Friday, December 31, 2010

CouponMountain and Toys for Tots

Here's a good deed you can do with a click of your mouse if you have a Facebook account. CouponMountain is donating money to Toys for Tots, and the amount will be determined by the number of Facebook fans they have on Dec. 31. They’re going to give $1 for every fan (up to $50,000).

There's just one day (today!) to meet the goal of 50,000 fans, so if you have a Facebook account, skip on over there and go to CouponMountain page and click on the "Like" button. Pass it on to your friends there, too. It's for a good cause.

CouponMountain was one of the first of its kind on the internet. I wrote about them 'way back when they first started because I was impressed with the way they implemented the concept of providing just about every coupon and good deal there is out there.  I'm still impressed by their service, so when they asked me to let you know about their Toys for Tots drive, I was more than happy.

And, nope... I don't get anything for saying this, except a good feeling.

Monday, December 27, 2010

New Year Clean

I said I wouldn't post again until after Christmas, then I did, didn't I? That's because I had scheduled that post and forgot about it. Old age and all that....

Anyway, here we are. Christmas has come and gone and the New Year is right ahead. I always have the urge to clean house this time of year. I mean, really clean. As in throwing out things and giving away things. It's become a tradition to start cleaning out drawers and cabinets and shelves the day after Christmas.

I don't often stop to think about it, but there's a reason for it. Cleaning out drawers and shelves shows me what I've wasted time and money on. Things I thought I wanted, things I saved to "do something with," things I was going to fix some day. Projects left over from last winter. Clothes that no longer appeal. Gadgets that I never found truly useful. You know what I mean.

When it's all cleaned out (I'm not through yet!), there will be such a feeling of relief, of freedom - and I will resolve, once again, to not clutter my life with things that are not important.

One of these years I will get it right.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Give yourself permission...

On and after Christmas Day, give yourself permission...

to not pick up the Christmas wrapping right away. It will wait until the coffee has been sipped, the gifts admired again, the comments and questions and laughter has been savored.

to take a nap on Christmas afternoon.

to do something just to please someone else whether you want to or not. Remember that it's a choice you can make.

to eat another serving of dessert. Christmas only comes once a year and you won't sabotage your diet by overeating just a little one time.

to buy that thing you really want if you didn't get it for Christmas.

to stop and watch the snow falling or the sun shining or the grass growing. What you have to do will still be there 10 minutes from now.

Above all, give yourself permission to remember and to think and to reflect on what Christmas means to you and what it offers to the whole world, whether the whole world celebrates it or not.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

10 Places to Find Free Holiday Craft and Gift Ideas

The holidays can make us forget that we are trying to be frugal. But the truth is that you don't have to spend a lot of money to see your loved ones smile. With some time and a few dollars, you can craft a homemade gift that will be just as nice--if not better--than anything you can buy from a store. Home made gifts are considered more thoughtful and are almost always more appreciated. The following sites will help you create a gift for everyone on your shopping list.

Disney Family Fun - This Disney site offers a wide range of last-minute gift and craft ideas for kids. Instructions are also available for homemade decorations, cards, ornaments, party supplies, recipes, and printables.

Martha Stewart - Martha Stewart's official site provides tons of craft and gift ideas for men, women, kids, babies, and pets. Other offerings include personalized gift ideas, bath and spa gifts, hostess gifts, and stocking stuffers.

Better Homes and Gardens - Better Homes and Gardens offers tons of holiday craft, gift, and recipe ideas. You can also get tips on tree decorating, card making, and more.

Family Crafts - This site offers hundreds of homemade craft and gift ideas, crafting tips and tutorials, and creative recipes. Other site features include a regularly updated blog and discussion forum.

Kaboose Crafts - Kaboose Crafts provides a holiday craft gallery as well as a homemade card gallery. If you can’t find what you're looking for in the galleries, you can use the site's craft finder search engine.

The CRAFT Blog - You can find new gift ideas on CRAFT magazine's popular blog each day. Postings include pictures, videos, instructions, tips, and more.

Craftown - An online craft resource since 1999, Craftown features instructions and pictures of more than 1,000 crafts. Other site resources include a learning center, article library, forums, and a newsletter.

Dollar Store Crafts - This unique site focuses on crafts that can be made from dollar store purchases. Craft ideas are available in the $1, $5, and $10+ range.

CraftyPod - CraftyPod is both a blog and a podcast. Topics focus on craft-related tips and techniques. The site also provides videos and tutorials.

All Free Crafts - This no frills site offers more than 1,200 homemade craft, decoration, and gift ideas. Categories include holiday crafts, candle crafts, kids' crafts, jar gifts, and green crafts.

Guest post from Bailey Harris. Bailey typically writes on finance, insurance, and related topics for the Car Insurance Blog.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What they're not telling us about inflation

I enjoy reading Gary D Halbert's weekly enewsletter because he always has something to think about.

Part of what he was talking about this week caught my attention. At least I know I'm in good company:

""Let’s face it, how can inflation be only 1.2% over the last year when we’ve seen the prices of many commodities rise sharply?  On average, our basic food costs have increased by almost 50% over the last year (as measured by wheat, corn, oats, and canola prices).   Beef and pork prices are up almost 40% over the last year.  Cotton prices are up over 50%.  Your morning cup of coffee with a little sugar has risen by around 35% since last October."

Yes, let's face it. Food prices are soaring, and cotton clothing will soon. It's not a good situation, money-wise and the immediate future does not look rosy.

And "they" tell us that inflation is low? It's an interesting discussion that you might want to read for yourself:

Inflation Coming Sooner Rather Than Later

Monday, November 29, 2010

Saving water is not just for summer

Winter comes and it doesn't seem so important, does it? At least that's the way I've thought of it before, but I've been thinking about this. Sure, the water bill drops when we quit watering our lawns or gardens and quit playing in the water on hot days, but we can make it drop even more.

When the weather got cold, I quit putting a container under the kitchen faucet to catch water that would otherwise go down the drain. I put it back today and will leave it there. What to use the water on? Cleaning where hot water isn't necessary, watering the houseplants, watering trees when we don't have much snow, mopping the floors, washing my hands, rinsing a cloth or cup or whatever. I just have to pay attention so I don't rinse a cup after washing my hands!

Another way to save water in the winter: Make showers quicker and less often. You won't die because you didn't have two showers today. Honest, some people do that. (Shower twice a day, I mean, not die because they can't.)

Save water from cans or pans of vegetables and use it to water houseplants.

Save water from your shower to clean, flush the toilet or do nasty jobs like wash the trash can.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A giving of thanks, frugal style

I just can't hold off any longer. Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, whatever - the holidays are rushing in upon us.

Department stores have been displaying ornaments and artificial trees for weeks, the weather is turning steadily cooler, the leaves are almost all gone, and it's almost winter.

We're in that limbo between the first, glorious fall colors and the icy beauty of winter holidays... it must be getting close to Thanksgiving. (With apologies to our Canadian readers, that Thanksgiving slipped right by me! - Somebody remind me next year.)

Sorry, you have to be frugal to appreciate this list of things to be thankful for.

Come on, say after me:

I'm thankful that college kids go home for Christmas and dump their decorations, trees, etc., in the alley before they go - a week before Christmas.

I'm thankful that it's cold at Christmas time so I can knit warm scarves, gloves and mittens from thrift store yarn and they will be appreciated.

I'm thankful for warm clothes that allow me to keep the temperature another degree cooler and save that many more energy dollars.

I'm thankful for flea markets and thrift stores, which are alternates to antique stores, if I'm lucky.

I'm thankful for turkey carcasses, from which I can make my favorite turkey and noodles and turkey and rice soup.

I'm thankful for dollar stores, which allow me to buy holiday nonessentials that won't knock my budget out of kilter.

I'm thankful that living frugally throughout the year lets me face gift-giving holidays without a fearful looking toward next January when the bills come due.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Dollar Stretcher Review

That's the name of my new blog on the Dollar Stretcher Community site. Check it out: The Dollar Stretcher Review

It only has one post as of today, but you gotta start somewhere, right? :)

I'll be adding to it as we go. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

This time of year

My favorite things this time of year:

Leaves swirling in the wind and crunching under my feet
Skies the color of baby blue and white cotton
Brown earth, wet and smelling like it should
A certain rush of energy as the cold air sweeps in
Checking the garden and seeing that everything is properly at rest for the winter.
The smell of wood smoke, caught now and then from the neighbor's fireplace.
Trying to decide if the laundry will dry tomorrow if I hang it outside.
Long evenings when I can sit and knit or read without guilt because it's too dark to do anything else.
Getting into a bed that's too cold and waiting as my body heat slowly warms it up.
Getting up into air that's too cold and having to wait for the bathroom to warm up before I can take a shower.
Watching the western sky in the hopes that those clouds will carry snow.
Buying bags of bird seed at Walmart so I can watch the sparrows and finches eat from the kitchen window.
Anticipating Thanksgiving and worrying already about how much of what to make.
Anticipating Christmas.

What's not to like about this time of year?

And it doesn't have a thing to do with frugal, except that very little of the enjoyment costs money.

Monday, November 15, 2010

How to Save Money around the Home Office

Guest post by Olivia Coleman, author of articles concerning online colleges and universities. She welcomes your comments at

Your home office should be a quiet and efficient place. After all, the home office is where many of us handle our family's finances. We pay bills from the home office. We evaluate our investment decisions. We worry about our budget. Because many of our financial decisions are made in the home office, then we should also make sure that our home offices aren't costing us to lose money. It would be terrible to have money flowing out of the home office unaccounted for. Here are a few ways you can make your home office a more frugal space.

Cut Down on Paper Waste

Home offices use a lot of different kinds of paper: printer paper, notepads, and calendars. Ideally, you can cut costs by going to a paperless accounting system and pay all your bills online. Minimize your printing needs. Cut up old printed paper and keep the scraps together to make notepads so you don't have to buy the expensive ones. Use an electronic calendar. If you can cut down all your paper purchases to just a bit of printer paper every now and then, you'll certainly save some money.

Use Less Juice

Another thing about our home offices is they are full of electronics: printers, computers, lamps, clocks, stereos, cell phone chargers, and paper shredders. Many of these appliances use electricity even when turned 'off.' How do they do that, you ask? Well, because they aren't actually powered down; instead, they go into a standby mode that still draws on your power source. If you can cut off these 'vampire appliances,' then you'll be able to save some money. Connect these appliances to a surge protector strip that allows you to flick a switch to break the connection completely.

Change Your Light Bulbs

Another way to save money in the long run in your office is to change the light bulbs in your office lamps to energy efficient bulbs. While the cost up front will be noticeable, you could save yourself up to $20 a year per light bulb. Often, these bulbs give off the same amount of light as a normal incandescent bulb of higher wattage. And with the advance of technology, they now emit a softer light than that of standard fluorescent bulbs.
Conserve Office Supplies

Finally, you'll want to be smart about how you purchase office supplies. Pens and pencils, printer cartridges, scissors, tape, all of these things can add up to a lot of money. The best way to make sure you're not spending more than necessary is to keep an inventory of your supplies, just like any small business would. That way you won't be tempted to buy a package of pens on sale because you're not sure if you need them or not. Likewise, be sure when you do run out of something you're not buying the most expensive product. Look for sales and shop around.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Getting in the mood for the holidays?

I've been surfing the internet today, looking for some really good Thanksgiving ideas. Wow, there are some awesome sites especially for Thanksgiving! I found coloring pages for the kids, turkey recipes, history, stories, trivia (which president proclaimed it to be a national holiday?) and a lot more.

Here are the top Thanksgiving sites I've found, but please add your own favorites so we can all enjoy Thanksgiving online.

Thanksgiving on the 'Net

Printable Thanksgiving coloring pages (includes click to color online)
Thanksgiving History

Monday, November 8, 2010

Top Ways to Save Money When Buying a Car

Guest post by Elysabeth Teeko -

It's hard to find a new car unappealing, especially when you're driving around in a vehicle that is a few years old, has a stain on the floorboard, and may be in need of maintenance. When the new car bug bites, you need a solid plan to buy the car you want at a price you can afford. Here are a few tips to help you get the best deal.

Do Your Research

There's nothing wrong with buying a new car, but you need to know that it loses value the minute you drive it off the lot. Unless, you negotiate with the power of a pro, you'll pay more than you should. The following things can help you lower the price tag.
  • Know the dealer's cost for the car and negotiate up from there rather than starting at the sticker value, or the MRSP value.
  • Wait until the end of the month when dealerships and sales professionals may be willing to make better new car deals in order to hit company goals and bonuses.
  • Don't be afraid to walk away if you can't get the savings you want on a car. Another dealership may be in need of sales and offer you the price you want.

Find Deals on Used Cars

Buying a used car means you've saved money, because somebody else already paid the depreciation of the vehicle. While many people used to think all used cars were lemons, buyers can now take advantage of a variety of tools to get the best deal.

  • Use a car reporting service, like Carfax to verify the history of a vehicle. This takes the guessing out of the game and can help you avoid cars that will eat into your savings.
  • Shop for Certified Pre-owned vehicles from dealerships. When you buy from a dealer, you can usually get some type of warranty to help protect you against unforeseen car trouble.
  • Get the car inspected before you agree to purchase the vehicle. While this costs money up front, it can save you hundreds of dollars on car repairs.

Offer to Pay Cash

It might surprise you to know what type of car deals you can get if you offer to pay cash. While this is more common with private sales, cash can still have an influence on a dealership. If you want to see the negotiation power of cash, keep a few things in mind.

  • Don't walk around with cash in your pocket. Most sellers will accept a cashier's check or certified funds in place of cash. The phrase refers to paying for the car in full rather than financing it.
  • Call ahead and ask to speak with a salesperson or the seller. Find out what deals you can get if you pay cash.
  • Calculate how much money you can save by paying for the car in full rather than financing it. In most cases, you'll save hundreds of dollars.

When you understand the best ways to negotiate a car sale, you can walk away with more than a new car: You can walk away with saved money.

Friday, November 5, 2010

I've been workin'

And here's what I've been working on:

This Christian Life

It's sort of resurrected from a site I used to have. Some of the content is from then, some is fresh. You won't know the difference unless you happen to remember it from a few years ago.

It just feels like the right time to get it back online. What do you think of it?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Draft dodgers

AKA, draft stoppers, draft snakes or draft guards, these soft log-like forms are great for stopping cold air, insects and dust from entering your home under a door or a window.

As frugal luck would have it, they're easy to make and chances are that you have something already on hand to make them from.

I say "something" because they can be made from a lot of different things. If you're in a big hurry and don't have time to cut and sew, roll up a towel or rug to place under the door.

If you want to make a real draft dodger, you will need some kind of material. Closely woven works best, but if you don't have any, use what you have and of course, used fabric is perfect for the most frugal draft stopper.

Besides that you will need 
  • Needle and thread or a sewing machine 
  • Stuffing, which can be dry corn, beans or rice, cut-up rags or yarn scraps, or (better because of its insulating nature) use newspaper rolled to fit the tube. If you don't want to use newspaper or rags, remember that something rather heavy will keep the draft stopper in place better, but even plastic bags, crunched and rolled tightly, can be used. 
Here's the way I do it: I cut the material at least 12 inches wide (wider if you have a healthy gap to fill) and 8 to 10 inches longer than the bottom of the door.

I fold the fabric in half lengthwise and sew the side to make a tube, then I sew one end firmly closed. I have gathered the material with thread and then tied it closed tightly with ribbon or string but I like the sewn end better.

Then I just stuff it and sew the open end. That's all there is to it.

Keeping out the cold is more important than making something look good, but when you have time, you can decorate your draft dodger with embroidery stitches, ruffles, lace or rickrack, or make a cover for it that can be laundered.

I don't need them at the outer door, but I use them against the bedroom door during the day to keep from heating it. You could use one against closet doors, or any door to a room that doesn't need heat.

Since they're so cheap to make, why not?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Monday, November 1

This is an interesting day - the day after Halloween, the day before Election Day, the first day of the work week and the first day of the month!

For some, this is the kickoff to the holiday season. It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving is only a little over three weeks away.

The last few years in this area, the stores have offered turkey up to 15 pounds at a set rate, then turkeys over that pound at a couple of dollars more. I can't remember the exact rate it was last year, but it has been 6 dollars up to 15 pounds and 8 dollars for anything over that.

To make the most of this deal, I get the biggest turkey I can find for either price level and I usually get two or three extra, depending on freezer space. Turkey is cheap protein and good food, too.

Election Day, 2010 will no doubt be quite interesting. No matter what happens, I suspect there are going to be some emotional moments, some great disappointments and some great victories. Be sure to be a part of it.

"Dull November brings the blast,
Then the leaves are falling fast."

A couple of lines from "The Months" by Sara Coleridge. I learned it in school all those many years ago. November really is often dull, weather-wise, as we prepare for serious cold just ahead, but that's fine with me, because so many other things are happening, or about to happen.

Don't let the holiday busyness make you forget about saving money by keeping your heating bills as low as you can. I don't mean that you should shake and shiver all winter by turning the thermostat too low, but if you haven't yet, take some time to make sure there are no cold air leaks into your home and that the furnace is operating efficiently.

And finally, today is the first day of the rest of your life. That's the most important thing about this day.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Please vote

Just do it. I don't care (well, I DO care, but that's another story) who you vote for, but please do vote. It's a privilege, but it's a responsibility. If we don't run this country, no one else will. WE are the nation.

It's not right that the entire country does what a third of the people want it to do. That's how many usually vote; hopefully this year there is enough interest that we will all let our opinions be known. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Around and around and around it goes...

It seems like just a few days ago that we were anticipating the first freeze and the first snow of the year. That time has come again already! How fast time flies any more

It will soon be Thanksgiving, and the day after that is Christmas - or so it seems. And then we will start over again... and around and around it goes.

Are you meeting your goals with each cycle of the year? Are you ready to move ahead? It might be a good time to check the list of things you wanted to accomplish this year, while there's still time to do something about them.

I didn't achieve all of mine, but I got close and, as I said, there's still time before the wheel turns all the way back to "Start." That's also known as the New Year.

Friday, October 22, 2010

It's Pumpkin Time!

My daughter and I went to the locally famous Pumpkin Patch a few days ago. You can see what we bought on the hay bale in the foreground. It was hard to stop there... but what do you do with so many pumpkins after they've decorated the house and yard??

As if I ever had a problem with them! I love pumpkin seeds and pumpkin pie and pumpkin muffins and pumpkin bread and pumpkin soup and pumpkin... well, just about anything pumpkin.

Here's a post I made a couple of years ago on that subject:
It's almost pumpkin time again

And one from last year:
Fresh pumpkin soup

And a post about canned pumpkin this spring (I do like pumpkin!)
Shortage of canned pumpkin?

AND... here's an article I wrote explaining just how to choose the right pumpkin so you can use it for eating, too:
Have Your Halloween Jack O'Lantern and Eat It, Too! 

Happy Pumpkin Eating! :) 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cold weather driving

Are you ready for cold weather? I think I am... well, I mean I am, mentally. Physically, there are still some things to do. The house is in pretty good condition and today we'll do some clean up in the garden and yard. We won't get it all done because things are still growing, but we can get a good start on it.

One of the things I usually put off until the last minute is getting the car ready for winter.

Here, where freezing weather is a daily fact of life during the winter months, we need our vehicles to be trustworthy. We need to start with an oil change, and have them check the levels of antifreeze, transmission fluid and windshield washing fluid. (There's nothing worse than driving behind a mud slinging truck in freezing weather and not being able to keep the windshield clean!)

Air pressure in the tires need to be checked and checked often during cold weather. Don't check them while the tires are cold, though, because the pressure will measure lower than it will be when the tires are warmed up. Wait until you've driven a few minutes.

Beyond the car itself, if you live in cold country, be sure to have a kit for yourself and passengers. Blankets, of course, but also a good shovel, snow brush, ice scraper, flashlight, flares, first-aid kit,  jumper cables, and a fully charged cellphone and a cellphone charger. You could also add a power bar of some kind and a container half full of water, although it may be frozen solid. If it isn't, you can drink it and if it is, you can dump it and use the container to gather fresh snow, if that's your situation. Snow will melt faster than a clump of ice.

It makes sense to be prepared, no matter how easy you think the trip will be. Things happen. Yeah, I'm talking to me, too. And I WILL do it. Right now.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Never waste

Frost warning tonight! In a way, it's a relief, but in a way... it's sad. I went out and dug up a little rutgers tomato that hadn't had a chance to produce much. I put it in a container that had held peppers just days ago and put it on the shelf behind the couch. We shall see...

The rest of the tomatoes were picked and I will put them in a newspaper lined box under the bed to ripen slowly and naturally. One year we had home grown tomatoes for Christmas dinner. I don't expect that to happen this time, but maybe for Thanksgiving? 

And then, the beans. I'd already decided to let the rest of them go for soup beans (a couple of times!), but if it frosts, they'll be useless for that, too.

So... I picked beans. Again. And I was surprised at how many there were. Again. I picked big ones and little ones. A few beginning to dry and a few were just babies, but a good portion of them are just right for eating. I'll have to sort them out now: some for eating, some for soup and some for seeds, although I have quite a few seeds already.

The frugal point is this: Don't waste what your garden or your shopping has produced. Use the last of everything and when you do, you'll find your larder is fuller and your grocery money lasts longer.

I will have green beans along with the little potatoes I pulled up from soft dirt in a pot the other day. A little turkey ham for seasoning and a piece of cornbread made from cornmeal made from corn I grew last year... grown from corn bought several years ago to decorate for autumn.

Never waste. The old adage is still true: Waste not, want not.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My own butternut squash soup recipe

With the garden winding down, it's time to pick squash! I love this time of year in the garden. The heat of the summer is just a memory and the hardest work is done. Tomatoes are ripening so slowly that I don't have to worry about keeping up with them, cucumbers can be pulled up without guilt now and the lettuce and radishes are crisp and waiting.

The vines on the winter squash are drooping and thinning in the cool nights. I'm finding squash that I didn't even see in the lush growth of summer. Acorns and butternuts are piled high in a box in the basement and it's time to eat them!

So... I went looking for butternut squash soup recipes and found tons of them, from simple to elaborate. After awhile, the sheer abundance of recipes for squash soup was confusing! After skimming through several that seemed to be similar, I decided to wing it. Here's what I came up with, after three attempts. It's so good that I had to stop myself from eating all of it.

One average butternut squash, roasted.
One half large onion, coarsely chopped
About four cups of chicken stock
A couple of tablespoons of butter.

Saute the onion in the butter and add the chicken stock. Let it simmer while you peel and chunk the squash. When the onion is tender, remove about half of it and set aside. Add the squash and heat through, then put it into your blender or use a potato masher to puree it. When it's all smooth, return to the pot and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add the reserved onion back in, add salt and pepper to taste.

You could add crumbled bacon and/or chopped, cooked vegetables to it, but I like mine just the way it is.

You can freeze this for later, but don't attempt to can it. Like pureed pumpkin, it's not safe to do in a home kitchen.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What kind of wealth?

It's interesting to skim through the list of titles under "Finances, Money Perspectives".

One of my favorites is "Poor in Money and Rich in Time"  and the other is the exact opposite, "Is Money Evil?"

Both ends of the rainbow offer satisfactory wealth for different persons. The question quickly becomes very personal. Just where on the scale do you want to land?

Do you want to be rich in goods? Or would you rather be rich in time? Or somewhere in between?

There's no "right" answer, except what's right for you.

And I'll tell you a secret. You can't get there from here until you know where "there" is.

Think about it. It's not as simple as it might seem.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Changing gears and plastic lids

I've handed the forums at Dollar Stretcher over to Brandy, who has been with us since the beginning so she understands how things work and what is required. I have faith that she will keep things rolling, but you can slip over there and let me know how she's doing now and then!

Me? I'm slowing down. Ha! How many times have I said that? Anyway, I'll still be kicking around in the background of Dollar Stretcher for awhile and I might have some news later on. Don't bank on it, it's a "might"!

Anyway, because I had a little extra time today, I rummaged around the kitchen drawers with a vague notion of cleaning them out. One thing I discovered is that there are more plastic lids than there are plastic containers to put them on.

If you know me, you know I don't like to just toss things in the trash, so I had to think about it for awhile, so... here's what I came up with:

  • Use them to form patties from bulk ground meat or mixtures like fish patties. They'll be uniform and will cook more evenly.
  • If you have a lot of lids, form ground beef patties and leave them in the lid. Put another lid on top of this and form another patty and so on, then put into the freezer. They'll stay separated and will pop right out while they're still frozen.
  • Use a plastic container lid as a spoon rest on your stove.
  • Not so classy, but they do make handy holders for wet teabags.
  • On the same note, they will hold fish bones or other discards as you eat.
  • They're easy to cut with a pair of craft scissors so you can make templates or patterns from them.
  • Cut holiday decorations from them. Use a small cookie cutter to trace hearts, Christmas trees and so on, cut out and decorate. You can make nice Christmas tree decorations this way.
Got any more ideas? There are quite a few orphan lids in that drawer.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

They Will Not Come For You

We saw a devastating picture of human need when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans a few years ago. People who depended on the government and other organizations lost their entire support. They didn't know what to do or how to help themselves so they waited, some with patience, some without. Frustration grew and violence broke out while they waited for someone - anyone - to come and rescue them.

In some cases, nobody came. Ever.

The lesson was learned by some.

While there are safety networks through the government and private organizations, churches and charities, those networks can be overwhelmed quickly. Snarled communications, missed cues, lack of information, exhaustion and apathy kept help from getting through.

The chances of you facing a natural disaster of this size aren't all that great, but the chances of you facing your own personal disaster continue to climb and that can be just as devastating. Unemployment and economic uncertainty continues to plague the US and the world. The government has paid unemployment benefits in huge amounts, but there will be an end to them. When the checks stop, when the jobs still aren't there, will you be ready?

Maybe you still have your job and maybe you're making your payments and even putting money in savings. You don't really feel as if the recession has touched you, although you probably know someone it has.

It may not - ever. But why take a chance? You cannot depend on the safety nets in place right now. They may not be there if - when - you need them.

Preparing for personal devastation doesn't sound like a fun way to spend time or money, but it could make all the difference to you and your family.

Remember what some of the Katrina survivors said: "They will not come for you."

If "they" are not there to help you, to feed you, to give you shelter and clothing and dignity... who will?

Photo courtesy of Morguefile

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fast food made simple

The taste of fast food is what draws people in, right? Or is it the smell? We make a lot of decisions on what something smells like. Want to increase your family's appetite? Make something that smells "good" and they'll eat it.

Fast food restaurants cook onions on a grill to get the smell out there... why not you? Or... you could just make plain old good "fast food" that they'll eat!

Fast food is not always fast, but it's nearly always faster to cook at home than to drive to a fast food place, put in your order, wait for it, pay for it, drive home and finally, eat. Save time? Nope. It does save some energy, if you don't mind spending the extra money for gas and food.

Frugal living isn't about spending money, though. It's about saving it and if you can save time, too, why would you spend both money and time for something that's not good for you?

If you're "too busy" to cook, you're better off to buy boxed or frozen meals than to go to a fast food place. Make some food ahead on your days off. There are ways to eliminate the fast food habit; we just have to work at it.

You'll be money, health and time ahead if you do that.

Do you make your own fast food?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Frugal ways to prepare for cold weather

Cold weather is just around the corner for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere. Every fall, I start thinking of frugal ways to keep warm without spending everything I have on a heating bill. There are lots of ways, but some of them only return small savings and some of them require a lot of effort, so here are three of the easiest, most frugal ways I've found to save prepare for cold weather.
My snowy back yard (2009)

I've seen people walking around in short sleeved shirts and complaining about how cold they are. Layering clothing is a very frugal way to keep you warm without having to turn up the thermostat (or put more wood on the fire). A sweater or overshirt or even a jacket makes frugal sense when you're chilly, whether that's inside or out.

Men wear undershirts in cold weather, why not women? And children? An undershirt, a long sleeved shirt or sweater and a jacket will keep you toasty warm. Do the same with pants. Long underwear is a frugal alternative and is available for men, women and children. Use them, along with heavier weight pants like jeans and corduroy and if you're still too cold when sitting, put a blanket or throw over your legs.

Another frugal way to stay warm is to eat warm things. Cold weather calls for soup and stew, but any other meal served hot is good, too. There are two reasons for this: One, is that the heat really does warm you up from the inside out and the other is that the richness of the dishes give you energy that helps the body maintain an even temperature.

Drinking hot fluids like tea, hot chocolate or broth will help, too. Avoid cold drinks except for water.

Another way works only if you heat with gas or oil: Use an electric space heater only in the room where you are. Close off the rest of the house and turn the thermostat down so it doesn't have to heat the rest of the house much at all. Even two space heaters can be more frugal than running the furnace enough to heat the whole (unused) house.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Come on, autumn!

I don't know about you, but I'm eager for cooler weather! It's begun to cool down at night now and the days are shorter so even a hot hour or two doesn't really seem bad. This is a perfect, frugal time of the year because the air conditioner isn't sucking electricity and the furnace isn't sucking gas so my utility bills are reasonable.

It won't be long, though, until it's cool enough to need a little heat in the mornings and evenings and the gas bill will begin to creep up if I use the furnace. I put off doing that as long as I can. Instead, I do these things:

Put on long underwear in the morning, even if it's going to be in the 80s or even 90s later on. I take them off when it starts to warm up. I also wear a sweater or jacket as long as it's needed.

Never drink cold drinks until it warms up. I like hot tea and sometimes will drink a cup of hot chocolate or broth to keep me warm. It keeps my hands warm, too!

Keep my feet warm by wearing socks and warm slippers. So what if the weatherman calls for 88 degrees by midafternoon? If my feet are cold, I'll do what I can to warm them up - short of turning on the furnace.

Have a hot breakfast. Hot cereal, eggs and toast or even a cup of soup sure tastes good on a cool morning.

Actually, I love these things. That's one reason I'm excited for the changing of seasons. I love getting back into my soft sweaters and wearing warm house slippers. It makes me feel pampered somehow.

Then add fall colors and the last of the harvest coming in... smells of late onions and fresh apples and first wood fires... is there anyone who doesn't like autumn?

Sights, smells, tastes, and even saving money. What's not to like??

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Financial Advantages of Online College

Guest post by Tim Handorf

Although traditional brick and mortar colleges are still a very popular option, more and more students are realizing that online schools offer several advantages, one of the most important being a cheaper overall bill for school. From tuition and textbooks to commuting and job opportunities, you will often find that you can get more education for your money simply by going online.

Many online colleges offer a base tuition and fees that are cheaper than brick and mortar schools, and it makes sense. Unless your online school is the virtual branch of a traditional university, there are no extensive libraries to fill and maintain, student centers to manage, or sports teams and stadiums to support. Online colleges are simply able to focus on curriculum without spending money on the extras typically found at schools with a physical presence.

You may find that the absence of a campus to go to will be good for your bottom line in more than tuition. If you are able to study completely online, you don't need to drive to class every day. You're able to work on school at home, at work, or wherever you may be without any extra driving, gas, or wear and tear on your vehicle. This can also result in fewer meals on the go, which tend to be more expensive than what you can make for yourself.

Although some online schools will require you to buy textbooks and other supplies in order to complete course work, others will allow you to access books, journals, and more completely online. For many students, they are able to leave behind the back to school bookstore rush found in traditional college behind, and instead just download or visit websites for their text as they go along in the semester. Some online students may find that the only supplies they need are a computer, Internet connection, and maybe a good pair of glasses.

At a brick and mortar school, you will typically have to stick to a rigid schedule, with classes at regular meeting times that usually fall into business hours. This can keep many students from pursuing a part time or full time job while they're in school. However, with the flexibility found in most online college programs, you can generally work at any hour, which will free your schedule up to allow you to work and earn money while you're still in school.

These are just a few of the positive financial considerations offered by online schools. Research the programs that interest you to find out the advantages that they may offer for your bottom line to see how online college can save you money as a student.


Tim Handorf writes on the topics of online colleges and universities. He welcomes your comments at his email:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The relativity of an apple harvest

It's almost ready! My one lonely apple... not bad for a first harvest, though. My other little apple tree died so my daughter got me another one for Mother's Day this year. It was already blooming and formed five little apples which fell off, one by one, until this one was left.
My apple harvest

I've been watching it all summer. How good it will taste! Shall I invite my daughter to share it? Should I eat half the first day and half the second? When will I know it's the perfect time to pick it? Will a squirrel get it before I do? Does it have a worm in it?

Isn't it strange how important things become when the amount is limited?

I could go to the store and buy as many apples as I wanted, but none of them would taste as good as this one will.

It's the same with "things." Kids who have so many toys that none of them are truly appreciated. People who have so many clothes that none of them are important. Houses with so many rooms and so many square feet, cars with so many bells and whistles. None of it has as much value as two toys will have to a child who has none other; an extra set of clothes to the man or woman who has nothing else to wear; a built on leanto to a family that lives in a two room home, a car that runs to a person who has walked to work for the last year.

That's what relative is. Do you have enough? Do you have too much?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Stock up on free food

Emergencies like hurricanes and other natural disasters, and more unnatural disasters, like food and money shortages, should be enough to encourage us all to keep food safely stored for the possibilities.

It's expensive to go to the grocery store and stock up on food, though! And it may be too late to start a big stock up, if you're worried about a hurricane or you've lost your job.

Don't worry; there are still things you can do. We live in a wonderful world, where nature is generous. This time of year there is often produce that gets wasted because there is such a glut of it. It's not unusual to find food for free just for the asking.

Is there an apple tree overhanging the alley? A grape vine gracing a parking lot? Do you know someone who has been feeding squash to the chickens? Walnuts falling from a tree in the park? Go ahead... ask first, and then help yourself. Most of the time people are more than willing to give excess produce if they know who might want it.

Don't expect them to pick it for you and bring it to you, but use some initiative and go get it after you've asked. (If you go into a private garden, ask the owner to come with you or show you what you can pick.)

Wild plums grow around here just for the picking. Perhaps there are wild fruits and nuts where you are. Strawberries, blackberries, apples, plums, peaches and many more fruits grow wild across the nation. Walnuts, pecans, hickory nuts and many others grow wild. Know what they are and take advantage of them.

Go to a small grocery store and watch to see what day or days they pick through the produce. Ask if you can have the box of discarded vegetables "for your chickens" or whatever. You will be surprised at how much and what kind of produce gets thrown out, still useable.

America is still a nation rich in natural resources. Farms harvest tons and tons of food each year with large machinery which leaves a good portion in the fields. Ask a farmer if you can glean the field of onions or potatoes or carrots. You won't have any trouble picking up enough to do you for a year.

You can put this free food away to build your pantry. Learn to can if you don't know how. Learn to dehydrate and freeze whatever you can get your hands on. There could very well come a time when you'll be very glad that you did!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lessons learned from a garden

What a strange garden I have this year! The tomatoes I thought were late, never did get started. I may have a couple of dozen tomatoes from three plants. The peas did great earlier this year... but they quit blooming after the second week. I've got fewer cucumbers from two plants this year than I did from one plant the last time.

I planted zucchini and yellow squash on new ground because they'll grow anywhere, right? Maybe not. There are 50 times as many male flowers as female so the harvest is skimpy there.

But when one vegetable doesn't do well, another will. This year is the year for winter squash. I only planted acorn and butternut and it's a good thing. They took over one entire raised bed and I'm talking one plant of each! Some acorn squash has already been harvested and I counted seven more almost ready, with heaven only knows how many coming on and yet to form. The butternut is slower to mature, but the vine is loaded. I lost count twice and gave up but there are at least as many butternut squash as there are acorn squash.

I'll eat squash this winter, even if I don't have tomatoes and pickles to go with it.

Beans, of both kinds: green and dried, are prolific this year, so I'll have beans to go with my squash.

Roll with the punches, go with the flow, whatever way you want to say it, truly frugal living means making the most of what you do have and not crying about what you don't have. So there won't be many tomatoes. Instead of having homemade spaghetti sauce, I'll have butternut squash soup. Zucchini and yellow squash are seasonal favorites here, but we'll eat green beans instead.

So you can't get a new couch this year? Paint the walls instead. It will make your life brighter, and like gardeners (and frugalites) say... there's always next year.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Frugal ways to cut your auto insurance

When we think about frugal ideas, we often focus on things like reusing plastic bags and not throwing out leftovers. They do save money, but things like auto insurance premiums can often stand a little adjustment that will save you quite a bit more.

How? Go through your auto insurance with a fine toothed comb. Check each item that you're charged for. Is it necessary? Are you paying more than your state requires? Are you paying twice for the same coverage: Hospitalization on your car insurance and hospitalization on your health insurance, for instance, just isn't frugal.

If you've recently paid off your vehicle, make sure full coverage is dropped unless there's a real reason for it. Most people don't need it unless their lending institution requires it.

Make sure you're getting all the discounts you're eligible for. If your agent doesn't offer them, ask. Some discounts to ask about:

Clean driving record
Multiple vehicle
Good student
Low mileage
Driver education
Safety equipment
Armed services

Other than that... it never hurts to look around. Check some online sites that allow you to compare different automobile insurance companies and never let loyalty to your old company stand in the way of saving money.

I was surprised when I checked mine out recently. I thought I had the most frugal insurance possible, but I found another one that saved me around $30 a year. Why not? Now I can do something else with that money.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Frugal shopping and seasonal sales

With back to school sales and end of season sales, now's the time to dig out that stash of cash you put back for sales. (Didn't you??)

Don't just think "school" when you see pens and pencils, jackets and shoes and backpacks on sale. First, check the price to be sure it's a real sale price, then you can shop for what you need, and not just what the kids need. It may be time to buy a few extra pens to have on hand for your checkbook (or to sign those notes to the teacher), or you may be in need of socks. Take inventory and see what you can save money on by buying it now.

End of season sales brings up all sorts of possibilities. Buy for next year, of course, but if you're buying for children, make sure you can estimate what size they'll be by next spring or summer. Think summer gifts, too. Birthdays and other celebrations may be covered less expensively if you buy on sale now.

Again, take inventory and see what you may need for next year. You will find great discounts on sandals and summer wear now.

As you shop, always think ahead but be careful. Don't overbuy or assume that things will always be the same. For instance teenager's tastes can change overnight, so stay away from fads and extreme fashions when you buy ahead for them.

With some caution and a little common sense, you can save a lot of money by taking advantage of sales for future needs.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Make Your Own Iced Tea

By request:

It's so easy to make iced tea that I can't see spending money on another appliance just to do that, or even worse, buying it already made. People have made iced tea for years (probably centuries) without the aid of a plug in contraption that eats electricity and counter space.

Anyway, here's how, and it's a lot easier and faster to do than it is to tell about it.

First, if you can find it, buy loose leaf tea. It's much better for iced tea. It has a fuller flavor, and it keeps better in the refrigerator.

You'll need a small pan to boil water, a strainer of some kind - cheese cloth or a handled fine mesh strainer will work. You'll also need some tea, sugar if you like it sweet, water, a jar or glass pitcher and a long handled spoon.

Put a cup or so of water on to boil and meanwhile get your jar ready. If you're going to use sugar, put it in the jar now. For sweet tea, southern style, use about a cup of sugar for a gallon of tea, but adjust it to your own taste.

Put some cold water into this, a couple of cup's worth, and mix the sugar into it. Use the cold water even if you don't use sugar, to keep the hot water from cracking the jar.

When the water boils, remove the pan from the stove. For each quart of tea, add a scant tablespoon of looseleaf tea (four per gallon). Cover the pan and let the tea steep for 10 - 15 minutes.

Strain the tea into the jar or pitcher, add cold water to fill, and stir.

This is the best and most frugal tea you'll ever drink.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Frugal summer work

Summer is not my favorite season, although I enjoy the fresh vegetables and fruits that it offers. That means it's time to can and dehydrate and freeze and put up what we can for those cold days ahead. I bought a LOT of canning jars from my sister and brother in law last year at a very frugal price, so I won't worry about that.

There are canning lids and rings left from last year and the little dehydrator is still working. I will use the car again this year to dehydrate, too, but I still want a solar dehydrator. One of these days...

Anyway, there are gaps and empty spots in my pantry now, just waiting to be filled with wonderful and brightly colored food. It's satisfying to take the filled jars from the canner and line them up to cool. It makes me feel snug and frugal when they're all stored in the pantry. It makes me ready for winter when it's all done.

Isn't that the way life is supposed to be? I think so.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Christmas in July

Have you thought about Christmas yet? It's coming, you know. (And as fast as time is going, it will be here day after tomorrow!)

Christmas is usually a big expense, so it's wise to prepare for it ahead of time. Either save money each month or payday so you have enough to spend on gifts, or start buying gifts now, as you can find deals for them.

On the Dollar Stretcher forum, there's a thread about the good deals people have found and how they are putting them away for Christmas: Early Christmas Shopping

Another way to gather gifts for Christmas or any other occasion, is to stalk the thrift stores and garage sales for collectibles that the giftee would like. Antiques are found there at times, too. Of course, not everyone is into antiques and/or collectibles, but if you have someone on your gift list who is, now is the time to find the perfect gift.

For those who aren't into that sort of thing, retail shopping can be done very frugally since you have the time to wait and watch for the best deals possible. One place to keep an eye on is a site called Sustoo that keeps you up to date on all things Amazon - at least the greatest sales and mark downs. Amazon has almost everything, so if you shop online, it's worth bookmarking this site and checking it often.

Then there's eBay. You can get some really good deals there, but you can get burned, too. If you buy from them, make sure the seller has a good record and check the retail price. You don't want to pay more than it would cost you down at the local store.

If you craft, don't wait another minute! Get started on those stocking stuffers and other gifts.

It may be sticky hot out there right now, but Christmas is just around the corner. Really. :)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Eat well; eat cheap

I once salvaged a bowl of liquid left after we'd eaten the asparagus at a holiday dinner. My daughter-in-law gave me one of those looks, but I kept it anyway. It makes a rich, delicious and frugal cream soup as does the liquid from other things like potatoes and broccoli.

Another example: I made "half-baked" potatoes - a family "recipe" in which baking potatoes are sliced in two lengthwise, the put face down in a little oil and baked. They're really good, but I digress. ;) Anyway, there were three halves left after dinner. They don't reheat well, like fried potaotes, so I pulled the skin off of them and trimmed off the browned part, grated them, added some salt, pepper and a beaten egg and made very frugal hash brown patties from them. Good eating!

A tablespoon of corn or green beans or peas or whatever... when that's all that's left over, it doesn't seem worth doing anything with. Hold it, though... I don't throw it out. I keep a pint size container in the door of my refrigerator freezer and add the little bits and dollops as they're available. By the time the container is full, I have a good assortment of vegetables for soup or stew - for free. Since I don't eat much soup or stew during hot weather, it gives me a chance to stockpile a little!

Besides things like these, don't throw out radish greens if they're fresh. They're a good cooked green. Salvage large broccoli and cauliflower stems, peel them and eat in a salad or cook as a vegetable.

Got a little leftover rice? Or some chopped raw onions or celery or carrots? How about some leftover hot cereal? Make a frugal meatloaf with it. Add it to ground meat, add seasonings, an egg or two and top with tomato sauce.  

The most frugal way to eat is to not throw out anything, but the best way to eat is when you become creative with food.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Dehydated vegetables for Christmas

So call me nuts. I listen to Christmas music at odd times all year long. When it gets hot outside, I turn on the air conditioner and make Christmas ornaments. When the garden is doing well and summer produce is abundant... I think of Christmas! As in soup mixes (for gifts, of course!)

It's very inexpensive to dehydrate a variety of summer vegetables if you grow them yourself or can buy them inexpensively. I've dehydrated squash and onions on trays in the car when it's in the sun. Any tray with a net or screen bottom can be used anywhere it gets very warm and can be protected from insects and birds. A light cloth will do it if you can clip it to the edges of a tray and keep the tray off the ground where insects will find it.

I wrote a article about dehydrating without electricity that may interest you:
Simple Dehydrators and Other Ways to Dry Food

When you have a good variety of dehydrated vegetables on hand, take a cup or two of each kind or mix them according to your preferences. When you have all the vegetables mixed well, distribute them in individual containers or plastic bags. Remember that dehydrated vegetables are about 1/8 to 1/2 of their original volume, depending on the vegetable, so a cup of dehydrated food will be anywhere from 2 to 8 cups once they're rehydrated.

If you have an abundance of zucchini or yellow squash, powder them in your blender or food mill after they're dehydrated. They make great thickener for the soup mix. Just add it to the individual packages.

Note: Try it before you package up a lot. Make sure you like the combination of vegetables, and make adjustments to that and add spices or other flavorings.

If you're like I am, you'll want to find pretty packaging and maybe tie them with Christmas ribbon. But if you're not thinking that much of Christmas, just think of how good a vegetable soup from the garden will taste when the snow flies.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How does your wild garden grow?

This is proving to be an interesting year! Already, some of the "weeds" in my back yard are going to seed. Lambsquarter and amaranth will start over if I allow the seeds to fall (IF we don't have an early fall), and purslane is edible even after it's gone to seed, but it's still disturbing. Do they know something we don't?

The dandelions are doing very well this year under the plum tree. I never have it mowed back there so that I can dig the roots for dandelion coffee. This year I intend to eat some of the roots as vegetables. I haven't done that yet because I wanted enough to make coffee.

It looks like I'll have enough to do both this year!

Semi-wild: Jerusalem artichokes. If you've never tried this, and you have a little spot you can give them, do it. They're so good in the fall and winter when other things aren't so fresh or crispy and they do spread on their own. I have a good stand of them and I know there were areas that I dug all of them out (I thought, anyway!).

I put some peelings from them in the compost and guess what's growing there now? Yep... "almost" weeds. :)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Smart Tips to Shop Frugally

Guest post by Jack Reed

The need for being innovative and coming up with new ideas to save your hard earned cash has hit an all time high today. With a large number of Americans resorting to debt settlement to settle their debt woes, many are realizing the importance of frugal living and taking advantage of the money-saving opportunities in life. Spending less than you earn helps you to meet all your financial goals and what’s more, it keeps you away from debts!

Perhaps the greatest urge to spend money develops when one goes for shopping. With credit cards in wide use today, the impulse to splurge money while shopping is on the rise. Therefore, keeping some smart tips in mind while you go out to shop can help you save your hard earned dollars. Keep the following points in mind the next time you step out to shop:

1)Plan: This is very important. Decide what you really need to buy. Often, you go to a departmental store and end up purchasing things that you do not really require. Say you just go for an outing to a mall with your friends where a $200 jean strikes your fancy and you end up buying it. Thus chalking out a plan of what you really need to buy can save you a lot of money.

2)Control impulse purchases: Since impulse purchases can cause you to spend much, give time to yourself. You might come across an item which you ‘think’ you need. The best way then is to give time to yourself. Often after a day or two, you give up the idea of buying that item. It means you never really required it, thus this can be a good way to control your unnecessary expenses.

3)Make use of coupons: Coupon inserts can be found in most Sunday newspapers. Start collecting coupons; it really begins to pay off after a month or so. At the end of one month, a couponer should be able to take advantage of several excellent deals at multiple stores every week.

4)Use secondhand items: Look out for thrift stores and consignment shops. You can save hundreds of dollars over the years by purchasing used items such as different kinds of furniture, books etc. from such stores.

5)Buying online: You can google and find out where in the local market you can find the products you are looking for. Local markets and online auction sites are a good source where you can get things at a cheaper rate. The internet is also an easy way to learn and compare prices before you decide to spend your money.

6)Avoid brands: You do not want to pay for the brand but for the item that you require. Why pay a high price for something when you can get the same thing at a much cheaper rate by going generic? Don’t be brand conscious. This can really help you get steep discounts in your purchases.

7)Stop keeping up with the Joneses: Many people try to purchase brands even if they cannot afford it. This provides them an ego boost. If your neighbor is well off financially, you might go buy something expensive to escape feeling inferior! You should get rid of this mindset right away. Finding ways to cut your expenses is a sign of financial wisdom and paves your path for a better tomorrow.

8)Do not carry credit cards: This is a complete no-no! Carrying credit cards while shopping can tempt you for impulse buys. Often, the feel of a credit card is as if it is not real money. That feeling makes it easy to spend too much, as the credit card company pays for your purchases.

It is unwise to consider frugal living as a financial handcuff. Frugal shopping is not about making sacrifices or feeling deprived. On the contrary, it is smart shopping! When you plan to weed out unnecessary expenditure, you develop a sense of financial discipline. So get geared up and start to paint a better financial picture of yourself!

Jack Reed is a financial writer with Oak View Law Group. He offers advice to people on various debt related issues. He can be contacted at jackrd3[@]gmail(dot)com

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Frugal cooking tips I thought everybody knew

But maybe they don't.

To get the most juice from a lemon, heat it first, then roll it on the counter with a little pressure from the palm of your hand. Cut it over a bowl because juice will squirt as soon as you make the first cut.

Make gravy from pan drippings to keep from wasting them. Add thickener in the form of flour, corn starch or arrowroot, then add liquid in the form of milk, water or potato water.

To add flour to a hot dish or pan, put it in a small jar with a tight fitting lid. Add enough cold water to cover, then shake hard. Don't use hot water as it will clump.

When a recipe calls for a cup of sugar, measure it out then take out a generous tablespoon and put it back. The recipe will be just as good and you'll save a little sugar for next time.

When a milk carton is empty, put a couple of tablespoons of water in it, shake it around and pour out the last of the milk. Milk clings to the sides of the carton and a quick rinse will let you use all of it.

Use a dish pan to wash dishes in, and another one to rinse in. It will save you a lot of water and dish soap and does a better job than washing under a running stream of water.

Even if you have an ice maker in your refrigerator, keep a couple of ice cube trays on hand. Use them to freeze concentrated juice, or small amounts of sauces or gravies, or leftover juice, fruit drinks or soft drinks for a "popsicle" treat. Put a saved popsicle stick or short straw in it to use for a handle.

By way of measurement, a cube frozen in a regular ice cube tray is about two tablespoons.

If your garbage disposal smells foul, a dollop of vinegar of any kind will remedy that. More frugal: use leftover pickle "juice." It's diluted vinegar with spices.

Use that leftover pickle liquid to pickle your own cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, onions or whatever vegetables you have on hand, especially if they're getting old. Commercial pickle liquid can be used one more time before it loses it's strength, but no more. Your own homemade varies, so taste it to be sure it's acidic enough first.

That's enough for now, but by no means all the frugal kitchen tips there are. Share yours!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Keeping the house cool

How's your weather? Getting hot? It's heading that way here! I hate to run the air conditioner, so I find ways to avoid it as long as possible. Unless we're having a really hot spell, I can wait until afternoon to turn it on. That's because the back of the house has high windows that don't let in direct sunshine in the summer and because there is a very large evergreen tree at the southeast corner that shades most of the house until the sun gets into the western portion.

Using just those two things can make a difference in the temperature of a home. Did you know that there can be as much as 20 degrees difference in the shade of a tree and in the sun? That's a lot! If you could drop the inside temperature from 90 to 70,(or from 100 to 80) you could do without an air conditioner altogether.

There is a tree - well, two trees - growing on the west side of the house where the hot sun shines in the afternoon, but they're not nearly as big or as thick as the one in back. It will be awhile before they'll do serious shading, so I am careful to keep the curtains closed against the sun and to avoid any dark colored furnishings where they could absorb the heat.

Other ideas I've used:

Fans for air circulation. Just air moving will make it seem cooler.
Stay hydrated. Water, water, water. Avoid alcohol.
Open the house at night and close it tight during the hot hours of the day. I watch the thermometer to know when to open and close the house.
Eat light foods. Avoid heavy meats and sauces and stick with salads and other light foods.
Daydream. Think about cool places or times.

I use many other ways to stay cool as long as I can. That keeps money in my pocket just a little bit longer!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Do you rent?

If you do, have you ever negotiated for a lower price?

Chris Thorman, who blogs about rental property software asked me to link to his (very interesting) article titled How To Negotiate Your Rent in 2010 | A 10-Step Guide - well he asked me to link to the poll on that page because he wants to get a lot of responses to it!

Whether you have or haven't, take the time to click an answer on the poll. And if you do rent and you haven't negotiated for the price, read his article carefully. It has some very good information.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Shortage of canned pumpkin?

I've been hearing this for the last few years. Is there really a shortage of canned pumpkin?

That question was brought about by a tip in the Dollar Stretcher Tips, a weekly newsletter from Dollar Stretcher. (If you don't subscribe, you're missing some cool ideas - go here: and scroll down to find it.)

Anyway, the woman who wrote in said that since there was a shortage of canned pumpkin, she had been making "pumpkin" muffins using sweet potatoes because they're cheaper. (Somewhere; not here).

My question is: Since whole, fresh pumpkins are available anywhere in the fall of the year and usually at a cheap price, why would anyone buy canned pumpkin? It's easy to cook and easy to freeze and one pumpkin will yield many, many more cups of pumpkin than a can for about the same price. Besides that, it tastes better and you can use your Halloween pumpkin. Why throw it away, then go and buy pumpkin??

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Too poor? Or too rich?

My sister in law once bought me a "rag mop" head made of strings. I guess she thought I couldn't afford to buy one, since I was using real rags, which lasted much longer and didn't come apart all over the floor.

Mom once bought me a package of paper napkins, since I was using cloth ones.

There are other examples, but I'm curious: do other people think you're too poor to buy wasteful products?

Then there are those who look at my cloth napkins and go something like, "Oh, my, we just use paper napkins; this is nice." I guess she didn't know that my version is cheaper than hers - buying disposable napkins over and over and over again.

So which is it? Poor or rich? I know one thing. I'm richer by using cloth napkins and real rags in the mop than I would be if I bought those things over and over and over...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Two Liter Soft Drink Bottles

And what to do with them? I don't drink much of that stuff any more, but like all good hoarders, I stuck a few back... just in case.

I have used them over time. One way was to cut the top off and use it for a funnel. It fits perfectly into the tops of gallon milk jugs.

I used the bottom half to hold silverware. I wash dishes by hand so I use it to drain them. You could cut it a little shorter and use it to hold silverware or plastic ware for picnics or other informal gatherings. Be sure to trim the top evenly or you'll get scratched.

Using the bottom half again, rim the edge with colored tape and/or paint it and store knitting needles in it. Cut it a little shorter for short needles or crochet hooks, longer for long needles and long afghan hooks.

Cut one in two, then cut three or four two inch slits in the top half. Put yarn you're working with in the bottom half and put the top half on, overlapping the two edges that you slit and pushing the top half down firmly. Thread the end of the yarn you're working with through the top. Your yarn won't get tangled or dusty and the cat can't play with it. (Maybe.)

Using the same method, create a terrarium. Keep the lid on the top to keep moisture from escaping.

Make an ant farm with one. Ants can't climb up the slippery sides, especially upside down like the curving top will have them doing. Remove all labels so you can see the ants easily.

Fill one with sand or dirt for a door stop.

The bottom line is that they're containers that you can cut easily to suit your needs. When you cover the cut edge they can be used for anything that doesn't require heat. Serve salads in them, use them for planters, keep odds and ends stored in them, carry water in them, let the kids play with them without cutting them. They make grand water "guns" (more on the order of canons!).

Oh, yes... in the winter, fill one with hot water and use it to keep your feet warm. The lids close tightly so you don't have to worry about a leak and the water will stay warm an amazingly long time.

So what did I miss?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Pins: Bobby, clothes and safety

They just don't make them like they used to. Unless you want to pay an outrageous price, that is!

What started this rant? I pin my hair back, sometimes into a sort of bun, with bobby pins. I had the same ones for years, but eventually, they had to be replaced. No problem; I just grabbed some when I went to the grocery store. Done deal, right? Nope.

Well it was, kind of. I found and bought the bobby pins. I brought them home and used them for three or four days, when one of them sprung and wouldn't hold my hair any more. The next day another one went. Then every two or three days I was throwing one out, so I went back and bought a different kind and they did the same thing.

Not very frugal! I'm sure the idea was to use less or poorer grade metal and save somebody something while encouraging the public to buy more often. In reality, the company lost my business, not only for the bobby pins, but for its other products.

My sister had some bobby pins from ages ago and gave them to me. Wow, what a difference. Not only are they still unsprung (new word?), they hold my hair the way they're supposed to.

And now on to the clothes pins... but you probably know all about them. I have clothes pins that I bought at least 15 years ago and I still use them. I leave them out on the line all the time. So... I decided, that since they were so old, I should buy a few more to replace them as they broke. Bad move.

The spring type of clothespins i bought are so weak they will hardly hold themselves to the line, let alone laundry. And they're cut at such an angle that I tend to grab the wrong end. Maybe that's why they don't work very well - that and the poor grade of spring metal they use. I heard that you can still buy good quality spring clothespins. I wonder which arm and leg they'll want?

Safety pins. Safe, my foot. If a pin that bends out of shape so easily that the pointed end slips out of its notch, then "safety" is just a traditional misnomer, like car length "driveways," and city parks with no parking zones. Cheap metal and a cheap design do not equal a quality product.

Rant over.

Monday, May 3, 2010

My new frugal laundry machine

Need I say more? A real, vintage, Maytag wringer washer. And it works great! I could hardly wait to try it out so I washed a load of rags I'd been saving just for that purpose. A half hour later, they were on the clothesline in the sun.

The basement in this house has a set of old granite laundry sinks. I don't know how much they hold, but it's probably around 40 gallons each. It's a perfect setup, just the way it was planned to use a wringer washer.

Ok, so you're not interested in actually using a wringer washer. That's old fashioned, anyway. I mean, now you have an automatic washer that you throw clothes in and just wait... and wait... and wait. Eventually, it does all the work for you. And if you miss a stain, oh, well. You can just buy some stain remover. Or buy some new clothes. After all, you just bought maybe a hundred gallons of water.

You know what I'm saying. It's cheaper, by far, and faster, too. Wringer washers do a better job of getting clothes clean. Think of it. A machine that gets clothes cleaner faster using less detergent, less electricity and is cheaper to buy, too.

I know most of you are not convinced. Wringer washers do take a little  more of your time instead of just time, but they take less time to do a load. They take a little more energy and work to do that load, too (but I know the modern way is to pay the gym to get your exercise).

Still with me? I already wrote about the benefits of using wringer washers and a little more, too:

The Ultimate Frugal Laundry Machine

What to Look for in a Wringer Washer

How to Properly Set Up and Use a Wringer Washer

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Creative thrift store shopping

Ready to go to the thrift store or a garage sale? Put on your creative thinking cap first.

Sometimes second hand shopping is a lost cause when you can't find what you want or think you want. Those times, just a change of viewpoint can make things look altogether different.

Cast in point: Some time back I went looking for a new vase. I needed one for the table. Nothing fancy but nothing ugly, either. I looked and looked and didn't find a thing, so I gave up. (When I say I gave up, it doesn't mean I went to a retail store and paid full price for it; it means that I quit looking and did without for awhile.)

A few weeks later I was browsing a garage sale table with nothing in particular on my mind when a copper teakettle caught my eye. I suddenly envisioned it filled with fresh daisies - and voila! my new vase was in front of my eyes for a mere twenty five cents.

Looking at things creatively sometimes means seeing them for what they are and not for what they seem to be. The teakettle seemed to be a container to heat water on the stove. It really was just a container, period. A container that could be used for anything that would fit.

On the same wavelength: Sheets are big pieces of material. What do you need? A tablecloth? Curtains? Material for a new dress or shirt? There it is.

A coffee cup can hold celery or carrot sticks at dinner, or it can hold flowers or a small houseplant. It can hold pens and pencils, short knitting needles and crochet hooks or any number of things.

A pretty book that you don't even want to read becomes a door stop or a booster seat for a child.

It doesn't have to be what it looks like it is. It can be just what it really is... a container, a solid rectangle, a sheet of material.

Creatively... do you shop like that?

Monday, April 26, 2010


My mood is sort of rambling today, so that's the way I'll post. :)

I like this thread in the Dollar Stretcher forums:

2010 Challenge -100 New Ways to Save Money I've been keeping an eye on it for a few months now and it's still going. I've even found a few new ways to save from it.

It's been rainy here for almost a week now and cool - too cool to do much serious gardening, although I set out cabbage plants and have mustard, lettuce, radishes and peas growing out there. It's been close to frosting the last couple of nights with more cold nights promised, so it will be awhile before the peppers and tomatoes are safe. So much for an early spring.

It's all right, though... I've been nibbling chives, eating lambsquarter and dandelion greens still. The dandelions are starting to bloom, so I picked a handful of buds yesterday to have with lunch. Boiled briefly and salted lightly, they're really good. If you try them, be sure to cut off all the green parts because they're bitter. Wild food can provide very good nutrition while cutting your grocery costs, so why not try them?

If you wait to salt fresh cooked vegetables until they're on your plate, save the cooking water to use on your houseplants or outdoor garden. There are lots of minerals and trace elements that plants need in the water. Dandelions are some of the best for this purpose because they have long, strong roots that bring nutrients up from deep in the earth that other plants can't get to.

And my frugal exercise tip: Buy a pair of walking shoes. You'll feel guilty for not wearing them... and what are they for, if not walking? So take a walk, smile and breathe the fresh air (even if it is a bit cool, as it is here). It will do wonders for your disposition and your health.

Rambling on...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Turnoff Week is April 19-25

Turn it off! Unplug it! Join the crowd... well, the movement, anyway. April 19 through the 25 is Turnoff Week, targeting computers and TVs. Here's a link to a post on the forum at Center for Screen Time Awareness which will explain what I'm talking about.

Are you addicted? I never thought that I was until I took a few days off earlier this year and found myself slipping back in to check up on things on the internet. Since I work on the computer, it wouldn't work to turn it off completely, but I am going to try to turn it off when I'm not working. No TV doesn't bother me, so no brownie points there.

Join me? At least for a day or two? Then let me know... are you addicted?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What do do with leftover Easter candy

Still got a few chocolate Easter eggs around, or a fluffy marshmallow chick? Don't toss them or give them away, use them for other things.

Those cute little peeps are sugar covered marshmallows, so you can use them wherever you'd use marshmallows. Hot chocolate comes to mind! Use them in any recipe that calls for marshmallows.

Chocolate is chocolate, no matter how it's formed. Chop up a chocolate bunny and make chocolate chip cookies, or use a peeler and cut curls from it to top a cake or other dessert. Melt and dip strawberries or other fruit in it. Whatever comes to mind... just don't buy chocolate for awhile.

Malted eggs? Stick them in the blender and use as malt for... what else? Malted milk. Or any recipe that calls for malt.

We got some peanut butter filled eggs this year, so I sliced them with a hot knife and "iced" some plain cookies with them.

Get creative and use up the Easter candy... or not. It will keep for a long time. You don't have to refrigerate or freeze it - not even the chocolate, as long as you can keep the temperature below around 75 degrees. Above that, it will melt and make a mess, but it still won't spoil, so put it in a bowl or other container if your kitchen gets hotter than that.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Did you ever set up a scavenger hunt?

Frugally, I mean... as in, not spending much money. That's a question on the Dollar Stretcher forums.

I've never set one up and have only participated in one scavenger hunt in my life, so I have no advice. (That's not really a first, no matter what it seems like!) ;)

Anyway, check out the question if you have a moment and if you have any ideas, they sure would be appreciated.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Speak Up!

When was the last time you got a special price for your internet or phone service? Or when did you get a discount on dinner out? It was probably the last time you spoke up and asked for it.

In this world of competition bordering on cut throat tactics, consumers often have the edge - if we just take it. Businesses want your business, so if you tell them you're looking for a great deal, they will often deal with you.

If you see a "hooker" ad (one that promises a low fee for a limited time, but requires a contract of three to four times that), and you're already a customer, call the company and ask if they would give you the same courtesy. Why not? They can't say anything but "no," and they might very well say yes. They want to keep you as a customer, even if it means cutting your price temporarily.

If you see an ad from a competitor promising a good deal, call up your company and tell them you're considering switching. (You ARE considering it, but you don't have to actually switch.)

If you're having a hard time paying the bill, tell them so. Tell them that you'd like to remain a customer but simply can't afford it. They will usually work a deal with you.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

New traditions

Tonight, March 27, 2010, is "turn off the lights" night. For one hour, from 8:30 to 9:30 your local time, turn off the lights. Sit in the dark or use candles, kerosene lamps or solar lighting and think about how much electricity the world is saving... and how much money you're saving.

More about this in the post I made last year:

Electric Traditions

Join us?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tiny Houses

Wow. Some headlines leave me underwhelmed, if you know what I mean. How about this one:
Average Size Of Single Family Homes In The U.S. Down To 2,343 Square Foot.

Oh, my. That's less than a thousand square foot per person - average. I am sincere.

Did you know that the average home in 1950 was 1100 to 1200 square feet AND the average household population was 3.37 and in 2003, the last year I could quickly find stats for, it was 2.37. I'm pretty sure the size of homes increased since then. Fewer people, bigger house.

What does that mean?

Maybe that we're more spoiled, spend more money, care less about the environment, need more privacy... or all of the above. It could be.

Enter: The tiny house. The small home. The little dwelling.

The history of a small home is long, as long as you'd like it. (Think "cave-man.") Castles and churches notwithstanding, most personal homes in the more distant past were quite small compared to today's buildings. Even large families lived in small dwellings. Today's 3,000, 4,000 and up square foot buildings are aptly called monsters for good reason. I don't mean to step on any toes, but I don't get it.

When I looked up "small house," I found references to homes under 2500 square feet. That's not so small, really. So I looked further and found references to homes under 1500 square feet. Getting closer... but it's still not so uncommon.

On down the list: Under 1,000 square feet. As a matter of fact, wow. Under 600 square feet.

You could use one of these small homes as a guest room, a home for an aging parent, a detached office (good tax break), or a special room for a hobby or craft.

Or you could live in one.

They're usually between the size of a pickup camper and a small mobile home, with a lot of built in comfort and convenience. They're cheap to buy and cheaper (and a lot of fun!) to design and build yourself, as this Tiny House Design blog shows.

Mortgages are a lot lower for this type of house. Maybe... just maybe, if everyone hadn't thought they deserved the biggest, fanciest house they could borrow money for, the housing bubble might not have burst quite so forcefully. Who knows?

All I know now is that if I were in the market for a house, I'd definitely be looking for a tiny one.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

An irrational puzzle

Read Gary Foreman's blog entry titled "A Puzzle", and then you tell me...

I think "rational" is in the eye of the beholder. I sometimes spend more money than I need to, or really want to, but I can rationalize it away. For instance, I need to get my eyes checked and will need new glasses. I know there is an optometrist that only takes walk-ins, so I could go and maybe get right in, but maybe have to wait awhile. She's cheap but she's good and I could save money by going there.

What do I do? I go to an optometrist where I can set an appointment and be guaranteed to have that specific time. It costs almost 25% more. I can rationalize that by saying that I would probably waste time sitting in the cheaper optometrist's office, but in reality my time is not worth that much, especially if I'm not doing anything, anyway. I could read a book while I wait at the other optometrist's, or make lists or daydream or whatever... but no, I gotta pay through the nose, rush in, rush out and go home and read a book.

Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?

What do you do to save money?

So... I was asked, "What do you do to save money?"

Oh, my. Let me count the ways... no, I don't think I can. There are so many ways to save money that I don't think anyone could list them. Books and books have been written about them, web sites are filled with ideas, and now even "mainstream" media is touting their own advice, as generic and ho-hum as it might seem to those of us who have been doing this for awhile.

Where would you start to tell someone how you save money? I haven't figured it out yet, except to say something like, "Don't waste anything. Don't use more than you need. Turn it off, turn it down, turn it into something else."

Ideas, anyone?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Frugal storage

I don't know who discovered or named the law, but there is one that says however much stuff you own, it expands to fit the space you have, and then some. You can get rid of things, dump things, give away things, throw away things... and it just comes back.

The biggest problem is storing what we're not using at the moment, and that means anything from a yacht to a needle and thread.

Well... I don't have any solutions for yacht storage, sorry. But the needle and thread can be stored in a film canister.

Cardboard boxes are the common solution for storage, but where do you put the box after it's filled? You could cover it with contact paper, or paint it or wallpaper it or decoupage it and then you leave it out in plain sight. You can use it as a lamp table, a coffee table, a nightstand, or a footstool.

Besides boxes, cans - the kind we throw away - can store things. Many things don't need to be contained with a lid, so a plain steel ("tin") food can can be used. Before putting anything in it that you need to reach in for, use a pair of pliers to bend down any sharp edges and cover them with tape.

I was desperate for storage for my long knitting needles so I could find the size I wanted when I wanted it, so I covered a large oatmeal box with yarn wound around and around it and taped down at each end. It looks pretty good filled with those long knitting needles and I can easily see the sizes.

A large tub that cookies came in holds an assortment of hankies on my desk. Small glass jars with lids work as candy dishes, a large plastic spice container with holes in the lid holds baking soda for cleaning purposes, empty tissue boxes hold my hoard of plastic grocery bags.

And still there seems to be clutter...