Frugal Cooking

Cooking at home is one of the best ways to manage the grocery budget. Frugal shopping for the ingredients further helps. Not only will you be saving money, but you can eat more nutritionally, by eating at home and knowing what is really going into your and your family’s diet.

  • Plan your meals ahead of time – Take a look at what is on sale each week, and plan your meals around sale items such as meat, chicken, etc. Typically, each store will have the basic items on sale once per month.
  • Cook seasonal produce – Not only is seasonal produce less expensive, it often tastes better since it doesn’t have to be shipped great distances (often from other countries to have a different climate than where you are located).
  • Buy local – Buying locally produced foods are less expensive since they require less fuel to reach your table. Farmer’s Markets (local market’s in your area can be found at Local Harvest) and Pick Your Own Farms (local farm listings are at Pick Your Own) are great locations to purchase fresh produce that’s locally grown and picked while it’s at the peak of flavor. Some supermarkets also provide regional products.
  • Plant a vegetable garden – This is the most economical source for high-quality produce.
  • Use coupons and store sales – Find bargains on your favorite items. If you don’t get the Sunday paper for circulars, you can usually find the items on sale at your favorite grocery store’s web site.
  • Do the prep work – The bagged salad greens, prepared produce, and shredded cheese are much more expensive than already prepared items. This convenience can really add up on the bottom line of your grocery bill, and add increased risk of contamination at the processing plants. It takes a minute to cut up a head of broccoli and can be about half the price of purchasing the cut up flowerets. Setting aside an hour our two a week and to do the slicing, chopping, and shredding (if you can get the kids involved, that’s even better). Preparing these items yourself will provide you with both the cost savings and the convenience when you need it (trying to put together a quick dinner after work or grabbing a healthy snack).
  • Stock up when prices are good – Stock the freezer and pantry when frequently used items go on sale.
  • Reduce waste – When you roast a whole chicken or turkey, use the bones and a few vegetables to make a stock and freeze for future use.

 

Charitable Giving

Reuse your unwanted items by giving them to friends, family or a charity. For unneeded items that are still in good condition, think of someone else that may be able to use it. If you can’t think of a friend or family member that would like the clothes that no longer fit you or that old refrigerator, consider one of the many charities that could use your item(s). With a little creativity, can both clean our your house and be useful to someone else.

Clothes:

Think of charities like Goodwill Industries, The Salvation Army, or church organizations; or giving to friends, family or offering at freecycle.org. We all lose and gain weight or just get tired of items that are still if very wearable condition. Why not share them with others that can use them?

Books & Magazines:

Welcomed at Goodwill Industries and The Salvation Army. You may also want to check with nursing homes, hospitals, or abuse shelters to see if they take these donations.

Appliances:

Some utility companies give homeowners a credit to dispose of old refrigerators or freezers since those older than 10 years are not energy efficient. If your old appliance contains a large amount of steel, it may be processed to make new products. Call your municipal waste collection service or utility company for recycle sites.

Batteries:

Don’t throw away your old rechargeable batteries and cell phones. When the rechargeable batteries in your laptop computer, cell or cordless phone, digital camera, camcorder, or cordless power tools finally run out of juice, recycle them. It’s an easy way to do something good for the environment. Visit Call 2 Recycle to find a rechargeable battery collection site near you.

Construction Materials:

Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores accept most new and good-quality used construction materials, such as cabinets, laminate floors, doors, windows, drywall, roofing materials, paint, lumber, and working appliances, says spokesperson Katie Evans. Or check with local theater and high school production companies, which might be able to use materials for building sets.

Computers:

“One computer monitor can contain three to eight pounds of lead and other heavy metals – toxic substances that can end up in soil and water,” says Marti Matsch, spokesperson for Eco-Cycle, a non-profit recycler in Boulder, Colorado. Save important information on a CD or memory stick, then use a data-wiping software program, or have a qualified technician clear your computer’s hard drive. To donate, check with local charities, or log on to the National Cristina Foundation, enter the computer’s basic specifications, then be matched with a non-profit organization that can use the equipment for training or job development. The computer needn’t always be in working order because many organizations refurbish them.

Cell phones and office supplies:

Most cell phone companies will recycle old phones, or you can donate them to organizations such as the Charitable Recycling Program. You select the local or national charity, which receives cash or a merchandise credit. Some retailers also have free drop-offs for electronic equipment. For example, Best Buy stores contain recycling kiosks that accept cell phone, rechargeable batteries, ink-jet cartridges, PDAs, DVDs, and CDs. Staples has a similar program, and they also recycle larger items like PCs, monitors, and printers for a fee of $10 per piece; associated equipment like keyboards and mouses are free. For TVs, speakers, and VCRs, find a local drop-off site and recycling events at My Green Electronics. Manufacturers such as Sony offer drop-off locations at waste management sites in nearly 20 states for almost any electric item, including small appliances like blenders, toasters, and irons. Sony products are recycled for free; others are recycled for a per-pound fee.

Exercise Equipment:

Goodwill Industries and The Salvation Army will typically accept exercise equipment, but this will typically require you to transport the items. Offering the items through freecycle.org is a great option in this case, especially for large items. The interested individuals from freecycling will gladly pick it up from your home for you.

 

Resale Ideas

Garage Sales:

Garage sales are a good option when you have many items to get rid of at one time and have a free weekend. This is also a good way to sell larger items, such as furniture or exercise equipment without having to transport them to a consignment store (for those of us that don’t have a pick-up). Keep in mind that people are more likely to stop at a larger sale than a smaller one, so you may want to ask you neighbors if they are interested in participating in your sale.

I’ve included this step-by-step Garage Sale Guide to assist you in organizing your garage sale. This guide outlines all the tasks that need to be completed beforehand to set up your successful sale.

Online Resale Options:

  • eBay – eBay, the best known online auction site, is a good resale option for collectables, designer clothes, musical instruments, and anything that can be easily described and photographed. Your items will be especially easy to list if they have a recognizable brand name. It is a good idea to do a search for your item to see how much competition you have and what price the item is selling for. eBay charges an insertion fee, depending on the initial listing price of your item (whether your item sells or not) and a final value fee which is a percentage of the final selling price when your item sells.
  • half.com – Half.com is a good option for books (including textbooks), music, movies, and games. Unlike an auction site you set the price you are asking for the item. It is suggested that the price be half of the list price (thus the site name), but you can set it up or down from there and change the price at any time, if it isn’t selling. Half.com charges a commission fee only when an item sells (a percentage depending on the final selling price).
  • Craig’s List – Craig’s List allows you to post online classified ads for those in your area. First you will select the metropolitan area closest to you, then select post to classifieds on the left side of the page.

Consignment Shops:

There are numerous consignment shops in most towns. Most shops will have a specialty or focus group they want to sell to. For instance, there are consignment stores for women’s clothes, designer clothes, children’s clothes, furniture, sporting goods etc. Most are locally owned, but Play It Again Sports, a consignment store specializing in sporting good items, is a franchise that is located in most areas.

 

Reduce Clutter

Reducing clutter in your home will help you in many ways. First, you’ll be able to find what you need and more easily keep everything organized, so repurchasing items you already have is not necessary. If you even have to repurchase a $1 item that you already have, it is a wasted $1. Second, purchasing additional storage will not be needed. Many people spend quite a bit in extra storage bins, rent on storage units, or even buying a larger house just to store all their extra stuff. Storage bins are a great way to organize your items so you will know where everything is at any given time. On the other hand, why waste even $10 on a plastic bin that is not needed? I also have friends and family members that have a monthly rental fee to maintain a storage unit, when many of their items should really be disposed of in some way. Then there are those that believe that they need to move up to larger homes every few years. In recent years, many have gotten into financial ruin by upgrading to more house then they can afford. And lastly, without the clutter in your home, your mind is freed from clutter also. You will be able to enjoy life with a clear mind now that you will have an organized home and where you know exactly where everything is. You will no longer waste you precious time searching for things you need when you need them.

There are a wide range of wise options to dispose of your clutter. If you have the time, this could be a way to make a little extra cash. Otherwise, think of offering something to a friend or family member that may be able to use the item, offer to others in your community through freecycle.org, or give to a charity. Whether you resell your unneeded items, or give them away, you will be helping yourself and others greatly. As they say, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Freecycle.org:

Freecycling is a little known of but great way to share items with those in your area. Initially, you will go to Freecycle.org and sign up for the mail lists that are in your area. This system has all been set up through Yahoo Groups and is completely free of charge. You will then be able to email those in your area offering items that you no longer need, those interested in them will email you, and you can make arrangements for them to pick up the items. You can also request an item that you are interested in, like a certain kind of crafting supply or items of a special theme for a children’s birthday party. If someone has an extra, they will email you. All items are free, just for good correspondence and picking up the item(s). This is a great resource for sharing unwanted items with others in your community. I have seen all types of items offered in my area, from coupons to a piano, all free if you will just pick them up. Baby and children’s items are frequently offered since they are often only used for a short period of time. This is also a good way to get rid of leftovers from garage sales.

 

Energy Saving Tips

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb As the price of energy rises, we need to make reductions in our energy usage just to keep our same bill amount. By making small changes in our daily lives (and turning them into habits) we can keep the bills as they were last year, or even reduce them. There are many small and easy ways to use less. Some of these tips will cost little or nothing except concentrating on making changes, and others will be good investments that will save energy for years to come. Change what you can now. Then make the investments into the future as time and resources permit. For instance, choosing an energy efficient appliance when you have to replace one anyway.

 

First Steps:

Heating and cooling account for more than half of the energy people used in the typical home each year, according to the US Department of Energy. So for the first step in energy reduction, look at these options:

Air Conditioner:

  • Set the thermostat to 78 degrees F, or higher in the summer – Each degree you increase your thermostat can reduce 6% – 8% off your cooling costs, according to Orlando Utilities Commission.
  • Set the fan switch on the thermostat to the “auto” position, instead of the “on” position when cooling. This allows the fan to run only when the unit needs to circulate cool air. This small change can save about $25 per month, according to Progress Energy.
  • Change your air filters monthly – Clogged, dirty filters block normal air flow and reduce the system’s efficiency significantly. Clean filters can lower your air conditioner’s energy consumption by 5% – 15%, according to the US Department of Energy. Changing your filter once a month will:
    • Reduce indoor air pollution – Indoor pollution levels can be 2-5 times higher than outdoor levels; changing your filter helps keep air cleaner.
    • Reduce energy bills – You’ll save 1%-2% each month on those rising energy bills by changing that air filter.
    • Increase A/C efficiency – You’ll get more relief on hot days by changing or cleaning your filter, since that’ll lead to optimal A/C performance
  • Check your cooling system – “A well-maintained cooling system is the number one thing you can do for energy efficiency in the summer,” according to Rozanne Weissman, spokesperson for the Alliance to Save Energy. Having the system and ductwork inspected and maintained is a cost effective way to ensure your system is working at it’s most efficient.

Water Heater:

Set the thermostat to 120 degrees F. Some manufacturers have a default setting of 140 degrees F. For each 10 degrees reduction in water temperature, you can cut 3 % – 5 % in energy costs, according to the US Department of Energy.

Free Home Energy Audit:

Check with your energy company to schedule a free home energy audit. Most companies now offer this free service. They will send out a professional to access energy usage and suggest repairs and replacements that can save you a bundle. Many are small (and inexpensive) changes that can really add up. They will check the ducts in your attic to make sure there are no leaks, inspect the insulation to determine if it meets current building standards and examining the evaporator coils inside your air conditioner to see if they need cleaning, just to name a few. This is especially important if your home was built before 1980. According to Dean Skipper of the Orlando Utilities commission, Older homes typically use a lot of energy, since they were built when energy costs were inexpensive.

 

Next Steps:

Change to efficient light bulbs:

Switching from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) is another idea that can provide big energy savings. CFLs with the Energy Star emblem on the package meet energy efficiency guidelines set by the EPA and Department of Energy. Although Energy Star qualified CFLs may cost a bit more to purchase, you’ll save $30 or more in electricity costs over the lifetime of the bulb. These CFLs use about 75% less electricity than traditional incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 limes longer (usually 7 – 10 years). Not only do CFLs use less energy, since they produce light more efficiently, they will not heat up your home as much as incandescent light bulbs do.Katie Ackerly, coauthor of Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings (9th edition; New Society Publishers, 2007), states that incandescent bulbs are a great heat sources that waste 5-10% of their energy as light.

Eventually you will want to change all or most of your lights to CFLs, but you can start with the fixtures that are used at least 15 minutes at a time or several hours per day for the largest savings. To choose a CFL that will put out the right amount of light, pick one that’s labeled as equivalent to the incandescent bulb you’re replacing. There are also various light style options, such as “daylight” (for the locations you want it the brightest for intricate tasks, such as a craft room) and “soft white” light (for a cozy, more incandescent-like lighting, such as a bedroom). I have found that some bulbs take about a minute to heat up and achieve their full brightness.

CAUTION ON CFLs MERCURY CONTENT: Since CFLs contain a tiny amount of mercury, ideally they should be recycled and caution used when cleaning up broken bulbs. They actually contain about 4 mg of mercury in the glass tubing. For comparison, an old mercury thermometer contains about 500 mg of mercury. Don’t put CFLs in the trash, instead recycle them. You can find a recycler at (epa.gov/bulbrecycling) or (lamprecycle.org).

Unplug when not in use:

On average, 75% of the electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the appliances are turned off. Unplugging your blow dryer, and putting computers, printers, various chargers, kitchen appliances, and other electronics on a power strip can reduce usage greatly.

Check your freezer’s efficiency:

Check your freezer’s efficiency by closing the door on a dollar bill. If it slips out, the door’s seal may be faulty and leaking air. You don’t have to replace the whole refrigerator, though. Just replace the old strip with a new one, which you can get from your local appliance dealer.

Close the curtains:

Use curtains or blinds as insulators when the sun beats in on the southwest side of the house on a hot summer afternoon. Sun streaming through windows can make the air conditioner work two to three times harder.

Use ceiling or box fans:

Ceiling fans create a wind-chill effect, reducing the need for cooling by about 5 degrees. Rozanne Weissman, spokesperson for the Alliance to Save Energy, recommends Energy Star – qualified models, which can be up to 30 percent more efficient than regular ceiling fans. But turn them off when you leave. “Ceiling fans cool people, not rooms,” she says.

Get with the program:

A programmable thermostat can save up to 10% on your cooling bill if you program it to dial up the temperature at night and when you’re out of the house. Danny Lipford, host of the syndicated television show Today’s Homeowner, says installing the thermostat is a simple job to do yourself, or you can ask your air-conditioning contractor to install the thermostat while inspecting the cooling system.

Plug leaks:

Although most people consider this a winter job, it’s just as important in the summer. “One of the easiest, cheapest things you can do to reduce the cooling bill is seal cracks in the doors and windows,” Weissman says. Use sealant or caulking to plug leaks between nonmoving parts, and weather stripping around moving parts such as doors and windows. Choose good quality materials that will expand and contract with weather changes.

Lighten up:

Just as you wear white clothing to stay cool in the summer, a light colored or reflective roof will absorb less heat. The Cool Roof Rating Council (coolroofs.org) can connect you to resources, members and appropriate products. Similarly, if it’s time to repaint your house, consider a lighter color to better reflect the light.

Choose energy star qualified appliances:

They’ve met strict efficiency guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. “Old appliances no only waste energy, they give off excess heat,” Ackerly says. “The top heat producers are old refrigerators, dishwashers and dryers.”

Insulate:

In warm climates, focus on the attic first. Heat rises through the house, and the sun beats down on the roof. “The attic can get up to 150 degrees in the summer,” Lipford says. “If you’re not insulated between that hot spot and the cooler temperature below, the air conditioner will have to work even harder to compete with the heat of the attic.” He recommends at least 12 inches of attic insulation in the Southeast. Visit (simplyinsulate.org) for more insulation information.

Branch out:

leafy trees to block the summer sun. According to the Department of Agriculture, a shade tree has the cooling effect of five air conditioners. Take cues from your house and note where the sun comes in hottest during the summer; where you Plant will depend on the direction your house faces.

LEARN MORE: Visit Alliance to Save Energy (ase.org) and American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (aceee.org).

Photo Credit: Chris Cummings via stock.xchng