Sunday, October 20, 2013

Save $950 a Year By Being Your Own Manicurist!

So, a number of my friends pay about $80 every month to get their nails done.  Don't get me wrong, I love a fun day at the spa as much as the next girl, but when you get manicures every few weeks, it isn't as special as when you only get one once a year.  Here is how you can save about $950 every year by doing your nails yourself!
Painting on the Moolah
Assuming you get a manicure and pedicure twice a month, the average amount you'll spend is $960 every year ($15 manicure & $25 pedicure). This isn't including the cost for any special gel polish, acrylic nails, designs, tips, transportation costs, etc. If you're not very good at painting your own nails yet, all it takes is practice.  Within a few months, you'll be doing it perfectly, and your checkbook will be perfectly happy.

Look for sales on nail polish and use coupons to get great deals on a few of your favorite colors. I like light pink and silver the best because they don't show when they chip, which means I don't have to paint my nails as frequently as I would with other colors. On average, for me, I only paint my fingernails about once every other week and only paint my toes about once a month when I use these lighter colors. With darker, more noticeable colors, I have to repaint about once a week on my fingernails and in two weeks with my toenails.  Even if you repaint every week, you're still going to be saving a bundle!
I usually purchase one new nail polish every year, and I try to take good care of the polishes I already have. Make sure to put the lid on really tight so your polish doesn't dry out, shake all of your polishes about once a month, and choose relatively good polish.  Cheap kids polish and DollarTree polishes will not last well.  I've had a bottle of Smackers by Bonne Bell since high school that is still going strong (that's eleven years old!).  DollarTree has the least expensive nail polish remover that I've found, so between that dollar, a buck for cotton balls from DollarTree, and about $8 in polish each year, you're looking at about $10/year for having fabulous nails all year long! If you want a little fancier nails, you can either do your own nail art, like those shown below from Pinterest, or just get a few little nail stickers to easily liven things up from a plain polish.  Searching for sales & coupons, choosing lighter colors, and gradually adding to your polish supply will help you save a significant amount of money. Even if you cut back from going to the salon twice a month to just once, you'll still be saving an average of $480 a year!

How Do You Make Your Nails Shine?
How do you save on nail care?  What are your favorite do-it-yourself nail art projects?  Which brand have you found to be the best?  Leave a comment below with your thoughts and experiences to help other look fabulous while saving money!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Fuel Efficiency & Savings

Even if you don't opt to get a cool veggie car (a diesel car that runs on waste vegetable oil), there are still a lot of great ways to save on fuel costs.  Check out these ideas and leave your own tips in the comments below.

Drive Carefully
Instead of speeding up to that red light only to have to slam on your brakes and waste precious (and expensive) fuel to get going again, be cognizant about your driving and stop pressing the gas as soon as you see a stop coming up. The less you have to use your brakes, and thus your fuel, the more money you'll save. This careful driving is called hypermiling and can save you a bundle.  Switching into neutral to coast down a hill, shifting (if you have a manual transmission) as soon as the RPM's are high enough, and slowly accelerating will all help make a significant difference in your fuel consumption over time.

Gas Buddy App
Before you ever top off your tank, check which fuel station has the lowest prices.  There are a number of websites that will give you near instantaneous information on fuel prices or apps, like GasBuddy that will tell you the same.  I like GasBuddy because you can enter in the zip code of where you are going and will need to fill up, or you can have it find the stations nearest you based on your phone's location.  This is a great feature for when you're running on empty and need fuel quickly, but it's best to plan ahead to save the most money.  When I get down to about a quarter or 1/8 of a tank, I search GasBuddy for the least expensive fuel. Then I plan my trips for that week, like I go grocery shopping at the WinCo near the fuel station.  By making only one trip to that end of town to get both my groceries and my fuel, I save a little more money.  Depending upon the fuel efficiency of your vehicle, this could just mean a dollar or two of savings every fill up, but that's still a dollar that you can now save away or spend on something else.  Especially if you have to fill up multiple times a month, this will quickly add up.


Inflate Your Tires
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you can stop by your friendly, local Les Schwab Tire Center and they will check over your car and inflate your tires for free.  (They are not the least expensive place to get tires, but, in my opinion, they are the best, both because of their amazing customer service and because they give so much back to the community.  This is why we choose to use some of the money we have saved in other areas to buy tires from Les Schwab.  Plus, they have free popcorn!)  By having your tires fully inflated, you reduce the rolling resistance because there is less surface area of your tire touching the ground, wasting precious, expensive fuel on friction instead of transporting you to your next money-saving location!

Buy a Fuel Efficient Car
Did you think that the Toyota Prius was the most fuel efficient car money can buy? Think again.  We had 40+ mpg cars back in the 70's.  Yet, Big Oil wanted a profit, so in the 80's and 90's we conveniently forgot about the fuel crisis of '73 that was the catalyst for the import of the fuel-sipping Asian imports.  But you already knew that, you smart car shopper.  You also knew that we imported German diesels, right?


Yes, the diesel engine is approximately 30% more fuel efficient than it's average gasoline-sucking internal combustion engine counterpart.  So why don't we buy diesels? Unfortunately, in those 80's and 90's of the American car boom, we were counting our chicks before our eggs hatched.  That is to say, we forgot about the possibility of a future fuel fiasco (2008).  Anybody remember fuel prices at $5/gallon?  We do.  That's when we switched to vegetable oil.  But you don't have to go all crazy hippy like us, just take a look at the Volkswagen TDI's.  TDI = Turbo Direct Injection.  VW makes the Jetta, Golf, Passat, Toureg, and other TDI variants.  Bottom line, if it says TDI, chances are you're looking at between 45-50mpg on the highway if you buy one with a manual transmission.  5mpg less with the automatic.  Not bad. This can save you thousands of dollars over the life of your car, especially if you drive frequently or make long trips.

How do you save on auto expenses?  What type of car do you drive?  Have you opted for public transport?  Let us know in the comments below, and make sure to check back frequently for more money-saving tips!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Easy, Inexpensive, & Delicious Artisan Bread!

Want to enjoy scrumptious loaves of artisan bread for about $0.50 each instead of buying them for $5.00 each at Great Harvest?  Read on to find out how to save money while devouring loaf after loaf of this tasty homemade bread!
This has got to be the easiest bread I've ever made in my life.  It's just four ingredients and about 10 minutes of actual work.  The original recipe is from, but I'm going to break it down into a clear recipe and share a few of the mix-in's that I've tried thus far.  For a regular loaf, it should cost about 50 cents, but it may cost a bit extra depending upon what mix-ins you use.  In any case, it will save you a fair amount of money over the artisan bread at the store, which usually runs about $5 around here.  Soon you'll make bread this pretty too!

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
Optional Mix-In's (see below)

1.  Mix flour, salt, and yeast in a large bowl.  Add the water and mix again. It will probably look like a gloppy mess, and this is okay.
2.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Let it sit in the bowl for 12-18 hours WITHOUT refrigerating it.
3.  Take a large pot with a lid and place it in the oven.
4.  Preheat the oven to 450 F.  Let the pot heat for about 30 minutes.  While your container is heating, knead the dough a few times on a well-floured surface.  Then let it sit for the rest of the time.
5.  Carefully remove your hot dish and plop your well-floured dough into the middle of it.  Put the lid on, and bake it for 30 minutes.
6.  Remove from the oven, take a peek inside to admire your handiwork, and then let it continue to bake with the lid on for another 15 minutes (or until you can't stand the delicious smell of home-made bread you've just created, and you burn your fingers getting it out of the pot while it's still very hot, only to smother it in butter and devour it!).  Enjoy!

Above is a little loaf of Parmesan & rosemary bread.  Our house smelled much akin to Heaven! My cast iron pot after baking- very little mess to clean up! Actually, when you cook with cast iron, you mostly just wipe it cleanish and call the rest "seasoning!"

As for the container, I use my cast iron pot & lid, but the the insert to a crock pot, an enamel-covered cast iron pot, Pyrex dish with lid, or anything else that can stand 450F will work too.  I haven't tried it uncovered yet, so let me know if you use a dish without a lid and it still works.  I'm going to try it in my cast iron on top of the woodstove to see if it works.  If it doesn't work on the stovetop, I'll try it inside the woodstove!  Maybe I'll leave the extracting of red-hot cast iron to my pyro-hubby!

Now for the mix-ins.  Add whatever sounds good to you during step 1.  I added 1 cup of Parmesan and about 2 Tablespoons of finely grated rosemary from our garden, and it turned out DELICIOUS!  Throw in a few Tablespoons of brown sugar and sprinkle it on the top in step 5 for a sugary treat, or add in a few tablespoons of your favorite nuts- sunflower seeds and flax taste wonderful.  I'm going to try some cranberries and lemon zest along with some Stevia in my next batch.  The knife in the very top picture is actually my favorite knife of all time- the cheese knife from Cutco!  My husband sells them, so let me know if you're in need of a good knife that is guaranteed for life (free sharpening for life too!).  Please leave a comment below to let us all know what mix-ins you've tried!  Happy Baking & Eating! :)

*Update- Try these mix ins for a unique loaf:
*1 tablespoon of flax, 2 tablespoons crushed walnuts, and 1 tablespoon of almonds makes a great, nutty bread.
*Add 2 tablespoons of garlic and a few dashes of garlic salt for a delicious loaf of garlic bread too!
*2 tablespoons of crushed walnuts and 3 tablespoons of brown sugar mixed in along with a dusting of brown sugar on the top will make for a scrumptious dessert bread.
*Mix in a cup (not packed down) of cranberries and a heaping tablespoon of orange zest for a sweet and tart loaf.
*With a 1/2 cup of cranberries and a 1/2 cup of apples mixed in, you'll have a scrumptious loaf of cranberry apple bread! 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Build a Classroom Library on a Dime!

Do you need more books for your classroom library?  Have you already spent gobs of money on your classroom, and you don't have hundreds more to spend at Scholastic?  Here are some great ways to expand your classroom library without breaking the bank.  Even if you're not a classroom teacher, many of these strategies will work for building your home library as well.  If you don't have a teacher account on this site yet, MAKE ONE NOW!  I've won ten different grants and thousands of dollars worth of materials for my school spending just a few hours pleading my case to the public (If you want to donate towards my two current ones, they can be found here- and here- ).  There are lots of people out there who want to support you and your students, and this is a great way to increase the scope of your classroom library.  For example, one of the grants that I wrote on Donors Choose was for a set of a few DOZEN books for boys!  While I certainly expect my female students to happily devour titles like The Hardy Boys & Encyclopedia Brown (and they do), I was able to add a set of sports chapter books, the recommended "Best for Boys" set, and a general 4-5 grade set of books to my classroom at no cost to me.  Another grant I wrote earned our classroom a whole set of lower-level reading books to support my below-grade-level readers.  I've also written two different grants for books that my grade alike team shares as we work through the related science units.  Donors Choose is a great way to let the public bless your classroom with the exact books you and your students want, and it takes about an hour of work total (choosing the materials you want, writing the description, and writing thank you notes after you get all the resources!).  This site is also great for a plethora of other products, but this post is about books, so we'll stick to mentioning only the literary goodness for now.  Here's a few of the Hardy Boys set I got from Donors Choose:

It's a good thing we teachers have the summers "off" so that we can get all the work we want to accomplish during the school year done!  Summer is the season of garage sales, and these are fantastic sources for great books.  Especially if you are a new teacher and you don't have much of anything in your classroom library, rummage sales are a great place to pick up a good quantity of books for very inexpensively or free. In my first few years of teaching, I would ask garage sale hosts if I could have the left-over books for my classroom.  Most of the time they were planning on giving the books that didn't sell to charity anyways, and many of them let me just take the boxes of books right then and there!  Garage sales, church sales, and rummage sales are great to pick through, and you can often get books for free from them if you offer to pick them up when the sale is over.

Do you have any friends with kids?  As their children grow out of books, scoop those texts right up!  Ask your friends to put aside any books that they're done with so they can be enjoyed by other kids.  If you have kids of your own, you might go through your own family library and see which books haven't been read in a while.  Get them into the hands of your students!  Examine the following picture to see how even Frederick Jr. the Plant loves books, and your students will appreciate a huge variety too!

A number of my favorite childhood books are included in my classroom library.  The ones that are important to me or have sentimental value sit on a special shelf behind my desk and are only available for "teacher permission reading" so I know who has them and know they won't be ruined.  A few of my childhood books weren't all that interesting to my sister and me, so they are interspersed amongst the other texts on the general classroom library shelves.  If you can't bare the thought of losing the book, don't bring it into your classroom, but if you have a few boxes of old books sitting in your attic (or your parent's basement), dust them off and get them into your classroom!

Check with your school library and with local public libraries (or private school libraries) towards the end of the year.  This is usually when they discard books that aren't checked out as frequently or have minor wear or tear on them.  I've gotten some great books from our church's private school and our own school library that have nothing more than a scribble on one page!  Library discards are another great way to expand your book collection.

Once you've gone through the above, you should have a pretty stellar start to a solid classroom library.  Now you can augment it with actual new, nice books from scholastic book orders.  Yes, passing out the little book flyers is kind of a pain, collecting the money and organizing the orders does take a few minutes out of your schedule each month, but it pays off.  Literally.  I've gotten hundreds of dollars worth of free books and products thanks to Scholastic.  Between promotions they run for a free book every monthly order of $20+, using the $10 to Spend Right Now coupons, and buying things with bonus points, Scholastic is a very teacher-friendly way to expand your library with great selections.  Probably about 100 of my classroom library books are from Scholastic, and nearly all of my literature circle book sets (I get 6 of each title, and I'll have to do a whole new blog post on literature circles) are from Scholastic.  The nicest pencil sharpener I've ever had in my life came from Scholastic bonus points, and the little wipeable clear folders I put my math workshop worksheets in for two of my centers are thanks to bonus points too.  Scholastic also has one of the best customer service policies I've ever come across- they will always make things right, and they are very professional and polite on the phone.  Plus, if you ever had the joy of looking through a Scholastic Book Club Magazine when you were little, you know how fun it is to pour over the new books, examine the brilliant covers, and dream about which books you would buy if you had a million dollars.  I still do! Here are some of the book sets that I've gotten through Scholastic:

Whether your hunting down new books at garage sales, earning grants to get new texts into your students' hands, raiding your own home library (and those of your friends and families), searching library discards, or getting pretty new books from Scholastic, remember to choose wisely.  An inappropriate book that is free is still not something that you want for your classroom!  While we'll never have enough time to read every awesome book that is out there, we can give a quick glance to the blurb on the back of each book we're unfamiliar with to make sure that it will be a good fit for our students (yes, I'm encouraging you to judge a book by its cover).  Once you have a good class library of 1,000 books or so, you can start the difficult task of culling your book population and giving the books away to students, or another new teacher who is just starting to build their own library!

 Where have you found your classroom library books?  How do you know what kind of books your children need?  What are your favorite series, authors, and books for your grade? What questions do you still have about classroom libraries? Leave a comment or question below, and, of course, share with friends, follow my blog, and find me on Pinterest!  Happy Reading!