Recently I got a frantic letter from Barbara C., 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!
Can Barb keep her food costs down while still supporting her family’s eating choices?
Special diets don’t have to be budget-busters. In the same way they are adjusting their way of eating, Barb needs to adjust the way she shops.
Buy carbs in bulk. Find a warehouse club, ethnic market, health food store or food coop that offer rice, beans, oatmeal, nuts and legumes in by the pound. Store dry items in the freezer to retain freshness.
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 like meat and poultry that are marked down for quick sale and then freeze.
There’s nothing like a series of sunny days in late winter to wake up my inner gardener. Apparently I’m not the only one as evidenced by my inbox these past few weeks.
DEAR MARY: I just moved into my first home after living in an apartment for the last 10 years and really want to get started with a small tomato and herb garden. Do you have any suggestions for some tools that I should purchase to get started? Thanks for your help. I love your column and read it daily! Asher
DEAR ASHER: I’ve got gardening on my mind, too. This will be our first spring here in Colorado where we’re still experiencing our first winter. And given the past week where temperatures reached into the 70s, I have a new appreciation for the condition known as spring fever! I can’t wait to get my hands dirty and my garden planted.
With that in mind, here’s a list of my favorite inexpensive yard and garden gadgets and gear. While this may look like a sizable investment, it’s not likely you will need all of these items on day one. Just hang onto this list as you look to furnish your tool shed (or bin) over the coming months and years.
I’m confident you can rely on this list to build a collection of garden tools that will work well for many years to come. I’d rather see you spend a few more dollars on good quality tools from the start than to find ourself having to replace poor quality items every season. Been there, done that and wasn’t very happy about it.
1. GLOVES. I tried on so many until I found the gloves that work for me. Atlas Touch Gloves are awesome. Made of cotton with nitrile (similar to vinyl) coating on the palm and fingers, these gloves fit so well and are so flexible I can easily open a can, pic up a small pebble or even take a call while wearing them. A pack of six pairs size small in an assortment of pastel colors is just $22 ($3.66 a pair). Size large, $15 or $2.50 per pair. These gloves are machine washable, too. Best garden gloves ever.
They’re packed with nutritional goodness, available almost everywhere and relatively cheap when compared to the soaring cost of other proteins like meat and poultry. But the cheapest and most available eggs in the world are not likely to impact your food budget unless you know how to prepare them perfectly.
In keeping with my belief that it’s good to know how to cook well, I want to share with you several seriously amazing ways to prepare eggs. And I’m talking about the simple things like frying, scrambling, poaching and hard-boiling. When it comes to well prepared eggs, it’s 10% eggs and 90% technique.
PERFECTLY FRIED EGGS
A properly fried egg should have a tender, fully cooked white with crisp brown edges that look a bit like lace. The yolk should be slightly thickened, but still fluid.
The great thing about the following method for making perfectly fried eggs for two: no turning or flipping required. Just follow these instructions exactly— no changes and no cheating—and they’ll turn out perfect every time. You will need:
DEAR MARY: What is the best refrigerator brand overall? We are ready to purchase a French-door style refrigerator with water and ice in the door. Thank you. Anne
DEAR ANNE: When we did a major remodel of our kitchen, I went into hyper research mode to find the exact refrigerator you describe. I had one more requirement—reasonable price. It didn’t take long for me to scrub the Samsung brand from my list, due to the numerous poor reviews from buyers and feedback from the appliance repairmen I interviewed. I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that we opted for GE Profile Series Energy Star 27.7 cu. ft. French-Door Refrigerator. I loved everything about that refrigerator for the six months I got to enjoy it before we sold that house—especially that lower freezer. Finding it on sale made the price right, too.
When we replace the 13-year old side-by-side refrigerator that came with our new home, I won’t hesitate one moment to buy that GE Profile again. Actually, I can hardly wait. Hope that helps.
DEAR MARY: I need a room humidifier. I’m sure you will have a good idea for me? What is a good one? What is a good price for one. Where is a good place to buy one? Your article in my newspaper is my favorite. You’re like a good friend with lots of great ideas. Thank you in advance. Blessings, Carolyn
Want to keep your food costs low even during these times of rising costs? Stick to these rules: 1) Set a budget and 2) Never pay full price.
I know you hate the word “budget.” So do I. And we need to get over it. All it means is that we decide ahead of time how much we will spend on food for the week (or month) and stick to it. And when that amount runs out, we stop buying.
The second rule means you must stop buying anything that is not on sale and I mean really on sale, not just labeled “Special” which means it might not be on sale at all. If you are careful to do this, you will easily bring your food costs down to what they were a decade ago. And you’ll eat well, too.
The first rule is easy. Do it now. Determine how much you will spend to feed yourself and your family per week. Now take the portion of that you are allotting to groceries (as opposed to fast food, restaurants, school lunches and so on) and place that amount of cash in an envelope marked “Groceries.” When it’s gone, it’s gone until the next fill up.
The second rule is going to take some work. You have a choice for how to find what’s on sale in your supermarket(s) before you get there so you can make a list. And don’t worry. If you shop at a typical U.S. supermarket there will be great sales in every category you can think of—healthy choices in the produce, dairy and meat aisles.
Twenty-four years ago on March 17, I surprised my DPL staff by bringing a homemade meal to the office to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. It was such a hit, I’ve done a repeat performance every year since.
The menu is simple and remarkably inexpensive: Corned Beef and Cabbage, Potatoes and Carrots, Soda Bread and lime Jell-O with Pears.
Corned Beef and Cabbage
- 1 corned beef brisket or round (like Bill Bailey’s marinated ready-to-cook)
- potatoes, peeled and halved
- carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
- cabbage, cut in narrow wedges
Cook’s notes: Corned beef that is already brined with just the right spices and seasonings is available in early March. I wouldn’t bother trying to do that myself.
DEAR MARY: I have a lot of books I’d like to get rid of—mostly on the subject of internet technology (IT). What is the best way to sell used books? Deborah
DEAR DEBORAH: There are multiple online sites that buy used books—each with a different criteria. And let me warn you that book buyers can be fickle about which books they’re buying on any particular day. It all depends on trends and what a particular buyer believes is hot for its particular audience.
Rather than try to find all of the individual companies that purchase used books yourself, I suggest you go to BookScouter. This is a one-stop shop that searches 55 different online book buyers with one click. You’ll quickly discover which book dealer, if any, is interested in buying the books you have. With that kind of an audience looking at what’s on your bookshelves, I think you have a decent chance to making quite a few sales. Most buyers make it easy to send the books, by paying for shipping and allowing you to simply print a prepaid mailing label. Just keep in mind that IT is a quickly changing field.
Not all companies are starving for business these days. In fact, some are setting records for increased business. Any kind of repair business and also thrift stores are doing great during these financial turbulent times. Makes sense. After all it doesn’t require a Mensa membership to know that most often it is cheaper to repair than to replace, and you can clean silver for a fraction of the price of a commercial cleaning product for a fraction of their new price tag. Which leads me to today’s first in a fun collection of random tips …
WINDSHIELD REPAIR. Call your insurance agent to report a small crack in your car’s windshield. Many insurance companies will fix cracks or “stars” for free, provided they’re smaller in size than a quarter, in order to prevent larger claims in the future. Some companies will even send a repair person to your home or work to make it convenient for you.
CORD CORRAL. To corral a group of cords under your desk or behind a TV, buy a plastic shower rod cover. Cut it to your desired length. Then spread it open and enclose the cords. You can even match it to your carpet color to make the cords less visible.
COUPONS FOR KIDS. Turn grocery shopping into a game for kids. Pick out which coupons you plan to use and give them to the kids. Let them try to match the items from the coupons to the items on the shelf. Then, at check out let their reward be the money that you saved from using the coupons.
FRESH SCENT. Scented candle stubs from used candles will keep your car smelling fresh. Put the wax pieces in a can or a small container and leave them in your car. On a warm day, the wax will melt and fill the car with a nice fragrance.