Monthly Archives: June 2008

When worlds collide

My friend Troy snapped this gem recently.  It speaks volumes.

How the mighty have fallen.


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Rough times: just what we needed?

In one of my past careers years ago, I worked for a small company which also employed a delightful retired gentleman. He worked as a courier, making deliveries and pick-ups between our two stores and various local vendors and customers. In his working life, he had been a barber, and even well into his eighties his hands were rock-steady; out of love and friendship, he treated my bosses to free haircuts.

John had been around for most of the 20th century–  born during World War I, came of age during the Great Depression, and served in World War II. I always respected his wisdom, as crude as it might sometimes be.

Like many people who lived through the Great Depression, John had a very conservative attitude towards finances. He always deplored wastefulness, valued self-reliance, and saved every penny he could. John saw his beloved nation slipping out of control with greed and consumerism. He often told me that America badly needed a serious wake-up call:

“Sweetheart, what this country needs is another Great Depression. It’ll teach people how to live right.”

While I certainly hope things don’t ever get that bad again, I have to acknowledge the truth in his commentary. Many people do change their habits when times get tough. In the past few months, as our economy has gone into a recession, the lifestyle climate has definitely changed. Frugality, thrift, and self-sufficiency are definitely becoming hot topics these days.

I have to wonder, though: will a shift towards frugality last, or will it just be a temporary response to the economy? Will the scars need to cut as deeply into our consciousness as a full-blown Depression in order to create lasting change? Do we even want that?


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Filed under budget, frugal, money management, saving

Salvaging kitchen blunders

This past weekend, I whipped up three pans of cornbread for a cookout.

Somehow, instead of tripling the recipe, I guess I only doubled it. This resulted in three very hard, thin pans of cornbread. I couldn’t serve this dry crummy mess to humans.

Luckily, I had enough ingredients on hand to re-do it correctly. The second time was a charm, with three pans of big thick moist cornbread.

But what to do with the failed batch? It was really inedible, but I couldn’t bear throwing it away. How wasteful. At the very least, I figured  I could feed it to the birds and squirrels.

But wait. I did a quick google search for “hard stale cornbread recipes”… and eventually came up with a recipe for banana-caramel cornbread pudding. Score!

I made it tonight (omitting the bananas because I’m not a fan), and it is fabulous.

“Waste not, want not,” as my dear old mom used to say. It’s amazing what you can do with leftovers and outright blunders when you use a little ingenuity.


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Building a better blog: going a little “meta” today

I read a lot of blogs.  The endless variety of personalities, passions, and areas of expertise is truly staggering. That’s why I enjoy blogging– as a blogger and as a reader– so much. I get a great deal of pleasure from watching other people geek out on their passions… and I learn a lot.

That said, I also tend to be a stickler for spelling and grammar. Some days, I think my head will explode when I stress over the dozens of careless typos and outrageous linguistic blunders I come across in the blogosphere.

I admit to being very casual about certain areas of grammar, such as paragraph structure and punctuation. I make my share of mistakes, and will be the first to admit I’m only 98% perfect. What I’m pointing out elsewhere in the blogosphere, though, are some seriously bone-headed blunders and linguistic disasters.

Now, there are Writers and there are Bloggers. Writers often blog, but Bloggers very rarely Write. You can immediately distinguish a Writer from a Blogger. Writers write because they must; Bloggers blog because they can. There are plenty of hacks in both camps, but it’s easy to sort them out.

To Writers hoping to parlay their blogs into book deals, I would recommend making more of an effort to edit and polish your online work. Yes, there are editors and proofreaders and other lackeys to handle that unpleasantness once you sign your contract and get your big fat advance check. But why not make your best possible impression from the start?  That said, I usually cut some major slack regarding typos if the writing is good enough. A certain rawness can be overlooked in some cases.

However, when a blogger is clearly presenting him/herself as an expert in some field (and possibly earning income from their blog), I find it very difficult to overlook mistakes. A part of me actually begins to discredit the content of the blog.

If a blogger doesn’t even know the difference between “there”, “their” and “they’re”, what else might he or she be getting wrong?

You may argue that the ideas and information are far more important than the spelling and grammar used to express them. I happen to disagree. If you’re presenting yourself as an expert, then you owe your readers a higher degree of professionalism in your writing. Many of your readers might not notice the language mistakes, but the ones who do may certainly think twice about trusting your expert advice. I warn you, we are snobs, and we will question your authority.

Frugality often requires cutting corners and making do with less. Just make sure you’re not cutting corners on and lessening your professional image.


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The vague gourmet: Lentil-veggie burgers

I made the absolutely yummiest veggie burgers last night!

Of course I wanted to share the recipe– it’s a super-tasty, inexpensive, low-fat alternative to prepared veggie burgers. Unfortunately, I cook by the “little of this, little of that” method and lost track of the actual amounts. I tried to trace my steps as carefully as possible.


1 cup of granular TVP (textured vegetable protein)

1 cup dry red lentils, sorted and rinsed

2-3/4 cups of water

1 vegetable boullion cube

2 eggs, well-beaten

3/4 (?) cup of bread crumbs

onion powder

garlic powder

salt and pepper

1.  PREHEAT OVEN TO 375 degrees.

2.  Put TVP, lentils, boullion and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil on medium-high heat, then lower heat to low. Simmer for about 15 minutes until most of water is absorbed.

3.  Let TVP-lentil mixture cool to room temperature and place in a large mixing bowl. This will keep the eggs from starting to cook in step 4. (If you’re in a hurry,  dump the whole mess into a fine-mesh sieve. Run cold water over TVP-lentil mix and drain well before putting it in the mixing bowl. You’ll need to add extra seasoning in step 5).

4.   Stir beaten eggs into the TVP-lentil mix.

5.   Add seasonings, mix well.

6.   Mix in breadcrumbs. Start with 3/4 cup, and add more as needed. Shouldn’t need more than one cup. It should be a very moist and sticky mixture– not too dense, not too loose.

7.   Spray a large baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Form about 10 good-sized burgers, about 3/4 of an inch thick and 3 inches across. Carefully place burgers on baking sheet as you form them. Spritz the top-sides of the burgesr with more cooking spray. The uncooked burgers will be pretty moist and gooey, but the burgers will firm up a bit while baking.

8.  Bake for 15-20 minutes. Turn them over, and bake for another 15-20 minutes. They’ll be nicely browned and crispy on the outside, but wonderfully moist on the inside. Makes about 10 generous-sized burgers.

Serve on a hamburger bun with all the fixings. Or you can serve them with the dipping condiments of your choice– ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, etc. Even with brown gravy and mashed potatoes, this can be salisbury-steak type dish!


  • High-protein
  • High-fiber
  • Low-fat
  • Low-cost
  • Highly delicious

What more could you want?


  • For color and variety, throw in some finely-chopped vegetables, such as onions, peppers or mushrooms.
  • Any special seasonings or spices you like can be used. There are no real rules.
  • In step 2, stir in half a capful of Gravy Master for a darker, more authentic meat-like color.


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Coupons: Just cut it out

This will probably ruffle a few frugal feathers out there, but I have to say it.

For the most part, I don’t find manufacturer’s coupons very useful at all.

Success with coupon-clipping really depends on the mix of products you buy regularly.

With the exception of health and beauty products, I rarely find coupons for things I buy.  For things like shampoo, hair color (ahem… oh yes, I’m a natural blonde), and toothpaste though, I score big. Coupons + Wal*Mart = huge savings.

But as for food? Not so much.

I buy a lot of store brands, which (with a few exceptions) are just as good as the name-brands.

Most store brands are actually manufactured by the name brand company! Same stuff, less packaging fanfare. Not only that, though. Even when you have a coupon for the name brand, the store brand at regular price will almost always be a better deal. Always check the store brand.

Most of the coupons I come across are for things I don’t want or need.

They usually promote some brand-new product that is 3OP– Overly-Packaged, Overly-Processed and Overly-Priced.  Food manufacturers are in a frenzy these days to maximize profits by creating as many different new package configurations as possible. Keep in mind that 100-calorie packs, individual servings in itty-bitty plastic containers, microwave-in-the-bag veggies, anything labeled “To-Go” or “Ready” will jack the price upwards of 279%!

I stock my pantry with a lot of bulk dry goods, like beans, rice, and TVP (textured vegetable protein). While prices are going up, these basic commodities will almost always be less expensive than their prepared, processed, packaged counterparts. If you buy prepared rice, for example, you’re paying extra for the water they used to dehydrate the rice. I’ve never seen coupons for any of these things, but they’re priced reasonably enough every day.

Farmer’s markets are great for saving big money on fresh locally-grown fruits and vegetables. As with bulk goods, you probably won’t find coupons for these things, but they are usually priced very reasonably. And even if they’re a little more expensive than your grocery store, you may decide it’s worth it to pay a little more for super-freshness.

You have to do the math if you really want to figure out what’s a good deal and what isn’t.

For example, the big 18-ounce box of Goldfish crackers at regular price is a vastly better deal than a box of the 100-calorie packs at virtually any coupon discount. Figure out the per-serving cost, and you’ll always score. (Yes, we will use this math stuff later in life.)

Coupons are best used on products you need, want, and/or regularly use.

Saving fifty cents on something you didn’t need in the first place is just silly. Don’t get caught up in the “I saved fifty cents by spending four dollars on this thing I don’t need!” If you don’t buy it at all, you’ll save four dollars and fifty cents! Wow, you’re a great shopper!


Filed under food, frugal, groceries, saving, shopping, Uncategorized

Shopping online without a credit card

As I’ve made the lifestyle shift to operating on a strictly cash basis, I’ve learned plenty about navigating through the world without a credit card.

Worried that you’ll miss out on great online deals because you don’t have/use a credit card?

The fact is, you CAN shop online without a credit card. The trick is, you need to have the cash to afford what you want to buy. (There’s always a catch, isn’t there?)

Here are a few options for safe online shopping… without a credit card.


Paypal is an internet service that allows you to make payments online. Ebay owns Paypal, so I consider it a solid and reputable . Aside from ebay, many other websites also accept Paypal for online purchases.

Paypal is basically an online bank account that is linked to your primary bankaccount(s). You transfer money from, for example, your checking account to your Paypal account, and then Paypal will release funds at your request to the online merchant(s) you do business with.

Unfortunately, Paypal has been targeted by phishing scammers who attempt to access customer bank accounts. If you get an email from Paypal that requests log-in information such as your password, NEVER give out that information! Don’t click on any links in Paypal emails, even if they seem legitimate. Always open a new tab/window and type in paypal’s web address.


These handy cards can be purchased in various denominations (such as $25, $50, $100) and used just like any gift card. But unlike a store gift card, they can be used anywhere that accepts Visa. They are especially handy for shopping online– they have the familiar 16-digit card number and expiration date. You are, of course, limited to the face value of the card. Remember that a giftcard is as good as cash, so protect it as such!

I buy all my college textbooks on (at a staggering discount), using pre-paid Visa giftcards. For just three of my classes, I saved almost $200 over the school bookstore!

You can also get a pre-paid Visa card from banks, credit unions, and other places such as Wal-Mart. You load money onto the card, and then it is available for purchases.

The reloadable Wal-Mart Money Card is a super alternative to the cards with fixed denominations, as I have recently posted here.

Still other bank-issued pre-paid Visa cards can be custom-imprinted with your name, and the activity on your card will appear on your credit report. There may be some extra consumer protection with this card, but I’ve had no problem using Visa giftcards.

With pre-paid Visa cards, you will usually pay a fee. A $50 card might cost you $53.95, for example, and a $100 card might cost $105.95. The $100 card is a slightly better value at $105.95, since two $50 cards would cost you  $107.90.

Of course, always protect your Visa giftcards and keep them in a secure place– they’re as good as cash to anyone else who might find them.


Debit cards can be used for purchases on virtually any website. You enter your debit card information directly from the card, just like a credit card.

Your debit card is linked to your checking account, so you are of course limited to the amount of money you have in your account. Think about it: you would have to write a check to the credit card company (hopefully) at the end of the month anyway, so use your debit card and save yourself the extra work.

It’s important to know that debit cards are just as safe as credit cards, despite what the credit card merchants would like you to know.

Personal finance author Dave Ramsey has written some excellent articles about debit cards, such as:

The Basics of Your Debit Card

There are ways of living in the world without incurring credit card debt. Hurray for cash!


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Filed under cash basis, credit cards, money management, shopping