Archive for the ‘Saving on Expenses’ Category

How Will You Offset the Rising Price of Flour?

February 27, 2008
Wheat
It has been in the news since December. Now it seems that it is going to trickle down to all of us. Estimates are that a price increase of up to thirty percent can be expected. Here is an excerpt from a recent article in The Christian Science Monitor:
“Why the increase? The prime ingredient in flour is wheat, which these days is acting more like oil – rising sharply on commodities exchanges. On Monday, the price of March spring wheat on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange shot up to $24 a bushel, the highest price ever. Within the past month, the price of some types of wheat has risen over 90 percent. Already, agricultural experts say, it’s getting hard to find the type of wheat used to make pasta, noodles, pizza, and bagels.”Supplies of some types of wheat will be extremely tight,” says economist William Lapp, president of Advanced Economic Solutions in Omaha, Neb. “I don’t think we’ll see physical bread lines, but supplies will be just tight.””This leads to the question of how are we going to compensate for the extra price of these wheat based goods. One thing we are going to do is buy a 25lb. bag of flour now, before the price goes up again. This will usually last us around a couple of months for us (we bake a considerable amount of pizza and breakfast goods) if we pace ourselves.Another way to help with this increase in price is to look for ways to decrease your expenses in other grocery categories. One thing that we do is use a price list. Granted, doing this will take a little time and effort, but it will pay off. A fabulous resource that we have used extensively is a program on saving at the grocery store. I cannot begin to explain all the wonderful information we gleaned from this product. Nothing is left out, and the whole process of lowering your grocery expense is laid out step by step.

Once you have found ways to decrease the expense in other categories, that will obviously allow for an increase in your flour and wheat based products. If the price were to increase too drastically though, we will have no choice but to consider a change in diet. There are many programs (Adkins, South Beach, etc.) that sing the praises of a carbohydrate free meal, just are there are those that warn against high intakes of protein. Personally, I love my pastas and bread.

To read the rest of the article mentioned above, please click here.

How do you plan to deal with the increase in the price of wheat? Do you have bread with every meal?

Saving Money While doing Your Household Shopping

February 22, 2008
04_14_1-market-stall_web.jpg

One of the ways to save money while doing your shopping is to maintain a price list. This is something we learned about while looking for ways to save money after our fallout. It is simple to do, yet the savings can profoundly affect your budget. There are a couple different ways to go about the process, as always pick what you can use and leave the rest.

Take a notebook with you while shopping. This recommendation is that you jot down items that you normally buy along with their price as you do your shopping. We have also seen the suggestion that you shop at a different store each week for three weeks to compare your prices. If you live in a city where competition is level, this would be fine. However, where we live there can be a two dollar difference in a gallon of milk. It would not be feasible for us to shop there and blow our monthly budget in one trip.

Save your shopping receipts and make the list once you get home. It is alright to do this if you wish to do this every week for a while and shop at your three different stores. The only problem is that you are only going to have the items listed that you are using for your current menu.

Make a list of the items you need most, then go compare. This is the method we use. We sat down and made a list of the 56 items that we use most on a monthly basis, and then we went shopping. In our area we have a Kroger, Save-A-Lot, Wal-Mart, and an Aldi. We made our list before we left, looked for sale items that we could purchase from each place, and away we went. We were able to write down all our prices and do business with each store.

Our findings were different than we thought they would be. We were able to take around $70 off our monthly budget just by doing this to compare prices. Even though we are now shopping at three different stores, our trip only takes about an hour and a half every two weeks.

The same principle also works for household goods as well (toilet paper, shampoo, soap, carpet cleaner, etc.) Just make your list and compare.

By doing this you will have a good idea on what you are paying for items at several places, thus it will allow you to take advantage of sales more effectively. Have you ever bought something on “sale” only to find it cheaper at regular price elsewhere? We sure have. By knowing your average prices, when you see items that you use regularly you can stock up on them and help your budget even more.

How do you try to find the best deals? Do you keep a price list? What about coupons? Are they worth the trouble?

A Great Resource on Kiplinger.com

February 21, 2008

Hello everyone!!

I just saw this article on Kiplinger.com about savine money on almost everything.  Some good information on various categories.  Let me know what you think!

Save Money on Practically Everything.

This will fit well in the post series on saving money on expenses!  Have a great day!

Five Frugal Ways to Have Fun with Your Child

February 18, 2008

This post is by Mrs. Perfectlyimperfectmusing, an Interdisciplinary Early Childhood Education major.

Sign for playing children

 

This post is designed specifically for those with kids in mind. (Or…those who are simply kids at heart!) Whether you are looking for something to do on a rainy day or something fun (and frugal) to do with your family this post is for you.

 

Let me begin by first stating one of our personal philosophies when it comes to children: First and foremost we believe that learning occurs in young children best through play! This means lots of playing…yes, that means mom and dad get in the floor, in the yard, in the kitchen…wherever and play! We know, sometimes it is hard to do that, but honestly if we don’t play with our little ones and enter their worlds of make believe (while we are still invited) then what makes us think that when our children reach their teenage years that they will want us involved in their lives. O.K. Off of my soap box…

Children love messy, icky, and all around gooey textures. With this in mind, let me warn you ahead of time; some of the fun, frugal ideas here are a bit messy. My recommendations are put down an old sheet or some wax paper and let the fun begin. For those of you who are a bit leery of a mess let me give you some motivation for allowing the icky, messy stuff. Allowing young children to experience the different textures and temperatures is very beneficial to their sensory-motor development; this is true for children with or without special needs.

Certain foods and ingredients make for great fun! I am going to list several activities that you can do at home for a minimal cost, but for maximum fun.

  1. Make some play dough! I am going to list two separate recipes so that even very young toddlers can get in on the fun.

Peanut Butter Play dough
3 ½ cups peanut butter
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 ½ cups of honey
4 cups of dry milk powder

In a large bowl, mix together peanut butter and confectioners’ sugar, then beat in honey and fold in milk power. Divide into 15 equal portions and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.

The above recipe is great for toddlers who are too young to try to keep them from eating it!

Regular Play Dough
2 Cups of flour
½ cup of cornstarch
1 Tbsp. powdered alum
2 cups of water
1 cup of salt
1 tbsp salad oil

Place all ingredients in saucepan. Stir constantly over low heat until mixture thickens into consistency of cough. Remove from heat and let cool until it can be handled. Knead like bread dough until smooth. Add food coloring if you wish. Store in airtight container. Keeps for up to one month.

**Great for those days when kids are WILD and you need to de-stress….the kneading of dough is a natural stress reliever**

    2. Finger Paint! No, I am not crazy! This is loads of fun and there are some great non-toxic recipes that can be used for children of all ages. My favorite is:

Condensed Milk Paint
2 cups condensed milk
4 small bowls

Various plastic or wooden spoons
Red, yellow, green, blue food coloring
Divide the condensed milk evenly into the four bowls.
Add a few drops of food coloring to each bowl (create more colors by mixing and experimenting)
Mix food coloring into the milk with spoons.
Put down construction paper and let the fun begin!

You can give your toddler wooden or plastic spoons, cookie cutters, basting brushes or anything that they can “paint” with…of course fingers work great.

    3. Make Goop. This stuff is fascinating, it hardens in the air and turns to liquid when it is held, can resist punching, but a light touch causes a finger to sink in. Try to explain this to a curious child of four and you have yourself a challenge.

 Goop
3 cups of corn starch
2 cups of warm water

Slowly add water to the corn starch. Mix ingredients together with hands. Goop is ready to use when it changes from being lumpy to satiny.

 

    4. Have children tell you a story or have them act out a story you have told them. This is especially fun when the child is old enough to draw some of their own story prompts. Many people wrongly assume that a preschooler has a limited attention span, but give them your attention and *listen* to them, talk *to* them not at them and I think many would be pleasantly surprised at just how much of an attention span they have and they would be shocked at their creativity.

 

    5. Sing, dance and use your imagination with your child. Ok, I know this is hard for a lot of us, but I promise you this: young children don’t care whether or not we can sing or dance, they just want us to be involved with them. When doing these things remember that it is irrelevant how crazy you feel or how out of sorts you feel, what is important is that you are showing your child that you are willing to have fun with them in a way that you both can enjoy.

 

To close this post let me state that having fun with your family in a frugal manner is really rather simple. I believe that it is the pillow fights, the wrestling matches in the living room floor, the make believe princesses and super heroes, and the little things that make great memories. These things will be what children and parents remember most when looking back, not the expensive vacation that leaves everyone exhausted and cranky! So, what are you waiting for? GO PLAY.

 

What are some of your best memories from childhood? What are ways that you have frugal fun with your family?

 

Free Software that Makes My Life Easier Part 1

February 17, 2008
2 3.5 floppy disk
Over the last few years the amount of free, open source software has increased exponentially. Most of these programs work just as good, if not better than, their “name brand” competition. Here is a list of the 100% free software that I use on a daily basis.
  1. OpenOffice. This is by far the program that I use the most. It has all the features that MS Office has, and you can even save in Office format if you need to share the file widely or use it on a system that you cannot download OpenOffice on. You can get you free copy here.
  2. Gimp Shop. Same features as Adobe Photoshop, only loads cheaper. I will say that if you are not familiar with photo editing software, this may not be the best choice for you. The amount of editing this program allows you to complete is astronomical.
  3. Adobe PDF. This is a free pdf reader. I usually end up hitting one or two files online each day that are only available in .pdf format.
  4. Mozilla Firefox. This is a great web browser. The add ons are phenomenal, and it is a very smooth running browser that has rarely crashed on me. I will write another article on my favorite Firefox add-ons; way to many to list here!
  5. Mozilla Thunderbird. A very sleek email program that is similar to Outlook for sending and receiving emails. Also has add-ons available to add the calendar aspect as well.
  6. GnuCash. This is a program to rival MS Money, Quicken, and other financial software. It is not as easy to navigate, or set up as the others, but it has good built in help files to get you started. Be sure to download the last “stable” release.
  7. MusikCube. If you only listen to music on your PC, this is a very light media player. It has a wonderful customizable dynamic play list that lets you create your own dynamic list.
  8. Truecrypt. If you travel and use flash drives for sensitive information, this is a must have. Cutting edge encryption that actually makes the data invisible to those who do not know it is there. Website has more details.
  9. Sunbird. Another Mozilla application. A very user friendly calendar. I use it to schedule routine task. Also, you can download an add-on that will sync with Google calendar so you have access no matter where you are!
  10. Keypass. A password tool that keeps all your passwords encrypted and in one place. Allows drag and drop feature, and you can link to the sites inside the program.
Those are just a few, the rest will be revealed in later post. I think we will also do a post on Firefox add-ons only. They really make the functionality of my browser go through the roof.
What free software do you use? Ever had any massive failures while trying open source programs?

Save Money on Your Utility Bill Part 3-Heat and Air

February 15, 2008

This is the second of three post on saving money on your utilities each month. The post will be here once they are completed. Subscribe to our feed to get all the post as they become available!!

 

Heat and Air

This area is hands down our biggest expense in electricity. To save money on heat and air bills will require a little more time and effort than was required for electricity or water.  Because your heat and air units require so much energy (electricity, gas, propane, etc.), the payoff will be well worth it.  Without further ado, here are a few ways to reduce the cost of heating and cooling your house:

  1. Change your filter regularly.  This is perhaps the easiest, yet most often neglected, way to decrease your utility bill.  Estimates range from twelve to twenty percent as the amount of efficiency replacing a filter can add to your unit.  This is also true of window air units.  Any unit that requires air circulation to “condition” the air needs the proper amount of air flow to do the job optimally.  If you are prone to allergies, there are plenty of high quality filters that remove airborne allergens while your heat or air is on.  Not only will having a clean filter reduce the amount of money you pay monthly in utilities, it will also prolong the life of your heat and air system.
  2.    Seal air leaks around windows and doors and other areas in the house.  Most of the heat and air loss that occurs in a home takes place around your windows and doors.  Any hardware store has the necessary equipment to fix these problems.  First, we will look at windows.  One of the simplest things to do is to either purchase or make some heavy drapes to hang in front of the window.  This will prevent some of the draft from breezing through out your dwelling.  If you live in a considerably old house or apartment building, you may want to consider plastic shrink wrap.  The average cost in our area is about $11 for a package that will seal five windows.  Now, doors.  The best way to stop air flow around your doors is to insure a proper fit when closed.  One way to check this is to close the door, turn off all the inside lights, and leave an outside light on.  If at from any angle you can see light, it is a good idea to weather strip the door jamb.  Weather strips vary in thickness, so measure the area needed to make the door close tightly, and purchase the closest size.  Foam spray is a great tool for do-it-yourself projects when preventing air loss.  Look anywhere items come in the house from outside (dryer vents, water pipes, electrical conduit, etc.) and seal up any cracks or crevasses around them.
  3. Properly service your heat and air systems once a year.  At least once a year have a licensed HVAC repair person service your system to keep it running properly.  In our area, a “tune up” visit only cost around $40-$50.  Most of the time the inside of the unit will need to be cleaned out, as well as the correct gases filled up to keep the unit running optimally.  If you have window units, there should be an HVAC repair shop in your area that will complete this service for around $15-$20 for larger sized window units.  Important note:  Be sure to do your research before choosing a repair person.  Check with family and friends (just about everyone has had heat and air trouble at some point) and find out who they recommend.  If you cannot find a repair person this way, call your local Better Business Bureau.  They will have reports on companies in your area that preform this service.
  4. Use a programmable thermostat.  Keeping your temperature set and not “yo-yoing” it up and down will help save money as well.  With a programmable thermostat you can set it to your desired temperatures and then forget it.  Turning the temperature down while sleeping, even if just a couple degrees, will help on your bill.

I am sure there are many other ways to save in this area.  These are just a few that we have tried that seem to work well.  This article finishes our series on saving money on utilities.  Hope some of this information will help you save money as well.

How do you prevent air loss in your abode?  We are always looking for new ideas!

Save Money on Your Utility Bills Part 2-Water

February 13, 2008

This is the second of three post on saving money on your utilities each month. The post will be here once they are completed. Subscribe to our feed to get all the post as they become available!!


Water


This post will list and describe ways to save on your monthly water bill. Nothing will be too complex, and most will only require implementing a new way of doing things. Keep in mind that changing just a few of these items can make a big difference in your water expenses!

  1. Repair or replace leaky faucets. A faucet with slow leak can cost you up to three gallons of water a day. If you have name brand faucets (we use Delta and Moen), they are fairly easy to repair. Just a few screws out and replacing a gasket or cylinder and you are finished. If you have to replace, I recommend choosing a good, quality faucet. They last longer, and you are more apt to find the parts needed to service them in the future.
  2. Replace your shower head. The standard shower heads in our area are 2.5 gallons per minute of water flow. One of the easiest ways to reduce your water cost is to install a one gallon per minute shower head. They have the same amount of pressure while you shower and the save a significant amount of water. On a 10 minute shower you will have saved 15 gallons of water. If you shower everyday (as you should!) that will amount to 450 gallons per month in savings.
  3. Install an aerator on your kitchen sink. This handy little device reduces the amount of water you use by mixing it with air as it comes out of your faucet. If you use you kitchen faucet to “fill” a lot of items with water (such as water filters, fish aquariums, etc.) I do not really recommend this one as it will drastically increase the amount of time to complete these task. Also, if you do not use a dishwasher, when you rinse you dishes, if you stop the drain you will accumulate enough water after the first few to rinse the rest without letting the faucet run.
  4. Wash only full loads of laundry. This prevents excessive use of water for small loads. If you wash small loads, be sure to change the water level setting before starting the cycle.
  5. Replace flush valves and flaps in your toilets if they leak. As with a leaky faucet, these items can cost you many gallons of water a day. To check if your toilet is leaking, after a flush add 4 drops of food coloring to the back of the tank. The next time you go, if any of the color is inside the bowl you know it is time to replace the flap.

These are just a few of the quick fixes that we have used in our house over the last few years. They have made a huge difference in our utility bill. Stay tuned, the last part of the series will be coming your way withing the next week or so.

What ways do you conserve water at your dwelling? Have you tried any of these?

Powered by ScribeFire.

Save Money on Your Utility Bills Part 1-Electricity

February 12, 2008

This is the first of three post on saving money on your utilities each month. The post will be here once they are completed. Subscribe to our feed to get all the post as they become available!!

Out of necessity we have researched, and implemented, several ways to reduce the cost of utilities for our household. Although some of these tips may only apply to single family dwellings, most can be used in apartments as well. It is a good idea to insert a disclaimer here. Some of the information we came across was rather drastic, and while these things work for us, they may be drastic to you. Assess your comfort level, then proceed. The items are listed in no particular order, just a random collection of ideas to make living a little cheaper.

Electricity

  1. Hot water heater. Adjust the temperature on your hot water heater to a few degrees lower. Buy an insulation blanket for your water heater. A temperature of one-hundred twenty degrees is recommended by www.energystar.gov for a savings of up to $461.00 per year.
  2. Install CFL’s in most used light fixtures. This simple move made a 600 kwh difference in our electric bill in one month. That is 7200 kwh/year x .098/kwh = $705.60 in one year!!! Basically you get the same amount of light for around 1/4-1/3 of the cost. Over the life of the bulb it is estimated that it will save you around $30 in energy cost. They also last longer than incandescent bulbs, so you save on the cost of purchasing bulbs every few weeks.
  3. Clean out your dryer vent before each cycle. As with your car filter , a clean filter lets your dryer breathe and remove the moisture quicker. Another way to save is to air dry clothes on a line. Personally, we do not like the way this makes the clothes feel, so we use a combination. We air dry, on a line outside or on hangers in the house, until the clothes are almost dry. Then we place them in the dryer for around 10-15 minutes just to use the fabric sheets and take the “stiffness” out of them. We have not calculated how much this saves, but the dryer is in use approximately 1/3 less than usual. This could benefit both gas and electric units.
  4. Refrigerator/Freezer. Invest in a cheap thermometer to gage the temp inside your refrigerator and set your thermostat to the proper setting. One way to save is to place bottles of water in the freezer to take up space. A full freezer requires less energy to cool. When you need all the space in the freezer, the bottles can be placed in the refrigerator and will actually help keep that area cool as the ice melts. Also be sure to clean out the coils on the your refrigerator per your units instructions. Again, proper air flow is crucial.
  5. Cooking. Try to do all your baking together. If you are baking biscuits for breakfast, and plan on corn bread for supper, bake them together. It saves a great deal of energy preventing the oven from having to heat up twice. If you are using your oven for toast, bagels, or just a couple of biscuits, consider purchasing a toaster oven. They use considerable less electric vs. a conventional oven. When possible, reheat items in a microwave instead of on the stove.
  6. Unplug unused items. Most electrical items can use a trickle of energy even when not in use. Take a stroll around your abode and unplug all items not in use.

Other ways exist to lower the bill a little here and there, but these are the ones we have practiced that made the biggest difference. In the next post pf this series we will explore ways to save on the water bill.

How do you save on electricity? What has made the biggest impact on your household?

Ways to Improve Car Fuel Efficiency

February 10, 2008

For most of us, our cars are our second biggest investment and expense. It is important to properly manage these investments to get the maximum return on our money. This is an area that I have honestly struggled with several times. Lacking the time or energy was really no excuse for not maintaining my vehicles properly, but they have been the culprit several times. For those who have their vehicle serviced, this may sound crazy, but I enjoy doing the work and knowing that the job was done right. There is not a service station that I know that will let the oil drain for an hour or longer to get all the sediment out. Now, I will get off my soap box and get to the post. Here are some of the ways that I have found that make a drastic difference in the miles per gallon in our vehicles.

  1. Have the oil changed every 3000 miles. This is the big one. Not only will old oil cause your engine to work harder, it can actually damage the piston walls if it gets too dirty. Having clean oil lets your engine run smoothly, thus providing more power (and more miles) for the same amount of gas.
  2. Tire pressure. This is probably the easiest problem to correct, yet often the most overlooked. It is estimated that every 1 lb. of psi that your tires are low cost you up to 0.4% in fuel economy. This can add up to 3% of fuel cost. For the rest of this post I am going to use our figure of $80 per week. Total annual loss: $124.80.
  3. Keep your car in tune. This may mean getting new plugs and wires, having your car timed, or changing an oxygen sensor. These items can average up to 4% of fuel cost. Total annual loss: $166.40.
  4. Replace the air filter. An important part of combustion is getting the proper amount of air. The air filter serves the function of keeping impurities out of your engine. If you place a pillow over your face and try to breath, you will get the idea of how a clogged filter will effect your gas mileage. Just as you have to work harder to get the right amount of air, so does your engine. A dirty air filter can cost you up to 10% of fuel cost! Total annual loss: $416.00.

Just these four simple items if not maintained properly have the potential to cost me an extra $707.20 per year (@ $3/gal). The tune up is something that I have to take to the service station, but after paying for the parts and labor (as well as all the material needed for my “shade tree” work that I perform) I will still save up to $450.00 a year. The air pressure is something that I try to check weekly, and although they are few and far between, there are still some service stations that offer free air to customers. The oil change I try to complete every 3000 miles, or every three months (whichever comes first). The tune up is something that just depends on your vehicle, driving conditions, and so forth. The air filter will also be effected by your locale, but we average one every six months.

I found it difficult to keep up with all this for three vehicles for the longest time. The best way that I have found is to keep a small ($0.33) notebook in each vehicle and list what service was performed, the date the service was performed, mileage, and the cost of the service. For time-specific services I enter the required information into Google calendar and set a reminder.

What ways have you found to improve your gas mileage?