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#907 Thrifty Baby: Breastfeeding Is Best…And It’s Free

5 Apr

breastfeeding baby

Yup, breasts are for feeding babies for free. Photo via flickr by Mothering Touch.

I was really looking forward to the last month of eating blueberry pancakes at midnight during my pregnancy. Then my daughter decided she didn’t want to wait any longer to say hello to the world. I was briefly disappointed by the fact that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy extra calories with impunity until I found out that breastfeeding took as many extra calories per day as pregnancy.

The extra calories needed for both pregnancy and breastfeeding is typically between 300 and 500 calories a day, so it’s really not license to gorge yourself and the food should be healthy, but I was excited that breastfeeding meant I could still snack freely throughout the day.

pile of avocados

My healthy snack of choice. Photo via flickr by ollesvensson.

Breastfeeding provides a unique blend of exactly-right that is made just for your baby. It protects against illness and helps development like no formula can. Formula also costs anywhere from $60 to $100 a month. Breastfeeding is free. Breastfeeding is by far the best thing for baby and the cheapest option for mom. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for the first six months, but their statistics show that less than 40 percent of  infants are exclusively breastfeed until six months.

la leche league logoMost women start out with the intention to breastfeed, but how do 85 percent of new moms who intend to breastfeed fall to less than 40 percent of infants who are breastfeeding at six months or even three months. A lot of women get discouraged or feel at a loss or abandoned when in the hospital or upon return home. Women get overwhelmed and abandon breastfeeding. It’s too bad the overwhelming number of women who want to breastfeed then don’t get the support and education they need to succeed. Here are some challenges and ways to succeed:

  • “It seems like it should be natural and easy, and it isn’t.” Not every baby takes right to breastfeeding like a champ. Not every mom knows what to do. The best thing to do is to educate and prepare before hand so that when challenges come up, getting discouraged and quitting is less likely. Some good resources to find support are La Leche League, which is an international organization to support mothers and breastfeeding. They are far reaching and have local chapters that meet for support. It’s a great idea to connect with the group or the organizer of the group while pregnant. Going to a few get togethers beforehand allows for getting to know other moms, and it’s more comfortable to seek help once help is needed. It’s harder to ask for help from a stranger. Especially about breastfeeding. La Leche League is free, so if a lactation consultant isn’t covered by insurance, there are other resources. Another great resource is KellyMom, which has lots of great information. Don’t rely on nurses at the hospital to be knowledgeable, encouraging or helpful.
  • “It hurts.” In theory, it’s not supposed to hurt. The best thing I learned is that if it hurts, then something is going on that is incorrect. That’s not to say there isn’t some adjustment. Some raw or chapped nipples happen, but it should clear up within a few days after correcting anything. The best thing to do is make sure everything is right and then deal with any pain or adjustment that should go away quickly.
  • “I don’t want saggy boobs.”
    pushup bra

    The right bra will have the girls perky and pretty again. Photo via flickr by angel with horns.

    I’m embarrassed to admit I watched some episodes of “16 and Pregnant.” One girl didn’t want to breastfeed because she didn’t want to make her boobs saggy. The doctor answered, “Pregnancy makes your boobs saggy.” So really, pregnancy and age make breasts a little less than perky. Not to mention, your whole body is different post-baby. Most women actually have more body image issues with c-section scars or their stomachs than their breasts. There’s nothing a sexy pushup or under-wire bra can’t fix.

  • “I have to work.” If you’re a stay-at-home-mom or work from home, breastfeeding without pumping should be relatively easy. Working might pose some challenges, but don’t stop because of work. I was lucky to live in a country that if I returned to work, I would have a legal right to breastfeed or pump at work and the employers followed the law without question. It’s sad to read about women who quit breastfeeding because they couldn’t pump at work. In the U.S., protecting mothers in the workplace is woefully behind other countries. But with the new health care provisions in 2010, every woman is allowed time and a private place to pump. Fight for your right to do so if you get resistance, it’s federally protected. You’re fighting for your baby, other women and yourself. Women are underpaid significantly compared to men. Mostly because they don’t fight for their worth. You are worthy, you are valuable, you deserve and have a right to be able to pump at work.
  • “I’m supposed to love it, and I don’t.” It’s fine not to be totally in love with breastfeeding. Most moms absolutely hate pumping that’s for sure. I didn’t totally love breastfeeding, but it was best for baby. When I look back, I know I’ll look on it fondly even though, I might not have been crazy about it all the time.

Those are some challenges. If a women is determined to stick with it, then it should work out. And here are some awesome things about breastfeeding:

  • It’s free. Ok, that is the whole point of the post, but really, who would pay for something you can get for free? Another great thing I learned was that you don’t need all the special equipment that everyone adds on nowadays. I didn’t have a special pillow, pump or bra. It’s possible to manually pump. You can use pillows you have already. A special bra makes it easier but isn’t absolutely necessary. I had a couple of bottles for occasions when I did leave some with dad. If you’re going to pump significantly for a work scenario than equipment for storage is good. You can rent a pump from a hospital for the best pumps.
  • Your kid will get sick A LOT less. The stats show that breastfeed babies are sick significantly less and for a shorter period of time than formula fed babies. Any breastfeeding mom will tell you her kid is sick a lot less than babies who are formula fed. My daughter first got sick after she turned one. She had the usual doses of traveling, public places and day care, so I was amazed that she never got sick until after she was a year.
  • Your pregnancy weight will be sucked right off. This varies by woman and depends on the calories consumed, but breastfeeding does show evidence of helping moms lose weight. Statistically breastfeeding moms lose pregnancy weight faster and are less likely to be obese than formula feeding moms. I got back to a weight I was in high school, which I never thought was possible. It happened quickly without any diet restrictions on my part. I have room to bounce back a few pounds and still fit my pre-pregnancy clothes.
  • It’s convenient. Always the right temperature and immediately available to a hungry baby. No fumbling with hot water, powder, bottles, ect. Even pumped milk in a bottle doesn’t have to be heated up. Some babies will drink cold breast milk. Travel is easy with a breastfeeding baby because there is no need to haul extra stuff and the baby is happy anywhere with the breast.
  • Babies love the boob. Nothing comforts baby like mom and the boob. Babies all love the boob because it’s natural. It makes you feel special that only you can provide this comfort and food source for the baby.

#915 Travel Savings: Eat Biblically, Eat In The Streets And Be Your Own Chef

14 Mar

Honey from this stand fed us for a long time.

Honey from this stand fed us for a long time.

I have proof that bakeries are from heaven.

My husband and I were driving down tiny back roads through central Crete, completely lost and passing one abandoned town after another. Breakfast was long gone. Our frustration with the signage and gnawing in our stomachs were increasing tension levels by the second. I get seriously cranky when I’m hungry.

Just when we thought we were lost in the empty hills, and our lovely Grecian vacation was looking darker than the sky above… the clouds parted. A light shone down. As we came to the top of the next hill, we saw that the light was shining on a bakery in a tiny town center. In a single burst of joy, we could only feel pure happiness. Not only did the bakery exist, but they were pulling spinach and feta rolls from the oven. And the baklava was oozing warm honey. We bought everything.

Then the miracle continued…There was an adjacent grocery store where we celebrated finding food and the right direction with purchases of large bottles of beer.

All I can say is that the baklava lives in our memories as the single most incredible delight we’ve ever tasted. Manna from heaven. We were drunk for the rest of the day, not on the beer, but from the honey-fueled ecstasy of warm baklava from a heaven-sent bakery in the Cretan wilderness. And it hardly cost anything.

Luckily we didn't have to end up eating these when we were lost in the middle of nowhere.

Luckily we didn’t have to end up eating these when we were lost in the middle of nowhere.

One of the great pleasures of travel is discovering new food and enjoying local cuisines. But this doesn’t have to mean eating out for breakfast, lunch and dinner in restaurants. It means finding local grocers, farmer’s markets, bakeries and food stalls. If you eat out for every meal when you travel, not only will you be spending far too much money on food, but you’ll also not have a balanced diet. One of the best ways to save money and eat well is to cook for yourself, and this is no different when traveling.

If you get a vacation rental, then make sure you book one that includes a kitchen, which is not difficult. Unlike hotel bookings, it’s easy to find a vacation rental that comes with a fridge, cook top and some pots and pans. That’s all you need to get started. In fact, you don’t need a kitchen, and could swing it in a hotel room, but something like refrigeration is a great help. And it’s much nicer to be able to spread out in a kitchen and have a table.

You also don’t have to spend all your time preparing food. You’re on vacation, you want to get out and see the city or country you’re in! That’s why it’s nice to mix up making your own food with finding great street food for a quick and delicious meal on the go that’s not going to eat up your sightseeing time. Street food is the cheapest and most fun way to eat out when traveling.

Here are some easy ways to cook for yourself and enjoy street food when traveling, which will be easy on your budget:

  • Find the local supermarket. A lot of times the supermarket is right around the corner. Just because you’re buying your own food doesn’t mean you have to miss out on local food. Try new things you’ve never seen or local brands. If you can’t read the labels, be adventurous and see what comes up. I’ve ended up with wasabi peanuts that I thought were some sort of chocolate product in the Netherlands. I’ve stumbled across the most amazing sour cherry juice at a corner grocer in Macedonia. I’ve discovered pillowy soft potato flat bread in Sardinia. I’ve enjoyed Cheerwine in North Carolina, and Moxie in Maine. All of these products were locally produced, and probably never appear on restaurant menus. Another bonus to stopping by the supermarket is that you can stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. One of the biggest drawbacks when traveling is that fresh produce is hard to come by when eating out. A salad at dinner doesn’t nearly cover my fresh produce needs. I used to fall upon an apple after 10 days of travel like it was the purest form of goodness. Really, I was just craving fresh fruit after serious deprivation. If you shop for yourself, stocking up on in-season fruits and vegetables is no problem, and a healthier solution to snacking and eating on the go.
  • Ask for the local street or farmer’s market. While a grocery store is usually very easy to find, you’ll probably have to ask a local about street and farmer’s markets. The location and date and times might vary, so it’s best to get the info from someone who knows. You can stock up on cheeses, breads, fruit and local specialties at these markets. They’re the best for picnic lunch shopping and turn into an adventure of discovery themselves.
  • Brake for roadside stands. If you see an old lady sitting on the side of the road selling fruit, STOP! You’ll get local produce and a fun story. You’ve never imagined cherries so sweet and juicy. I’ve also seen people selling local honey, fish and wine. It’s all part of the travel adventure and seeing what people around the world eat and drink.
  • Eat Biblically. When my husband and I find ourselves eating bread, honey and almonds on the road. Possibly for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We laugh. It seems so biblical. Where are the locusts? Sometimes we mix in a few dates and olives. But it’s cheap and good. The bread is fresh made, the honey is local as are the dates and olives. Who needs anything more?
  • That tiny stall sells the best crepes, sandwiches, kebabs…Street food is the cheapest way to eat out when traveling. As you are not sitting down, you can stroll with your food down new and exciting streets or sit in the park enjoying the sunshine. The key is not to be scared off by the look or size of the place. If the line of locals is long, then you’ve come to the right place.
  • Find that heavenly bakery. The local bakery will provide delights unending for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Don’t be afraid to try everything.
  • Get the right portions. If you know how long you’ll be staying in one place, you can tailor how much you buy to your time. It’s easy to throw leftover cheese and containers that close well into a day pack to consume on the journey to the next destination, home or for when you arrive at your next location.

Here are some ideas for each meal when traveling as well:

  • Breakfast: The bakery is your friend. Or the baked goods section of the grocery store. That paired with some fruit and tea, and I’m ready to go. Tea is a lot easier when traveling. Hot water and a bag that you could bring yourself, as I do to make things easier. Making the switch from coffee is pretty easy, healthier and you still get some caffeine.
  • Lunch: Picnic time. Picnic in the park. Picnic on a hike. Picnic on a city bench. Picnic on the castle walls. The most fun is shopping the street markets or farmer’s market for lunch. Our standby is bread, cheese, dried meat and some fruit. And olives. I never liked olives until I met my husband. Those black olives in a can that taste like cardboard, those aren’t olives. The black, oily, squizzled kind are olives. The fat, briny, smooth black kind are olives. The giant green ones with pit are olives. The hot peppered, oiled ones are olives. They don’t come in a can. You can buy as many or a little as you want.
  • Dinner: Dinner can be a repeat of lunch. Or you can cook up something hot and easy in the kitchen. I love local sausages, another thing I didn’t grow up with. In fact, I lived in an anti-sausage, anti-pork household. But then I discovered fresh made sausages around the world. They’re so much better than any processed, mystery meat that only tastes overly salty from the grocery store. Finding a local butcher or the meat counter of the supermarket will yield tasty locally flavored sausages or other local specialties that are easy to prepare.
  • Dietary restrictions or food allergies: If you’re vegan or vegetarian, it’s so much easier and more diverse to shop and cook for yourself while on vacation. If you have food allergies, it’s also easy to manage without fear.

#951 Get a Budget Now…Write It Down…Track It Diligently

1 Jan

budget jar

Photo via flickr by Tax Credits.

So you have money that gets deposited into your bank account on a monthly or bi-weekly basis from your workplace. You have these bills to pay. You go out to get drinks once a week. You get some gas. Oh, you forgot about the oil change you need…and what about saving for the family trip to Cancun? If you’re ever going to find out where the money that’s coming in goes to and how not to run a deficit bigger than the government, then you need a budget. In fact a budget is the number one rule of financial health and thriftiness. So let’s start the new year with the basic of the basics – a budget and how to make your money work for you.

Rules are you must have all incoming and outgoing cash accounted for; you cannot spend more than you take in; you have to keep track of every purchase or income on a spreadsheet with some basic addition and subtraction; and you must keep up your budget tracking on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis.

Here we go:

A few years out of college, Elsa has negotiated a job offer for $40,000 in a medium-sized city with moderate living expenses. Before accepting, she has to decided what $40,000 will do for her. That’s about $3,333 a month before taxes and deductions. After calculating 35% in taxes and deductions that leaves her with $2,167 a month for expenses. The 10-year-old Honda she inherited from her parents is paid off, she has student loans, minimal credit card debt, is a bit of a gourmand and uses the internet but does not watch cable TV.

She starts a spreadsheet with $2,167 coming in the door…to see what goes out…

Rent: One bedroom apartment, heat and hot water included: $900
Electric bill: $40/month
Phone bill: $50/month
Internet: $35/month
Loans/Debt Repayment: $250/month
Groceries: $320/month
Gas: $100/month
Car maintenance: $100/month
Insurance: $100/month
Entertainment: $100/month
Savings: $110/month
Total spending: $2,105
Remaining cash: $62 (put into emergency fund separate from savings)

Pickled herring not your thing? Save for something you love. Photo via flickr by mtcarlson.

Pickled herring not your thing? Save for something you love. Photo via flickr by mtcarlson.

She decides she can squeak by, be comfortable with all the basics covered as well as have some room for a night out with friends and not miss the yearly trip to Sweden to enjoy pickled herring with her mother because she didn’t save.

Items like car maintenance and insurance aren’t a monthly expense, but she needs to account for them in her monthly budget so she is not surprised by the $250 tune up in a few months. She can also start to identify places in her budget to save money. Can she go generic to cut her grocery bill down? Can she combine her love of cooking with entertaining friends? Can she find a roommate situation or rent a studio for lower rent?

She tackles the new job and city with her budget. She finds an apartment that fits the bill, begins to make a grocery list and shops only once a week, cooks for herself and friends instead of going out, eats leftovers for lunch, makes do with the wardrobe she has and looks for deals in thrift stores or on eBay with they money she saves on groceries, she saves all her receipts and keeps track of her spending in Microsoft Excel.

Some months she’s in a panic because she blew her entertainment budget in one weekend and her car breaks down. Other months she’s feeling confident about being right on target. She knows this because she’s keeping track and can adjust her projections, identify new, recurring expenses she didn’t account for and see where she’s getting herself in trouble. Through the years as Elsa gets raises, new jobs, moves, get a boyfriend, a husband, a baby, she keeps her budget updated and adjusted for new expenses and increased costs. She makes new budgets for her wedding, the baby and buying a house. She’s a financial pro. Budget for the win!

Elsa is friends with Hilary who also moved to the same city with a similar job at the same time as Elsa. Hilary was excited about getting a job that actually paid! She was an unpaid intern living at her parents, now she has cash. She gets an apartment, goes out every weekend, shops with girlfriends, goes to the spa with her mom, lives on take-out and cheese nips, buys a new car and gets a few credit cards.

Spreadsheets are not just for accountants. If you can add and subtract, you can make a budget spreadsheet. Photo via flickr by Casey Serin.

Spreadsheets are not just for accountants. If you can add and subtract, you can make a budget spreadsheet. Photo via flickr by Casey Serin.

She doesn’t keep track of where her money goes, she just knows she runs out before the end of the month and uses her credit cards, which she tries to pay off, but then it leaves her with less money from the next paycheck. In five years, Hilary ends up with $18,000 in credit card debt but she’s keeping up with minimum payments. She meets the man of her dreams, and she’s going to have the wedding of her dreams with 180 guests in an all-weekend blowout. Her parents aren’t going to pay for it all, so she makes up the difference. What’s another $18,000 in debt anyway? With two incomes, her husband and her will be able to pay it off.

With $36,000 in debt from credit cards and the wedding, Hilary knows she can’t have kids, a house or go on vacation anytime soon. Luckily her husband paid for the honeymoon. But he has $80,000 in law school debt and has a starting salary of $50,000. Hilary gets laid off and spends her time not answering the phone for fear of creditors. She finally asks Elsa what her secret is. Elsa seems to have everything, but she can’t make that much money. Elsa tells Hilary, “I’ve always had a budget. If it’s not in the budget, I don’t get it.” 

There it is folks: The tale of two people – one living with a budget and one living without a budget. The happy ending is always there for those with a budget – written down, tracked and adjusted as life moves along.

Most of us are somewhere in between the two. But almost anyone could use better budget practices. You can go free with a spreadsheet. My sister loves the software You Need A Budget, which of course you’d have to budget for the paid service. I’ve tested the free trial, and it definitely warp speeds your budget prowess. The investment would be worth it if it helps get your financial house in order and saves you money by allowing you to keep better track of your spending. Start the new year fresh with renewed financial goals and a budget.

For a free budget program that really kicks your butt into gear, check out Mint.

#959 Don’t Be Afraid of Mold

18 Dec

Does this scare you?

moldy cheese










Don’t be afraid. 

The other day I went to the fridge to make a grilled cheese and ham sandwich for lunch. Damn! The Swiss cheese was moldy. Instead of scrapping the sandwich or going to the store, I just cut off the moldy outside part of the cheese (above) to reclaim my piece of cheese.

non moldy cheese










See…now it’s just regular, old, non-scary cheese.

With a little grating…
grated cheese










The cheese was ready for grilling. The sandwich was perfect. I’m none the worse for wear and up one grilled cheese sandwich over the person who would of thrown out the cheese.

Here are rules for assessing your mold and if it will harm you:

  •  Any hard or firm food with mold is safe to cut off the mold and use the rest. Hard cheese (Swiss, cheddar, Parmesan…) is O.K. Firm fruits and vegetables (carrots, peppers, onions…) are O.K. Dry-cured hams and hard salami regularly have mold and are O.K. to scrub the outside and use. It’s totally old-school to have a ham hanging in the attic or pantry for the winter. Just cut off the mold and use.
  • Conversely, all soft, liquid or porous foods are off limits as mold can easily have spread to the whole thing without being evident. Yogurt, soft cheeses, leftovers, jams, jellies, soft fruits and vegetables, bread and deli meats should all be thrown out if they are moldy.
  • You can check out more details from the USDA, although I think their job is to scare you about food safety.

It’s also a good idea not to involve squeamish family members…what they don’t know won’t kill them. And it really won’t.

#974 Pound Out Meat to Serve More People

27 Nov

You’re not going to hit me with that, are you? Photos via flickr by (l to r) by Douglas O’Brien and normanack.

How do you make two chicken breasts feed four people? Pound them out and use as you were planning. The process of pounding out meat means you’re making the meat flatter and thinner with a meat hammer (or rolling pin) to tenderize the meat or use it for something like stuffed chicken breast. The end result is that the meat will go further in your dish.

There is no reason to buy 4 chicken breasts for 4 people. That is too much meat per person to begin with – a serving size of meat for a meal is three ounces. So that means a chicken breast at the average weight of six ounces is TWICE the amount you need. Pounding out a breast to serve two people then solves two problems – you are saving money and you are getting the appropriate portion size. Of course you should take into account that pounding out the chicken breast will make them cook faster. In the summer on the grill, the chicken will cook in no time at all. Any left over is delicious in a sandwich or with a salad the next day.

The same is true for any red meat that you pound out. This is best reserved for cheaper cuts as prime cuts are not suited for this treatment. That way you can buy a cheaper cut of steak and then use it to feed more people. After pounding and marinating, it will be wonderfully tender and tasty.

As my mother-in-law enthusiastically said “everything is better with a good pounding.” She then stopped, quite embarrassed, and said “well, you know…” She was talking about how she never serves boneless chicken that hasn’t been pounded out of course. It’s her secret to tender, delicious chicken.

#986 Grow Your Own Fresh Herbs

9 Nov

A bunch of basil at the grocery store that will have a shelf life of barely a week will cost you somewhere between $0.99-$3.00. A potted basil plant that will yield basil for as long as you can keep it alive will cost you between $3.00-$4.00. A pack of seeds to grow your own basil will cost $0.99 to $1.29, and yield a whole lot more basil. If you’re cooking for yourself, in an appropriately health way, than it regularly includes fresh herbs.

parsley sprout in eggshell

Parsley is easy to grow. If you grow herbs from seed, you can plant many varieties not available in the store. Photo via flickr by Anthony Rossos.

If you’re like me, you use a fraction of the bunch that you bought at the store and then the rest gets spotty, shriveled and yellow or brown before you toss it out. Potted herb plants provide the ability to pick fresh and only pick the exact amount that you need. Given the slight price difference, you would only need to use your plant one to four times to break even and anything more than that would be saving money. Growing your own from seed would save you money as soon as the plant was big enough to use.

The best herbs to grow are basil and parsley as they are called for in a lot of recipes and are hardy. Cilantro is another good one if you like Mexican, Thai or other ethnic cuisines that use cilantro regularly. Herbs don’t really have to be babied in any way to survive. We had a basil plant that stayed in the pot we bought it in and was regularly dehydrated, chronically jaundiced in its lower leaves and then put outside to freeze when we thought it was too scraggly to survive. The thing kept on living and producing fresh basil for months. Thankfully for us there is no PETA organization for the abuse of plants. Point is, herbs are hardy and pretty hard to kill off.

rosemary plant

This massive baby grew from a tiny plant.

As long as potted herbs have some good sun or light source and are watered occasionally, you should get a long lifespan out of them. Even better care or growing them outside in warm climes or in the spring/summer ensures an almost unlimited life span. We grew a rosemary plant from a single tiny plant and it kept growing and growing. We took it inside when it got cold and put it outside when it was warm. The branches got thick and gnarly. It grew into a massive bush after three years of casual watering and consecutively larger pots. One horticulturalist valued our now massive plant at $70-$80. And all this from a greenhouse purchase that was less than $5. We had unlimited fresh rosemary and a nice houseplant.

Herbs love to be cut back to encourage all the undergrowth to grow in and thrive so there are no worries about using the plant at will. If you want to make something like pesto, you would need a lot of basil, but for regular use in cooking, one to two pots of basil are sufficient and one parsley plant is more than enough.

It’s proven that people who cook with fresh herbs are more likely to eat well, eat adventurously and eat healthfully. If you grow your own herbs, you know the herbs you are using will always be organic. basil plantIt might be surprising, but adding in herbs to your cooking does add vitamins and minerals to the meals.

It’s even cheaper to grow your own herbs from seed, but the potted variety are inexpensive as well and have the added benefit of being usable immediately. Growing your own herbs would take anywhere from 60-90 days before you could start using the plant.

#988 Buying Bottled Water Is A Waste Of Money

7 Nov

case of bottled water

Photo via flickr by Lee Brimelow.

Would you really pay 240 to 10,000 times for for any item in your house that cost pennies? According to the National Resources Defense Council’s extensive study on bottled water, that’s how much more consumers paid for bottled water than tap water. And to add insult to injury, some bottled water is actually just bottled tap water. In the greatest marketing scheme known to man, corporations learned that they could take a free product, put it in a package and then sell it at great profit. If you live in a country where tap water is safe, then you should never buy bottled water. Bottled water sales have exploded since the ’90s to the great dismay of thrifty-minded consumers and environmentalists. Frankly, I just don’t understand paying $1.29 or more for something that flows freely from the nearest tap.

drink tap water logo

Image via flickr by noomii.

Government agencies like the FDA assure the safety and drinkability of tap water, so claims that bottled water is more pure or better for you are simply marketing ploys to get you to believe that you are buying something that you can’t get for free. If you are at home, you can enjoy your tap water as much as you like. The best way to take your water with you is to refill a Nalgene or Sigg type bottle from the tap. Make it an essential part of what you don’t leave the house without. Keys? Check. Wallet? Check. Water? Check. If you drink all of your water when you’re out, simply refill at the closest tap or water fountain.

If you’re really picky about taste or temperature, get a water filter system like a Brita pitcher and keep it in the fridge or on the counter. Although, I find that I usually give up paying for the filters (which are still cheaper than buying bottled) and settle for straight tap water. Your taste buds adjust. Or you can put a more permanent filtration system under your sink or at the faucet.

Challenges like airport security or concert venues are no problem if you bring an empty bottle and fill it once you are on the right side of security. I’ve had some really awful water after filling a bottle from an airport fountain or tap, but the only thing that was offended was my tongue, not my wallet. I could bear a little distaste for a couple hours.

reusable water bottles

Reusable water bottles filled with tap water are the way to go. Photo via flickr by Rubbermaid Products.

If I forget to bring my water bottle from home and I’m dying for a drink, I find the nearest water fountain. I’ve also been known to drink straight out of the tap on a few occasions. If I do buy a bottle of water if I’m going to be out for a while, I buy one bottle of water, and save the bottle to refill as long as I am out and about. The compromise of buying a bottle is sort of mitigated by re-using the bottle as much as possible during the outing.

Many people may even live in the same area as the aquifer that the bottled water comes from, meaning the tap water is practically like having spring water flowing from your faucet. States where there are a lot of fresh water springs have particularly “good” water. Right now I’m lucky to be living where I have cold, crisp well water on tap.

Driving through Morocco, we would see signs that we were entering a government approved safe tap water zone. Freely available safe drinking water is a modern blessing that we shouldn’t flout by then paying for bottled water. Even if you live in a country where tap water is not guaranteed, then boiling the water for 1-10 minutes will make the water safe for drinking.

As with most thrifty things, not only will you be saving money, but you’ll be saving the environment as well. The clutter from unrecycled water bottles is an environmentalist’s nightmare. We don’t have to needlessly fill our world with more trash. If you do end up buying a bottle of water, remember to recycle the bottle.


#989 Stick To Your Grocery List To Save Money

6 Nov

grocery store produce

Photo via flickr by Christopher Reilly.

The rule of “never shop when you’re hungry” is rivaled by this thrifty tip – never shop without a list…and never deviate from the list. The easiest way to rack up unintended costs at the grocery store is to go without a grocery list. You end up overbuying, buying something you already have or buying things you don’t need. The best way to avoid this is to take an inventory of what you have at home and sit down to make a shopping list.

Keep track of what you need. I usually rewrite the list after a full inventory and in the order that I go through the store…no doubling back, which saves time.

First, keep a grocery list on the fridge where you write down what you’ve run out of throughout the week. When you inventory, start with list and then sit down to compose a 5-day menu. Check all the ingredients that you need and see if you have them. Well organized cupboards, refrigerator and freezer helps you quickly see what you have and what you don’t have. Decide on what you have to buy, what you have already and what you can do without or make a substitution if the item is too expensive. Recompose your grocery list as you go through what you need for the meals. You can keep a running tally of estimated cost for each item.

When you’re done your list, you’ll have a rough estimate of what it will cost, if the cost will fit your budget (a must have!) for the week. Your list will be tailored to exactly what you need. If you want to be able to take advantage of a sale to stock up on an item you regularly use, build a little room in the budget for essential extras that will be saving you money in the long run. Remember, you can always use what’s in the cupboards and make sure you’re eating up your leftovers in a timely manner to save money. You can make the items you bought for your 5-day menu stretch for seven days like this: five days eating from the menu, one day eating leftovers, one day eating from the cupboards/freezer/fridge, which equals seven days of eating and one grocery shop per week.

At this point, you may see what coupons you have and should use them if they fit what you are already buying. Don’t let your coupons lead you astray. I’d say about one in 10 coupons actually fit my life and buying habits – all the rest are trying to get me to try a new product or buy my usual product plus something else. If you see a coupon that is for a product you use and regularly buy, then save it and organize them so you know which coupons you have for what kinds of products and when they expire.

Photo via flickr by Isadora Taft

When you get to the grocery store, remember to stick to what you have on the list and not pile in extras that catch your eye. It’s probably best not to bring the kids with you as they have less impulse control and might end up begging for some sort of pre-packaged junk food. Which you can say no to, or give in…it’s always good to have a conversation about budgets and money with kids so they start learning early. When you say no, explain to them why and how your budget works. If you want to avoid this or think you’ll cave, then leave the kids at home.

The “stick to the list” rule should also hold true if you are going to any other store – home improvement, department store, ect. to pick up items. If you have what is on your list, then leave the store and don’t buy any extras, like a neat gadget that you’ve suddenly been convinced you need or some other item besides what you went there for.

And it’s true – be sure that you’re not hungry, no matter what kind of shopping you’re doing. I find I’m agitated and unfocused when I shop hungry. I end up spending money on something to eat when I have a fridge full at home.

#990 Make a Meal From What’s in the Cupboard Instead of Shopping

5 Nov

baby eating out of cupboard

Baby loves what she finds in the cupboard.

You’re down to the end of the month and there is no money left in your account until your paycheck hits – in two days. But you’ve got to eat and your groceries are dwindling. This is the fun part of the challenge of being thrifty… instead of running to the store and “solving” your problem with a few groceries on a credit card (debt!), get creative and delve into your cupboards to see what you can come up with. Most of us have a good store of dry and canned goods that we neglect. And unless you truly only have a half-empty bottle of ketchup in the fridge, then your fridge has some things you can use as well. The more you use from what you have and the less you buy for a quick fix, the more money you’ll be saving.

home canned tomatoes

Photo via flickr by benketaro.

It does help to have some experience knowing what goes well together and what you should not subject yourself or others to in the name of experimentation (meatloaf on bran muffins anyone?). If there are others in the household that need to be aware of the situation, tell them that you are challenging yourself to preparing meals for the next two days with what is in the cupboards because the grocery budget is done for the month and you need to stretch your creativity to make up the difference.

I even do this when the situation is not as dire as running out of money from the grocery budget or buying food on credit. I’ll take up the cupboard challenge when I don’t want to go to the store…or feel like I’m overbuying…or not using up what I have before it goes bad. It’s inevitable that after a few grocery shops, thing start to pile up in the fridge and cupboards and it’s really time to skip or delay a shop so you can utilize what you have before buying new again. You’d be surprised how much you have on hand that will feed you and save money all at the same time. If you are canning your own produce, then eating from the cupboards is a delight.

Sometimes the cupboard challenge is necessary when there is just no time to get anything at the store or the store is closed.

Some good ways to start eating from the cupboard…

  • Soup – most thrifty suggestions are inter-related
  • Pasta – toss with grated cheese and pepper for an Italian classic, Cacio e pepe
  • Stir-fry – the most versatile dish out there as you can include or exclude at will and serve with rice
  • Pancakes or any other breakfast item – I love breakfast year-round, all-day, breakfast, lunch or dinner. And it can be easily made without a box of mix! Any extras of pancakes or waffles can be toasted later for a snack or breakfast.

If you make enough at the beginning to have leftovers for lunch or dinner, then several meals will go by in a breeze. A few simple ingredients can always come out tasting great and then you’ll realize that you were relying too much on convenience and not enough on creativity.  Don’t worry, it’s the kind of creative thought that you may be forced to use in a pinch, but you’ll get better at it whenever you test your thrifty skills by taking the cupboard challenge.

Check out my recipe for risotto (a great staple) and tell me what you make from your cupboard.

#991 Soup Is Cheap

2 Nov

bowl of soup

Image via flickr by Bunches and Bits

It’ll keep you warm all day. It’ll fill you up. It’ll feed the hungry hordes easily…or one person for a long time. It makes sense that they ladled out soup during the Great Depression and continue to do so at soup kitchens. Not only do you get a hot meal, but soup ingredients are usually quite cheap and are easily made vegetarian – the cheapest meals on the books.

I usually end up making soup with all the leftover vegetables and odds and ends I find in the fridge. Separately, a soft carrot, yellowing pieces of celery and a quarter full box of pasta are not appealing in the least. But with a little flavor and some good chicken broth, you can turn a number of disparate pieces into dinner. Soup is very forgiving so its a good way to to use vegetables that are going soft or meat that is not super fresh or a poor cut of meat, which is always the cheapest cut. Serve the soup with grilled cheese or bread and a salad for a complete meal and everyone should walk away happy.

soup vegetables

Vegetable soups make cheap meals.

Soups on restaurant menus are also usually one of the cheapest things to order. If you want to keep your lunch order thrifty and still feel full, order the soup. If you’re making soup yourself, it’s one of the quickest meals to make as it’s incredibly easy to put together a soup. Everything goes into a pot to cook for X amount of time and then it’s ready. Even if the soup is not vegetarian, there are a good amount of vegetables that go into a soup, making it a healthy choice. And when you’re in control of the soup’s saltiness, you don’t have to worry about a sodium-heavy meal. If you include rice, pasta or barley in the soup then you’ve got everything you need in one pot. Plus, there are lots of options to keep it fresh and varied as well…bisque, chowder, stew, consommé…

Nothing warms your insides up on a chilly day like a hot bowl of soup. Perfect for any fall, winter or spring meal. Summertime? Chilled soups.

Quick, nutritious, satisfying, thrifty…soup’s on!

Try some of my recipes for lentil or wonton soup.

Here are more simple suggestions from Bittman, this time for soup and all are vegetarian or vegan. He cooks a lot like I do…find stuff in the kitchen, throw into a pot and make it taste good.