Clogged Toilets

As I’ve mentioned, I just moved into a basement apartment of my very own.  It’s in an older house in a beautiful part of town.  Older houses usually mean older pipes, plumbing, fixtures, etc.  While these older touches definitely have character, they come with their headaches as well.  This morning, my toilet decided to clog for no good reason.  After purchasing a $5 plunger that was doing nothing, I was getting frustrated and worried that I was going to have to resort to more expensive measures.  Then I remembered a tip I received a while back.  Dish soap!  If you pour some dish soap (like the kind you use to handwash) into the toilet and let it sit for a few minutes, it will do wonders.  Sometimes you can just plunge after letting the soap sit and it will do the trick.  If that doesn’t work, after letting it sit, pour some warm water into the toilet bowl from about waist height.  The pressure and the soap together should unclog the pipes.  I love finding alternative uses for household supplies – especially when it saves me time and money!

Renting

First of all, sorry my entries have been spotty lately.  This new semester started with a vengeance.  Last Saturday, I moved into a new apartment.  It’s a one bedroom, and I’m finally living without roommates.  This isn’t necessarily the most frugal choice, but it’s a matter of sanity for me, so I went for it.  I’ll just have to work a little harder to save in other areas.  One great thing about my new place is the rent is cheaper than most one bedrooms in the area (I found a landlord with a single property rather than a rental company…usually more reasonable).  Even better, all of my utilities are already included in the already low rent.  So, I don’t have to worry about electric, water, gas, cable, internet, phone…anything.  This is really nice – living alone, these costs are obviously higher, so it’s nice not to worry about them.  So look out for these types of good deals – they’re out there, you just have to find them!

Political Contributions?

Since I’m poor I don’t really have a lot of disposable income but even if I did, I’m not sure I’d be willing to make a political contribution–even if I really loved a candidate.  I can’t help think but that money would be better spent on things that actually go towards something real.  I could easily take that $200 and instead of it going to pay for Barack’s assistant to get some donuts for the staff, it could more directly go to put food in the mouths of the hungry.  I realize that everything has administrative expenses but giving money to the rich, especially since I am not rich, just doesn’t strike me as something I’d ever really want to do.

The Joys of Bulk

One of the easiest ways to save money is to buy in bulk.  On the surface it’s more expensive because you’re of course paying for things that you don’t immediately need but if you’re certain you’re ultimately going to use something and you’re paying less per item, there’s no reason to pass up bulk savings.

A great thing to buy in bulk is batteries.  If you store in the back of freezer they’ll definitely last you a good while and you can be all but certain that the time is going to come when you’ll need a couple of AAA batteries.  When you’re buying them in bulk you can usually get them for about $0.40 each, which is way better than buying them at around $1/ea when you’re only buying six at a time.  At the moment, I have about two dozen of each of the common types and at least a handful of the weirdos (D, 9 Volt, etc).  Anyway, buying in bulk is where it’s at so when you see a great deal snap it up!

Zipcar

In lots of big cities, many people don’t have cars.  I’ve already discussed some of the pros and cons about being car-less in the city.  If you’re like me, everything is bus/metro accessible, so there’s just no need for a car.  Every once in a while though, you may have an errand that requires a car.  I’m lucky to have good friends with transportation, so I’m usually okay, but I don’t want to burn anyone out.  In most cities now, there’s a service called zipcar.  It’s an hourly car rental service, and the fee includes insurance, gas, and parking (a huge bonus in an expensive city).  The cars are placed all over the city, so there’s usually one for pick up within a few blocks of your home.  Many grocery stores, furniture stores, etc. support this service by reserving parking spaces in their lots for zipcar drivers.  There’s a yearly membership fee – I think it’s around $50.  Because I’m a student, my membership was waived.  Lots of companies and schools have this agreement with zipcar, so check on that before you sign up!  Cars start at $7/hour to rent.  It’s a really great solution to those occasional situations where a car is necessary.  I need a few new pieces of furniture, so I plan to get a zipcar to make the trip out to Ikea and to transport my new purchases home.  It’s a great idea and a reasonable deal.  Try it out!

Grocery store waste

I used to be terrible about wasting food.  I would buy lots of fresh food and eat only about a quarter of it before it went bad.  This is so unfortunate – it’s a waste of good food and lots of money.  It’s tempting to only go to the store occasionally, but it leads to this kind of wastefulness.  I’ve started going to the store at least twice each week.  This way, I only buy what I can eat in a reasonable amount of time.  It’s been such a great switch.  I no longer waste food and money, and I am eating fresher foods and cooking more well rounded meals.  Try to get to the store more often and buy less each time, and try to use everything you buy.

Recipe

Here’s the recipe for what I brought to the potluck. It’s extremely cheap to make, thus a great thing to serve to your friends! I got it from the show Take Home Chef on TLC – lots of great recipes!

Filo Lemon Curd Tarts with Fresh Raspberries

Serves 4

Ingredients:

For the filo pastry shells:
6 sheets filo pastry (each about 17×12 inches/43×30 cm)
1/2 stick/65 g unsalted butter, melted

For the lemon curd:
4 large eggs
1 cup/200 g sugar
1/2 cup/115 ml fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon/5 g grated lemon peel
1 stick/113 g salted butter, diced

For assembling the tarts:
9 ounces/250 g fresh raspberries
4 fresh mint sprigs, for garnish
Powdered sugar, for garnish

Method:

To make the filo pastry shells:

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Place 1 sheet of filo pastry on a flat dry surface and brush with some melted butter. Place another sheet of filo pastry on top of the first sheet and brush with more melted butter.

Repeat this process until all 6 sheets of the filo are stacked on top of each other. Cut the stack of filo sheets crosswise in half then lengthwise in half, forming 4 equal rectangular pieces. Gently press each stack of filo, buttered side down, into a shallow 4 1/2-inch-/11-cm-diameter tart pan.

Turn the pans over and trim away the excess pastry with a sharp knife, leaving 1/2 inch/1 cm of pastry above the rims of the tart pans. Place the tart pans on a heavy baking sheet. Bake the filo tart shells for 15 to 20 minutes or until dark golden brown. Carefully lift the shells from the pans and place them on a rack to cool completely.

To make the lemon curd:

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Decrease the heat to low. Whisk the eggs, sugar, lemon juice and zest in a medium stainless steel or glass bowl to blend. Place the bowl over the hot water and whisk in the butter.

Continue to whisk for about 3 minutes or until the curd has become thick and creamy and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and whisk until most of the heat from the curd dissipates. Set the curd aside to cool completely, stirring occasionally. The curd will continue to thicken as it cools.

To assemble the tarts:

Spoon 1/2 cup/120 g of the lemon curd into each tart and top with the raspberries. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs, dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Starting the semester off right

In just a few days, my second semester of law school will begin.  I haven’t seen most of my friends in almost a month – we all enjoyed a long break following our exams.  Of course we all want to catch up, so a friend is hosting a pre-semester party at his house.  He’s making it a pot-luck – everyone will bring a different homemade dish to share.  This is a great idea for a night with your friends, and it costs the host nothing more than everyone else attending.  What a great way to feed endless amounts of people!  Plus, it’s a great time to share recipes and show off your cooking prowess to your friends.  Spending time with your favorite people doesn’t have to include an expensive night on the town.  Try having a potluck – I bet you’ll have a great time!

Pets

This is me on my soapbox, taking a break from the frugal talk.  I’ve had a dog for 4.5 years now, and getting her is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.   Getting a dog is a big decision – among many other things, they can be expensive.  It’s so important for a decision as big as this one to be well thought out.  In addition to monthly expenses, you’ll have boarding costs, yearly shots, and fees for the emergencies dogs sometimes bring upon themselves.  If getting a dog is something you’ve decided to do (after weighing the costs and benefits for yourself), I want to strongly encourage that you adopt.  I adopted mine from our local animal shelter.  I cannot stress enough how many amazing animals are out there, just waiting for a good home.  Unless you’re getting a dog for a very specific purpose, there is really no good reason to go through a breeder.  In addition, NO ONE should buy from backyard breeders – the people whose dogs accidentally have puppies which they decide to sell.  Doing this is only worsening the problem of over population of available pets.  There are so many advantages to rescuing/adopting a pet.  First, you’re doing such a good thing and becoming part of the solution.  Next, they’ve got personality!  Many of the adoptable dogs are mixed breeds, taking the best characteristics of many different types of dogs.  They don’t have the same inbreeding problem that some purebred dogs face.  If you do love a particular breed and it’s important to you to have one, look online for breed specific rescue groups.  I can promise that every breed of dog has rescue groups all around the country trying to find homes for purebred dogs.  Like I said, I’m getting on my soapbox today, but I just think this is so important.  Part of living a frugal life is recognizing excess and seeing where you can make the world a more efficient place.  I can’t think of a better way to achieve these things than by saving the life of a well-deserving animal.  I hope everyone out there can find their own “man’s best friend,” and I hope you’ll seriously consider adopting to help do your part.

Textbooks

I can’t remember if I’ve talked about this yet, but textbooks for school can be unbelievably expensive!  And, as you move into graduate and professional degrees, they only get worse.  I recommend buying your books online to save a little money.  You can buy new books on sites like amazon, usually for less than your campus bookstore.  If you don’t mind a little highlighting in your books, look for used copies of your required books.  These will save you tons of money.  Sites like half dot com and amazon are good places to start your search for quality used books.  Finally, in law school we use two online research services for our legal research.  Both of these companies have online bookstores and give rewards points when you make a purchase.  The points can be used for a wide range of things like designer bags, gift cards, and even airline tickets.  If you’re in a program that has rewards points like these, take advantage of them and order your books using their site.  Might as well get something in return when you spend that much money at one time. Finally, consider setting up a book exchange within your program or major.  That way upperclassmen can sell their books (and get more than the bookstore would give during buy-back) and you can buy their books for much less than the bookstore – it’s really a win-win situation. It can be painful, I know, but be creative in your search…you will definitely save money.