Friday, January 30, 2009

Dog Cookies

Let's face it, dogs love cookies. But have you ever read the ingredients? They can be downright scary. Blue Dog Bakery solves the problem by baking dog cookies with pronounceable, understandable ingredients like molasses, oats, and wheat flour. They come in different sizes to accommodate all kinds of dogs, but my big dogs insist they like the little Doggie Paws just as much as the big cookies. And just in case your doggy gets a few too many treats, Blue Dog Bakery's cookies are low fat. Many of their cookies are peanut butter flavored, but happily, they do not contain the tainted peanut butter that is currently being pulled from stores. Check their website at for more information, including the source of the peanut butter flavoring used in their cookies.

Five cupcakes from Buttercup!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Forever Flashlight

I received a Forever Flashlight as a gift a few years ago. The concept is actually pretty good. It works on electromagnetic energy, eliminating the need for batteries. You shake it to get the energy going, so it's ready to use in a matter of seconds, and there's never that awful moment of realizing the batteries are dead.

Mine was put to the test a few years ago when my neighbor and I searched for something in the dark. I shook, and shook, and shook my flashlight, but her plastic, less-than-$5.00 battery-operated cheapie outshone my Forever Flashlight no matter how hard or long I shook it. Hers cast a strong beam, but my flashlight wasn't up to the job. Now, I have to say that they have new and improved versions for sale -- I can only hope that they're significantly better. Try before you buy to be sure you'll be happy with it.

One cupcake for a good idea.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup

There's something wonderful about the soothing qualities of soup on these blustery winter days. And there are certainly a lot of soups on the market from which we can choose. I tried a squash and mango soup the other day that I won't be buying again. But Pacific's Organic Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup is one that I love. Slightly sweet but with the tangy tastes of tomato and red pepper, it's rich and comforting. It has a reduced fat milk base to offset the veggies and give it a pleasant consistency. Four servings per container at a very svelte 110 calories per serving.

Five yummy cupcakes.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

War of the Greek Yogurts

A few months after I declared my addiction to Oikos, Stonyfield Farm's delicious Greek Yogurt, it disappeared from store shelves. I assumed it had become too expensive for WalMart to carry, but when it vanished from Kroger, I didn't know what to think. I checked with my natural food store, and they pitched Fage (pronounced fa-yeh). You'll love it, they promised. With no alternatives, I finally caved and tried Fage.

It was fabulous. Better than fabulous. Delicious. Sinful. Rich and creamy. I didn't even need the cherry part. I felt like I was dipping into sour cream. How could it be so good?

Turns out there's a little bit of a difference between Oikos and Fage -- specifically, 100 calories and nine grams of saturated fat. My happy balloon burst rather quickly. Oikos is an organic nonfat yogurt. It contains 110 calories and zero grams of fat. Fage is made of milk and cream, which means it's 210 calories, with 12 grams of total fat.

Now I have to admit that they both taste great. But all things considered, I think I'd rather have zero grams of fat, especially zero grams of saturated fat.

Happily, I've learned that Oikos disappeared because it was in such demand that Stonyfield Farm switched to a larger facility. It's due back in stores any time now. I can't wait. And it's great news for consumers because there are two excellent Greek yogurts on the market.

Three cupcakes to Fage for wonderful flavor, super texture, and delicious taste. If only it had less fat.

Five cupcakes to Stonyfield Farm and Oikos for a fabulous Greek yogurt -- and no guilt.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Natural Cat Treats

It's been fun blogging about money-saving ideas but I'm now shifting back to blogging about products. Thanks to everyone who contributed a money saving tip!

Like a lot of cats, my cat can be a picky eater. Couple that with a desire to buy treats made in the US, and it can be hard to find a treat that satisfies us both. Beefeaters makes Freeze Dried Salmon Cat Treats that my cat can't resist. It contains 100% fish fillets. No additives, no carbs, no colors, just plain freeze dried salmon. It smells like fish (it must -- Mochie tries to open it himself), but it needs no refrigeration. It comes in little chunks and flakes. At first I thought the flakes might be a waste, but Mochie loves a little sprinkle of them on his food. It might be a good way to get an otherwise finicky cat to eat his food.

It's not cheap, but a little goes a very long way. Available at PetSmart.

Five cupcakes from Mochie.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bottled Water No Longer Fashionable

Kaye George is a violinist, composer, mystery reviewer, and writer. Her short stories have appeared in Web Mystery Magazine, FMAM, Writer's Post Journal, Hard Luck Stories, Mysterical-E, and Mouth Full of Bullets. Four stories have won awards, the latest for Mysterical-E's Summer 2008 issue. She lives in Texas. Read Kaye George's short story "Handbaskets, Drawers, and a Killer Cold" in Crooked at

News flash! It is no longer fashionable to carry around a store-bought water bottle. I just declared it. It is not cool, and it isn't even healthy. Not if you want to live on this planet for a few more years.

Here are some facts that fly in the face of the practicality of buying bottles filled with water.

(1) In this tight economic climate, it's too expensive! In the United States in 2006, bottled water consumption reached a record 8.3 billion gallons, 185 million gallons of which was imported. The total amount spent on bottled water was between $11 and $16, which is more than we spent on iPods or movie tickets.

(2) It's too expensive to get the bottles to the stores. In contrast to tap water, which is distributed through an energy-efficient infrastructure, transporting bottled water long distances involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels. Nearly a quarter of all bottled water crosses national borders to reach consumers, transported by boat, train, and truck.

(3) And also too expensive to get the water into the bottles. It costs more money to drink bottled water than to put gas in your car--up to five times more--due mainly to its packaging and transportation. From, bottled water costs between $1 and $4 per gallon, and 90 percent of the cost is in the bottle, lid and label. It takes over 1.5 million barrels of oil to manufacture a year's supply of bottled water. That's enough oil to fuel 100,000 cars.

(4) What in the heck is in those bottles? You don't really know. Bottled water companies do not have to release their water-testing results to the public, whereas municipalities do.

Now, I admit that I gleaned the above facts partly from a website selling refillable bottles and home water filters (, but I've thought for awhile now (with the urging of my planet-conscious daughter who drives a hybrid) that it's a better idea to buy a refillable bottle, and refill it. From the tap.

I'm also quoting where they state that in 2006 Americans drank about 167 bottles of water each but only recycled an average of 23 percent. That leaves 38 billion water bottles in landfills. Plastic bottles take 700 years before they begin to decompose in a landfill.

I've read news stories over the last couple years about how some brands of bottled water use city tap water. If it's good enough for them—wait a minute—we're PAYING for tap water? Whoa! That's just not right!

I know it's terribly convenient to buy water this way, but it's better or your pocketbook, your planet, and my daughter's peace of mind, not to. You can make 2009 greener and your pocketbook healthier if you pass up the bottled water next time you grocery shop. Instead, buy a washable, refillable bottle. Save your money! Save the planet!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Family Night

Around the holidays, when store woes were in the news, I asked the produce guy at my local grocery store how they were doing. He said business was great because people were cutting back on eating out, and that meant they were buying more groceries. Bad news if you own a restaurant, but great news for grocery stores. And maybe for families, too.

We've been hearing the benefits of family night for some time now. If you're out of the loop, it's the night when families stay home, turn off the TV, cook and eat together, and then spend the evening together. Not only does it help everyone bond and catch up, but it's a great time to introduce kids to some cooking basics. On top of that, it's a lot cheaper than spending the evening eating out and catching a movie, or in a noisy kid emporium where they run wild. Beneficial on every level.

Dinner doesn't have to be fancy. Let the kids take turns choosing their favorites, and help them learn how to make them. Even if they only want pizza, it's easy to make with a store-bought crust. I loved it when my mom went through a fondue phase. I still have fond memories of sitting around the kitchen table with my family on those nights. It's a slower meal and lends itself to talking and laughing. I still make fondue every New Year's Eve, when there's lots of time for a leisurely dinner.

And after dinner, don't head for a video. Get out the board games and interact. Even if you don't have kids, it can be a lot fun to get together with friends and play Pictionary or Trivial Pursuit. Make it pot-luck so no one is stuck with all the work and expense. Games can be pricey, but they're often available for a few dollars at second-hand stores. And they can be used over and over again. Remember what fun it was to play Monopoly when you were a kid? There are so many -opoly games -- Canadaopoly, Gardenopoly, Spaceopoly, Catopoly, even Make-Your-Own-Opoly -- something for everyone.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Swap Seeds

Since we're on the subject of gardening, I thought I'd post a few more suggestions for saving money.

1. Plan a seed swap with your gardening friends. Seed packages often contain more seeds than one person with a small garden can use. Take what you need and swap the rest with a friend. Many of us collect seeds from our gardens. If you have too many, share the rest with your pals.

2. Divide your plants. Every spring my mother's bleeding hearts are huge. I divide them and plant them around my garden. Hostas are super candidates for dividing, too.

3. I've read that the cardboard tubes inside paper towels and toilet paper rolls are the perfect diameter for seed pots. Cut them to size, place them on a tray and fill with soil, plant your seeds, and then transfer to the garden without the expense of peat pots. I'll be trying that trick this year. Begin saving your cardboard rolls now.

4. Start annuals from seeds. If you have room in your house, bring in pots and window boxes and sow seeds directly in them. Rosemary mentioned this yesterday. I've done this in the past with window boxes and gotten super results.

5. Don't be overly ambitious with your vegetable garden. Make it too big and it won't be fun. We all know home grown tomatoes beat store bought ones, so be sure to include some tomato plants. Other easy-to-grow vegetables are zucchini, yellow squash, patty pan squash, cucumbers and green beans. Red and yellow peppers can pose some problems, but at $2 to $3 per pepper in the grocery store, they're worth planting!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Plan Your Garden

Rosemary Harris is the author of The Big Dirt Nap (February 2009, St. Martin’s Minotaur) and Pushing Up Daisies (coming soon in paperback) featuring amateur sleuth Paula Holliday. Rosemary is a master gardener and a former bookstore manager and video producer.

I’m not doing a whole lot of gardening right now..I’m looking out at a new dusting of snow that covered my garden yesterday like so much powdered sugar – but for any gardener, this is the time of year when we're pouring over garden catalogs and deciding which projects we're going to pursue in the garden this year.

My garden is 16 years old – an infant in the grand scheme of things. I was lucky enough to inherit the garden of a woman whose tastes were similar to mine and who had a good eye for design and color. I was unlucky enough to have bought my house after she’d rented it for over 10 years – leaving the garden neglected and overgrown. For the first few years I did lots of pruning, ripping out, then planting. I’d load up the Jeep every weekend with new plants to try…and if they didn’t succeed, so be it –I’d yank them out and fling them on the compost heap.

When I was writing my first book I had much less time to spend on my garden. A side benefit of that was that it saved me quite a bit of money.

I was a much more careful shopper at the nursery; I tried to never go without a list, instead of letting myself be seduced by something I just happened to see or that the nurseryman rhapsodized about. I can’t completely eliminate annuals – can any of us say no to non-stop color? – but I dramatically reduced my use of them, putting perennials and small trees in containers instead. They come back reliably every year and a small shot of color (with one or three annuals) is even more effective than a huge swath. My faves for this are ornamental grasses, hostas, Japanese maples, lysimachia and bamboo. I’ve also found that oregano and lamium (generally used as a ground cover) are great for hanging baskets.

I don’t start nearly as many seeds in February and March as I used to (time constraints) but I always do herbs. And I sow them right in the planters where they’ll be when I finally put them outside. I don’t bother with peat pots anymore. They tended to either dry out or get moldy for me and they seemed like an unnecessary expense since I was sowing the seeds right in the pot.

Still, the best way to save money in the garden is by making sure that the plant you’ve chosen is right for the spot you’ve chosen. You can spend a lot of time and money trying to make a plant grow where it doesn’t want to! Happy gardening...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Paper Towels

An acquaintance of mine once said he would know he was successful when he could regularly buy Viva brand paper towels. If you haven't tried them, they're pretty remarkable. They really do hold up, even in tough jobs. But no matter which brand you buy, if you use a lot of paper towels, you're tossing money away.

I'm a big believer in drying hands with paper towels when someone in the house has a cold or the flu. But if everyone is healthy, a kitchen towel is perfectly fine for drying hands. A towel can be laundered repeatedly and will last for years.

Are you a fan of cooking shows? Have you ever noticed that chefs walk around with a towel? We should take a cue from them. There's not much a paper towel can wipe up that a towel can't take care of just as well -- maybe better.

And if you're going green for the sake of the earth, cloth towels make sense on both ends of the equation. Save a tree by using fewer paper towels, and don't clog up the world with so many discarded paper towels!

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Secret Drain

When I was growing up, my father was always telling us to turn off the lights. "If you're not in the room, turn off the lights!" As a result, I'm pretty good about flipping the light switch when I leave a room. But I notice that it never occurs to some people. Dad was right. All those extra lights were drawing electricity for no reason.

Times have changed and the average household now has a lot more appliances eating up electricity. Do you leave your cell phone charger or iPod plugged in even after they have charged? How about the computer? Is it on all day while no one is home? At least make sure it goes into sleep mode so it will use less energy.

Here's a clue, any electrical appliance that has a glowing light or shows the time is drawing electricity -- even when you're not using it. TVs and DVD players suck a lot of juice. How often is the TV on when no one is watching? Too much trouble to unplug everything? Put them on a power strip so you can turn them all off with one switch.

Now, it's not practical to unplug all the clocks every day. But chances are you have a few appliances that could be unplugged. Some people think you'll save $15 to $20 on your electric bill each month if you unplug them. Doesn't sound like much but multiply by twelve months and you might think twice. There's an easy way to find all those pesky appliances that are eating your money -- take a walk through your house at night with the lights off. If it's glowing, it's eating kilowatts.

The propane gas guy was at my house recently and was surprised to find that I turn off the pilot light on my gas logs because most people leave them on all the time. Have one of those nifty remote controls to turn on your gas logs? That means your pilot light is on. He said that pilot lights can easily eat up three to six gallons per month. Depending on your gas rate, that can add up. Even worse, there are some pilot lights that burn through as much as twelve gallons of gas a month. Yikes! If you use the logs a lot, leave the pilot light on in the winter months, but turn it off when spring arrives.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dial It Down Part Deux

While it's hard for kids to imagine life without a cell phone, a lot of us remember the days when (horrors!) we had to wait until we got home to call our bffs. I love the convenience of cell phones as much as anyone else, but when money is tight, it's worth scaling back and using the old land line more often. You'll still have the cell phone for emergencies.

Consider these cost trimming items.

1. Check your minutes. If you're not using them all, why not cut back to a less expensive plan with fewer monthly minutes?

2. Check for add-ons that you don't need like emergency roadside service, games, and ringtones. Do you absolutely need mobile email? How about web browsing? If you don't use them regularly, ditch them.

3. Are you paying a monthly fee to insure your phone? Unless you have a very expensive phone, insurance probably isn't worthwhile.

4. What are you paying to text messages? Is texting vital to you? Be honest when you answer the next question. Have you texted anything urgent in the last three months?

5. When your contract runs out, don't rush to renew your contract unless there's a problem with the old phone. Ask what will happen if you don't renew. Many companies will continue your service under the same terms. I can't speak for all companies -- but I still have my service. The difference is that I can now change plans at any time because I'm no longer under contract.

6. If it's the kids who are running up the bill, consider pre-paid cell phones. With a limited number of minutes, they'll be forced to economize and won't surprise you with a horrendous unexpected expense. It's a great way to teach them about budgeting. If your little darlings are into texting, consider how much of your budget you want to spend on HRU (how are you) and R U There (are you there).

Two last tips.

1. Look up numbers. 411 can be expensive.

2. Are you calling from your car when you'll be there in five minutes? Retrain yourself. You don't have to call someone you'll see in a few minutes. And go back to using the land line whenever possible.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cleaning Up

Janet Koch, hopeful novelist, is also a budding website designer and book trailer producer. Visit Janet at or contact her at for her Deepwater Design services.

If you've ever stood wide-eyed in the middle of the cleaning products aisle, your brain almost exploding at the staggering number of boxes, bottles and cans, your stomach clutching at the thought spending money on window cleaner, counter cleaner, cook top cleaner, bathroom cleaner and shower cleaner - take heart. If you have a jug of white vinegar, you already have most of the cleaning power you need.

Yup, vinegar. Find a clean empty spray bottle (I used an old Windex bottle for years) and add two things in equal amounts. Water. Vinegar. If you want to get fancy, add a teensy drop of blue food coloring. Voila! You've made an all-purpose cleaner for mere pennies.

If vinegar can be an all-purpose cleaner, does it clean vinyl floors, too? Sure. Add a cup of vinegar to a gallon bucket of warm water and you're ready for mopping. How about wood floors? You bet. Add half a cup of vinegar to gallon bucket of warm water.

Organized Home
says we can power through scummy shower gunk by warming up the vinegar/water mixture in the microwave (take out the spray mechanism first) until almost hot. Spray the gunky stuff, wait 15-20 minutes, then wipe off.

Of course, as with any cleaning product, you have to be careful. Try it first on a small area before going whole hog, and don't use vinegar on granite or marble or other stone because vinegar is acidic and can etch stone surfaces. On the plus side, vinegar is a natural deodorizer. And it's a mold-killer. And a de-greaser. Vinegar, the Wonder Cleaner!

If you need something a little more abrasive to clean the bathtub or kitchen sink, dampen a sponge, sprinkle some baking soda onto the sponge, and scrub away. You won't get that "fresh citrus scent" that you get from many commercial cleansers, but do you honestly need your tub to smell like an orange?

There are even easy ways to make your own cleaning wipes. Just google "homemade cleaning wipes" and choose from 36,900 different methods.

Once you start using cleaning products you've made yourself -- from supplies you already had -- you'll never buy those over-priced, over-perfumed, over-packaged products again.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dial it Down

The array of choices involving telephone service is nothing short of mind-boggling. If you're trying to cut back on expenses, have a hard look at what you're paying and what you're getting for it. When is the last time you looked at your land-line phone bill? Are you paying charges every month for services that you don't use? If you have a bundled price, do the math to be sure it's really a bargain.

The place where you can really save is in long distance services. Google "long distance phone" or head on over to Phone Dog to see what they're showing as the best deals.
But don't leap at the lowest price. Compare the plans to find one that suits you.

1. Price per minute is important. Calls can be made for between 3 and 6 cents per minute. If you're paying more than that, it's time to think about switching to a new service.

2. Check the billing increment. Why pay for a one minute call when you can pay for six or twelve seconds if you hit an answering machine? Rounding up calls to the next minute just costs you money unnecessarily.

3. Is there a monthly fee? There are plans that don't charge a monthly fee, why pay it if you don't have to?

4. Are most of your long distance calls in-state or out-of-state? The fees vary. If most of your long distance calls are inside your own state it might be best to go with a higher state-to-state rate and a lower in-state cost per minute.

5. If you make international calls, the situation gets more complicated but the various plans are very competitive. It depends on which countries you call the most. Take the time to look up the cost if you call a foreign country frequently.

6. The least expensive plans require auto-billing to your credit card and no mailed statement. Most of us are trying to cut down on paper anyway. As long as you have a computer, you can check your monthly statement.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Second Time Around

Darlene Ryan is the author of the memoir, A Mother’s Adoption Journey, as well as three young adult novels: Rules for Life, Saving Grace and Responsible. Her fourth novel for teens, Five Minutes More, will be published early in 2009.

Like Izzy and Lisa in my first young adult novel, Rules For Life, I like thrift stores, second hand shops and consignment stores. For me it’s not just about saving money, although I am, well, cheap. Prowling around a used clothing or furniture store is like going on a treasure hunt. I never know what I’m going to find. “Do you really wear the things you buy in there?” someone once asked me. “Other people have worn it.” Uh huh. I wear what I buy. I use what I buy. Which brings me to my first rule.

1. If it can’t be washed, don’t buy it.
Anything that can’t go in my washing machine or my basement sink with lots of hot water and soap stays at the store. I’ve broken that rule twice. Once for my black, faux fur jacket. Once for a pair of grey, wool pants. In the case of the jacket I broke my own rule because the price was so good and I wanted it so much. I dropped the jacket at the dry cleaner on the way home from the store. As for the pants, they seemed to be brand new, they were my size, they were three dollars, and I needed a pair of dress pants in a hurry. Again, they got dropped at the cleaners on the way home.

2. Check everything.
Look over every seam for tears, every hem, cuff and collar for wear. Make sure the zipper works. Check for pills and holes in the fabric. It’s nice if a shirt or sweater has all its buttons but not essential. Buttons can be replaced very inexpensively. I bought a shirt once just to get the flower buttons to put on something else.

3. Carry a measuring tape.
Not every thrift store has changing rooms and sometimes you may not want to try something on before you’ve washed it. Plus a size 10 by one manufacturer may not be the same as a size 10 by another. (This is especially annoying with respect to children’s clothes.) Measure your best fitting pieces of clothing—pants, skirt, shirt—and use those measurements as a guide when you’re shopping.

4. Know your dirt.
It would be nice if everyone made sure what they sent to a second hand or thrift shop was freshly washed. And most people do. But sometimes you’ll find just what you want is a little grubby. Take a close look at the dirt. Is it just dirt? Not something greasy, not a stain? Plain old dirt will come out in the laundry. Anything else I don’t take a chance on unless the price is very, very low. I do know several thrifters who use everything from spray stain removers, to dish washer detergent, to an old fashioned scrub brush and a bar of yellow laundry soap with at least some success.

5. Give back.
Think about your local Salvation Army store, Goodwill, church or charity next time you have a pile of things you’re not using. Please make sure everything is clean. Clothing should be gently worn. That means those yoga pants with the baggy knees and the paint stains go in the garbage, but the green sweater you never wore because it makes you look like your liver is failing might look great on someone else. Like me.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Shop Wisely

Janet Koch's post yesterday reminded me that the best place to save food dollars is at the grocery store. A few basic rules can make a big difference in how much you spend on food for your family.

1. Shop for groceries once a week. This took me a long time to learn. Just like stopping for take-out, it's too easy to swing by the grocery store on your way home from work. All the extras you buy each time add up.

2. Set a food budget. Take a calculator or add rounded numbers in your head as you place items in your cart. When you reach your limit, stop, or make decisions about what you really need versus what you want. That pricey jar of imported chestnuts is probably a luxury you can do without.

3. Check your refrigerator. If you're like me, you want to gag when you throw out food that spoiled before you could use it. Don't over buy. Check your refrigerator and make note of what your family isn't eating.

4. Shop alone. If you're on a budget, don't take the kids who will want the package with the useless toy or hubby who thinks he should eat Superbowl style food every day.

5. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. That's where you'll find the fruit, veggies, meat and dairy. The inside aisles tend to have pre-prepared foods in boxes. You'll pay extra for the convenience.

6. Don't be afraid to try the store brand -- at least once. I buy canned pumpkin regularly and found that my store brand, which is significantly less expensive, is less watery than the popular national brand. Same goes for organic frozen green beans at my local grocery store. Their brand tastes almost like fresh green beans.

7. Know prices. There was a time when I bought all my laundry detergent and paper towels at a big box store because the price was better. Not anymore. My national chain grocery store now regularly puts paper goods, dog food and detergents on sale at prices that beat my big box store by up to $4.00.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Break the Takeout Habit

Janet Koch, hopeful novelist, is also a budding website designer and book trailer producer. Visit Janet at or contact her at for her Deepwater Design services.

A number of years ago, I moved from a high-paying stressful job to a zero-stress job that wasn't nearly as lucrative. Making dollars stretch was the name of the game and we ended up changing our eating habits in a profound - and permanent - way.

How? Meal plans!

Yes, boring old meal plans. I'm guessing the average family eats pretty much the same meals month after month. Sure, you add a new one every so often, and there are seasonal meals, but it's still a repetitive litany. Chicken breasts. Tacos. Spaghetti. Tuna casserole. Pea soup. Chuck roast. Whatever. Repeat ad infinitum.

With meal plans you use this repetition to your advantage. Simply decide in advance what meals you're going to have. Do your grocery shopping accordingly. Post the week's meal plan on the refrigerator.

Here's the secret weapon: on Sunday night, take Monday night's meat out of the freezer and put it in the fridge. See how powerful this is? Once that meat is thawing, you're committed. No stopping at McDonald's on the way home from work. No ordering out pizza because someone has a hankering. Nope, you can say. The meat's already thawed. We have to eat it tonight.

To make meal planning as painless as possible, I keep a master list of all the meals we typically eat in a month. (I also note what kind of meat, or if it's a meatless dish what the main ingredient is, and if it's something that takes a long time to prepare, but I tend to go a
little overboard.)

With a meal plan, eating out is a scheduled event, not a quick stop because there's nothing to eat at home. With a meal plan, you don't have to stand in front of the fridge, door open, wondering what on earth you're going to make for dinner. With a meal plan, you bring home the right ingredients from the grocery store. With a meal plan, you waste less food.

But make your plans in pencil; a meal plan isn't a straightjacket. Cooking and eating can be one of the great joys of life. Meal plans are just a way to make that life easier.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Buy A Thermal Bottle

It seems so innocent. That lovely daily indulgence at an upscale coffee shop. Sometimes it comes first thing in the morning, sometimes at a mid-morning break. Sometimes both! But it's costing you. That lovely cup of coffee. Warm latte on cold winter days. Icy coffee frappes in the hot summer. An easy habit to cultivate.

But if you're trying to save money, you need to do the math about that daily treat.

Prices vary, of course, but for our purposes, we'll assume that the average luxury cuppa runs about $3.00. If you are in the habit of picking one up every weekday morning, that comes to $15 a week. Assuming you take a couple of weeks of vacation, your coffee is costing you a whopping $750 per year. And if you indulge twice daily, you're paying $1,500 a year for -- coffee.

Chances are that you have a coffee maker in your kitchen. If you don't, a decent coffee machine can be bought for $40 to $100. Even if you must have an exotic coffee machine that runs in the $250 neighborhood, you'll still save money by making your own.

With all the talk about evil chemicals leaching into our drinks from plastic, you'll want to invest in a stainless steel carafe or bottle that will keep your coffee warm all day. They're beginning to pop up all over with prices between $16 and $36.

Hard times, indeed, when we have to cut back on coffee from our favorite watering holes. But look at it this way, if you make your own coffee and bring it with you, you're contributing to the green movement, too. You can reuse your thermal bottle every day, thus saving the earth from more disposable cups.

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