All of your kitchen needs can be met for a very reasonable price.

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You will never need to buy another kitchen supply again—not salt, not pepper, not dish soap, not dish towels, not dishwasher detergent, not oven cleaner, not trash bags. You can make everything you need in your kitchen—salt, pepper, dish soap, dish towels, detergent for the dishwasher and for hand-washing dishes (in fact you can make all your cleaning supplies), and trash bags.

The old saying “A place for everything and everything in its place” is crucial; if you cannot reach something when you need it or store it where it won’t be ruined by heat or cold or spilled on then you won’t use it. The “place for everything” part is simple; the trickiest part is finding the right container for each thing.

The basic idea of a container is that a liquid or powder or whatnot goes in through a small opening and gets locked inside under pressure from a cap that keeps air from getting in. I find that bottles work best with powders and jars with liquids; if the liquid doesn’t come sealed in a bag then I cover the jar with plastic wrap before screwing on the lid. 

Once you have a camping stove, you can make all of your food at home for very little money. In my kitchen at home I have a rice cooker, a slow cooker, a bread machine, a blender, a mixer, and so on. I also have a portable butane gas stove with two burners and a little grill with a lid. This is the basic equipment for cooking outside your home. All of it cost less than $100 at Walmart.

It’s not just about making food for cheap. A butane gas stove allows you to cook in places where there isn’t an electric outlet or propane tank available, such as when you’re camping. And if you’re going somewhere where you’ll be without power for an extended time, you can bring it with you and cook off the grid while everyone else is eating cold sandwiches.

At the local supermarket, the only fresh vegetable they had was corn on the cob. I don’t like corn. Is there anything else I could make dinner with?

I went through my kitchen cabinets and counted up all the ingredients I had. It would be tricky but it looked like I could make something pretty good. I did some quick mental arithmetic to estimate quantities and ended up buying twenty-four ears of corn, plus onions, plus cilantro, plus oregano, plus garlic, plus canned chipotle peppers, plus canned tomatoes. The total came to $34.32.

As I paid for them at the counter (no one would let me buy them without paying for them), I explained what I was going to do with them:

“I’m going to make my own salsa,” I said.
The cashier looked a little surprised. “Twenty-four ears of corn,” she said, in a tone that said she thought I was insane.*

This is a common and understandable misconception. People often think that because the price of a set of knives, or a single knife, can be very high, they must be valuable. But this is not true. Here are some ways to avoid this misconception:

1. Think back to how much you paid for your last pair of shoes. Then think about how many pairs of shoes you went through in your childhood.

2. Next time you are at the store, buy the cheapest thing that will do what you need it to do. It will end up costing less than one would expect from looking at the price of an individual unit.

I am often asked for advice on how to live cheaply. It is a hard question, because cheapness is not the goal; what I want is to be happy.

The most useful thing I can tell anyone who wants to get rich is that rich people get that way by offering useful things to other people at prices they are willing to pay. There are no other routes. If you don’t like this advice, then the rest of this essay won’t mean much to you; you will probably also not like my advice on how to get rich by starting a restaurant or cleaning up garbage.

I am mainly interested in cheap ways of getting what I need. My needs are simple: food, shelter, clothing, transportation, entertainment, and a few other things. If I’m going to spend a lot of time doing a thing, I want it to be easy and not unpleasant. And if it’s going to cost me money, I want it to be as much as possible something that money can buy me rather than something that money can help me earn or make.

When I was a kid, my family didn’t have much money. We were pretty solidly middle class, but we were living in France at the time and things were very expensive.

My mom used to cook a lot, and she would make these elaborate meals with chicken and vegetables and potatoes and stuff. But there was one thing she always bought premade: fried onions.

My mom is not a big fan of fried onions now, which I think is a shame. They are really tasty. But it’s a little bit crazy that for all the cooking she did from scratch, the one thing she liked best was something she bought at the store.
In fact, I think this is the best fried onion recipe ever. It’s from Cooks Illustrated , which means you can trust that it’s right. If you haven’t tried them yet, you should — you will not be disappointed!

In the introduction, I asked why so much of our food comes from so far away. It’s a simple question with a complicated answer.

The most important reason is that we have learned to grow food in places that are quite unsuited for it. In the state of Iowa, in the middle of the continent, you have to plant corn in April and harvest it in September, and it still does not taste like corn grown in Mexico or Central America where it is warm year-round. There is no way to move the Mexican plants to Iowa and make them grow there; they can’t tolerate frost, and neither can their pollinators. And there is no way to make the Iowa plants survive south of the border; they can’t survive without protection from frost. All this means that you can’t build a supply chain for fresh corn that doesn’t involve moving around entire ecosystems: either organisms or climate control.

One solution is to give up on fresh corn and buy frozen or canned instead — but then you’re stuck with whatever varieties your supermarket stocks, which will be the varieties that travel well. And if you want different varieties, you need either a big garden or access to a farmers’ market — which involves more moving around of ecosystems. 

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