Homemade Iced Tea

liptons_teaThe basic idea of not buying water that has been transported in bottles has already floated by, in this post about frozen juice concentrate.  But transporting water by putting it in bottles or cans and moving those bottles or cans by truck is so inefficient and so expensive, it deserves another post.  This time the topic is iced tea.

I don’t recall bottled or canned iced tea being available until around 1990.  Before then, iced tea was one of those things (like salad) that everyone made at home.  Of course, people will pay $$$ for convenience of iced tea in a can or bottle, ready to drink … and other people will save $$$ by giving themselves the job of making their own iced tea.

It isn’t hard to make iced tea.  I make mine in the refrigerator overnight.  Before I go to bed, I combine a tea bag, ice, and water in a water bottle (e.g., a Nalgene or similar).  Allow to steep overnight in the refrigerator.  Before drinking, add sugar or lemon juice to your taste.

Bottled, canned, or fast-food iced tea costs around $1 per serving, sometimes more than twice that if you get it retail.  My refrigerator-brewed iced tea costs less than 10¢ if made with bargain tea bags (Lipton or Tetley), maybe a bit more if made with premium tea (Constant Comment is my favorite).  Of course, even premium tea can be bought in quantity to keep the cost down.

Make your own tea, take it with you to work or as you run errands.  Save about $1 or more per serving, depending where you don’t buy ready-to-drink iced tea.

Before work, I usually make a two-quart jar of tea (using 2 teabags) and if the weather is warm I drink the entire 2 quarts during the workday.  Canned iced tea, in 12-oz cans, currently costs $1.25 per can from the vending machine at work.  My two-quart jar is the equivalent of more than 5 cans, which would cost $6.25.*

* My calculation:

2 quarts = 64 oz.

1 vending-machine can = 12 oz.

64 ÷ 12 = 5.3

5 × $1.25 = $6.25



Use a Shower Shutoff Valve

shower_valveSave water and save money.  I’ve seen people showering, applying their soap, body wash, or shower gel while the water is running and rinsing the product off their skin and down the drain as soon as they start to use it.  Or they leave the water running while they shampoo or shave.  The better way is to

  1. Get wet,
  2. Turn the water off using a shower shutoff valve (even when I using a shutoff valve, I still turn the hot water completely off),
  3. Apply your favorite shower product, lather and scrub (a Salux washcloth works well),
  4. Give the lather time to work,
  5. Shampoo or shave,
  6. Turn the water on, and
  7. Rinse.

The problem is that it’s a bother to turn the water off the usual way, especially once you have the hot-and-cold mix adjusted the way you like it.  Solution: Get a shower shutoff valve.  It installs above the showerhead (or handheld shower connection) and gives you another way to turn off the shower.  Turn off the valve, and the faucet handles stay on (keeping the water temperature as you like it), as the shower flow is reduced to a drip.  Lather, scrub, shave, let the soap do its work, take your time, and then — after you’ve saved a few gallons of water — rinse as normal.

Save even more: take cold showers.

Why Buy Gift Cards?

gift_cardsI don’t get gift cards — both literally (I don’t buy them) and figuratively (I don’t understand why people do buy them).

There are two types of gift cards, so let’s consider them one at a time:

Gift cards issued by retail stores:

I can only think of a couple reasons I would buy a gift card for a particular store.

  1. There’s a discount or bonus that comes with a gift card purchase.  Like: buy a $100 gift card and get a $10 gift card as a bonus.  Or: buy a $100 gift card and get a coupon for 50% off any purchase.
  2. It’s necessary to make sure that the recipient uses the money as intended.  Like: buy a Subway gift card for a college student so that the gift can be used only for food and not for beer or marijuana.

Other than that, what’s the point of gift cards?  Are the recipients of your gift cards better off because they are restricted to shopping at only one store?  It’s hard to see how that would be true.  Cash is good everywhere.  Store-issued gift cards aren’t.

Also, store-issued gift cards sometimes have non-use fees that will slowly reduce the value of a card that isn’t used after a certain number of months.  And, if the company goes out of business, then its gift cards could become worthless (.e.g., Borders, Circuit City).

And, stores will sometimes be tricky when you use a gift card.  I once received a Target gift card that was worth $30.  I used it for a purchase that was a bit more than its value, let’s say, $30 and 25¢.  I gave the clerk a one-dollar bill and the card, expecting to use up all the value on the card and get back 75¢ in coins as change.  But the clerk applied the $1 bill to the balance first, and then gave me back the gift card with a new value of 75¢.  I don’t know if the clerk was just careless or if perhaps she was doing something Target wanted her to do — leave me with a gift card with an insignificant balance, hoping I would lose or misplace it thus allowing the store to keep the 75¢.  (I made her re-do the transaction so that the card value ended at zero and I got the six bits.)

Gift cards issued by banks and credit-card companies:

Gift cards that look like credit cards have the advantage that they can be spent anywhere credit cards are accepted.  But watch out for fees: activation fees, dormancy fees, non-use fees, service fees … these can add up to a large amount of money relative to the value of the gift.  Read the fine print.  Some credit-card gift cards look like they’re “no fee” at a glance, but are really loaded with fees.  Would you really pay $4 so you can give someone $25?  Does that make sense?  Wouldn’t your recipient be better off is you just gave them $29 in cash?  And if the recipient doesn’t use the gift card quickly, its value will probably decrease each month.  So, you paid $4 to give a $25 gift card, but the recipient didn’t use it soon enough and really only got $21.  Wow.

cash_gift_envelopeThe thing to do: Get some currency gift envelopes.  The credit union where I keep my checking and savings accounts gives these envelopes away free.  Avoid the fees, give more gift.  A gift of cash can be used for anything — it can even be saved or invested where it will earn interest or dividends.  Can’t do that with a gift card.

A few other things about gift cards:  Does this country really need more plastic garbage in our landfills?  Do we really need to see more advertising?  And, btw, you might be able to save money by buying gift cards that someone else doesn’t want on eBay or similar.

Buy Birthday, Get Well, Sympathy, Etc Cards in Advance

greeting_card_assortmentIf you like to send cards for special occasions, you can save money by buying a boxed assortment of cards before you need them.  Then, when someone has a birthday, wedding, baby shower, mother’s day or father’s day, or you need to say get well soon or thinking of you, or whatever … you go to your box instead of the store.  Like most things, buying greeting cards in quantity will save you about 50% compared to buying single cards at normal retail prices.  It also saves you time because you won’t need to make a special trip to buy a card.

I’ve not seen any of these card assortments in the local stores, but I have seen them on Amazon.com and Costco.com.  As you use them, restock the box with new cards from the dollar store or your online source.

$10 For An Electric Mulching Lawnmower

Over the last couple years I’ve rolled home 2 or 3 lawnmowers whose owners placed them on the curb on trash-day eve.  Upon finding no obvious way to repair them, back to the curb they went.  Recently a neighbor offered me a mulching mower for free.  It looked to be in very good condition. He said something was broken and preventing it from coming on, but he thought I could fix it.  I had no idea that my skills were so widely known.

mower_lever_schematicIt was easy to see that the problem was the switch lever, which is a safety switch that has to be held in the “on” position for the mower to operate.  It was broken.  The actual “on” button pressed by the lever worked fine, and the mower came on when I pushed it with the end of a wooden spoon.  I ordered a replacement from a parts dealer for about $10 (including postage).  On closer inspection, I saw that it needed some sort of plastic pin, like the pin of a hinge, that holds the lever in place and allows it to pivot.  I improvised with a bolt and lock-nut.  The repair took about an hour, including the time I needed to get the bolt and lock-nut.  A new mower like this one would cost over $300 and I think this used one is worth around half that.  This is a job that paid well over $100/hour.  Pretty good work.

The moral of the story: A basic familiarity with spare parts, tools, and basic mechanics can save you lots of money.

I need to remember to thank my neighbor and tell him how glad I am to have the mower.  Who knows what else he might need to find a home for?

I Like Plugable Keyboards

wired_keyboardI don’t believe the “disadvantages” of plugging a keyboard into the back of the computer and seeing the cord on the desktop (the real desktop, not the computer screen) are so bad that it’s worth paying $20 more to get a wireless keyboard.

The wireless keyboard is an even worse deal when you consider that it has the disadvantages of

  • needing batteries that will have to be replaced and disposed of and could die in the middle of the night when getting replacement batteries is inconvenient,
  • being sometimes slow to respond, having a slight delay between pushing a key on the keyboard and seeing a letter appear on the screen, especially for very fast typists (this is something I’ve read in online reviews),
  • using radio signals that might be susceptible to interception by a wireless keylogger. (see “Hackers Can Spy on Wireless Keyboards From Hundreds of Feet Away“)

I use my computer while I sit at a desk.  How far away do I need to be?  It’s a keyboard, not a phone!


Many months after writing this, I obtained a new in-the-box wireless keyboard for free.  I installed the software, connected the receiver to my computer’s USB port, turned on the keyboard … and the software declared it “paired”.  Then, nothing.  I typed, but never got anything to appear on the screen.  I re-did everything.  Tried a different USB slot.  Restarted the computer.  Tried another set of batteries.  Then I did all of the above again on another computer.  I was never able to type a single character on the wireless keyboard.  There’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back.  Never again.