Sunday, January 31, 2010
This bums me out, because when clothes at the Salvation Army or Goodwill are priced higher than my garage-sale calibrated target prices, I compensate with money from our charity fund, effectively converting part of the “purchase” into a “donation.”
So now I’m wondering: Did part of our charity money go to this thief? The police brief named the guy, but didn’t say which store he managed. At any rate, I’m not abandoning the project, though it is a blow to my morale.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
The second phase of tooth transformation will likely cost another $3,000 a couple of years from now, assuming we comply with his orthodontist‘s recommendation. Meanwhile, I find myself thinking: Why didn’t we get a second opinion on this expenditure?
The car dealer was willing to accept the fact that we wanted a mechanic to look over the van before we made a decision. Is there any reason an orthodontist wouldn‘t be willing to pit his or her advice against that of a would-be rival?
I’m embarrassed to say the thought never even occurred to me during our initial consultation. Unlike our vehicle-buying process, which was methodical and devoid of emotion, I was dodging all kinds of anxiety vibes that day.
An initial consultation with an orthodontist is usually free, but by the time they start taking X-rays and drawing up treatment plans, you're already in for several hundred dollars. So to start at square one with a second orthodontist would be fairly expensive.
You could ask to take copies of X-rays and the treatment plan to a second orthodontist, but then how do you know whether the second orthodontist isn't just trying to get your business?
Another option is orthodontic2ndopinion.com, which is run by a veteran Los Angeles orthodontist who will examine your X-rays and treatment plan and report back to you within 10 days, according to the web site. The cost: $175.
The orthodontist, Harry Aronowitz, DMD, gets a four-star rating from an L.A. doctor/dentist review site called doctoroogle.com, which notes that he is a member in good standing with the California State Dental Board.
You could also check with a dental school in your area, if you have one. If nothing else, ask your dentist what he or she thinks.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Some weeks I’m the only one who pays much attention to this process, even though I post the figures regularly on our fridge “scoreboard.” But when the dining fund accumulates enough money that the kids foresee, say, a trip to the Chinese buffet in our near future, they become fixated on what we can do to chop our grocery spending. Instead of nagging me that we need milk or cereal, they’ll suggest we mix up a pitcher of powdered milk and offer to eat oatmeal.
This week we came in $12.08 under our grocery budget, which we set at $90 -- $15 per person per week.
One of the things we avoided buying was noodles, even though we had chicken and noodles with mashed potatoes for dinner one night. When Grandma Linda makes this traditional Midwestern dish (which Grouchy Dad calls a "starch-on-starch stockpot") she probably spends $10 on a big can of chicken meat, noodles and brand-name cans of chicken broth. We used two cans of store-brand chicken noodle soup, bullion cubes, and five leftover lasagna noodles.
My plan was to soften them up in the broth, then pull them out and cut them into noodle-sized pieces. But I left them in too long and they disintegrated into their own odd shapes. Ordinarily the kids would’ve rolled their eyes at this odd looking topping for their mashed potatoes, but not this week. This week everybody’s got their eyes on the prize.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Thanks to Dawn from our Live & Learn online homeschool users group for tipping us off about this contest
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
"I like my soft boiled eggs cooked for 2-3 minutes, close to the consistency of the photo on your blog," Yeager writes. "Of course, I grew up in the rural Midwest, drinking egg in my beer, and I still love nothing more than cracking a raw egg directly into a bowl of hot soup and soaking it up with some stale bread. I'm sure health officials frown on all that, but it sure tastes good and it's an affordable, quality protein.
"BTW, I came up with the idea of cooking eggs in the dishwasher many years ago, when I was traveling in Japan and heard stories of how, in days gone by, Japanese wives would bring a mesh net filled with eggs to the communal, hot spring baths in the morning, and soft boil the eggs for their families as they bathed. As a result of mentioning the dishwasher method in my book, I get a fair number of people who write to me to say that cooking eggs in the dishwasher is 'disgusting.' I feel like saying, 'If you think that's unappetizing, just be glad I don't cook them in the bath tub with me.' "
If you want to read what Yeager is up to these days, check out his weekly "Green Cheapskate" blog at www.thedailygreen.com.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
The recipe, which I got off a website called thriftyfun.com*:
Mix 2 cups Borax with 1 cup baking soda, and store in a container. I filled both compartments with this mixture, then filled the “rinse aid” portal with white vinegar, as instructed.
*Recipe was posted by user Nelliemary from West Virginia, who cited Mary Janes Farm magazine as her source. Here's where I saw it, and here's where you can check out the magazine.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Take cooking oil. Whether it’s canola, corn or the murkily labeled “vegetable oil,” this is one grocery item that does its job and then some. Pour it in the cake batter, then use it to grease the pan. You can also whip up a salad dressing, oil a squeaky door hinge or deep fry just about any food that you think would be improved with extra crunch and calories. Don’t know what to do with those leftover Halloween candy bars in the freezer? Plunge them into a vat of boiling oil and hawk them at a festival for 10 times their original cost. Then recycle the used oil into biodiesel fuel.
Now compare that pantry performer with another item taking up shelf space: say, Pop Tarts. You can eat them, if you want to start your day with a sugar rush devoid of nutrition. They can quiet a whining child. If they get stale enough, I suppose you could use them to shim a wobbly table. But after that, their versatility begins to wane.
As the kitchen boss, which of those two would you keep on the pantry payroll?
Here are some other All-Star Pantry Performers I’d keep on a skeleton crew:
Graham crackers make a great low-calorie snack Can also be used for:
·graham cracker dessert crust (just crush them in a plastic bag)
·sandwich cookies (fill 2 halves with peanut butter or a simple icing of milk and powdered sugar)
Oranges are juicy, tasty and so full of Vitamin C they ought to be stored in the medicine cabinet. Other uses:
·Scrape off the orange skin (but not the white part, which is bitter) to make orange zest.
·Once the oranges are gone, toss the nylon mesh bag in the drawer where you keep kitchen sponges and pot scrubbers. Next time you need to scrape dried crud off a pot, just ball up the bag, scrape off the gunk, then either toss it in the trash or run it through the dishwasher to use again.
Corn Flakes are one of the least expensive cereals around; my target price is 99 cents a box, and when I find them at that price, I stock up. Other uses:
·A teaspoon of sugar transforms them into a lighter version of Sugar Frosted Flakes.
·Crushed flakes can do the work of bread or cracker crumbs in most recipes.
·Substitute for Special K in Special K bars.
Powdered milk is a great substitute for regular milk, if you happen to run out. Just make sure you chill it firstt. It‘s also convenient for baking, so that you don‘t use up the milk supply in the fridge. Other uses:
·Mix 1 dry cup with 1 cup rolled oats and half a cup each of peanutbutter and honey to make a fantastic trail snack we call honeyballs.
·Paint.your house, using the recipe in “Paint Your House with Powdered Milk,” by Joey Green.
Vinegar is great for cleaning your coffeemaker, and when you’re done, you can pour the hot mixture down the kitchen sink to knock loose crud buildup that can lead to clogs. Volumes have been written on this pantry performer’s versatility, but here are some of the things I count on vinegar to do for me:
·Convert regular milk to “sour milk” or “butter milk” for certain cake and pancake recipes. Just add a teaspoon to a cup of milk.
·Turn regular old cooking oil into a serviceable salad dressing.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
He’s too outrageous to be a frugal forefather, and besides, that’s where he comes in the timeline: decades behind “The Good Life” pioneers Scott and Helen Nearing, nearly two centuries behind Thoreau, and a good 15 years behind legendary miser matron Amy Dacyczyn, author of “The Tightwad Gazette.”
The casual reader might say he’s more of a cheapskate comedian than a philosopher. But since this is my Bible, I’d vote him in for the simple reason that his audacity helped me finally develop a backbone after 15 years of self-imposed (but overly self-conscious) thrift.
So what do I make of the fact that a couple of my biblical hero’s claims -- that it’s possible to boil eggs in both a dishwasher and the filter basket of a coffeemaker -- didn’t pan out when we tested them in our homeschool “laboratory?”
When I posted our findings on our homeschool message board, I was taken to task for getting suckered by an urban legend. But I’m willing to give Yeager the benefit of the doubt.
For one thing, knowing the lengths Frugals go to test their theories (myself included), I doubt he gave up after just one try. He may have had to do some tinkering to make his miracle happen. Can you adjust the temperature setting on a dishwasher? Beats me. But I bet Yeager knows the answer to that one.
The other thing is, Frugals are often willing to put up with hardships that so-called normal people wouldn’t dream of subjecting themselves to. In this case, I’m willing to believe that the eggs we found too disgusting to eat might be the picture of soft-boiled perfection in Yeager’s eyes.
At any rate, unlike the authors of the actual Bible, the man who wrote the Book of Cheapskate still walks this earth. So I’m planning to ask him.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Ben did the math as part of a homeschool project, and discovered that translates into 20.2 teaspoons of sugar per bottle. That’s a little less than half a cup, in case you were wondering.
Then we got to thinking about how this compares to Kool-Aid, which calls for 1 cup of sugar per 2-quart pitcher. Turns out that a similar-sized pitcher of Sunkist would contain 1.3 cups of sugar. Which is a lot -- but not that much more than Kool-Aid. Where do you draw the line?
I’m reluctant to give up Kool-Aid altogether because it’s so darn cheap. Just the other day I bought 43 packs for $3 in the scratch-and-dent cart at the neighborhood grocery store. Ben informs me that when he makes Kool-Aid -- which he does just about every Friday night, which is the kids’ movie night -- he uses only half a cup of sugar. So we’re keeping this beverage on our “buy” list. For now.
Friday, January 22, 2010
I've been low on shirts lately, and was thinking I could use a scarf to get more use out of the shirts I do have. So the other day when I dropped off a bag of clothes at Salvation Army, I went on inside and found one of both for a total of $2.14.
Maybe one side effect of this project is that, after years of neglect, I'll do a better job maintaining a fully functional wardrobe.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
On one track, my wife and daughter listen to their generous natures; on another, Grouchy Dad reads economists arguing about the historical roots of Haitian poverty, the best near-term measures for relief and the long-term keys to development in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nations.
The tracks intersect this morning when I see the eldest daughter carrying a torso-sized package of toilet paper off to school for a Haitian relief drive. Along with toothpaste. Both items were specifically requested by the organizers of the drive. (And, to her credit, granola bars, which at least are a relatively compact form in which to transfer calories to a suffering population.)
Absent any information on the organizers of the Haitian-relief drive, the most charitable speculation I can manage is that one or more church groups in northeast Indiana, where Haiti is a frequent mission destination, are extending their experience with the usual poverty-stricken misery of Haiti into these most unusual circumstances.
"Apocalyptic" is about right to describe what's going on there now. U.S. troops can’t hand out enough prepackaged meals and bottled water to satisfy demand. Tens of thousands of Haitians are waiting for a ship that might take them to a less-devastated part of the island. Because there aren’t even enough tents available, homeless Haitians live beneath bedsheets suspended over their heads. The aftershock moved some hospitals to evacuate their injured patients into the open air. Even before the aftershock, hospitals didn’t have fuel for generators, oxygen -- not even morphine to take the edge off the agony of people whose limbs were crushed by falling buildings.
Given such appalling conditions, people who round up toilet paper and toothpaste for the disaster don’t seem to know what they’re doing. Tidily wiped butts and virtuous regimens of oral hygiene fall far behind water, food, shelter and basic medical supplies in Haitian priorities today. The generosity that moves people to collect toothpaste for a population in barely imaginable crisis is like the generosity of relatives who’ve given me countless sweaters I don’t wear and ties that gather dust: well-intentioned but wasteful.
Deciding how a small contribution for the benefit of Haitians can have the best effect requires some research. “Good Intentions are not Enough” is a good place to start.
In my old days as Miser Mom, I would’ve dutifully searched the pantry for an extra jar of peanut butter, feeling the need to comply but secretly bemoaning the effect it would have on our grocery budget.
Rowan knows that I haven’t suddenly become a more generous person. It’s just that now we set aside money for a charity fund (or generosity generator*, as I like to call it), so I don’t have to worry about defending the spoils of our grocery budget. But every time something like this happens, I feel both smarter and more generous. I don’t know what Rowan is thinking; all that came out of her mouth was “Thanks, Mom.” But it sounded legit, and there was no rolling of the eyes.
*See “The generosity generator,” posted here Nov. 25
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
The first one is this: Buying all my clothes at Goodwill or Salvation Army this year. (I would make an exception for socks and undergarments). I haven’t actually taken any action on this yet, but then neither have I broken this unspoken resolution. I just haven’t bought any clothes, period. But it seems like a workable and interesting experiment. So we’ll see.
The second emerging resolution has to do with a project I call the grocery holding company. The basic idea was to set aside some money to buy extremely discounted groceries, hold onto them until needed, and then pay the “holding company” a price that allowed it to make a profit, yet saved us money on our family’s grocery budget. I’ve been experimenting with this for over a year now, and it’s proved trickier than I expected. But I’m intrigued to see if we could fund some of our limited and inexpensive weekend getaways with this enterprise. Again, we’ll see.
Finally, in my ongoing attempt to develop a generous nature I apparently wasn’t born with, I’m working on how I contribute time as well as money. Up until reading “The Power of Flow,” by Harlene Belitz and Meg Lundstrom, I had been feeling pretty good about ramping up our charitable giving last year despite pay cuts and increased costs elsewhere in the budget. But then I picked up this book, which informed me that if you really want to get in on the generosity feedback loop that seems to be built into the physics of the universe, you’ve got to give up your time as well as your money.
This really made me wince, because I’m not really a people person. Most days I would rather read a book than have a conversation with almost anyone, even people I like and love. But it’s with this in mind that I consented to accompany my mom to Weight Watchers this week. (Which is actually an example of being generous with both time and money, since we can’t really afford it.)
Naturally I can’t help wondering: How do I get my $40 monthly fee back from the universal feedback loop? If I quit overeating, we would save that much money on our grocery bill? I guess it’s possible. A worthwhile experiment -- more worthwhile than trying to boil eggs in a dishwasher, anyway.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
But I haven’t done this sort of maneuver often enough to have developed a routine, and as I was standing there in the checkout line, I wondered where I could put my change so that it didn’t get mixed in with my grocery money or my personal spending money. (I’m trying to be a good steward of this charity fund, after all.) Then I noticed that the grocery store was collecting money for Haiti earthquake victims. So I had the clerk ring up a $5 donation, which took up most of the change, and dumped the rest in the collection canister earmarked for the same cause.
A quick, clean transaction. No graft, of even the accidental or careless variety. So far, so good.
*See "The Generosity Generator," posted Nov. 25, 2009. (And I'm going to have my husband show me how to do links today, to make this a bit easier.)
Monday, January 18, 2010
We’re still pondering how we might get better results from our eggs-in-the-dishwasher experiment, but in the meantime we thought we’d try another egg-boiling method from Yeager’s book: the coffeemaker’s filter basket.
We put one medium egg in with the coffee grounds, then made a pot of coffee. Our initial impression is that this egg is closer to being soft-boiled. But it’s hard to tell because this time we had trouble getting the shell off.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
One of the things I love about homeschooling is that you can justify exploring almost anything you’re curious about and figure out a way to convert it into a learning experience.
Case in point: I’d read in Jeff Yeager’s “The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches” that he boiled eggs in his dishwasher. So naturally we had to try it. In an effort to be all scientific about it, we put one egg in a secure location in the top rack, and one in the silverware basket in the lower rack.
You can see the results in the photo: There was obviously some cooking that had taken place in both eggs, because the whites had turned from clear to white. But they were still too runny to be considered even soft-boiled eggs. You wouldn’t have wanted to eat them; we fed them to the cats.
Friday, January 15, 2010
I have this very comfy, brightly colored shirt I really, really like but wasn’t wearing much anymore because I felt like it was a bit too faded and worn. And then I realized a scarf that I usually wear with a different outfit matches this shirt perfectly -- and brings out the pleasing nature of the shirt without it having to play a starring role any more.
This is huge, in terms of frugal wardrobe science. (Though I’m sure I’m not the first to make this discovery.) I had been thinking I needed to buy some shirts. Now I think maybe I just need another scarf or two.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Note: We got our pizzas last night at one of those Little Caesar's that exist inside a K-Mart. But someone told me today that when they inquired at a regular LC's near their home, they were told that deal wasn't on there. I then checked with the corporate office, who responded that this special "would be at some stores, not all, because some of the stores are franchises with different specials."
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Monday, January 11, 2010
Am I being selfish? Sure. But I’m guessing I’m not the only one who reuses shopping bags as trash bags. So my guess is that what actually happens if stores stop providing plastic bags is that they wind up selling more plastic trash bags.
End result: Same number of bags in the landfill. Just a transfer in who pays for them.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
In the meantime, I couldn’t help thinking of how Red Green would solve the problem: He’d run the phone cord through the hole in the window screen and plug it into the exterior phone jack -- no doubt covering it with a Wal-Mart bag or some other attractive material to protect it from the elements.
Speaking of “The Red Green Show,” here’s a web site that celebrates the same kind of hare-brained, duct-tape-oriented fixes:
Friday, January 8, 2010
Still, eventually, after weeks and months and possibly even years, carrots do start to decompose. So in an effort to use up this last bag, I made a carrot pie yesterday.
It wasn’t bad, though I should‘ve pureed the carrots instead of just mashing them like potatoes if I wanted to pull off the pumpkin pie imitation. If I’d served it warm at the table with whipping cream, it might have been more of a hit. Trouble was, it was late coming out of the oven and everybody was exhausted from playing in/and or shoveling the snow, so some people had already gone to bed when it appeared in the kitchen. (Also, everyone saw me cooking up carrots, so I couldn‘t lie about its origins.)
Even so, everyone eventually agreed to try it, and no one was repulsed. I took that as a positive sign, which means I’ll probably try it again -- perhaps this time on an unsuspecting audience.
At any rate, if you want the recipe I used (but failed to follow exactly), you can find it here:
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Layering doesn’t automatically save you money. The trick is to use an inexpensive veggie for your base layer. Carrots (the kind you peel yourself)are perfect. They‘re cheap to begin with, and I already had some lurking in the crisper. (Like, for weeks. It‘s amazing how long carrots "keep their figure," not to mention their crunch.) For the secondary layers, I used a green pepper (about 70 cents) and grape tomatoes ($2.50 a carton but I only used half the carton.) The accent relishes, arranged sparingly on top, were sweet pickles and black olives. I didn’t have any on hand, but I only used a few of each, so I’ll get a lot more use out of both purchases.
Note: If you plan to use pickles, be sure to drain them first so they don’t drip all over the other veggies!
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Sunday, January 3, 2010
to retrieve a bottle of Ice Mountain from a case purchased on sale back home that we inadvertently left in the van. Did I mention it's only 2 degrees outside, and that I am not wearing a coat?
Needless to say, the water inside the bottle is mostly ice. (I make a note of this to the desk clerk, to ward off the possibility that she might try to charge me, in case she suspected I got this bottle from the refreshment stand.)