Potpourri Stew

2017-07-08 letting the stew stew for a while

The thing I love most about stew is that you don’t have to follow a recipe. Recipes often ask you to buy ingredients that you don’t normally use. You use a tiny bit, then the rest of it sits in your cupboard for years unused. At least this is how it tends to go for me.

The potpourri way is so much better.

1: Start heating up broth on the stove. It can be the dehydrated kind or the kind in a carton. Swanson makes some that is almost entirely salt-free, but still tastes good.

2017-07-08 Stew broth

2. Chop up some meat and throw it into the broth to simmer for a couple hours if it’s raw. If it’s last night’s leftover meat, just put it in at the same time as the veggies. Chicken, pork, and chuck-eye roast meat all work well. (Tip: don’t buy it already cut up, it’ll cost you way more.) Any kind of meat, any amount, depending on your taste – or none at all if you’re vegetarian.

3. Chop up any veggies you find languishing in your refrigerator and throw them in the stew pot. You can use any kind of vegetable. Today I used cabbage, carrots, spinach leaves, and a tomato.

2017-07-08 stew veggies

4. About an hour before supper, I usually throw in one more thing – a cup of barley, a little rice, or a can of Bush’s baked beans – to give it that finished taste.

That’s all there is to it. It’s simple and frugal, and helps clear out your refrigerator.

 

 

 

Getting Enough Groceries?

2017-06-02 week of groceries c

Over the years, I’ve had a variety of grocery-shopping styles. In the years with plenty of income, it was: no grocery list, just go to the store and throw into the cart whatever looked good. A lot of frozen prepared foods. Pizza delivery once a week for us and the kids. And dinner at a restaurant after church on Sunday. Looking back, I cringe at how much we spent on food.

Then came the lean years, when our income was quite limited. Feeding the family changed drastically. No eating out or pizza delivery, checking grocery store ads, re-discovering coupons, buying the least expensive foods, just eating less overall.

One of the most useful things I’ve learned about grocery-shopping over the years is this: buy enough groceries in one shot to last all week. It does no good to pat yourself on the back for how little you spent at the grocery story on Saturday if you have to make a second run a few days later, or if you go out to eat because you don’t have enough to prepare a full meal.

Consider the picture above, a snapshot of our grocery trip purchases a few weeks ago. Combined with what is in our cupboards and fridge, this is enough for a full week. We have what we need for every food category – meat, fruit, veggies, starches, dairy, desert – plus some non-food items (a graduation card, paper towels, band-aids, toothpaste, oxi-clean, and Drano for a slow sink). What did this cost me? $123.98 for the food items, and $13.20 for the non-food items, for a total bill of $137.18.

Yes, I could have spent less, but if you get too chintzy with grocery-shopping, you find yourself feeling deprived and end up splurging at Starbucks or an ice cream shop. Instead, I got our feel-good desert at the store, on sale. So there you have it – not too little and not too much, just the right amount of groceries!

For more tips on keeping your food expenses down, check out some of my previous posts:
https://alwaysreading1.wordpress.com/2016/01/02/a-budget-you-can-live-with-groceries-part1/

https://alwaysreading1.wordpress.com/2016/01/03/a-budget-you-can-live-with-groceries-part-2/

https://alwaysreading1.wordpress.com/2017/01/04/is-food-eating-up-your-money/

 

Tapestry and Nail Polish

2017-05-29 footrest and pillow

About a month ago, I found this sweet little footrest for $20 in one of my favorite thrift stores. As a bonus, there was a piece of extra tapestry fabric that came with it. Ah, I thought, just right for making a matching pillow. Then I put the fabric in the closet and forgot about it.

When I cleaned out the closet last weekend, there was the piece of tapestry, beckoning me to transform it into a pillow. So I fired up the sewing machine, and proceeded to sew the edges. Hmm, it was fraying badly. Even reinforcing the edge with a zigzag stitch was not going to keep it from coming apart, as you can see:

2017-05-29 badly frayed fabric for pillow

Then inspiration struck: if clear fingernail polish could stop runs in pantyhose years ago, couldn’t it stop cloth from fraying? I brought the cloth out to the deck, applied the clear polish to the edges of the tapestry, and let it dry.

2017-05-29 fabric and clear nail polish on deck

After it had thoroughly dried and the funny smell had dissipated, I turned the fabric right side out, put stuffing in it, and sewed the last side shut. Now we have a great little pillow that can either be put behind the back or on top of the footrest for extra softness. I love it when something is so easily fixed. Now if only all life’s problems were that easy to solve…

Pay It Forward In Allergy Season

Zyrtec

Last week our family’s allergies were kicking in massively (it’s those darn flowering trees), so I added Zyrtec to the grocery list. I grimaced at the cost – $35.99, then noticed that some kind person had put a $10.00 off coupon next to it. I carefully checked to make sure the coupon wasn’t expired, and that it was for the right pill count. Yup, it was, so I saved ten dollars!

Yesterday I got the mail out of the box, rummaged through the free coupon handout, and found a $10.00 coupon for Zyrtec. It would expire in less than a month. Since someone had done me a favor in leaving the coupon last week, I decided to pay it forward. During this morning’s grocery run, I carefully put the coupon next to the 70-count Zyrtec. (I had also written with marker on it “70-ct” so the recipient wouldn’t get to the counter with the 24-count bottle.

I was blessed last week, and someone else will be blessed today. It feels great to pay it forward, even if it’s something small.

Comcast vs. Over-The-Air Television

TV compare 5

This week I stopped into my local Comcast office to try to negotiate a better price for our family internet service. For the past four years, I have been quite successful, talking the customer service rep into a much better deal (usually about half the price). This year’s negotiation did not go as well. I have apparently used up every advertised deal, as well as every individualized special deal. I was only able to bring our internet bill down by 25%. But we’ll have the same internet speed for the next 12 months, and we now have a small package of TV channels.

I have resisting their sales pitch for TV service for the past four years. We don’t need TV, I always told them. We just watch Netflix online. Who needs cable TV? But now we have it, about 40 channels, mostly channels that we were already getting OTA (over-the-air) with our wonderful outdoor Clearstream 4 roof antenna.

After my son set up the Comcast TV box, we fired up the TV. Hmm, not impressed. I hauled out the spare TV and set it next to the Comcast TV for comparison. We noticed three things:

1.Comcast TV lagged behind the OTA TV signal by about five seconds. That made it hard to compare the exact picture quality since the scene was always changing.

2.The Comcast TV channels were broadcasting in a lower resolution. High definition was now standard definition, and even standard definition was degraded.  In the picture above, Robert DeNiro is seen on the low-resolution channel Bounce, and he definitely looks sharper on the TV using the roof antenna.

3.The color on the Comcast channels was off, veering into red and purplish tones. The OTA TV needed no picture adjustment, as every color was perfect.

So there you have it. The free over-the-air TV looks way better than Comcast’s watered-down TV service. I imagine if we coughed up money for a high-definition TV box, the picture would look better, but we’re not doing that. We’ll just keep enjoying our high-speed internet and Netflix, watch over-the-air tv with our roof antenna, and occasionally turn on the Comcast TV. Oh well…

 

Improvising

hexagons a

I’m wanting to make more of those hexagon flowers that I decorated my jean quilt with.
https://alwaysreading1.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/a-promise-to-myself/

Grabbing the scrap bag, I cut out a bunch of squares, enough to make 17 flowers. But I had only a few of the paper hexagon patterns to make them (it takes seven paper patterns for each flower). Instead of buying a package of 100 at the fabric store, I improvised with some index cards and my ancient paper cutter. Now I’m ready to start stitching again!

hexagons b

 

A Budget You Can Live With: Internet (2017)

One item on your home budget that straddles the line between a “want” and a “need” is internet. You can, in some situations, get by without it. Maybe you can use the computers at work for personal use during lunch or before/after your shift ends. Maybe you live a block from a public library, and you can get a free hour or two of internet. Or maybe you have a neighbor that gives you the password to their network and says they don’t mind if you use it. Given that internet service is easily $50 – $80 a month, you could save close to a thousand dollars a year by not having it.

Having said that, most of us need at least some internet access at home. Several days ago, I got a brochure in the mail from Comcast, listing the prices for internet/phone/tv service. Here’s a snapshot:

2017-01-26-comcast-xfinity-internet-prices

They advise you to save money by “bundling” – also buying TV and phone service through them, but generally after your initial 6-month good deal, the price quietly jumps up. My solution? Only subscribe to what you really need. In our case, we don’t need their phone or tv services, despite never-ending pleas from Comcast.

So once or twice a year, I walk into the local Comcast office and talk to a live person . First, I let them know that their internet service works well most of the time. Then I go on to tell them (politely) that we live simply, don’t need all the bells and whistles, and will not spend more than $40 a month on internet service, and what kind of deal can we make? Amazingly, this has worked for about four years now. The customer service rep looks through the special deals they have, and matches me up with something that we haven’t already used. If they can’t find any advertised deal, they shove a paper at me to sign saying I threatened to quit, so they are giving me a special price. It generally covers six to twelve months, at which time I return to them to talk again.

Then I ask them to print me a confirmation of the monthly price, and how long it will last. Yes, they have tried to up the price on me half-way through the agreed-upon time, at which time I walked in with my printed confirmation sheet, and they corrected it. We have Blast internet – listed at $79.95 a month – for $39.99 a month. Several years ago, I was actually able to negotiate the price down to $29.99 a month!

So that takes care of home internet. What about that data on your cell phone, a.k.a., internet on the go? Two suggestions: 1) have a cell phone that has unlimited calling and texting, but NO data, or 2) turn off the data manually on your phone, and only turn it on when you really need it. By doing this, I maintain a cell phone bill of about $22 a month. If I’m at the store and need to check a price online, I use the store’s free wifi signal instead of data. The majority of stores, doctor’s offices, hospital, and public buildings now have free wifi, so make use of it.

One more thought on internet service at home: don’t rent the equipment from Comcast or AT&T. As you can see from the price chart above, Comcast will charge you $10 a month for the modem, and $10 a month the wireless device, adding $20 a month to your bill. That’s $240 a year. We bought both devices at Best Buy years ago for less than $200, and avoid the rental equipment fee.

So take a close look at your internet bills – the home one and the cell phone one – and see if you can get buy on less internet, or negotiate a better deal. Talk to your service providers. The worst they can say is no, and they might just reduce your bill.