Kelly the Culinarian: September 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

September Savings: Winterize

Energy is money and when we're talking about gas in the winter, we're talking about big money. It's starting to get pretty chilly here in Illinois, but most of you will have a few more weeks to complete the winterization process. On the first day that it dips below 50 degrees, walk around your house with a burning incense stick. Go by windows and doors to see where there are drafts. Add weathering strips around your doors where needed. If you have really crappy windows, you may want to cover your windows and sliding glass doors with plastic sheeting.

A storm door can help insulate doors too. And you can always make draft dodgers to lay along your windows. And you can purchase guards for the bottom of your exterior doors that are self adhesive to reduce drafts there. The experts also recommend placing a protective barrier over your AC unit. Make sure you have a fresh furnace filter too. I purchase the cheapest one and replace it each month on the first of the month. If you haven't had your furnace cleaned and inspected in the last two years, it's a smart investment to make before it's really cold.

Don't forget to change the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors while you're at it. And add an emergency kit to your home and car, if you don't have one.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

September Savings: Learn to Sew

You don't have to be able to make a suit from scratch, but some basic skills will save you big. If you find a great skirt but it's too long, it's nice to know how to shorten it. It's also useful to know how to sew on a button and repair torn clothing. And a few simple home projects can easily be completed in an hour, such as a blanket, pillow, table cloth or draft dodger. It's also rewarding to have a productive hobby that could potentially save you money instead of costing you money. Homemade gift possibilities abound, too, when you own a sewing machine and know just a few things about sewing.

You can get started here. Another possibility is to check out your local library, high school or community college. Often they have classes for adults that meet for just an evening or a few weeks. You'll find that these classes will pay for themselves, especially if you find a sewing maching on Craigslist and begin doing your own clothing repairs.

Friday, September 25, 2009

September Savings: Freeze Your Spending

This is super simple. If you have a particularly spendy day, don't spend anything for the next two days. I do this often -- usually I shop on Sundays, then I try not to spend anything else until Wednesday.

Another strategy is to commit to not go grocery shopping until you're finished with what's in your pantry and freezer. It's smart to use the resources already available to you.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

September Savings: Learn the many uses of vinegar, baking soda and dish soap

Did you know that you can use vinegar, baking soda and Dawn dish soap to clean jewelry, soften clothes, brighten whites, scour surfaces, freshen your fridge, perk up your carpet, clear your drains, remove build up from your hair and more? I mentioned at work that I purchase baking soda in 12-pound bags (for $5.76!) and you would have thought I said I get abducted by aliens every Tuesday night.

These three items, which can regularly be purchased extremely inexpensively, have replaced myriad household cleaners and serve many, many purposes. In addition, they are so much better for the environment and cheaper than conventional products such as oven cleaner, drain degreasers or fabric softener. Rest assured, there are books at your local library that will explain at least 1,000 uses for baking soda and vinegar.

You can start to learn about the uses of vinegar here and baking soda here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

September Savings: Get to Know Your Library

There's so much available for free at your library -- all you need is a library card and to remember when your materials are due. At my local library, you can check out audio CDs, books, magazines, DVDs, books on CD and more. I'd never actually buy a book on CD as they're at least $30 a piece, but I used to borrow two a week when I commuted everyday. It's quite therapeutic to wander through the library every couple of weeks and check out things you're interested. And if you find out your not so interested in an author or subject, there's no real loss.

Be nice to your library books and return them on time and you're golden.

Monday, September 21, 2009

September Savings: Unplug your appliances

When you're not using things, unplug it. Most appliances pull energy, even when they're turned off. It's called vampire power. Some sources it can cost a household as much as several hundred dollars a year. It's easy to unplug things like lamps, chargers, computers, electric toothbrushes and such. I don't unplug our main TV or DVR box so as to not interfere with my precious, precious recordings, but every little bit helps.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

September Savings: Hang Up Your Laundry

This is perhaps the crunchiest advice I'll offer. We don't have a backyard or a clothesline, but I hang up most of our laundry to dry instead of using the dryer exclusively.

How? I have installed hooks in our laundry room for delicates and I put a shower curtain rod near the ceiling. I also have a large closet down the hall where I can hang up pants and other heavy items that might bring the shower curtain down. I spread out sheets for our queen-sized bed across the dining room chairs and occasionally prop up a comforter on our balcony. Yes, my laundry room looks messy, but I can always close the door while stuff is drying.

I know some people don't do this for fear their laundry will come out stiff and uncomfortable. Your clothes aren't necessarily stiff because you line dry; more typically, they're stiff because of detergent build-up. Try using less detergent and vinegar instead of fabric softener.

My line of attack includes putting the laundry in the dryer for 10 minutes or as long as it takes to start the next load of laundry. Then I start hanging up all of the clothes, which usually takes me about five minutes. The next day, everything is dry and I've saved on my gas and electric bill. Viola!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

September Savings: Do Laundry Once a Week

Unless you cloth diaper or have a large family, you can probably stand to only do laundry on a designated day. This way, you can wait until you have full loads. Also, you can take advantage of residual energy from each load.

I do the laundry on Saturdays, usually, but only after I've gone through the house and collected every item that needs to be washed. I only do between two and four loads of laundry a week, but it's just the two of us. I know some people find a weeknight works better. I don't like to run the wash machine or the dish washer unless someone is home, so I find the weekend works better for us.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

September Savings Day 15: Reduce

Alas, I missed a post yesterday; I was too busy cutting out coupons for my awesome shopping trip today. Check out all the stuff I got for a grand total of $8.35!

I bought:
  • 4 tops
  • 2 adorable outfits for my brand new niece!
  • 2 bars of soap
  • 6 boxes of contact lens solution
  • 4 tubes of toothpaste
  • 1 cup of cereal
  • 1 pack of gum
  • Napoleon's Halloween costume
  • 3 packs of pads
  • 3 vitamin water mixes
  • 1 pack of sunflower seeds
The best part is out of the four stores I ventured to, at two of them I had to buy low-value items to eat up the overage. What a coupon high.

Anyhow, another great strategy for saving is using less. Of everything.

Did you know your clothes and dishes will get just as clean if you use half as much soap? Try using less toothpaste, shampoo and cleanser and see if you notice any difference. Chances are, you won't. If you buy in bulk, it's smart to invest in a shower toiletry dispenser so that you can consciously think about how much you're using. Try and print things in black and white using the economical setting and see if you can stand to not turn on the heat or air conditioning.

The average family, regardless of size or income, wastes 15 percent of their food. Think of all the money you're literally throwing away! Keep this in mind when you do your grocery shopping.

More than anything, be cognizant of the resources you're using every day.

Monday, September 14, 2009

September Savings Day 14: Reuse/Recycle

Recycling is great, but that's not exactly what I'm thinking about. Before you recycle or throw something away, decide if it might have a second life somewhere else. The bag your bread and bagels came in will go in the garbage eventually, so why not use it for your dog's next walk?

You can use the containers sour cream or cottage cheese came in to freeze things in. I also fill water bottles again and put then in the freezer -- your freezer will run more efficiently when full and when you need the space, you can thaw the bottle and use it to water plants.

Even the baking soda that's used to keep your fridge fresh can be used elsewhere. Put it in your garbage disposal, then pour some vinegar down and cover it with the drain stop. An hour later, run the water. This will keep your disposal odor free.

So before you toss something, think about if you can use it again. If not, check your local ordinances to see if it can be recycled.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

September Savings Day 13: Think of Others

When you see a fantastic deal or have the chance to get something for free, whether it be from free samples, by using coupons, or through hand me downs, take it. If you can’t use it, I’m sure there’s someone else who can.

I can assure you that there’s a food bank or women’s shelter nearby that would be happy to accept canned goods and pantry staples. When you can get toiletries free after rebate or coupon, get them to donate. And if there are freebies for baby supplies, these are great to package together for a gift or to pass along to your friends with little ones. There are always infant-focused charities that would love formula samples you receive by mail or free bottles that you get courtesy of coupons.

This year, I’ll be getting rid of all those school supplies I bought super cheap along with travel- and sample-sized toiletries through Operation Christmas Child.

You get the thrill of a killer deal and an organization in need gets a nice donation. Then you get another thrill from helping others. What a great little circle of happy feelings.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

September Savings Day 12: Take care of your fur babies

Pets enrich our lives in ways that are hard to assess. But they are damn expensive. Cats will run you $700 and dogs $1,000. Per year.

We have an adorable dog and two amusing turtles. Our turtles needed a new tank recently. Craigslist was our best friend. We also bought the last round of food in bulk and the massive, professional filter was an eBay find.

As for Napoleon, coupons have been my friend. I bought several months of Science Diet food for $4 by pairing a sale with a manufacturer coupon and a store coupon. He also has several months worth of treats from various coupons gigs all over town.

As for him getting fixed, I used the low-cost services of Friends of Animals, which didn’t actually turn out to be all that low cost when you factored in the pain pills and dissolving sutures, but I wasn’t going to let my puppy baby go without pain pills.

And I highly recommend the services of Luv My Pet for vaccinations. They have great packages that allow you to get all you pets’ shots taken care of in an afternoon -- no appointment or office fee.

We also keep track of coupons and discounts we can use on his grooming. In between grooms, we have purchase about $40 in grooming supplies for doggy baths, nail trims and other touch ups. A full groom is $55, so you’ll get a good ROI on a bottle of shampoo, scissors and nail clippers.

Budget for your pet, then coupon, coupon, coupon. That’s how we get his toys. I even have a coupon for a free office visit for Napoleon’s next check up.

September Savings Day 11: Offer feedback

Whether you loved the service you received or it was so-so, it’s always a good idea to offer feedback. When a manager asks us at a restaurant “How’s everything?,” I make sure to give kudos to the wait staff when due. Likewise, if the order wasn’t right, say something! You will at the very least end up with what you ordered.

Whether you have something nice to say about an establishment or a critique, it pays to spend a few minutes to fill out a form or send out an e-mail to their customer service rep.

And if you love a product, e-mail the manufacturer and ask for a sample or coupons. I regularly get coupons for dog food by letting the manufacturer know my dog loves their food.

I recently got a $10 gift certificate from Maggiano’s after filling out their survey. Likewise, I also complained to Buono Beef a few months ago because I found a piece of sharp plastic in a salad. I never heard back from them and haven’t been back since, so it’s hit and miss.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

September Savings Day 10: Keep Clutter Down

Easier said than done, I’m aware. I put my stockpile in at least three or four different places. But clutter costs you money, especially when you’re not even sure what you have on hand. It’s always cheaper to use what you have on hand.

So toiletries are upstairs and sorted into bins. At least I know where to find things, right? School supplies that I’ve bought when they were loss leaders are in a spare closet. Gifts that I’ve collected in advanced along with wrapping paper and Christmas tins and wicker baskets that I’ve picked up at Goodwill are under a bed. I put the bed on risers to accommodate more stuff. Home stuff and pantry items are in this giant closet that I’ve been blessed with on my first floor.

If you’re looking for ways to get organized, I suggest checking out Craigslist for shelves and bookcases. You can put a shelf over a doorway or add another shelf in your laundry room. Label what you can and store like items together.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September Savings Day Nine: Get Creative With Gift Giving

I speak from experience when I say that an excellent gift for a bride-to-be is a tote bag purchased at Goodwill filled with travel sized goodies such as Kleenex, stain remover wipes, granola bars, Q-tips, deodorant and chap stick. And once you coupon for a while, you know that you should never actually pay for these things.

As for a mom-to-be, why not fill a wicker laundry basket with diapers, wipes, baby bath products, formula samples, onesies and bibs? You can see everything in the basket in the photo on the left. I got everything for free or less than $.50 with coupons or on clearance, and I topped it all off with white tulle and ribbon I had on hand.

If you coupon, a nice housewarming present could include laundry soap, dishwasher soap, cleaning supplies and other items from your stockpile. Those items add up quickly if you need them all at once, so help your friends out and send it over right away.

Baked goods in festive tins are great for a variety of holidays. And a nice candle or reed scent diffuser (bought with coupons, of course) is perfect for a hostess gift. These are items that I am always on the lookout for when they’re free with coupons (or if you shop at CVS, better than free after Extra Care Bucks).

September Savings Day Eight: Plan Your Gift Giving

Christmas and birthdays come around on the same day every year. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Keep in mind upcoming gift-giving occasions and be on the look out for suitable items.

Since Halloween isn’t far away, I purchase many, many boxes of the nice 24-count of crayola crayons when they were $.15 a piece during the back to school sales. Kids get oodles of candy at this time of year and I know some parents won’t let them eat it all. I’m going to put Halloween stickers on the crayons and give them to our trick-or-treaters. I’ll let you know if my house gets egged.

Christmas is another holiday I plan for far in advanced. Like year in advanced. Hit up the Dec. 26 sales for discount wrapping, gift sets and decorations. Throughout the year, I pick up items on clearance or at a discount and stash them away. It leads to less stress around the holidays and fewer last-minute expenses for forgotten gifts. And we've already learned that holiday tins and wrapping paper is great stuff to pickup at Goodwill. Often, you can find some great items that have never been opened for kids, such as puzzles and games. These are great items to donate around Christmas time.

Monday, September 7, 2009

September Savings Day Seven: Start a Stockpile

I’m not talking about prepping for Y2K here. Grocery stores run on a 12-week cycle. At one point in that cycle, any given product will be at its cheapest. At that point, you should stock up with enough for 12 weeks.

What’s even easier is when you’re couponing, stock up on things when they‘re free or super cheap. I have enough laundry detergent, shampoo, soap and toothpaste for the next year and perhaps beyond. I know that in the next month, I’ll need to purchase tampons and shaving cream for the following three months. I know in the next two months, I’ll need to purchase toilet paper, vinegar and baking soda. When I see a good price, I’ll swoop in like a couponing ninja! If I really need something in the meantime, it’s off to ALDI.

You'll see my stockpile includes dog food and treats, soup, condiments, pasta, spaghetti sauce and household stuff like dish soap, napkins and dishwasher soap.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

September Savings Day Six:: Get to Know Goodwill

I know, this will start some heads shaking. Goodwill is not just for those who are down on their luck. Your purchase supports their mission of providing training and jobs for those who could use assistance.

As for the products, I’ve found that a used picture frame looks just as nice as a new one, and a used book reads just the same as one from Borders.

I also purchase a significant portion of my clothes used. First thing, though, they go out to sit in the sun and then I wash everything before it comes into my home. Then it’s just the same as every other piece of clothing I own.

If you live in the Chicagoland area, make sure to sign up for Club Goodwill. I often receive coupons for $5 off a $25 purchase and you receive a discount for purchases more than $20. This pairs nicely with their discount tags days. In my area, the store offers 50 percent off the price of a certain color tag on Sundays and Mondays. You can’t believe the great finds I’ve gotten there, including holiday tins for $.18 and Ann Taylor slacks for $2.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

September Savings Day Five: Coupons are your friend

This is perhaps the biggest tip I have. Every week, your newspaper comes to you with hundreds of dollars of potential savings wrapped up in it. All you have to do is take those inserts and file them away, then match up coupons with sales and rebates. It's money in your pocket.

It’s really that simple.

Some may argue that coupons are just for junk food and that the store brand is always cheaper. Not so. Everyone uses soap, shampoo, toothpaste, laundry detergent, dishwasher soap and deodorant, to name a few. These are things I haven’t paid for in more than a year. No store brand can't beat that.

If you live in the Chicagoland area, I highly recommend taking a couponing class from Jill Cataldo. I’ve taken both of her classes and I can’t tell you how much I’ve saved in the past year. The classes are free and very informative. She also has a new DVD available, for those of you outside her classroom coverage area.

The saving doesn’t stop at the store. There are coupons for oil changes, high-end clothing, department stores and more; you just have to look. I recently spent $1.63 at Victoria’s Secret for three pairs of underwear, a piece of candy and a travel kit with little bottles of toiletries. Everyone needs undies and the travel kit will make a great gift. Based on the retail prices, I saved more than $50. Awesome!

Here are some great Web sites to get started with:

And if you don't currently receive a newspaper, you can get a Chicago Tribune subscription for $.50 a week for just the Sunday paper. Or, you can pick up the Sunday paper at Menards for $1.

Friday, September 4, 2009

September Savings Day Four: Tame Your Demons

Smoking and drinking not only are unhealthy, but they’re really costly. Illinois just increased the taxes on booze, so you’ll be paying more for each drink (unless you stockpiled the day before the taxes took effect like we did. With rebates a coupons, just $5.33 a bottle for liquor!). And smoking has always been expensive. It will also raise the premiums on your life insurance and cost you more in health care costs through the course of your lifetime. If you can’t bring yourself to quit, seek moderation.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

September Savings Day Three: Maintain Your Domain

This applies to your car, pets, HVAC units and appliance. Yes, spending $80 to have someone check out and clean your furnace and AC once a year sucks. But it sucks more to have to pay $220 to pay a plumber to come out and snake the condensation lines in your AC unit because it was clogged. Oh, and to clean up the aftermath of that flooding and wash three loads of towels used to mop it all up. Ah, homeownership.

In other terms, Napoleon’s heartworm meds cost $30 for a year. His flea and tick meds are more expensive at roughly $10 a month. If he were to contract heartworm, it would cost me more than $800 to treat it.

So change your air filter, clean your drains and change your oil.

You should also do routine maintenance on your oven, dishwasher, fridge and washer/dryer. Check out your manual or google the appliance for more info. You have to clean the seals on everything, clean out any traps, etc. You’ll be glad you did.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

September Savings Day Two: Shop at ALDI

I know some people have a fear of ALDI that I just can’t understand. Tim and I aim to spend $50 a week on groceries and household items combined. We couldn't achieve this goal or come anywhere close if I was making a weekly trip to Jewel or Dominick's.

Yes, their food is mostly private label and yes, you do have purchase your own shopping bags, bag your own groceries and pay a $.25 deposit on your shopping cart.

But their food isn’t any different than what you would get at other stores. I’ve been shopping there for many years for pantry staples, fresh produce, dairy products, frozen meats and even household items. I even type my blog from my ALDI-brand computer and prepare meals in my ALDI-brand stainless steel cookware. I have only once purchase something and found out at home it was rancid, and the store refunded the full purchase price.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Introducing September Savings

I’ve been thinking for a while about how I can revitalize my blog. With the current economy, we haven’t been going out for meals as much as we used to. In addition, I’ve been preparing inexpensive, pretty simple meals at home. As in, nothing to write about.

So this month, I’m going to try something new. Welcome to September Savings. This month, I’ll share a tried and true money-saving tip every day. These aren’t outlandish or crunchy, they’re all things we’ve implemented in our own home to keep costs down.

My first tip: evaluate your attitude and keep your goals in mind. Everyone is spending less this days and it doesn’t hurt one bit to shop at less expensive stores or implement saving strategies.

When you have a clear financial goal in mind, it’s easy to make little sacrifices elsewhere. We’re working on owning our house outright. What’s your goal? A nice trip? The wedding of your dreams? Paying for your kids’ college?

Michelangelo purportedly said, "The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it."

Your goals should be large and dreamy, and then you should create a plan to achieve it.