Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Send a Valentine E-Card

In elementary school, everyone in my class either gave out the little preprinted cards you buy in batches of 25 or so (with themes like Batman - "Zap! Pow! Won't you be my Valentine?" or 101 Dalmations - "Doggone it, I hope you'll be mine!") or they hand-made them out of construction paper and doilies.  It was a great deal -- you didn't have to spend much to spread the love around.

In later years, Valentine's Day became a much fancier event, featuring red roses, imported chocolates, and fine jewelry.  Not surprisingly, these items were reserved for a special few.

This year, why not go back to the simpler days, when you could send a Valentine's Day greeting to everyone?  No need to search out those inexpensive packs of 25 themed cards, though.  Just a click away is a nice collection of free e-cards that you can customize and send to your entire contact list. 

So go ahead, and spread some love!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Make Your Own with Pantry Staples

I'm as big a convenience food lover as anyone else, but not only is it cheaper to make your own taco seasonings, breadcrumbs, croutons, etc., but it also means that you are more likely to have these things on hand whenever you need them. 

Case in point: recently we've become big fans of soft tacos for dinner because my younger son, who usually hates beef in all forms, has decided that he likes tacos.  A package of El Paso taco seasoning costs $1.09, but I can make it for much less, as follows:

Taco Seasoning
Stir together 4 teaspoons chili powder, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 2 teaspoons paprika, 2 teaspoons dry oregano, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Use 2 tablespoons to season 1 pound ground beef, chicken, or turkey.

Similarly, I can easily whip up a batch of bread crumbs or croutons using the end pieces of bread loaves that I always keep in the freezer (no one in my family likes using the heel of the bread in their sandwich):

Croutons (for salad or soup)
Cut bread slices into cubes and coat them lightly in oil, then sprinkle with salt or garlic salt. (Add even more flavor by tossing in oil-and-vinegar salad dressing or dry herbs.) Toast on a baking sheet in the oven, stirring occasionally, at 350 degrees F. until just golden.

Bread Crumbs
Dry bread about 15 minutes in the oven at 300 degrees F. Crush in a food processor. For seasoned bread crumbs, add dry herbs like oregano or thyme (a little garlic powder tastes great, too). To make flaky panko-like crumbs, mince fresh bread by pulsing it in a food processor, then dry the crumbs at 250 degrees F.

For more tips on making convenience food from pantry staples, click here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

365 Ways to Save - February

Although thankfully short, February can be depressing.  The glitz and glamour of the holidays are long gone, the weather is awful, and spring seems a long time away.  In the middle of the month comes Valentine's Day, which can be sad if you're single, but a real disappointment even if you're not.

The temptation to indulge in some shopping therapy this month can be powerful - if only to find a spot of brightness in this otherwise bleak month.  But don't give in!  Instead, indulge in some inexpensive beauty treatments that will brighten your outsides -- and thus your outlook -- and then grab someone special (be it friend or lover) and enjoy some fun but frugal activities.

Beauty Bargains
32. Granulated sugar makes a wonderful skin exfoliator for your face and your body, and costs a fraction of the price of both fancy department store and even drugstore products.  Just take a handful into the shower with you and scrub.
33. There are a whole host of other food items that have beauty benefits.  Try a yogurt mask, an avocado moisturizer, or a banana-honey facial.
34. Soap or shower gel works just as well for saving your legs as pricey shaving creams for women.
35. We're big fans of multi-purpose beauty products, believing that it costs too much to shell out big bucks for a collection of special-purpose items.  And at just $3 e.l.f. Studio Body Shimmer is a wonderfully inexpensive way to add a little shimmer to cheeks, eyes or even your shoulders and decolletage.  When you have bare legs, you can also swipe a line down the front of each leg -- the slight shimmer will actually help lengthen the look of your legs.  The twist-up stick makes application easy.
36. Wet N Wild Fast Dry Nail Color (just $1.99 at Walgreens) offers high-performing nail polish in a wide color assortment for just a fraction of the price of many other brands.
37. We love finding drugstore products that perform as well as their pricey department store counterparts. Here's an example: try Almay Smart Shade Anti-Aging Makeup, Neutrogena Tone Correcting Tinted Moisture SPF 30 from Ageless Intensives (which provides a triple whammy of a sheer color, sun protection, and anti-aging retinol and vitamin C) or CoverGirl Simply Ageless Anti-Aging Foundation.  All cost less than $20, while a similar product from La Prairie costs about $100.
38. If you color your hair, do your touch-ups at home and save a bundle.  Here is a list of products that work.
39. Or if you are most interested in highlights, remember that lemon juice is a well known hair lightener. Mix it with chamomile tea to keep your hair's texture smooth.
40. Similarly, you can have lovely, soft feet without too much work or the price of a spa pedicure; just check out our tightwad tips for your tootsies.  Or go all out for the extra fancy (but still frugal) at home pedicure.
41. Make your own soothing bath blend and you can enjoy all the luxuries of an expensive spa treatment right at home without spending a dime. Here's how: just mix 2 cups baking soda with 1 cup Epsom salts and 2 tablespoons ground ginger and pour it into the tub as you run the water. The result is fragrant and restorative, yet soothing.
42. A tub of petroleum jelly can be bought for a dollar or two and serves multiple purposes.  It is great as a lip gloss.  It also works well for softening calloused feet – apply liberally before bed and put on cotton socks; your feet will be nice and soft in morning. And at this time of year, when the skin on your hands gets very dry, apply the petroleum jelly to your hands and wear cotton gloves to bed at night.  Finally, you can use petroleum jelly to lubricate your lashes.  Just comb the petroleum jelly lightly through the tips of eyelashes to get a sexy, subtle sparkle.
43. Check out "open house" nights at top-name salons, where the head stylist teaches his/her apprentices by cutting/coloring/styling the hair of volunteers (like you!).
Frugal Fun
44. Want to relax on the couch with someone special and watch your favorite movie?  Instead of renting from NetFlix or Blockbuster, pick up a DVD at your local public library. Note that many libraries have an inter-library loan system which allows you access to a broad selection of titles.
45. Instead of signing up for dance lessons at a pricey studio, try a series of DIY lessons, using YouTube or another web-based video series as your teacher. If you are with a crush, heat things up with the salsa or tango, or choose the classic romance of ballroom dancing.  With a more casual friend, try something like square dancing.
46. Create your own wine tasting, cheese tasting, chocolate tasting – or whatever tempts you -- at home, comparing notes on what you like and what you don't.
47. Or find a free wine tasting event. Many wine stores offer complementary samples so check the shops in your area or click over to for a city-by-city list.
48. Check listings in your local paper or web site -- many libraries and museums offer free film screenings and concerts that would make a wonderful outing.
49. Bring out the board games or video games (we especially like wii boxing to get those competitive juices flowing, and Twister for its touching!)
50. Sign up with local art galleries - and then attend their art show openings, for free wine and hors d'oevres plus, of course, the art!
51. Attend weekend open houses and imagine what it would be like if you owned the place - just check the listings in your local real estate guide.
52. Support your local college or high school sports team by attending their games instead of paying big bucks to see the pros.
53. Similarly, high school and college concerts and plays are a low-cost alternative to Broadway shows or dinner theater.
54. You can often attend open rehearsals for the symphony or opera performance you want to see for a fraction of the price of a regular performance.
55. Find out if the museum, zoo, aquarium or other attractions you'd like to visit has “free or discounted days” – just call them or check web site.
56. Go star gazing!  If the weather is cold, though, be sure to bundle up.  Try to find the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper and the North Star.  Or be extra adventurous and print out a guide to the sky by searching online.
57. Always ask for the discount!  Whether you are at the movies, a museum, a historic attraction, an amusement park, or anywhere else, always ask if you are eligible for a discount.  Discounts for students, seniors, active military are all common.  But be creative!  If your employer is a supporter of the arts, perhaps you'll receive some savings.  Or maybe town residents receive a price break.  You won't know unless you ask!
58. Go to a playground and remember what it's like to swing on the swings and go down the slide.  You don't have to linger long if it is cold out, but we guarantee it will be fun!
59. Window shop.  Don't tempt yourself by wandering the aisles at one of your usual stores.  Instead, go to the priciest boutique in town and enjoy the craft and quality of beautifully made items.
60. Go for a walk.  Never underestimate the joy of exploring a new neighborhood, walking on the beach in the winter, or trekking through a snowy wood.

Want to see more of our 365 ways to save?  Check out the list of tips from January.