One person lending money to another

Should You Lend Money to Family, Friends? Read This First

Over the years I’ve heard from dozens of readers who have lent money to friends and family members, only to have become outraged when the deal goes sour. The problem is they write to me after they’ve made the loan. By now, they’ve been waiting months, even years, for repayment, without success, hoping I can wave a magic wand to get their money back.

I tell these readers that I wish they’d written to me before they lent the money. Doing things right from the start makes all the difference in the end. Here’s how:

One person lending money to another

Accept reality

Lend only the amount of money you can afford to give as a gift. Don’t tell your potential borrower this, but know in your heart that if you just hand over the money, the chances of being repaid in full are fairly slim. That’s a fact of life. There’s a reason this borrower is coming to you and not to a bank, conventional lender, or a credit card to borrow money.

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3 DIY Face Masks—Easy and Effective

The Center for Disease Control recently recommended the use of cloth face coverings in public. That directive goes on to say acceptable face coverings can be “fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials.” Easy for them to say. But which household items?

thinking woman with question mark on gray wall background

Not all of us just happen to have supplies and equipment stashed away in the event we might ever need a proper face covering.

It didn’t take long for a few very creative folks to come up with and then share their solutions.

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Homemade Artisan Bread—Amazingly Easy and So Delicious!

The year 2007 was a good one for me for lots of reasons. Here’s one: It’s the year I got good at baking homemade bread thanks to a simple discovery that would go on to revolutionize the world of home baking.


Presented in their book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, authors Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. and Zoë Franḉois stated that anyone with an oven, flour, yeast, salt, and water could make authentic, artisan bread in just five minutes a day.

Within hours of getting my hands on that book, I was onboard. My first attempt was ridiculously easy. And so successful I shocked myself and my family! A more delicious loaf of bread I cannot buy anywhere. And why would I, when I could now make it myself for about $.40 a loaf in just five minutes a day?

I must admit that the exact terminology, “five minutes,” might be a stretch, but here’s how that term has come to be: Jeff and Zoë have honed this method to taking about 15 minutes to mix up a big batch of bread dough, which after its first rise, sits in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

When you’re ready to bake a loaf, it takes all of about five minutes to reach into the container, tear off a pound or so of dough, shape it and get it oven-ready. That’s where the “five minutes a day” comes into play. It’s the amount of daily labor required.

I have used the method, but not baked every single day, since 2007. My husband could only dream of such a thing, that’s how much he loves this rustic, homemade French bread. It reminds us of our trips to Paris and the neighborhood bakeries where Parisienne’s stop in every day to pick up fresh bread.

Master Recipe

Pour 3 cups of warm water (about 100 F., which is just slightly warm to the touch) into a large container that has a lid.

Add 1 tablespoon  yeast and 1 tablespoon salt.

Using a large wooden spoon or “dough whisk,” mix to incorporate but don’t worry about getting it to completely dissolve. 

Mix in 6 1/2 cups (2 pounds) all-purpose flour, adding it all at one time. 

Don’t knead! It’s not necessary. 

You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist without dry patches. 

You can do this with an electric stand or hand mixer, although that too is not necessary. Mixing by hand is perfectly fine. 

Cover with a lid that fits well to the container but can be cracked open so it’s not completely airtight. 

If you’re using a bowl, cover it loosely with plastic wrap. Towels don’t work as they stick to this very wet dough. Set the container on the counter and allow the dough to rise at room temperature until it starts to collapse (flatten on top), about 2 hours. Just walk away and let it rise. 

Next, without punching it down, move the container to the refrigerator. Leave the lid in place (slightly cracked) and keep refrigerated, to be used over the next 14 days.

Baking Day

Prepare a pizza peel by dusting it generously with cornmeal and/or flour; or cover with a piece of parchment paper. Set aside.

Move the container of dough from the refrigerator to the counter and dust the top of the dough with flour while the dough remains in the container.

Now, pull up and cut off a 1-pound hunk of dough (grapefruit size) and set on a floured work surface. Move the container back to the refrigerator.

Dust your hands with flour. Gently stretch the surface of the piece of dough around to the bottom, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Dusting flour will mostly fall off and that’s OK.

The correctly shaped loaf will be smooth on the top with the bottom looking like a collection of bunched-up ends. Good. This process should take less than one minute. Set the loaf on the prepared pizza peel to rest for about 40 minutes. It will become wider but not necessarily taller. Also correct.

Preheat baking stone, set on a rack near the middle of the oven, to 450F, at least 30 minutes before baking. (I have two baking stones—love them both!—the one pictured below is cast iron.)

Place an empty metal broiler tray, or similar (but not glass), for holding water on any oven shelf that won’t interfere with the bread rising while baking. Set a cup of water within easy reach of the oven. Relax while the dough rests and the baking stone gets sizzling hot.

After 40 minutes or so, liberally dust the top of the dough with flour. Using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, slash 1/2-inch cuts into the dough in any design you like. Just make sure you make at least four deep cuts. Leave the flour in place for baking. You can tap it off later, before eating.

Slide the loaf (including the parchment paper it’s sitting on if using) onto the hot baking stone. Quickly but carefully pour the water from the top into the broiler tray and close the oven quickly. This will create a burst of steam.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the loaf, measured with an instant-read thermometer, reads anywhere from 205F to 210F.

Use the pizza peel to remove the loaf to a cooling rack. Admire your work. Wait for two hours (if you can) before slicing into fresh bread. This gives it time to cool inside and at the same time fully develop its flavors.

a cut-loaf-warm-crusty-homemade-bread

Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator for up to 14 days. One batch using this recipe should make four loaves, slightly less than one pound each. This recipe can be halved, doubled, or tripled depending on the size of the dough container you have available.

Tools and Resources

While 5-Minute Artisan Bread can be made using the tools and equipment most of us have already, we all know that using the right tools for the right job makes any job easier and produces the best results.

Here are some of the the “right tools” I have acquired over the years and use to make 5-Minute Artisan Bread.


1. Dough container

While I have several containers of different shapes and sizes, this Cambro 6-qt Clear Polycarbonate Square Food Container is absolutely ideal for five-minute artisan bread dough. It will hold a double batch and is dishwasher safe. I like that it’s clear so I can see what’s going on inside. And being square, it fits well in the refrigerator. Caution: Sometimes this container comes with the lid, most often it does not. Check carefully!

2. Container Lid

This is the lid that fits the 6-qt. Cambro food container. It fits snugly but can be loosened by simply not attaching one of the corners. Beware: The lid may be sold separately. Double check. You don’t want to end up with no lid, nor do you want two lids!

Use-what-you-have alternative: You can use any large food-grade container; even a plastic bucket that has a lid will work or a large bowl with plastic wrap, provided it will fit in the refrigerator.

3. Dough whisk

This dough whisk is such an awesome tool. There’s something about the design and the way the whisk part is shaped that makes mixing bread dough by hand a breeze.

Use-what-you-have alternative: A long-handled wooden spoon will work to get the job done. Just make sure everything is evenly “wet” before you put the lid on the container and set it out for that first rise.

4. Baking stone

Also called a pizza stone, this is the secret to baking fabulous artisan bread. It makes the bottom crust crisp and heats the dough evenly. I’ve cracked so many baking stones in my life in an attempt to get the thing hot enough; I was leery to give this highly rated Rocksheat Baking and Grilling  Stone a try. But I’m glad I did because it’s all it’s, uh …  cracked up to be! A beautiful product that really delivers. Currently available in the round option. Here is my cast iron baking stone.

Use-what-you-have alternative: You can rest the formed loaf on a baking sheet prepared with butter, parchment paper or a silicone mat. Then just place the baking sheet on the oven rack when ready to bake, rather than heating it in the oven prior to adding the dough.

5. Pizza peel

This giant “spatula” known as a pizza peel is so useful for baking bread! First, you use it to slide the oven-readied dough into the screaming hot oven and onto the baking stone; then use it to reach in and retrieve that finished beautiful loaf of bread. This one is large, so I store mine on top of the refrigerator which puts it out of sight for all but the tall.

Use-what-you-have alternative: Parchment paper works. Either flour the paper well and add a generous amount of cornmeal so you can actually slide the dough off the paper, or set the dough— paper and all onto the oven rack. Just make sure you remove the parchment paper after 20 mins. of baking so the bottom of the bread can get crisp. Warning: this method is tricky.

6. Bread knife

Your first loaf of artisan bread is going to scream “good bread knife please!” Done well, that bread will have a very crisp crust. A typical chef’s knife will simply tear it up. A typical serrated knife should be better, but not be sharp enough to give you the control needed for beautiful results. This Mercer Culinary Millennia 10-Inch Wide Bread Knife is not only the best bread knife out there (my opinion, but you can trust me on this), it’s super cheap, too. An amazing knife at an unbelievable price. Use it for bread only and never put it in the dishwasher.

Use-what-you-have alternative: If you have a bread knife, use it. If not use the sharpest knife available to cut your finished loaf.

7. Instant-read thermometer

You’ll want to eventually get a highly-rated, reliable instant-read thermometer (most out there are so unreliable it hurts). Thermoworks Instant Pop fits the bill.

Use-what-you-have alternative: Any food thermometer will give you an idea of the correct temperature. Probably better than guessing so use what you have.

8. Infrared thermometer

Soon you are going to want to know the exact temperature of your preheated oven and the temperature of the baking stone surface. Jeff and Zoë estimate that most home ovens are “off” by as much as 75 degrees. You need a precise oven temp to make the best bread. An infrared thermometer gun (NOT for body temperature) is without a doubt the way to go.

9. The Book

In 2013, Jeff and Zoë released the completely updated and expanded (with color photos), The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I donated my original edition to the library as I didn’t need both. But I need this new one desperately.

Not only does it have so many ways to use this versatile dough (amazing recipes), it has tips and tricks galore. For example, I live at  5,280 feet above sea level. That changes the way my bread turns out. But no worries. Jeff and Zoë have included detailed instructions for how to adjust the recipe using more water, less yeast, and bread flour in place of all-purpose flour, to accommodate those of us who live way up high in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. (Hey, someone needs to live here!) Bingo. Following our move, I was back in business in no time at all.

Really, this is a beautiful textbook for every 5-minute bread baker. Your long-term success depends on it.

Homemade Artisan French Bread

Anyone with an oven, flour, yeast, salt, and water could make authentic, artisan bread in just five minutes a day. Yes! We can. Makes four free-form artisan loaves, about 1 pound each. Recipe is easily doubled or halved.
5 from 5 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Bread
Cuisine: French
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 32
Calories: 93kcal
Author: Mary
Cost: About $.40 per loaf


  • 3 cups lukewarm water 100 F or below
  • 1 tablespoon granulated yeast (0.35 oz.; 10 grams)
  • 1 to 1½ tablespoon Kosher salt (0.6 to 0.9 oz.; 17 to 25 grams)
  • cups all-purpose flour (2 lbs.; 910 grams)
  • cornmeal or parchment paper for the pizza peel


  • Warm the water slightly. It should feel just slightly warmer than body temperature or about 100 F.
  • Add the warm water to a lidded (not airtight) large container with a lid that can also be cracked just slightly. If you don't have a lid, you can use plastic wrap instead. More on that in a bit.
  • Add yeast and salt to the water. Stir to incorporate but don't worry about getting it all to dissolve.
  • Measure the flour with dry-ingredient measuring cups or by weighing it. Add all of the flour at once. Mix with wooden spoon or dough whisk until the mixture is uniform. You can use your hands if that's easier. Don't knead! You're finished with this step when everything is uniformly moist—no visibly dry patches. This step takes only a couple of minutes.
  • Cover with a lid that fits well but can be cracked open so it's not completely airtight. If you're using a bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap. (A towel won't work because this dough is so wet.) Set the covered container on the counter,
  • Allow to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse, or flatten on the top—about 2 hours. Leave the lid cracked to allow gases to escape.
  • Place container as is in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, overnight is better, to allow flavors to develop.
  • On baking day, prepare pizza peel or baking sheet with cornmeal or parchment paper to prevent your load from sticking, and so that you can slide it onto the baking stone
  • Open the dough container and dust the top lightly with flour. Don't punch down or knead! Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (about the size of a grapefruit) hunk of dough. Using a serrated know or kitchen shears, cut it off. Return the lid to the container, and the container to the refrigerator.
  • Hold the dough and add a little more flour so it doesn't stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough and bring it around to the bottom on all four sides, to form a large dough ball.
  • Set the loaf on the pizza peel and allow it to rest uncovered and rise for about 40 minutes.
  • In the meantime, preheat a baking stone in the middle of the oven set to 450 F. Allow the oven and the stone to heat while the dough is resting/rising.
  • Place an empty metal broiler tray or another pan (NOT GLASS!) for holding water on any shelf that won't interfere with the bread.
  • Dust the top of the bread dough ball liberally with flour to prevent the knife from sticking. Slash a 1/2-inch-deep cross, scallop or any design you want into the top of the dough, using a serrated knife.
  • Carefully, slide the dough from the peel onto the pre-heated baking stone.
  • Quickly but carefully, pour about 1 cup of hot water onto the broiler tray and close the oven door quickly to trap the steam in the oven. (If you used parchment paper, you will want to pull it out from under the bread after about 20 minutes.)
  • Bake for a total of about 30 or 35 minutes or until the crust is browned and firm to the touch—about 205 F internal as measured with an instant-read thermometer.
  • Remove from the oven to a cooling rack. For best results, allow cooling fully for 2 hours before serving. It's not easy to wait, but this will make all the difference in texture and taste.
  • Yield: This dough will yield four about 1-pound loaves.
  • Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator with lid attached loosely. The dough will remain useful for up to 14 days. And expect the flavor to develop and improve during this time!
  • When your dough bucket is finally empty, or nearly, it's time to make more dough. Don't clean or wash the bucket. The aged dough that remains on the sides of the container will give your new batch a head start on sourdough flavor!


Calories: 93kcal | Carbohydrates: 19g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 329mg | Potassium: 28mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Calcium: 4mg | Iron: 1mg
Tried this recipe?Mention @EverydayCheapskate or tag #EverydayCheapskate!

Photo credits:

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Homemade English Muffin Bread

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10 Brilliant Food and Cooking Hacks to Make Your Life Easier

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How to Survive an Income Crisis

As I read how a grateful family and community welcomed home 8-year-old Leia Carrico, and her 5-year-old sister Caroline, who’d been missing for two days in the Northern California wilderness, I was moved to tears. The bravery of these adorable girls and their stunning ability to move quickly into survival mode holds so many lessons for every one of us.

Two cute kids hiking in the forest depicting the need to be able to survive a crisis

Leia and Caroline were focused like a laser beam on their ” right now,” not worrying or even thinking about the future—all of the “might happens” or “what ifs.” Oh, what a valuable lesson we can learn from these children.

Could you live through such a crisis? How about an income disaster? If you get the infamous pink slip tomorrow, will you know what to do? If you have it already, take a deep breath and let’s walk through a few basic strategies.

Don’t panic

It is essential that you keep your head and your cool, as demonstrated so aptly by young Leia who told reporters, “We needed to find shelter fast!”

The first few minutes, minutes or hours of any crisis are critical. If you lose it now, you will waste precious energy. At the moment of impact, take a huge deep breath and stay calm. While a job loss can be a devasting shock, it is not life-threatening. There is a way out and you will find it.

Rally the troops

Your attitude will make or break your ability to lead in a crisis. Equate survival with adventure and exciting new opportunities, resiliency, and creativity.

Read more

big jug Windex and spray bottle

16 Ways to Use Windex That Will Make You So Happy

Recently, while digging out, cleaning up, and reorganizing our storage room I discovered a half-full jug of Windex. I have to admit that for a few moments there, it was like Christmas and not because I was itching to clean windows. It’s because I know lots of situations and ways that Windex actually comes to the rescue to make life easier!

 big jug Windex and spray bottle

Laundry stains

Windex makes for a super effective stain remover on non-silk washable fabrics—especially on difficult red stains like red wine and tomato sauce and ketchup. Spray the stain liberally with Windex, allow to soak in and work for 20 minutes or so, then rinse it out with cold water. Launder as usual. Caution: Stick with the clear colorless version of Windex when using it to remove stains from white or light items.

Bug spray

Hit those ants and other creepy crawlies with a mist of Windex and watch them curl up and die. Many readers have reported this works really well but once cleaned up, it will not prevent the bugs from coming back. To do that, spray the cleaned up area with a light mist of white vinegar to create a more lasting barrier.

homemade natural cleaning ingredients

How to  Make Your Own Natural Cleaning Products

From time to time I hear from readers who have sensitivities or allergies to our beloved Blue Dawn. Is there something else we can use that will not trigger these reactions but still work well? There is and it is pure castile soap.

Kitchen degreaser

Windex works as a degreaser for cooktops, range hoods, fans, light fixtures, and other areas that attract grease and grime. Spray the area with Windex and allow it to sit on that greasy area for a few minutes, then wipe clean. Rinse well if using near food-preparation areas.

Windex is a great on countertops, too—quartz, granite, marble, laminate, tile. Just make sure you’re using the Windex Crystal Rain that is free of ammonia and vinegar (there are multiple versions of Windex these days ) for natural stone counters that have a sealant, such as granite, marble, and quartzite.

Laundry stains

Windex makes for a super effective stain remover on non-silk washable fabrics—especially on difficult red stains like red wine and tomato sauce and ketchup. Spray the stain liberally with Windex, allow to soak in and work for 20 minutes or so, then rinse it out with cold water. Launder as usual. Caution: Stick with the clear colorless version of Windex when using it to remove stains from white or light items.

Microfiber Upholstery

Microfiber, a synthetic fabric, has become a popular textile for upholstered furniture because it is super durable and inexpensive. Microfiber is beautiful, too, but stains easily and can be super challenging to clean. Even water can leave an ugly spot on microfiber. Windex to the rescue!

Spritz the area with a light spray of Windex. Quickly, before it can soak it, using a soft bristle brush or clean white terrycloth, lightly scrub and whisk away the stain being careful to work in just one direction. A difficult stain might require a second treatment.

Caution: Test in an inconspicuous place first, please! And (I repeat), stick with the clear colorless version of Windex when using it to remove stains from white or light items.

Stainless steel

When cleaning a window with Windex, you want to be able to see your reflection looking back at you. Well, the same goes for stainless steel surfaces.

25 Items Under $25 to Help Organize Your LifeWoman buried under clothes, shoes, bags in unorganized closet

Getting organized isn’t easy. But staying organized can be even harder. A place for everything and everything in its place. That’s the mark of an organized home. I want to update 25 of my best organizational helpers that can help organize your bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, handbag, and car, too. These organizers can quickly turn chaos to calm.

Clean the car

Windex is ideal to clean a car’s interior surfaces, including faux wood and upholstery. Readers have reported all kinds of remarkable results using Windex to clean coffee and food stains from upholstered seats and floor mats. Use Windex to get rid of all that gunk and grime on dashboards, steering wheel, console, and door handles. Works well on that fabric headliner (how do stains land up there?), and carpet, too.

Windex is non-greasy so surfaces won’t be left with a slippery residue. While you’re at it, you might as well clean all the windows—inside and out, too!

Bathroom cleaner

Windex will clean everything in the bathroom—porcelain, plastic, chrome, tile, and grout; toilet, tub, walls, and floors, too. And of course the glass and mirrors.

Playsets and toys

Make quick work of cleaning and disinfecting all those messes brought on by teething and drooling; food, goo, grime and an occasional spit up from toys and playsets. Spray all those surfaces with Windex and a microfiber cloth. Follow a good rinse and your kids’ toys and play areas will be sparkling clean and looking good in no time.

Stuck rings

Need help getting a ring off after it has been on your finger for a long time? Try a few drops and it will pop right off.

Jewelry cleaner

Soak gold, silver, diamonds, rubies and emeralds, and other pieces of fine jewelry for a few minutes in a small container filled with Windex. Brush with a soft, old toothbrush, then rinse well in clear water. Buff dry and look at that sparkle! Caution: Never use Windex on soft stones like opals or costume jewelry.


Knobs, pulls, and handles are surely the most overlooked area in any home when it comes to cleaning. Just imagine how many germs those suckers harbor. Here’s the solution: Once a week, grab the Windex in one hand and a microfiber cloth in the other and go through the house cleaning and sanitizing every doorknob, lever, and pull that gets touched by human hands. It’s easy and so well worth the effort.

Stubborn zippers

Now this hack will make everyone’s life a little better. Have you ever had to throw out that jacket or pair of pants because of a stuck zipper? Using Windex to free a stubborn zipper. What a slick idea.

Whiteboard eraser

Another way to use Windex is to clean your whiteboards. It will remove the stubborn dry erase marker stains and all those shadows, too. Go ahead, you can spray Windex directly on the whiteboard without doing any damage.

Patio furniture cleaner

Windex works amazing for a quick and effective wipe down of patio furniture. Use it when the furniture is first taken out for the season, then again and often as the furniture is used throughout the season. Just lightly mist the surface, let stand for a few minutes, and wipe clean.

Unclog a printhead

If there seems to be an issue with your printer’s printhead—like it refuses to print or does so poorly—try cleaning it. Turn off your printer spray a few spritzes of Windex onto a paper towel. Remove the ink cartridge and place the paper towel over the printhead. Allow to sit for 24 hours. Make sure the printhead is completely dry before you try to print again.

Up Next:

Some (But Not All) Spray Bottles are Designed to Fail

16 Amazing Ways Hydrogen Peroxide Can Make Your Life Easier

A Fun Project (Christmas?!) for While You’re Homebound

The Five Legal Documents Every Adult Must Have

Homemade green cleaning, Eco-friendly natural cleaners with baking soda rubber gloves sponge and carafe of white vinegar

How to Use Pure Castile Soap to Make Natural Cleaning Products

From time to time I hear from readers who have sensitivities or allergies to our beloved Blue Dawn. Is there something else we can use that will not trigger these reactions but still work well? There is and it is pure castile soap.

While olive-oil based castile soap has been around for centuries, Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap, itself dating back to 1858, is making a big, glorious, all-natural comeback.

8 differnt color bottles for claning

Available in several versions including one that is unscented, this organic castile soap is available online as well as in grocery, health food, and discount department stores. Dr. Bronner’s is not the only pure castile soap out there—other brands of castile liquid soap are equally suitable for the following cleaning recipes and household and personal uses, such as Almona, St. Clare, and Seven Minerals.

All-Purpose Cleaning Spray

Add 1/4 cup pure castile liquid soap to one-quart warm water and mix gently. Pour into a 32-ounce spray bottle and use it as you would any spray cleaner around the house. Safe on granite and quartz counters and laminate surfaces. Optional: A few drops of lemon or orange essential oil will give this cleaner a fresh, pleasant fragrance.

Degreaser cleaning spray

Add 1/4 cup pure castile liquid soap into a 32-ounce spray bottle then fill with warm water. Fill a second 32-ounce spray bottle with 1 cup white vinegar and warm water to fill. Spray greasy kitchen surfaces with the soap-water solution and clean them well with a soft cloth. Then spray the same surface with the vinegar-water solution to rinse, followed by another round with the soft cloth. Caution: Rinse granite or other natural stone surfaces with clear water as vinegar may, over time, dull and damage the stone’s sealant.

Read more

A Fun Project for While You’re Homebound

I’m going to bet that Christmas is about the last thing on your mind. Am I right? And now you’re thinking about it. So am I. And I mean homemade Christmas gifts. Yes! What a great way to make the most of being homebound. Crazy idea? Not at all when you consider my absolutely favorite homemade gift.

Mary's 2013 homemade Madagascar vanilla extract

Making vanilla extract is super easy, but it takes time to brew. Sure, in a pinch you can wait until the last minute and make it in your Instant Pot, but the most ideal results come with at last six months of brew time. Suddenly, we’ve got time. And boy do I have good news on the price of vanilla beans!

Read more

casserole dish with noodles, mushrooms, peas, olives and cheese

How to Make Fabulous Meals Using a Formula, Not a Recipe

Ever feel like kitchen klutz? Wish you could take that odd assortment of stuff in the pantry and freezer, mix it with leftovers in the fridge to make something delicious without a specific recipe and without having to run to the market? That’s called cooking with a formula not a recipe.

Well, grab your whisk and shout for joy! Thanks to this Fool-Proof 5-Step Formula you can create fabulous, original, homemade, delicious, and nutritious casseroles designed by You, using the items you have on hand.

Step 1

Combine an 8-oz container of sour cream, 1 cup milk, 1 cup water, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper with one item from Group A, which is coming up below (omit sour cream and milk when using tomatoes).

Did you know?

Sour cream is sold by weight, not by volume. An 8 oz. container of sour cream is equal to 3/4 cup by volume. A 16 oz. container of sour cream is equal to 1 1/2 cup by volume. Do not be confused with liquid measure and weight measure. Very rarely will they be the same.

Step 2

Stir in one item from each of Groups B, C, D, and E (again, no sour cream and milk when using tomatoes)

Step 3

Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 13- x 9- x 2-inch baking dish.

Step 4

Sprinkle with one or two choices from Group F.

Step 5

Cover and bake the casserole at 350 F, for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 additional minutes. Servings: About 6.
Read more

Mature couple getting financial advice from consultant at home

The Five Legal Documents Every Adult Must Have

It’s been at least 30 years since my husband and I sat for hours with an attorney who specializes in estate planning. That was not the most pleasant thing I’ve ever done. We were young and the idea of being old and planning for our respective deaths seemed ludicrous.

Mature couple getting financial advice from consultant at home

That meeting together with nearly $2,500 made us the proud owners of a Family Trust and Estate Plan, which includes the five important legal documents that every adult must have—absolutely!

Even if you’re certain you have these documents all in order, please take a little time to make sure about that. Laws change, regulations can get upgraded without notice. It’s possible your documents could use an update!

Wake-up message

Recently, a letter from Jenny reminded me that we need to update the documents in our Estate Plan because they may be out of date. For sure they are “out of state,” due to our relocation to Colorado.

Thankfully, we now have an option to do this ourselves—legally and properly—for a whole lot less than it cost us decades ago.

Dear Mary: I’m 50, married, and have two adult children. Our financial life is not complicated. I do not have a Will and know that I should. Can I put faith in a simple Will done by one of the large online companies or is it in my family’s best interest that I hire a lawyer? I have read your work for many years and appreciate your advice. Thank you. Jenny

Thank you for the trust you put in me, Jenny. That is something I value highly. My quick answer is that absolutely you and your husband need individual Wills plus four other legal documents as well. I have a resource to recommend to you, which will help you do this yourself—a reputable legal help organization I believe you can trust without reservation.

Will this preclude the need to hire an attorney? It could, but I cannot advise you on that because every situation is different. What I can tell you is that you can do this yourself and be well protected now with all of your information and desires written down in proper legal order—and have that to take to an attorney if or when you find that necessary.

Read more

sliced pot roast dinner with mashed potatoes

Homemade Pot Roast with Gravy—Quick and Super Easy!

What’s for dinner? How about Pot Roast that makes its own gravy? That takes only a few minutes to prepare, then on the table in an hour? That’s what I’m talking about!

sliced pot roast dinner with mashed potatoes

Pot Roast is economical, classic comfort food, and a quintessential family favorite. Bonus: leftovers are even better the second day. What’s not to love?

Get ready for fall-apart beef that’s tender, flavorful, and smothered in a rich gravy. This recipe is mouthwateringly good, yet insanely simple to make. Use a slow cooker or Instant Pot. Pick the method that works best for you!

And now get ready for a quirky recipe—nothing to measure, no chopping, cutting or browning. Just three seasoning packets, a roast (or chicken or pork!)—and you’re good to go.


Individual packets

Brown Gravy dry mix

Chicken Gravy dry mix

Pork Gravy dry mix

Italian dressing dry mix

Ranch dressing dry mix

Bulk containers

Brown Gravy dry mix

Poultry Gravy dry mix

Ranch dressing dry mix

sliced pot roast dinner with mashed potatoes

Three Packets and a Roast

Get ready for fall-apart beef that's tender, flavorful, and smothered in a rich gravy it makes itself. This recipe is mouthwateringly good, yet insanely simple to make. Use Instant Pot or slow cooker—the method that works best for you!
4.45 from 9 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Author: Mary
Cost: Hard to determine, just try to buy your meat on Sale!


  • Slow Cooker OR
  • Pressure cooker (Instant pot)


  • 1 3 - 4 lb. beef roast chuck, London broil, round—you name it!
  • 1 packet Brown Gravy dry mix
  • 1 packet Italian dressing dry mix
  • 1 packet Ranch dressing dry mix
  • 1 cup water


  • Place beef in Instant Pot or slow cooker (no need to brown, but you sure can do that if you want!).
  • Pour contents of the three seasoning packets over the raw meat.
  • Pour water over the top. Cover with lid.
  • Instant Pot: Set to high pressure (or 'meat/stew' if your IP model has that setting) for 60 mins. Quick release.
  • Slow cooker: Cook on Low for 8-10 hours for a very large roast, fewer hours if smaller, or on High for 5-6 hours. Check for doneness after 4-5 hours, as time will vary depending on the cut of beef, size and so on.
  • Optional: Add cut up potatoes and carrots during the last hour of cooking; frozen peas during the last 10 minutes in slow cooker. For Instant Pot, remove roast, add cut up raw potatoes and carrots to the gravy, then high pressure for 4 to 5 minutes, quick release.
  • Expect beautiful, rich, dark brown gravy and the best Pot Roast ever.


Three Packets and a Chicken
1 whole chicken with Chicken Gravy Mix, Italian Dressing Dry Mix, and Ranch Dressing Dry Mix and 1 cup water.
Three Packets and a Pork Roast
1 pork roast with Pork Gravy Mix, Italian Dressing Dry Mix, and Ranch Dressing Dry Mix and 1 cup water.
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