Month: February 2014

Conserving water and electricity

In the summer here in Florida the “cold” water is nice and warm. In the winter, though, it’s cold. I don’t feel like it’s good for my complexion to have a shock of cold water when I wash my face. Running the water until it finally runs warm seems wasteful. So it occurred to me I could put maybe half a cup of water in a container and heat it up in the microwave and then add enough cold water from the faucet to make it just right for washing my face with a washcloth.

Along those same lines a poster on www.ThriftyFun.com suggested a way to take a warm shower without using the water heater. Take a gallon plastic jug and make it into a sprinkler bottle by putting 7 holes in the cap using a nail heated up on the stove to poke the holes. You probably have to hold the hot nail with a tool like pliers. This needs to be the kind of cap that screws on, so it won’t fly off during the shower. Then fill it half way with cold water and then the rest of the way with water heated on the stovetop or in the microwave. Then sprinkle about 1/3 of the water from the jug over your head. You have to kind of tip the bottle to get the water to come out. Lather up with shampoo on the hair and with soap on a washcloth or puff, and wash all over. Then take the water bottle up again and sprinkle it over you to rinse off. Start with your hair and rinse downward. This is similar to the water conserving “military shower” described in my book, but bypassing the water heater. I wonder if it would work just as well without the cap on the bottle, if you were careful not to pour too much at once.  Before anyone complains that this is inconvenient and extreme, remember to take what you can use and leave the rest. For someone whose water heater isn’t working, or who is living with a huge drought, or who really can’t afford a normal water bill, extreme measures can be useful.

If your electricity also isn’t working, such as after a storm, you can heat up some water by painting the plastic jug black and setting it out in the sun until the water is warmed up. If the sun isn’t shining I suppose you could take a hot water bottle or two full of cold water to bed with you and after being next to you all night it would be pretty warm by morning, enough to shower with. If you have a grill and dry fuel, you can heat water on the grill. And heat the nail to make the sprinkler bottle too.

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Saving on Groceries – the Cost of Eggs

There is a formula for figuring out which size of eggs is a better buy, in the sense of more volume of egg for your money. I didn’t understand the formulas in the articles I read about it, so I had work it out for myself from scratch. (That was an hour of my life I’ll never get back.)

The first thing to know is that egg sizes are by weight. The difference in the weight from one size to the next is 3 ounces. Small is 18 ounces up to jumbo at 30 ounces per dozen. A carton of a dozen large eggs weighs 3 ounces more than carton of a dozen medium eggs. This means that the increase in the amount you pay from one size to the next larger size is the amount you are paying for 3 more ounces.

For this example let’s say that the prices at the store this week are as shown below (I made them up). Let’s also say they are all ordinary white eggs, so the only difference is size.

A dozen jumbo eggs weigh 30 ounces and cost $2.49 or 8.3 cents an ounce and each three ounces costs 0.25 cents.

A dozen extra large weigh 27 ounces and cost $2.09, 7.7 cents an ounce and each three ounces costs 0.23 cents.

A dozen large eggs weigh 24 ounces and cost $1.79, or 7.5 cents an ounce and so 0.22 cents for three ounces.

A dozen medium eggs weigh 21 ounces and cost $1.59, or 7.6 cents an ounce, 0.23 cents for three ounces.

A dozen small eggs weighs 18 ounces and cost $1.49, 8.3 cents per ounce and 0.25 cents for three ounces.

In this example the Jumbo costs 0.40 cents more than the XL, so you’re paying 0.40 cents more for the three ounce difference.

Okay, so let’s say I went into the store thinking I’d buy a dozen medium eggs. But then I ask myself, would large eggs be a better value? In this example medium eggs cost 23 cents for each 3 ounces. Large eggs cost 22 cents per 3 ounces, so they’re already a better buy by weight. The extra 3 ounces costs just 20 cents (the difference between $1.59 for the medium and $1.79 for the large is 20 cents), so that additional 3 ounces is a bargain.

Knowing that a dozen large eggs weighs 24 ounces lets you figure out the per-pound cost. Divide the price by 24 to get the per ounce price and then multiply by 16 ounces in a pound. In this example the dozen costs $1.79. $1.79 divided by 24 ounces per dozen is 7.5 cents per ounce. 7.5 cents times 16 ounces in a pound tells you these large eggs cost $1.20 a pound.

I must admit I’m still confused about these egg formulas even after working it out for myself. What I do know is that eggs are a relatively inexpensive source of good quality protein. They’re versatile, useful in many types of dishes.

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Saving on Groceries – Thinking by the Serving

Compared to $13 a pound, half price boneless strip steak at $6.50 a pound seems like a huge bargain. But when you divide by 4 quarter-pound servings the cost per serving is $1.75. Then it’s no longer a bargain. $1.75 is a lot when compared to a serving of chicken that costs half as much without even being on sale. A serving of two eggs is only $0.33 when bought at $2.00 a dozen.

Meat at 5 servings per pound costs one-fifth less than it does at 4 servings per pound. At 6 servings per pound it’s even less costly. A couple of tasty vegetable dishes and a flavorful serving of rice, beans or potatoes can be the main part of the meal. A small portion of meat can be an accent. Or, with a dish like chili or stew a small amount of meat can add flavor while the other ingredients provide the bulk of the meal. If your family likes mushrooms, I’ve found that adding mushrooms to things like spaghetti sauce or stew enhances the meaty texture of the dish.

At my Walmart a pound of sharp cheddar cheese costs about $5. Because I use about ⅛ of a pound as a serving, it’s 63 cents a serving. For meats I generally want at least ¼ pound. So a serving of cheese usually costs me no more than a serving of most meats, in actual practice. Thinking by the serving led me to change my habit of relying on meat and poultry and thus to reduce my grocery spending by more than 30%.

Recently I looked at apples. It so happened that day that with sale prices all the different kinds of apples were $1.99 a pound. I bought a bag of small apples instead of the same weight of large apples. That way I got more individual servings of apple for the same per-pound rate.

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Saving on Groceries – Thinking by the Pound

Jeff Yeager in his book “The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches” talks about looking at your food purchases in terms of price for weight. His plan was to avoid paying more than a dollar a pound for any food. For me in central Florida in 2013, this idea seems like it may have worked a long time ago or perhaps in a galaxy far, far away. But it is still a way to look at it. Looking at it that way was what led me to find uses for the second half of the alfalfa sprouts that used to go to waste. By the container they’re fairly moderately priced. By the pound they seem a lot more expensive.

Even in my here and now, there are some foods that cost less than a dollar a pound. Brown rice is 78 cents a pound and lentils are 97 cents a pound at Walmart. So far, bananas are always under a $1 a pound, and whole fresh carrots and yellow onions are too. Of the frozen vegetables at Walmart, only green beans and sliced yellow squash are $1/lb, and then only in the 2 lb. size. When I catch chicken thighs on a buy one get one sale, they are 99 cents a pound. So I could make chicken and rice with vegetables within the under a dollar system.

Something I’ve read about and ignored for decades is to weigh produce that is sold by the package, not by weight, and buy the heaviest one for the fixed price. If one of the bags weighs 2 ¼ pounds and another just 2 pounds, that extra fourth of a pound is in effect free. Recently I tried this with those bundles of three broccoli trees that are priced by the bundle, not by the pound. I picked out three that looked like they had different amounts of florets and weighed all three. They weighed 1 ⅛, 1 ¼ and 1 ½ pounds respectively, so by buying the larger one I got 3/8 of a pound more for the money than if I had bought the smaller one. With broccoli I think I could guess this by looking; bags of potatoes or onions I would probably have to weigh.

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Watch out! Tax Season Scams

As if tax season wasn’t bad enough in itself, there are scammers all set to make it into a real tragedy.

Scammers prey on us by knowing what we worry about. How to pay overdue taxes, how to get a better refund faster, the threat of an audit, these are our areas of vulnerability at tax time. Protect yourself by going directly to www.irs.gov for information. Take any snail mail notices to your tax preparer or call the IRS about it. (Use a phone with unlimited minutes and get comfortable, they’re understaffed this year.) Use good old American common sense and skepticism to analyze any email or social media you receive that claim to help you with the IRS or claim to be from the IRS.

The IRS warns us that the IRS will never ask for personal information via social media or email. If you receive an email supposedly from the IRS don’t open any attachments and forward it to phishing@irs.gov.

The IRS will never ask you for the password or PIN to your bank accounts, stock accounts or credit card accounts.

Here’s a link to the IRS’s warnings about tax season scammers and identity thieves: http://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/IRS-Warns-of-Tax-time-Scams

www.youtube.com also addresses this issue: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59Pd320F8z0

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What’s the 211? Where to look for help

We all know about 911 for emergencies and 411 for information. Now there’s also 211, a telephone based resource for all kinds of social services and community help. 211 is a service of the United Way. On the phone, just dial 211. Online, go to www.211.org. (Notice it’s .org not .com). The website gives you the phone number to call United Way locally.

In Florida’s Volusia and Flagler counties we have www.211Live.org which has a link to a searchable directory where you can look for the specific thing you need. They have 1,000+ resources, everything from after school child care to help if your house burns down, help with food, housing, elder care, counseling, transportation, medical care….

Each state has its own website, e.g. www.211florida.org, www.211arkansas.org, etc. Each state and county has its own range of services, and some counties are not yet served in some states.

If you or someone you know needs help with just about anything, just dial 211.

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Learn a Language for Free – Duolingo

I enjoy learning a new language, but I don’t know many languages well because I lack the self-discipline to stick with it. My high school French has been of little use to me because I’m never around anyone who speaks French. I know the usual food words and “hola” in Spanish. Sadly, I can cuss or call names in six languages, but I’m fluent only in English.

Something that helps with sticking with it is www.duolingo.com. They send me an email every day reminding me to come back and learn some more. The format is kind of game-like, so I think I’m playing, but it’s also a sound way of learning. I do better when I not only hear and say it but also read and write it, and Duolingo.com has all of that. So far I’m finding the amount of repetition to be just enough so I finally catch on and not so much that I get annoyed with it.

At present they offer Latin American Spanish, French, German, Brazilian Portuguese, and Italian courses for English speakers, as well as American English for Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Russian, Polish, Turkish, and Hungarian speakers. It is available on the Web, iOS, and Android platforms.

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