December 2009 Archives

Lighten your load

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It's easy to accumulate stuff in your car. While I consider it prudent to carry some emergency gear, keep in mind that an extra 100 lbs. can reduce your gas mileage by 2%. Over time, that adds up.

(After today, Frugal Culture is going on vacation for a week. See you New Year's Day!)

Care and feeding of rechargeable batteries

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Our friend Sumana posted an excellent reminder that, when dealing with the Lithium ion batteries in many modern gadgets like laptops and cellphones, everything you knew about extending their lifetime from dealing with NiCad rechargeables is wrong.

With NiCad, running it down to nothing before recharging is a feature (with NiMH there seems to be wide agreement that it's less important than with NiCad, but there's a lot of argument about how important it is.)

With Li-ion, running it down to nothing will shorten the battery's lifetime.

Milspec shoelaces

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This is one of my silly extreme money-saving tips. I got sick of shoelaces ripping, so for anything that can accommodate something of bootlace thickness, I now use parachute cord. A ridiculous amount of it cost only about the same as a few pairs of shoelaces, and the laces will probably last longer than I will.

Oven Maximizing

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Yesterday when I was preheating my pizza stone for the requisite one hour, I baked a quiche. It's something I do a lot especially in the winter, multitasking my oven for multiple baking projects.

The hour-long pizza stone preheating time drove me crazy at first, especially because at 450 degrees, it makes for a very hot kitchen to boot. Then I realized I could actually take advantage of that hour, to roast beets (40 minutes), garlic (ditto), or potatoes. I dial down the temperature to the actual temp the things should bake and turn it up to 450 for the balance.

The other day I baked zucchini bread while baking a tofurky because both took over an hour to bake. Yeah for efficiency and economizing!

Time shifting

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We've always taken the broadest possible view of frugality. Frugality is avoiding waste as you pursue a life consistent with your values. While we usually talk about saving money, there are lots of other forms of waste. You can waste your time, your energy, your attention.

I discussed avoiding advertising in Hannibal Lecter's frugality advice way back in February. Here's one small application of that that saves time, too: watching TV live is for chumps, when you have the alternative.

Well, okay, if you really want to see something as soon as possible, and don't want any chance of the end being spoiled, then maybe watching live is the right choice. But for the rest of the time, don't let Mr. Rogers' testimony have been in vain. You can watch TV on your schedule, beginning and ending whenever you want, pausing whenever you want, skipping over whatever you want.

There are lots of fancy PVRs these days. Being a geek, I built my own (one of our two existing desktop computers + TV Tuner card + free software.) We pay $20 annually for access to the schedule information. I couldn't see paying a monthly fee for this.

But there are still VCRs, updated with DTV tuners. They're not as fancy, but they work. (Some old-school VCRs may be able to work tolerably with a DTV converter box if they had IR blasters intended in their day to talk to cable TV boxes. Clunky, but it could work.)

Making a heat sandwich

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It continues to be a cold December, so I'm inspired to share another tip to keep warm without cranking the heat up.

Put a blanket under the bottom sheet on your mattress. Your mattress is likely an indifferent insulator; the blanket will stop your body heat being wasted on warming up a cold mattress. The overall effect is to turn your bed into a giant sleeping bag.


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No, today's post is not a re-cap of this one.

This is about an entirely different, newer line of Pyrex: serving/storage containers with air-tight lids. They look like this.

They are made from clear-glass Pyrex, which is different from the opaque mixing bowls I waxed on about so effusively in the Vintage Pyrex post from July. But they are wonderful in their own way.

What I love about them is their perfect combination of form and function, of attractive serving dish, storage container, reheating dish, and even mixing bowl. And because of their multitasking ways, they save me from needlessly washing dishes.

Anything I cook: stir fry, sauteed greens, or steamed rice is served directly into a Pyrex serving/storage dish. Inevitably there are leftovers (I usually cook for three or four servings at a time, natch), so I pop on its lid and into the fridge it goes. The next day it goes to work as a brown-bagged lunch to be safely heated in the microwave (as opposed to BPA-containing plastics or any plastics that don't play nicely with microwaves). Voila.

And finally, when it's time to wash them, because it is thick-walled Pyrex, you can use the lower rack of the dishwasher. You heard me right, the lower rack.

Is there anything these containers cannot do, you might ask? Yes there is. They cannot be used on the stovetop nor in the oven. Ever.

They are an indispensible part of my frugalista process for preparing, storing, and brown-bagging food. No, Pyrex did not provide me with free samples in order for me to write this post.

Berkeley winters have cold nights (by our wimpy Bay Area standards), and our gas heating dries the air out. Dry air is an even worse heat conductor than humid air (and getting dried out by breathing dry air for a long time doesn't feel good, either.)

So a humidifier will make you warmer and make you breathe easier. We use a warm-mist humidifier, and by using Brita-filtered water, there's so little sediment deposit, we haven't even felt a need to change the filters from one year to the next. We wouldn't face the winter without one.

The Book Burro extension for Firefox recognizes when you're looking at a web page for a particular book (on several different websites) and offers a link that'll pop up a little display of the cheapest price for that book at numerous online sites, whether it's available at Paperbackswap or some other book swapping websites, and whether your local library has it (if your local library isn't configured, there's a relatively straightforward way for you to do it yourself, though it might not be in some users' comfort zone.)

I'd heard of it before, but only recently installed it. It was a smack-in-the-head "what was I waiting for?" moment.