Nov 23, 2008

Google can save you money. - Part1

Google has been in the news lately for reducing the options served in its employee cafĂ©. I can’t fault them but most of us love any free lunch, breakfast, and dinner.

Although you’re not a Google employee, you can still take advantage of the “free lunch”. In this case it’s not food for the body, but food for your computer and maybe your mind.
I’m often surprised by the number of people who do not take advantage of the free services offered from Google. If you’re reading this blog, I know you like to save money, so I hope you’ll take the Google gift horse.


I often tell people of the value of Gmail (Google’s free email service), only to hear that they don’t want to change their email address from Verizon, AOL, or Comcast, etc. While I totally understand the hesitance to change, the benefits out way the fear.

Most ISPs give you an email address with service. That’s great, but I believe it’s just a trap to keep you from switching ISPs, as you fear losing your email address. They have you hooked!
You can break the cycle. Get a Gmail account and gradually get your contacts used to the new address. This way, if your ISP doesn’t satisfy you or if you can find a better deal, you won’t loose you email addy when you switch.

There are many benefits to Gmail. Aside from the aforementioned ISP independence, Gmail is
1. Free. No strings attached.
2. POP3 Capable. Post Office Protocol allows your mail to be stored locally on your machine via an email client like Apple Mail, Thunderbird, Outlook, Eudora, or Entourage. The advantage here is that finding old message is faster and easier. Also, you have access to downloaded messages even if you’re not connected to the Internet. You can also draft messages to be sent later. If you have your laptop, but you’re traveling and not connected to the Internet, you could reply to messages and those replies will be sent when you connect to the Internet.
3. Surprisingly not crowded. Many email addresses are still available. You don’t have to be you may be able to actually get your name or preferred handle.
4. More professional sounding than aol or yahoo. I have been to some sites, downloading trial software, that did not accept yahoo addresses.
5. Very user friendly. The web interface is easy to use and can be easily customized. The help files are detailed and just a search away.
6. Extremely powerful. Gmail allows you to modify your email address to keep track of where mail is coming from. For example, if your email address was you could also use, for all of the recipe websites where you register. Then you can easily filter +recipe mail to a specific folder.

So switch to, or at least get, a Gmail account.

There will be more Google freebies in my next post. Sphere: Related Content

Nov 20, 2008

Roasting a Chicken

Chicken is a relatively cheap source of protein. Many buy roasted chickens from supermarkets or national chains such as Boston Market, but if you roast it yourself you’ll pay a lot less and probably get more, as most store bought are tiny. This recipe is so easy, you’ll wonder why you ever paid more.

1 Whole chicken
½ Lemon
3 gloves of Garlic
2 T oil (olive oil or melted butter)
1 T dried spice (thyme, sage, etc.)
Salt and Pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Mix salt, pepper, and dried spices in a small bowl.

While the oven is heating, wash the entire chicken (inside and out) under cold running water. Be sure to remove the package containing necks and gizzards that may be inside the cavity of the chicken.

Once washed, pat the outside of the chicken dry with paper towels.

Rub and squeeze the half of lemon over the outside and inside of the chicken (Do not discard).

Rub oil over the outside of the chicken.

Rub this spice mixture over outside and inside of chicken.

Place the spent lemon and garlic cloves inside the chicken.

Before placing the chicken in the oven, the chicken must be raised from the bottom of your roasting pan/dish (ensures crispy skin). This is usually accomplished via a roasting rack. If you do not have a rack you can use aluminum foil. Simple tear off a piece of foil approximately 1 foot long. Roll the foil into a cylinder. Then curve the cylinder into a ring (think donut or bagel shape). Place this aluminum ring in the bottom of the roasting pan. Place chicken on top of the ring. And place in the oven.
Roast the chicken at 400 degrees until an internal temperature of 165 degrees is obtained. This will take approximately 45 minutes for a 3.5lb bird. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, buy one. If you refuse to buy one, make a small incision at the joint between the thigh and the bird to be sure that all juices run clear.

So let’s do the math. A 3.5lb chicken cost $5.92 at Safeway. You may be able to get a better price. See the previous on cutting your grocery bill in half. The additional ingredients should be less than $0.50. So this totals $6.42 and should easily make 4-5 servings.

That’s it. We’ll talk about making gravy in another post. Enjoy. Sphere: Related Content

Nov 19, 2008

Buying a computer

Has your computer kicked the bucket? Recently my laptop died. My baby, her name was Alice. While talking with some friends about this blog I was challenged to save money while getting a new computer. Here are the results of my search. Hope it helps you.

If you know a bit about computers, please skip this section. If not, here’s a little analogy that should explain the basic bits and pieces. Think of you computer as a machine (a robot version of you) that needs to perform a job.

The job in this case is to empty a full tub of water from your bathtub into the street nearest to your house. Yes, I know this is an odd task but bear with me, OK. You have a bucket. That bucket is RAM. The bigger the bucket, or more RAM you have, the faster the process should go i.e. you can carry more water (instructions or computer commands), with each pass from the bathroom, through the house, out the door, and to the street. It seems simple that you’ll want a lot of RAM, but there are other things to think about. By the way, RAM is usually measured in mega- or giga-bytes.

When performing the water task, you have to think about how fast you can actually move (processor speed). The faster the processor, the less time the task will take. That statement comes with a caveat. Too much can be overkill. You don’t need a Formula 1 car to drive from your door to the street. If you’re surfing the Internet, sending email, and using basic Office type applications; a basic processor is more than fast enough. Most important for accessing the Internet is your connection to your ISP (more on that in another post). Without going too deep, you may have to consider BUS speed, which is the ability for you to move in an obstacle free path through the house.

The last real piece to this puzzle, aside from peripherals i.e. monitors, keyboard, mice, etc; is the size of the harddrive. This is also measure in mega- or giga-bytes. The harddrive stores instructions (programs) that allow you to perform different tasks and acts as storage for you files e.g. pictures, spreadsheets, video, etc. Up until recently, I would have advised you to get the biggest harddrive you can afford, but cloud computing has changed all of that. You can view a previous post on that here.

Buying a computer on the cheap
I’m not going to get into Mac vs. PC, or even Linux. You have to make that choice. We already have more than enough choices to consider. If you need a basic machine for surfing the Internet, sending email, and using basic Office type applications, you have a myriad of choices. You could buy a new basic machine or a refurbished/used machine.

If you’re thinking of going down the refurbished/used path, you must remember to buy from a reputable seller. Tiger Direct has a basic Dell desktop for $199.00 or get a Dell laptop from USA notebooks for $299.00. In both cases, I’d elect to get a little more RAM. Spring for the extra $20. I have purchased refurbs before. In general the desktops haven’t been a problem, but I’ve had major battery issues from refurb laptops, often resulting in the purchase of an expensive new battery.

If you elect for a new basic machine, you have some frugal options as well. Unfortunately, the dream or a $100 laptop is just that, a dream. You can, however get decent basic laptop from J&R for $419.99. This machine doesn’t have a CD-ROM drive, but it does have a wireless card so you should be able to install applications and move files via the Internet. If you need a little more try this Gateway computer for $699.97, complete with a CD/DVD-R drive.

If you need more power than the basic options I’ve listed here, then start googling, you may be able to find a deal I missed.

Good luck and may the force protect your logic board. Sphere: Related Content

Nov 18, 2008

Free Magazines

As if this blog isn’t enough to read, here’s a tip for the avid reader.

Check out All Free Magazines. Here, after a completing a quick form, you’ll be able to get a free subscription. Most of the terms are 6 months to a year.

If you have an office with a waiting room this could be a real cost saver, and allow you to cater to a truly diverse audience. Even without a business this is a great resource. Sphere: Related Content

Frugal New Yorker

The other day, I wrote a post about traveling to NY on the cheap. I’m now leaving NY and thought I’d share one of the coolest frugal blogs about living in NY, THE PENNY PALATE. This blog delivers info that any food/fun loving NYer should know. Whether you need a cheap breakfast, wings, or a drink; you’ve got to check this out. The breakfast for $0.20 post is a good one. How about $0.10 wings?

So, check out the blog on your Internet enabled bus ride to the city. You’ll be ready to have fun when you arrive. Sphere: Related Content

Free stuff everyday

I like free stuff. If you do too, you should surf on over to Sweet Free Stuff. There, you will find something free everyday. From groceries to books, there’s tons of stuff.

Check it out.

The things here will not radically change your budget, they’re mostly samples, but many of the items are useful. Sphere: Related Content

Nov 17, 2008

You can’t eat this rice, but this may be the easiest and most fun you’ve ever had donating. In addition, you might learn something in the process. This is a great little time killer!

Suppose you need a break from the daily grind and you only have a few minutes. Go to Here, you’ll test and enhance your vocabulary while donating rice to feed the hungry worldwide.

According to the website, “FreeRice has generated enough rice to feed more than two million people since it started in October 2007.”

If you have kids, this is a great way for them to expand their vocabulary.

Check it out. Sphere: Related Content

Nov 16, 2008

Make a better French Fry, I dare you.

Last night, I ran to the supermarket to pick up some quick items. In line, just ahead of me, was a young man buying 2 bags of Ore Ida frozen french fries and ice cream. I wanted to tell him that he could save gobs of money by making his own fries, but I didn’t. Let’s do the math. He paid $3.50 per 32 oz. bag. That’s $0.11 per ounce.

Whole raw russet potatoes are $0.59 per pound or less than $0.04 per ounce ($0.036875 to be exact). That’s less than half the price. You may be wondering what about oil and salt. Vegetable oil (corn, peanut, or blend) is approximately $0.05 per ounce. Most likely you can reuse most of this oil, as your fries shouldn’t dirty the oil much.

So, what to do with the potatoes to make fries?

Step 1: First, wash your potatoes. Then cut them into fries. Be sure to make them all approximately the same size and shape. This step is critical, as you want them to cook uniformly. Larger pieces will take longer to cook than ones that are smaller, so if you have small slivers from ends, consider discarding them.

Step 2: After you have the uniformly cut pieces, you must wash them. Wash them in cold water either by running them under the tap or repeatedly submerging them. Wash them well, as you must wash the excess starch from the outside of the pieces. This will ensure that your fries are crisp and light in color.

Step 3: Dry your pieces! Use a kitchen towel. No need to waste a multiple paper towels. Drying ensures crispness, minimizes splattering from water being introduced to oil, and maximizes your ability to use the oil for the next time you have need to get your fry fix.

Step 4: Oil blanching. Blanching allows the inside of your fries to be cooked and tender. Add oil to a large pot, enough to cover your fries while leaving at least half of the pot empty. This ensures than when fries are added you will not overflow the pot. This should be done over medium low heat. Your oil should not be very hot. This step is not like traditional frying, there should be just a few bubbles coming from the fries once added. I usually turn off the flame when adding the fries; to ensure that oil splatter doesn’t create a fire.

SAFETY: When cooking with oil please remember the following,
1. Cover yourself. Don’t cook in the nude (not that you would) and don’t wear large loose sleeves, as they may be a hazard.

2. Keep a fire extinguisher handy. This is just a precaution, but if you turn off the flame when adding the fries you should be pretty safe. If you don’t have an extinguisher have plenty of flour or baking soda and a lid for the pot. DO NOT USE WATER ON A GREASE FIRE!!!!

Step 5: Keeping the flame on medium low, wait for your fries to float. This is your signal the inside of your potatoes are cooked. If you have kept you flame low, there should be very little browning.

Step 6: Remove the floaters from the oil and let them drain and cool. I use a stainless steel colander with a pie pan below. Once the oil drains into the pie pan, I add it back to the pot.

Step 7: Heat your oil until hot, not smoking. You can test if the oil is hot enough by placing one fry and seeing how fast it bubbles. This time you’re looking for real frying action. Once sufficiently hot, shut off your flame and add the whole batch of oil-blanched fries. Turn the flame back up. The fries are technically cooked, but now you’re going for the crisp outside. Cook the fries until, when you touch them with your slotted spoon, they “feel” hard on the outside.

Step 8: Line the colander with paper towels. Remove the crisp fries to the lined colander and immediately season (to ensure the seasoning sticks). Give a shake to ensure coverage. Salt is fine. Salt and pepper is better. Or, try this seasoning blend.
1 t Salt
½ t Pepper
½ t Onion powder
1 t Chili powder

That’s it. Enjoy! Sphere: Related Content

Nov 15, 2008

Travel Cheap

If you travel through the NE corridor of the US, let’s say Boston to DC, this is a tip for you.

For this example we’ll compare prices on a trip from DC to New York.

Forget flying at $192.00 one-way! Between the high ticket prices, long security lines, and the seemingly inevitable delays (especially in NY), flying in the NE is not really cost or time effective. Often people elect this option because it seems fast. While the actual flight is fast, once you add the time to get to the airport, check-in, pass security, fly, circle and land, and then the time to get from the burbs to the city; it’s not fast.

Forget Amtrak at $72.00 one-way! It’s amazing that our country can’t seem to get trains right. The trains are slow and often delayed because of CSX. The Accela train is a gimmick and even more of a waste of money.

So what should you do?

Catch the bus!

No, not Greyhound at $35 - $41. has the truly frugal solution. You can travel as low as $17 one-way without advance reservations. If you are willing to commit to a schedule you can get as low as $29.00 round-trip.

Aside from the low fares, some of these buses, which are clean and safe, have wireless Internet access during transit. If you have your laptop and some headphones you’ll be stylin’. Surf over to and watch you favorite new or old movie. Watch the episode of Dexter that you missed or refused to subscribe to Showtime to get. Do some work, surf the net, or check this blog for even more money saving tips.

Happy trails! Sphere: Related Content

Nov 14, 2008

Coupons, Coupons, Coupons

With the start of this blog, I’ve been looking around to see similar websites or blogs. I’ve found lots of talk about coupons. If you can work them, great, but I’ve never been much into coupon clipping (See post about Restaurant Depot ).
Here’s one of the best coupons sites I’ve seen.
Sphere: Related Content