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.

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,
  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 a 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

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!

Don’t Buy Something You Already Have

cast_iron_waffle_makerAssuming you already have a stove …why would you buy an electric waffle maker?  Most of the cost of an electric waffle maker is the electrical parts, the parts that allow it to get hot and remain at the correct temperature.  But if you’ve already got a stove that gets hot, why do you need that capability in a waffle maker?  Do you need an electric water boiler?  Do you need an electric bacon fryer?  Do you need an electric egg cooker?  If you do those things on the stove, why can’t you make a waffle on the stove?

Buy a cast-iron waffle maker and let the stove do the heating.  You can even buy 2 or 3 if you would like to make more than one waffle simultaneously.  The cast-iron variety doesn’t light up or ring a bell when it gets to the right temperature or when your waffle is done, but you can learn how to tell when a waffle is done, don’t you think?  And a cast-iron waffle maker is easier to clean, takes up less space, will last longer … and costs less.  Also consider a stainless steel stove-top popcorn popper.

Bagged Salads

bagged_saladI hate ’em.

Years ago I heard of a new peanut-butter product.  It was peanut butter packaged like individually-wrapped cheese “singles” that was intended to be used to make peanut-butter sandwiches.  For people who are just too busy to open a jar and use a knife to transfer peanut butter from the jar to the bread.  Yes, this was actually a thing.  (You can look it up, the product was called P.B. Slices.)

If the idea of peanut-butter slices strikes you as both stupid and utterly unnecessary, then maybe you can understand one of my objections about bagged salad.  What’s so hard about buying a head of lettuce and cutting it up?

Sure, I understand that people will pay for convenience — and people can save money by not paying for convenience.  And I guess that bagged salad can have different kinds of lettuce and people might not want to buy whole heads of 3 or 4 different kinds of lettuce.  Okay.

But there’s another problem with bagged salad and it’s the simple fact that it’s not good.  It doesn’t taste good.  It’s old.  Saggy and soggy.  Dead.  Maybe, just maybe, if you eat them immediately, like within an hour or two, after they were purchased, they might be acceptable.  If you store them at home for a day or two, you’ve usually got wilted, lifeless, and sometimes slimy salad greens.  Lettuce and other salad greens don’t last long after being sliced into salad-sized pieces.  I’m sure they were fine when they were in the bagged-salad factory. But after salad assembly in the factory, the packing, trucking, unpacking, shelving, carting, carrying, and storing before they get into your bowl is more than they can withstand.  I look on bagged salads as another example of the dumbing-down of American food culture.  A systematic lowering of our standards.  We’ve given up good salads for convenience, and paid more in the bargain. hearts_of_romaine

While bite-sized pieces of salad greens don’t have much of a shelf life, whole heads of lettuce last a reasonably long time in the fridge.

If you want better and less costly salad, buy lettuce by the head.  When I want salads at work, I buy bag of whole hearts of romaine and a carton of tomatoes.  Before I go to work I wash one or two romaine hearts and a few tomatoes in cold water and pack them in my salad container (which originally held a Chicken Caesar Salad from Costco).  Maybe add a bit of shredded cheese if there’s any in the fridge.  I keep a bottle of salad dressing in the fridge at work.  Maybe someday I’ll have some croutons to take; it hasn’t happened yet.   Note that I don’t “make” the salad before work, I just put the whole romaine hearts and whole tomatoes in the container.  I do all the “work” at lunchtime, just before I eat. Slice the tomatoes with a plastic knife.  Cut off the ends of the romaine hearts, maybe take off the outside leaves.  A few more cuts and slices and I’ve got a beautiful and tasty salad that no bagged salad can even begin to compete with.  It takes about a minute to prepare.  If you calculate how much time it takes to make the salad yourself and consider how much money you save by doing so, you’ll find you’ve given yourself a job that pays, on a per-hour basis, several times minimum wage.  Too bad only a minute or two of this work is available each day.

I leave the salad dressing in the fridge at work because if I’ve got several hearts of romaine and a carton of tomatoes that means I’ll eat salad for lunch for 2 or 3 days.  The romaine I eat on the third day is as good as the one I had on the first day.  No bagged salad can match that.

Better.  Costs less.  Saves money.  What’s not to like?

Refresh Tortillas and Tortilla Chips

tortilla_chipsTortillas and tortilla chips both get stale, but they get stale in different ways.

Chips get stale by absorbing moisture from the air.  To make them fresh (and crispy), put them on a baking sheet in a warm (~200°) oven for a few minutes.  Leaving the oven door open will help them the moisture to escape, leaving them re-freshed and re-crisped.

Tortillas get stale by losing moisture.  When they are dried out they break instead of being flexible enough to wrap around the filling of a soft taco or burrito.  To make stale tortillas fresh (and soft) again, mist them with a small amount of water (just a few drops on each side), put them in a covered casserole baking dish and place it in a warm oven.  tortillasOr put them in a covered skillet over low heat on the stove.  Keeping them covered as they re-heat is key.  After a few minutes they will be soft and warm.  Another method is to layer your stale tortillas in slightly moistened paper towels and put them in the microwave for 10 to 20 seconds.

Refresh your tortillas, save a buck.


A word about tortilla nomenclature.  It seems clear to me that all tortillas are made from “flour”, albeit different types of flour.  So how can one kind of tortillas be called “flour tortillas”?  Both “flour” tortillas and “wheat” tortillas are made from wheat flour; the former from white flour, the later from whole wheat flour.  Given this sad state of affairs, I propose we refer to tortillas as “white flour” tortillas, “whole wheat flour” tortillas, and  “corn flour” (or just “corn”) tortillas.