Better Than Fast Food, Cheaper Than Eating Out


If you find it’s too expensive to eat out but you don’t have time to cook at home, a simple technique might is a fabulous way to combine the best of those two worlds. We call it “semi fast food” combining quick-service food with home cooking. Let me explain …

The take-out pizza store in my neighborhood sells ready-to-roll pizza dough. I can buy a large ball of dough for $2.50, which makes a sixteen-inch pizza. That’s more than it costs me to make my own pizza dough from scratch. But when time is of the essence, this is a fast, cheap, reliable alternative.


Using my own sauce and toppings, I can have really great pizza on the table in no time at all. I do rely on this option quite often, particularly when we have last-minute guests. It is impressive to turn out such a high-quality delicious pizza so quickly. It is my little secret.

The Rules of Regifting


Seventy-two days until Christmas. That’s right, I said it. Start thinking it over. And while you’re doing that, allow me to whisper just one word in your ear: Regifting.

The act of regifting–passing on as new a gift someone else gave you–is controversial but only because of those who do a noticeably bad job of it. After all, if every act of regifting were carried out flawlessly, no one would have the occasion to find it distasteful. And that brings me to the first Rule of Regifting:


1. Never admit to regifting. If your friends know you’re a regifter, you’ll find yourself in the unpleasant situation of explaining why regifting is different from not caring. Worse, they will be suspicious of the gifts you give them. It’s best to keep regifting completely to yourself.

Fresh Produce 101


Psssst! Could you use an extra $300? You might want to take a look in your garbage.

A survey conducted by The Garbage Project and Glad, the food storage people, revealed that the average household throws away 150 pounds of rotten produce each year. At a conservative estimate of $2 a pound, each household is losing about $300 by tossing out produce that’s become more suitable for a biology project than human consumption.


In a survey of 1,000 households, Glad found that while 83 percent considered themselves knowledgeable about the best ways to store produce, only 32 percent knew the proper way to store apples; 38 percent the best way to store strawberries.

And so my Dear Readers, in an effort to raise our collective PIQ (produce intelligence quotient) what follows is a crash course in the proper care and storage of fresh fruits and vegetables:

Gifts in a Jar


It’s been 18 years since we published the very first reader-tip for Sand Art Cookies in Debt-Proof Living Newsletter. Basically, this is a canning jar layered with the dry ingredients required to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. The layered effect is very attractive. Topping the lid with a holiday embellishment or round of calico fabric plus a tag giving the recipient instructions on how to prepare the cookies is the final touch.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

It took a few tries to get the recipe and the portions right. But I have to tell you that those Sand Art Cookie Jars were a major hit for me that year and many years since. Since then, we’ve published dozens of other ideas for “jar gifts” for everything from edibles to journals, sewing kits to emergency kits. Just about anything you can stuff into a canning jar has the potential to be a unique and practical gift.

General Instructions: Jar gifts are prepared in a wide-mouth, one-quart size canning jar unless otherwise noted. We recommend you get new jars for food items, or if you’ll be recycling jars be sure they are sterilized and always use new lids.

It is important that you measure the ingredients in a jar gift very carefully whenever a specific amount is given, erring on the side of scant. There will be occasions when you’re sure all of the ingredients will not fit, but they will.

5 Ways to Minimize Your Car Insurance Costs


Automobile insurance. We spend thousands of dollars on it then hope we’ll never need it. By law and common sense we know that we must have it. But that doesn’t mean we should pay one dollar more for auto insurance than necessary.

SHOP AROUND. Rates between insurance companies can vary greatly. Call three different companies today and you’re bound to get three different quotes. There is nothing righteous about staying with the same company forever. An hour of your time once a year could net a handsome premium reduction. You can get quotes online from companies that sell directly, like Geico, State Farm and  21st Century. Compare with what you have and don’t be afraid to make a switch.


INCREASE DEDUCTIBLES. Remember this: The lower the deductible the higher the premium. You’re not likely to file a claim for a minor incident because that could make your premiums skyrocket. So if you’re not going to file small claims, think about increasing your deductibles to say $500 even $1,000. Then put the premium savings in a special account to pay for the fender-benders. One Florida couple that raised the deductible for their 2005 Volvo and 2003 Acura Legend from $500 to $1,000 cut their annual premium from $3,200 to $2,800–a decrease of 12 percent. That is significant. But they need to squirrel away those savings. If the worst happens they don’t want to feel compelled to use a credit card to cover the deductible.

Quick and Cozy Slow Cooker Soups


Dump and run. That’s the kind of slow cooker recipes I love. No muss, no fuss and no hovering over a hot stove to get dinner on the table.

As the days of autumn bring cooler weather (here in California we call “cooler” anything below 70F), I find myself thinking about hot soup. And having dinner all planned and taken care of ahead of time.


Want to join me? Great. Find your slower cooker, that will be the easy part. Deciding which of these soups to make for tonight’s dinner will be the greater challenge. Persevere. I know you can do it!

In Investing No Risk Means No Reward


Dear Mary: This may be the ultimate in stupid questions but it’s been plaguing me for a while. Is there any value in converting my existing 401(k) into cash without removing the funds from my 401(k). Do they even allow that? I hate losing all that lovely money as things dip and swirl. I would continue to contribute at my existing rate, 12 percent, including the company match of 3% for the 401(k). Symantha, email

Dear Symantha: Employer-sponsored retirement plans like 401(k) typically have a cash option within list of investment available to plan members. Look for a “Money Market” fund. If you move your account assets into that fund (which is perfectly allowable) the money is going to just sit there, not earning. It will be shielded from the wild swings in the market but will begin to lose value because you will not earn enough on your account to even keep up with inflation (currently about 3.3 percent).


The very nature of investing is that you expose money to reasonable levels of risk with the expectation of achieving a profit or gain. Not all of the choices in your 401(k) plan carry the same level of risk. Just remember that in order to achieve a reward you must be willing to take a reasonable level of risk. No risk, no reward.

The biggest problem with moving your account into a “cash position” is how will you know when to move it back into investment funds that will give you a chance of achieving a gain? A better idea would be to contact your plan’s administrator and make an appointment to meet with an investment counselor to assess all of the options you have in your 401k plan. This person can help you match your tolerance for risk against the options you have in order to find the most comfortable place for the money you are contributing to your retirement account. 

Readers Share Clever Ideas to Use “This for That”

Have you ever wondered if it’s socially acceptable to split a restaurant meal? Today’s great reader tips include words of advice on that as well as clever ways to use “this for that.”

Split to save. I have found it’s possible to dine at expensive restaurants while still being a cheapskate. You can order an appetizer plus a small salad, and tell the server you want the appetizer as your main course. One person can order an entree and the other can order a large salad, then tell the server you want an extra plate so you can share. If this seems to be a strange way to order in an upscale restaurant, believe me, it isn’t. A friend of mine who is an experienced server has seen this many times. Sometimes there’s a charge  for splitting an entree (the highest I’ve seen is $5.00). With huge portion sizes and today’s economy, it makes sense. It’s also okay not to order a beverage and drink water with a meal. -Marcia


Write on, wipe off. I am always thinking of things I need to do or buy while I’m in the bathroom getting ready for the day. But keeping a notepad in a room with so much moisture doesn’t work well. Instead, I use a wipe-off marker right on the mirror. I jot quick notes as I think of them. Then, when I’m ready to go, I transfer all my notes to paper and wipe them off the mirror. This routine keeps me from getting frustrated about not remembering something, and it keeps the mirror clean, too! -Leanne

Eyeglass cleaner. If you’re out when you realize your glasses or purse mirror needs cleaning, try using a drop of hand sanitizer to give you crystal clear results instantly. This works great on glass but should be tested on plastic. -Angelique T.