Reducing Food Waste: Turning A Half-Eaten Apple Into Something Your Kids Will Eat

Reducing

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I have three children under eight, and they usually snack on fresh fruit. It’s not uncommon for me to find a half-eaten apple laying around the house or tucked away in the fridge. I estimate I find 4-5 of these half-eaten apples every month. 

We try to discourage being wasteful with food in this house and to be mindful of what we are using. While I try to encourage my kids to finish up or share with a sibling, I also don’t want them to eat past the point of hungry, and I wanted a solution other than sending a decent apple to the compost bin.

Yesterday I found a half-eaten apple in the fridge left by my 5 year old Miss E. I remembered reading about a solution in the Complete Tightwad Gazette years ago, and decided to give it a try.

Ingredients:

One half-eaten apple

1/2 tsp butter

1/8 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp water

First, I trimmed off the eaten part, and I peeled the skin off the usable part of the apple.

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I diced up the apple and put it in a microwavable bowl. I added the other ingredients and didn’t do anything to mix them up. Just dump them in!

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Microwave for one minute and stir.

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The verdict from Miss E: delicious!

Minding The Details: Calculating The Lifespan of the Products You Buy

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Back in 2010, I won my first Sam’s membership and a $50 gift card to Sam’s in a blog giveaway. I bought the mother lode of of dishwasher tablets, aluminum foil, garbage bags, and Ziploc Freezer Bags.

I still have not used all of those Ziploc bags. In fact, just yesterday I ran down to the basement and grabbed a box of gallon sized bags, noting I still have more left down there almost 6 years after I bought them.

One of my frugal strategies is to make things last as long as possible. When it comes to a disposable item like a Ziploc bag that costs me every time I use it, I try to use a reuseable as much as possible or get as much life out of the disposable as I can.

In the case of the Ziplocs, I use them to freeze meat, veggie stock, frozen beans, bread crumbs, and the occasional gifted garden surplus. Because we don’t have a garden and don’t each much meat at all, we go through them very slowly. I do reuse the Ziplocs that have not held meat, so those veggie stock, bread crumb, and bean bags get washed, dried, and reused. It does drive my husband a little crazy, as he does not see the point of the effort. “But look!”, I say, “We’ve had the same oversize box of gallon-sized Ziplocs since 2010!”

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This week, I bought parchment paper at Sam’s. I love parchment paper because it keeps my cookies from burning. I’m aware of Silicone baking mats, but I’ve been leery of buying them until they have been out for longer, mostly because they are made from more than silicone, and I’m waiting to see if they turn out to be the new Teflon or BPA. (This is not an evidence-based opinion, but a pure it’s-happened-before paranoia.)

My cookie sheets are 16 inches long, and I use 3 sheets when I make a batch of cookies. My Sam’s parchment paper has 164 feet of paper, or 1968 inches. 1968 inches divided by 48 inches of paper each time I make cookies makes 41 uses out of this roll.

Now, I make a batch of cookies about 2 times per month. 41 divided by 2 equals 20.5 months of use from this roll.

How can I extend this longer?

Simple, I can reuse my parchment paper more than once, as long as what I use it for is not super sticky or greasy. If I use each sheet 3 times, I can extend the life of this roll of parchment paper to 61.5 months, or Five Years.

I paid $4.97 for this roll. If I extend the life to 5 years then that is only paying $0.99/year for my baking needs.

Now, I know what you are thinking. What is the point? It’s just a piece of paper. It only costs 4 cents every time you pull a new sheet off the roll. The same goes for other things too. Are we using the minimum required for the job when we wash our hair, do laundry, or wash the pots and pans in the sink, or are we using two to three times what is necessary?

What do you use in a single day? Use 6 Ziploc bags in a lunch, 3 paper lunch bags, a sheet of parchment paper, 2 sheets of aluminum foil, 10 sheets of paper towels, 7 sheets of baby wipes (I used to reach for one to wipe the kids’ hands and faces), 2 sheets of Clorox wipes, 3 sheets of Saran Wrap to cover dinner’s leftovers, 3 supersized squirts of shampoo in the shower, 2 larger-than-manufacturer-recommended dollops of Tide in the washing machine- that’s $46.80 a month, or $561.60 per year.

It’s definitely important to look at the big money-wasters in your budget, like cable, a too-expensive car, and entertainment expenses, but the small things do add up too. For us, just changing our habits around disposable items adds up to enough for an extra mortgage payment every year or one credit hour of grad school tuition.

How do you avoid throwing pennies away?

Minding The Details: Getting A Smoke Smell Out of Secondhand Clothes

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My younger sister recently sold her house and moved into an apartment. When she was packing, she found a pair of black snow pants in a size 8 that used to belong to her stepson. They were in perfect condition, and The Boy will need size 8 pants next winter. Black is the perfect color to us, because it can be gender neutral, and we can then pass on his outgrown snow pants to both of his younger sisters.

The only problem: my sister is a heavy smoker, and smokes inside her house. The snow pants reeked of cigarette smoke. I tried washing with Tide and scented Downy, but the smell was still strong. I washed them a second time with vinegar, and that pesky smoke smell was still there.

I turned to the Facebook forum for the Non-Consumer Advocate blog and asked the experienced thrifters what they would do. Some suggested vinegar (tried and failed), several suggested that using fabric softener would make the smell more adherent (yikes!), a few suggested soaking in baking soda all day, then washing with Tide and vinegar, one suggested putting in a plastic bag with newspaper for a week, and quite a few recommended laying outside in the sun for a while.

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I ended up putting it in the washer on soak with a cup of baking soda. I left it in there all afternoon, then washed with Tide Free and a vinegar rinse. It was much decreased, but still had the tiniest tinge of a smell.

It is drizzling out today, but I laid it out on the deck to get some fresh air and hopefully get the last of the smoke stench out. After a few hours with Mother Nature- voila!- the smoke smell is 100% gone. Yes, it was damp, but it would have gotten damp in the washer anyway. I dried it in the drier and it is good to go. Snow pants at Target are usually about $20, and about $10 on Ebay or the kids’ consignment store, so this saved us at least $10.

Minding The Details: Are Beverages Killing Your Grocery Budget?

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I was bemoaning the cost of beer this week, when it occurred to me that even though I paid $7.99 for a 6 pack of Redd’s, I paid much more than that for all the beverages on my list combined.

I pulled out a few months of receipts and quickly did the math; I’ve been spending about $125 every month on drinks. That is more than a quarter of my $400 food budget.

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We are not soda drinkers. I have about 1-2 Cokes per month, and I prefer a fountain Coke from a drive-through. I only drink when I need to pull an all-nighter on a research paper or have to work a shift after being up with a kid all night. My husband won’t drink it and my kids have never had it. That Coke haul you see above was from my mother’s retirement party.

We do drink plenty of other things though. Our two younger kids drink milk and go through 3 gallons per week. We go through one half to one full gallon of orange juice, a half gallon of apple juice, and 4 quarts of vanilla soy milk every week. My husband drinks two pots of coffee every day ( no K-cups) and I drink 2-3 cups of black tea with half and half, bought loose leaf and brewed in a French press. My husband is the only alcohol-drinker in the house (I think it’s gross), and likes a beer 2-3 times per week. We go through a 6 pack every 2 weeks.

The truth is, water is the only beverage that is really a need, unless you are an infant or toddler who still needs formula or milk (assuming you can’t breastfeed), or have another medical need. In our house, we have a toddler and a child on a high-calorie diet who need whole milk, so those 3 gallons per week are not negotiable.

Everything else though? They are just luxuries.

Now, I’m not advocating never having a little luxury in your life ever, but if you are desperately in debt and can’t pay your bills, you need to take a long hard look at your beverage habits. We are not desperate or in debt by any means, but if I nixed everything but the milk I would only need to spend $300/month in groceries instead of $400.

When I was in nursing school, one of the ladies in my program was infamous for drinking a 12 pack of Coke every day. Between herself, her husband, and her kids, they went through two packs every day. That’s SIXTY 12-packs every month, and almost $200 every month, or $2400 per year.

Although that is an extreme case, I know many people who may spend just as much on craft beers, wine, energy drinks, K-cups, juice boxes, and Starbucks runs.

If you can’t meet your financial goals, and can’t seem to find any extra space in your budget, try putting yourself on a water-only protocol. It may give you the wiggle room you need.

As for us, we are doing well on $400/month and easily meeting our goals, so I don’t plan on decreasing these simple luxuries. It’s good to know that if disaster hits, however, we have some space for reducing costs without sacrificing nutrition.

Minding The Details: Using Ebates To Boost Your Discount

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This post contains affiliate links that help support Frugal Stepping Stones. All opinions are my own, and I received no compensation to write this post.

When I shop in a brick and mortar store, I try and get the lowest price possible by waiting to combine a sale price with a coupon. This takes a little math to figure out, but thankfully it’s just a little arithmetic.

For example, in the past I have gotten Cheerios for $0.50 per box by combining a sale price of $1.50 with a $1 off coupon.

This same principle works when shopping online. Instead of a paper coupon, you might use one coupon code for a percentage off the price, another code for free shipping, and then use yet a third method to get cash back after the purchase. Many credit cards offer cash back on purchases (for example, Discover), and sometimes offer enhanced cash back percentages if you shop through retailer links on your card’s website portal.

There are other methods of getting cash back from shopping online, and Ebates is the site I most frequently use, as they also show a listing of available online coupon codes for each store, automatically adding those codes at checkout and saving you that step.

This time of year is a great time for larger than usual cash back percentages to combine with holiday sales.

Today, Amazon was offering coats for up to 75% off. Ebates is offering 6% cash back for women’s clothes on Amazon, and my Discover is offering 5% cash back on anything bought on Amazon the last 3 months of this year. Combining cash back from both Discover and Ebates will bring an extra percentage off the price on the back end. If you are already saving 75% in a sale, that brings you an additional discount.

Keep in mind, the cash back percentage is based on the price you paid, not the original price, so it is not going to be an additional 11% off the original price.

To make it a little clearer:

Woman’s coat on Amazon, regular price: $100

Price after 60% sale: $40

Discover card 5% cash back of $40 paid: $2

Ebates 6% cash back of $40 paid: $2.40

Out of pocket after sale and cash back: $35.60- or around an additional 4.5% off the original $100 price.

Ebates sends you an actual physical check with your cash back, and they send one on a quarterly basis. I have been using them for years, and never had an issue receiving a check.

You can choose to pocket your cash back and roll it back into the portion of your budget it came from, or you can do what I do: put it right in savings toward a savings goal. I check our priority list and decide what to do with it. I have a check coming in February, and it will probably go towards my April tuition bill.

Minding The Details: Financial Priorities

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Part of my “plan today, or plan to fail” approach involves prioritizing. With the money coming in, where are the most important places to put it? What gets first dibs on that cash, and what is the least important spending category?

As a nurse, I am well-practiced at prioritizing. I would start my day gathering information through start of shift report, gather assessment data, then make a list in my pocket notebook of the problems I needed to solve for my shift. The most important pressing needs got first dibs on my time (can’t breathe? bad heart rhythm? crucial medication? pain?), and fires that popped up during the day meant an instant reshuffling of rank order in my mind. That antacid order doesn’t matter as much when the patient suddenly starts dying.

When it comes to financial planning, priority matters too. If you have crushing debt from high interest credit cards, can’t afford food and school fees, and are in danger of losing your housing, you are in need of financial CPR. Surviving is your focus, and should be priority number one. If you are just beginning learning to prioritize, I think Dave Ramsey gives very solid advice about what to prioritize first.

Mr Thrifty and I have never had credit card debt in our marriage. We’re in a place  where we have paid off all vehicle loans and student loans, only owe our mortgage, have a 5-6 month emergency fund, and now have our sights set on bigger goals. Our work income easily covers our basic needs, and we choose to live frugally to try and meet those bigger goals.

Our priorities now are :

  1. Maintain emergency fund. (Why is this #1 when it is already complete? If we have an emergency that depletes this in any way, filling it back up becomes the first priority.)
  2. Minimum 15% gross income in retirement, including maximum allowed amounts in tax-advantaged Roth IRAs.
  3. Pay cash for my graduate education. (Why is this #3 instead of #2? Because we can’t retroactively go back and fund two years we would have missed in those tax-advantaged retirement accounts.) We save in 3 months increments, then go on to #4.
  4. Extra house payment. We calculated if we pay $500/month extra on our mortgage starting January 1st, we can have it paid off by 2025. (Once we hit the extra $500 in our monthly payment, we go on to Priority #5).
  5. Save towards the $40-45,000 Great House Overhaul (roof, windows, HVAC, fence).
  6. 2017 Disney trip. We plan on doing Disney when I have graduated. This is 20-22 months away. I’m not sure yet how much to budget, but this is the only time we plan on ever going, and want to make an extended trip. We are driving down in our van. I’m anticipating $3K tops.
  7. Car replacement fund. My husband’s car will need replacing in 3-5 years, and we want to be prepared and pay cash. We want to have $15K socked away.
  8. Early retirement investments.

When circumstances change, priorities can change too. Once January of 2017 hits, my last school payment will be in, and we can start funneling funds to other priorities more easily. Once the house overhaul is complete, we fund Disney, etc.

Priorities can help you plan what is expected to come in, but can also make handling a windfall that much easier. Just this week, we learned we will be receiving an unexpected windfall. Because Priority 1 is already fulfilled, we knew immediately that it would be earmarked for Priority 2, our Roths. Our windfall ended up being exactly what we needed to bring our Roth funds to 100%.

Not only are our finances easier to handle with prioritization, but it makes our marriage easier. We have never argued about money once in our relationship. We make the decisions as a team, and either stick to them or renegotiate. There were exactly zero arguments about getting a new TV or taking a trip after our windfall, because we already had had a level-headed meeting long in advance that determined where to put every penny.

 

Minding The Details: Ibotta App

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I have avoided coupon apps that can be used with a smartphone, mostly because I am highly likely to forget that I have a coupon in my phone. Nine times out of ten, I will go through the checkout without using a phone coupon.

I really just do better with a written list and coupons in my coupon envelope. If I use digital coupons connected to my shopping card, it works out fine, because I just put the item on my list, and everything automatically happens at the checkout.

My friend Jen convinced me to try the Ibotta app this week, so I thought I would give it a whirl. I figured I could try it for 2 weeks, see if it was a pain, and I could always uninstall it.

I did not change my menu planning or shopping, other than to take note of match-ups that had an extra boost from an Ibotta rebate. If it was something I needed this week or for my stockpile and was an acceptable price, I added it to my list.

I only thought I would have a couple things for the rebate, but when I came home and used the app, I saw several of the fruits, vegetables, milk, and bread were available for rebate, without any specific brand needed.

I had to first redeem each product by answering a question or watching a short video. I just let the video play while I did other things. They seem to last about 30 seconds. Hint: multitask on the computer while doing this. Then I had to scan the bar codes of the products with bar codes and take a picture of my receipt. This required two pictures due to the length of my receipt.

Everything was then submitted, and I have to wait a day or so for approval of my receipt. The fruits and veggies I submitted for rebate must show up on the store receipts to be eligible for rebates. My rebate was $3, and I got the OK that my rebate was approved within about 3 hours of uploading.

All in all, it took me about 15 minutes to scan everything, unlock the rebates, and photograph my receipt. It wasn’t that bad, and as long as my rebate shows up OK, I will keep using it.

If you want to try it yourself, my referral link is here. Disclosure: I wasn’t paid for this review, but if you choose to use my referral link, I might get referral credit, just so that you know. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do though! You do have to have a smartphone for this to work.

Minding The Details: Pioneer Day Cornbread for $0.90

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My son is in second grade, and is in public school. We go through the same holiday activities and special class events that you have in any school. My mother always had to work when I was a kid and usually couldn’t volunteer as a room mother, so it’s important to me, now that I am home, to volunteer for school activities whenever I can.

For Halloween, I volunteered to bring the food for the class party, and that meant juice boxes, treat bags (I chose small goldfish packs, candy corn, and Halloween Oreos), and clementine oranges with celery stems to look like pumpkins. I was able to divide one pack of Oreos, half a bag of candy corn, and a large bag of goldfish among 22 kids. Everyone got goldfish, and some bags had cookies and other candy corn, so kids could choose the treat.

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I was able to get the treat bags, plates, and napkins that morning for 70% off at Jo-Ann Fabrics, and juice boxes were buy two get one free at Target. I also spent $5  on green tape and googly eyes to make some Frankenstein juice boxes. I have a ton of tape and eyes left over, so I think it will last another 3 or 4 Halloweens.

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I probably spent about $30 on feeding the class that day.  I am happy the kids loved it, but I do not want to drop a wad of cash like that this month, especially since in the past two days, we’ve paid $700 in medical bills.

We got a notice in the home folder this week that the kids will be having Pioneer Days right before Thanksgiving.  The kids are encouraged to dress up, but I shouldn’t need to spend anything on dressing up: we will send the boy in jeans, dad’s suspenders, a flannel, and boots.

The kids will also have a “Pioneer Feast”, and the class needs parent volunteers to provide the feast. They are asking for apple juice boxes, corn bread, apples, beef jerky, beef stew (Dinty Moore Beef Stew- ew!), plus pie tins and forks as tableware. They need enough for 25.

I emailed as soon as I got the letter and volunteered to make corn bread. I will need to make three 9 x 9 pans to serve 25 pieces, and if I use this recipe from Fake-It Frugal, it will only cost me $0.90 of ingredients in my pantry to make it!

If you want to try another one of her recipes, I have used her dairy-free scratch brownie mix for years (a 9 x 9 pan is $0.30), and have always gotten compliments.

Minding The Details: How To Search For Coupons

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Now that we know in the short term we will have to be buying some liquid nutrition products for one of our children, I have been hunting around to find ways to reduce those costs.

Because I shared our experience on my blog,  my friend Jenn reached our today and offered me some leftover cans of Pediasure they no longer need. It was much appreciated! Thanks Jenn!

I keep our weekly Smartsource and Red Plum coupons in binders, so I have quick and easy access, should I need one. Each type has its own binder, and I staple each insert, write its date on the top page, and file by month.

Now, there is no way I have time to search through every coupon in these binders to try and find one for Ensure. Luckily, someone else has done the work, and there are plenty of coupon databases you can use on the internet. My go-to database belongs to the Money Saving Mom site.  I like this database because it will show not only newspaper coupons, but any ones available to print on the internet.

There are other databases, so you may want to bookmark a few and check more than one, in case someone found another source your primary database missed.

When I checked, I found there is a Smartsource coupon from 10/4/15 for $2 off 2 multipacks, as well as a $3 off 2 printable from the manufacturer’s website.

I was able to print off 2 coupons from the manufacturer, and put out a call to friends to see if any fellow couponers have extra coupons from 10/4.  Sharing with friends is a great way to get extra coupons- just be sure to return the favor in the future!

Minding The Details: Cheap Glasses

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I have needed glasses since I was 18. I can’t wear contacts thanks to severely dry eyes, but I am happy to embrace my inner nerd and sport some specs. I’ve been lucky that my prescription hasn’t changed very often, so I have only replaced my glasses about every 3 years.

The last time I needed new glasses was in 2013, right before I became pregnant with the toddler. I used to have a pair of prescription sunglasses, but my prescription has changed so much that I can’t wear them anymore without acting like Mr. Magoo. I was really hoping to get some cheap, reliable glasses, a backup pair (in case one of my kids breaks them),  and some sunglasses to boot.

Our insurance company has better glasses benefits this year. They were willing to pay for up to $250 for frames and lenses. I opted for a free pair for my normal pair. I crowdsourced some ideas on Facebook for online glasses, and came up with two options:  Zenni Optical and Eyebuydirect.

Zenni has glasses for as low as $6.95, and can make any pair clip on sunglasses for a few dollars more. Eyebuydirect has cute modern styles, but is a little pricier than Zenni. They did have a nice selection of sunglasses too.

We had a budget of $150, so I decided to buy one pair of glasses with clip-on sunglasses from Zenni (a $6.95 pair), and a pair of hipster glasses and a pair of sunglasses from Eyebuydirect. I spent $145 in all for 4 pairs.

I got them both in the mail last week, and I am happy with all of them. The Zenni pair was somewhat thin plastic frames, but don’t seem too fragile. The glasses from Eyebuydircet seem to be equivalent in quality to what I have gotten at the eye doctor all these years. I am loving the sunglasses.

Everything went smoothly, and it was easy to order, I just had to make sure when my eye doctor printed the script, they also gave my pupillary distance. You can also print out a how-to and measure it yourself, but I found it easier to just tell my doctor up front when I went in for my exam.

I admit, finding a good fit and the right shape would have been difficult if I wasn’t familiar with what looked good on me already. I did take measurements of my face and was able to find glasses that would fit best, using each site’s search filters. I have a petite frame, and have bought children’s glasses in the past. Zenni had fewer options for very small-boned women, but I was able to find several pairs that could work in my size. I did have more options on Eyebuydirect.

If you have never had glasses before, I would recommend going somewhere and trying some on before buying any from the internet.

If our insurance ever cuts back on the glasses coverage, I’d be happy with buying from both of these places in the future.