Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Simplest Way to Save

I keep getting asked, over and over, what is the single best frugal tactic. Considering so many different lifestyles and needs, there are countless ways to save money and one of them may be the best for you while it won't work at all for someone else.

BUT... since when did I let impossibilities stop me?

Here's what I think is the absolute best tactic ever: Do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Don't go shopping. Don't go anywhere. Don't turn on the TV or snack or do anything to run up your water bill.

In other words, don't consume anything.

I don't mean that you should sit staring out into space with an empty tummy and an empty head. Have a meal, but make it simple and inexpensive. Borrow a book from the library and read. Go outside and watch the birds, the traffic... watch the grass grow. Just don't consume anything that costs money.

Try it. You might actually like it.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Home made ice cream

With an old fashioned hand cranked ice cream freezer, my uncles would sit beneath a shade tree on old stumps and on the ground and pass it around, taking their turn in cranking. Salty water would begin to drain from the ice cream freezer and the handle would turn slower and slower until at last it stopped.

Grandma would bring out the bowls and spoons and a big spoon the likes of which I have never seen since.

My mouth waters in anticipation just thinking about it!

I don't know what memories, if any, home made ice cream will bring to you, but if you'd like to make your own, you can use about anything for an ice cream freezer that will fit into about anything else!

The container, into which you will put your ice cream recipe, must be completely sealable. Metal is best, but glass will work, too. Plastic does NOT work, as it doesn't conduct the cold very well.

A small coffee can with plastic lid works well for this, but you'll need to tape or tie the lid down. Place it in a larger coffee can, (or something similar) and put in enough ice, alternating with layers of rock salt two or three times, to completely fill the cavity between the two cans.

Seal the larger can well, then go play 'kick the can' with it, or roll it back and forth between kids, or just hold and jiggle it like you would to hand churn butter for anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.

To check for 'doneness', you can take off the lid and stir. If its not solid enough, drain the water caused by melting ice, repack and shake or roll again.

Recipes for homemade ice cream vary from the super smooth, egg-and-cream-rich ices of the old south to the plain milk and sugar kind. The plain kind is safer unless you have access to real fresh eggs.

Plain Ice Cream

* 2 c whole milk (add cream or powdered milk to 2% or skim milk)
* 1/2 c sugar
* 1 tsp vanilla
* Flavoring, such as chocolate or fruit syrups, or powdered drink mix.
* 3lb coffee can with plastic lid, or something similar
* 1lb coffee can with plastic lid, or something similar
* 3/4 c rock, pickling or plain salt (larger crystals last longer)
* crushed ice

Mix everything but the salt and ice, and stir well. Follow the instructions above for making ice cream in a home made ice cream maker, or follow instructions for your own ice cream maker. Makes 3 to 4 generous servings.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Pay the money first instead of last

Do you charge major purchases without thinking much about it? As in, "If I don't get it on credit, I'll never get it"?

Let's think about that for a moment. Where's the money coming from to pay back the loan? Out of your pocket, right? So, if you can pay for it, you can pay for it.

The key is paying for the item first instead of last.

When you make payments to your savings account in anticipation of buying something you want or need, the interest involved is yours, but when you make payments to a loan or credit card company, the interest involved is theirs.

Pay the money first - before you get the item, instead of last, after you've got the item, and the interest you save is your own.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


A thread on the Dollar Stretcher Community joggled some memories! It seems that we go through this every so often. "This" meaning the downsizing of products, effectively upsizing the cost, and doing it in such a way as to make it as unnoticeable as possible.

Anyway, I wrote about this the last time we went through it, so I'm going to republish part of it here:

Doing a little "in between" shopping, I looked for the generic bleach - the one I always buy for 89 cents a gallon.

The jug looked a little... short. Then I noticed that it was three quarts, not the four quarts of a full gallon. And it was a penny more. It doesn't take high mathematics to figure that at ninety cents for three quarts, it would cost a dollar and twenty cents for the same gallon I last bought for eighty nine cents. A thirty one cent raise in cost.

I suppose we're not supposed to notice that we're spending more money for less product. At least there wasn't any "New and Improved!" stuff splashed all over the place on this one (unlike the name brand of the same size), which really makes me think they were just trying to slip one by without our noticing!

Have you ever heard the phrase "It'll nickel and dime you to death"? A few nickels and dimes poorer won't hurt most of us now and then, but if it's a dime here, a dime there, a nickel here... thirty one cents there, the money adds up quickly.

It may not seem like such a big deal, but it's like a water pipe with a pinhole leak that doesn't seem critical until damage is done.

Remember when they started making smaller candy bars for the same price? The 12 ounce can of coffee? The four pound bag of sugar? Downsized products, all, and for the full price of the old, full size.

Sure, you could say it's inflation and everything has to rise in cost, but this is sneaky marketing. They're sure not shouting that there is less product in their containers - especially not for more money!

I posted some ideas to the Community that might help keep you from paying these "new and improved" prices for awhile longer. If you have more ideas, we'd love to hear them. Consumers, unite! :)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Woo-hoo! Another believer

I don't get around the blog community as often as I'd like, so I didn't get to this one when it was written a few weeks ago: Second-hand suits me by Greg Karp, who writes the "Spending Smart" column for The Morning Call, a Chicago Tribune newspaper.

Yes, he writes a money column and no, he'd never bought clothes at a thrift store before. I don't know exactly what challenged him, but he bought a suit of clothes and wore them to tape segments for TV. He said he was surprised at the good deal he got.

Hmm... have we been talking to ourselves all this time? Greg, if you read this, listen up. I have a lot more good advice for you! :)

But I'm kidding. Greg has a good handle on things, money-wise. A guy who is humble enough to confess he's still learning (just like we all are) is OK. And he's worth reading, too.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Second hand treasures

It's hard to believe that it's this late in the year already. I suspect I've said that about as many times as I've heard it, but it's still true!

It's going to be the winter holiday season before we know it, with gift shopping or making, decorating and entertaining and trying to stay organized. It may be hard to really get enthused about Christmas or other cold weather events when the sun's beating down so hot, but if you're frugal and smart, right now's the best time to make up a gift list and start looking, if you haven't already.

There are sales year 'round, but I hardly pay attention to them unless I'm looking for something in particular. Where I look (now, don't turn up your nose) is at garage sales and thrift stores.

Why? Well, I'm not THAT cheap that I give everyone used stuff... but I'm not so stupid as to pay premium prices for collectibles, antiques and special interest things.

Need an example? A vinyl record album in great condition by Elvis Presley singing hymns. Thrift store price? $2.00 Of course it's used; but it's a collector's item. I have a friend who is one of those Elvis fans who thinks he never died. She'll appreciate the hymns and yes, she does have a turntable. How's that for perfect?

I'm not saying you'll find a treasure just like that, but I've seen decorative items still in the box, collector's mugs (fill them with candy, tea, etc.), odds and ends like silk thread on a wooden spool (thread comes on plastic spools now), very old embroidery scissors, silver teapots and chafing dishes, unopened craft kits...

When you start thinking "Christmas in July" (it's coming right up!), think unique and very special gifts at a very special price. It's fun, too!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Milk it for all it's worth

I haven't been to a grocery store for quite awhile, but I keep a watch on prices and sales through and, of course, from what I read on the Dollar Stretcher Community as well as listening to friends and family complain!

So... grocery shopping is on my to-do list today and I'm dreading it because prices just keep going up and up and up some more.

One thing I have to buy is milk... yikes. You can bet I'm going to be using every cheap tactic I can find to keep that cost under control. To begin with, half of what I buy will be frozen right away because I don't plan on using a full half gallon before its expiration date. I could buy less, but that would cost more in the long run.

Which leads to some really cheap tricks to save milk:

When you need a cupful, use 3/4 of a cup and add 1/4 cup of water. I've yet to see it make any difference at all in a recipe, not even chowders and puddings.

When the container is empty, or almost, add a couple of tablespoons of water to it, and swish it around to get the very last out of it.

Powdered milk is usually cheaper than fresh and more so right now, but watch out because the price will probably catch up. Be sure to do the math! Just because it's powdered doesn't guarantee that it's cheaper. The one saving factor of powdered milk is that it keeps for a long time so you won't usually waste money by having it go bad.

I don't like the taste of powdered milk so I add just a little to the container to stretch fresh milk. I sometimes rinse out the measuring cup after using it to measure milk or mix powdered milk for a recipe. Just a couple of teaspoon or so of water does it, then I pour this into the fresh milk container.

I've used water instead of milk to make scrambled eggs for a long time. Not only does it work just as well (cheaper), you get fewer calories.

Well, there are my frugal confessions for the day. Wish me luck at the grocery store!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Season's blessings

It's Monday morning, the sun is shining, the tomatoes are growing, the first strawberry is almost ripe and the wild salsify is about three feet tall.

The laundry's done, dinner is planned and I'm ready for my second cup of tea.

That's what happens when you wake up in the middle of the night and can't go back to sleep.

Frugally speaking, I wound up going to the opening day of the farmer's market Saturday. It always starts kind of small, but there was a good variety of vendors. A couple brought in food from somewhere else (the bananas were a dead giveaway), so I didn't buy from them, preferring to support local producers. There was already some very good leaf lettuce, some baby turnips and radishes, of course. Bread at $5 a loaf isn't frugal, but it sure is good.

I went with $13 in my pocket so I wouldn't overspend... did you know that a lot of vendors will take a check?

So much for that resolution.

But it was a fun way to spend an hour and I did save over grocery store prices on most things.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

"Frugal" Tips and Frugal Tips

I get tips from here and there almost constantly, on things meant to save money. Most of them are tips I've heard and used before, but now and then I come across a new and good idea. More often, there are "frugal" tips that aren't so frugal.

Some of the differences may have to do with shopping habits and some with other habits we develop, but some of what is frugal in one area of the country, isn't so much in another.

For instance, maybe you can save money by coating your dry feet with mashed banana and lemon juice, but a good coating of generic petroleum jelly is much cheaper for me. (And they're both just as messy!)

Another tip I received recently was to buy generic shampoo to clean floors and bathroom fixtures. That's all well and good (soap is soap is soap), but a spritz of vinegar mixed half and half with water will clean floors (unless they're really gunky), clean sinks AND make plumbing fixtures sparkle - and that's cheaper than the cheapest shampoo.

Third example: Removing oil from your face with an egg yolk and a tablespoon of mayonnaise. You're supposed to leave it on for a half hour. Witch hazel wins this one hands down, especially with the price of eggs going up along with other groceries. A little on a cotton ball or corner of a wash cloth will clean oily skin quickly and thoroughly.

So be careful about which "frugal" tips you try... you could be costing yourself money.

Friday, June 1, 2007

A little hail...

All I had to do was talk about hot weather and it turns cold! I'm not complaining, but the hail we had a couple of days ago caused some damage to this catalpa tree that insists on spreading through the back side of the "patio."

It was only marble size hail and not frozen too hard, so there wasn't any serious damage, but it did shred a few leaves from my baby tomato and pepper plants. It's still springtime in Colorado!

This time of year (at least this year) we wobble back and forth between turning on the heater and turning on the air conditioner, often in the same day. Temperatures can fluctuate as much as 50 degrees or more in a 24 hour period.

When it does, it's time for layered clothing that can be adjusted quickly, to avoid using either heater or air conditioner until it's really necessary. I'm quite adept at slipping in and out of sweatshirts without messing up my hair. :)