Category Archives: saving money

How to make brown rice — UPDATE

I’m always messing about with cooking — who knows, tweaking a bit might make it better, right?

This version makes rice that is fluffy and less starchy, which brings out the nutty flavor of the rice.

  • 1 cup of brown rice, rinsed and drained (removes excess starch)*
  • Bring 2.5 cups of water to a boil in a covered pot before adding the rice.*  Set a kitchen timer for five minutes and head off to open mail or tidy up.
  • Once the water boils, add the rice and give the pot a shake to distribute the rice evenly.*
  • Leave the lid almost closed, but with a little space to vent (or the rice will foam and create a mess)
  • Set the timer for 25 minutes and go live a little.
  • When the water is at the same level as the top of the rice, turn off the heat, close the lid and walk away for another 15 minutes.
  • Fluff and enjoy.  Makes about 3 cups.

*These are the only steps that differ from my original post, but oh, they make a difference.  In the first post, the rice goes from the bag to the pot of water before heating it all to a boil.  The result is more starchy, sticky rice (which is nice if you prefer it that way, or are making sushi).

 

12 tips to save you money on groceries

My mother used to use one of these and I LOVED it as a kid.  Alas, it only goes to 10 or 20 bucks!

My mother used to use one of these at the grocery store and I LOVED it as a kid. Alas, it only goes to 10 or 20 bucks!

Lately I’ve been taking greater care to stay on a grocery budget, and the process has been quite enlightening.  Though I never went hog-wild buying cartloads of groceries, I often found myself buying things in advance that we didn’t yet need, or lots of one thing, like fruit, without thinking about how much bread and protein foods we would need later in the week.  In other words, I wasn’t planning well, despite having a list.

Here are some tips that helped me:

1. Keep track of the bill as you shop.  I kept my list and my cell phone together and entered each item in the phone’s calculator.  It’s a pain when the calculator accidentally zeros out on you once in a while, but after entering the prices of everything for a few weeks, I found that I can look at the list and very closely estimate the cost before I shop.  If I have 10 things on the list and I know they will come to about $30, I know how to estimate from there if I decide to add ice cream as an impulse purchase — or decide that this week, I really shouldn’t.

2. Know your prices.  I know what yogurt, tofu, beans, and even some chips cost at every market where we shop.  If there’s a sale on yogurt or canned beans, I’m all over it because that’s two items we eat nearly every day.  Be careful about package size — sometimes an item will cost the same amount at Trader Joe’s as it does at Costco, but at Costco you get twice as much.  Which is great ONLY if you will consume twice as much.  Here’s an example: Costco has 6 heads of conventionally grown baby Romaine lettuce for $2.99 — the price for three organic heads of baby Romaine at Trader Joe’s.  I like organic, but when money’s tight, sometimes we do without.  If you’re a family of four, it’s 100 degrees outside and you’re eating salad until November, this is awesome.  If you live alone and don’t have a herd of pet rabbits, it doesn’t work at all.

3. Keep track of what you spend.  Our weekly budget for groceries is $150 (covers 63 meals for we three).  I have an Excel sheet divided into four weeks and I enter each receipt to keep track of the week’s total (along with everything else we spend).  A simple memo pad where you can jot down the amount for each trip will help you keep track, or you can use the Evernote app.  But if you shop in more than one place you need to find somewhere to record what you spent at Ralph’s or Whole Foods before you hit Costco, Walmart or Target and blow the budget completely.

4. Pay cash.  Nothing forces you to stick to the budget more than seeing the greenbacks visibly leave your hand.

Continue reading

Small change #12: Give away some small change

How about some small change for someone else?

A couple of weeks ago a Boy Scout troop came by with some grocery bags with a little note asking if we could fill the bag with a few groceries to help people seeking help through MEND (Meet Each Need with Dignity).

I filled the bag with chili, beans, Trader Joe’s version of Cheerios, and a couple of kinds of pasta.  I spent about $10.

Why not buy 1-2 staples for food pantry near you or send a check for the equivalent, remembering that even $5 every so often helps a lot.  Continue reading

Small change #11 Split dessert the selfish way

When we dine out and the server delivers dessert in the form of 1/4 of a pie, we have a tendency to abdicate responsibility for our ability to finish whatever is put in front of us (“I didn’t put that on the plate, I’m just the lucky recipient!”).   In fact, this is part of the reason many people enjoy dining in restaurants.

It’s probably a good idea to split dessert.  The caveat: Never share a plate. That thing where they deliver the enormous slab of cake and 4 forks inevitably leads to an eating contest to get the delicate sliver at the tip, then the icing off the back…you get the picture.

Ask for your own plate, or to have the thing pre-split.  Tell the server you aren’t good at sharing.  They always seem to believe me when I say it..

If your partner eats like a raptor and goes after yours, you can always stab at him/her a little with your fork, though I don’t recommend this on a first date (unless there won’t be a second date or they seem litigious about being assaulted with a fork).

What?  You are eating with someone on some diet who doesn’t want dessert or is just not really human and doesn’t have a sweet tooth?  Don’t forgo dessert because of them.  Order dessert and ask to have it split, with the other half placed in a to-go container.  Tomorrow there will be more dessert for you! If, while you enjoy your guilt-free serving, you notice sad-doggy looks, they won’t belong to your happy face.

Always leave a good tip for a server who goes the extra mile.  They’ll be thrilled to help you get that torte into a to go container next time.

Small change #9: One less sugary drink

If you don’t drink sugary drinks, don’t walk away just yet.  What about the sugar in your coffee or tea or iced tea?  Not you?  Okay, now you can walk away.

If you drink sugary drinks — Gatorade, Frappuccinos, etc.  this would be one of the easiest things you could do to lose weight and become healthier.

I’ve had students who drink 5 sugary drinks a day.  To them I say: Make it 4.  Maybe work down to 1 a day over time.

If you drink coffee and you add cream and sugar each time, it adds up.  And don’t EVER use that powdery creamer crap — it’s got trans fat that will raise your LDL cholesterol and lower your HDL cholesterol.  It’s rubbish.  It will hurt your heart.  You’re better off with cream.

Have one coffee a day with all that crap loaded in, and after that, pace yourself.  A little artificial sweetener and a bare minimum of cream for the rest, and cut down wherever possible.

Drink water.  By the time you register thirst, you’re already a little dehydrated.  Try out herbal teas and let them cool a little so you have a little flavor in your water.  Give a few berries a light squeeze, then throw them into your water and it helps also.

Gatorade is for athletes working out over an hour doing vigorous exercise.  It isn’t for watching the game.  Also, it tastes like blue sweat, so what is all that?!

Be mindful of the sugary stuff.  Split a frappuccino with a friend (bring a cup with you do this — save money too!).  If you do more than one a day (forehead slap), drink half and put the other half in the fridge for later.  Do what you can to cut back and you will see that you are less hungry because your insulin levels won’t spike through the ceiling, then crash down leaving you starving.

DO eat something to make up for the sugar when you cut back.  I don’t mean just lettuce either.  A few nuts, a yogurt if you haven’t head one already (provided that it’s Greek and less sugary over all — less than 16 g) — these will keep you fuller longer than a Coke or a Slurpee.

Small change #7: Pack a meal or snack — or both, then achieve balance

Of course you’re busy, I know that.  Do this at night: Pack like your very best self.  You know, what you would pack a kid you wanted to keep healthy.  A sandwich and fruit and a few chips (a few chips means what the recommended serving says).  A salad with beans or a little chicken or something over the top, with carrot and cucumber and a little — 1 Tbsp — container of REAL dressing (not the fat free crap).

Snacks: Carrots with a bit of hummus, or even pretzels with a bit of hummus. A small handful of peanuts and raisins.  A small bag of chips.  And apple or banana.  Or a few.  Don’t be afraid to pack a lot of fruits and vegetables — that’s not what’s bringing this country down, you know?  A little dried fruit sometimes helps a sweet tooth.  A lot will give you diarrhea and well, a lot of gas, so be careful out there.

Do as little or as much of the above as you can.  If you only have time to lay out a little trail mix in a bag and grab that, it’s fine.  But if you can grab a few Cuties (little oranges or clementines or whatever those amazing little things are) or something that will quench your hunger, that will go a long way later when  want something to eat while you’re in front of the computer.  You won’t think it will work, but when you’re hungry you’ll eat it anyway and then be surprised when it does work.

If you need something to eat while you’re busy, make it fruit or a vegetable with a little protein (a cube of cheese — not a BLOCK of cheese, but one the size of a couple of dice), or a few nuts (5 almonds, for example), which will keep you from gnawing your hand off or raiding the doughnut box before lunch.

Make sure lunch, if you pack it, is satisfying.  it’s better to have a little of something you love than a lot of something you don’t.  One slice of that leftover pizza with a bit of salad if you can’t take the idea of just salad for lunch for example.  Or bring a little salad, eat it FIRST, then go get the kid’s size burger from fast food if that’s what you live for (skip the fries, or get a size smaller than what you normally buy.  You usually get small?  Share or throw half away.  Or ignore me and just bring the salad!).  You see?

If you work a little bit of fruit and perhaps a vegetable in there, you will eat less of the stuff you love and still get to have it — just not all at once.  The best way to do that is to pack something and be ready so you don’t raid vending machines or head for sugary drinks at the coffee place nearby.

If you like all of that, pace yourself.  Pack a lunch and allow yourself the sugary drink once a week, the vending machine once a week, and the burger once a week.  Just not all at once.  It will feel painless but it makes a LARGE difference over time.

Diet for 2013, Pt. 4

Happy New Year everyone!

Okay, this is probably it for now….Back to the Do’s, which seem a little more life affirming, and a few resources:

Do:

Buy clothing in your current size and get rid of the rest.  Don’t save clothing for your goal weight.  When you get there, buy yourself a few new things and cut the crap; it’s going to be a while, and you need to feel good NOW.  Feeling good now will help you stay focused.  I never thought to do this for a long time but when I finally did people complimented my clothes, and when I looked in the  mirror I felt better about myself.  That was 30 pounds and well over 10 years ago, but it still applies.  Taking care of yourself, looking your best is a must do.  It should be first on your list of things to do, so I’ve left it down here near the end of these posts where you’ll remember it.

Reward yourself.  But not with food!  Take a buck or whatever you can afford, put it aside for each day you do a better than worse.  Make a goal – little or big — Disneyland, vacation, movies, dinner or coffee and a walk with a friend, a new book or video game you’ve been wanting, perhaps a new pair of jeans?  How about the gift of TIME to do whatever you want?  Just not food.  Soothe yourself some other way. Continue reading