Is It true?

Some of the things everybody “knows” about saving money turned out not to be true!

52 Weeks: Water – Bathing

There are low flow showerheads available to limit water use in the shower. They can cost anywhere from $8 to $50. You can find them at hardware stores, discount stores, and online at According to Florida Power and Light, if it takes less than twenty-four seconds for your shower to fill a bucket to the one gallon line, you can save money by switching to a low flow head.

Also useful is the type of showerhead with a handle on it to turn off the water flow. You can have the water off while soaping or shampooing without having shampoo run into your eyes when you lean over to turn the water back on. Or you can buy a controller valve that screws on above your existing showerhead and allows you to turn the water volume down or off. They cost about $10.

I bought one and I like it very much. I have the luxurious feeling of lots of water when it’s on full flow. I can turn it to low flow when I want to and I can turn it off for part of the shower. This method uses less water than just a low flow showerhead but still leaves me feeling like there’s plenty of water in my shower. There are flow-restricting aerators for sink faucets too. Most places I’ve lived already had those in place.

Is It True? Most sources assume that showers use less water than baths. I doubt that’s an absolute. People shower for more or less time and showerheads vary in flow rate. Tubs vary in size and in how much you choose to fill them. You can test this for yourself by putting the plug in the tub drain when you start the shower. See how much water is in the tub when you finish.

I did this with a normal flow showerhead. The tub filled to about where I would have filled it for a bath, nearly full, 32 gallons. And that was a simple shower with no time spent letting the hot water run over my back, no leg shaving, nothing extra. Later I did the same in the shower that has a lower flow showerhead and used 18.6 gallons.

Next, I went back to the full flow shower and took a “military shower.” In a military shower, you get wet all over, turn off the water, soap and shampoo. Then turn the water back on just long enough to rinse off. That used 11 gallons. A military shower in the lower flow shower used 9.13 gallons.

I’ve tested the drought-inspired idea of showering with the drain plugged and then bailing the water from the tub into a bucket for other uses. I thought I might be able to use the shower water for all of the toilet flushing. The bailing was easiest with a lightweight, shallow four-cup plastic food storage container. After a week or so, leaving water in the tub for days made the non-skid strips come loose, so that was the end of that.

Is It True? Zap! ‘Restorer’ As Seen on TV

There is a type of commercial I’ve learned to be suspicious of. The product always is supposed to solve a real life problem with amazing wonderfulness. They always offer a second one free or for a nominal price, “just pay an additional handling charge.”

After seeing the commercial for Zap! for the umpteenth time and wondering if it would clean the grout in my floor, I Googled “Zap! complaints.” The first result was a link to where it is sold on Amazon (not solely online as they claim). Here are the reviews:

Most said it was no more effective than any other ordinary cleaning product, and was not effective on grout.

When in doubt, Google it.


52 Weeks: Earnings – Retraining, Is It True?

From the book:


Going back to school to train in something there’s a demand for is a popular suggestion. Make sure there really is a demand before you spend your savings or go into debt to pay for school.

I looked into medical billing and coding. The schools all made it sound like there was a huge demand. Of course they did, they’re selling their schooling. I visited a local school. The salesperson was clearly very desperate to sell me on spending $16,000 for less than a year of training.

I went a little deeper on the Internet, past the sales pitches. I found a discussion board of people who had taken the schooling, passed the exams, and passed the state licensing tests. They still couldn’t get work, because the employers insisted on experience. When the unemployment rate is high, many people are looking for work. Employers can ask for experienced workers and get them. They have little motivation for training someone who is new to their field.




Is It True? Nutritious Food is Expensive

My answer is, yes and no.

Blueberries are expensive. Bananas are not.

Steak is expensive. Eggs are not. At two eggs per serving, they put the protein in your meal for about twenty cents.

Name brand ready-made fancy granola cereal is expensive. Oatmeal is not.

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are expensive. A whole chicken costs less per pound and is far more versatile.

Brown rice is filling and nutritious and inexpensive.

Lentils cook quickly compared to other beans, are high in protein, and are inexpensive.

Shelled walnuts are expensive. Sunflower kernels cost less and have similar nutritional value.

Ready-cut carrots are expensive. Whole carrots are not. Cabbage, potatoes, and onions are inexpensive and nutritious.



52 Weeks: Earnings – A Second Job

Thinking of getting a second job, or maybe an at home parent is considering adding a second income to the family?

From the book:

The financial question is, how much of the second income will we be able to keep, after what it costs to earn it? Below is a worksheet that you can use to find out the effect of a second income on your own family. First, here’s an example. Suppose the best second job available right now pays minimum wage, currently $7.25 an hour. Gross pay for forty hours of work in a week would be $290.

Taxes for Social Security and Medicare will be withheld at the rate of 5.65%. In this case, that would be $16.39.

$290 minus $16.39 = $273.62.

Federal income tax may be withheld. If you are married filing jointly, the income from the second job will be taxed on top of the income from the first job. If the combination of the first income and the second income puts you in the 15% marginal income tax bracket, then the additional income will be taxed at 15%. “Marginal tax rate” means the percentage of each additional dollar earned that will go for taxes.

For 2013, if the income of a couple that files jointly is between $17,850 and $72,500, the tax rate is 15% . 15% of $290 is $43.50

$273.62 minus $43.50 = $230.12 after taxes.

The least expensive childcare in my area costs $80 per week per child or $100 per infant.

$230.12 minus $80 = $150.12 per week after care for one child

$150.12 minus $100 = $50.12 per week after care for a child and an infant.

Now it becomes blurrier. Much depends on whether you already run a second car, or you will buy one for the job, or you will take a bus, walk, bicycle. . . . Each family can calculate what increase in transportation cost the second job will cause. It may be as simple as the amount of gas burned for the commute or the cost of bus fare.

$50.12 minus $10 for transportation = $40.12

If the job requires special clothing that you don’t already have, that cost will have to be subtracted from earnings. You can divide the cost of the clothes by the number of weeks the clothes will probably last and subtract a week’s worth from this weekly calculation.

Will there be an added cost of buying lunches, or will you have the time and energy to make lunches at home ahead of time? If you’re both tired from working, will you spend money on take-out and prepared foods? Will you need to pay someone to do yard work and house cleaning?

Too many workplaces have costly events like showers and parties for co-workers. People will want you to buy over-priced things for their children’s fundraisers. This will come on top of existing social events and fundraisers in your family and neighborhood. It’s a whole new vista of possible costs. This will have to be taken into account too, unless you have the iron will to refuse to join in.

Second income worksheet

Here’s a worksheet you can use for your own situation

_______________gross hourly rate

x______________ hours per week

=______________ weekly pay (If salaried, write weekly salary on this line)

x 0.0565___________for Social Security and Medicare taxes

=______________new balance after subtracting SS and Medicare taxes

-______________federal tax: new balance times your marginal tax rate (below)

=______________balance after taxes

-______________weekly childcare costs if you have those costs

=______________balance after childcare

-______________ added costs of traveling to the job

=______________balance after transportation

-______________ costs of work clothing and care of work clothing

=______________balance after special clothing

-______________added cost of purchased lunches and work parties and gifts

=______________balance after added social costs

-______________minus additional cost of prepared foods and meals out

=______________equals balance after convenience

-_____________ minus cost of hiring things done, yard work and house cleaning

=_____________equals balance after hired workers

÷_____________hours worked per week

=_____________ the “real” hourly wage you get to keep after work expenses


Tax rates for married filing jointly for 2013:

Marginal Rate Income Range
10% $0 to $17,850
15% $17,850 to $72,500
25% 72,500 to $146,400
28% 146,400 to $223,050
33% $223,050 to $398,350


52 Weeks – CFL Bulbs, Is It True?

In 2013 I put a CFL bulb in my reading light in the living room. Fourteen watts vs. sixty, and I think I can see even better. They burn much cooler too, so that will save a little on the a/c.

I had it in my head that CFL bulbs cost a lot, but the prices have gone down since I formed that idea. I saw them on at less than $2 a bulb. They are said to last as much as ten times as long as traditional incandescent bulbs, and use 50% to 80% less electricity.

On the other hand, when I went to buy some, I read the reviews on It seems that in real life the cheaper bulbs may not last very long at all! I learned from the reviews that their claimed ten year life might actually be less than a year in practice. So I searched on “complaints CFL bulbs.”

  • I learned that you’ll have better luck if you buy Energy Starrated name brand bulbs.
  • They do better in places where they will stay on for long periods.
  • It’s better not to use them in a recessed or enclosed fixture.
  • They don’t do as well where there is vibration, such as a ceiling fan or garage door opener.
  • You need special bulbs for fixtures on a dimmer switch, even if you don’t use the dimmer feature.
  • An ordinary light that stays on for hours is the best place to use them.
  • The used bulbs must be disposed of as hazardous waste because they contain a small amount of mercury. Home improvement stores like Lowe’s have collection centers for them.

After two years, the CFL bulbs in fixtures that stay on for long periods are still going strong. The ones in the bathroom light burned out.

Several people told me that it costs more to turn a florescent or CFL light on every time you enter the room than to just leave it on. I looked into it. This is old news from the ‘70s. The old style ballasts used a lot of energy. Modern fluorescent lights use only a tiny bit of extra energy on startup, compared to the energy used to leave it burning.

Frequent turning on and off can shorten the life of a bulb. But again, for modern bulbs this effect is very, very minor. According to Scientific American and, a rule of thumb for modern fluorescents, including CFLs, is to leave it on if you will be out of the room for less than five minutes.

52 Weeks: Fridge Gasket – Is it True?

For years, I’ve read the advice to test your refrigerator’s door seals by closing the door on a dollar bill. They say that if it’s easy to pull out, the seals aren’t keeping the cold air in well enough. Once long ago I priced a new gasket and it cost nearly $100, so I didn’t buy it. Recently I saw a variety of gaskets on eBay for $10 to $40, so that’s not so bad. has detailed instructions on how to install a new gasket.

BUT, in the comments on one site, an appliance repairman said that even good gaskets would let you pull a piece of paper out. He said the gaskets should last over fifteen years. So I closed a dollar bill in the door of my nearly new refrigerator and it pulled out easily. So much for decades of saving-money articles! Apparently, they all quoted each other without checking it out.

Another poster said that if the seal leaks because it has warped or twisted, you could heat it all around with a blow dryer to soften it. Then shut the door and it will reshape itself to a better seal. You should replace the gasket if it is torn or cracked. I did notice that the seal feels tighter if I gently push the doors shut instead of just letting them fall shut.

I read in Reader’s Digest’s “Penny Pincher’s Almanac” to check the refrigerator seal by putting a bright light inside, closing the door and looking for the light. They used a 150-watt floodlight on an extension cord. They aimed the light at the opposite side of the door from the side where the cord went in. I don’t have such a thing, so I used my solar camping lantern. I aimed it first at one side of the door and then the other.

By golly, there was a bit of light showing at the top corner of the door on the opposite side from the hinges. The gasket is fine, but the door is not hung straight, leaving a tiny gap. Hunh. I don’t have what it takes to re-hang a door. So I laid a bead of white caulk along the inner dimension of the doorway (not on or touching the door). That partly blocked it, but a dim light still came through. So I put a tiny bit of caulk on the flat front edge of the doorway where it is slightly recessed. That stopped the gap completely. So yay me! It remains to be seen how the cold will affect the lifespan of the caulk.