficult when you have the sort of standards that dictate that throwing away the freezer bag instead of washing out the marinara sauce is a luxury. I've compiled the following collection of things that I view as treats, as well as an explanation of why they just really aren't that indulgent:

Poor People Things That Make Me Feel Rich:

1.) Sweetened condensed milk in my coffee

Okay, this list started off a little "Fat People Things.." but a teaspoon of the stuff isn't going to kill you (1 tsp=about 22 calories and less than a graham of fat {.56 g saturated fat}. A lot of people overestimate the volume of a "teaspoon" and eyeball it much closer to a Tablespoon; if this is you, multiply those caloric figures by 3).

One of my favorite coffee shops in town—Spyhouse and its sister diner, The Bad Waitress—have borrowed from the Thai and Vietnamese, offering coffee/espresso beverages with the stuff. Their small size is $3.50; the large costs the same as a kidney on the black market ($4.65). A can of sweetened condensed milk is less than a dollar and I am about half-way through a can I purchased two weeks ago (basically I will have to throw it out before I use it up.) I've been putting about 2 teaspoons in my cup of coffee about five times a week. A $10 bag of coffee lasts me around three weeks using the pour-over method, which means I brew only what I drink and never waste any coffee. So what we're looking at is a habit that tastes like heaven, feels like hedonism, and runs me about $3.67 a week. That's less than $0.53 a day.

2.) Fava beans

I don't know what it is; I'm hooked. Also called "broadbeans," I think of them as the rich man's pinto. But the funny thing is, they're usually the same price. At the co-op I belong to, their organic dried bulk version runs you $1.89 a pound. Conventional versions will of course be even more affordable. I've had them in a lamb stew with raisins, I've seen recipes for fettucini with fava beans and pancetta, and I've been comically saving mine for a special occasion.

3.) Risotto

This meal is for the decadent whimsies of the affluent, right? Not really. Arborio rice costs about the same as its brown or white counterpart. For myself, I will probably use about 2 cups of the stuff (less than $1's worth) for multiple servings (6–8; I recommend freezing if, like me, it's just you). A box of organic stock is around $3 (bonus points if you've made your own stock), and a cheap bottle of wine runs $3–6 (it's getting cooked down). You'll need negligible amounts of butter, garlic, olive oil and salt (let's call it $1's worth). Add some chopped bacon, parmesan, and frozen peas (we're talking less than $2 in ingredients), and you've got yourself one fancy-pants meal coming in at $2.50–$4 a serving.

4.) Meyer's soap—particularly geranium

$3.99 isn't an astronomical price tag unless you weigh it against the fact that you can buy hand soap for less than a dollar. I'm not going to harp on about the scary ingredients in some soap and all that other stuff. The simple fact is, I like this stuff because it just does it for me. The scent is intoxicating. I like the packaging. I like the design and typography. I like it, okay?

The funny thing is, when you're using pricier liquid products—whether they be shampoo or laundry detergent—you will use less. Maybe this is subconscious because it feels like liquid gold (not to be confused with the plastic gold of the freezer baggies). But you'll use less and you'll find whatever you're cleaning gets just as clean. I moved into this apartment with the grossest, putridly pink, over-deodorized dish soap left over from the previous tenants. I can't bring myself to just toss it out so I've been using obscenely wasteful amounts of it so I can hurry up and break into my yummy lemongrass stuff.

How about you? What makes you feel fancy?


  1. I have tiny free samples of fancy dish soap I picked up at a boutique in ginger, lemongrass and lavender... and I've been saving them for a special occasion. For four years. It will be the most luxurious day ever when I crack those puppies open!

    1. I love that any dish washing event can be defined as a special occasion.

  2. As you know, I'm all about saving money. So you are going to have to clue me in on your cheap risotto. Arborio rice is more expensice than white or brown where I shop. And parm and bacon under $2??? Take me shopping! I want to go with you!

    1. You're right; arborio rice is a little pricier, but rice is still one of the cheapest foods out there. When I threw out a $number for parm, bacon, and peas, it was for two strips of bacon, a handful of parm and a handful of peas ( fancy bacon is $5.99 for around 12 strips, a bag of frozen peas is between $1-3 {organic vs. conventional), and I just paid $2.00 for 2 cups of parm).

  3. Boxed wine. Four bottles for $17? Are you kidding me?

    Using olive oil on my face instead of moisturizer before bed.

    p.s. I totally agree about dish soap, I used inordinate amounts of that cheap crap we bought in Arizona. And you've inspired me to get that Mrs. Meyers Clean Day geraniuim hand soap for my not-so-private bathroom over at the Chris' place. Especially looking forward to the fresh fragrant scent.

    1. Trader Joe's is selling boxes of red and white for $9.99... that's nearly 4 bottles for $9.99!!!!

  4. I don't have anything fancy. This post just makes me feel like I have a fanciless, crapola, boring, hill-people life. Thanks a lot. Just kidding. I know I'm not fancy. If I was, my feet would be a LOT smoother. Lots of rough, dry skin on those puppies. I am happy to hear that you also wash ziplocks. I do it on the *downlow* but now that I know you do it too I will be open and proud of it and if anyone makes fun of me I will say "SUMMER DOES IT TOO!" I am interested in the soap. But geranium scented? Really? Geraniums don't smell all that great.

    1. Geraniums smell much different than their essential oil counterpart.

  5. The organic carrots at the co-op that have the green tops still attached. I have to peel and cut them up into carrot sticks myself, but it sure is worth it for the flavor. The act of doing it myself makes them more enjoyable than bullet shaped carrots in a bag.

    Also, plate presentation for home-cooked meals. If I have a really nice plate and present the meal like it came from a nice restaurant, I swear it tastes better.

  6. You had me at Meyer's! I love the lavender and the lemongrass myself. Actually, the repairman came to fix the washer the other day and when he went to wash his hands with the Meyer's dishsoap, I overheard him and my boyfriend having the cutest conversation about how "that's good stuff!" For me, having fresh herbs on hand all the time feels really decadent, but they are super cheap at the Asian store. Also a package of Camembert costs like $4-5, but it can last me a long time when I am behaving myself and there is nothing nicer than coming home and having a glass of wine, and some crackers and Camembert and slices of fruit. I feel like Elizabeth Taylor.

  7. I like to put vaseline on my hands and face. Seriously. It just greases you right up. And for cheap, too!

    That's my thing.

  8. Sarah, someone once told Summer that her Rose/Geranium scented oil was "intoxicating"


Your comments are why I get out of bed in the morning. Just kidding. But I do like them.