Coffee heat rising

Frugal Household Hints: Vinegar is sweet

Vinegar is the cheapest household cleaner around. Nothing does a better job of cutting through a film of grease.

1. Put vinegar in a squirt bottle (you can dilute it about 50-50 with water). Spray the kitchen counter and wipe dry with a soft cloth or paper towel.
2. Spray mirrors or windows with vinegar. Wipe dry with a microfiber cloth.
3. Pour about a cupful of vinegar into the dishwasher before adding detergent and running the cleaning cycle. This will eliminate hardwater film, especially if you use an enzyme detergent.
4. Pour 50-50 vinegar and water into your steam iron. Let it sit for an hour. Then turn the iron to “Linen,” hold it over the sink, and squirt steam out of it until the reservoir is mostly empty. Drain; refill with plain water, and drain again. After the iron is cool, wipe the sole clean.
5. Soak a paper towel or small rag with vinegar. Wrap it around a calcium-crusted spigot. Layer a piece of plastic wrap over it and secure with a rubber band or wire tie. Let stand for several hours. Remove vinegar wrap and use a plastic scrubber to clean off mineral gunk. (Do not try this on fancy finishes!)
6. To polish copper: first put on a pair of rubber gloves. Wet tarnished copper with vinegar. Sprinkle with salt. Rub with a sponge or rag. Rinse well. (Do not even think of trying this on silver!)

Got other uses for vinegar? Please share!

Make a New Year’s to-do list

In my experience, New Year’s resolutions fade from memory along about January 7. Several reasons for this: we make unrealistic vows (“I will lose 100 pounds this year”); we cast our resolutions as broad generalizations rather than as specifics (“I will put more money into savings”); we ask ourselves to do things that don’t fit into our routine or are out of character (“I will teach myself to play bongo drums”), or are downright impossible (“and I will learn to play a Bach cantata on the bongo drums”).

What if, instead of resolving to achieve some broad goal, we made a checklist, the very sort of checklist that helps many of us get things done in an ordinary day or week? Instead of stating a wish, a to-do list tells you how to get through the process of accomplishing things. It speaks in specifics, not generalities. And a to-do list, being a pragmatic sort of device, is likely to fit in to the life we are already leading. On that theory, here is my 2008 to-do list:

1. Three days a week, add bicycling or mountain park hiking to exercise routine
2. Lose five to ten pounds by

a) staying off the sauce,
b) increasing exercise as above, and
c) continuing to eat lots of whole foods and less sugar & refined grain

3. Bring food to the office instead of ponying up $8 for the miserable restaurant fodder that passes as lunch
4. Drink tea, not coffee, and less of it
5. Learn to put widgets on iWeb pages
6. Join four social networking sites
7. Aim for two no-purchase days a week
8.Snowflake the Renovation Loan principal down by $1,000 (that’s $83.30 a month)
9. Invest $250 a month in an interest-bearing account to build liquid savings and to provide the option of paying off Renovation Loan within five years
10. Invest net income from side job (approx. $3500 a semester) in the same interest-bearing account
11. Wear better clothes to the office, using the wardrobe now expanded by after-Christmas clothing purchases
12. Try to wangle a Power Mac from the university
13. Build cross-campus collaboration by trying to land another research assistantship to be staffed by grad students in the publishing program
14. Build new ways to mentor graduate students and reinforce editorial training
15. Make new friends

a) through
b) rejoin the choir

As a list of New Year’s resolutions, this would be way too long. It could be cast as six broad, eminently forgettable goals: reduce stress, build readership for Funny about Money, pay down the Renovation Loan, save more money, improve job performance, and meet new people.

As a to-do list, it contains no more items to accomplish than I normally accrue for a single day. I think it’ll work.

What are your New Year’s resolutions? I challenge you to accomplish as many of yours as I will of mine! Meet me here after each quarter of 2008 to compare notes. See you in three months-and sooner, I hope.

Frugal Christmas

Just got paid but I am almost out of money. The biweekly pay periods have precessed so that the second check of the month came in after the last day of the AMEX billing cycle, and because I ill-advisedly transferred what looked like an unexpected cache of savings over to Vanguard, I’d used up my budget before a new infusion of cash hit the checking account. Of course, the bill isn’t due to American Express until January 9; but I’m afraid I can’t take advantage of the after-Christmas sales. Ohhh well . . . it won’t kill me to wear jeans for another year.

M’hijito is coming over here after he visits his father’s tribe, presumably later in the day. At Costco I found a magnificent standing rib roast-bone in, no less! – plus some wonderful tiny French green beans and a bag of fingerling potatoes. The roast is only about 4 1/2 pounds, just enough for the two of us without a lot of waste, which kept the price in the near-affordable range. And at AJ’s I discovered that two scrumptious pecan tarts cost less than one pecan pie and probably deliver more calories. One of them is as much as he and I will eat for dessert, but I grabbed two so I could jack up my blood sugar for breakfast. Yum!

He remarked that he wanted a KitchenAid stand mixer. Well, what should I have gathering dust in the closet but the very thing, complete with fistfuls of bells and whistles! I haven’t used the thing more than a half-dozen times, since you need a crane to lift it onto the kitchen counter. I’ve used the grinder attachment once; forthwith realized grinding meat in the food processor is a lot easier and less messy. So he’s getting that thing and all its accoutrements. He and his chefly pals will get a lot more use out of it than I have.

I also got him a Roomba Dirt Dog. It’s iRobot’s idea of a shop vac-except it’s not a vacuum; it’s actually a mechanized broom. With no vacuum inside, it has more space for dirt and no filter to block incoming chunks of debris. It works every bit as well as Roomba on the tile, and so it’s just the thing for our fully tile-floored houses. And it was only $110, as opposed to $300 for the latest iteration of Roomba.

The Roomba he gave me several years ago, while he was living in the City and earning (comparatively) a ton of money, is beginning to give up the ghost. Apparently something inside is overheating and shutting it down. The one he bought for himself at the time died forthwith – they’re touchy little fellows-and he was very disappointed. From what I can tell from the online user reviews, though, Dirt Dawg is made of sterner stuff, so I have some hope that it’ll run for a while.

And that’s about it. Christmas 2007 will be a modest affair. I’m busted, disgusted, and can’t be trusted! Laying aside $250 a month to pay down the renovation loan within two years leaves me flat broke. The income from the two courses I’m taking on this semester also will go straight toward the loan. So . . . all I want for Christmas is a merit increase next spring!