th7 Yet another plastic bags blog post.Washing and re-using plastic bags is a frugality meme that won’t die. Although it saves money and is an eco-friendly thing to do, it’s often derided in a “get a life!” way: You waste all that time and energy just to save a few cents?

I have a few thoughts about that. Washing takes just a few seconds. These bags cost  more than a few pennies each. Finally, they’re made from petroleum or natural gas — a couple of non-renewable resources.

The Bargain Babe website recently resurrected the notion with a post called “21 reuses for freezer bags.” Some of Megan Thode’s ideas are clever but I disagree with some, such as using them to start seedlings, pipe frosting or transport used cooking oil to the trash.

To do those things would mean trashing a perfectly good Ziploc. Can’t play that way.

However, I do think that once bags spring pinhole leaks they can be used for some of her other suggestions, such as matching kids’ clothing or storing board-game pieces.


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351095 Giveaway: Budget Bytes, a wonderful cookbook.I’ve often said that food is the budget category with the most wiggle room. After all, you usually can’t bargain down your car payment or your rent. Groceries, on the other hand, can be finagled.

That’s how Beth Moncel came to start a blog and later write a book. Her student loans were “eating her alive,” she said, so she had to cut spending. When a car repair knocked her budget sprawling, Moncel decided to spend no more than $6 per day for food in order to pay the freight.

Having earned a bachelor’s degree in nutritional science, she already knew how to make food healthy. Now she just had to make it affordable.

To keep herself on track she created a blog, BudgetBytes.com. Soon she developed quite the fan base, because plenty of us would love to eat well but also cheaply.

Now she’s also got a book, “Budget Bytes: Over 100 Easy, Delicious Recipes to Slash Your Grocery Bill in Half.” Reading it makes me hungry, filled as it is with ideas like Huevos Rancheros Bowls (served over grits instead of wrapped in corn tortillas), Spinach & Artichoke Pasta, Curried Potato & Pea Soup, Chicken Tamale Pie, Teriyaki Salmon With Sriracha Mayo, Cumin-Lime Sweet Potato Sticks, Firecracker Cauliflower, White Beans With Spinach & Bacon, Savory Coconut Rice, and Southwest Veggie & Rice Casserole.


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book 281x300 Giveaway: Couponing For The Rest of UsAnd now for something completely different: a coupon expert who doesn’t like coupons.

Kasey Knight Trennum, who blogs at Time 2 $ave/Time 2 Give, says that she’s never sung the praises of coupons. Ask her about “the joys of saving a ton of money,” however, and she’ll get pretty vocal.

More than vocal: Trennum wrote a book, “Couponing For The Rest of Us: The Not-So-Extreme Guide to Saving More,” that’s designed to help readers save money “without it becoming an obsession.”

The author offers information on topics like deciphering “sales cycles,” how to locate coupons for items your family actually eats, smart stockpiling, making the Internet do most of the legwork, and turning saving into sharing.

And again, a sane approach: “I can’t stress enough (that) balance is the key to making couponing work for you. You have to figure out how to make it fit into your world; it cannot become your world.”

In addition to the book, this week’s winner will also get a cute little green accordion-style folder. After all, some coupons are still made of paper rather than pixels.


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th10 The fascination of DIY Cool Whip.Yesterday I made a bowl of raspberry Jell-O because cooking – even if it’s just boiling some water – is a great work-avoidance tool. So much easier to postone sitting down at the computer if you can tell yourself, “I’m fixing dessert.”

I ate so much Jell-O as a kid that I rarely indulge, save for turning the powder into a scary-looking (but delicious) rhubarb cake. But it’s a big treat to DF. Whenever he opens the fridge and sees a bowl of the stuff he’ll sigh happily and say, “You made Jell-O!” as though it were a tremendous culinary achievement.

We didn’t have bananas or even fruit cocktail to jazz up the gelatin, let alone Cool Whip (another of DF’s faves). That’s when I remembered Amy Dacyzcyn’s recipe for homemade whipped topping.

Oil or cream?

I’d been fascinated by the idea – DIY Cool Whip! – since I noticed it in “The Tightwad Gazette II” a couple of months ago. Nobody kicked frugal patoot like Amy Dacyczyn, so I was inclined to follow where she led.

The ingredients: powdered milk unflavored gelatin, sugar, oil and water. Lots simpler than commercial Cool Whip, whose label contains more than a dozen ingredients – including high-fructose corn syrup, skim milk, light cream, sodium caseinate, natural and artificial flavors, xanthan and guar gums, sorbitan monostearate and polysorbate 60.

Yum.


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th3 150x150 How much does your suitcase weigh?I sure learned some interesting things about luggage while researching my latest piece for Retail Me Not. My favorite factoid was how light the bags are getting. Modern bags can weigh as little as 3.3 pounds – much easier on the arms, and also providing more wiggle room as regards an airline’s 50-pound luggage limit.

Randy MacKenzie of Edwards Luggage, a family-owned store since 1946, does monthly “how to pack” seminars in the family’s four San Francisco-area stores. Packed for two weeks of travel, today’s lightweight carry-ons can weigh in at 21 pounds. (Hint: That gives you room for 29 pounds’ worth of souvenirs before you start to pay extra.)

A few of her favorite manufacturers:

  • Rimowa: Lightweight and incredibly durable, this manufacturer offers colors that won’t embarrass the business traveler – “an absolutely gorgeous chocolate brown, a beautiful navy blue, a very dark purple.”
  • TUMI: Lightweight with “some really spectacular colors.”
  • IT Luggage: These semi-deconstructed, very basic bags weigh as little as 3 pounds and come “in all the colors of the rainbow.”
  • Swiss Army: These “youthful-looking” bags are less expensive but still wear well.

I love my own Delsey case, but if and when it ever gives up the ghost I’ll be looking for lighter luggage — from Delsey or someone else.

Just FYI: Large bags are still available if you’re heading for a cruise that requires formal wear or some other special garb. (Fun fact: Cruises exist for fans of nudism, Elvis, Shakespeare and “Star Trek.”) But a carefully packed medium-sized bag will generally do just as well, according to MacKenzie.


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