Friday, December 29

Paying For Christmas - The Credit Hangover

I'm hoping that most regular readers of my blog won't be the ones that end up with credit hangovers after the Christmas season. However, it is a very common occurrence.

So, just what is it that possesses us to spend every dollar we can get our hands on at this time of year? Is it the ridiculous volume of commercials? Is it the consumer guilt trip about making sure our children aren't the only ones without the most expensive junk on the market? How come so many of us get fooled year after year?

Personally, I don't really do Christmas. I'll go to family dinners here and there, happily spending time with family and friends, but only bringing a whopping card with me when I show up. Hey, nobody says you have to invite me over for dinner!

I don't really exchange gifts at all anymore. When I was unemployed a few years back I simply could not afford to. Since then I have been free. Free of the maniacal traffic and frantic drivers. Free of the wind, rain and snow while I am forced to go out in search of gadgets and junk. Free of the irksome crowds always managing to get in my way while I am shopping. Free of the buyers remorse that comes when I spend all my cash or eventually get the credit card bills.

As for the rest of you... perhaps it is time to get around to budgeting? You see, you need to get rid of that accumulated debt just as fast as you reasonably can. If you don't, it's like throwing money out the window. Why on Earth would you want to do that?

Budgeting is pretty simple really. It's more a matter of discipline than anything else. If you don't already have a budget, then start writing down your expenses. Put categories like rent, mortgage, food, credit payment, electricity, heating, phone, insurance, parking, car payments, and repairs in a colum. Put the corresponding costs beside them and add them up. If you haven't forgotten anything, you now have a budget that you can follow. Don't forget to add categories such as entertainment, clothing and so forth.

Now, if this is a new budget, spend the entire following month, perhaps January, comparing your real expenses to your budgeted expenses. You'll find that the $15 per week you spend on coffee and donuts will suddenly show up. You'll find that the raffle tickets and chocolate bars that you buy for your childrens school funding drives will suddenly show up. You find that parking tickets, dry cleaning, lawn mowing, snow shoveling and other minor items continually show up to suck money out of your pocket.

At some point one of two things will happen. You'll either adjust your budget to reality or you'll adjust reality to your budget. Usually they meet somewhere in the middle! Regardless, once your budget gets fairly accurate, you'll see that it highlights, in unfortunate detail, exactly where your money is going. While it can be sad to see, at least it is a powerful tool to help you make better decisions. At the very least it will point out the effect that your decisions have on your financial situation.

To wrap things up, look for things you can forgo, without ruining your credit rating, so that you'll have more money left over to pay off your credit cards. If you don't have credit card debt, then you can make additional payment on your car loan, mortgage or whatever else you might owe money on. Heck, if things are going the way they should, perhaps you can simply put more into your savings or investments. An example budgeting tactic might be to cut entertainment and miscellaneous expenses from $300 per month to $200 a month. Just don't make the mistake of cutting fun out of your life entirely, it is in fact a necessity.

Good luck!

NOTE: Included in this week's Festival of Frugality post.

Tuesday, December 19

Big Pork Report

Not too long ago I created a post discussing my purchase of a pork shoulder. After a lot of procrastination, since the expiration date spanned an incredible amount of time, I finally cooked up this big pig.

The shoulder was huge! Well, maybe no bigger than normal, but it was a little bit too big to fit into my crock pot. So, I had to scour through the cupboards and find the monster 12 quart stock pot kept around just for such emergencies. I prefer using the plug in crock pot but the stove works just as well if you can find the right temperature.

Here's an important tip. On some stoves, even on mininum, the bottom of the stock pot can get too hot and scald or burn your food. However, I did finally manage to find a little cooking implement which helps solve this problem. Basically, a small metal wire, in this case shaped like a star, keeps the bottom of the stock pot away from the burner. This keeps the burner element from directly touching the pot and seems to distribute the heat more evenly.

To cook the pork I simply unloaded some cans of appropriately flavored soup. Oh, I did also add some cayenne pepper. Not much of that flavor made it into the pork itself, but it does add a nice touch. I did have a bit of trouble getting the right setting on the burner, so, late at night I'm fiddling with the burner, trying to get the water too hot to touch without actively roiling and boiling.

To make a long story short, upon waking the next morning it was time to turn off the stove and let things cool down. I spent a good portion of my evening with a huge pork shoulder in a bowl, pulling chunks of meat off the shoulder, and then pulling those apart into small pieces. The pork was very tender so this was quite easy, if a little messy. However, I moved the operation to the living room and was able to "watch" a movie while thusly occupied.

Of course, lately I've been eating a fair amount of pork. Because there was so much I've frozen small bowls of it. Strangely, one of my favorite uses for this is to eat it like cocktail shrimp. I'll take a bowl out of the freezer overnight, so it will be thawed, but just barely, the next day. Then, I'll grab one strip at a time and dunk it in mustard, BBQ sauce, whatever and munch away.

It's really good!

Sunday, December 10

Winter Season Frugality Tips

Is it winter again already? I don't know about you but I'm certainly noticing the colder weather! Due to rising energy costs this winter is sure to cost us more than ever in home heating expenses. While these tips aren't groundbreaking I'm sure they will be helpful for those that have never been responsible for heating bills before.

Plastic Window Wrap
If you rent an apartment, or otherwise can't afford to undertake larger projects, then window wrap might be just the project for you. Basically, windows are sealed under a plastic film to reduce the flow of cold air from a window into a room. This cold air could flow directly through cracks or simply from the window pane itself via convection.

Heavy Curtains
If your windows are too large to wrap, or if you aren't willing to look out of your windows through a thin plastic film, then perhaps you could put up some heavy curtains. These will reduce the flow of cool or cold air from a window fixture into the rest of the room. You can open the curtains during the day to enjoy the view and close them at night while you sleep.

Dress for the Season
No, I am not talking about when you go outside. In the summer season it is common to lounge around your home wearing shorts and a t-shirt. While this may be a comfortable habit you should work towards wearing pants and long sleeved shirts. Track pants and a sweater are certainly suitable if you aren't expecting company. Keeping your home a little cooler can save a lot in heating costs. Of course, it goes without saying, but get out the heavier bedding as well.

Humidity Management
Have you ever noticed that you feel hotter on a humid summer day? Sure you have. Well, this is true year round. If you don't let your house get too dry in the winter you may be more comfortable at lower temperatures. Use a cool water humidifier for maximum safety and energy efficiency.

Screen Doors
On many homes you'll see defective screen doors. Windows may be cracked, corners may be gone or perhaps the whole door is missing. Perhaps it is just heavy summer use, but these doors often seem to be abused, especially in areas populated by students. Fix up the screen door, make sure it closes properly, and fix any holes, cracks or leaks.

Seal Cracked Caulking
We don't often inspect the outside of our homes. However, while we may easily spot cracked and peeling paint, window caulking is something we may overlook. Cracks in caulking can allow hot air to escape and cold air to enter your home. Before it is too late in the season take a look at your windows and see if you are due for some minor repairs.

Adding Insulation
This is a big ticket item. If your home does not have adequate insulation then you should consider adding insulating to your attic or exterior walls. See if your utility provider offers free home assessments. They can measure how much heat is being lost and identify how much you can save on heating costs.

Conclusion
While some of these projects are more complex or more expensive than others they are all worthwhile. However, if you don't own your home or don't plan to live there for a long period of time, then it may not make sense to invest in all of these solutions. If you do own your own home you'll find that rising energy costs make it quite easy to get your money back over time.

NOTE: Included in this week's Festival of Frugality post.

Thursday, November 30

The Free Lunch

People give a lot of advice about the mythical free lunch. In particular, it is often stated that there is no such thing as a free lunch. However, if you shift your mindset a little bit then you can certainly find ways to get your lunch without parting with your cash. While not technically free it certainly does change the cost equation.

What am I babbling about? I'll use a real life example to illustrate my point. A friend of mind is moving. I'm going to spend an entire day carrying furniture, boxes and whatever else has to go. In return for this help and support I'll likely have my meals provided for. Now, I realize my own time and effort isn't free, but there are times when my time and effort are something I can easily afford to give.

So, while you won't always have friends moving, there are many worthy things that you can donate your time to. Perhaps the cause itself is enough reward, and that's great, but don't look a gift horse in the mouth if there are other minor benefits available.

There are other ways to find a spare crumb as well. For example, in most office environments, there are plates of desserts and snacks brought into the office for everyones enjoyment. Who, at the end of the day, is the person cleaning off the plates for everyone? The person who ends up with a sample from each remaining dish if they so choose.

I guess I'm trying to say that if you can find ways to contribute to other people that you'll often be rewarded in kind. While it certainly isn't a free lunch, it may not cost you anything that you don't have a lot of to give. Most of us have plenty of time, energy and caring that we hold dearly when we really should be giving more away.

Sunday, November 19

Periods of Work and Income

I've been pretty busy lately. I have more work than usual and I'm even earning some extra dollars to go along with it. However, I'm a bit pressed for time when it comes to thinking of things to write about. Obviously, while worse things could happen, I don't want to suddenly stop updating my blog either.

Anyway, since the money is coming in (for the moment) and I've already written about paying down debts before, I'm just going to mention that getting each and every possible penny out of your interest revenue is also important. By coincidence, I also happen to know someone running a web site where you can compare CD rates (see the top of page tabs).

Back to work for me, my apologies for the brevity!

Wednesday, November 8

Consumer Product Packaging Meltdown

Okay, I'll warn you right up front this is more of a rant about a common shopping experience than anything else. You probably won't learn how to save any money, but you might agree with me or think this post is somewhat humorous. I'd like to think all my posts are humorous, but I'm willing to entertain other viewpoints.

So, once again, as happens from time to time, I have to pick up some toilet paper at the supermarket.

Hey, it happens!

Anyway, let's see, what choices do I have? I can go for the small pack of twelve arranged in a 3x4 flat square or a pack of twenty four in a 4x6 extra long variety. My guess is they are packaged this way to look big. You have to carry it around the supermarket like a badge of honor. Look, I've got three tons of toilet paper, I'm so proud of myself!

Then, it's time to bag it, and it doesn't fit in a standard bag. You still have to advertise to the entire world how absolutely proud you are to be full of it. Yes, look, I've got a zillion rolls of bumwad. I have so much buttwipe I can barely fit it into my cart or my car. Yes, thank you, it has taken me years to achieve this pinacle.

Please, for the love of our dignity, won't some manufacturer create an eight pack that comes in a small cube? This would easily fit in a bag. You might even be able to get away with making a package containing three layers of four, so that you can still package twelve at a time. Just, please, stop making me show off for all the world how full of it I am.

End rant.

Sunday, October 29

Diet and Weight Loss Results via Calorie Cycling

Several months ago I started a calorie cycling diet. The particular version of this diet I'm following is where one day you eat a reduced amount of food and the next you eat a normal amount of food. To make things a bit simpler I declared both Saturday and Sunday as low calorie days, meaning I eat normally during Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I've been doing this consistently for a couple of months and I have some results to share.

Background Diet Research
First though, I'll point you to two posts that will provide more background information. Initially I created a post about a research study that showed there were quite a few health benefits related to calorie cycling. A month later I noticed some other research that shows that pinolenic acid (extracted from pine nuts) appears to increase satiety.

I thought perhaps supplementing with pinolenic acid would be an alternative way for people that are less disciplined than I to practice some type of caloric reduction. Many of us eat too many calories, simply because we live a sedentary life - we don't have to perform physical labor in order to earn a living or acquire or cook our food.

Weight Loss Results
Anyhow, to get back to the part about results, I started at a weight of 220 pounds with a belly measurement of 39 inches. I was not obese by any means since I do go to the gym and perform resistance training on a regular basis, but I was not as lean as I wanted to be. Approximately three months later I am at 210 pounds with a belly measurement of 37 inches. Anecdotally, my strength at the gym has increased over this period, so I should not have lost any appreciable muscle mass.

Oh, importantly, I have been lifting regularly and seriously for a couple of years now, so it was not an addition of exercise that caused the changes above.

Relevance to Frugality
You may be wondering what this has to do with frugality, but I have a very good answer for you. My food expenses have been almost halved since I started following this calorie cycling plan. On lower calorie days I eat very little, but enough to ensure that I am able to maintain muscle mass. This means I will make sure to eat a bit of long lasting protein here and there throughout the day - usually cottage cheese.

This type of diet may not be appropriate for everyone, but for those that are carrying some excess fat and who will eat nutritious foods on both normal and low calorie days, the benefits are clear. I've both saved money and lost weight over a period of three months. What more could a frugal guy want?

NOTE: The belly measurement is performed at the fattest portion of my midsection. This is a good indicator of fat loss. A woman may need to measure the largest portion of her hips if that is where she tends to accumulate fat. A simple tape measure and a consistent measurement method works wonders.

NOTE: Included in this week's Festival of Frugality post.

Saturday, October 21

Looking For a Pork Recipe

I found a good deal on pork shoulders today. At less than $1/lb I just had to pick one up and give it a try. So, I have a large pork shoulder sitting in my fridge that I have no idea how to cook. Sure, I could go search for recipies on the Internet and I'm sure there are tons, but I thought I'd do it this way instead.

What is your favorite recipe for cooking a pork shoulder? Personally, I am probably going to end up doing something involving a crock pot, but please don't limit yourself to that. If you have a good pork recipe on your blog or web site, then please leave a comment and post a link to it. Heck, even if you just have a favorite site for finding recipies then you could point me that.

Tick tick tick. Time is ticking. Some time in the next several days I'll have to choose a recipe and get cooking! Heh, leave a comment and link even if time has obviously run out, I'm sure I'll be buying pork shoulders again...

Note: Here's a recent post about buying a pre-cooked ham.

Tuesday, October 17

Sock it to Me

Okay, I should preface this with a reminder that I am a single guy, so perhaps this advice won't apply to everyone. However, there are some subtle strategies you can employ to save money on clothing which you may not have thought of. Thankfully, as well, I'm not talking about wearing your clothes until they are so worn and threadbare that they become see through or simply disintegrate. Hmmm. No, I won't go there.

Today's post was inspired by my sock harvest this morning. Yes, I am aware that gives you far too much information about the state of my life! Anyway, unless you are a fastidous bachelor, unlike myself, your socks will end up all over the place. You know, if you are about to lie on the couch and relax for a while, you have free up those little piggies for total comfort and relaxation. Besides, it's good for you, and I'm sticking to this excuse whether it's true or not.

Anyway, just recently I picked up a bag 'o socks while shopping at Wally World. Oh, and ladies, if you are shopping for your lazy hubby, don't ever, ever, pick up tube socks unless they have been specifically requested. They bunch up and torture the toes until they lose feeling completely. The person that invented those is a very sick person, even if they are a couple cents cheaper.

Today, after sock harvest, it was then time to fold up and put away the laundry. Yes, because I had eight new pairs of socks, it was time to splurge and reassign some that had holes or some that had stretched out useless elastics. Obviously, for money saving purposes, these things become rags, and are great for cleaning or more sacrificial uses if necessary.

However, the real secret, which I've been doing by habit for ages, is that you don't really want to buy white socks. The key point is that when you visit other people, and take your shoes off at their home, it is generally appropriate to have clean socks that don't have holes in them. White socks don't stay clean! Sure, you can wash the heck out of those buggers in bleach, but it isn't worth it. Also, no, you can't buy black socks, as those aren't generally casual enough to be worn with jeans or perhaps shorts during the summer.

The socks I generally buy are the grey socks. You can step in anything, spill anything, or even wear wet shoes and generally they will still look a uniform grey color. They are light enough to be casual and be worn anywhere unless dressed formally or for work. They are the exact same price as the short lived mayfly white socks that sit next to them on the rack. While socks are not an expensive item it is true that every penny saved without hardship or sacrifice is pure gold, isn't it?

The same principle can be applied to t-shirts and other very casual wear items. Yes, it can also apply to underwear as well. Obviously, for guys, tighty whities went out a long time ago, but you can still buy them. Honestly, who are these people that prefer to wear t-shirts with stained underarms and as for the underwear, I'm just going to leave the unmentionables unmentioned.

So, take it from a professional sock harvester who obviously spends most of his time casually dressed. Simple strategies can effectively double the length of time you can wear certain clothing items and over time reduce a few of your clothing expenses by half. I'm not kidding! Next time you absolutely have to buy some of these minor items, if you reach for the white, slap your hand and take my advice, buy some non-white items instead.

Note: Included in this week's Festival of Frugality post.

Thursday, October 12

Ham It Up!

Okay, with a holiday weekend over, guess what was on sale early this week? That's right, big fat hams. I had to pick one up. She was a big beautiful precooked spiral cut honeyed ham with about ten pounds of tender juicy fairly lean meat. Whoa, is it just me or does that sound almost erotic? Yikes!

Anyway, it is a lot less fun than it sounds. I spent the better part of an evening unraveling the thinly sliced spirals while trimming off the fattier portions. About an hour into the process I was getting bored. Sigh. However, I kept on trucking and finally made my way down to the end of the process.

I haven't frozen any yet, but I will be doing that soon. I've got these little saran wrapped plates full of ham. I'm sure it's not actually ten pounds after trimming and so forth, but it's a lot of ham, let me tell you. Of course, I did have to splurge and pick up some cheese and whole grain bagels. Oh yeah baby, that's on the menu tomorrow.

Anyway, the real moral of the story is to either avoid buying seasonal holiday items or else be prepared to go out and buy more after the event is over. You'll generally find a good deal, especially if the expiry date of the food items starts to get a bit closer. Oh hey, I've got some eggs sitting around too, I smell an omellete or two in the near future.

I shouldn't write when I'm hungry, should I?

Note: Included in this week's Festival of Frugality post.

Saturday, September 30

I'm Feeling Saucy!

I think I've eaten more pasta and beef this year than I have in the entire rest of my life. Of course, pasta is cheap and scoring a great sale on ground beef certainly contributed to the process. Sad as it may be (I'm not complaining mind you) I have run out of super cheap ground beef, but this doesn't mean that I'll be changing the seasonal special on my menu either!

Because a jar of sauce can easily last for two or three pots of pasta I've been buying Classico pasta sauce. Hey, it's yummy! Anyhow, it's not all that cheap, really, and I've been going through at least a jar a week, and I keep wondering if I should scour for cheaper brands.

Well, the answer is not yet! You see, they had a great sale on this stuff just a few days ago. It was over $1 off per jar. Yes, you guessed it, at the risk of stretching my arms I loaded up on this stuff and have bottles and bottles of it sequestered in my kitchen. So, I don't know what the rest of you are eating, but I'll be eating chili and pasta, beef and pasta, and chicken and pasta as my primary meals for another month.

Oh, I should also write up a bit of a report on my calorie cycling progress one of these days. In case anyone out there is interested in how that is going... by way of a preview, as I am a single guy, I've probably dropped my food expenses by about a third. Not too shabby.

Friday, September 22

Chicken in a Crock Pot

Yeah baby, that's what I'm talking about! A day or two ago, while looking for something to make my freezer a less lonely place, I saw some chicken on sale. They were hind quarters and they were only about $1.50/lb. No, they weren't skinned or boned, but that's not a big deal if you are a crock pot master like me.

Okay, that's a bit over the top, as I've used a stock pot a few times, but I've never ever cooked with an actual crock pot before. Just a sec, let me lick my fingers a bit before I continue...

Anyway, last night I dumped all the chicken into my crock pot, which could barely hold it all. Hmm, I thought, what should I put in there with it? Turns out I had some cans of soup that had been taking up space for ages. I dumped in a small can of chedder cheese soup and creamy tomato and basil soup (and a can of water with each can of soup). Hey, call it pizza chicken if you want! Anyway, of course after that I raided the spice cupboard and tossed on some sage, some cayenne, a tiny amount of ginger and probably some turmeric.

Put that bad baby on low, make sure it warms up a little to ensure that it is getting some juice, and go to sleep.

Ahahahaha. I love it. I really do. I love it when I can accomplish things while I am sleeping. Some strange power of productivity instinct kicks in and I get a huge charge out of it. It's similar to the odd time I notice an Adsense click happening while I am asleep. Woooo! Go baby, earn me some cash while I take a nap. If only such mad productivity were available more often, but it's still great while it lasts.

Anyhow, euphoric episode aside, I woke up this morning to a nice warm smell. I don't know how else to describe it. The crock pot was burbling happily so I turned it off and let it start the long slow cooling process. It's not really cold yet, but I just spooned off some of the fat that had risen to the top. Of course, I could not resist giving a surface morsel a taste.

Holy cow! Better yet, holy chicken! Talk about tender and juicy. I'm sold. I've got an absolutely full crock pot that will yield me a couple meals of chicken, once I pull it off of the bones, as well as a great soup or stew base. The price of the chicken was $5.50 and I'm sure the soup was less than $1.00 per can. The only thing I need to do is figure out how much meat is on these quarter chickens. When I pulled out a piece I only got a leg.

We'll see in a short while, once it has cooled off a bit more... but I think I'm sold. I'm now a crock pot crackpot. Hey, a word to the wise, if a single guy like me can figure this out... you can too.

Monday, September 18

Running Out of Beef!

I know I have a few regular readers who will immediately understand the subject of this post...

However, for those that haven't been here before, I must sadly report that a massive quantity of ground beef which has been residing in my freezer has slowly sublimated and now I'm left with a nearly empty freezer. Oh, it is such a sad sight!

In loving memory of the lost ground beef I held an all day vigil on Sunday. Basically, I bought about five pounds of ground beef and spent all day making some chili in my stock pot. On a side note, I used a little wire "spacer" to keep the pot from sitting directly on the burner, which did stop the bottom from overheating and scalding things.

It's always a mad scientist experience. I don't actually follow recipes very often, so it's toss in the beef, start adding various spices, and see where things go. Not spicy enough, time for more cayenne. Throw in these beans, those beans, heck, what about some lentils? Why not. Once the meat is cooked it's taste test time. Too bland. More cayenne! Maybe some tumeric, oregano, paprika, salt and pepper? What other bottles have I got hiding in the cupboards? Hey, don't forget the tomatoes, onions and peppers.

I don't like my chili to be watery, so I make sure they are nice and thick like a paste. Perfect for spreading onto some hot buttered toast whether warmed up or not. Oh man, my mouth is watering just writing about it.

Anyway, the freezer is now looking less bare as I have little containers of chili taking up much of the space. I am scouring the supermarket looking for ground beef on sale, but the season is really over. I don't think they even carry the brand of beef that was on sale year round. It seems it's really a summer specialty that I was able to load up on when barbeque season started to wind down.

Oh well, I did save a ton of cash. As well, because I am still doing calorie cycling (related post), with normal/heavy eating days and light eating days, it lasted about twice as long as it otherwise would have. So, now, I wonder what will be the next big deal that I can find and write about? Maybe I should start looking into mixed vegetable protein sources, such as beans and rice, and find some tasty recipes involving cheap and nutritious food sources?

Any good and frugal food ideas to share with me?

Saturday, September 9

Crystal Lite Alternative: Lipton To Go Packets

Although I know better, and we all have our flaws, I like to drink flavored water. As with some other people, I used to drink various flavors of Crystal Light. However, as far as flavored waters go, this is very expensive. Perhaps it is the major branding efforts, or maybe it is simply the convenience of having it pre-sweetened in a variety of flavors, or possibly it is the ability to avoid having to lug around actual containers of water.

Whatever the case, it's too expensive. For quite a while I substituted Kool Aid instead. This is certainly not as upscale and comes in a strange variety of flavors targeted towards children. I would buy bags of Splenda to sweeten it myself for much less than the cost of Crystal Lite. It was a step forward, but still somewhat expensive compared to plain old water. I've tried, really, but I just can't bring myself to drink plain old water unless I absolutely have to.

In either case, when I mixed up my pitcher of water, I'd first brew some green tea and use that as the base for my drinks. At least that way I'd feel somewhat healthy about the whole concept of not drinking plain water. Hey, green tea has all kinds of health benefits apparently, so why not? It's not like it is all that much effort to let the teabag soak for a while.

I've recently discovered a new alternative. I'm not sure when it was introduced, but I'm drinking Lipton's iced tea and green tea "To Go" products now. They come in what are supposedly individual packets used to flavor a single bottle of plain water. What I do is cut open two of them and then make a somewhat diluted pitcher of iced tea.

I haven't gotten out the calculator, but I suspect the cost is very similar to that of my Kool Aid concoction. However, there is a big convenience factor here that gives Lipton's product the nod. These are tea products! I don't have to buy and brew tea in order to have my tea based drinks anymore. Also, especially when diluted the way I make them, they aren't very expensive as one box of 10 packets will make 5 pitchers.

If you are like me and have difficulty enforcing the discpline needed to drink plain water, then you should give these a try. So far the flavors I've seen are "Lemon Iced Tea" and "Mandarine and Mango Green Tea". This gives me three effective flavors by choosing two of the same or one of each when making a pitcher. So, my own convenience summary, they are tea based so no brewing, they are pre-sweetened so no sweetener additions, and they are an instant mix so no lugging water home from the store.

Now, with a review like this, I think I should be a sales person for these people or something!

Saturday, September 2

Just Passing Time

As I mentioned recently, often we are driven to spend money to relieve boredom or seek entertainment. Instead of throwing money at the problem there are some simple strategies that you can apply to keep occupied, interested and healthy. I guess this is more of a lifestyle tip than a frugality tip, but if you've become lost in the corporate world mentality then you need it.

If you have a home with a yard or with a deck, or even just a balcony, put some toys out there! No, I don't mean for children. Maybe a hammock would do the trick? Put on some soothing music, grab a good book, bring a container of iced tea and just relax and de-stress. If you need exercise perhaps put up a badminton net. You can play against a spouse, your children or your children can play one another. It sure beats having them sitting around the Xbox or Playstation. Heck, the kids can even use it for volleyball - who cares if it isn't regulation.

Not enough space for these types of toys? With just a small deck, or even without, you can perhaps put a BBQ out there. This is often a good way to get the hubby to take a larger share of cooking duties too (shh, don't tell him I said that). Standing outside flipping frugally purchased meats and vegetables is a lot healhier than sitting on your arse watching TV while someone else cooks dinner. A little bit of shared effort and contribution goes a long way towards keeping a family happy.

If you live in an apartment, then generally you may have just a small balcony. Even so, you can usually keep some planters full of vegetables, herbs or even just flowers on it. Taking the time to care for and water your plants will add something relaxing to your day. You might even get some flowers for your table, a few herbs or vegetables to use in your meals. You won't find many things more satisfying than growing your own fresh ingredients by hand.

While these things aren't exactly free, you can consider them an investment. You are investing in your own well being and that of your family. If you can find fun and healthy activities that keep family members from being bored, then you may be able to save money in the long run by not having to throw as much cash at other things which are generally used to stave off boredom.

Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the library. If you, your spouse or your children have free time, encouraging them to read quality books is a great way to keep the mind sharp. The best thing about the library is that it's free and family oriented. Sure, at certain age groups your children won't want to be seen with you, but at that age you can just let them off on their own once you arrive until later when it is time to go.

Wednesday, August 23

Healthy, Fast and Cheap Breakfast

I'd gotten away from this breakfast for a while, but I've recently rediscovered it. It takes almost zero time to prepare and is very good for you.

Simply pour some unflavored large flake rolled oats, of a slow cooking variety, in a bowl. Add a few spoonfuls of your favorite flavor of yogurt. Stir. Personally, I enjoy adding fat free stirred yogurts with small chunks of fruit. Something like blueberry, mixed berries or even peach will do the trick.

No, I don't actually cook the oatmeal, I prefer to simply stir in the yogurt and let it sit for a moment.

Anyway, this breakfast will take you thirty seconds to prepare and probably cost you about that per serving. Oats are a good source of fiber, low GI carbohydrates and various nutrients. Yogurt is a good source of calcium, some B-complex vitamins and various minerals. Fruits, such as blueberries, are a good source of health promoting antioxidants.

Oh, and I almost forgot, studies have shown that calcium and dairy products (perhpas due to high glutamine content) are helpful with weight loss. That means this breakfast, as part of a managed diet, can also be useful for weight loss with factors such as satiety inducing fiber, low GI carbs and dairy content.

Why would you punish your body with a coffee and a donut, which costs more, when you could have this instead?

Thursday, August 10

Beware the Anti-Frugal

I'm guessing that not everyone on the planet is a frugality wizard. I know I have a few readers, particularly some other frugality bloggers, that probably are much better at this than I. However, today's post is for all those people that happen by who may or may not have gotten beyond the "frugality might be a good idea" phase.

  Umm, yeah, so, just what is this Anti-Frugal thingy anyway?

Our society has been shaped by the Anti-Frugal for many years now. You see, frugality and mass consumerism are sort of at odds with each other, which results in one of those epic struggles that you might see in those old black and white movies on public television. The Anti-Frugal is a series of choices presented to us by society to take advantage of our moments of weakness to relieve us of our earnings.

  Yeah, ok, that's a little out there, you aren't serious are you?

Well, only a little. Now hush up, it's more fun this way. Let's talk about convenience. It's friday night, you've had a long and hard work week, you've brought home the family bacon, you are tired, you need a break. What does the Anti-Frugal tell us to do? Many of us will stop by a fast food joint and pick up some food or order out for dinner after we get home. It's something of a ritual, at least it was for me. This, this abomination of throwing good money at bad food, this is the Anti-Frugal.

  Oh yeah, I love when we order out, pizza is my favorite on
  Friday nights!


Hmm, are you sure you are listening? Convenience is one of the biggest tools of the Anti-Frugal. It sits in waiting until we are exasperated, tired or flush with cash and then offers us an easy way out for a price. We are perennially suckers and we fall for it more times than not.

  Okay, I see what you are saying, but I still think you are a
  dingbat. What else have you got?


Yes, well, you stew away on the convenience factor concept, you'll see. Anyway, another tool of the Anti-Frugal is outright deception. See, if you buy this blender today, for only $49.99 we'll throw in two free bars of hand soap and a second lid, free, for a savings or over $9,933.22! Act now, quick, a steal like this won't stick around very long...

  Omg, I have to get one now, while it's on sale, I'll be saving a ton,
  where is my purse? Oh, I hope they aren't sold out.


You can't be serious. Relax, it's a made up sale. The savings are false. The silly thing is overpriced and the junk added to the sale to make it such a big deal is just that, extra junk. Besides, they'll never sell out of the silly thing, there is no big blender shortage and if you've lived this long without a blender what makes you think you suddenly need one anyway?

Anyway, I'm talking generalities here. If I want to be charitable about the situation it's all a magic act. Shiny special lighting, fit happy people, great looking food professionally prepared, and it's all just props. Of course, they presumably can't outright lie, but they sure can stretch that truth an awful long way, can't they.

  Shoot, it was such a good deal too.

Uh-huh. Oh, here's one I've bet you've heard a few times. Howabout those great credit deals. Switch your debt over to brand "Imarippoff" credit cards pay no interest for six whole months. Think of the savings!

  Yeah, that's exactly what's in my wallet...

Sigh. Look, unless you are going to pay off those cards, the interest after the initial six months is usually astronomical. If you are routinely paying off your credit cards, then you won't have any debt to transfer to a new card anyway. Credit is a big game where everybody is having a great time stealing your money from your pocket and you sit there happy about it. Credit combined with convenience combined with deceptive advertising is the unholy trinity of the Anti-Frugal.

  Dude, like, you are frothing at the mouth, take it easy!

Arrrrrrgh. Bleah. Cough. Yeah, anyway, so it's the weekend and you are bored and your friend calls you up, hey, let's go grab some chow, hit a movie and then go shopping at the mall. Of course you squeal, say it's a great idea, and rush off to check your bank balance to see whether the day will be funded by debit or credit.

  Yeah, totally, my friends and I do that every weekend, it's
  really fun.


Yeah, whatever. I know it will strike you as odd, but you or your friends could visit each other, perhaps taking turns, and you know, prepare some food at home and share it. Heck, it might even be a bit of a social event, you bring this, I'll make that, maybe drop by to rent a movie and hang out at the pod for a bit. See, the Anti-Frugal throws boredom at us to push us out of our own financially controlled habits into the realm of paid activities as a social tool.

  I have no idea what you are talking about at all.

That's okay. I'll be here waging an eternal battle against the Anti-Frugal for as long as I can. Think about this stuff and come on back if you need some more pointers or advice, okay?

  Ewww, that sounds like homework!

Sigh.

Friday, August 4

Three Birds: One Stone

As my lifestyle gives me plenty of time to do such things, I decided to combine some strategies and make what seemed like a lazy day a productive day, better yet, into a leveraged productivity day (do you like that, I just made it up). I decided to take my own advice, from topics I've written about previously, and bundle a couple of them together.

Get this, I walked to the local laundromat to do my laundry. If I don't go to the laundromat I spend a lot more for the convenience of doing laundry in my own apartment building. Of course, if I drive to the laundromat I spend money on gasoline and of course I'm sure there is a bit of wear and tear. Even better, since I carried my stow bag of laundry over my shoulder both there and back I got in a good aerobic workout -- moreso than just walking.

Even better, if you recall, I am calorie cycling. The day I walked to the laundry, about a 25 minute walk, it was a low calorie day. This means that my body was primed to burn fat for energy on the walk there, while I sat reading a book during the laundry cycle and of course for the walk back. Altogether, that's at least three birds for one stone.

Best of all, with the MP3 player on during the walk, the book to read while there, and the beautiful sunny day I enjoyed the whole event. You can bet this is something I'm going to be repeating on a regular basis, at least while the summer lasts. Anyway, the real purpose of this post is to inspire you to find novel ways to combine things, assuming of course you have to time to do so. If you are trying to be fit, and have alloted time for exercise, this can be a productive and cheap way to make use of it.

Wednesday, August 2

I'm Going Nuts, Pine Nuts!

So, if you have been following along you've seen that I'm trying out a calorie cycling diet. You've also seen that I've spotted some research (see this post) which talks about pinolenic acid and it's ability to increase feelings of satiety, which would help one eat less.

Well, the store I shop at sells pine nuts. I guess you can grind them up to make pesto, which may be more appetizing and perhaps cheaper option, but I thought I'd pick up a little tub and give this a try. When I got home from the gym today I had a spoonful of pine nuts. These are the raw ones, not roasted ones. Anyway, they are sort of bland and a bit funky, I think they are enough to make me lose my appetite directly, whether or not they have pinolenic acid!

Okay, that's not really true, but while mild I don't find them all that appealing. In any case, while today is a low calorie day, I do think I seem to be less hungry than I would otherwise expect. Perhaps it is just the placebo effect? I'm pretty disciplined, so I'll give this a try for a few weeks on low calorie days and see if I consistently notice a lack of appetite when eating these things.

If I do, then I'll probably try to find an appetizing way to eat a spoonful of pesto instead. Where on earth do I get these ideas?

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Saturday, July 29

Caloric Restriction: Healthy Weight Loss with Pinolenic Acid

I was taking the time to read this morning and I ran across something that segues nicely into a topic I was discussing before. In particular, I was talking about calorie cycling as being both very healthy and a possible way to save money because food is one of our larger expenditures. I've run across something I thought was absolutely fascinating... a study concerning pinolenic acid, which is derived from pine nuts, and satiety.

Now, I've struggled with my weight most of my life. Yeah, I'm sure nobody else out there has had this issue, heh. Anyway, there is a type of fatty acid that helps control appetite. Apparently it stimulates the body, specifically our digestive tract, to produce satiety hormones. This means you can, or will, eat less and feel satisfied.

Anyway, here are some pertinent details about a recent study:


Calorie Restriction without Hunger!
In a study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the effects of caloric restriction were measured in a group of overweight adults over a six-month period. The findings were nothing short of astounding!

In response to reduced food intake, fasting insulin levels plummeted. As Life Extension members learned long ago, excess insulin functions as a death hormone that devastates virtually every cell and organ system in the body.

Insulin overload increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, blindness, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and other age-related diseases.

The most exciting finding of this study was the amount of weight lost in the groups that restricted their calorie intake. The moderate caloric-restriction group experienced a 24% reduction in body fat mass, while the very low-calorie group achieved a 32% reduction in fat mass.

...

The remarkable news is that pinolenic acid - a natural plant extract discovered in Europe - has been shown to suppress appetite dramatically without causing any stimulatory effect. This plant extract attacks the underlying mechanisms involved in hunger so effectively that study participants reduced their food intake by 36%

...

Satiety is the sense of food satisfaction and fullness experienced after eating. Hunger and satiety both depend on a complex feedback loop involving many hormones and other substances secreted by the gut that interact with control centers in the brain. The gut participates in the hunger-satiety circuit by secreting two important hormones, cholecystokinin (CCK) and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), among others.

...

Recent findings demonstrate that pinolenic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid derived from pine nuts, stimulates the secretion of the hunger-suppressing hormones CCK and GLP-1. This exciting finding suggests that pinolenic acid may have powerful effects in reducing appetite and increasing food satisfaction and fullness.

...

The benefit of appetite control at mealtime is critical to anyone interested in cutting calories and losing weight, especially those who have struggled to overcome feelings of hunger and deprivation while dieting. Pinolenic acid, a natural fatty acid derived from the Korean pine nut, offers an effective tool to help enhance satiety and appetite control.

Promoting satiety and thus curbing the impulse to over-indulge at mealtime is just one of the beneficial effects of pinolenic acid. Recent research has demonstrated that when subjects are given GLP-1 before a meal, their blood sugar remains lower and their blood cholesterol levels are reduced compared to subjects given placebo. Since elevated blood sugar and high cholesterol after meals are associated with diabetes and cardiovascular disease, researchers speculate that therapies that boost GLP-1 levels (such as pinolenic acid) may be helpful in preventing cardiovascular disease.

I don't know if you've heard of the LEF (lef.org) but they are a group of scientists that look into extending our ability to live long healthy active lives. They provide peer reviewed research and very high quality supplements. You may want to look into their pinolenic acid supplemented called natural appetite control.

Anyway, this is why I think this is the one! Most methods of weight loss involve short term changes to our diet or use of stimulants. Of course, over time, we become used to stimulants and they become less effective or cause unhealthy side effects. As for short term changes to our diet, what happens when we go back to eating the way we used to? This is different. This is simply our own body looking at what we ate and telling us we have eaten enough... although we have eaten slightly less than we otherwise would have. If it is this simple to increase satiety then it should be a no-brainer. The health benefits are fantastic, the smaller meal sizes are huge in monetary savings, and as someone who has always been a bit pudgy, I can't wait to see how this works.

Good luck!

Wednesday, July 26

Paying Off Debts

Several years ago, when I was unemployed for a short while, I was forced to survive on my credit to buy food and pay bills. I've been carrying some amount of that debt for quite a while now. Every month I have an interest fee that I pay which is annoying because I see how much value I could be getting out of that money with my frugal ways.

Of course, if you can, paying off your debt is simply the best plan. However, if you can't afford to pay it off, you might be able to reorganize it. If you can convert it into a personal loan or a second mortgage you might find you are paying a lot less interest on it. You will want to be be disciplined and use some of that saved money to speed up your payments.

Right now I'm slowly whittling away at a car payment, my personal line of credit and a low interested credit card balance. Yippee! I realize it is my own fault, and I did whittle down my spending as fast as I could once I was unemployed, but nonetheless, I am not where I had expected to be. I wonder if there are people out there with fantastic frugal living habits that didn't earn them by finding a way through tough times?

I was working two jobs for a while. That was helpful! I am considering finding some part time second job work again in order to start taking some chunks off of my debt. The alternative is to develop my income to the point that it becomes sizeable enough that my debt is completely shrunk in comparison. Both are good ideas, I just have to put either one of them into practice -- with the second being harder than the first.

Tuesday, July 11

Feeling the Pressure

Well, sometimes you have to spend money to save money. Yes, it's true. I don't just mean spending more when you find a bargain either. I mean that sometimes something you buy can be used as a tool to help you spend your money more efficiently. And no, smarty pants, I'm not talking about a calculator either.

Okay, enough games. I bought a tire pressure gauge earlier today. It was a moderately priced tire pressure gauge, compared to some of the very fancy ones available. I don't know why I'd need to spend $40 to have the latest dual head digital plastic tire gauge so that it could break or require new batteries. No, I have a plain metal doohicky which costs about $7. There were cheaper ones there, but I felt if I looked at them too long them might disintegrate.

Anyway, I'm sure I don't have to explain the purpose of this thing. I mean, beyond just checking the tire pressure, I can save on gasoline spending. Sure, it's possible that if I happen to have magic tires on my car which stay at the perfect pressure year round for the life of the car I may have wasted a few dollars. However, I don't know about you, but I rarely have to worry about having magical perfection in any part of my life. And no, that's a reality, certainly not a complaint.

So, yes, from time to time I tend drive a fair distance. About once a month I'll do a four hour round trip. About once a year I'll do a sixteen or thirty-two hour round trip. Mostly though I drive myself to the gym, to the store and sometimes even to the movie theatre. Yes, yes, I know, it is cheaper to watch rentals, but I find I rent way too many and don't really save any money that way.

Did I go off topic again?

I figure if I can save somewhere in the vicinity of a gallon of gas for a two hour drive then I'll have earned back my money in two months. From then on I'll be raking in the cash and rolling in the dough. Well, actually, I'm sure that won't be the case, but I will be spending a little bit less on gas for a long period of time. I may just end up with a few extra dollars in my pockets from time to time. That can only enhance my lifestyle and improve my chances of finding that elusive magical perfection.

Right?

Saturday, July 8

Household Habits

I've just returned from a short vacation, so I don't have much to relate by way of being frugal. However, I did have some time to reflect on my household habits and think of some ways of improving things. These aren't exactly frugality ideas but are simple helpful points of view or strategies.

Pace Yourself
You can only do so much at one time. You can only devote all of your time to work related efforts for so long. Of course there will be deadlines in life, but generally you do have control over much of your decisions and how high you raise the bar with respect to your activities. If you honestly can't be away from something for a while, such as me getting away from this blog for a couple of weeks, then consider finding ways to either let go or get involved in less demanding efforts.

Chores are Investments
As a bachelor you can imagine that it is easy for me to drift into living in a sty. Based on the goals I've set for myself, and I often don't enforce the discipline required to pace myself all that well, I find that I feel I need to just stack dirty dishes on the counter top and find time to do them later. It seems that there are always things popping up to take precedence over minor chores. After coming back from my vacation I am going to look at these chores as investments.

A clean kitchen enhances my lifestyle. It is more enjoyable. It is less stressfull than looking at a large pile of dishes and knowing how much effort is involved to get them back under control. Making time to do my chores on a regular basis will reduce my stress and increase my enjoyment of my home on a daily basis. They are an investment in my happiness. Why on Earth have I been allowing myself to find ways to keep putting them off?

As a humorous side note, I am not going to keep my home absolutely spotless. I'm a single guy, yes, but I'm not gay. I don't imagine I'll have any trouble avoiding becoming a neat freak, since I've managed to do so my entire life.

Enjoy your Work
As much as I hate spending endless hours cleaning, I don't find it that bad to do a small amount at a time. Perhaps I can pop in a good CD mix and work away during the good songs. As you may have guessed, I've come back from vacation to grungy apartment. So, I've decided to get the kitchen under control.

I've done a load of dishes at a time and have the third and final load soaking in the sink as I write. So, I'm doing small chunks. As I do a load I find more of the counter is left bare - which is incredibly convenient given the size of my kitchen. And I think about how much I'm going to enjoy using a clean kitchen while I'm doing the dishes. There are plenty of other things, such as the stovetop, that will need my attention, but I'm not setting any particular goals or deadlines.

It's not like I won't immediately see what needs attention every time I walk in the kitchen. It's not like I don't see things to improve every time I walk in the bathroom. It's not like I don't notice the dust on the television and the rest of the furniture every time I look. It's not like I don't notice grit on the floor if I walk around in bare feet. However, I'm pacing myself, making sure to consciously look forward to the end result, and trying to keep doing these chores as a lighthearted or enjoyable task.

Wish me Luck
This isn't the first time I've decided to change my habits and move myself into a higher plane of existence. It's been quite a while since I was originally knocked down to this level - it happened several years ago during an economic downturn and a period of unemployment. I guess my household was a reflection of the depressive effect that not being in control of your life exerts. However, not too long ago I quit a formal job that I was unhappy with and now I do freelance consulting from home. While I am much happier, I am also home a lot more, two good reasons to get motivated don't you think?

Friday, June 23

Don't Have A Cow, Man

Yes, I am a Simpson's fan. Well, more aptly, I was, when it was newer and somewhat groundbreaking. Anyway, that's all beside the point. A month ago I stocked up on a load of ground beef at a great price. Ever since then I've been eating a veritable ton of beef. In fact, as of today I was down to my last frozen lonely one pound chunk in my freezer.

Now, to make a short story long, I'm in the middle of getting prepared for a week long fishing vacation at a remote camp with some friends of mine. I've picked up some bug spray, happy to find that DEET was again included in the products. Look at this, DEET is pretty darned effective...

Repellents containing DEET provide the best protection
The report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, says lotions that rely on plant oils or other chemicals don't last as long.

"I don't think DEET is the perfect repellent," said Mark Fradin, one of the researchers. "But it is still more effective and very safe."

Each worker was required to apply repellent and put their arm into a cage with 10 mosquitoes for a minute and repeated the action until the first bite.

According to the results, for DEET-based products:
  • solutions with 24 per cent DEET lasted five hours
  • ones with 20 per cent DEET worked four hours
  • repellents with six to seven per cent DEET lasted two hours
For non-DEET products:
  • eucalyptus ointments lasted two hours
  • soybean-based repellent worked 1 1/2 hours
  • plant-derived solutions, such as citronella, lasted less than 20 minutes
  • Avon's "Skin-So-Soft" bath oil and bug guard each lasted less than 10 minutes
  • repellent wristbands provided no protection
The results surprised officials at Avon.

Okay, I'll relent and continue with my story. I just didn't want to bore you since I wrote something similar a month ago. As it turns out, while I am out shopping, I see another amazing deal for ground beef. A two pound chunk of lean ground beef is only $3.00 -- where usually one pound of lean beef sells for $4.50 or so. It's on for a third of the price!

I picked up 8 packages. Yeah baby. Last time I ran into this deal I cut them all in half, yielding one pound chunks of beek. Since I am eating for one, I think I can probably get away with cutting them into thirds. Wise portion size options was a previous blog topic of mine so I'm trying to practice what I preach. I'm going to get 24 meals worth of ground beef at only $1.00 per meal. After adding in the pasta, sauce, spices and parmesan cheese, because it thriftier than shredding block cheese, I'm going to float through a second month well below budget on food expenses.

Woohoo!

Tuesday, June 20

Calorie Restriction for Money and Health?

I guess this entry isn't so much a tip as speculation. Anyway, I read an awful lot of health and fitness related news and thought I'd share this one with you since it does have the potential to have a significant financial impact. Food is, after all, one of the largest expenses that we can easily influence.

Doctors Devise New Diet
Scientists claim to have discovered a new diet that not only ensures weight loss but also tackles diseases and could even prolong life, according to a new report.

...

Dr James Johnson, who co-wrote the report with colleagues from Stanford and New Orleans universities, said the diet involves eating normally one day and then cutting food intake the next day to between 20 and 50 per cent.

...

Dr Johnson, who reports having lost 35lbs in the first 11 weeks of being on the diet, said: "We have observed improvement in a variety of disease conditions, starting within two weeks, including insulin resistance, asthma, seasonal allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, infectious disease, periodontal disease, and cardiac arrhythmias."

...

For people who want to lose weight, according to the report, the diet has the psychological advantage of not subjecting them to permanent food deprivation. But the scientists said what they call "up-day, down-day" dieting also has health-promoting effects.

Some of you who have been following along with my blog know that I take frugality quite seriously. Cutting out 50% of your food needs every other day leads you to 25% less food in total. Given that it appears to be both very healthy and very frugal, it really does look like a win. An added frugal bonus is that improved health means less spent on doctors visits and medications as well.

I don't know about you, but I think I might give this a try. I hate the idea of depriving myself for long periods of time on traditional diets, but if I can avoid overcompensating too much on normal days, this sounds like a cakewalk. Eat normally, eat lightly, eat normally, eat lightly. How hard can it be? It's not like they have lists of foods or special purchases or consumption guidelines to follow.

If you give it a go, please try to come back and drop me a comment to let me know how it is going for you. Oh, hey, I'm not a doctor, but if you have any existing medical issues, please check with your doctor before starting any major new dietary or exercise program.

UPDATE: After following a calorie cycling diet I've posted my results.

Monday, June 12

Buying Apples: A Small Tip

I like apples. Well, let me qualify that, I like apples when they are flavorful and in-season. I don't like apples when they are shiny and red but don't have much flavor. I don't know how they do it, but they often have apples in the supermarket that are completely devoid of flavor. Maybe it has something to do with picking them early and letting them ripen during shipping?

Anyway, as I said, just a small tip. What I like to do when buying apples is lift the bag to my nose and give a sniff. Usually apples are packed in bags with little holes for ventilation. Get close to one of those and inhale casually. You'll get a real good indication of the flavor that the apples contain, which is much more reliable than the look of the apples.

I know this might not sound like a frugal tip, but considering how wasteful it is to end up with apples you don't want to eat, perhaps it is. Unlike many other people I'm not going to cook with my apples, so I'm really only left to watch them go bad as I keep trying to force myself to eat them. It's a much better plan to give them the sniff test and then get value for my money instead.

Friday, May 26

Minor Tweaks and Cheesy Thoughts

If you've been following along you are aware that I've been eating a lot of beef just lately. Yes, I do like beef a lot, and I even still like it now that I'm eating so much of it, but eating similar foods quite often has outlined a few minor strategic thoughts or tweaks:

  • Cheesy Thoughts: As beef and pasta is a dish I consider pretty yummy, I've noticed that I can go through a fair amount of cheese as well. In fact, since my beef was so cheap, the cheese is possibly the most expensive remaining ingredient. Obviously, don't buy preshredded cheese, but if you are really scrounging, buy parmesan cheese. It lasts virtually forever, so there is no spoilage, and it is quite pungent, so you won't even need to use very much of it.

  • Spice it Up: Eating the same food all the time can get a little bit boring, to understate the case. Spices can certainly help deal with this type of issue. However, some spices are more expensive than others. In particular, if you don't have issues with your health that preclude doing so, use a bit more salt in your beef when cooking it. Compared to other spices salt is very cheap and has a large impact on perceived flavor.

  • Rice vs Pasta: I may have touched on this a bit earlier, but beef and rice is almost as good as beef and pasta. It is a little bit cheaper, as you can buy huge bags of rice for next to nothing, just realize that the rice is a bit denser than shaped pasta. Anyway, another very enjoyable dish is fried rice, which is a great way to deal with rice leftovers!

  • Dietary Goals: Although a bit less conventional, you can arrange your meals around your dietary goals or excercise routine. For example, on days that I work out, which is quite a few days really, I like to have something like beef and pasta. I need the carbs and my body is ready to deal with all the calories coming at it. On days I don't work out I may instead have only beef and low GI carbs such as beans with some tomato sauce and cheese. I eat cheap either way, but I do enjoy the carbohydrate laden meal more, which actually encourages me to go to the gym on days that I'm ambivalent about it.
Anyway, I have some dinner cooking in the kitchen, yes, it's beef, so I'd better get back to that. I'd hate to burn my food and have to throw it out - that just wouldn't be frugal!

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Thursday, May 18

Ground Beef: Shock and Awe

Today was a banner day in my ongoing campaign for frugality. While in the store picking up some much needed milk I did a reconnaisance mission in the butcher section. Oh my goodness, what did I spy, but lean ground beef on for approximately 1/4 of the regular price.

I spotted the same brand on sale a week or two ago and picked up a small amount just to make sure I liked the quality. You see, this brand is packaged up like sausage in a plastic wrapper, so you can't see the pedigree of the meat without opening the package. Anyway, upon cooking there was no free grease left in the pan, so it was just fine.

I quickly pounced on the ground beef, elbowing away little old ladies and timid men who aren't used to eating meat anyway, and filled my entire Red Riding Hood looking basket with ground beef. While a couple people didn't seem to understand the urgency, I loaded up on this stuff before somebody changed their mind. Heck, even the expiry date is still a whole week in the future. A week I tell you.

I've got a virtual ton of ground beef, chopped in half into one pound units, happily relaxing in my freezer. Holy Cow! I was so excited by this ordeal I forgot to pick up any milk. I guess I'll drop by tomorrow and see if they have any beef left on sale, there are a few openings in the corners of the freezer still; I'll be driving past the store anyway so it's not like I'm wasting gas either.

Mission accomplished. Want to come over for a BBQ? I've got plenty of fixings for the hamburgers...

Friday, May 12

Bulk Barn Redux

Today I finally made another trek down to the local Bulk Barn. Last time through I simply picked up some roasted salted peas, but this time I added a few more items to the purchase list.

Roasted Almonds
Nuts in general are pretty expensive these days, but it is important to get a good mix of fats in our diet. Almonds are a good source of protein as well as monounsaturated fats. Nice large, I want to say juicy but of course they aren't, and crunchy!

For these concerned about getting things right, "the almond that we think of as a nut is technically the seed of the fruit of the almond tree, a medium-size tree that bears fragrant pink and white flowers. Like its cousins, the peach, cherry and apricot trees, the almond tree bears fruits with stone-like seeds (or pits) within. The seed of the almond fruit is what we refer to as the almond nut."

Roasted Chick Peas
I am sorry to say that while I was looking forward to trying these, I can't stand them. The taste is bland and they seem to form a sour paste in the mouth if you try to eat them as a standalone snack. Luckily, I only bought a tiny amount.

Roasted Salted Green Peas
As I reported on my first trip to the Bulk Barn, these roasted salted green peas are very good. They almost taste like nuts though, as you chew them, their underlying flavor comes out a little bit. Peas are a healthy snack and contain all kinds of nutrients having to do with energy and metabolism.

So, I have to 'fess up and admit that I spent about $11 today. Hopefully these snacks will last me a couple of weeks at least. I sure couldn't buy them any cheaper around here, but if I simply gobble them up because they are convenient I won't be saving any money at all.

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Saturday, May 6

Pasta Pasta Pasta

Lately, my favorite meal has been pasta. Since I go to the gym and work out a lot I need a fairly large quantity of food -- which of course is a difficulty at times when it comes to being frugal. However, my pasta meal seems to do the job of keeping me fed while not breaking the bank.

Ingredients:

    - ground beef
    - tomato sauce
    - shredded cheese
    - pasta
Of course, the biggest expense is the ground beef, so for a cheaper meal lower the amount of beef you are using. The shredded cheese can also be pricey if you use a lot of it, so try to use it sparingly. Obviously, fry up the ground beef first. When it has cooked set the burner to minimum. Cook and drain your pasta. Dump the beef into the pasta pot. Add tomato sauce to taste. Add shredded cheese to taste. Stir. Serve.

Personally, I buy large bags of no-name tricolor rotini. The green pasta has spinach in it while the orange pasta has carrots in it. This adds some vegetable nutrients into the pasta since I am not a big fan of vegetables. Anyway, as you may have guessed, increasing your protein and calorie needs by going to the gym regularly will have an impact on your frugality efforts.

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Monday, May 1

Pet Value

Okay, this isn't going to be a huge post about how to save all kinds of money on your pets via all kinds of strategies. It's just a few anecdotes that may help you look at things differently, or not, depending upon how you do think about those things now. So, with that out of the way...

I have two pets. They are left over from a relationship that eventually failed to turn into a marriage, although that is a long story suited for some other blog entirely, the gist is that while I love them, I never would have gotten them if left to my own devices. Luckily, for me and for them, they are currently my family, so they are somewhat spoiled.

When I go to the pet store to buy food or litter I see a lot of fancy toys. Since my pets are cats, things like fake mice, fluffy balls, balls with bells in them and things like that catch my eye, on their behalf of course. So, from time to time I will pick something up and see if they will be inclined to play with their new toy.

I have to report that for a long time the fake mice were a hit. I'd wake up with one by my feet in the mornings... and over a few days the little fake ears and tails would be chewed off with glee and false ferociousness. However, their latest fancy is the small multicolored fluff ball with bits of what appears to be a foil like substance squeezed in there as well.

Eventually all the toys figure out that the best hiding space is under the couch, where they can cower out of reach from prying paws. From time to time when the place is looking bare I'll grab the broom and root around under the couch with the handle. The cats recognize this tactic and it's a veritable field day as all sorts of long lost favorite toys are once again revealed to the light of day!

However, at the same time, there is absolutely no need for me to buy any of these toys at all. Every time I go to the grocery store and crinkle up a the receipt the cats will come running. If I throw the receipt they will chase it and bat it around for a while. Similarly, while there are all kinds of fancy cat beds for sale, my cats are more than happy to curl up into an appropriately sized empty box. If those are in short supply, all I have to do is lay out some clothing and before you know it there will be a cat laying there.

So far, at about seven and eight years old, neither of my cats has ever been introduced to catnip and they are still very playful. They'll chase me around the house, or vice-versa, from time to time. They "play laundry" whenever I try to fold and stow my clothes. They chase all my receipts, drop toys beside me when I'm trying to play on the computer, and otherwise cavort like little freaks whenever I'm trying to concentrate on something.

The moral of the story is that a happy cat is a healthy cat, whether or not you are spending tons of money on toys, sleeping arrangements and special foods. Your cat needs play and exercise, which doesn't cost a lot of money, but it does take a bit of time and attention. If you can spare your pets some time and attention, they might be able to spare you some extra veterinary bills in the long run and leave you with a few more fond memories when their short allotment of time is eventually up.

Besides, treat them well and I'm sure they say good things on your behalf when your time is finally coming to an end as well.

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Wednesday, April 26

Brand Name vs No Name

I suppose this is one of those things that goes without saying, at least for the hardcore frugal saver, but then I have to remember that not everyone that reads my site is already living the frugal life.

Today's contemplation is brought to you by the letter C. C is for cold. While visiting at a friends, who of course has little children in the household, I seem to have been exposed to the latest cold and flu pathogens. While rummaging in my medicine cabinet last night I noticed I was using some "Exact" brand products.

These products are found right beside the brand name products they copy, and they are available for a greatly reduced price. Simply read the label and make sure you are getting what you need -- and this may require that you actually know quite specifically what you are in fact buying.

However, keep in mind, there can be product differences which are significant to you. For example, off brands may not be enterically coated, meaning they may not be as easy to swallow as the brand you are used to. Also, if your brand name medicine is buffered or time released, make sure you are getting that in the off brand product, if it is significant to you.

In any case, whenever you are buying what is in fact simply a commodity product, then there is no reason to opt for the expensive brand name products when a competing off brand product is available. Most large chains will offer their own house brands to you in this way. The savings are significant, so be a savvy consumer and don't blindly fall into branded consumerism no matter how many times they bore you with their shoddy commercials.

Sunday, April 16

Filling the Gas Tank

I'm sure you know better than to think that it is a coincidence that every weekend gas prices are higher than they were during the week? Who do the gas companies think they are fooling? Of course we are all travelling, visiting or running errands on the weekend since that is when most of us finally get a few moments of time to do these things.

Today's tip is extremely simple and short. Fill up your tank before your local stations perform the usual weekend price hike. Simply keep track of local prices for a few weeks until you see what is happening, then purchase around their pricing strategy to your own advantage. If you commute to work then you should have plenty of opportunity to fill up for a good price on the way home.

The hard part may be finding the time and energy to apply this frugality tip after a long day at the office.

Monday, April 10

Delay Where Appropriate

This is another in a short series of frugal living tips that deal with how you do things, instead of specific things you should do. How often do you get your hair cut? How often do you go out for dinner, as a treat? How often do you change the oil in your car?

There are many things we do which are simply based on the passage of some period of time. Other things we do are based on a specific point in time, such as a change of seasons, when it may be necessary to put winter tires on your car. Anyway, events that are based only on the passage of time can be postponed a small amount. So, what I'm saying is, you still have to put those winter tires on your car before winter starts.

Getting back on topic, if you get your haircut once a month, getting it cut every five weeks will save you the cost of one haircut after five months. Similarly, if you are comfortable with the idea, instead of changing the oil in your car at 3000 miles, change it at 3300 miles, unless you've been engaged in towing or other performance activities.

Going out for dinner once a week as a treat is a bit harder to postpone, but if you were to go out once every eight days, you'd shave a significant portion of your spending over the course of a year -- and you might not even feel that you were forcing yourself to cut back. In fact, because you would be encouraged to do things on different days every week, you may actually find new interesting things to do and enjoy this treat even more.

I really hope these ideas save someone out there a few dollars without feeling the pinch. So, while the old adage, "don't do tomorrow what you can do today," has it's place, don't let that stop you from procrastinating wisely!

Friday, April 7

Preemptive Nonspending

How is that for a nice title? I'm sure you are wondering what the heck I am talking about, but bear with me, this will make sense in a moment. Let me start with a little story to illustrate this concept.

Every new year throngs of people will join the local gym or fitness center. With vows of sticking to it and finally getting results, they plunk down their signup fee and start the process of automatic monthly deductions. Now, this time, because I am paying, I will surely find time to get to the gym and get into shape!

Guess what happens to most of these people? They go to the gym for a few weeks. Sure, it was a good idea, but they weren't able to change their habits and integrate fitness into their lifestyle. Perhaps the gym was too busy for them, who knows? However, guess what, they hang onto their membership for months, even though they are getting no use out of it. There is this faint hope that tomorrow they will suddenly have all the energy and the time to use that membership. Perhaps they even do go to the gym once in a while and justify the membership in that way.

Does any of this sound familiar? If not yourself, maybe someone you know has done this one or more times? If so, don't feel guilty or be judgmental, that is not the point. The point is, you can save yourself the money by testing your resolve before you plunk down your hard earned cash in the first place!

What is stopping you from spending half an hour three times a week to stretch and do other low impact exercises in your home -- for free? Do you think that the only good exercise is exercise in the gym? What is stopping you from going for a short walk every day before or after dinner? That's right, nothing. If you want to exercise, I'm certainly not trying to stop you, but test your resolve by doing this on your own for a while to see if you are really able to change your habits.

Then, only after you have proven that you have both the will and the ability to follow some type of plan, join the gym. This way you know that you are able to devote yourself to this course of action, because you already have been doing so. You won't be one of those people throwing your money at the gym in the hopes that it will magically transform you. You will be in the gym, transforming yourself, and that is money well spent. Honestly, a gym membership has a lot to offer, if you actually make use of it.

So, the moral of the story is, whenever you can, try it before you buy it. See you at the gym, hopefully.

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Saturday, April 1

Why Not Walk?

What is it with our need to go everywhere in a vehicle? This habit can be counter to the idea of frugal living. Above and beyond the usual cost of gas, as well the inevitable wear and tear, there is often the issue of parking to contend with. To put it simply, why not walk?

Sure, some things may be too far away, but many aren't. This is especially true if you are willing to get organized and plan your tasks. However, it may take a different type of planning than we are used to. Generally, we plan to get as much done as quickly as possible, so that in one trip we can get all of our chores done.

However, if you are able to go for a walk at lunch, you can do some errands within your work day and save yourself a drive during the weekend. Alternately, if you are going downtown, where you have to pay for parking, you may be able to park a bit further away and lessen your costs -- if you are willing to walk a bit.

If you live within a few blocks of your grocery store, why not walk? Sure, you can't carry a weeks worth of food and groceries at a time, but you can certainly get a bit of free exercise by walking. Besides, nobody says you have to purchase everything at once, you can always return there tomorrow to pick up more.

The concept is to consider organizing yourself around goals involving frugality and a healthy lifestyle, not around convenience and minimization of time involved. Sure, these are good goals, when you are earning a lot of money and it makes sense to spend extra money to save time. When you are living frugal, your goals should be different.

If you do plan on doing some more walking, there are a few things to consider. You don't want to get mugged or anything like that, so consider the type of area you are in and the time of day you will be doing it. Also, it can be more enjoyable if you are dressed appropriately, perhaps with sunglasses and maybe even an MP3 player to keep you entertained. Obviously, in the summer, you can roller blade or bike if you prefer.

So, what's your rush? Why not walk?

Monday, March 27

The Pauper and the Peas

I don't really like vegetables. I've never liked vegetables. When I was growing up dinner time was an ordeal most nights because I would either have to eat my vegetables or find a way to dispose of them without anybody knowing about it. This would mean outlasting anyone who was willing to supervise, but continuing to eat tiny tiny amounts so they would think I had finally eaten them when I claimed I was done.

Okay, I digress, but it's interesting to me!

Anyway, while checking out the local "Bulk Barn", which in itself is a potential frugal event, I found a product called "Roasted Salted Green Peas". "Whoa, what on earth is this?" I think to myself. Now, most bins and every aisle held signs warning me "DO NOT SNACK". Obviously, I ignored the signs and popped a few of these green pellets onto my palate. Holy smokes, this wasn't a vegetable at all.

Obviously, being roasted, these things will last approximately until the apocalypse. They are healthy food as green peas have a lot of vitamins and minerals which won't be lost by roasting. They are reminiscent of snack foods, perhaps nuts, though they don't have the same flavor or texture. Most importantly, they are fairly cheap.

So, if you are travelling, prone to snack on unhealthy foods, don't like vegetable or are just trying to find cheap foods that are healthy as well, give roasted and salted green peas a try. Take it from the kid who hated vegetables, they are pretty good.

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Saturday, March 11

Yummy Chicken

Well, no matter how frugal you are trying to be, you'll eventually need to eat a variety of foods. Even I can't live on ground beef and sausages all of the time -- though I can most of the time. Lately, and perhaps it is because summer is nearing and I'd like to lean out a bit, I've developed a hankering for some chicken.

I'm sure I don't have to sell you on all the great qualities of chicken as a food. However, you can save a lot of money buying the less popular cuts of chicken. Basically, this means chicken thighs in my neck of the woods. Chicken thighs are much cheaper than chicken breasts. I do punk out and get them skinless and boneless already though.

While you can obviously eat the chicken thighs as is, once cooked, you can also cook them up and then incorporate them in other dishes. Soups, stews, rice and pasta all come to mind. Hmm, Im starting to get hungry! I've got a whole mass of chicken thighs to go cook up, I'll be back later...

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Sunday, February 19

Love the Library

Today's lesson in frugal living is of a slightly different nature than many of the other tips. Looking for something to do? Go visit the library. Assuming it isn't too difficult to get there, and that your community actually has one, there is probably no other frugal activity with such a strategic importance.

In particular, if you have children, taking them to the library and getting them familiar with it will pay you big dividends. It is generally a semi-supervised setting that allows them to peruse newspapers, magazines, books and most likely use computers to access the Internet. As long as they are able to find something of interest, it will cost a lot less than shopping at the mall, going out for food, buying videos or seeing a movie. The best part is, developing an affinity for reading has a very strong correlation to later success in life.

If you don't have children, the same money saving reasons apply, but only for yourself. Just make sure to return anything you borrow on time, late fees are not a good way to practice frugality.

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Saturday, February 18

Road Trip!

Hey, we all do it. We all travel, go places, visit, or whatever. On the way we stop for some gas, some relief, a snack, something to drink and so on. However, if you stop to think about it, we are all wasting a lot of money during these events. Just planning ahead a little bit would save us a lot of change.

For example, a single can or bottle of soda will cost almost twice as much if purchased one at a time at the gas station. The same is true with respect to individual sized bags of chips and most other snacks. At the same time, the quality of the food you are eating is pretty close to garbage. See, living frugal isn't always about just saving a few pennies.

Make some sandwiches. Pack some fruit or vegetables. Bring along some drinks that you bought at a regular grocery store. You'll spend about half the money and your body will thank you for the real nutrition. Maybe that is why we are so happy to get home from a trip, because we feel so crummy after feeding ourselves garbage for the duration?

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Thursday, January 26

12 Quart Stock Pot

With thoughts of frugality foremost in my mind, because I'd never let laziness enter the picture, I bought a huge stock pot today. Did I mention this thing is huge? I figure I can cook up large batches of chili or stew and simply freeze whatever portion I won't eat within several days. This will work well since I stocked up on those individual portion size plastic containers recently.

Anyway, tonight I was making my new favorite chili like concoction. Ingredients are approxmimately one pound of ground beef, some tex mex seasoning, a bit of cayenne pepper, some garlic salt and a bit of pepper. You could add some ketchup or other seasonings to taste. Once the meat is cooked I threw in two cans of garlic and basil diced tomatoes, two cans of kidney beans and two cans of romano beans. Finally, once this mixture had warmed up in went one and a half cups of plain rice.

While this is a fairly good cheap meal in and of itself I'm really paving the way for things to come. For example, instead of buying canned beans I can now buy, soak and cook large quantities of dry beans at a fraction of the price. By changing the order of my cooking, I can simply drain the beans if needed, toss in a quantity of cooked meat, some tomatoes and as much rice as I want.

The only thing that troubles me is that even though I was careful not to use a very high heat, I managed to scald some of the ingredients. Luckily I was stirring and so forth often enough that I could tell it was happening. I think I need to purchase a little tool that keeps pots and pans from sitting directly on the burner, which I remember my grandmother having. Something is required, since I don't have any lower settings to use. Hmm.

Anyway, my first batch of chili is done. I can't wait until it has sat in the fridge overnight, becuause then I can butter some toast and spread spoonfuls of "leftover" chili on top of it. I haven't done this in ages, but I remember doing that when I was growing up. I guess it was before microwaves were common, so it was faster than heating up the chili and I didn't have to use and wash a bowl. Hey, that's a tip for bachelors, why use a plate when there is toast!

Sunday, January 22

Doing the Laundry

If you don't have your own washer and dryer, and many that are forced to live a frugal existence don't, then you will find yourself throwing money away every time you wash a load of clothing. While that does suck, and I'm not about to tell you to avoid washing your clothes to save money, there are some things you can do to avoid throwing extra money down the drain.

For example, the convenient machine, which I can use any time I want, as long as I have two and a half hours to steward a load through the process, costs $1.75 per load, plus $1.75 per drying cycle. Unfortunately, the dryer is crappy, so it takes two cycles to do the job. Damn, that's $5.25 a load before considering the cost of detergent and drying sheets.

On the other hand, the local laundromat charges $1.25 per washer and the dryers run about 7 minutes per quarter. So, for about $2.00 per load total, before consumables, I can save over 50% of my laundry costs. However, watch out for those consumables! At $1.00 a piece for soap and $0.25 per dryer sheet, they can start to add up fairly quickly.

So, for me, it makes clear sense to haul my dirty shorts to the laundromat, especially if I bring my own supplies.

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Friday, January 20

Cheap Domain Names and Internet Hosting

Okay, I guess I can't just write about food. Up until recently I was pretty happy with a Internet services company called Pair Networks, but lately I've been using GoDaddy.com for my Internet services instead. Why? Well, I'm glad you asked because that gives me an excuse to tell you about it.

First, for only 8.95 per year I can grab a domain name. Well, yes, it can be pretty hard to find a good domain name nowadays. Anyway, I'll grab one from time to time when I think of something cool. You can make your registration private, so that you ownership details don't allow people to grab your personal information from the whois databases.

Second, and even better, for only 3.95 per month I can host a website on that domain. This is next to nothing! You get some email boxes, some MySQL databases and PHP. Of course, if you wish, you can use plain HTML and simply upload simple files. Anyway, you can also get a free web site with your domain name, but they will run advertising on it if you do that.

The only thing I don't like about GoDaddy is how much additional crap they try to sell you when you sign up for something. You have to go through multiple pages of options, indicating that you don't want to buy all these impressive sounding services and options. Unless of course you want those options, but for purposes of frugality there is no way I'm paying big bucks for those services.

Finally, I do believe there are some places that will give you the ability to buy a domain name at a cheaper price. However, I don't think they are as geared towards helping a regular user manage their own domain names and web sites. To go much cheaper you are probably looking at a minimal services situation used by people buying and selling domain names. That's my guess anyway. Give GoDaddy a try. The link above is a referral link, but you can just type it in by hand if that troubles you.

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Monday, January 9

Three Meals for Five Dollars

If you've been reading along you know that I've taken a liking to canned tomatoes with garlic and basil. It's pretty cheap, low fat, low calorie and high fiber. Not bad for a cheap and convenient food. While a bit watery out of the can you can simmer it for a while to develop more of a stew consistency.

Anyway, as I'm single, a serving equates to a meal. With that out of the way, here was the evening meal for tonight:

  • 1 can of garlic and basil diced tomatoes, large
  • 1 can of kidney beans, large
  • 1 can of romano beans, large
  • 2 chicken breasts, or other meat
Throw the tomatoes in a pot and start simmering. Drain the beans, lentils, or whatever else you choose to add to your stew-like base. Add it all together and stir it from time to time on low heat. If you are a bachelor and don't know how to cook, be sure to keep the heat low or you may burn your dinner at the bottom of the pan.

In a no-stick pan, simply fry up the chicken. I put some pepper on mine, but it doesn't matter much, season to taste if you like. Once the chicken is cooked, chop it into strips and dump it into the simmering tomato and bean stew. Simmer until you have a consistency you like and serve.

If you aren't too much of a pig you should be able to package up a couple of extra servings for the freezer. Personally, I have those cheap plastic dishes that are freezer and microwave safe, so if I don't plan ahead well enough to thaw this out, I can just nuke it until it is hot enough to eat. How convenient and cheap is that?

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