Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tuesday's Tips for 5/3/2011

This week's three tips to help you conserve time, money and/or resources.
  • Tip #1: Remember your reusable shopping bags when you go to the store. Not only are you helping to keep down the use of plastic bags, some stores even reward you for being so conscientious. (Target gives you a 5-cent credit for each bag used. Might not seem like much, but it adds up!)
  • Tip #2: For many of us pet owners, it’s time to start thinking about flea and heartworm meds. Instead of purchasing these from your vet’s office, you can save some money by getting a written prescription instead. Then shop online (at reputable sources) to get these meds online. (For other ideas for saving on pet care, see this post or my guest post on My Pet Savings.)
  • Tip #3: Use olive oil around the house: rub or spray some on your measuring tools for easy clean-up of sticky substances like honey; rub it onto hand and arms (or faces) and allow the oil to soak into the skin for five minutes, then rinse with soap and water to remove paint from skin; rub a bit on a clean rag to prevent streaks, corrosion, and tarnish on stainless steel or brass.
You can check out last week's tips here. All of the tips so far are available here. And if you have a tip to share, I'd love to hear it. Email me.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday's Tips for 4/26/2011

This week's three tips to help you conserve time, money and/or resources.
  • Tip #1: Keep moving without spending a cent! For a low-cost workout, check to see whether you cable plan offers any free on-demand fitness channels. Netflix has a good selection of online exercise videos. And your local library likely has a good selection as well. 
  • Tip #2: Save time, energy, space and money when wrapping gifts. Instead of having various rolls of paper or gift bags for birthdays, weddings, baby showers, housewarmings, retirements, hostess gifts ... stock only white paper and gift bags. You can then customize with colorful ribbons and/or tissue paper to suit the occasion.
  • Tip #3: An easy, inexpensive way to clean your microwave: Add four tablespoons lemon juice to 1 cup water in a microwave-safe, four-cup bowl. Boil for five minutes in the microwave, allowing the steam to condense on the inside walls of the oven. Then wipe clean.
You can check out last week's tips here. All of the tips so far are available here. And if you have a tip to share, I'd love to hear it. Email me.

Friday, April 22, 2011

How to be generous on a budget, Part 1: Charity

Despite signs that our economy is picking up, times are still tough. Grocery prices keep going up, and the cost of gas is frightening. So, how do you strike a balance between being wise with your money and being generous?
The good news is that it can be pretty easy to give back without having to spend a lot.
1.      Pick up extra. If there’s a good deal on something that you use—say, toothpaste or cans of tuna—(or even something you don’t) such that you can get it for free or with little cost, think about picking up that item to donate.  Food pantries will take non-perishables.  Many soup kitchens will take produce. Women’s shelters are thrilled to receive shampoo, soap, toothpaste, feminine hygiene items, deodorant, shaving cream and the like. And don’t forget out furry friends! A can of dog or cat food can be less than $1 and will allow someone receiving their own meals from Meals on Wheels to feed their pet.
2.      Instead of throwing it out, donate it. Did you know that most animal shelters will gladly take old blankets, towels and pillows? Often they can use old stuffed animals and even empty pill bottles (they use them to send home meds with adopted pets). In Rochester we have a “craft thrift store” which accepts and then resells craft items and unfinished craft projects. Many school teachers are grateful to get craft supplies for their classrooms. Old magazines might be welcome at local medical or dental offices; I take mine to the waiting area at my mechanic’s.
3.      Donate your time.  Charitable organizations need physical help as much as they need monetary and in-kind donations. Habitat for Humanity would not be able to build houses if people did not volunteer their time to lay the foundations and build the walls of those homes. The local poor would not get fed at the soup kitchen if volunteers did not help prepare the food. Yes, it is a sacrifice. But it won’t cost you a cent.
4.      Better yet, donate a skill. If you have a professional skill, a few hours of your time donated to a worthy cause can be invaluable. If you’re a seamstress, you could sew costumes for the local high school’s theater department. Or make pillowcases dresses for little girls in Africa. If you’re an artist, you might make a great docent at the local art museum. Do you know how to repair bicycles? There are organizations that help fix up old bikes for kids whose families can’t afford their own. I knit blankets for the animal shelter using leftover yarn and yarn I wouldn’t use for other projects. Project Linus provides homemade blankets to children who are terminally ill or traumatized. If you can read, then you have a skill that is in demand by Literacy Volunteers.
5.      Does your company match gifts? My employer has policy of matching certain gifts, and also offers a “dollars for doers” program where they will match volunteer hours by employees with a monetary gift to the charity. They also provide two paid volunteer days to full-time employees. Find out if your employer offers any similar programs and be sure to take advantage of them.
If you’re not sure where to begin, try VolunteerMatch.org to find a charity that supports what is important to you. If you aren’t sure what charity might be able to use whatever items you have to give, a few Google searches, or looking at local charity “wish lists” might be helpful.

Next up: How to be generous on a budget, Part 2: Gift giving

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday's Tips for 4/19/2011


In honor of Earth Day (April 22), here are three things you can get for free this weekend:
  • On April 22, bring a reuseable mug or tumbler into Starbucks and get a free brewed coffee or tea, hot or iced. Or you can get your free drink in a "for here" cup and enjoy it in the store. (Linmited to participating stores in U.S. and Canada.)
  • Lowe's is celebrating Earth Day by giving away a million trees
    Visit your local Lowe's on April 23 to get your tree.
  • Home Depot is offering free classes on April 23: Live Green. Save Green. Spring Eco Workshop, Eco-Friendly Gardening, Spring Interior Projects Checklist, and/or Spring Interior Projects Checklist may be available in your area. Call your local store or visit http://www.homeimproverclub.com/workshops.aspx?Type=3 to see what they are offering.
You can check out last week's tips here. And if you have a tip to share, I'd love to hear it. Email me

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday's Tips for 4/12/2011

This week's three tips to help you conserve time, money and/or resources.
  • Tip #1: Keep a few basic tools handy in a kitchen drawer for everyday use and avoid digging out the toolbox. I suggest this collection should include a flat head screwdriver, Phillips head screwdriver, tape measure, needle-nose pliers and maybe a hammer.
  • Tip #2: Make your own laundry soap. It's pretty easy, really cheap and you'll know what's in it. Find recipes here: http://tipnut.com/10-homemade-laundry-soap-detergent-recipes/.
  • Tip #3: If you have dogs or cats, it's likely that you are constantly battling their fur ... everywhere. To help get the fur off your clothes when you launder them, wash all loads on the highest water level. The higher water level helps jostle the fur out.
You can check out last week's tips here. (Well, they're really from two weeks ago--sorry!)
And if you have a tip to share, I'd love to hear it. Email me

Monday, April 11, 2011

The frugal queen of my castle: Saving on home repairs

So, as previously mentioned, I bought a house toward the end of 2009. Unlike renting a home owned by someone else, owning a house makes you solely responsible. Responsible if the blower motor on your furnace (which furnace happens to be almost as old as you are) goes out on the coldest weekend of the year. And responsible for paying the oil bill to keep said furnace well fed through Western New York winters. Responsible for cutting the grass, shoveling the drive and battling the industrious planting of squirrels. (I’ve got a half-dozen trees growing in the two-foot strip between the garage and the fence that I now have to kill. Thanks guys!) If the roof leaks, or the tub leaks, or the utility sink drain leaks, I’m the one who gets to decide when and how it gets fixed. There’s a definite upside to homeownership; don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with the decision I made. But that’s not what I’m talking about today.

What do you do then, when the faucet won’t stop dripping, you need to change the locks or you accidentally flush a plastic bottle down the toilet and it gets stuck? Thankfully, there are options.
1.      Fix it yourself. Seriously, once you stop laughing, you’ll realize that there are some home repairs that aren’t that tough. I replaced my old thermostat with a programmable one. I also changed all the locks myself. I’ve learned how to use a miter box and am steadily increasing my stash of power tools. Don’t take on big projects first, if ever. Ask friends and family if the task is one they’ve completed and the relative level of difficulty. There are great online resources, like doityourself. They tend to be pretty upfront about the complexity of the repairs or improvements. There are also free videos on sites like YouTube that will walk you through basic repairs.
        Home Depot offers free Do-It-Herself workshops that cover various things--like how to change a faucet, paint a room or plant a garden. You might want to look at your town's community or continuing ed courses. You'll often find classes on such topics as how to tile a shower or counter, or how to change a light fixture.
2.     If you have a boyfriend, brother, father, friendly neighbor, etc., who happened to be at all handy at home repairs, now’s the time to beg or barter. Play the damsel-in-distress card if you must. But be aware that there can be consequences. Often home repairs look simple enough—until you attempt to fix them. So, you might assume that the task at hand will simply require something straightforward (a bathroom drain that needs to be snaked) but as the work progresses, it turns out that it’s not that easy (it’s blocked with roots). Will your knight in shining armor know when to say “uncle”? If his attempts to fix the problem make it worse, how will that affect the relationship? And who will cover the cost for the professional?
3.     Find a good handyman. If you can find a competent, trustworthy jack-of-all-trades who can fix things around the house, you’ll save yourself some cash. My handyman has taken care of plumbing and electrical issues for me, as well as put in a door where there used to be a window and replaced my kitchen sink and faucet. He also got the hot water heater working again when the pilot light mysteriously went out. All for $30/hour, plus materials. Hiring a plumber costs about $125 for the first hour and $60 for each additional hour. An electrician will cost about $50/hour.
4.     And, if all else fails, call in the professionals. If you don’t already have a relationship with a plumber/roofer/electrician/landscaper/HVAC-person ask friends and family for recommendations. Also, services like Angie’s List can be a great help in finding someone who is trustworthy and reputable. Sites like ServiceMagic can also be helpful. I do have to admit that in desperation, I used ServiceMagic and went with the person they recommended to replace some gutters. It did not go well, but was resolved in the end.
5.     Also, when dealing with a professional, make sure to get a written estimate. In fact, get at least two, and maybe three. Compare. Ask questions and understand where the differences are. When I needed a new roof, I had one estimate for $3500, another for $4500 and one for $7000. The first was someone who was uninsured. The second was from a reputable, smaller operation recommended to me by friends. The third was from a larger company, one that advertises on television. What were the differences? Well, insurance to start with. The larger company also provided me with lots of glossy, pretty brochures. Their people show up in matching shirts and vans printed with the company logo. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I went with the less formal, less expensive option and saved myself a couple thousand dollars in the process.
6.     If you do hire someone, make sure that you feel comfortable with him (or her) and that he or she is willing to explain what work is needed and how AND WHEN it’ll be completed. This service professional should be able to provide you with a written estimate.  Make sure that whoever you hire (and his or her crew, if applicable) is insured. Also make sure that he or she is bonded. (This allows a client to make a claim to be reimbursed or compensated for any money lost if a contractor quits or abandons a project without completing the project.) If licensing is available (plumbers, electricians), ask whether this person is licensed. Ask for references and call them.
7.     You can also consider a home warranty. There are various companies and various options available. Most of the reviews I’ve read have not been favorable, and most experts do not recommend investing in this type of warranty. The house I purchased was part of an estate and came with a one-year home warranty. It was more trouble than it was worth. First, they sent a plumber who lied to me and/or them (and I had to pay him $100 just to come by and assess.) Then they sent out a roofer who was uninsured and told me he planned to work on my roof during the days after working all night at Wal-Mart. The contractors they used routinely failed to call me. The warranty company got dodgy when I tried to register complaints about their contractors. (You’d think they might care if one of these folks was uninsured!)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Save at the salon

The cut I settled on.
I was raised by a hairdresser. My first job was, in fact, in a beauty salon. My sister and I were often guinea pigs for new techniques and processes. So, I will tend to take risks with my hair that most people probably wouldn't. Things like a new cut or color are usually done on a whim. My hair had gotten fairly long for me and so I decided yesterday that I needed it chopped. I tend to stick with what is roughly a chin-length bob (and this style is no exception.) But as you well know, salon services are expensive. So, here are some ideas to help you save.
First, though, a general rule: remember to tip on the price the service would be without discounts.

So, definitely not a blond...
 Getting the most out the money you spend on your haircut
1. Know what you want before you walk in. If you saw Michelle Williams' pixie cut and want a short cut that resembles hers, print out pictures or take in some magazine photos that show what you want. You're more likely to be satisfied if you--and the stylist--know what you want. It also doesn't hurt to know the lingo--inverted bob? stacked? texturized? You can try using an online program that lets you "try on" different hairstyles. I did this yesterday before getting a new cut. It can provide you with some idea about how styles might look, like, is blond for me? how would I look with bangs? (You can see some of my trials in the photos with this post.)
2. Make sure your stylist knows a little about you. Do you hate your curly hair and so you straighten it daily? How much time are you willing to spend on styling your hair each day?
3. Pay attention during your haircut. If you have questions or concerns about what you see the stylist doing, say so. It's okay to ask him or her to explain why he or she is doing something.
4. Remember styles that don't require a lot of maintenance are going to give you the most bang for your buck.

 Saving money at the salon
1. Use deals from sites like Groupon or Living Social. Make sure you understand what the deal actually entails before purchasing. Is it for a specific type of service, say, a shampoo, haircut and style or a single-process color? Or is it for a dollar amount is services, for example, $25 for $50 toward salon services?
2. Try a discounted salon like Supercuts or Hairzoo. You can get a decent haircut here for $20, but you'll need to be specific about what you want.
I just couldn't resist!
3. Visit the local beauty college for discounts on services. The students are supervised by instructors and many services are available.
4. A number of low-cost nail salons have been springing up in the past decade where you can often get a mani-pedi for less than $40. While the experience here is less pampered than it might be at a more traditional salon (so, no, no one's going to offer you a glass of wine), it is cost-effective.

A few good grocery deals for next week (4/10) at Tops

So, Tops will have Starkist tuna on sale next week for $1, so be sure to print the 50-cent coupon available on their Facebook page today.
Also, Breyers ice creams will be $3 each. There's a coupon available for 75 cents off one Breyers "Blasts." $1.50 for Breyers isn't a bad price.
I don't see much else in their ad that I'm personally too excited about.
And here's a late addition: Heluva Good dips will be $1.69. There's a 50-cents-off coupon to print here. Note that their French onion dip would be perfect in the best casserole you've probably never tried. YUM.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Most things worth doing are worth over-doing.

Like most our best recipes, this one has existed for some time on a ragged piece of paper, with notes in various colors of ink as it's been tweaked and perfected over time. As I was typing it up today, I realized I should share it.

When it comes to baking, I like to go above and beyond. This recipe involves more than just sweet rolls--they are cooked in a caramel made from vanilla ice cream (I like Breyer's extra-creamy vanilla.) These cannot be made in a hurry; they require time, attention, and a lot of dishes. But I promise, they are worth the effort!

Cinnamon Rolls
1 c milk
1 ½  c vanilla ice cream
2/3 c butter
1 c brown sugar
½ c water
1 c milk
1 c water
1 T active dry yeast
½ c butter
1 c white sugar
1 t salt
2 eggs
6 c all-purpose flour
2 T ground cinnamon
1 c brown sugar
1 c white sugar
½ c butter, softened
3 c confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
1/3 c butter, softened
1 ½ t vanilla extract
1 ½ T milk

1.      Warm 1 c milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Mix in ½ c butter; stir until melted. Add 1 c water and let cool till lukewarm.
2.      In a large bowl, combine the milk mixture from step 1, yeast, 1 c white sugar, 1 t salt, 2 eggs and 2 c flour; stir well to combine. Stir in the remaining flour ½ c at a time, beating well after each addition. When the dough has pulled together, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.
3.      Let dough rise 1 hour or till doubled in size. Beat down.
4.      Divide dough into two pieces. Roll each piece into a 12” x 9” rectangle. In a bowl, stir together the cinnamon and 1 c each brown and white sugars. Spread each rectangle with half of the butter (1/2 c), half of the cinnamon and sugar mixture. Roll up dough, using a little water to seal the seam.
5.      In a small saucepan, melt 2/3 c butter. Add 1 c brown sugar, ½ c water and 1 ½ c vanilla ice cream; bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Pour caramel mixture into bottom of 2 greased 9 x 13 pans.
6.      Cut each roll into 12-14 slices using a very sharp knife. Place pieces into greased pans on top of caramel. Cover and let rise until almost doubled, about 1 hour. Meanwhile preheat oven to 375 degrees.
7.      Bake in preheated oven for 18-22 minutes until golden brown. While rolls are baking, prepare the frosting. In a medium bowl, stir together confectioner’s sugar, 1/3 c butter, vanilla and 1 ½ T milk. Let rolls cool slightly then spread with frosting.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday's Tips for 3/29/2011

This week's three tips to help you conserve time, money and/or resources.
  • Tip #1: While I love to cook from scratch, I don't always have time. So, for example, when you're making brownies from a box, consider customizing them a little. It's easy to use rum or flavored coffee creamer instead of water. You can also throw in some chocolate chips, Reese's pieces or M&Ms. 
  • Tip #2: If you happen to get your cell phone wet, immediately remove the battery from the phone and place both in a shallow container filled with a layer of dry rice. cover with rice and set aside. Leave for at least 24 hours. Hopefully, the rice will draw all the moisture away and save you from having to buy a new phone.
  • Tip #3: Use witch hazel and dry oats to wash your face. The oatmeal nourishes your skin while witch hazel soothes, tightens and heals. You can use oats right from the box, but might want to consider grinding them in the food processor a bit. Put some in your hand, dampen with a little witch hazel. Then add a little water. Rub on face and throat, then rinse for an inexpensive, natural face wash.
Check out last week's tips here.
And if you have a tip to share, I'd love to hear it. Email me

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Baby food + Cream of Wheat + powdered milk = happy dog!

Before I recount my adventures in baking for my pets, I wanted to mention a few more ideas about saving on pet needs.
Pet insurance is available. It is traditional-style insurance, where you pay upfront and get reimbursed after submitting claims. According to what I've read, it sounds like it's not likely to save you money. If you are interested in more information, check out http://www.petinsurancereview.com/.
An option I think is definitely worth it is investing in the pet first aid course offered by the Red Cross. You'll have to check with your local chapter to see if they offer the class and when. It costs about $35. You'll learn to check capillary refill time, how to check for dehydration, dog/cat CPR and lots of other things that can help you be prepared should your pet show signs of illness or injury.
Now, to the kitchen!
My goal was to make something that would hopefully be healthful and inexpensive. I didn't want to make crunchy biscuits. There are lots of healthful dog biscuits out there. I wanted something that was sort of chewy, as well as easy that would keep well. The recipe I settled on had just 3 ingredients: 3 jars of meat-flavored baby food, 1/4 cup Cream of Wheat, 1/4 cup of powdered milk. I started with 2 jars of beef Gerber and 1 chicken and vegetables.

The reviews of the recipe indicated that the dough would probably need more dry ingredients, and they were right. So I added more CoW and dry milk. I also added whole wheat flour and some oatmeal. The dough still sticky and was not such that I could roll it into balls.
So, I pulled out the trusted cookie scooper and plopped scoops onto sil-pat on cookie sheets.  (The recipe technically calls for "generously greased cookie sheets.") This method worked fine. I attempted to "flatten slightly with fork" but the dough's consistency meant my attempts more smeared and smooshed than "flattened slightly."
I baked them for about 15 minutes, till the treats started to brown. Then I removed them from the oven, letting them cool on the cookie sheets.
Once cooled, they were presented to the in-house taste-tester. He seemed to approve!
As far as health benefits are concerned, these likely beat, say, the Snausages or Tiny T-Bones ingredient-wise. However, baby food isn't cheap. And this recipe made only about 20 1.5-inch round treats (which should be refrigerated and/or frozen.) So, the savings would likely be more long-range health benefits than a short-term cash saving.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Gardening virgin

I have never planted a garden. I inherited one when I moved into a house about 10 years ago. It did well that first season, no thanks to me. When I tried a revival the next summer, I was thwarted by a groundhog the size of toddler who considered my backyard plot his own personal raw food bar.

I have since attempted to grow tomatoes in a container. I have succeeded in getting them to grow, even bear fruit. However just as the green tomatoes reached almost-perfection, I'd come home to find them half-eaten in the middle of the yard. Squirrels!

A few years ago, I grew some lettuces in a whiskey barrel planter. That actually worked out pretty well. But now, I have a house. I wanted my own house and my own yard for just this reason: to have a vegetable garden.

I have determined that there will be two 6' x 4' raised beds. There will be at least 4 varieties of tomatoes. There will be rainbow chard, broccoli, lettuces, hot peppers and herbs. I also plan to add carrots, beets and peas. I thought about planting pickling cucumbers too, but the pickles I canned last summer are still sitting in the basement. Because, one, there are only so many pickles a body can eat. And, two, they cross the line on saltiness.

And they're off!

So, I ordered seeds from a catalog. And started them in little plastic greenhouse thing-ys. I made sure they weren't too wet or too dry. And within a few days, I had the first signs of plant life! I was so thrilled. Eventually most of the little pots of dirt had baby plants peeking out. They were living on the kitchen table, right in front of an east-facing window. But then, Dilbert became interested. And began to sit on them. Having a cat sit on you when you are a seedling trying to grow doesn't work out so well.

Bu now ...
Dilbert is the kitty who gets into everything. He doesn't mean to be naughty; he's just curious. ("The cast" is introduced here.) Finding a space that is both cat-free and large enough for the seed-starting trays was a challenge. Also getting that spot in direct sunlight was impossible.

And while I have no idea what I'm doing, I am hell-bent on getting this garden to grow. So, I have determined that the best way to keep my seedlings alive and thriving long enough to have something worthy of putting in the ground is to purchase a grow light. Hopefully, my determination will pay off in bushels of delicious heirloom tomatoes!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

How to save on pet needs

I share my home with three furry four-legged creatures. Here’s the cast:

Sebastian (aka Bubby) is my beloved almost-twelve-year-old Chihuahua. Weighing in at about 6.5 pounds, he loves napping—preferably in the sun, string cheese and bullying the cats. I’ve had him since he was a puppy. His lovely black fur is now salt-and-pepper gray, making him a distinguished older gentleman. I’d like to claim that his “accidents” on the floor are due to his advancing age, but, in reality I’m pretty sure he’s just lazy since they’ve been happening his entire life. People who claim to dislike Chihuahuas will often admit to a fondness for this little guy. (I always joke that if my dog-rearing skills indicate how I'd do at parenting, my kids would be very well-adjusted, excepting the fact that tghey still wouldn't be potty-trained at 40.)

Artemis (Artie) is about 3 years old. He is not the brightest bulb, but he makes up in sweetness what he lacks in brains. He’s a good boy who enjoys napping, watching birds and taking over a lap. In fact, if you sit still for more than 10 minutes he will make himself right at home on top of you. However, don’t be fooled as he stretches out in the middle of the living room; he does NOT like his belly rubbed. Oh, and he is absolutely petrified of the mailman. Seriously, terrified.

Dilbert is a few months shy of his first birthday. He is naughty. He wakes me up every morning by 5:00 A.M. He is also very vocal, making all kinds of chirps and meows. He is also quite a snuggler and does love his belly rubbed. Dill steals headbands, rubber bands, bath puffs, and just about anything that seems fun when he bats at it. Apparently the shower curtain is also a great toy. Earlier this week, he pulled down the curtains in the yellow bedroom, including yanking down one of the brackets for the rod. I have had to securely stash all my yarn when not in use otherwise, he'll unravel it all through the house.

They are lucky that they are cute, soft and sweet.

It seems logical that as I’ve gotten older and my “quality of life” has increased, so has the quality of life for the beasts in my care. If anyone benefits from my being single, it’s the pets. I have become picky about what they eat. So while Riot Grrrl (may she rest in peace) started her life on 99-cent boxes of Dad’s brand cat food from Marc’s, now all of my pets get organic food. When I adopted Artie and Dilbert in January, I also determined that I wanted to use a more earth-friendly cat litter, so I’m no longer purchasing clay litter. When Riot Grrrl was ill, I chose to give her various medications. But these choices come at a financial cost.

So, here are some suggestions on minimizing pet expenses.

1. Adopt. You’ll save the life of a furry friend. You’ll save money over buying a pure breed pet. AND mixed breed pets have less health issues over their lives than do pure breed pets.

2. Feed your pet quality food. Some information on what to look for is available here.
Other ways to save on pet food and treats:
  • Use coupons. Check out the same sources you'd use for grocery coupons. (See my post on saving at the grocery store for sources.) Also, be sure to check out MyPetSavings for pet-related deals and coupons.
  • Use loyalty cards or frequent buyer programs. Large chains often offer discount cards. Many pet stores also buy-X-bags-of-Y-food-get-one-bag-of-Y-food-free programs.
  • Consider Amazon’s Subscribe & Save. You'll get 15% off and free shipping.
  • Buy in bulk. Buy the largest size you'll actually use. If you're buying canned food, buy by case.
  • Compare prices at various stores. You'd be surprised. Pet food isn't necessarily cheaper at the pet store than it is at the grocery store.
  • Make your own. If you're interested, here's a place to start.
3. Maintain your pet’s good health. This means GETTING YOUR DOG OR CAT SPAYED OR NEUTERED. (Yes, I’m shouting.) It also means yearly—at a minimum vet visits—and getting and keeping up on all routine shots. This is one of those areas where an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure (heartworm, rabies.) While I recommend finding a vet you like [If you live in the Akron, Ohio, area, please consider the fabulous staff at Keystone. In Rochester, we are grateful to have found the fabulous Dr. Robin Lovelock.], if your pet is young and healthy, you can save money by visiting a vaccination clinic. If you have a veterinary college in your area, you may be able to save by seeing a veterinary student.  [In the  Akron area, you are blessed to have Pet Guard where low cost veterinary care is available.] Remember that our dogs and cats age at a faster rate than we do. So regular care is terribly important. Skipping a dog or cat’s annual vet visit is like your not having a physical for 10 years.
Also, take your pet to the vet when he or she shows signs of illness. Unless you know what you’re dealing with, don’t “wait it out.”
There aren’t many ways to save on vet bills, but there are a few things you can do.
If cost is an issue, let the doctor know up front. That way, she might be able to provide you with options. And whatever option you choose, be sure to get an estimate up-front.
Ask for prescriptions for things like heartworm pills, or other medications, then buy them online from a reputable source that has the best price.
You can also consider CareCredit. I rarely use my credit cards, but almost all vet bills go on my CareCredit account. They provide six months interest free to pay the expenses and it provides me with an easy way to keep track of my vet expenses.

4. Grooming. Regular brushing and bathing is important for all doggies and kitties. To keep expenses low, consider a pet with low grooming needs. If it’s too late, or you just MUST have a standard poodle, then consider learning to groom the pet yourself. [Sebastian does not like his feet messed with, so I gladly pay the folks at Unipet for that task.] A happy medium may be a visit to the “dog wash” where you bathe, brush and dry your pet then leave the mess behind.

5. Toys. Toys can be expensive. Check out holiday clearance at pet stores to save. Also, discount stores like Tuesday Morning, Big Lots and Ollie’s can be great places to score good quality pet toys at discount. Don’t forget to check out Target, TJ Maxx and Marshall’s.

6. Dishes. Cute little ceramic pet bowls can cost $5 or more. I buy small bowls at the thrift store for about a quarter each and use those. The dog and cats don’t seem to care what the food’s served in.

7. Keep pets close by. Pets who leave your yard unattended are more likely to come into contact with other animals that are carrying illness and/or hazards.

Next up: I'll be making a homemade dog treat recipe that uses baby food and Cream of Wheat. We'll see how it goes and get Bubby's review.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday's Tips for 3/22/2011

This week's three tips to help you conserve time, money and/or resources.
  • Tip #1: Do you have plastic containers that have picked up an orange color from tomato-based products? Just leave them outside in the sun for a day to bring them back to their original color.
  • Tip #2: You can refill a foaming handsoap pump. When empty, refill about 1/3 with regular handsoap and about 1/3 with water. Leave 1/3 empty for now. Gently tip--don't shake!--the container back and forth until the water and soap are completely mixed. You can add a little more soap or water if needed to get the proper consistency.
  • Tip #3: Sign up for Kraft First Taste to get coupons (often for a free item) for new Kraft brand products.
Check out last week's tips here.
And if you have a tip to share, I'd love to hear it. Email me

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dining out on a budget

Note: I forgot to add a note about serving and tipping.
First, please, please, please BE SURE to tip your server on what your bill would be without discounts. In my mind this means at least 15% for decent service. If you can't afford to tip adequately, you can't afford to dine out.
Second, if you have excellent service, please be sure to let the manager know. And if you get unacceptable or poor service, please be sure to let the manager know. Either way, make sure to be polite when doing so.
I would guess that those of us who live alone tend to eat out more than do those with a family to cook for. Buying a restaurant meal for one person is simply less expensive than buying for two or three or more. Plus, nobody's expecting us to have dinner on the table, so it's easy to pick something up. Also, it seems like so much of my social life revolves around food, so I'm often making plans for lunch or dinner with friends.

Eating out can be expensive. So, here are some tips on how to get the most out of eating at restaurants.
1.  Drink water. That $2.50 soda probably costs the restaurant less than 15 cents. And for $2.50, you could buy 2 LITRES at the grocery store. Alcoholic beverages have a similar overhead.
2.  Choose an appetizer as a meal. It's likely less expensive and just as yummy!
3.  Split/share. If you are splitting an entree, some restaurants may charge a split fee. Also consider sharing an app or dessert.
4.  Order from the lunch menu or order the lunch-sized portion if available.
5.  Utilize sites like Groupon and Living Social. Each routinely offers discounts at local restaurants for about 50%. If you aren't familiar with these "daily deal" sites, they offer a deal or two each day that you purchase for a pretty big discount. The next day, you print a certificate that can be printed and used at your local establishment. Be aware to check for various restrictions including expiration date or whether the certificate must be used all in one visit.
6.  Check out Restaurant.com.  This site also offers dining certificates. Check out what's available in and around your zip code. Usually, the certificates are $10 or $25 and can be used on a minimum bill of $20 or $35, respectively. Be sure to check the fine print for whether alcoholic beverages are included and whether dining in is required. Restaurant.com often also has sales for up to 80% or 90% off its certificates.
7.  Look for coupons in the paper and the phone book. This is not as common as it used to be, but occasionally you might find useful dining coupons here. Also, the Sunday coupon circulars sometimes include dining coupons.
8.  Check online. Sites like Valupak may have local printable coupons available. Also, restaurants may offer their own printable coupons. Here's a good place to start.
9.  Entertainment books and other local coupon books.
10.  Sign up for restaurant email lists and birthday clubs. Recently, I knew I was going to Carraba's for dinner. I looked online, signed up for their email list and got a coupon for $5 off.
11.  Holiday-time gift card deals. Often, restaurants will offer a promotion around Christmas where if you purchase say, $50 in gift cards, they'll give you an extra $20 in gift cards. If it's somewhere you eat often, or would if you were getting a good deal, then this might be a worthy investment.
12.  Gift cards from rewards programs or credit card points. Both Starbucks and Panera have rewards programs. Also, you can earn points from sites like MyPoints which can be exchanged for dining gift cards.
13.  Gift card swapping/selling sites. There are sites like Plastic Jungle where you can buy (and sometimes swap) gift cards at a discount of 10% or more. If you eat at chain restaurants a lot, this might be an option worth looking into. It's not a huge savings, but 10% is 10%!

Friday, March 18, 2011

The best coffee cake you've (probably) never tried

Well, yes, another family recipe. I'm not exactly sure where this one came from either. The beauty of this recipe is that it is simple and delicious. And only requires ingredients that are probably in your kitchen right now. In the nutrition department though there isn't a single redeeming thing about it.
This coffee cake was a staple in our house on weekend mornings when I was growing up. I don't make it much anymore though since it involves lots of things I probably shouldn't be eating. And since I live alone, well, there's no one else to eat it.
It has a very springy texture, and, if all goes well, the butter seeps in along and there's a nice little crust of cinnamon and sugar.
  • Sift together: 1.5 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  • Break 1 egg into a 1 cup measuring cup. Fill to 1 cup with milk. Stir into dry ingredients.
  • Beat well. Pour into a greased 8x10x2 inch pan.
  • Melt 3 tablespoons butter and spread over batter.
  • Mix 3 tablespoons sugar and 1.5 teaspoons cinnamon. Sprinkle over top.
  • Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.
NOTE: for a 9x13 pan, double the recipe.

It's so easy that there's still time to make one before you head to work this morning...