Olive the Truth About Saving Money

Avoid convenience.  Save a lot of money.  That’s all of the truth about saving money.  Here’s an example.

olivesLast week I opened the refrigerator to find olives … in single-serving packs.  I don’t know why anyone would buy such a thing, let alone my own wife.  Maybe, (I hope) they were on sale.

Even on sale, it’s a very dumb purchase.  $2.99 for 4.8 ounces of olives is about 62¢ per ounce.  At the normal price of $3.69, it’s over 76¢ per ounce.

Compare that to a can of olives.  $1.87 for 6.0 ounces = 31¢ per ounce.  (The can contains liquid, but the 6.0 ounces is the weight of the olives.)

You want the convenience of having a little pack of olives every day?

Get some food storage containers.  Purchased in quantity, they’re about $1 each.

Open the can of olives, distribute its 6.0 ounces of olives into 5 food storage containers so that each container holds 1.2 ounces of olives.   You’ve now got 5 DIY packs of olives-to-go at a cost of about 39¢ each (including 1¢ for the cost of the food storage container, assuming you can re-use it about 100 times).

Compare that to the pre-packaged olives which cost or 92¢ per serving.  (Regular price.)

DIY and save yourself $1.82.

Remember, $1.82 saved is $1.82 earned.  Considering how much time it takes to open a can and parcel out the contents, this is a DIY job that pays over $50 per hour.


Removal Salt, Avoid Rust

In much of North America the last snow of the winter usually occurs sometime in February or March, which is also the time of the last road salting.  Once the salt is gone — and it’s good to wait until there’s been a heavy rain that gives the roads a good rinsing — you will want to get the road salt off your car.  You could go to the local car wash and spend money … or you could avoid convenience and save money by doing it yourself.  I’ve always gotten good results with a bucket of warm water mixed with a little dish-washing detergent.  Apply with a large sponge, scrub, dump the remaining detergent-water mix over the car, and rinse well.

auto_rustHowever, removing the road salt from your car’s unpainted undercarriage is even more critical than washing the car’s body.  It’s the metal parts under the car that can be damaged by salt’s corrosive powers.  The painted body can usually withstand contact with road salt pretty well.  Also, the top of the car gets rinsed by the rain.  The underside of the car isn’t exposed to rain.  Most people know this, which is why commercial car washes offer an “undercarriage wash” and why they do such a good business after the end of the snowy season.

But you don’t need to pay $$$ (not to mention, wait in a long line) to give your car’s undercarriage a good washing.  You can just use a garden hose and a lawn sprinkler.  When I wash the car for the first time after the last of the winter snow, I attach a lawn sprinkler to the garden hose, turn on the water, and use the hose to slowly push the sprinkler back and forth under the car.  It’s a good idea to avoid spraying too much water into the engine compartment.  You might need to get down on your hands and knees to make sure the water is directed at the wheels and suspension.  There are actually special tools that attach to a hose to perform the undercarriage washing.  Some clever people have made their own.  In my honest opinion, it seems that a lawn sprinkler works just as well. The whole point is to get the salt off your car, and because salt is water-soluble, all you really need to do is get water into contact with the underside of the car.

It takes a little time, but … as usual, avoiding convenience means you’re paying yourself instead of paying someone else.

(However, if you search the internet you can find lots of people saying that you need to use some kind of special salt-removing product to really do a good job.  All I can say is that the sprinkler method has worked for me, but as the saying goes, your mileage may vary.  What’s happened to me is anecdotal.  I haven’t owned enough cars to do a scientific study.  It might be that my car is less susceptible to rust or maybe I reduce my driving when roads are icy and salty.  (The second part is true.  I really do try to avoid driving when there’s ice and snow … and salt … on the roads.)

Cutting the Cheese

cut_the_cheese“You don’t mind if I cut the cheese?”, I asked my colleagues eating lunch with me at our workplace cafeteria.  As I said it, I held up the table knife I keep at my desk and the block of cheese I was eating that week (and probably the next week too).  It was a good cheddar I got at Costo.  As in most everything, it pays to avoid convenience and do the work yourself.  In this case, I was cutting the cheese to have with the crackers and salami I was having for lunch that day.  Just like the way I pay myself to carry a box of snacks to work (instead of paying the man that stocks the vending machine), just like I pay myself to bring my own iced tea to work, I can also pay myself to not only bring the cheese to work, but to also to cut it into slices.

Make Your Own Soap

The basic principle of avoiding convenience applies to soap.  You can make your own soap and save money in the process — and probably get better soap.  Exact soap-making instructions are a bit beyond the scope of this blog (you can find plenty on the internet and there are lots of instructional videos on youtube), but I’ll give an overview of the basics.

All you need are three ingredients:

  • Fat (such as lard, coconut oil, or olive oil)
  • Lye
  • Distilled water

You can also add some other ingredients for scents or added effects (such as lavender, peppermint, honey, oatmeal, and various coloring).

The preparation method for basic soap-making is

  • C-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y add the lye to the water (rubber gloves and eye protection are mandatory)
  • Warm the fat over low heat
  • Get both the fat and lye-water to the correct temperature (which usually means warming the fat while waiting for the lye water to cool)
  • C-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y blend them together
  • Mix until thickened
  • Add any optional ingredients
  • Pour into molds and cover
  • Allow to cool slowly
  • Remove from molds
  • Allow to cure in the air for several weeks

That’s all.

homemade_soapYou can get very creative with the scents, colors, molds, and packaging.  You might be inspired by the soap-makers in your family tree.  (“Your great-grandmother used to make her own lard soap in the backyard.”)  You might explore the soap-making traditions of your ancestors.  (“This is the kind of soap they made in the old country.”)  Once you’re a skilled soap-maker, you have an excellent and one-of-a-kind unique gift for all-purpose giving.

You’ve probably heard that lye is dangerous.  It is dangerous.  That’s why you wear gloves and safety glasses.  You should also wear long sleeves and pants.  It’s also a very good idea to work with the lye outside, as combining lye and water creates toxic fumes.  But, in my opinion, the danger level isn’t so inordinately high that soap-making must be left only to professionals working on an industrial scale.  I’d say it’s not too far from the danger level of making using hot oil on a stove to make a large batch of french-fries.  Of course, you do need to be careful and, to repeat for emphasis: wear safety glasses.

Do some research and if it interests you, procure the ingredients and make a batch.  You should find a tried-and-true recipe and follow it exactly.  Measuring quantities and temperatures precisely is absolutely essential when you’re making soap.  It’s not like making a stew or soup that you can easily vary by adding more of one ingredient or less of another.  The fat, lye, and water must be combined in the correct amounts and at the right temperature for saponification to occur.

Depending on what fat you use and how you obtain it, I think there’s a good chance that you’ll find the money savings and the high quality of the product are worth the effort.  You might come to see, as we have in my household, that making your own soap isn’t much different than making your own breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Hand-Powered Washing Machine

wonderwashFor a long time, I’ve wondered if maybe some day I might take an old washing machine and hook it up to a stationary bicycle such that peddling the bike powers the washing machine.  Maybe some day.  While thinking those thoughts I searched the internet for inspiration and I discovered a hand-powered washing machine called the Wonderwash.

Basically, it’s a bucket with a watertight top that is attached to a base that allows the bucket to spin on an axis when a crank is turned.  Put dirty laundry in the bucket, add water and detergent, close and spin, … you get the idea.

Recently, the goddess of good luck smiled on me and I found a Wonderwash machine at the local Goodwill.  As it was only about 1/5 of the normal price, I couldn’t resist buying it.  After using it a few times, here are my thoughts.

First, most people will probably find that it won’t replace a full-size washing machine.  You will still need your regular washing machine to do large loads, especially for things like blankets or towels.  But for small loads, the Wonderwash is a good alternative to using a regular washing machine — especially if that would require transporting clothes to a laundry room or laundromat (as apartment dwellers often need to do).  I can easily see how someone could save time and money by using the Wonderwash for washing loads of small things like underwear, tee-shirts, and socks.  It might also be useful for camping trips or in a cabin or vacation house that doesn’t have a regular washing machine.

Most videos of people using the Wonderwash show them using it in a kitchen.  I thought it made more sense to use it in the bathtub.  I did a load of 3 tee-shirts, 3 shorts (underwear), and a fitted sheet, which seemed like a good-sized load for the Wonderwash.  I filled it about half way with hot water, using the bathtub’s handheld shower.  I added just a small spoonful of liquid laundry detergent.  After screwing on the top, I turned the crank a few times to spin the bucket, then let the laundry soak for a minute or so.  I should mention that the bucket is well-balanced on its axis and spins quite easily.  I continued to crank few times each minute or so for about ten minutes.  (During this time I took a shower, with the Wonderwash right there in the tub with me.)

The machine has a drainpipe at the bottom (which you need to attach to use, but need to remove to spin the bucket), but as I had the machine sitting in the bathtub I thought it was easier to just dump the water out the same way it went in, by removing the top and tilting the bucket.  Then I added fresh water for the rinse cycle, closed the top and spun it a few times.  I like my clothes well rinsed, so I repeated the rinse cycle.  After dumping the rinse water out, I removed the clothes, wrung them by hand to get out most of the water, and hung them up to dry.  The next day, the clothes were dry and seemed just as clean as if they had been washed in a regular washing machine.

Overall, I’m glad I have the machine.  Even though we do most of our laundry in a regular washing machine in the basement, this is a good alternative for small loads or when the regular washing machine is unavailable because someone else is using it.  And, as already mentioned, if I lived in an apartment and didn’t have my own washing machine, I’d certainly consider getting one of these so as to minimize trips to the laundry room or laundromat.  Using the Wonderwash in a apartment would save all the time (and perhaps money) it takes to transport clothes to a laundry room or laundromat.

This is a Coffee Maker

Years ago (I mean, in the 1970s), Father Guido Sarducci was selling “Mr Tea” — a “tea maker” that was little more than a funnel under which you would place a cup with a teabag in it.  Sarducci said something to the effect of, “Just add boiling water, and Mr Tea does the rest!”

But think about it: your electric “coffee maker” doesn’t do anything more than bring water to a boil and let it drip over some ground coffee in a coffee filter.

ceramic_coffee_filter_holderDo you really need a machine to do that?

I assume you already have a machine that can bring water to a boil.  It’s your stove.  And you have hands and arms and a brain.  So use you brain and ask yourself:  Why should I spend money for a machine that does something that I can do with things I already own?

It’s called “pour-over coffee” and you make it with a coffee-filter holder that fits over a cup or carafe.

A “pour-over coffee maker” costs a fraction of what an electric coffee maker costs.  And it is easier to maintain.  And it takes up less space.  And it doesn’t use any electricity.  And it will probably last longer — like, it might last for the rest of your life — while you will probably need to buy a new electric coffee maker at least once every 10 years, maybe more often.

Okay, so the pour-over coffee maker doesn’t have a clock and a timer.  You’ll live.

Use your stove.  Use your hands, your arms, and your brain.  Don’t buy something you already have.

How I Fixed the Fridge

It was a warm summer day.  I was at work.  My phone rang.  It was my wife.  She told me that she had noticed that the temperature display in the refrigerator was showing unusually high temperatures.  Normally it would show something in the upper 30°s in the refrigerator and a little above 10° in the freezer.  But that day the readings were more than 10 degrees higher.  Yikes!  But, she told me, she had looked for some advice from the internet.  She found that many websites recommend putting a fan of some sort (a box fan or a desk fan) on the floor at the back of the fridge and getting as much airflow as possible around the refrigerator’s warm parts.  She had done this and was monitoring the fridge temperature, and it had started going down.

refrigeratorThe fan-on-the-floor advice works well — if what’s causing the problem is a failure of the refrigerator’s condenser fan.  In our case, that is what had happened.  I’m no expert, but basically a refrigerator works like this: the motor runs, the inside of the fridge gets cold, which makes the outside of the fridge get hot (in the motor area), and the fan blows that heat away so more cold (and more heat) can be made.  (Btw, there’s another fan inside the fridge that spreads the cold around, but that’s not the one that stopped working.)  Once the fan had stopped, there was too much heat accumulating in the motor area and it was preventing the fridge from making more cold.

After a few hours of running a box fan next to the fridge, the fridge was working as well as it always had.  But we didn’t want to keep a fan on the floor forever, so a more permanent solution was needed.  I looked for more internet advice about our fridge, a GE Profile.  I found a consensus that the fan itself could be bad.  Or it could be the computer motherboard gone bad.  Or it could be both.  And, putting in a new fan without changing the motherboard might cause the ruin of a new fan.  But, it could be that a bad fan had somehow damaged the motherboard.  In that case, replacing the motherboard without changing the fan could cause the new motherboard to be ruined.  I can’t vouch for the truth in all that, I’m just passing along what I read on the internet.  Apparently, if one doesn’t have the ability to test both the fan and the motherboard, the best approach is to replace them both.  Naturally, they were unbelievably expensive.  The two of them, just the parts alone, was a considerable fraction of the cost of a new refrigerator.

It seemed to me that moving air from one place to another should be a fairly simple thing to accomplish in our modern age.  And the equipment required to move this air shouldn’t cost more than $100.  After some web searching, it seemed that the answer to my problem was a rack fan.  Rack fans circulate air around racks of high-tech equipment like computers, servers, and similar things that don’t respond well to excessive heat.  Best of all: unlike parts from a refrigerator manufacturer, there is a competitive market in rack fans.

I found one that not only moves air, but also has a built in thermostat, so it turns itself on when it’s hot and off when it’s not.  It cost less than $25.

Installing it took some, shall we say, customization.  I didn’t want to actually replace the original fan that came with the fridge, nor use its power source.  The new fan would have its own plug going into the wall outlet separate from the refrigerator’s. The old fan would stay in place, not doing anything, forever.  After I took off the motor compartment’s cover (which was after I unplugged the fridge, of course), I noticed what seemed to me an odd arrangement.  The original fan was in one corner of the refrigerator’s motor compartment, positioned to blow air across the condenser coils, basically moving air from the right side of the compartment to the left side.  It clearly wasn’t positioned to either take air from inside the motor compartment and move it outside or take air from outside the compartment and move it inside, though there were several vents that did allow heat from inside the compartment to escape.

It seemed to me that it would be better if the fan were installed in such a way as to move air from outside the fridge into the motor area.  Maybe put the fan into the motor compartment cover itself, so that it would blow air from outside the fridge directly over the condenser coils.  The cover had several vents.  I enlarged one of the vents to allow the rack fan to be mounted in it.  To reduce vibration, I wrapped the new fan hole with duct tape.  A few screws that came with the fan held it in place.  I replaced the cover, plugged in the new fan, and awaited the judgment of the fridge’s temperature display.

The results were impressive.  The next morning the fridge was not only operating normally, it was colder than it had ever been.  The refrigerator compartment was down to the low 3o°s, just above freezing, and the freezer was all the way down to a couple degrees below 0°.

Since then, the new fan has operated perfectly.  I notice it comes on more often in the summer (when we have the air conditioning a bit above 70°), but will often stay off for days at a time during the winter (when we heat the house only enough to get barely above 60°).  The only downside is that the new fan makes a bit more noise that the refrigerator’s original built-in fan.  But overall I am pleased with the rack-fan repair.  It cost only about $25 and a few hours of my time instead of buying parts from the manufacturer and paying a repair technician to install them.  Hundreds of $$$ saved.

A few more words about this GE Profile refrigerator.  Of all my household appliances, this is the one I am least happy with.  My reasons:

  1. As detailed above, the fan needed to be replaced.
  2. Having the original fan move air around inside the motor compartment (instead of circulating air between the compartment and the area outside the fridge) is a bad design, the proof being that my hack installation of a new fan resulted in the refrigerator cooling to temperatures lower than before I added the new fan.
  3. The ice maker and the area around it have some sort of design oddity that allows ice cubes, as they are ejected from the ice maker into the tray, to miss the tray and fall to the bottom of the freezer, where they collect in large quantities such that the freezer door (which is attached to a basket) collides with the ice and won’t stay shut.  This ice has to be regularly removed from bottom of the freezer and thrown away.
  4. I have replaced the original ice maker, which never made enough ice consistently.  It would give us plenty of ice for a couple days, then go off and do nothing for a day or two or three.  Nothing helped.  The new ice maker seems to do better than the original.
    (Confound it!  We’re well into the 21st century and we can’t design an ice maker that can consistently make ice?  My family had the use of a friend’s vacation home a few years ago.  The home had belonged to our friend’s parents and most everything in it was 1970s vintage or earlier.  In the kitchen was a stand-alone ice maker, which we were instructed to turn on when we arrived (as the owner didn’t want it running when no one was in the house).  We turned it on, heard it start up, and … wouldn’t you know it: the thing was continuously full of ice the entire week we were there.  This machine was well over 40 years old.  My friend’s parents lived in this house after they retired, so I assume it was used often.  And there it was,  cranking out more ice than we could use, as reliably as the sun coming up in the morning.  How is it that we were able to make a machine like that 4 decades ago, but today’s ice makers crap out after less than 10 years of service?)