Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Festival of Frugality, Oops Edition

Wow, time flies when you're having fun (or at least when you're swamped with work)! It seems like it was just yesterday that I hosted the last Festival of Frugality, where the best names in the Frugal Blogosphere get together and share their words of wisdom, network, and give each other new ideas.
So glad to be your host this week, and sorry it's posted later in the day- I uhm oops err got a tad sidetracked by all the food experimentation going on in my home. So I guess this would be the Oops edition of the Festival of Frugality.

We'll start off with my favorite posts.

  • Over at Money Ning, there's an excellent post on teaching your kids to budget. My Lee is just starting to be old enough to understand the concept of money being finite, needing to work to earn it, and being careful where we spend it. Probably sooner rather than later I'll start applying the wonderful advice on this post. For now, the one thing I do actually do is when I go shopping, I will tell Lee "You have 50 cents here. Would you like to get this, that, or something else?" and let him decide how he wants to "budget" his money.
  • Save Money By Cutting Waste is a terrific submission over at Wisdom From Wenchypoo's Mental Wastebasket, and right up my alley. Her list is a great one- my only thing to add to it is- use every last drop of your food, even things you'd otherwise be throwing out, like cooking with banana peels.
  • Personal Finances By the Book discusses whether cell phone protection plans are worthwhile. His reasoning is pretty sound, and applies to all sorts of other insurance on items. It's a worthwhile read.
  • Funny About Money choses to discuss whether Amazon Prime is worth the cost. Again, a worthwhile read, and it reminded me of discussions about whether purchasing a membership to Costco is financially savvy.

And for the last few-

  • The Vacation Gals give some great ideas for frugal vacations.
  • Free Money Finance submitted a post on how to buy a diamond frugally... if a diamond can ever be considered frugal. Hey, who wants a CZ "diamond"? Now THAT is frugal!
  • And if you need to buy a new car- PT Money shares what he thinks are the best cars you can be getting to save money. I just chose to go car free, but I figure this post might help some of you!

So concludes the Oops Edition of the Festival of Frugality!

What oopses did you make lately?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Menu Plan Monday- In Retrospect

It's Monday again, and that means that once again you get to find out- what frugal meals did Penny, Mike, Lee, and Spike eat this week.
Our meals this week were a little bean heavy, as I was feeding my family the 6 different types of beans I cooked for yet another true food price experiment that I conducted and will hopefully be sharing with you on Wednesday.
The foods eaten also reflect the fact that I really need to go grocery shopping, as its been 2 weeks since my last shopping trip. (I have my next shopping trip scheduled for tomorrow.) It's also surprisingly dairy free, as I'd intended to use some of my bulk bought powdered milk, but the shipment has been delayed a drop and hasn't arrived yet.

Menu in Retrospect

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sugar Waxing Instructions

Sugar wax, finished cooking
When I was a kid, we had a neighbor, who, according to legend, removed body hair using sugar, lemon, and water. I never believed such a ridiculous sounding assertion until I was much older and read up about sugar waxing- the traditional hair removal method that involves caramelizing sugar with water and lemon to make a taffy, which attaches to your hairs and pulls them out by the roots. I looked up recipes for sugar wax online, but all of the ones that I tried were terrible, and either didn't harden and I was just left a sticky hairy mess, or they hardened at too high a temperature, leaving me with burns and pulling up layers of skin in my attempt to remove hair.
Miles away from my hometown, I recently bumped into my old neighbor who gave me her famed sugar wax recipe, and lo and behold- it was a keeper! This recipe is sticky enough to pull out hairs, but hard enough that it dries and doesn't stay on you... and works at cooler temperatures so you don't burn yourself or pull off layers of skin!
Sugar mixture- not ready yet. Note it's still clear.

Sugar Waxing

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving- and Some Fantastic News!

Image source
Happy Thanksgiving Weekend! I hope all you Americans are hope you're enjoying your time off work and time with family.

For today's post, I wanted to share but some of the many things I am thankful for that I have in my life.

My Thanksgiving List

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Zero Food Waste Challenge: Banana Peel Chutney

Banana peel chutney served over cucumber
coconut chickpea curry and rice
Welcome to the Zero Food Waste Challenge, where I'll share how I salvaged food and made a yummy dish for my family. Then it'll be your turn to share what you've done, either by linking up to a post on your blog on the subject, or just sharing in the comments below.
You can share anything from cooking with a part of food that people usually throw out, or you can share details about meals made with revamped leftovers or salvaging foods that are past their prime.

Banana Peel Chutney

Banana peel chutney plain
Banana peels are very nutritious; it's a shame to throw them out, especially when you're going through them pretty quickly. This banana peel chutney is based on a recipe I found on the internet and translated and adjusted to suit my taste and what I had in the house. This condiment is really delicious, especially when served with my version of cucumber coconut curry.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cost Comparison Calculations with Conversions

Bob's Red Mill Non-Fat Dry Milk Powder, 26-Ounce Packages (Pack of 4)It's been an awfully long time since I last attended a math class. Six and a half years to be exact. Suffice it to say, my math skills have been a bit rusty as of late. When I was trying to figure out a cost comparison calculation last week to discover if powdered milk was cheaper than fresh milk, I just sat in front of the computer for a nice long while, hemming and hawing, not even knowing where to start, until eventually I managed to figure it out. And I used to be a math whiz!

I decided to share my calculations with you so that when you're faced with such a problem, you'll know the basic steps how to solve the problem and you'll be able to figure out which foods are cheaper. This cost comparison can work for any calculation, even weight to volume or dry to liquids, like if you want to figure out the price of instant hot cocoa vs homemade hot cocoa, or instant coffee vs Starbucks.

Cost Comparison Calculations with Conversions

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Calculating the True Price of Food: Starches Edition

Mashed potatoes, made from 100 grams
of potato and dehydrated potato
You're in the store and you see barley, rice, and pasta all with a relatively decent price. You start comparing prices to see which gets you the largest quantity for the least price, so you take out your calculator and start doing the math. But wait- you're missing an important part of the picture!
If you take one pound of rice, one pound of noodles, and one pound of barley, do you end up with only one pound of each type of the finished product? If not, do you end up with equal amounts of the finished product? How do you even know?

I had fun last night, performing a kitchen experiment, one of a few in a series which will follow. I bought a whole bunch of different starches, cooked 100 grams of each of them, and saw how many grams of end product I got for each food. With this, I've devised a table for you to figure out how much you're paying for your finished product, so you can do a more accurate price comparison in the store, to see which item is truly most worth your while to buy (nutrition factors aside).

The True Price of Starches

Monday, November 22, 2010

Menu Plan Monday- In Retrospect

One of my fellow bloggers posts her weekly menu plan- in retrospect. When you're trying to get the most of your money and ensure that no food is getting wasted, you don't usually stick to a menu exactly, because it's hard to predict what leftovers you'll have and which foods will unexpectedly freeze and need to be used up, or things that apparently weren't as hardy as you were expecting and are already on their last legs. Of course, if you forage, you'll sometimes end up with food that you might not have had when you made a weekly menu plan, so of course, you'll need to adjust your meals to include everything that you have.
So, here's my Weekly Menu Plan- In Retrospect.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Survivor and Frugality

I absolutely love the TV show Survivor. No,  I don't own a TV- I watch old episodes of the TV show online.
I think there is something about the show that appeals to my frugal nature that draws me to it so much. A friend of mine once said that she'd want me in her tribe if she ever would be part of Survivor. I bet I'd have fun!

During my downtime, or when I just want some frugal, fun vegging out time, I sit in front of the computer and turn on Survivor. I've watched Seasons 1 and 2 so far and am halfway through 3.

While watching Survivor, some thoughts came to mind about how Survivor relates to frugality. Either how frugal concepts could help someone be a better contestant on Survivor, or how applying certain things from Survivor can help you be more frugal.
So here it goes:

Survivor vis a vis Frugality:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Semolina Porridge aka Homemade Cream of Wheat

My husband loves porridge, all kinds. Rice porridge (pudding), maize porridge (polenta), oat porridge (oatmeal). Any kind is delicious. The favorite porridge in the house of all though is semolina porridge, also known as cream of wheat. Where I live, this is an insanely cheap breakfast that is perfect for mornings where I don't have the energy to bake bread, make pancakes, or do anything complicated. Did I mention also that it's really cheap? And simple?

Homemade Semolina Porridge AKA Cream of Wheat

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Zero Food Waste Challenge

People throw away a ton of food. Most of it is still quite tasty, nutritious, and filling, and it is a shame that people are wasting so much food.
At the Penniless home, we're all about eliminating food waste. (Not perfect yet, though, but getting there.) I always have such an urge to share with readers when I discover a terrific and delicious way to use up food that otherwise would have gone into the trash, and so this challenge is born.

Each Thursday, I'll be posting the Zero Food Waste Challenge, where I'll share how I salvaged food and made a yummy dish for my family. Then it'll be your turn to share what you've done, either by linking up to a post on your blog on the subject, or just sharing in the comments below.
You can share anything from cooking with a part of food that people usually throw out, like chicken skins, carrot peels, cabbage cores, watermelon rind, or anything like that. Alternatively, you can share details about meals made with revamped leftovers or salvaging foods that are past their prime.

I can't wait to hear from you, what food's you saved from the dump this week!

This week, the foods I saved were:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cutting Cloth Diapering Laundry Costs

Cloth diapering is an eco friendly thing to do, both for the ecology and the economy. The way I see it, if I can keep dipes out of the dump and extra bucks in the bank, it's a win win situation for all.
Some people mistakenly believe that once you factor in all the variables of buying, washing, drying, and using cloth, you've canceled out all the benefits, financially and ecologically. Extra water, soap, and electricity are used when cloth diapering your kiddos' tushies, but if you do things a certain way, you can keep the extra costs of cloth diapering as minimal as possible.

Laundering Cloth Diapers Economically and Ecologically

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Grocery Trip, November 16, 2010

My husband just got his paycheck, and that means we can breathe a little more easily now. Now that the money is coming in, however, I've decided to spend a large chunk of it investing in certain bulk foods, so money will once again be a drop tight until next month. (One of the things I'm buying only comes in 50 pound sacks and costs 200 dollars for the lot- which will last a whole long while!!!- but my dad is probably going to buy 25 pounds of it from me, so that'll make things a little more bearable financially.)*
My grocery shop reflects my upcoming bulk order (hopefully it'll be getting here Friday), as I didn't buy some of my usual staples because I'll be purchasing them at a much lower price later on this week.

I feel that it is important for me to point out that even though money is gonna be tight again, we do have more breathing room in our finances than we have in the past (thanks to a new job that I got), so I'm no longer trying to cut back every unnecessary purchase. Quite a few things I purchased today at the grocery store were absolute wants, not needs, but that is totally fine with me because the grocery shop was cheap enough and stayed within our budget. The point of frugality is not to deprive yourself of all unnecessary things, but rather to scale back enough so that you're living within your means (and ideally beneath).

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fighting Fading

Some faded blue jeans
Remember that beautiful top you bought that made you look like a million dollars when you first tried it on and garnered you lots of compliments? Now it's shoved to the back of your closet and never worn, because it's lost its luster, changed it's color, and makes you look like you don't care about your appearance, but you haven't thrown it out because you remember how it used to make you feel.
Has that ever happened to you? I'll bet it has. Fading ruins so much clothing around here, because I live in a very sunny climate, and the sun works as a natural bleach.
Oh well.

Here's a few tips I've picked up over the years to fight fading and keep your clothes looking spiffy for as long as possible.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Illogical Mathematics of Frugality

Colman's Original English Prepared Mustard 3.53 oz (Pack of 6)Mathematics definitely has its place in a frugal lifestyle. Figuring out how much an item costs per ounce takes mathematics, as does adding up your expenditures and figuring out what percentage of your money is being spent in different categories.

However, there are some times where frugality has it's own set of mathematical rules, where doing the frugal thing means doing what may seem illogical to the mathematician. Yet it works.

Illogical Frugality Mathematical Rules

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cheap Money Saving Investments

Global Sun Oven - Solar CookerIt's been said that it takes money to save money. I've felt the truth of this all too often, when I've contemplated the merits of owning a home versus renting, or having a complete solar and wind powered electric system. Unfortunately, those that need to save money most are the ones without spare cash to invest.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to laying out lots of money in order to save. You can make your own dehydrator or solar cooker out of scrap material and end up saving on food costs and electricity/gas without needing to purchase these appliances at all.

Then there are those products that are relatively inexpensive, yet can save you large amounts of money over time.

Cheap Money Saving Investments

Friday, November 12, 2010

Candied Grapefruit, Pomelos, Sweeties, and Other Citrus.

"Daddy, we made candy grapefruit and it's all sugary. Mommy said it's for a present."
-Exact quote from Lee this afternoon while talking to Mike on the phone.

Y'all must remember that time when I told you about using watermelon rind in place of pumpkin when I shared my watermelon rind seitan curry recipe. I don't like paying for a fruit and then throwing out a large percentage of it. I try to save every last bit of foods I buy, from eating vegetable scraps to rendering chicken fat from chicken scraps.
It should come as no surprise to you then, that I was trying to find things to do with citrus peels, as I don't like throwing out anything edible (no, chemicals are not edible in my book). Citrus fruit all come with peels, but some in particular have really thick rinds and pith, like sweeties (also known as oroblancos), pomelos, and grapefruits, making you really conscious of how much of that citrus fruit ends in the trash.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Expense tracking

I've been doing some thinking lately about frugality.
Wilson Jones Account Book, Double Page Format, 12 Columns, 9.25 x 7 Inches, 80 Pages, 30 Lines per Page, (W74112A)(Come on, Penny, who do you think you're kidding. You? Frugal? Haha.)
No really... Lately I've been pondering the ins and outs of frugality, but more than just the details of what I do and how I do it, I've been wondering as to the whys and the wherefores. (Ok, I just used that word because it sounded big and pompous, but I'm not sure it actually conveys what I want it to.)
Yes, I'm frugal, but how did I get here? What made me be who I am today?

I am frugal by necessity, but there was one specific tip given to me once by a friend that reaffirmed my frugality... and then fell by the wayside. When writing an article about beginner's frugality, I realized just how life changing that little tip was, and how helpful it would be to start doing it again.
That tip? Keeping track of my spending. Down to the last cent. Last time I did that I realized where exactly my money was going, but I quit it once I realized that I was spending more than I was bringing in... Now that we've got our spending more under control and budgeted, I decided to try this once more.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Homemade Orange Cleaner

Strained and diluted orange cleaner,
orange peels soaking in vinegar
Before I got pregnant with Lee, I was working as an assistant to a dentist in my area. I got to help him with all sorts of tasks, like cleaning up the after effects of oral surgery as well as assisting in root canals, building crowns and drilling implants. Dentistry is messy stuff, with lots of leftovers remaining in mouths after procedures. To remove all this gunk, we used something that my boss simply called "orange cleaner". Find out more about it on this blog.
After inquiries, I found out that it was made from the oils in the peel of an orange. Powerful stuff, that was, and completely chemical free and non toxic to boot. (I should hope so if it was being put in peoples' mouths.)
For a while I've wanted to purchase some of that uber powerful orange stuff, but never got around to it.
Then I discovered how to make my own.

Homemade Orange Cleaner

Monday, November 8, 2010

Rethinking Gifts

Cuisinart Chef's Classic 12-Quart Stockpot with CoverThe Holiday season is approaching; the topic of gifts is in the air.
Yesterday, I went in to town and used some gift cards we had to purchase a gift for myself, something I'd wanted for a long time. A large, stainless steel, 12.5 quart pot, deep enough to be used for home canning.

What? That's what you call a present, Penny? How about something actually nice and special?

Yup. For me, that's an ideal present. My last present before that was a cast iron large pot, and the one before that was a gravy boat... and before that, a large pretty salad bowl.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Freezers, Fridges, Electricity Use... and Toddlers

Haier 3.9 Cu Ft Fridge W Full Sz Freezer BlackOur refrigerator has seen better days... It was good to us while it lasted, and we got it for an unbeatable bargain (a story in and of itself- shared below), but all good things must come to an end...
Fortunately, our fridge isn't on its last legs or anything, it just is not as good as it used to be. Let me explain.
When we first moved into our new apartment, sans dryer, sans fish tanks, and sans an extra bedroom, I was thrilled to get our lowest electric bill ever for the first bi-monthly period. 
The next billing period was somewhat higher, but that was explainable due to the exorbitantly high temperatures this summer, and our electric bill was tremendously lower than that of everyone else I knew because we had no AC and hence used other keep cool methods.

But when the bill for these past two month's electrical usage arrived the other day and I saw that it was even higher than the previous one, I was quite perplexed. Why?
Was it because I've been baking more than usual? Was it because I used my crock pot overnight twice? Was it because we turned on the little vent in our windowless room because we were line drying laundry in there? The answer eluded us.
Eventually I realized what the cause was of our higher electric bill. Our fridge and freezer.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Homemade Healthy Vinegar

I grew up rarely having any vinegar, as my mom didn't really enjoy the taste. Lately, however, I've gotten accustomed to using it more and more around the house. Vinegar is a very versatile food with health benefits and preservative abilities, and also works as a cleanser, deodorizer, and antibacterial agent among many other uses. Vinegar is not that expensive round these parts, but a quick look at the label will show that it is synthetic and chock full of chemicals; making it a pretty unhealthy and unnatural condiment.
Fortunately, with just a few simple ingredients, it is possible to make your own healthy vinegar.

Homemade Healthy Vinegar

Homemade vinegar can be made in a few ways. Yeasts eat sugars in liquids, forming an alcoholic beverage. Acetobacter bacteria then transform the alcohol into acetic acid, resulting in vinegar. Grain alcohol, wine, and even fruit juices and even tea can be made into vinegar, with just one added ingredient- a mother of vinegar.

Like a kombucha mushroom, a mother of vinegar is a "blob" made from a symbiotic culture of specific strains of bacteria and yeast, which transforms carbohydrates into a healthful liquid.
Bragg - Apple Cider Vinegar, 32 oz liquidGetting your hands on a mother of vinegar may be hard to do, but as long as you've got a source of unpasteurized vinegar (like Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar), just add a few tablespoons of that to your liquid, cover with a breathable material, and let sit for 2 or 3 weeks.
In no time whatsoever, you will have healthy vinegar on your hands!
To make this, use whatever kitchen scraps you have to make a juice.
Apple cores leftover from making apple cider can be ground in your food processor and mixed with some water and Bragg's to make your own apple cider vinegar.
The same can be done with pear cores, or even with carrot peels in water. So long as it's sweet, it can be made into vinegar! Of course, you can also use wine, but you will have wasted a good usable thing when you could have made your own vinegar much more cheaply.

On the other hand, if, like myself, you're living in a place where getting live cultures like Bragg's is impossible due to health regulation laws, don't despair!
You can make your own vinegar, just by letting your kombucha sit longer! Seriously, try it!
I've added extra sugar and let my kombucha sit for a while. The less kombucha you have in relation to kombucha mushrooms, the faster it'll turn to vinegar. When I leave just a cup of tasty and sweet kombucha in a jar, in about 3 days it becomes vinegar, even with no mushroom inside. When I have a large jar and add 2 or three mushrooms, it'll become vinegar also pretty quickly.
I just made a salad dressing with my homemade kombucha vinegar. It was so tasty and delicious! I don't think I'll ever buy adulterated synthetic vinegar ever again!

Have you ever made vinegar before? Would you ever make it? Do you use synthetic vinegar or just the healthful kind? What do you use vinegar for in your home?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Don't Lose Your Things

Sterling Silver Celtic Trinity Knot Heart Ring Size 7(Size 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15)Expenditures come up in every family, no matter how hard you try to cut back. Worst of all, though, is expenditures made necessary by our own negligence. Not keeping track of where your things are can cause you to need to spend more money on replacements once you lose things.
In my 4 years of being married, I haven't lost my glasses once, and my engagement and wedding rings were misplaced for a few hours, but aside for that- I've always known where expensive things are.

I have an ADD brain, which makes it much more difficult for me to become and stay organized, but I have one trick to make sure that my glasses and rings never become lost. My husband, on the other hand, an organized person without ADD, has frequently misplaced his glasses, something even I haven't done.

What is this trick of mine?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Water Bath Canning With No Equipment

Canned beets, grapefruit marmalade, and pickled cauliflower.
Food preservation is definitely my "thing", because it helps me buy foods cheaply when they're in season and then make them last a while in my stockpile so I can benefit from them when the prices are higher.
 Once upon a time I thought most food preservation methods were not possible for me to do; only freezing foods seemed doable. I didn't own a dehydrator, nor did I have the money to lay out to purchase one. Pickling seemed too iffy and difficult. Canning? Absolutely no extra money to spend on equipment, not to ention the recurrent expense of jars.
Eventually I got past my fear of pickling, built my own dehydrator with which to dehydrate my vegetables, but put off any hopes of canning. I didn't have the money to lay out for it. Canning was an expensive endeavor unlikely to ever happen around  here.
Then along comes blog reader Beanna83 and proved me wrong. On her say so, I discovered that I can can for free! No money needs to be laid out for canning equipment. You can preserve foods in glass jars without any bought canning equipment.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Budgeting Basics

Confession time! Don't you just love that- when you get to hear all about my frugal flops and failures and things that I do that are less than ideal? I love sharing them, so here it goes:
I, the Penniless Frugalista, have started working on my very first budget today.

What!?! Whoa! Hold it there, Penny! You mean that you've been frugal for this long and had a blog teaching others to be frugal, and you've never even budgeted before? Why not, Penny???

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Grocery Trip

We're down to the last shopping trip in this financial valley, and my goal was, as always, to keep the grocery bill down as low as possible. I wasn't sure how easy this would be, but having a full stockpile of groceries bought on the cheap definitely helps. This shop was to supplement what we didn't have; whatever wasn't bought doesn't mean that it doesn't get bought- it just could mean it was bought at a different time. (Eggs most likely will never appear in a post, as I buy them from a vendor who comes to my door, 30 or 60 at a time, at $2.75 a dozen. I buy once every 2-4 weeks, generally.)
When I first walked into the store and saw the prices of produce, I thought that there was no way I would be able to keep my total bill low. I specifically go shopping on the day that is designated as the "vegetable sale loss leader day", but today the produce loss leader pickings were very slim. And everything else? Not just were they not at their usual prices, they were absurdly high. Every. Single. Thing. Nearly.
But be that as it may, I still was determined to not let my produce expenditure push my grocery bill over budget this trip.
And I succeeded!
All this for 66 dollars!

What I got:

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Proud Accomplishment

I have to tell you, I'm quite excited. Our family has just reached a difficult but important milestone, one that means that we're breaking the poverty cycle, starting with us!
To my chagrin, I must admit that our family does have debt. While not an insane amount, and none of it because of reckless spending, but just a combination of some faulty decisions and bad luck (can anyone say terrible landlord?), whatever the reason, debt must be paid off, and I'd like to do it sooner as opposed to later. To do this, my husband and I have been trying to follow Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover Baby Steps.