Frugal Living 
25
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Making Your Own Pizza Dough

After writing about how we love making pizza, we’ve learned that we’ve been fools to buy Boboli pizza crusts. In fact, Karen at MSN’s Smart Spending even said we were cheaters! Having learned the error of our ways, we’ve decided that the next time we make pizza we’ll be making our own pizza dough, which appears to be fairly simple.

Oh, I also had a revelation the other day. I was walking through Trader Joe’s (they sell 200 Cone #4 coffee filters for $1.69, cheaper than any other place I know of) when I saw they sold fresh pizza dough for 99 cents. 99 cents! What the heck have I been doing buying Boboli pizza crusts???

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 Frugal Living 
21
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5 Easy Ways to Cut Your Grocery Bill

Ghirardelli Pancake StackIn today’s economy, it seems everyone is looking for ways to cut back. The problem is, most people don’t know where to start. If you’re looking to cut back, I suggest starting in the kitchen. There are a multitude of ways to save money in the kitchen, and you can tailor how you cut your food budget so it doesn’t impact your lifestyle.

If you eat a lot of convenience foods, you can save time and money by doubling each recipe you cook and freezing half for those busy (or tired) nights. If you are attached to eating meat with every meal, focus on cutting your use of paper products or expensive side dishes. You can save a lot of money by making small changes. You put in minimal effort and get maximum savings! Don’t believe me? Here are 5 things I do to save money in the kitchen, and my family doesn’t even notice. (shhhh! don’t say a word!)

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 Travel 
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Our Disney Dining Plan Experience

Winnie the Pooh joins Family for LunchLast week my wife and I went to Disney World in Orlando Florida to celebrate our one year anniversary and, for the first time, opted for the Disney Dining Plan. You can only include the Disney Dining Plan if you are booking a vacation package with Disney, in our case I booked a five-day Magic Your Way Package, with lodging at the Port Orleans Riverside resort, and included the standard Dining package.

Overall, we were pleased with the Dining Plan and felt that it was a great deal. There was only one downside, it was too much food!

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 Frugal Living 
91
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Your Take: Could You Live Off Food Stamps?

Sean Callebs will try and he’s documenting the whole experience on CNN. This is a little more realistic than the $1 a day meal experiment, which was more about publicity than reality. What I find most interesting about Callebs’ reports is the insight it gives him and his readers. “… it stinks being hungry when you go to sleep.” (Feb 13th) How many people go to sleep hungry? I probably have only a handful of times in my life and it was mostly because of scheduling, not because I couldn’t afford it. I think that unless you have lived it, you can’t faithfully criticize.

Much like when I talked about living on minimum wage, it’s difficult to understand the lifestyle until you try to live it. For some, the thought of food stamps invokes the image of someone on welfare spending it on cigarettes and alcohol. For others, it’s seeing a bright light when you’re lost in the woods at midnight. Regardless of how you feel about food stamps, the majority of people who get food stamps need them. They’re not living the good life financially, sipping a Mai-tai on the beach; they’re struggling.

I find myself struggling with the idea of handouts because I believe, especially in America, you can, through hard work and determination, succeed regardless of where you start. Food stamps and welfare, while necessary, will give some a reason not to work as hard and I recognize that; but I think you have to accept those who will take advantage of the system if you want to help those who just need a little bit extra to get them over the hump.

What are your thoughts on food stamps and other welfare programs?

(Photo: pengrin)


 Frugal Living 
10
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One Dollar A Day Meals

Would you believe it’s possible to live on only a dollar a day in food? I didn’t. I still wouldn’t, except I saw this “little” project by Christopher Greenslate and Kerri Leonard called the One Dollar Diet Project. As if in a reverse Morgan Spurlock Super-size Me, they were going to live for thirty days on only a dollar a day in food. In true blogger fashion, the two Social Justice teachers blogged about what they did each day in September (Day 1Day 30) and it’s gained them quite some notoriety and quite a bit of knowledge. The best part is that they’ve kept on writing about it.

One dollar a day meals seems almost impossible but sometimes just setting the bar that high is enough motivation to make significant changes in your life. An example of this is when I was budgeting diligently right after graduation. I would try to maximize the number of no spend days each month. A no spend day was a day in which I didn’t spend any cash or charge anything to my credit cards. I still “spent” money because I still drove to work and I still ate, but the idea was to create a metric I could use to motivate me to not spend money. My all-time record was eleven days (in a 31 day month) and the longest streak was three days. I believe both metrics were made higher because I was tracking them and competing against myself. It probably saved me a little bit of money too, which was helpful when it came time to make a down payment on a house.

Try setting your own “one dollar a day” goal or a no spend day goal and you’ll certainly benefit from it somehow, someway.


 General 
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Brief History of American Chinese Food

American Chinese food is more American than it is Chinese… watch on and enjoy! (learn how John Wilkes Booth planned the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in a Wok & Roll restaurant)

The presenter is Jennifer 8 Lee and this video is just a brief presentation of the types of things she researched in The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, a tome that chronicles Chinese food!


 Frugal Living 
6
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MSN’s $100 / Week Food Bill Challenge

Supermarket Grocer Produce StandMelinda Fulmer and her family of four went from a $250/wk grocery bill down to a $105.03 bill when they tried to spend only $100 a week on food. They had some really good lessons learned from their little test, as well some advice if you’re looking to do the same, but there were a few thoughts I had after reading the article that they didn’t mention.

Here are some lessons I learned from her challenge:

  • It doesn’t hurt to try. $100 a week for four amounts to $1.19 per meal per person. Anyone with an elementary grasp of math knows that $1.19 is not a lot and you might be tempted to give up right there. For Melinda and her family, that was less than half of what they normally spent. They were able to do it, why can’t you?
  • They saved $150 that week. She was able to get within spitting distance of $100 a week but it was clear that wasn’t sustainable week after week, given her ground rules. If you were to take those away, perhaps she could’ve by growing some of her own vegetables and shopping at bulk discount stores. However, she saved $150 that week and that’s something she could do every month – that’s a savings of $1,800 a year. Granted, it does simply shift some expenses from a $100/wk to a $250/wk, but you still would save a large percentage of that $1,800 a year.
  • $100/wk is too restricting, a rolling monthly limit makes more sense. In this experiment, they went with an artificial $100/week limit when food often lasts longer than that. If you truly wanted to save money, using a rolling four week limit of $400 is probably more realistic than a weekly limit. They made mention of this in the later parts of the article when discussing stockpiling.
  • Use canned goods when the entree isn’t a single piece of something. I wasn’t sure how to title this lesson but it refers to the idea of using canned fish or chicken if the fish or chicken isn’t the headline entree, as in a casserole. It’d be tough to use canned chicken or tuna if you just wanted to prepare a piece of the stuff, but if you are integrating it into a dish then it’s not a bad idea.

If you’re seriously considering doing this, The Hill Billy Housewife has two menus that can provide much needed inspiration. The first is her $45 menu, which is a weekly menu of Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Snacks that will cost you $45 a week. The list includes a scheduled menu, along with nutritional information, as well as a full shopping list. The menu doesn’t assume you have something already, which makes it great, and the nutritional information is a great touch. There is also a $70 version.

The menu doesn’t strike me as something you can eat every since week for a year, but it can be a good source of inspiration if you’re looking to trim from your food budget. Also, the prices were gathered in Feb 2006 so it’s likely a little pricer than $45 or $70 week now.

(Photo: benjaminkrause)


 Frugal Living 
6
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Get A Stimulus Check Every Year!

With Presidential hopeful Barack Obama mentioning a potential second economic stimulus check, many folks are clamoring to know more. Unfortunately, there’s much else to say about it other than that he’d push for one in the short term.

I, however, offer a different solution. In order to find an additional $600, you only need to cut $50 a month. In reality, that comes out to only $11.54 a week. Reduce your spending by eleven dollars, fifty four cents a week and you will have created your own stimulus check. That’s it. Can you do it? I’m betting that you can and here are some recommendations of what you might want to trim.

Subscriptions

NetflixGet a list of all the subscriptions you have and really take a long hard look at what you really use. Do you have a $50/month (or more) gym membership that you don’t use? Do you have a $15/month Netflix membership but have had the same DVDs for the last three months? Do you get a copy of Good Housekeeping every month yet you never do anything except leave it on the coffee table? Trim it.

  • Gym memberships,
  • Video rentals memberships,
  • Magazines,
  • Cable television,
  • Internet,
  • there are plenty more…

Food & Fuel

Food and fuel are the two largest expenses for most families so it makes sense, after trimming that which we can live without, that we turn to these two categories to find further savings. (what doesn’t make sense is why they’re not included in “Core-CPI,” oh wait I remember, it’s so the number seems better! :) )

First, let’s tackle food.

Food:

Yellow SquashEvery Thursday there’s a farmers market within walking distance of my home in which fresh produce is sold at very low prices. I can get yellow squash for $1/lb. versus $1.49/lb. at the local Giant supermarket. That’s a 33% discount and while we don’t eat a ton of yellow squash, savings is savings.

Another recommendation I’ve heard, which I am trying to follow, is to eat more vegetables and less meat. Vegetables are healthier for you and far cheaper. Chicken breast, at it’s very cheapest, was $1.69/lb. and usually $2.99/lb. Beef? Forget it, you’re talking the north side of $4 a pound and sometimes much higher depending on the cut, grade, and whatever sale’s going on. Supplement your meals with more vegetables and some meat, for the various nutrients, but eat more leafy greens than fatty meats.

Lastly, be sure to review the circulars. You can see what’s on sale for the week ahead and plan your menu accordingly. We know that the front page of the Giant Food supermarket circular has the sales so we structure our meals according to what’s on sale. This week we had some shish-kabobs and will prepare some “crumby chicken” (it’s chicken breast coated with breadcrumbs, except it’s Ritz crackers) tonight. Chicken is on sale. :) (oh, and a leftover calendar helps reduce spoilage… still going strong with nothing going bad yet!)

Fuel:

I’m a huge proponent of car pooling, as it has the potential for the greatest savings. A second best option is to employ some techniques of realistic hypermiling. Don’t tailgate trucks, but consider easing off the gas if you see a red light and not slamming it when it turns green.

Everyone can tell you to car pool or hypermile, how about something no one else has said before? Go to Google Maps and plot out your daily commute. Google will often give you the fastest route but not necessarily the shortest one. What you can do is drag the path and investigate some alternative routes to see if it reduces your total mileage. While there are factors not illustrated on the map (rush hour zones, traffic lights, etc), it will give you an accurate count of the miles traveled. You will have to decide for yourself whether the trade-offs are wroth it.

In my case, I plotted my former commute and was able to reduce the trip from 16.1 miles to 15.5 miles. Qualitatively, the shorter commute had three more traffic lights, took smaller roads, but often missed a stretch of two highways that are usually clogged during rush hour. I felt the two were equal, except one route was shorter by 0.6 miles. 0.6 miles may seem inconsequential but it’s actually worth $40 a year! At $4/gallon gas and a 30MPG car, each mile costs 8 cents. If I make the twice a day for 250 days, the typical work year, then I save $40 by cutting out the 0.6 miles. This, of course, assumes both trips take the same amount of time.

So, plot your trip and any frequent trips you make (such as to the grocery store, doctor, dentist, etc.) to see if you can squeeze any efficiencies out of it.

There you go, some damn good suggestions on how to squeeze an extra stimulus check each year. :)

(Netflix image by Ross C., Yellow Squash image by tombarta)


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