Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tweak Your Routine To Sneak In Savings

Adjusting your habits even slightly can result in savings which can really add up over time. What are some of the ways you could tweak your routine to sneak in savings?

One way would be to get up earlier and go to bed earlier, allowing you to do more things by daylight. This would save energy used for lighting, resulting in a lower electric bill. I've also chosen to do things like reading that use more light earlier in the day, and then watch TV or listen to music which require less light, later in the day.

Another slight adjustment I've made to my routine is to walk to the grocery store when I only need a few things, or walk to perform other errands, especially in cooler weather. This saves gas, wear and tear on the car, and I get some much-needed exercise all at the same time.

You could also spend your free time on a paying hobby, such as making crafts for sale, writing articles to be published, or panning for gold, instead of watching TV or pursuing a hobby that costs you a lot of money.

Another small change I've made is to dry clothes in the dryer for a few minutes and then hang to dry after washing. This helps me avoid "crunchy" towels and jeans, and saves energy and wear on my dryer.

When cooking pasta, I always use the Indian method I read about somewhere. Bring the pasta to a boil, then add the pasta, turn the burner off and put the lid on. The pasta will cook in the still-hot water in about 15 minutes. This saves the energy that would be used to simmer the noodles for 10 minutes or so using the traditional method.

One more thing I stopped doing years ago was blow-drying my hair. This saves me time in the morning, and electricity. It works fine for my all-one-length long hair, but may or may not work for your hairstyle. Give it a try and see.

Buying staples such as oats, flour, sugar, pasta etc. from bulk bins is another tiny thing I do differently nowadays. They are much cheaper that way, and I like reusing jars and other containers to store them.

I discovered that my grocery store has an extensive section of marked-down baked goods that have reached their sell-by date in the back of the store, so now before I buy bread, I always check there first. I store it in the freezer anyway, so it never goes bad before I can use it.

When I want to eat out at a restaurant, I always choose between those that I have coupons for, rather than making a completely random selection. This saves quite a bit of money, and I always find one for whatever type of food I might be in the mood for.

I always cook small meals in my toaster oven, because it uses a lot less energy than the regular oven. I have also become very proficient with my microwave and crock pot.

It may sound silly, but if I'm home alone, reading my book on the couch, I use my book light, which is powered by rechargeable batteries, rather than needlessly lighting the whole room.

When I use my dishwasher, if I only have a lightly soiled load, I use the "ecowash" setting, and I always turn off the "dry" setting. These two things save a lot of energy, and my dishes dry just fine if I prop the door open a little at the end of the cycle.

These are just a few of the ways I have made slight adjustments to my daily routine to save money and/or time. What are some of the tweaks you sneak into your routine? I look forward to hearing some of your solutions I haven't thought of.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thrifty Throwdown

Have you ever wondered which of two options is the most frugal? That's when it's time for a quick comparison, or as I like to call it, a thrifty throwdown.

Take toilet tissue, for instance. Which is more economical - single or double-ply? That probably depends on your household's habits. For me it's a toss-up. I pretty much use the same amount either way. If you have a family member that likes to grab the roll and wrap and wrap and wrap great wads of the stuff around his hand, then you will probably find the single-ply to be cheaper. If you have a CVS in your area, I find those $5 off $20 coupons they sometimes let you print out with your card to be great for stocking up on CVS brand toilet tissue when it's on sale. It's very cheap this way.

What about cloth vs. paper napkins? I'd say it comes firmly down on the side of cloth napkins. I have been using the same set of handmade cloth napkins (one of the best Christmas gifts I ever received) for about fifteen years now. I would have had to buy an awful lot of paper napkins in that time, not to mention the environmental impact of using all that paper. What about the cost of laundering the cloth napkins? I find they take up very little space in a load, so it's no trouble just to throw them in with my normal loads. If your family are not messy eaters, they can be used several times before being washed. Use napkin rings to keep track of whose napkin is whose.

Consider bottled water vs. a reusable bottle and a filter system. You would have to figure out how much filtered water you drink, both at home and and away. Then you would need to look at how much bottled water sells for (don't forget the bottle deposit, which you will get back if you return them to a recycling center), the price of the filter system and replacement filters, and how much water you can filter with them. I can get the filters pretty cheap on sale, with a coupon. For me, the home system and reusable bottle makes a lot more sense, although I still can't get my significant other to use a reusable bottle. He says he will just lose it. So, I make sure I at least recycle all his bottles. Economics aside, it takes energy to recycle all those bottles, even if they do all get recycled. For most people, the reusable bottle and filter system will be the better choice.

Should you boil water for tea and coffee on the stove, or heat it in the microwave? That depends on whether your stove is gas or electric, and how much you pay per gas therm or kilowatt. This information can be found on your bill. You would need to calculate how long it takes to boil the water, and how much energy your stove or microwave uses in this time. Even easier, would be to do it one way the first month, and the other way the next month, and compare your bills. You would have to make sure all your other energy usage was about the same as usual to get an accurate comparison.

Is it cheaper to use regular light bulbs, or the new CFL bulbs? The regular bulbs are a lot cheaper to buy initially, but the CFL bulbs last a lot longer. They also use a lot less energy. The only time the CFL bulbs are not cheaper to operate is if you have them somewhere where you turn the light off and on constantly. Then they wear out a lot quicker, and the initial cost of purchasing them will not be recouped in energy savings.

During the course of your day, when you think of something that can be done more than one way, take the time to do a quick frugal faceoff. Once you've done the calculations, you will save each time you perform the activity in the most efficient way. Unless the factors involved change significantly, you only have to do the math once. Save all of us some brain strain, and post your own able analyses here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

An Apple A Day Helps Keep High Grocery Bills Away

With the first chilly Fall mornings, a frugalista's thoughts turn to - apples? They're cheap this time of year, they're nutritious and they're versatile. Whether you take a weekend trip to your local U-pick farm, or buy them on sale at the grocery store, there's a lot you can do with them.

Apples are the perfect lunch box fruit. They don't need peeling, they're not messy and most kids and adults like them. Just make sure to wash before eating if they're not organic, to remove pesticides.

Peeled and sliced, you can bake them into a pie, or simmer them into a side dish that's good with kielbasa, pork chops or chicken.

Chop them up and simmer them down, add a little cinnamon and brown sugar, and you've got apple sauce. Apple sauce can also be canned and enjoyed year round.

Sliced and dried, you can seal them into air-tight bags or jars and keep them a long time. I see dehydrators all the time at yard sales and thrift stores.

On a really cold winter day, I like to bake apples. I core them, put them in a cake pan, and fill the hole with pats of butter, raisins, brown sugar and cinnamon. Then I bake them at 350 degrees until they're soft.

If you've got the right equipment, you can make cider and juice. If not, you can buy it at your local orchard or farmer's market. It's full of vitamins. I like mine hot, with spices (mulled). Here's a recipe:

2 qts. apple cider
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1 orange (unpeeled)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp. whole cloves
brandy (optional)

Combine cider, sugar, ginger and orange in slow cooker. Tie cinnamon and cloves in a small cheesecloth bag; add to crock pot. Cover and cook on LOW 2 to 4 hours. The entire house will smell great! Remove the bag of spices. In a mug put a shot of brandy, then fill with hot mix from cooker. If you don't want the brandy, just serve as is from the cooker.Makes 10 to 12 servings

A little hard on the teeth perhaps, but caramel apples are another Autumn favorite. Just insert popsicle sticks, melt some caramel candies in the microwave with a little milk, dip, and allow to cool.

If you want to get crafty, you can try a project I did once as a kid - apple dolls. There are some instructions here:

No matter how you slice, dice or spice them, apples are an inexpensive, healthful and delicious fruit that should be on your fall grocery list.