Monday, March 28, 2011

Free Stuff and Where To Get It

Item:                                                                                                   Where To Get It:

Playing Cards                                                     Casinos near you. Casinos often use decks only a few times and get rid of the cards once they’ve lost their initial stiffness, even though they’re still perfectly good for playing with at home! If gambling happens in your state, Call casinos near you to see what they do with theirs.

Business Cards                             (250 printed for free)
(of your own)

Pens                                                                      Payday lenders offices,
banks, college admissions offices, fairs and festivals (look for booths from banks and real estate agents.)

Magnets:                                                            Your local veterarian's office, at fairs & festivals – look at chiropractors’ booths. When a new phone book is delivered to your house or apartment, one from a lawyer or someone similiar might be included. Taxi companies also often have magnets advertising their phone numbers. 

Candy                                                   Banks, particularly if you actually go inside the bank (don’t be greedy though)
T-Shirts                                                                 The best way I know of to get a free shirt is to volunteer. Lots of volunteer opportunities involve free shirts,  AND it gives you something to do for free which might be more fun than something you might have paid money to do.

College Admissions Offices  (and other departments on campuses) – Why not pop in and take a tour of your local community college or university? So what if you’re not actually planning to take classes RIGHT NOW – it could be a possibility for the future, right? …Right! Because anything’s possible in the future! Chances are extremely good you’ll at least wind up with a free writing utensil or two, if not something even more impressive.

Street Fairs and Local Festivals – Sometimes these things are the BEST places for free stuff, because it’s a great way for businesses to get their names out. It can be hit or miss – I’ve left them before with a bag stuffed full of free stuff, and other times with just a Tootsie Roll Pop in my pocket.  But the thing is, free is free, and many local festivals are, so you’re already getting a great deal on a day’s worth of entertainment! Be sure to hit up booths sponsored by corporations – these are the folks with the money to spend on marketing (aka buying stuff just to give it away.)

Websites where ordinary people (not businesses) near you are getting rid of stuff for free: for your area – click on “free stuff” in the “Classifieds” section

Here's to keepin' it cheap, peeps!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Special Request: Dorm Living on the Cheap

Jen, a Captain Cheap reader, has asked for some tips on how to save a few bucks while living on campus.  Back in my undergrad days, renting just half a dorm room came out to about $800/month, which is hardly economical, so I do encourage you college-y readers to consider off campus living if you're really looking to save some serious money. But. For those of you who ARE living the dorm life:

Circus/magic themed
collage I made entirely
from pictures printed
from the Internet.
* Don't lay out hundreds of dollars at Target to deck out your half of the room like everyone else does. Instead, chances are good that, as a student, you have a certain amount of pages you're allowed to print for free every semester in computer labs on campus; use this to your advantage! Print off your own digital photographs to hang up, or print pictures from the Internet to use for collages.

* Research all your meal plan options before choosing one (I know, most schools require you to buy one if you live on campus). Choose the minimum plan that will fit what you absolutely need. Remember, you can supplement meals (particularly breakfast and snacks) with your own stash of food at a much lower price.

* Speaking of food, here are some things to stock up on if you don't have a fridge or microwave. Some can seem expensive to the average grocery store shopper, but trust me. All are WAY cheaper than food being sold on your campus, and don't forget -- you can use coupons!:  Trail mix, nuts, bread, peanut butter, honey, fresh fruit, toaster pastries, bagels, protein / granola bars, beef jerky, pudding cups (non-refrigerated kind), applesauce, banana chips, fruit snacks, sunflower seeds, crackers.
* Other campus tips: Join e-mail lists and/or Facebook groups for any clubs that you're even remotely interested in, so that you can hear about events that might offer free food. See if your student ID will provide you a discount at any local businesses, including museums and events (check with your card office.) For entertainment, your campus should be your first stop, since so many free things, like movie screenings and art events are offered on campuses. Check your school's website to see if you can find an events calendar for all clubs and departments.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Once A Month Cooking: Saving You Time AND Money!

One of the best ways I know how to save money as a person who lives alone is by cooking things in bulk and freezing them. This saves me money because:
1.  It eliminates the temptation to buy (more expensive) pre-made food;
2. It saves me time; (and time is money, right?), and
3. Food doesn't go bad if it's frozen (unless it's been in the freezer for longer than 6 months.)

Chicken rice soup, beef barley stew, burritos, and a stack of small  homemade frozen pizzas chillin' in my freezer.
I'm a big fan of once a month cooking (OAM). If you can spare one Saturday a month, you can cook up and freeze enough food to last you for four weeks. I helped my friend fill up her freezer this way a few months back, and we made her 60 meals on $100. A GREAT resource for OAM cooking is the Once A Month Mom website, which features a ton of great recipes, as well as help with things like flash freezing, organizing a full freezer, and so on.

If you're thinking about trying this out, here's my advice:

* A lot of bulk cooking recipes out there are for large families, and involve pre-making full trays of lasagne and whatnot. For those who live alone, cupcake tins (muffin pans) can help you make smaller portions of things like meatloaf and homemade macaroni and cheese. When freezing, put two or three portions in each ziploc bag, and you'll be all set for one night's dinner without having to commit to two pounds of food or eat the same thing for five days in a row.

* If you are storing your food in ziploc bags, be sure to double seal everything. Put however much food you're going to eat in a sitting in a sandwich-sized bag, and place these inside a freezer sized ziploc. This will help prevent freezer burn. You can also freeze things in plastic storage containers, like Gladware, which is great for things like soup. Just be sure that on the bottom of your containers, there is a snowflake picture (which means freezer safe).

* Make a variety of different food. When I do this, I like to make something that can be eaten with my hands, something that requires a fork, something spicy, and something that I can eat if I'm sick or not feeling well.

Here is some food that I have made in bulk, frozen, eaten, and recommend:
  • Taquitos - I got the recipe from once a month moms, but it can be found here . I  make mine with chicken and use half the jalapeno.
  • This quick meatloaf recipe: mix together 1 lb ground beef, 1 box of Savory Herbs Stove Top stuffing, 2 eggs, and 1 cup of water. Divide into muffin tins; cook for 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees.   
  •  Homemade frozen pizzas. Use any recipe for pizza /pizza dough, but instead of making a big pizza, cut into pieces small enough to fit into a ziploc bag. Follow recipe directions, but when adding toppings, leave off the cheese. Cook the pizzas for half the time you normally would. Take out of the oven, add your cheese, and freeze. Re-heat at 300 degrees until cheese is melted. (The crust finishes cooking in the re-heating.)
  • Any soup you normally make from scratch. Instead of eating it all in one sitting, put it into plastic containers and freeze for later. I've made chicken vegetable soup and beef barley soup this way, and both turned out great. 
  • Homemade granola bars. Another recipe I swiped from the Once A Month Moms, who originally got it from here -- in the summer when it is 80 degrees at 6 am, these taste great frozen!-- Be sure to cut them and individually wrap them, though...otherwise they will stick/freeze together.
Best of luck to you in your cooking endeavors, readers! And here's to another week of saving money!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Household Cleaning Tips from Cheapster Readers

After getting some e-mails from readers about cleaning on the cheap over the last month (and a few tips sent in last week, too!), here's another post dedicated to you and your advice, readers! Cleaning on the cheap:

* Stephanie recommends this article about how to make your own glass cleaner. (I've been doing a variation on this for a while, but without the alcohol. I'll be trying it out next time I mix up some cleaner!)

* Another reader recommends buying concentrated, multi-purpose cleaner, that you can use in both the bathroom and kitchen, and which only requires being mixed with water. She recommends this.

* My dad also brought up the Great Towel Debate within our family. That is, you can re-use towels after showering -- if it doesn't weird you out. (It doesn't weird me out. I re-use towels all the time, and follow my grandpa's advice -- your body had better be clean coming out of the shower, so what's the problem re-using the towel?!) Some people in our family disagree, and like to use a new towel after every shower. This is, of course, a line you have to draw for yourself, but one of the choices is clearly the cheaper one! :)

* Finally, if you are interested in making your own household cleaners of all kinds using just a few simple ingredients, check out this post by the Thirty A Week Blog! (Lots of other great cheap tips to be found in this blog, too, peeps, so be sure to check it out!)

Well, readers, here's to another cheap -- and now clean -- week!
And stay tuned! Next week will be a post dedicated to one of my favorite subjects -- food! (And lots of it!)