Frugal Tuesday: Watch a Video!

Mr. Vega loves to fix things. He’s a visual person, so frequently he can figure things out just by looking, but when he can’t, he turns to You Tube. Thousands of helpful people have made videos of themselves doing maintenance and repairs, so you can just watch and follow along. You can get instruction on oil changes, cooking, mechanical repairs… even farm chores for beginners!

We’ve saved a lot of money by being willing to try new things. Made-from-scratch food, gardening, remodeling projects and auto repairs. And having access to visual instruction makes it all so much easier… I learned how to open a coconut with almost no effort by watching a video someone had posted of an old island man doing it!

Just this week, one of our pawn shop tool scores stopped working suddenly. When the manufacturer’s repair shop gave us a repair quote of $50-$200 (“We won’t know for sure until we open it up,” Mr. Vega took to the internet and found that the likely culprit was a $20 part. And some kind DIY-er had made a video of himself replacing that exact same part. Feeling confident that he can do it, he ordered the part and saved us $30-$180!

What new-to-you projects have you tried lately, and did you get help from a video?

Frugal Tuesday: Juice It!

IMG_0492.jpg

The other day, we found ourselves with the quality problem of having more fresh fruits and vegetables than we could reasonably consume before they went bad.  Noticing that some of them had already passed the point of being super-delicious for eating, Mr. Vega brought out the juicer and made some delicious green juice for us to drink. Super-yum. Bonus points for finding other uses for the pulp (zucchini muffins anyone?), or at least composting it (we did).

What do you do with produce that’s about to go bad?

Frugal Tuesday: Freeze it!

IMG_0459.jpg

Years ago, Nigella Lawson blew my mind when she suggested freezing the rest of any wine still left in the bottle, to use for cooking later. Poured into a freezer bag and tossed in the freezer, it makes a sort of slush that is easily measured for use in recipes. I tried it, and I haven’t looked back! You can freeze all sorts of things: bread, milk, grated cheese, casseroles, Chinese take-out… even fresh herbs in olive oil or broth, poured into ice cube trays. Do you like iced coffee? Coffee ice cubes are a game-changer!

Frugalista extraordinaire Donna Freedman has mastered the art of freezing food scraps in a “boiling bag “to be reincarnated as broth later. If you like soup even a little bit, this practice will ruin you for canned soup forever. Luckily, soup freezes well, too.

If you’re not freezing your leftovers, or your little bits of ingredients that are left after using what you need for a recipe, not only are you wasting food and money, but you are depriving yourself of the enormous convenience of having just-enough tomato paste, pesto, or other fantastic things to take your weeknight cooking from adequate to awesome.

What’s in your freezer?

 

 

Frugal Tuesday: Find the Free Fun!

IMG_0389

Happy Tuesday, and Happy Almost-New Year!

We had family visiting us over the holidays, and so we got to walk the fine line between being generous hosts, and maintaining our budget. We’re fortunate to live in a city that actually has a website called Free Fun in Austin, but most cities have plenty of low- or no-cost activities available.

This week, we toured the Capitol of Texas,  checked out the decorated trees on Highway 360, posed for pictures in front of a few of Austin’s fantastic murals, and took a drive down to San Antonio to  visit the Alamo and have dinner at their beautiful River Walk.

Restaurants, guided tours and theme parks are lots of fun, but so many museums and attractions that don’t cost anything. Do a search for “Free Fun” and your city name, and what you find just might surprise you!

 

Frugal Tuesday: Make Your Own!

A few years ago, in one of those hip-but-quaint coffeehouses, there were bags of cello-wrapped handmade marshmallows hanging out by the cash register. $7 for a bag of four didn’t seem like too much to pay for something that would delight Mr Vega so much. And they were fantastic… Fluffy, light, nothing like the half-eaten bag of stale jet-puffs that always seemed to be in the cupboard but no one remembered buying it… Or eating any

Imagine my delight when I came across Alton Brown’s homemade marshmallow recipe. The same $7 I spent on four perfect marshmallows will make me over a hundred of the very same ones at home, and they are just as delicious as the expensive ones.

And even though it’s dead simple, people think you’re kind of a badass when you make the stuff they’re used to buying.

Think about the ways in which you indulge yourself and question whether you might try making it yourself. Around here, in addition to marshmallows, we make our own kahlua, cherry liqueur, cold brew coffee, hot cocoa mix, peppermint bark candy, hot buttered rum batter, and just recently, I’ve graduated to basic body-care products, including a grapefruit salt-scrub and a whipped body butter. All for a fraction of the cost of store-bought, and we think the quality is better when we make it ourselves.

Why not give it a shot? The worst that could happen is that you don’t like it, or you find its not fun. But you’ll never know until you try!

Frugal Tuesday: Check Your City’s Webpage

Many cities and utility companies have money-saving programs that residents are unaware of. In Los Angeles, we were able to find free mulch and compost, free large-item pickup tags, discounted worm composting bins (in exchange for attending a 2-hour class). Here in Austin, discounts on composters are also offered, as well as free paint, mixed from people’s hazardous-waste drop-offs! We have taken advantage of numerous opportunities for rebates offered through our local electric company, and just this past weekend, we got a couple of free shade trees for our Little Hippie House through an energy-company partnering with TreeFolks.

CWCrB_7UwAAsezM

 

Take a few minutes to browse around and see what your city or utility company might be offering that you can use… you may be surprised by what you find!

Frugal Tuesday: Grow Your Own

IMG_0062

I always thought I had a “black thumb,” but it turns out that gardening just takes practice! I’m not even close to being a Master Gardener, in fact I’m still very much a novice, but the more you do it, the better you get.

If you are new to gardening, know this: You will kill plants, and many of them! It’s okay. The planter pictured above cam with strawberry plants in it. We didn’t do a great job with the berries, and have re-purposed the pot as an herb garden. Each plant you kill adds to your list of Things Not to Do, and it will start to happen less and less.

Find out your gardening zone, look up the best times to plant in your region (hint: there are several ideal times each year, not just one), experiment with seedlings and try growing things from seed. If all you have is a balcony or patio, get some containers. If all you have is a sunny window, try growing some herbs. If you don’t have that,  consider joining a community garden, or try what my friend does and Stealth Garden! Seriously, she’s got a culinary herb garden hiding in plain sight among her apartment building’s landscaped shrubbery… some of her more astute neighbors even help themselves– with her blessing– to a trimming now and then! There may be an overlooked bit of soil on the property where you live or work where you might be able to plant a small Stealth Garden (or Stealth Plant) of your own.

Grow what you like to eat (or to make herbal tea out of, or to smoke, providing that it’s legal to grow where you live). To get the most bang for your buck, figure out which fresh fruits and vegetables you pay the most for, then try growing them yourself. It’s so much nicer to walk outside with a pair of scissors to get fresh herbs than to pay $3 for a plastic-wrapped sprig of already wilting thyme, oregano, or rosemary.

Give it a try. In a world of over-processed, over-packaged, nutrient-deficient food products, gardening is a revolutionary act. And a delicious one at that. Why not try it?

Frugal Tuesday: Batch Cooking

Taking an afternoon to whip up a batch of burritos, or really anything that freezes well, isn’t always my first choice for weekend fun. But every time I do it, I’m glad I did. Having some grab-and-go breakfasts, and also some lunch or dinner meals ready and waiting, keeps us eating more healthfully and also saves us from the siren song of takeout or delivery.

This weekend, we made breakfast burritos, and my comfort-food favorite, bean & cheese. What are some of your favorite make-ahead meals?

Frugal Tuesday: Create Less Trash

IMG_0084

Our new, smaller trash can was delivered today. After the initial mess of moving in calmed down, we noticed that we weren’t filling up the city-provided can that was here when we bought the house.  If we forgot to take it out to the curb for a week– or even two– it was no big deal. We’re fortunate to live in a city that provide curbside recycling and even composting, and we also make an effort to buy used, and buy items with less (or at least recyclable) packaging. While we’re far from perfect, we think our new 24-gallon can will accommodate our landfill trash needs perfectly. The best part? Making the switch to a smaller can will save us about $8/month on our trash pickup bill, as compared with the 64-gallon can we had before. I can think of a lot of things I’d rather do with $96 a year than spend it on garbage. Plus, all the coolest neighbors on our block have the smallest can… peer pressure works, y’all!

If you are living in an apartment, or somewhere you don’t pay for trash pickup, focusing on generating less landfill trash might not seem like a money-saving activity, but it still is. You might be able to save your bottles and cans to recycle for return for cash. You might try starting a worm composting bin on your patio or balcony, which is an easy way to turn your daily food scraps into nutrient-rich compost that your potted plants will love. Your efforts at reducing your trash production may find you buying from the bulk bins and farmers markets, buying used, or going for out-of-the-box floor models at deep discounts. You probably already shop at stores that gives you a nickel or a dime off your grocery bill when you bring your own bags. The more lightly we can live on the planet, the more money we can keep in our pockets!