Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Recycled Goodies for Halloween

Parent Hacks has a short post about using leftover toys, stickers, etc. from birthday party goody bags to pad your Halloween candy supply. We're going one step further this year: We collected a big bag of candy from summertime parades and saved it to give out at Halloween. Maybe you're the kind of person who digs the suckers, tootsie rolls and hard candy they give out at parades, but my family isn't too fond of them. (These sweet treats are what my wife and I call "Not worth the calories.")

What's your opinion: Is this a smart idea for saving money and recycling otherwise unwanted candy, or is it on par with handing out used dryer sheets and socks with holes in the heel?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Life's too short to peel potatos

Here's a quick tip that will enrich your home life: Don't peel potatoes before you mash 'em. Rinse your potatoes while scrubbing with a brush, cut 'em up into 1-2" cubes, boil 'em tender, and then smash those suckers with the skins right on! This not only saves you from some serious, Beetle-Bailey-style drudgery, but I'm fairly sure those skins are highly nutritious. You know: fiber and vitamins and stuff. Look it up.

Another mashed potato tip: For creamier potatoes, add sour cream or cottage cheese instead of pouring in skim milk like you usually do.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Caught in a trap

A recent article on Slate.com, "Seeking: How the brain hard-wires us to love Google, Twitter, and texting. And why that's dangerous", brings in modern brain science to explain why we'll fritter away hours of our lives on pointless internet browsing. My mind immediately jumped to a recent episode of the Radiolab Podcast, which had a segment on a woman descending into a spiral of compulsive gambling behavior shortly after being put on a medication which increased the amount of dopamine in her brain.

The next time you're on the internet for more than a few minutes, stop and think about what you're doing and whether it needs to be done at all. It could be all useful activity on the internet is done for the day, and you're compelled to keep clicking by an ancient reward-seeking system inside your brain. Turn the computer off. See what your spouse, partner, or child is up to. Enjoy some recreation with a book or hobby. Live as a real person. I know I'll be rethinking a lot of internet behavior in my own life.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

More Cash to "Romaine" in your Bank Account

For a year or so, since the last Rapidly Inflating Gas Prices Scare - or was it the Worldwide Economic Implosion of 2008 - I've become a fan of buying staple grocery items at Aldi, where they are cheaper than anywhere else I've looked. Aldi's model is to reduce overhead as much as possible to sell you a limited number of grocery items efficiently and inexpensively.

It takes a couple of trips to Aldi to get into the mindset. The first time you go, it's so different from an ordinary grocery store trip as to bit a little off-putting. You have to make a quarter deposit to get a cart (which you get back when you click the cart back into the cart return). Most of the products available are store-brand, and the selection is limited. You join your fellow customers, all following a specific route through the store, and then checkout with factory efficiency. Trying to make friendly small talk with the cashier usually doesn't work out. But the fact is, part of bringing you low prices is limiting staff to a bare minimum, meaning this checker has to get you through as fast as possible to keep the line moving. In part, you earn the discount you get by shopping at Aldi by virtue of the fact that while you're there, you work there too.

Every week, milk is definitely on my Aldi list, as they are always the lowest price in the area. Eggs, too, are a good price if you aren't picky about getting organic or free-range. Aldi will only sell you one kind of egg. We've often had good luck with their romaine lettuce. Aldi now has boxed pasta in whole grain varieties, which my wife and I love. And, of course, basic baking supplies like flour, sugar and chocolate chips are a great deal.

If you have an Aldi in your area, I recommend giving it a try to see if it works for you to make part of your weekly shopping list an Aldi List. I've discovered that the blog Cincinnati Cents has a weekly post about Aldi specials, which is very helpful. Aldi has a weekly ad, but not all of these specials are in it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Best Kids' Books

NYT op-edder Nicholas Kristoff shared his list of The Best Kids' Books ever in a recent column, citing the importance of school-age children reading during the summer months. He claims that he recently came across the fact that kids actually shed a couple of points of IQ during the long vacation from school. He doesn't specifically cite the relevant study, but what a hook for a column! Okay, I'm scared! I'm interested! I'll read the rest of the column already! Check out his recommendations here, with a follow-up blog post here.

Having a young child about the house has encouraged me to keep awesome juvenile fiction around (as well as classic science fiction, in the hopes of raising a fellow sci-fi fan). Libraries are a very important (and free) source for reading material, but I think it's also a good idea to have some of your own material on hand. The more readily available great books are, the more likely your kid will reach for them when she's "boooooored" this summer. Books need not be expensive, there are a lot of second-hand sources. The library near where I work has a second-hand book store inside where kid's fiction paperbacks are a quarter. My amazing finds so far include A Wrinkle in Time and a couple of the old Alfred Hitchcock's Three Investigators mysteries.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Discount Me, Please

Many online retailers give out special "coupon codes" via email, newspaper ads, coupon books, etc. These coupons can give you a very attractive discount on items you buy online, but of course you aren't in the know about every coupon that's available when you're buying something. Retailmenot.com aims to provide a one-stop clearinghouse of currently available online coupon codes. I used it to get 10% off the Barnes and Noble order I mentioned in my previous post!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fast AND Free?

Like many shoppers, I love Amazon.com's "Free Supersaver Shipping" option on qualifying orders over $25. There's always been one - perfectly understandable - problem with this option: Your order is a lower priority in the overall scheme of things and therefore takes longer to ship.

Earlier this week, I was looking to buy a video. It was out of stock at the local Walmart and I didn't like Amazon's price. I decided to shop around a bit more, and discovered that Barnes and Noble had a much better price on that particular item, plus it qualified for something called "Fast and Free" shipping. This turned out to be an appropriate name, as the item shipped the next day and was delivered to my door three days later.

If the time it takes to receive an item is a big deal to you, and all other considerations are equal, I very much recommend Fast and Free.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Roth IRA

My wife and I both have retirement accounts through our employer, but I recently started a Roth IRA on the side for additional retirement savings. Our frugal habits leave us with a decent monthly surplus and feeling prepared for retirement at an early age is important to my sense of well-being (and my future willingness to make bold career decisions, if need be). Just today, I saw this guest post on Get Rich Slowly that makes me feel really clever for choosing a Roth IRA: "Why I Love the Roth IRA". If you're considering putting aside some extra savings for retirement and want to learn more about your options or if you recently opened a Roth IRA and you want a pat on the back for being so smart, check it out.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Urgent Cleaning: Paint Spill on the Driveway

This past weekend, our two-year-old son was helping by taking a turn shaking a can of white latex paint to mix it up. Of course, with his experimental, two-year-old way of doing things he dropped it a couple of times, inevitably leading to the lid popping off and leaving a puddle of white paint on our driveway. We didn't panic. Okay, we did - but we managed to take turns in panic mode, so that one of the two of us would remain competent enough to deal with the mess, and that our son was assured that no one was mad at him and this was just an accident. Here's how we got the mess cleaned up:

  • Wipe up the excess paint with some paper towels, rags, or whatever is on hand as soon as possible. Dispose of them in the garbage or just drop them in a handy cardboard box for now.
  • Squirt some dish soap over the giant splop of paint.
  • Scrub, scrub, scrub away at it with the sort of brush you use for cleaning bathroom tile.
  • Rinse with the garden hose.
  • Squirt more dish soap.
  • Scrub, scrub, scrub. Keep a positive attitude in the face of the fact that your next door neighbor's entire extended family is showing up for a visit at this moment, and numerous other neighbors are driving by on their way to and fro, making you feel paranoid and clumsy.
  • Rinse more with the garden hose. It should look quite a bit better by now. Keep repeating the soap, scrub, and rinse steps until you are pleased with the look of your driveway. We ended up with only a few stubborn specks of white, which don't stand out and should wear away this summer.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Throw" Blanket as Toddler Bed Blanket

When our son moved from a crib to a toddler bed, we bought a cute, little, "throw" blanket at Target instead of buying a blanket specifically for toddlers. These small blankets - intended to be tossed over the back of a couch or spread over your knees on cold, winter nights in the living room - are the perfect size for a toddler bed and are usually less expensive. You can often find a variety of interesting and fun designs on clearance.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Review: Fisher-Price Healthy Care Booster Seat

Our child is now two and my wife and I have never had to use a full-sized high chair at home. The inconvenient size, expense, and the fact of its inevitable obsolescence once your child has outgrown it make for enough good reasons to eschew the traditional high chair in favor of a portable high chair/booster seat. We've been using the Fisher-Price Healthy Care model and have valued it for its versatility, compact size, comfort and ease of transport.

The main drawback of using a portable model at home is having the most "creative" eater in your house dropping big splorts of applesauce all over one of your good chairs. That's why I recommend finding an inexpensive Ikea chair that matches the finish on the rest of your dining room set. The chair you see in the photo above was $20, and you certainly won't regret having an extra chair around when guests arrive.

Good, bad, or okay: Good!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cold Applesauce to Cool and Sweeten Oatmeal

My toddler enjoys a nice bowl of quick oats made in the microwave on weekend mornings, but what to do about the fact that it emerges from the microwave flaming hot? We keep a jar of natural applesauce in the fridge. A generous helping of applesauce stirred into his bowl of oatmeal, along with a bit of cinnamon if you like, not only cools it to the perfect temperature but naturally sweetens it. He loves it!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Fun Craft Project: Toilet-paper Tube People

Even your small toddler has the motor skills to color the pictures of faces, arms and feet in this PDF document. (It doesn't matter if she stays inside the lines or if the construction worker's face is just a purple scribble!) Once this is done, you can cut out the individual parts and help your child tape or glue them to toilet paper tubes to make charming, little people. I advise you to take the "It doesn't have to look realistic and it's okay if the girl on the right has a leg coming out of her head" approach. I wish I could include pictures of the final product when my son made these, but the files are somewhere among the bazillion pics we've taken of him within the last several months.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Coloring is Free

Coloring books are a great, inexpensive way for your young one to release his artistic energy and have fun. What's cheaper than cheap? Why, FREE of course! The internet age has brought us a wealth of free coloring pages that you can print and keep on hand for your child's next session with the ol' crayons. Just Google the term "coloring pages" and see.

Throw in additional keywords to find coloring pages suited to a variety of interests. I want to expose my son to lots of cool science stuff, so I am totally jazzed at what you can find searching for NASA and dinosaurs. My toddler's current favorite TV show is Curious George, and PBS Kids has a site with numerous printable pictures and games.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Free Your Shipping with Amazon Filler

From Clever Mom:

It is almost potty training time here, so of course I headed over to Amazon to find a few board books for potty time reading. I discovered that there is a 4 for the price of 3 sale going on, so I picked my four books and went to checkout. I discovered that I was 8 cents short of free shipping. Eight cents. I did some googling, and discovered that "amazon filler" leads to websites with great ideas for cheap, cheap things to push your order ever so slightly into free shipping land. My favorite was a link to the Small Parts, Inc store.


In addition for Lift the Lid, Use the Potty, Too Big For Diapers, and My Big Boy Potty for my little big boy, I'm getting a copy of my favorite parent's book about potty training On Becoming Potty Wise and a pack of 5 Alloy Steel Hex Socket Set Screws M3 Black, 5mm Length, Cup Point -- all for $25.17.