“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.
At a church meeting I recently attended, someone made a pot of coffee. When the pot was empty, another pot was made. After the meeting was over, the coffee pot was still about 1/3 full. No one wanted another cup. I don’t normally drink the stuff. (What kind of person, I wonder, would take beans from some plant, roast them until they’re nearly burnt, grind them into powder, pour boiling water onto that powder, then drink that water?) I had my own water-bottle, filled with iced tea, which I had finished. Before someone could dump the unwanted coffee down the drain, which was about to happen, I quickly rinsed my water-bottle and poured the coffee into it. As soon as I got the coffee home, I put it in another container and refrigerated it. I wanted to minimize the risk of the water-bottle I use for iced tea being ruined by the coffee taste, so I washed it as soon as it was empty. The next day I had all the iced coffee I wanted, for nothing more than the cost of some ice and milk.
The moral of the story is that if you look around you can always find things that people are getting rid of that can be of benefit to you if you do the work of obtaining them and re-purposing them. Get in the habit and you can get lots of things for free.
It’s damn annoying that some of the “disposable” pepper grinders (the kind made by spice manufacturers and sold at grocery stores) can’t be easily opened so they can be refilled and re-used when they are empty. I recently found myself with an empty disposable pepper grinder at the same time that I couldn’t locate my salt grinder. I thought I could wash it and fill it with sea salt, but … it’s made so as to be very difficult to open.
Here’s the trick: Soak the plastic top in very hot water for several minutes. This makes the plastic just a bit more flexible, which should allow you to pull the plastic top off the glass jar. Just hold the glass jar in one hand and the plastic top in the other and pull them straight apart. Then you can dry it and re-fill it. Once it’s refilled, to put the top back on, just press the top firmly onto the jar.
If you want your pots and pans to last longer, avoid taking pots and pans that are cold (i.e., room temperature) and putting them directly over a stove that is cranked up to full heat. It’s best to put a pan over very low heat for a while before turning up the heat to medium or high. I usually let a pan get warm on low heat for about a minute before turning up the heat. If possible, put water or oil in the pan before putting it on the heat. Of course, you generally want the pan to be at cooking temperature before you put the food in, though it depends what you’re cooking.
The key is to avoid sudden and extreme temperature changes. When a pan is heated too quickly, the part of it that is directly over the heat source will get hot and expand while the rest of the pan is still cold. This uneven expansion causes coatings (such as enamel or non-stick surfaces) to begin to detach. Sudden temperature changes can cause stress fractures in any metal object, including pots and pans. Even cast iron pans can be damaged by sudden temperature changes. Be gentle with your pots and pans. Give them time to get warm before you turn up the heat.
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.
Do 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.
I won’t mention the website by name, but let’s just say there’s now another website business that allows you to pay big $$$ for convenience.
What their ads say is the problem: You’re at home, relaxin’, and you don’t have any chips! There isn’t any candy in the house! No soda! No ice cream! You’re out of chocolate!
The real problem: You didn’t buy those things at the grocery store … or better yet, the big buy-in-large-quantities warehouse club.
The convenience you can pay for, if you’re foolish enough, is the service of ordering your chips and soda online and getting them delivered to your door shortly later. The price you pay is far higher than what you would pay at a convenience store or vending machine, which is already far higher than you would pay at a grocery store or warehouse club.
What’s the difference?
From the delivery service:
- $1.39 for a 1.5 ounce chocolate bar
- $1.49 for a 2.0 ounce bag of chips
At the convenience store or vending machine:
- $1.25 for a 1.5 ounce chocolate bar
- $1.25 for a 2.0 ounce bag of chips
At the warehouse:
- $0.60 for a 1.5 ounce chocolate bar ($18.00 for 30)
- $0.25 for a 1.0 ounce bag of chips (or $0.50 for 2.0 ounces, $13.00 for 54)
The delivery convenience costs 2 to 3 times as much. If you buy just a small amount, then there’s an additional delivery fee. Buy a large amount (at those prices!?) and the delivery is free.
What does it take to save money?
Planning ahead. If you want to eat snacks, buy them ahead of time before you get the nighttime munchies.
Discipline. If you don’t buy them ahead of time, don’t give in to temptation. Force yourself to do without. That’s how you train yourself to remember to buy things ahead of time.
Self control. When you have a large quantity of snacks, make them last. Don’t let yourself eat them all at once.
Popcorn — the kind you buy in bulk and make yourself — is a very economical snack. Less than 40¢ per serving (and I mean a man-sized serving) for the popcorn kernels and quality popping oil.
But to do it right, you need a good stove-top popcorn popper. I have a popcorn popper like the one in the picture. Stainless steel, with a very study handle to turn the paddles that move the kernels. (And note that the handle is directly connected to the paddles, no gears to wear out and break.) It cost about $80, but it’s a piece of quality cookware.
Over the past few decades I’ve had at least 3 or 4 popcorn poppers: the hot-air popper, the motorized electric popper, some microwave contraption, and probably some other thing. Nothing tastes as good as popcorn made on top of the stove. Anything electric will eventually break. Plastic is junk. There’s no need to pay for something that uses electricity to make heat when you already have a stove.
This stainless steel popper will probably still be in working order decades from now. Despite its relatively high cost, it saves money because it will last longer than other poppers and it makes the popcorn that tastes better and costs less than microwave popcorn (and much, much less than bagged popcorn or potato chips).
I don’t buy things from vending machines anyway, so what should I care if people who use a credit card get charged more? Vending machine prices are the worst kind of retail markup. Far better to avoid the convenience and eat and drink things brought from home. But if you really want to pay for it, you can pay an extra 10 cents — that’s like an additional 6% — for using a credit card.
You can save about 90% off the cost of a fast-food breakfast by using a microwave oven to make your own hot oatmeal in your own cup. Oatmeal (and I mean the old-fashioned kind purchased in bulk, not the kind that comes packaged in single-serving packets) is a healthy and economical breakfast. But the novice oatmeal might run into a problem: microwave oatmeal often boils over, making a huge mess. Breakfast isn’t efficient if you have to clean the microwave. So here’s the way to avoid oatmeal boil-over:
Use the microwave’s power level setting to adjust how much heat does the cooking.
Here’s what works for me: First, I partially fill my cup with water. I fill mine a little more than half way. Then I add the oatmeal, so that the oatmeal sinks below the water level and about half an inch of water remains above the oatmeal. You will need to experiment to find the amount of water and oatmeal makes a serving the size you want.
Then I cook the oatmeal on the microwave’s high (default) setting for 2 minutes, but no longer. The goal here is to get it hot fast, but not let it boil over. Then I set the power level to “3” (on a 1 to 10 scale, so I guess that’s about 30% of the full power level) and I cook it for another 2 minutes. Some people might consider the oatmeal fully cooked at this point, but I like my oatmeal tender, so I set the power level to “2” and cook it for another 2 minutes. Cooked this way, the oatmeal never boils over (unless the cup had too much oatmeal and water to begin with). Bon apetit!
Another solution is to use a much larger bowl, but I prefer to keep only a cup at work.
The 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.