Cucumbers in Plastic Wrap, and More Great Reader Tips!

I think it’s universally understood that a red flag means stop or some variation of caution. A green flag, on the other hand means, “Wow what a great idea!” That’s how I mark email from my awesome Everyday Cheapskate readers who send me their best tips. Check out this fresh batch of “green-flagged” tips:

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SAVE A CUKE. You know how the expensive English cucumbers at the store are wrapped in plastic? The guys at Cooks Illustrated tested wrapping regular uncut and cut cucumbers in plastic wrap. Both work and amazingly to allow you to keep a cucumber fresh for up to a week! Jessica

LAST MINUTE SEARCH. Before you buy something online do a general search on the Internet for the item you want. You can often save a lot. For example, I recently was shopping online for a new headboard for my bed. After much searching I found the exact one I wanted for $499. Just to see what would happen, I typed the name of the item into my Internet search engine and found exactly the same item on another site for half the price. I’m glad I searched. What a savings. Caitlin

Keep Produce Fresh Weeks Longer

Fews things are as discouraging as opening that refrigerator drawer only to see the produce you just bought (seems like yesterday) has gone bad. Oh, I hate when that happens.

Shouldn’t there be a reasonable way to make fresh greens, vegetables and fruits last at least as long as it takes to reasonably use them up? Apparently there is, and today’s first great reader tip shares the secret!

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PRODUCE LONGEVITY. I wanted to comment on the rusty lettuce. Just in case you weren’t aware of this magic product, called Bluapple. It’s the best thing since lettuce. You place this little device, that looks like a blue apple, into your produce drawer in the refrigerator to absorb ethylene gas—the culprit that causes produce to ripen and get rotten so fast.

I have been using Bluapple in my refrigerator for years now, and have saved so much money. In fact, I went to Europe for 10 days, came back and my lettuce AND spinach were still fresh!  Not kidding. 

 I used to buy the refills in the local market but now get them online at Amazon because the store stopped carrying them. You replace the absorber every 3 months, but it is so worth it. Kathy, Minnesota

LEFTOVERS GOTTA GO. I enjoy your cheapskate information! In our family, we call leftovers “Mustgoes” as in, food that must go. Konnie B., email

10 Easy Ways to Save Fuel

To save a gallon of gas, you need to cut about 22 miles of driving from your week. Here are 10 easy ways to do that:

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Hop on the bus, Gus. Even if you think this is not an option for you, check out PublicTransportation.org. You may be surprised by all the options that you have never considered. Or carpool. Leaving the car at home and sharing your commute occasionally can help you reach your gallon-goal quickly. Sharing the ride—and expense—with another person regularly can cut your gas costs in half. Check out your carpooling opportunities at eRideShare.com.

Take it easy. The faster you drive, the more gas you use. If your average commute includes 20 miles of highway time and you drive it at 60 mph instead of 70 mph, it will take you only three minutes longer to get there, and you’ll save approximately 1.3 gallons of gas in a five-day work week.

Trip-chain. Need to pick up a prescription, mail a package and go to the bank? Instead of spreading these tasks out over a few trips, chain them together by doing all of them at one time. Park in a central spot and walk from place to place.

More Little Ways to Save Time and Money

CLOG-FREE PET WASH. When giving your dog or cat a bath in the sink, cut a circle the size of your drain out of a green scrubbie pad. Place the pad in the drain to keep it from clogging with animal hair. Mary

Photo Credit: Qwen Wan

Photo Credit: Qwen Wan

BOOK BARGAINS. Look in the For Sale section of your local library for inexpensive books. We find books for adults and kids for $2 or less. I always look there for a book I am interested in before spending a lot at a bookstore, and sometimes I get lucky.  Sommer

ONLINE THRIFTING. Goodwill is no longer just a chain of walk-in thrift stores. They now have a website, Shopgoodwill.com, an Internet auction site operated by a nonprofit organization. It’s a great place to browse high quality donation items from across the country. You can find designer items like purses or shoes that are in great condition for a fraction of the retail price. Brenda

NOT JUST FOR TEETH. To remove pen or magic marker from nearly any hard surface—stained wood, plastic, baby doll faces, walls, flooring—use toothpaste! It works better than anything I’ve ever tried. Just don’t use whitening varieties on colored surfaces.  Jennifer

Fitness on a Budget

Recently I got a frantic letter from Barbara, who lives in Florida. It seems that her teenage son has taken up bodybuilding and her husband is adhering rigidly to the Atkins Diet, both of which are protein heavy. Barb got through the first week with a major case of mixed emotions: Her husband lost 7 pounds, her son gained 4—and her food bill doubled!

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Can Barb keep her food costs down while still supporting her family’s eating choices? I know she can. Special diets don’t have to be budget-busters. In the same way her son and husband are adjusting their way of eating, Barb must adjust the way she shops.

Don’t pay full-price for protein. Tuna, chicken breasts and lean beef cuts are always on sale somewhere. If you don’t want to store-hop, you can always find some cut of meat, fish and poultry on sale in your favorite market. Eat what’s on sale and if it’s a loss-leader (that means dirt-cheap in an effort to entice people through the door), stock up for the coming weeks. Grab up the items that are marked down for quick sale and then freeze.

Buy carbs in bulk. Find a warehouse club, ethnic market, health food store or food coop that offers rice, beans, oatmeal, nuts and legumes in by the pound. Store dry items in the freezer to retain freshness.

Shop with a list. Buying on impulse can blow a budget and a diet. So can arriving at the store hungry. Eat before you get there, stick to your list so you leave nothing to chance.

Home Improvement Money-Saving Secrets

If you’ve been putting off updating or sprucing up your home because of the high cost of home improvements, today’s readers are sure to inspire you to do those projects yourself, for less!

HARDWOOD FLOORING. My husband and I wanted a hardwood floor but the estimate of more than $3,000 (which worked out to more than $7 per square foot) was out of our budget. We decided to try 4-foot by 8-foot sheets of veneer plywood at less than $45 a sheet, or about $1.40 per square foot.  We installed the plywood and sealed it with two gallons of polyurethane. The floor is beautiful and cost about $675 total. Jenn

Photo Credit: Curbly

Photo Credit: Curbly

SHOWER CURTAIN RESCUE. In a house full of boys who don’t know their own strength I frequently find the shower curtain torn away from the hooks. To fix this I use clear packaging tape to cover the hole, punch a new hole, replace the shower ring and its good as new.  Double the tape and it lasts twice as long. Maureena

VERTICAL BLIND RENEW. Do not throw away your old, faded, cloth verticals blinds. I didn’t want to pay for new ones, so I painted them with the same off-white paint I was using in another part of the house. Any color latex paint will work. Just allow a couple of days for them to dry. I discovered that with the extra weight of the paint, they hang more beautifully than ever. Dottie

Unclog a Drain Yourself Without Chemicals

A plugged up sink, shower or tub drain sends most people running for either a bottle of caustic drain cleaner, or a plumber’s phone number. But wait. This could well be a job you can do yourself without chemicals or a big bill.

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Assess the situation. Turn on taps to allow water down other drains in the house. If everything else is flowing freely, you can be fairly certain you have a localized clog—and probably near that clogged drain’s opening. If this is involving other drains, you could have a bigger problem that may well require a professional. Assuming it’s only the one drain, let’s move on.

Boiling water. Get a large pot and boil up as much water as it will hold. Now carefully pour boiling water down the drain slowly, in two to three stages so that the hot water can work for a few minutes in between each pour. This is the easiest and quickest way to unclog a drain if it works, which usually it does with a satisfying swoosh.

Reach in. Remove the strainer that is part of the drain plug, then reach into the drain with your fingers (latex gloves would be a good idea here) and pull out any solids. As gross as this might be, it is often all that’s needed to clear a slow-moving or clogged drain.

The Joy of Laundry

Start with one of the principles of living beneath your means: Take care of what you have. Next, add one of the most effective ways to reduce stress: Find an activity that gives you a sense of personal satisfaction. And what do you have? Laundry! No seriously.

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I’m one of those people who loves to do laundry. From the challenge of getting a stain out to the smell of clean when the clothes come out of the washer, to pulling warm sheets and towels from the dryer—all of it appeals to my enjoyment of instant gratification. I love the entire process. Even like the folding part.