Lifelong Learning: You Can’t Escape It

Laptop computer

Life is about learning. Sometimes it may be difficult, sometimes it’s a pleasure but, either way, it’s always about the changing circumstances of life and the education that is associated with that change. If we have to learn anyway, why not do it purposely? The Internet has made that so easy, it’s a shame not to pursue some online learning. I truly believe that discovering new things helps me to develop new skills and enhances my life in ways that might not be evident right away.

Are there benefits to learning? Of course there  is:

Provides an escape and is a good pastime
Reduces stress by giving your mind a mini vacation
Increases confidence
Provides knowledge which is powerful
Improves your mental outlook by helping in goal setting and achievement
Allows for some ‘me time’
Is an opportunity to rediscover past interests
It can be fun to pursue

Some of the best news about learning online is that so much is free to use.

Open Culture: Boasts 1300 free courses offered online.

Open Education Database: This site claims that they have 10,000 free courses to choose from.

Universal Class: My Library card allows me to take classes from this site for free. Check with your local library about this benefit.

Study.com: A long list of universities that offer free courses.

This is just a sampling of sites that offer online courses. There are many more waiting for us to sign up and start learning.

Have you taken an online course? Be sure to leave a comment.

If It’s Expensive It Must Be Better

If It's Expensive, It Must Be Better

Check out any frugal living website and you’ll see that buying generic is the end-all way to go to save money. But is it? What if it’s awful and it gets tossed? How much have you saved buying that product? This doesn’t mean that buying more expensive products is the answer either. A name-brand product is not necessarily better. It might be but it might not.

According to the Private Label Manufacturers Association, you can save about 30% per week on the average shopping trip buying generic or store brand products. That’s a significant savings and why wouldn’t everyone do this simple thing to save money?

Sometimes we justify buying more expensive products by telling ourselves that we get what we pay for. With enough thought on it, I’m sure we can convince ourselves of almost anything that will justify our actions. I read an article recently (without the foresight to bookmark it for reference) that stated that buying over the counter medications on sale reduces the effectiveness of the drug. Somehow, paying less translates in our head to lower quality even on identical items. I don’t agree. I feel fortunate when I find something I need on sale when I need it.

Probably the most dangerous position to our budget is telling ourselves that price equals quality to justify a purchase we can’t afford. Then, after spending more than we should have, we adopt a smug attitude and pat ourselves on the back for our shopping savvy. What a trap that thinking is!

If price does equal quality, then when something is in short supply, and the price is higher, it should be of higher quality. How could it? It’s the same item that is suffering some hiccup in supply and demand has increased the price. Yesterday, when the price was lower, it wasn’t a different product. Today, it’s the same product with a different price.

There are some products that you can be assured are as good as national brands because they are regulated. The Food and Drug Administration regulates things like medications, baby formula, and sunscreen. It is assured that these products are identical to the more expensive items next to them on the shelves. No one needs to question the quality and effectiveness of these products because it’s been done for us. Sometimes government intervention is a good thing.

So, what’s the answer about generics? Try them. Try them from different stores. Not all generics are equal. I learned decades ago not to buy the bargain canned tuna. It may be much better now, but it was so bad then (can you say inedible?) that I never bought it again. It’s not worth the savings for me to try it. I’m going to be stubborn on this.

There are some things that I just prefer the national brand. It’s not that the generic is so awful, like the canned tuna. It’s just that I prefer the taste of some products to the generic brands. Peanut butter is one of those products and, surprisingly, oatmeal and oat O’s cereal. Neither of those generic products taste as good to me as the national brand. If I was feeding a family, my attitude might be different and the savings would outweigh my personal tastes.

Where I find little difference is most canned items. Things like canned fruit, tomatoes, beans, and vegetables are close enough to their more expensive counterparts that I buy them almost exclusively. (OK, I have to admit that I rarely buy canned vegetables. I prefer frozen but there are some in my pantry.) I look for the low-salt or low-sugar varieties, and if the generic meets that qualification, it makes its way into the cart.

So, you might ask if there’s a point to all of this? Well, yes. In our pursuit to live well and still save money, generic products can help us along. They can also stop us short. Frugality is a lifestyle and, sometimes, it takes a bit of effort to find the frugal way that works for us. If it doesn’t work, we don’t do it and where are we then? Back to square one? Back to overspending?

Do you buy generics? Be sure to leave a comment.

5 Frugal Things I’ve Done This Month

5 Frugal Things I've Done This MonthLiving frugal is a lifestyle and I have been doing this a very long time. When I look back at things that I’ve done, it’s sometimes hard to remember frugal activities because they are so much a part of my everyday living. Here are just 5 of the things I’ve done this month.

1. New mixes for the pantry

Three mixing spoons

Mixing spoons

I love mixes. I love homemade mixes even more.

The first mix was for ranch dressing. Yum! It’s really good and so easy to do. I found this same recipe on several websites, so I can’t say for sure where I first located it.

Ranch Dressing Mix

Ingredients

1/2 cup dry buttermilk powder
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried dill weed
1 teaspoon dried chives
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Directions

In a medium bowl, whisk all dry ingredients together until well combined. Store mix in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

To use: Mix together 1/4 cup ranch dressing mix, 1 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup sour cream, and 1/2 cup milk. Blend thoroughly.

The second mix I found Cooperative Extension Department at Utah State University. (This link will open a pdf file) I have used the SOS mix several times instead of canned soup and the recipes have come out very well. The cool thing is all the recipes that come with the basic mix. It really shows you how to use this mix.

Soup or Sauce Mix

Ingredients

2 cups powdered, non-fat milk
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup instant chicken bouillon
2 tsp Italian seasoning (optional)

Directions

Combine 1/3 cup of dry mx with 1 1/4 cup of cold water. Whisk until thoroughly blended.
Cook and stir until thickened. (Stovetop or microwave)
Add to recipes as you would a can of cream soup.

2. Remembered the dollar store

I started giving my daughter a Valentine card when she was a little girl. She’s well into her thirties now, and I still get her a Valentine. We all know how expensive greeting cards can be but not at the dollar store. The savings is worth the trip. Plus, there’s a lot of other cool things at that store worth investigation.

3. Made broth

Bowl of homemade broth

Homemade Broth

I’ve made chicken broth many times but not with any regularity. A few months ago, I bought and Instant Pot. Of course, I read all kinds of things online about using my new gadget and one of the things I found was making broth. Now, I purposely make broth. I buy whole chickens, roast them, pull the meat from the bones and make broth from the carcasses. The leftover rotisserie chicken can also be used for broth. Of course, beef, pork, or turkey all make excellent broth.

Also, I’ve started saving vegetables in a freezer bag for vegetable broth. I’ve made one batch so far, and I’m pleased with the results. I put leftover vegetables, peels from carrots and potatoes, and little bits and pieces that result from preparing vegetables for a meal. It all goes in the pot and comes out wonderful broth. I bought 2 cup freezer containers (at the dollar store) to store my broth. The Instant Pot makes it easy to use frozen. Just thaw enough to remove from the container.

How to Make Instant Pot Broth

Put chicken or turkey carcass, beef or pork bones, or 4 to 6 cups of vegetable scraps into the Instant Pot. Fill with water to the 2/3 line. Set time for 1 hour at low pressure. Use natural release. Refrigerate broth overnight and then skim off any fat before storing.

4. Started my garden seeds

Seed Starting in Newspaper pots

Starting seeds for spring

Garden plants have become expensive. Spending $3 or more on a plant for the garden makes it more difficult to save money by gardening. I will still buy a few, but some are so easily started that it doesn’t make sense not to do it.
I first posted about starting seeds in Fearless Gardening. Make these useful seed-starter pots with these instructions here and here.

5. Shared a no-cost solution

I’m including this even though I didn’t save money by doing it. Someone close to me was paying a subscription site for audio books to listen to while she was jogging. I pointed her to her local library which has audio books available to borrow. This is about a $10 per month saving for her and a warm and fuzzy feeling about helping someone for me.

How did you live frugally this month? Be sure to leave a comment.

Don’t Toss It – Eat It

Don't Toss It--Eat It

Stop feeding the landfill

You are standing in front of the open door of your refrigerator when you spy a container near the back and you pull it out. Inside is a hairy, foul-smelling mess that was once food but now doesn’t resemble anything edible. We’ve all been there.

According to the Department of Agriculture (USDA), 30-40 percent of food in the United States is wasted. Astounding! Wasted food is also the single, largest component of our landfills. All of this waste costs approximately $165 billion each year. Imagine what we could do with that money.

According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a non-profit organization, the average American throws away 300 pounds of food each year which costs us about $2200. That is almost $200 per month of loss. Imagine what we could do with that money.

If food takes up 10-15 percent of our household budgets, it just doesn’t make sense to throw so much away. In the coming weeks, I’m going to offer some solutions I have used for taming the leftover monsters.

One of the ways to get started using leftovers is to notice what you always have left over. I know, obvious. In my effort to cook for two, I sometimes end up with a third serving. This usually is the result of using a whole can of something instead of a partial, which would just spoil in the refrigerator, I’m sure. One of the things I have done is to take that leftover serving to work as my lunch. Since I am now retired and I’m watching my calories, I don’t eat much for lunch anymore. So there the container sits.

To get started, here’s my recipe for Stuffed Pepper Soup. It seems I always have a little bit of rice leftover and it’s not very good reheated. It does work very well in soup. This recipe is also a good use of a green pepper that is a little wrinkled and, instead of canned tomatoes, over ripe tomatoes peeled and diced would work very well.

Stuffed Pepper Soup

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: ”Easy”
  • Print

Ingredients


½ pound ground beef
½ cup diced onion
1 green pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 14 ounce can beef broth
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/8 teaspoon Allspice
¾ cup cooked rice
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Brown ground beef. Add onion, green pepper, and garlic. Sauté until tender. Stir in tomatoes and beef broth. Add seasonings. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until flavors have blended. If you have an Instant Pot, 5 minutes on high pressure is all you need for this soup. Add in rice. Cook another 1-2 minutes to heat and soften rice.

What’s your favorite way to use leftovers? Be sure to leave a comment.

Tomatoes: Are They Evil or Are They Fruit?

Tomatoes: Are They Evil or Are They Fruit?

Tomatoes: Are They Evil or Are They Fruit?

In 1521, the Aztec city of Tenochititlan came under the control of Hernan Cortez. It’s likely that the explorer was the first to bring tomato seeds back to Europe after the plant was found in what is now Mexico. The fruit we know as the tomato was called tomatl by the Aztecs and they were yellow rather than the classic red. Instead of using the newly arrived plants as a food source, many grew it in the garden as a spot of color.

The tomato was declared to be a poison apple in the 18th century. Someone made the observation that people who indulged in eating tomatoes died. Never mind that it was likely the lead poisoning caused by eating a highly acidic food from a pewter plate. Each bite of an 18th century Eggs in Purgatory delivered another dose of lead leached from their fine dinnerware.

Others were certain that the tomato had influence on human behavior. When the plant was classified as a mandrake, references from the Bible warned that the tomato could act as a love potion, triggering the nickname of love apple. I’m not at all sure why we should avoid something that brings us love. Being lumped into the Solanaceae family of plants didn’t bode well for the tomato. In that group, the tomato was also thought to be kin to Nightshade, which had hallucinogenic properties as well as an association with witchcraft.

Aside from its characteristics as an aphrodisiac and a hallucinogen, the humble tomato was also assigned supernatural powers. German folklore tells us that witches used the tomato to call werewolves. This practice of using the tomato to summon lycanthropes influenced the name of the plant species: Lycopersicon esculentum.

To top off its sullied reputation, the tomato was the subject of a Supreme Court case. In 1893, when the Court heard the case of Nix v Hedden, the fruit or vegetable argument was settled. It was to be considered a vegetable, even though it fit the definition of a fruit. Why, you might ask? Money. Vegetables were subject to tariffs and fruits were not.

In spite of its rocky past, Americans eat about 22 pounds of tomatoes every year. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that most of this consumption is the form of tomato sauce. All the ketchup and pasta sauce on our dinner table add up.

So, if you dare, indulge in pasta with a tomato-based sauce. Here’s hoping for the best!

Simple Tomato Pasta Sauce

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients


1 medium carrot
1 celery rib
1/2 medium onion
1 clove garlic
28 oz can tomato puree
1/4 cup olive oil
Basil or oregano to taste

Directions


Using a food processor, finely chop the carrot, celery, onion, and garlic. Mix all ingredients in saucepan and simmer until vegetables are tender. Allow to cool and return to food processor. Blend until sauce is smooth. (Optional) Add seasoning as desired.

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Bread Machine Hawaiian Rolls

Bread Machine Hawaiian Rolls

Bread Machine Hawaiian Rolls

 

There are never enough rolls, especially when they are fresh.

Bread Machine Hawaiian Rolls

  • Servings: 12-15 rolls
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

6 ounces pineapple juice
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
3 1/2 cups flour
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
Additional butter, melted, for brushing tops of rolls (optional)

Bring all ingredients to room temperature.
Add ingredients to bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer.
Set machine to the dough cycle. When complete, remove dough from machine and divide into 12-15 rolls. Place into a greased 9 x 13 baking pan. Cover with a towel and let dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size. (about 1 hour)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake rolls for 25 minutes or until tops are golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately brush with melted butter.

Driving Towards Goals

snowyroad

January is flying by and any resolutions that were promised at the beginning are becoming distant objects in the rear view mirror. Every year I promise myself that I’m not going to let that happen, but it still does. Again, I’m making the promise to get those things done that I want and to do it in this new year.

Something needs to change this time and I went looking for the solution. Other than a strong resolve, there isn’t a lot of innovative thinking when it comes to achieving goals.

Nearly everyone who pontificates about goal setting tells us to write them down. OK. Done that. Now, where did I put that list?

For me, it isn’t enough to just write the goal down. I need more help.

Of course, goals must be achievable. That hasn’t been my problem either. I think we all know that there are some things we can never achieve no matter how often we write it down. We can’t find talent we don’t have in the pages of a loose-leaf binder.

My problem is not thinking things through in detail. For instance, I want to do some redecorating in my home. What am I going to do to achieve “redecorating?” In the past, I would have some ideas in my head but they flitted in and out and, often, never made it into the real world.

The goal for goals this year is to write details. I found I need some detailed guidelines to stay on track, so that’s what I’m working on. I know I want to recover the throw pillows in the living room and repaint the front door. My redecorating goal is becoming itemized. I’ve already bought the perfect fabric for the pillows and I know what color paint to buy. (I had to convince my spouse that the color I wanted to use would look good. Thank goodness for pictures on the web.)

I will add things to my “redecorating” goal and I will get specific on all the other goals, too. Some will need just a list, like my decorating projects. Others will need a complete road map with the first step clearly spelled out. The amount of detail depends on the goal, of course. Think of how tedious it would be to do a step-by-step about recovering my throw pillows.

Step 1: Decide to recover
Step 2: Decide on a color or theme
Step 3: Decide to go to the fabric store
Etc, etc, etc…

This is my answer to keeping up with all those New Year’s goals. Yours may be different. The key concept is to find something that works for you. I’ll get back to you with a progress report later this year.

Here are a few more ideas to ponder. You can use one, two, all or none:

Rewrite your goals daily
Tell your goals to someone else
Align your goals with your dreams
Visualize
Use affirmations
Have only a few goals at a time
Take daily action
Track your progress
Celebrate milestones