Saturday, November 28, 2009

Our Frugal Journey Told in a Slice of Bread

Our frugal journey these past nine months is best told in a simple slice of bread. How could that be?

We started by looking where our money was going. With two growing young boys, one significant part of our budget is food. I'd always tried to be frugal at the grocery store, but some things just were what they were. Sometimes I could get a loaf of bread for $2, but often, if there wasn't a sale, we'd pay $4 a loaf. Ouch, that was expensive!

Thus commenced the first stage of our frugal bread journey. Our family supported a monthly rummage sale by the Auxiliary from the local Children's Hospital by assisting in sorting items, setting up, taking down, and working during the sale. At most of the sales, donations of day-old items from a local grocery bakery were sold for $0.25 to $1. With an extra freezer, often we were able to buy a month's worth of bread for not much money. Weekend breakfast often included french toast casserole which my husband lovingly perfected over several months. Sometimes there were donuts. Overall, the boys were never at a loss for cinnamon toast, a favorite snack.

Sadly, the rummage sale lost it's location and we were no longer able to buy our inexpensive bread. What would we do??? I scanned the ads every week, snapping up the best deals I could. Sometimes it would work out. I hesitated to buy a lot at any one time, as there never seemed to be any GREAT deals. This didn't last very long, as after a month or so, I had a revelation.

It occurred to me. What is bread? Flour, water, oil, sugar, salt, yeast. What was making those loaves cost so much? And, didn't we have a breadmaker, long unused, languishing in our basement? We dug it out, dusted it off, and I set to looking for recipes. Once I had found one I liked, I shopped for the ingredients. All seemed to go well until I got to the yeast. At our local grocery store, a three .25oz packets of yeast run $1.69 -- considering that most of the recipes call for one packet per loaf, that's 56 cents per loaf, or $6.76 per ounce! This was not sounding too frugal to me. Luckily, in one store I found a four ounce jar for around $7. Much better than the packets, and good enough for our breadmaking experiment.

We were ready. I had settled on a recipe that was half whole wheat and half bread flour. As we made that first loaf, there was a lot of excitement. We used the baking cycle and extracted our first loaf. Success! This first success propelled us forward with great enthusiasm. We tried different recipes, and I shopped around some more.

Now, we buy bread flour at Costco for around $13 for 50lb. Yeast is purchased at Costco as well. We buy whole wheat flour at Trader Joe's. We've settled on a recipe that we like, though I add a couple tablespoons of flax meal or wheat germ to each batch. I'm still shopping for the best deal on these items. We don't cook the bread in the breadmaker anymore -- we use it for the dough cycle, then put the dough in a loaf pan to rise and bake. This gives us a more traditional shaped loaf. The kids actually prefer the odd-shaped loaf made by the breadmaker, but my husband and I like the softer crust we get by baking in our oven.

Making dough for bread gave us the confidence to branch out to other bread or dough items. We now have a weekly pizza night, where we make a wheat crust. We don't buy french bread anymore, we make it! I've even made hamburger buns.

The possibilities are endless. It's such an easy thing for us now, but I never would have guessed how much fun we would have experimenting, or how satisfying it would be to provide such a simple thing for my family. We still have room for growth, and I'm looking forward to expanding this skill. Who knows what breads lie in our future? Overall, the breadmaking is a symbol of our "frugal growth". We've learned to be frugal in other areas as well, but the principles are the same as we learned with the bread. If people were to ask me what my favorite frugal living tip was, I would certainly mention what we've learned in making bread! You can't always toast up a slice of your other frugal endeavors, so breadmaking is a particularly enjoyable part of our journey.

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