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...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday's Tips for 3/15/2011

This week's three tips to help you conserve time, money and/or resources.

  • Tip #1: To get the most out of doing laundry, add vinegar to the process. Distilled white vinegar can help remove stains and when you add 1/4 to 1/2 of a cup to the last rinse cycle, it will help brighten colors, fluff up sweaters and make your soap work better. Add 1/2 cup to the wash water to help minimize static and odors.
  • Tip #2: Dried Herbs and spices lose their potency quickly so buy only a small amount at a time. You can likely find spices in bulk at your local health food store or co-op.
  • Tip #3:   If your romaine or leaf lettuce starts to wilt, cut a small piece of the bottom end off and put the rest of it in water in the fridge (kind of like a bouquet of flowers). It will perk right back up. Same goes for celery. (Go here for more tips on storing produce.)
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 13, 2011

March 13: A few good Tops deals this week

As you're heading out to do your shopping, a few deals to keep in mind:
  • Better Oats oatmeal is on sale 4 for $5 ($1.25 each.) There's a printable buy 1, get 1 coupon available here, which would make each item 63 cents when you buy two.
  • Stonyfield Farms Greek yogurt cups are $1 each. There are some coupons available when you're registered at Stonyfield.com.
  • Hidden Valley Ranch Farmhouse Dressings and Salad Kits are both 2 for $5 ($2.50 each). There were coupons in today's paper for $1 off each, so $1.50 each in the end.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saving at the thrift store

I was a teenager when I first set foot in the Village Thrift Store (at last check, it was known as Village Discount Outlet) on State Rd. in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. It housed racks and racks of other people's old stuff and I was thrilled to find funky, vintage dresses that I'm sure had previously been worn by now-blue-haired ladies named Edith and Pearl. (Strangely, it also had a snack bar for some inexplicable reason.) The Village Thrift Store had a sign boasting that it was "the country's best thrift store" (no source for this was ever provided) and I'm still partial to it all these years later. While we may not have a Village here in my current town of Rochester, NY, we do have some fabulous second-hand shopping opportunities. Thrift stores (and their snooty cousin, consignment shops) are a great way to save money on many things, including clothes. Each has its own pros and cons.
  • The Goodwill stores tend to be the cleanest, best organized (by size, then color) and have the most locations. Goodwill also allows you to try on clothes, allows limited returns and takes major credit cards. I'm partial to the one in Webster. The Victor store is nice, but small. Goodwill does not score high in the furniture department though. Goodwill also seems to have prices that are slightly higher overall than some of their competitors. (For example, a decent pair of jeans will run you about $6.99.) My other gripe is that they've started selling decorative stuff for your house that is new and appears to be made specifically for Goodwill stores. I go to the thrift store because one man's junk is another man's treasure. If I want to buy low-end new items, I'll go to Big Lots.
  • We also have the other old stand-by: Sal's (the Salvation Army.) There are a few locations peppered throughout the area, but they are not as prevalent as Goodwill stores. Salvation Army organizes clothes only by color, not by size. The stores do have dressing rooms and they do take major credit cards. They do not allow returns. Overall, their prices seems to be a little lower than Goodwill. (A decent pair of jeans runs about $5.99.) The store in Greece is arguably the largest thrift store in the area. (It reminds me of the big Goodwill that used to be in Akron near the university. That was a great store.) That location also has a good selection of furniture.
  • Volunteers of America has three stores in the city and a bunch throughout Western NY. I believe they sort clothing by size only. The stores are relatively clean, they do take credit cards and you are able to try on clothing. They also have pretty cheap prices. (A decent pair of jeans is about $4.99.)
  • The Vietnam Veteran's Thrift Store is an interesting experience. It's been a few years since I've been there, but it is by far one of the dirtiest of stores. And while they have a corner with a curtain where you can try on clothes, I'm not sure you'll want to. You can find some great stuff dirt cheap though. They have a large space and will clearly take just about anything. The store includes a large housewares section and has a lot of furniture too.
  • We also have Thrifty Shopper and Amvets (assuming they are still open.) I was in Thrifty Shopper once and it didn't impress me. Prices were competitive, but the store felt overly cluttered and disorganized.
At most thrift stores, there is one color price tag that is half-price each day or week, which can mean additional savings on already low prices.

Reasons to consider thrift shopping:
  1. Saving money. People don't just get rid of stuff because it's broken or stained. They may have decided they don't like or need an item. It may have been a gift. They may have gained or lost weight and need to get rid of clothes that no longer fit.
  2. Recycling. By buying second-hand, you're helping the environment.
  3. Helping others. Many (not all) thrift stores are associated with charities. You are purchasing items that were donated, so that the money from sales goes to support the work done by the particular charity.
Some considerations:
  1. It's not for everyone. You may not have the time, patience or interest in sorting through other people's old crap.
  2. It takes time, patience and reasonable expectations to be a successful thrift shopper. It's not something you can really approach with a list. If you need an orange V-neck short-sleeved cotton T-shirt, you might find one. But you might be better off going to Target or Old Navy.
  3. People will talk to you. I don't know why, but strangers feel much more welcome to make (usually awful) wardrobe suggestions at the thrift store than they do at, say, Macy's or even Target. Expect old women to hold up hideous blouses, say they are pretty and that they think they're your size.
  4. Make sure you know what you're getting. If you're buying a game, furniture or small appliance, are all the parts there? Do any of the clothes have spots or rips? Are all the buttons there? Do all closures work? If it's a lamp or small appliance, did you make sure it worked? I will admit that I refuse anything that has someone's name in it. While I have no idea where any of the clothes come from, for some reason, I get the feeling that anything with a name in it is from someone who died.
  5. Please don't buy underwear second-hand. It seems wrong that they even sell it.
  6. Make sure you properly clean/wash any thrift store purchases before use. I like to throw vinegar or Lysol in with the wash water for loads with fresh-from-the-thrift clothes. Makes me feel a little better. Plus, I'm freaked out about bedbugs, so I need to make sure I take precautions.
Here are some things I've picked up at the thrift store:
This is a set of enamel-covered pans
from the Village purchased 15+ years
ago for about $2.
A sampling of yarn from the thrift
store. Most of it wool. All of
it pretty.

My current winter coat. Purchased at
Goodwill. Was new, originally from Target.
I got it for $19.99, so over 50% savings.

Recently purchased cat hut. Was
new in box at Goodwill for 50%
of the cost for the exact same item
at Target.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Baby-stepping toward retirement

Although I sometimes forgot my exact age (37), I do know that I am officially in my "late 30s." That means I only have about 30 more years of work to put in before I can retire. That seems like a lot of years, 30. And so many things will and could happen. Some of these variables I'm prepared for, others I am not.

But one thing I am sure of--I am NOT financially prepared for the end of my occupational journey. I remember two of my friends talking during law school about their retirement plans. At the time, the only money I had "saved" was split between what was in my pocket and what (little) happened to be lingering in my checking account. I quickly left the room to avoid all out panic during their discussion.

I'd like to think that the 6.2% of my paycheck that the government has taken all these years will be earning gobs of interest over my working life, compounding as it waits to join me in my golden years. Instead, that money is sent to various "genarians" about 10 minutes after it arrives at the Social Security Adiminstration. And while my funds do earn interest, it's at rate less than 2%. [For 2011, the social security tax is 4.2% for most of us.] It seems unlikely that Uncle Sam will be supporting me in my later years.

So, it's up to me to plan. I am fortunate that my company has a 401(k) plan. I am even more fortunate that they will match my contributions of up to 6% at a 50% rate. (For example, if I put in 4%, they'll match it with 2%.) I started my current job at the age of 31, which experts say is late to start saving for retirement. For the first year or so, I couldn't afford to put money in my 401(k). Financial experts, accountants and dads across the country, however, will be appalled if they learn that you are not maxing out what your company will match. "It's free money!" they will say. But when it's a choice between paying the electric bill today so that you have light next week and socking away dollars in your retirement account so that you can have light 30 years from now, well, next week wins by a landslide.

I do wish I had been more financially savvy and responsible in my 20s. (Who doesn't regret some of the decisions they made in their 20s?? I also wish I'd eaten less junk food and drank less rum.) But now I'm a grown-up, home-owning, leafy greens-eating 37 years old. And I need to buckle down and save for the future. So, today I decided that I'll be upping my 401(k) contributions. Eventually, I should probably learn about IRAs and mutual funds. But right now, I'm happy with my baby steps.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tuesday's Tips for 3/8/2011

This week's three tips to help you conserve time, money and/or resources.

  • Tip #1: Most Classico brand pasta sauce jars can be re-used for home canning. Check by seeing if a standard home canning ring will fit.
  • Tip #2: If you live in the Rochester area and plan to adopt a pet this year, have a pet spayed or neutered or make a donation to Monroe County Dog Park, be sure to take advantage of Pet Saver Superstore's Responsible Pet Owner Club. They'll give you up to $50 in gift certificates to the store for these things.
  • Tip #3: Keep a flat head screwdriver, phillips head screwdriver, tape measure and a pair of needle-nose pliers in the kitchen for quick access to tools for small repairs.
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 7, 2011

A "bonus" rule

Today was a  pretty good day at the office. Our new, improved cafeteria opened and I got a free travel mug and a piece of cake. We also learned how much our bonus would be and how much our salary increase would be. It tends to lift my mood when people tell me they are giving me money.

I have certain rules about some money-related things. For example, the "gift card rule." If you give me a gift card or certificate as a present, I feel it is my duty to make sure that it is spent on something I wouldn't have purchased otherwise. Similarly, money given to me as a gift does not go into the bank. Because once it gets deposited, it's "on the books" and has to be dutifully accounted for. Once money's in savings, I don't want to take it out. And once it's in checking, it just gets melded into the monthly budget, with any leftovers rolling into savings anyhow.

Tax returns go into savings. When we have three-paycheck months twice each year, that money is earmarked for projects around the house. But I have no rules for the bonus.

So I'm trying to decide what the sensible, responsible save-to-spend ratio is for such un-budgeted-for things. A large part of me is voting to spend it all on next month's IKEA trip, while a smaller part suggests splurging on a mani-pedi and banking the rest. Then again, I do believe the car might need some repairs...

The benefit of being single is getting to make all the decisions yourself. The drawback is having no one else to blame when you don't like the outcome.

Friday, March 4, 2011

20% off at Big Lots this weekend!

You'll need to be a Buzz Club member (or sign up) then from 5-9PM Saturday you'll save 20% with your membership card. On Sunday, you can use this coupon to save 20%.

A few good deals coming up at Tops—week of 3/6

Starkist Tuna pouches will be $1 each. There was a printable coupon recently (no longer available) for 50 cents off one pouch, which, when doubled will score you free tuna. I won’t eat it—but my cats will be thrilled!!! Rumor has it there’re also some Starkist tuna coupons coming out in Sunday’s paper. So, you might want to keep an eye out.
Kellogg’s Raisin Bran will be on sale for $2/box.  If you register here, you can print a coupon for 70 cents. When doubled, that’ll be 60 cents for the box. I love Raisin Bran, but could finish off the box in two sittings, so I will be skipping this one myself.
I’m hoping to pick up some BOGO blackberries. And cabbage will be 33 cents per pound. I’m making a new stuffed cabbage recipe next week, so that works well for me.
Oh, and I see Tribe hummus will be $2.99. Don’t know if this will include the “Origins” variety. There was a coupon for $2 off one tub awhile back, and 99 cents for hummus isn’t bad.
Looks like Simply Orange juice will be $3 each. There was a $1 printable coupon last month that doesn’t seem to be available now, but if you printed it, $2 for this juice is a pretty good price.

Storing produce

As a vegetarian, I eat a lot of fruits and veggies. I can peel, chop and then eat a whole pineapple for dinner. I love every fruit—excepting red delicious apples. They look like molars, and simply taste icky. Oh, and I absolutely detest bell peppers. Can’t stand the smell of them. And I don’t understand how people eat raw celery. Blech. I get annoyed when I find it in macaroni salad. Seriously, why??

So, my grocery lists tend to include a variety of fresh produce. I am always looking for ways to extend its life and usefulness, though I do occasionally end up sharing an apple or two with the squirrels.

General tips
1.  Planning is key. If you know what you need for the meals you’ll be making, then you won’t overbuy or buy stuff you won’t use.
2.  Don’t buy prepared vegetables. First, it’s going to cost you more. Second, once produce is washed and peeled, its nutritional value starts to diminish. Once it’s peeled and cut, it’s going to spoil faster than if you wait until you’re ready to use it. So, invest in a salad spinner and start buying heads of lettuce instead of bags.
3.  Buy fresh, local produce when possible.  Obviously, stuff that’s spent less time in transport and storage is going to have more life left in it when you bring it home. So, head to your farmer’s market or buy into a local CSA.
4.  When you can’t buy fresh, local produce, steer toward buying what’s in season. Again, it’s going to be cheaper and of better quality.
5.  Make sure your hands and storage items are clean.  If you reach into a bag of spinach with bacteria on your hands, you’re going to leave some behind. Clean hands will avoid sharing the ick of the outside world with your produce.
6. Placement. Most refrigerators have areas that are colder than other areas. Coldest tends to be back of the bottom shelf. The door is going to be warmest. So, for example, you might want avoid putting your lettuce in the coldest spots if they might dip too close to freezing.
7. Separate fruits and veggies in the fridge.
8. Utilize the crisper drawer(s) in your refrigerator. Know which produce needs more/less humidity and adjust accordingly.
9.  Wash before you cut. Even though you might not be eating, say, the watermelon rind, if you slice your knife through God-knows-what on the rind and into the yummy melon-y part, well your watermelon slices may not last as long.  Some sources recommend washing produce in a sparkling clean kitchen sink full of water to which 2 oz. of hydrogen peroxide has been added.

Specific tips (some of these are gathered from the internet, so I can’t vouch for all of them. But worth a try.)
1.  Don’t wash, hull or slice strawberries until you intend to use them.
2.  Wrap celery in aluminum foil.
3.  If your romaine or leaf lettuce starts to wilt, cut a small piece of the bottom end off and put the rest of it in water in the fridge (kind of like a bouquet of flowers). It will perk right back up. Same goes for celery.
4.  Once lettuce leaves are washed and spun, wrap them loosely in slightly damp paper towels and put in a zippered plastic bag. Remove as much air as possible.
5.  Uncut tomatoes should NOT be refrigerated. And tomatoes that are large enough (so not cherries or grapes) should be stored top down so that the weight is born as it would be naturally.
6.  Potatoes and onions should be put in separate paper bags with holes in the bags. They should NOT be stored in plastic bags. They should be stored in a cool, dry place.  Some people suggest that putting an apple in with the taters will keep them from sprouting.
7.  Potatoes and onions should not be stored together because they will then produce gases that will spoil both.
8. Store mushrooms in a paper bag in the fridge.
9.  Wash & cut off the ends of asparagus. Store it in a container with the stalks standing upright with a little water on the bottom. Loosely cover the container with a plastic bag.
10. Store most of the apples in the fridge (they will last a few days on the counter.) Apples should not be stored mixed in with other fruits because they tend to make them spoil faster.
11. Oranges are similar to apples—a few out is fine, but the rest in the refrigerator.
12. Grapes unwashed in a plastic bag or their plastic clamshell container, in a cool zone; pick out any spoiled grapes, since one bad one can spoil the bunch.
13. Carrots—Remove all but about 2 inches of the green stubble to prevent the carrot from rotting. Allow the carrot outer skin to dry in sun for a day or so. Tightly seal unwashed carrots in a plastic bag in the coolest part refrigerator.
14. Leave the stems on winter squash. Try not to store squashes on top of each other. Do not store them on the ground or in bags. They should not be refrigerated.
Summer squash should be stored in a plastic bag in the crisper.
15. Beets—Cut off the tops two inches above the root, and refrigerate beets in plastic bags.
16. Store pineapple whole, in a perforated plastic bag, in the refrigerator. Once trimmed and cut, it should be stored covered in juice in an airtight container in the fridge.
17. When you bring home a carton of berries, open and gently dump them into a bowl or onto a plate. Pick out any that are going bad. Then return the rest, unwashed, to the store’s container.
18. If you have fresh garden, farmer’s market or CSA broccoli, plunge it into warm—not hot or cold—water with a little white vinegar added to flush out any bugs. Never soak the shoots more than 15 minutes. Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
19. Keep cauliflower loosely wrapped in plastic in the fridge.
20. Store green bell peppers for short-term use by refrigerating them in the produce drawer of your refrigerator. To ensure good air flow, remove peppers from any plastic bag or container they were purchased in.
21. Storing bananas on a banana hanger or hook is the best way to preserve the overall quality of a ripe banana as it avoids "resting bruises."
22. Ripe stone fruit should be refrigerated, but will do okay on a bowl on the counter for a few days. They should not be stored in plastic bags.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tuesday's Tips

So, each Tuesday, I’ll be sharing 3 tips—to help you conserve time, money and/or resources.

For this week:
  • Tip #1: Use a potato to remove a broken lightbulb from its socket. Detailed instructions can be found here.
  • Tip #2: Wash and reuse plastic food storage bags. You can buy fancy drying racks, though I’ve also read that chopsticks in a glass will work. I use magnetic bag clips to hang them by their corners on the side of my refrigerator. By the way, if you cut off the zip or slider part, these CAN be recycled with your grocery bags.
  • Tip #3: Remember to weigh produce that’s pre-packaged by weight to get the most for your dollars. If you’re buying a three-pound bag of apples, weigh three or four different bags and pick the one that weighs the most. Generally, they weigh more than 3 pounds. But if one bag weighs 3.2 pounds and the other 3.7 pounds and are in all other ways equal, why not get the extra half pound for the same price?

Have a tip you’d like to share? Email me! I’d love to hear it.