Breakfast for a Week for $4: Hard-Boiled Eggs

Hard-boiled eggs are an excellent and inexpensive breakfast food, especially if you know the best way to cook them.

childrens-book-humpty-dumptyI think most people like hard-boiled eggs, but the problem is doing the hard-boiling.  If you undercook them, they have a gooey or runny center, which is bad if that’s not what you want.*  If you overcook them, then they get that ugly greenish gray color around the center and they may have an “off” odor and unpleasant taste.  You have to cook them just the right amount, not too little, not too much.  It’s not easy to do.  For one thing, there’s no way you can measure what’s going on, cooking-wise, inside the egg.  The exterior of the egg doesn’t change color as it cooks.  It doesn’t feel any different if you touch it.  You can’t poke a meat thermometer into it.  However, the one thing you can measure is time, which goes a long way towards solving the egg-cooking problem, if you can keep the cooking temperature constant.

Measuring the length of time your eggs have been cooking only helps you if the temperature of the water around them is the same every time.  However, this is difficult to achieve.  You put water in a cooking pot, bring it to a boil and add the eggs.  Adding the cold eggs to the water immediately lowers the water temperature.  But by how much?  That depends on the quantity of boiling water you have, how cold the eggs are, and how many eggs you put into the pot.  One egg will lower the temperature of the water just a little.  Several eggs will lower the temperature quite a bit.  The more the water’s temperature is lowered, the longer it takes to return to a boil and the longer it takes the eggs to cook.  Another factor is the amount of heat being produced by the stove.  Is it the same every time?  All things considered, there’s a lot of temperature inconsistency from one egg-boiling session to another.  That means you don’t know how much heat is being transferred to the eggs, so you have no idea how of precisely how long you need to cook them.  Perhaps if you were careful to use exactly the same amount of water, in the same cooking pot, and the same number of eggs, and the same setting on the stove every time, you might, by trial-and-error, eventually determine the correct cooking time.  The same problems arise if you put eggs in pot of cold water and bring them to a boil.  How cold was the water to begin with?  How many eggs?  How hot is the stove?  Again, inconsistency, unless you carefully measure all of these things and experiment carefully.

Thankfully, there’s a much easier method that yields much better results, every time.

To give credit where it’s due, I believe this method was developed be the cooking experts at Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  It’s genius.

Basically, you put a steamer basket in your pot, fill it with water up to (but not above) the level of the basket’s bottom and bring the water to a boil.  Then put your eggs, making sure they’re not cracked or broken, straight from the refrigerator, into the basket.  Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid.  Turn the heat down to medium-low, sufficient to maintain a slow boil.  Allow the eggs to cook in the steam, covered, for 12 or 13 minutes.  The exact cooking time will vary a bit, depending on the size of your eggs and how cold your refrigerator is, but this method is far superior to anything that involves eggs submerged in boiling water.

You should keep the pot covered the entire cooking time, but you might peek once to make sure the water hasn’t boiled away.  If your lid fits tightly, this shouldn’t be a problem.  After the time has elapsed, carefully transfer the eggs to a bowl of cold water and ice and allow them to cool for 10 minutes.  Store in the refrigerator and use as needed.

The beauty of this method is that the cold eggs are not submerged in the water, so they don’t reduce the water temperature.  The water keeps boiling as you add the eggs to the basket.  Therefore, there’s plenty of steam, and the temperature of the steam stays constant, something very close to the temperature of boiling water.  By keeping the eggs out of the water, most of the variables are eliminated.  One great thing about this method is that it works equally well with just a couple eggs or as many as can fit in the basket under the lid.  I usually cook 10 eggs on Sunday and eat 2 each morning during the M-F workweek.  Given that eggs cost around $3 (or less) per dozen, $4 per week allows boiled eggs, maybe a piece of toast, and perhaps an avocado once in a while!  Avocado-Egg Toast!  Mmmmmm!

Compare this to the cost of getting a breakfast sandwich at a fast-food place.  That could easily be $16 per week.  Cooking your own eggs means $12 per week saved.  $12 × 50 weeks per year = $600 per year.  If you’re not putting 10% (or more) or your income into your retirement savings accounts, here’s something that can move you toward that goal.  (Your savings might be even more if you eliminate the temptation to buy more than just a sandwich at the fast-food place.  Make your own tea or coffee and you’ll save more.

* I like soft-boiled eggs just fine, but I like them only if they’re served hot.  The steam-cooking method also works for soft-boiled eggs.  If you want soft-boiled eggs, reduce the cooking time to about 7 minutes for very soft or 9 minutes for medium-soft.

Advertisements

Scrooge Was Right

Perhaps it’s odd, as we approach the Christmas season, to come to the defense of Ebenezer Scrooge.  But I think it’s fair to say that the old miser does make a good point and seems to be an early proponent of frugality and personal finance efficiency (at least in this video version of “A Christmas Carol” from 1984 starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge).

You can save a considerable amount of money during the heating season by not heating your home to the point where it’s comfortable to walk around you house with bare feet wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  At my house, where the heat doesn’t come on until after Thanksgiving, I simply do not hear pleas to turn on the heat from people who are wearing shorts and no shoes.  Scrooge points to coats and waist-coats, but today we have flannel shirts, sweaters, sweatshirts, and (my favorite) flannel- or fleece-lined jeans.  Don’t burn coal or gas to heat your entire house.  Warm yourself with comfy clothes and snug slippers.  Stay cozy under a sherpa blanket while reading or watching television.

In my experience, flannel shirts and sweaters are easily obtainable at thrift stores at very low cost.  I’ve never seen flannel- or fleece-lined jeans at my local thrift stores, so I’ve purchased them at retail prices, but as Scrooge says, once purchased they may be used indefinitely.

A fleece-lined flannel shirt (practically a jacket, actually), a long-sleeved shirt and a long-sleeved t-shirt with fleece-lined jeans is my indoor uniform during the winter.  I actually don’t wear my fleece-lined clothing out of the house.  I’ve even thought about buying fleece-lined overalls.

Experts claim you will save 2 to 3% on your heating bill by lowering your thermostat 1 or 2 degrees.  Are you frugal enough to see how much you save if you set your thermostat to 65°?  62°?  60°?

(Interestingly, this exchange between Bob Crachit and Ebenezer Scrooge does not appear in the original text of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”.)

Natural Gas Offer

In the old days, a householder just bought gas from the gas company.  The gas came in a pipe, the bill came in the mail.

gas_meterThese days, the gas company company can deliver not just its own gas, but also gas from other, “energy supply company”, providers.  You can choose to get the gas from one of the other suppliers.  This means you pay two bills: one to the alternative provider and one to your local gas company for the use of their distribution system.

A while back, I got an offer from one of the alternative suppliers that serve my area.  $90 per month for natural gas, with the commitment of a 1 year contract.  I wondered if that was a better deal than the usual pay-the-gas-company’s-current-rate on a month-by-month basis.  So I added up my gas bills for the past 2 years and divided by 24 to get my average gas bill.  It was a little something below $90, which made me feel pretty happy.

Waiting until late November to turn on the heat, wearing sweaters, sitting on the couch under a blanket, and taking cold showers, … seems like it’s all paying off.

DIY Washing Machine Lint Trap

It’s a good idea to prevent lint from going down the laundry-sink drain.  You can get lint traps that attach to the end of your washing machine’s discharge hose.  They cost around a dollar each, if you buy them at your local grocery store, hardware store, or big-box home improvement store.

However, you can get them a lot cheaper (per unit) if you buy them in bulk (e.g., dozens) from a big online retailer.  That’s by far the best way to do it.  They’re a good value and worth using, considering that you’re likely to have a clogged drain if you don’t.

mesh_bags

I’ve used the store-bought lint traps for many years and been pretty happy with them.  Recently I had one that was completely filled with lint, ready for the garbage, but I didn’t have any new ones in the house.  I wondered if I could create a DIY substitute out of something I had on hand and I though of the mesh produce bags that onions and oranges (etc.) are packaged in.

I noticed that the mesh pattern of the produce bags is more widely spaced than that of the typical lint trap, so I doubled up by putting one mesh bag inside another.  Instead of using a cable tie to attach my improvised lint trap to the discharge hose, I cut a strip off the top of the mesh bag itself and twisted it into a cord, then used that to tie the bag to the hose.  You could also use a screw-type hose clamp and keep re-using it indefinitely.

The results:  The DIY produce-bag lint probably doesn’t catch as much lint as a purpose-made lint trap.  It might work better if it were tripled or quadrupled with three or even four bags.  On the other hand, it’s free.  Overall, I think it’s probably best to buy lint traps in quantity and get them for a good price.  In a pinch, though, the DIY version is definitely better than nothing.

Btw, check the internet: there are lots of DIY projects that use mesh produce bags.  I am certainly not the first person who has looked for re-uses for them.

Fixing Flapper Valve in Toilet

If you notice the water coming on by itself to fill the tank of your toilet, the problem could be your toilet’s flapper valve.  You can easily renew it or replace it yourself and save plenty of money.

flapper

Flapper valve?  Most toilets have a flapper valve.  The flapper valve holds the water in the tank until you press the handle to flush the toilet; doing so raises the valve and allows the water to flow from the tank into the bowl.  (There are other methods of getting water from the tank to the bowl, but the flapper-valve method has been around a long time and is probably the most common.)

Over time, the flapper valve and the seat on which it sits can be fouled with hard water sediment, rust, lime, or other dirt and grime. (Amazing how much dirt and grime is in “clean” water.)  The valves can also lose their flexibility, which keeps them from sealing properly.  Thus, water slowly and continuously seeps from the tank into the bowl.  If you watch closely, you might see it form little ripples in the bowl.  When the water level gets low enough, the toilet mechanism turns the water on to re-fill the tank, and you hear it, which lets you know it’s time to work on the flapper valve.  You can verify that the flapper valve is leaking by putting a few drops of food coloring in the toilet tank and looking to see if any of it ends up in the bowl after an hour or two.

You might try cleaning the valve and valve seat.  Remove the valve and clean it with a scrub brush, scouring pad, or steel wool.  A bit of dishwashing detergent might help. Do the same with the valve seat.  Once it’s all clean, re-assemble it and check to make sure it no longer leaks.

In my experience, once a flapper valve is leaking, it needs to be replaced.  Obtain a new one from your local hardware store.  Remove the old one and install the new.  There are plenty of youtube videos that will show you how.  You might want to save the chain and the metal clip in your hardware jar; they might come in handy for some other job.  I used such a clip once to replace a lost cotter pin.

One final note:  the various toilet cleaners that “clean the bowl every time you flush” are bad for the toilet mechanism in the tank.  Avoid toilet cleaning products that go into the water while it is in the tank.

As usual: Do it yourself and save $$$.

Which reminds me of a story:  I had a friend, a little old lady, who called a plumber when the water in her toilet kept coming on.  The visit from the plumber cost her something around $100.  That seems like a lot to charge for the few minutes of labor needed to replace a part that costs about $6 (retail)  — but I can understand that the plumber had to take the time to go to her home and he could have been working on another job (maybe something that would better justify a plumber’s time) instead of replacing a flapper valve.  Still, I wish she had told me about the problem before she called the plumber.  I would have been happy to do it for free.

Cold Showers

I had a recent experience with cold showers, which got me to thinking that they’re not so bad — at least in the summer.  Not only does taking cold showers have many health benefits (i.e., there are many claims of health benefits), it also saves money.

Every time you turn on the hot water, cold water flows into your water heater and that increases the amount of power (either electric or gas) it uses.  One sure way to reduce your bill is simply to reduce the amount of hot water you use.  If possible, don’t even touch the hot water faucet handle when you wash your hands or shower.  Use less hot water, and you save money every day.  Cold showers have the largest potential for saving money by reducing hot water use, because hot showers use a lot of hot water.

Cold showers are easiest in the summer, when the temperature of the “cold” water might be above 70° F (~ 20° C).  That’s not as warm as most people like for a shower, but it’s far from really cold.  For the past several days, I have taken only 100% cold showers, no hot water at all, and I’m getting quite used to it.  It’s really not bad.  Quite refreshing, actually.  (Of course, it’s July now.)  I’ll probably continue taking cold showers until fall, but I anticipate using less hot water than I’ve previously used during cold weather.

cold_showerNot only am I saving on the gas bill by reducing the amount of gas used to heat water, I’m also saving on the water bill.  Here are three reasons I use less water by cold-showering: (1) I don’t send water down the drain waiting for it to “heat up” as hot water moves through the pipes from the water heater to the shower.  I’m only using cold water and it’s there as soon as I turn the faucet handle.  (2) I use less water in the sense of gallons-per-minute of water flow and (3) I take shorter showers.  I also use the minimum amount of shampoo and soap, so as to reduce the amount of time and water it takes to rinse off.  No question about it, a cold shower is a quick shower.  Of course, I still use a shower shutoff valve.

Q: If cold water saves money, why not just turn off the water heater?

A: Hot water is absolutely necessary for washing clothes and dishes.  When doing laundry, hot water does a great job of killing germs, dust mites, and getting all of the grease and dirt out of your clothes.  Even though some detergents claim to work well in cold water, I still use hot water for the reasons stated.  If you try to wash dishes in cold water, you’ll find your dishes come out greasy and spotted.  (However, it’s a good idea to turn the water heater off when you go on vacation.)

To sum up: The shower is the place to save money by reducing your hot water usage.  Why not take the cold shower challenge?  Ease into it.  Reduce your hot water use in the shower by about half for your next few showers, then go total “cold shower” after that.  Good luck!

 

Trusting Your Car to Turn Off the Headlights

c ar_parked_headlights_onAs far as I know, this opinion is unique to me, and I think there’s a good chance that some people might find it a little wacky.  But here goes:  Every time I see a driver get out of their car and walk away, leaving the headlights on, I think, “I could never do that“.

Yes, I guess it’s a little crazy.  These days most cars have some sort of electronic mechanism that automatically turns off the headlights a few minutes after the engine is turned off or the car is in park.  Sometimes I watch, and, sure enough, I see that’s what happens.

Bur suppose the lights don’t go off by themselves?  If that happens, the car’s owner might return to a car with a dead battery.  That’s a chance I don’t want to take.  Sure, the car lights go off by themselves more than 99% of the time … but there’s going to be that one time when it wasn’t a good idea to act as if you believe that no automotive component could ever fail!  Nothing in a car ever just stops working!

Besides the risk of the lights staying on and draining the battery, there are a few other things that come to mind.

Could leaving the headlights on mean that they will burn out sooner?  It stands to reason that any sort of headlight is only going to last so long, that is, some certain number of hours of “on” time.  If you burn your headlights an extra few minutes every time you drive your car, they’re going to reach the end of their useful life sooner.

Also, using the headlights needlessly wastes gasoline.  The electricity in a (gasoline-powered internal-combustion-engine kind of) car’s battery doesn’t just come out of the air.  The electricity is generated by the car’s alternator, which is turned by the engine.  When it’s actually making electricity, it’s a little harder to turn, and therefore the engine uses a little more gasoline whenever the alternator needs to make electricity to charge the batter or operate the car’s electrical components.  Not only does burning the headlights for no reason waste gasoline, it also adds wear and tear on the alternator and battery, shortening their lives.