The boiling bag.

th3 The boiling bag.We had a marvelous soup the other night, based on a friend’s recipe for sausage-potato-kale soup. Ours utilized some of the kale we dehydrated last year (boy, has that stuff hung on), some potatoes freshly dug from our garden and some sausage bought months ago at a deep discount. (I love my freezer.)

It was supposed to have been kielbasa but spicy Cajun links were what we had. I sliced two links into coins and sauteed them until slightly crisp in a cast-iron skillet in which onions had already caramelized. Decided that a finely diced carrot wouldn’t hurt a bit, either.

The base was the real star, however — a rich homemade stock the likes of which we will never taste again. No two of our stocks ever taste exactly the same. That’s because the contents of the boiling bag vary every time.

The boiling bag is a bag in the freezer that receives vegetable scraps, bones and sometimes even bits of fruit. This batch had several apple cores and there was a slight sweetness under the richness of the other ingredients — which this time included beet and turnip greens and stems, onion skins, carrot tops, and both pork and chicken bones. Put it all in the slow cooker overnight and you wake up to a lovely, intriguing aroma.


read more

th6 150x150 A frugal (and cultured!) date night.Earlier this month DF and I had an evening out. It was a classy affair, with wine, freshly grilled meats, beautiful things to see, and interesting conversations with friends and total strangers.

It was completely free, and we can do it every month if we like. Specifically, on the first Friday of every month. That’s when a handful of artsy places in Anchorage (including two universities) have public receptions for new exhibits.

This is an increasingly common practice in U.S. towns and cities. Whether it’s called “First Friday” or “Artwalk” or whatever, it’s a chance to enjoy works new and old – and, often, to get free food.

This has long been a frugal hack for starving students and also for those dating on a budget: something to eat plus a chance to look all cultured-like. But it works just as well when you’re out of school, and also when you’re happily partnered or just want an outing with friends. Who doesn’t want free food and wine?


read more

th9 How I saved more than $100 last night.We’re in the middle of a project to turn a giant three-sided building into a smaller shed, a greenhouse and a deck. When I say “we,” it’s the royal we. DF and one of his sons are doing most of the work.

He’s reusing wood from the original structure plus some boards another DIYer had given him. DF also found a great deal on paint at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and an even better deal at the “free” section of the city landfill.

Yet certain purchases — cedar boards for the deck and something called Suntuf clear PC roof panels for the greenhouse — can’t be scrounged. The roof panels are on sale at Home Depot but even so cost almost $25 a pop.

The final tally will be about $750, a figure that made us both gasp – and sent me straight to GiftCardGranny.com, an aggregator site for discounted gift cards.

Within three minutes I’d determined the best deal and ordered it. Total savings: $107.30. Wish I could earn at that rate every day.


read more

th8 Should you boycott restaurants?Over at Midlife Mom Musings, a blogger named Sharon wrote about an unpleasant surprise. The July food budget for her family of four was supposed to have been $700. Instead, they spent nearly $1,700 on groceries and meals away from home.

“I just don’t remember spending that much,” Sharon said.

(Few of us do.)

More than $400 of that was spent at places like Manhattan Bagel, McDonald’s, Tropical Smoothie, Chipotle, Texas Roadhouse and Ciros.

“Not even nice restaurants,” she lamented.

They ended the month with a $1,000 negative cash flow, which she freely admits could have been avoided if they’d just stayed within their food budget. To help make up for that loss, Sharon is boycotting all eateries in August.

A no-restaurants month is a common meme in the personal finance blogosphere. Just like “no-spend week” and “cash-only quarter,” it works if you work it – and if you do, you can learn a lot.

Like, say, how to cook with what’s on hand. How to pack a lunch. How to say “no,” whether that’s to kids who want to stop for a smoothie or to yourself when you really, really want a blueberry bagel.

Hey, I love a serving of McDonald’s fries as often as I can get away with it. But eating them every day would torpedo my budget and, maybe, my arteries.


read more

th 1 150x150 Thrift shops, free museums and a $100 Tweetchat. Today is Thrift Shop Day, and the Savers/Value Village folks say we’re all about saving the Benjamins. The company’s new survey revealed that 47 percent of U.S. residents shop at la segunda, and more than one-third of us say they shop secondhand more often now than they did three years ago.

Is it the economy? Or is it that more and more people are realizing how much fun it can be to prospect for marked-down items, some of which you won’t find anywhere else?

Well, 52 percent of those surveyed say “it feels like a treasure hunt” and 35 percent love finding “truly unique” items. If you’re a retro-fashionista, secondhand stores are the place to find vintage shoulder-pad suits, cargo pants or the perfect bridesmaid’s dress to wear to the prom or (with appropriate attitude) to a wedding.


read more