Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Saving Money and being cheap... I mean frugal

Although some might call me cheap, I prefer the term frugal. Cheap implies a sense of negligence, that I absolutely refuse to embrace. Frugal to me, sounds clever.

So here are some of the clever things I do to save money:

1) Loser Cereal - What!?! No, that's right: Loser Cereal. Loser Cereal is the kind that comes in bags not boxes, and has names such as Marshmallow Magic and Fruit Rings. The great thing about Loser Cereal, besides the price is that if you put in in snack sized seal bags, they make a great desk top snack, which in theory can keep you from spending money in vending machines. Cereal in a snack bag is also cheaper than toaster pastries which are loaded with way too much sugar anyway. BTW, for those of you who are calorie counting, the average calories for one cup of loser cereal is 120, and one cup fits perfectly in those snack sized bags.

2) Dishwasher - When I was a kid, my mom would always tell us not to run the dishwasher unless it was full. Well, I've gone one step further than that. I don't run my dishwasher at all! By doing our dishes by hand, we save between $50 and $100 a month on our power bill. Our water bill seems to be less too. Yes, it takes up time, and yes it's one more thing for your kids to moan about, but I think of it as character building.

3) Shower heads - This is especially useful if you have teenagers in the house. For what ever reason, my teenagers need no fewer than 20 minutes in the shower. This could prove to be quite costly in both water and the gas it takes to heat the water. But not if you install a low flow shower head. You might recognize this shower head from maybe a dorm or locker room or maybe even an economical motel. And now you know why. Low flow shower heads can use up to 70% less water and still provide great water pressure. The last one I bought was less than $15 and it easily paid for itself in the first month!

4) Bottle your own water - Bottled water is one of the greatest marketing schemes of our time. But for those who prefer the taste of filtered water, there is an easy solution. In my house it's super easy, because my refrigerator dispenses filtered water. So I bought a half dozen cheap water bottles at the dollar store and I fill them up as needed straight from my refrigerator door. I also have a gallon size bottle that I take to work with me to refill my bottle as needed. Don't have a filtered water dispenser? No problem. Table top water filters such as the one's made by Britta, work just as well. Here's an added bonus: there are a number of sugar free drink mixes that come in single sized tubes that can be added to water to make lemonade, peach tea, or even fruit punch. While some might consider the name brand Chrystal Lite, the Target brand works just the same for me.

5) Tea Time! - Tea is a great money saver hot or cold. I have a special jug that I use to make iced tea. I usually add frozen fruit such as peaches and mangos and let it brew a full day before serving. It's a great alternative to soda. Hot tea is an equal blessing. When I was in grad school, I carried a zip-bag full of tea bags with me. So, whenever I had a break, as opposed to spending money, I would make tea using a travel mug I carried with me.

6) Coffee to go - Another thing I did, was invest in a good thermos, that I filled with home brew. So if I really wanted coffee I wouldn't have to go without. If I wanted to get really adventuresome, I'd add some Mexican chocolate to it with a dollop of condensed milk. It would be enough caffeine to get me through nighttime seminars.

7) Baked goods - Do you have a baked good habit? It's a bad habit both in expense and calories! But if you just can't go without, take an hour and make some brownies or muffins at home and store them in the freezer. Again, as an unemployed grad student, I used to make mini pinapple upside down cakes, and throw them in my lunch box. They went really great with the tea!

8) Make Lists - One of the worst shopping sins we can commit, is shopping without a list. When ever I go without a list, I invariably buy something I already had, and forget something I needed. This results in another trip to the store which means time lost, gas used, and most likely an impulse buy of something else I don't need. I try and keep two lists: One for household goods, and one for food. As soon as something is half way gone, it goes on the list. This also prevents ad hoc trips to the store.

9) Cheap Fun/Family Time - Cheap fun basically means not relying on a second party to entertain us. Outside fun is some of the best you can have. Besides hiking, which of course is high on my list, there are kites to fly, balls to kick, frisbees to throw, and things to explore, like the library. Indoor fun works too, once it gets too cold for the latter. Forget video games. Get a deck of UNO cards, fish out the Scrabble, or see use the Monopoly money to play poker. Plug speakers into an iPod and play Name That Tune! The great thing about cheap fun is that it doesn't cost anything and pays you back in quality family time. Cheap fun can also be rolled into other things, like baking.

10) Soup /Sandwich - As soon as the leaves turned every year, my mom would start making soup. Soup was a weekend food. She'd make a huge pot of it and instead of getting fast food to avoid cooking, we all grazed on whatever was in the pot. Sometimes it was beans, which translated into burritos or bean tacos, other times it was a hearty Mexican soup with cabbage, garbanzo beans and sweet potatoes. The best part about soup was the stuff at the bottom. My mom had this Special Mix she made to go in the soup that included equal parts brown and yellow lentils, split peas, pinto beans, barley and little pasta alphabets, whole cumin and lemon pepper. One year when I was away from home she sent me a gallon size jar of it, and it lasted all winter. Soup is easy, hot, and satisfying, and also great with grilled cheese or in our house with quesadillas. Another house specialty is Mazzaball-Chicken Noodle Soup!

Mom's Mexican Soup

1 Beef Shank Steak
1 can garbanzos
1/2 head cabbage
2 small sweet potatoes
1 small white onion
4 cloves garlic
1 tbsp cumin
1/2 cup Special Mix
salt to taste

Boil shank till cooked. Skim fat off the top, add sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, cumin, salt and Special Mix. Simmer two and a half hours. Fish out meat and cut into small morsals. Return meat to pot and add garbanzos and cabbage, simmer an additional 30 minutes. Salt to taste.

more to come...

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