Archive for Kitchen and Cooking

Vinegar and Baking Soda – Not Exactly Frugal for the Laundry

Sooner or later it has to be dealt with:  the laundry.  The typical American household does almost 400 loads of laundry a year*, or an average of 7- 8 loads of laundry a week.  Saving just a small amount of money on each load of laundry can add up to substantial savings over the years.

In my house, we do only half the average amount of  laundry – usually 3-4 loads a week.   I often substitute vinegar or baking soda for fabric softener.  I have usually been pleased with myself for being so frugal and saving a bit of money on each load.

One day while I was in the laundry room and thinking about the actual cost of vinegar and baking soda, a vague uneasiness began to settle in.  How could it be cheaper?  It began to bother me.  Did it really save money to use vinegar or baking soda instead of fabric softener?

I decided to find out.

I’ve posted the calculations and pricing details in an article on The Fat Dollar site  – Making Homemade Fabric Softener with Baking Soda or Vinegar – Does it Really Save Money? . I’ll just give the results here.

It’s not what I wanted it to be, but more or less what that uneasy feeling told me to expect.

The results of the math showing the cost per rinse load:

Fabric Softener – Cost is $.04 *  to $.08** per load

Vinegar – Cost is $.06 (using 1/2 cup) to $.11 (using 1 cup) per load

Baking Soda – Cost is $.12*  to $.24**  per load

Fabric Softener
*Sam’s Club Members Mark Brand
**Final Touch Ultra

Baking Soda
*Sam’s Club

Vinegar could be possibly less expensive than fabric softener, assuming that you use only 1/2 cup and compare it against the most expensive brand of fabric softener (Final Touch Ultra in my case).  Even then, the savings are only $.02 per rinse load.

Using baking soda instead of fabric softener is a downright luxury if you use costs as an indicator.  The baking soda is 3 to 6 times more costly than fabric softener.  Who would have thought that it is splurging when you dump a half cup of baking soda in the rinse cycle?

Even with little or no monetary savings in the short term, there still are some very valid reasons to skip the fabric softener and use vinegar (or baking soda, if you really want to be a big spender).

  • Vinegar brightens whites and helps to preserve colors
  • Vinegar cuts through soap and fabric softener build-up and helps to rinse it away
  • Vinegar helps to remove odors from clothing
  • Vinegar is a natural product without dyes or perfumes
  • Vinegar can help to remove soap buildup in the washing machine and hoses
  • Baking soda helps to eliminate odors
  • Baking soda naturally softens water
  • Baking soda has no dyes or perfumes

While there really is little or no cost savings by using vinegar or baking soda in the rinse cycle, I will still use these in the laundry.  I like the freedom from chemicals and perfumes on my clothing.

Since I often make my own laundry soap, vinegar is a good complement to this.  Vinegar in the rinse cycle helps to get all the soap rinsed out of the clothing.

Lastly, I think I will probably always use baking soda and vinegar in the laundry because I like using natural products.  It just feels so right.

How about you?  Do you prefer fabric softener or vinegar in the rinse cycle?




*According to The California Energy Commission, Consumer Energy Center

More Inexpensive Christmas Gift Ideas – $10 or Less!

Woman with gift wrapped package[Editor’s note 11-14-13:  I updated the prices and availability on most of these.  If they are updated, the information is in the brackets]

It’s wonderful to be able to give special gifts at Christmas, and it’s even more wonderful to be able to give a perfect, yet inexpensive gift.

Last year The Fat Dollar published Frugal Gifts – 10 Inexpensive Gift Ideas  and Awesome, Yet Inexpensive Gift Ideas but there are still many more gift ideas for gifts $10 or less.  Most of these are for older children or adults.  I’ve tried to include links where I thought it would help you find the specific recommendation.

1.  Make an Admiration or Adoration Box.

Start with a smaller box or a pretty jar.  Decorate it with fabric, costume jewelry, and/or trim if you like.

Next take slips or squares of paper and write (or print with your computer) one thing on each slip that you love, admire or find unique about the person the gift is for. You can even write special memories of that person.  Use full sentences, single words, even little photos or drawings.  The idea is for each slip to bring a special thought or feeling.

You can get as creative as you want with decorating the slips of paper, using calligraphy, special paper, or printing them with your printer with special fonts for the letters.

Put the slips in the box or jar so that the person can draw one out and read it whenever they like or whenever they need a boost of love.

This is an especially good present for grandparents or for someone who does not really need more “things”.

Cost:  Will vary with how much decorating you do and whether you buy a box or container, but the estimate would be $1.00 to $3.00 in paper and decorating materials.


2.  For your down-to-earth friends, Mother Earth News is having a great sale of items that would make perfect gifts.


This sale is good through Dec 15 and includes:


119 Recipe CD for $5.00

4 piece cork or bamboo coaster set for $2.99

Organic Cotton Oven Mitt  $4.99

Molded Bamboo (Moboo) Salad Serving Set  $2.99

Practical DIY Projects How-To CD $5.00

 Cost of each above gift is $2.99 to $5.00 each (not including shipping)


3.  If you are buying for a writer or someone who keeps a journal, look at the Miquelrius line of notebooks.

These are a premium notebook and my personal favorite for journaling.  I’d rate them a 5 star. The pages are ultra smooth, the lines are fine and straight, and the spirals are high quality.  The notebook lies flat for easy writing.

I order them from Kate’s Paperie online.

[Update 11-14-13 – Kate’e Paperie appears to not carry this line of notebooks any longer.  You can buy them from or from]

Cost:  $8.00 to $10.00 (does not include shipping)


4.  Book Ideas:


101 Things Every Man Should Know How to Do – paperback – currently $9.68 at

How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free – currently $9.93 at

I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats – currently $7.77 at




The World Almanac and Book of Facts  2013 – currently $7.36 at

The Everything Kid’s Science Experiments Book – currently $8.95 at

Pocket Posh Brain Games – 100 Puzzles – currently $7.99 at, Amazon Pocket Post Brain Games also has a variety – [11-14-13 updated price is $7.19]

5.  For the book reader – a book light


Energizer LED Book Light – currently $7.90 at  [11-14-13 currently 10.51 at]

Fulcrum Multi-Flex LED Task Light – currently $8.73 at [11-14-13 price is $8.19]

Carson Flexneck Booklight – currently $9.99 at [11-14-13 appears no longer available]


6.  Leather Kindle Cover by mCover in Pink , Green, Blue, or Black


mCover Kindle Cases at Amazon  – currently $9.99 at

[11-13-14 … I’ve had mine for a year now and it still looks great!]

7.   Make a book of your family’s favorite recipes – hand write or print with your computer.


Put them in a spiral hardback notebook and leave room for the recipient to add their own favorite recipes. This is especially nice to give to a new family member.

Black n Red Hardcover notebook – currently $8.13 at

Lady Jayne Flower Poppy Spiral Lined Hardcover Notebook – eBay has one for $3.99  but the listing ends Dec 15th.


 8. Bag of gourmet coffee and a coffee cup


Try SoZo Coffee Roasting for a unique gourmet gift.  They roast the beans in-house and ship them immediately.  Fresh!  – cost $6.00 for a 6 oz bag


9.   Make a gift basket


Ideas:  Variety of popcorn in a popcorn bowl

Muffin mixes and a muffin tin

Pancake mix and syrup (darn it, adding a skillet or griddle would take the cost over $10.00)

Jellies and jams and a box of biscuit mix (or a container of your homemade biscuit mix)

Decks of cards and a book of card game rules

Basket of soaps and wash cloths


10.  Give a garden
Growums has delightful kits for $9.99


Kits include Pizza Garden, Ratatouille Garden, Herb Garden, and Stir-Fry Garden

Perfect for the cook or the gardener … even great for kids!


11.  Give a bottle of wine. has a a good listing of recommended wines, with many being $10.00 or less … you have to be a subscriber to see the ratings, so this link may not work for you.

Here are a couple of Consumer Reports 10.00 and under recommended:

Caberbet sauvignon – Columbia Crest Grand Estates 2008

Caberbet sauvignon –  Trackers Crossing 365 (Whole Foods) 2009

Chardonnay – Bogle 2009

Merlot – Cherrywood Cellars – 2009

Moscato – Yellow Tail has a listing of the Top 10 Wines under $10.00

The Reverse Wine Snob has a listing of the Top 10 Red Wines Under $20.00 – several are 10.00 and under


12.  For your northern friends, give a pair of gloves and a deluxe ice scraper.

Other ideas in this category:

Reusable Hand Warmer – Amazon has HotSpot for $2.95, has Winter Warmers Re-Usable Hand Warmers, Mitten, has ProHeat for $4.95, Amazon has Proheat Reusable Hand Warmer (free shipping for Prime members)

Carhartt Mens’ Extremes Cold Weather Boot Socks
Dickies Men’s Acrylis Thermal Boot Crew Socks

HeatMax Cold Weather Survival Readiness Kit (hand and foot warmers, body warmers) – Amazon  $9.73 (free Prime shipping)

Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets (pack of 10) – $8.19 at Amazon


13.  Zorbitz Lucky Bracelets or Zorbitz Karma Bracelets

These bracelets cost about $6.99 to $9.99 and each bracelet has a meaning or special purpose.  There is a wide selection of really intriguing and attractive bracelets.

To find them, try  Luckyvitamin.comZorbitz Bracelets at, or some Whole Foods Markets.

 14.  Find a magazine subscription for $10.00 or less

Good Housekeeping – $7.97

Family HandyMan – $10.00
[11-14-13 price is now $12.00]

Others … Redbook, Outdoor Life, Motor Trend, Marie Claire, Midwest Home, Men’s Journal, Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, Boating World … all usually available for $10.00 or less for a year

A magazine subscription is nice because it recognizes a person’s individual tastes and it lasts for an entire year!

15.  Practical gifts


These work when you want to give something to someone who has little interest in “stuff” or who may simply need certain things.

  • A book of stamps.  Add envelopes and note cards too.
  • Gift certificate to their favorite fast-food restaurant (yes, I know I said practical and this is a little off-base). offers discounted restaurant certificates, but I have not tried them so I cannot offer any information
  • Especially nice socks or underwear
  • Laundry basket with laundry detergent
  • Set of bath towels and washcloths (get the nicest you can – a good bath towel is a treasure after a shower!)
  • Set of kitchen towels – again go for the more plush ones; the cheap ones are somewhat useless
  • Set of shop rags and disposable shop towels (I did say practical, didn’t I?)
  • Mason jar filled with homemade cookie or muffin mix with the recipe attached (I love making these!)
  • An assortment of spices and herbs – try Penzeys Spices, The Spice House, your grocery store, or local specialty shops.  It’s especially nice to get a spice or herb that a cook might hesitate to buy because it is a little more expensive than average.
  • Make and freeze a meal, dessert, main dish, side dish, or snack
  • Fill a large, tightly-lidded food storage container with homemade biscuit or muffin mix.
  • A set of re-useable shopping bags
  • Give a deluxe mechanical pencil to someone who appreciates writing instruments such as a writer, engineer, or accountant
  • A couple of low-energy fluorescent (CLF) or LED bulbs to replace their energy-hogging incandescent bulbs
  • An assortment of chocolate bars for the choc-a-holic (of course this is practical)
  • A fire extinguisher, smoke alarm, or carbon monoxide detector
  • An assortment of AA and AAA batteries (try the Maxell batteries from Amazon)
  • If they have a charger, they would love more rechargeable batteries – find out what kind of charger they have – you can buy the specific battery brand or many chargers will charge a variety of brands of rechargeable AA and AAA batteries
  • Make a set of coasters from 4-inch ceramic tiles – use paint, or decoupage pretty gift wrap.  Glue a piece of felt on the bottom.
  • If you have leftover herbs from your garden, make sachet bundles or little pillows with either specific herbs (like lavender or mint) or from a mixture.
  • Give a small planter or flower in a pot
  • Make a little gift basket for their favorite pet
  • Give a special Christmas ornament that recognizes a person, special interest, or hobby
  • Supplies for their hobby – scrapbooking, photography, bird watching, small rocket launching, etc. – find out what they frequently use or like.  Unless you’ve heard the person specifically express an interest in something they don’t normally use, then for our practical section, it’s best to buy them something that they normally use but is harder to get or is slightly out of their current budget.


I hope these give you some ideas.  As you can see, you can give special gifts for $10.00 or less.

If you have additional ideas, share them with us in the comments.  Thank you!

(Note that some of the links are in affiliation with and may pay us a commission.)






What to do With that Turkey Carcass

Roasted TurkeyYesterday, I was thrilled to serve my family simply the best turkey I’ve ever made. It was a brined turkey and it was tender, juicy, and had subtle spice tones and broth flavors. This was my first year to brine the turkey and I’m a convert. I’ll brine the turkey next year for sure.

Last night, Chris and I each spent time carving and scraping off every last bit of meat from the turkey carcass. We got as much as possible and even gave a few scraps to the dogs (much to their delight). Yet there still seemed to be good turkey meat left on the carcass and I was sorry that we had to throw it away.

Normally, we toss the carcass in the field behind our house for the racoons and who-knows-what other animals to feast on. This year we decided not to do this, because we’ve heard coyotes howling across the field and we did not want to attract them to our area.

This morning, I realized that there are delicious uses for the turkey carcass and all those tasty bits of meat that we could not cut off. A fellow personal finance blogger, Eyes on the Dollar, has a great recipe for making turkey soup from the carcass. How I wish I had read this a day or two ago! I’d be making turkey soup right now.

Here is the blog post Leftover Turkey Recipe just in case you can still make use of it.

Even if you don’t want to make turkey soup, you could make turkey stock.  (Why, oh, why didn’t I read this blog post yesterday!!)

Here are a few more sources for recipes:

Next Day Turkey Soup – Food Network

Homemade Turkey Soup Recipe 

Rescued Turkey Stock

The vegetables and seasonings may add as much as $1.00 to the cost of your stock. If you make a habit of collecting leftover veggies in a freezer bag in the freezer, you could use those for your stock, reducing the cost even more.

Keep in mind that you can use most any vegetable to make stock – be creative!

The 3-4 hours of heating on a gas stove will cost about $.35 *.

The cost of the vegetables, spices and energy for the heat would then make the turkey stock cost $1.35 or less for 6 -10 cups of stock.

Immediately make your turkey soup with the stock and then put the extra stock in containers in the freezer and use it for soups and other dishes. You could also make a large batch of turkey soup and put the extra soup in the freezer for ready-made dinners.

Mmmmm… I can hardly wait for my next turkey.  I may even watch the grocery store ads and pick up a turkey on any after-Thanksgiving clearance sales.

Do you have any recipes or ideas for that turkey carcass?  Share them with us in the comments below!



*estimated cost of energy from Duke Energy of Ohio

Lower Your Food Costs With Creative Recipes

Father and Daughter Studying RecipeAccording to the US Census Bureau, the average family of 4 with a moderate cost food plan will spend $185.50 to $221.00 per week on groceries, depending on the ages of the children.

Just cutting those costs by a mere 10% will save $18.55 to $22.10 per week, or up to $1149.20 a year!

If you are trimming your food budget, you have probably already made a shift from highly processed foods to homemade foods. This not only saves money, but is usually much healthier since your homemade dishes will not have the preservatives, food colorings, artificial flavorings, and added fat that so many processed foods have.

One way to further cut your food costs is to be willing to experiment with recipes. If you want to make a new recipe, first read it all the way through. Does it call for a specialized spice or have one expensive ingredient? Why not experiment with substitutions?

For example, does your recipe call for allspice? Try substituting cinnamon or a dash of nutmeg. Dry mustard? Substitute prepared mustard (use 1 Tbs prepared for each 1 tsp dry.)

Does your recipe call for shrimp? Experiment with substituting chicken (really!) or any variety of fish.

The new cookie recipe calls for butter? Experiment with butter-flavored shortening (get the kind that has zero trans fat for a healthier cookie.)

Is a cup of wine part of the recipe?  Try grape juice, apple juice, or even chicken stock. The NDSU link below even has a substitution using water, lemon juice and sugar.

You can also use the expensive ingredient, but cut back on the amount. For example, in a casserole, use 3/4 lb of meat instead of 1 lb. in the recipe. If this affects the volume of the dish, make up the difference with a vegetable, cheese or pasta.

Here is a very comprehensive list of ingredient substitutions from the North Dakota State University. Excellent resource – bookmark it for future use!

Learning to use tasty, yet less expensive, ingredients in your recipes can be a tremendous help with your food budget.

It can also help with your gasoline budget if learning to substitute will save you from making an emergency trips to the store to pick up missing ingredients.

What about you?  What substitutions or changes have you made to recipes that save money yet still make a delicious result?


Other resources:

Mayo Clinic Healthy Recipes: A guide to ingredient substitutions

All You Magazine: Save in the Kitchen: Ingredient Substitutions








How to Make Washing Soda

I’ve spent more time than I would ever have imagined on experimenting with making washing soda by heating baking soda in my oven. I thought that today I’d give you a summary of how to make washing soda and some secrets to determining when the process is complete.

Why make your own washing soda?  Because it’s often hard to find in the store.  And because if you do it right, you can easily make it for less than the cost of commercial washing soda.

So here is the very simple process
– How to Make Washing Soda

Bag of Baking SodaYou will need a glass casserole dish (or other oven proof dish) and about two cups of baking soda.  The dish must be glass because the washing soda will react with metal pans, especially aluminum, and may damage the pan.

Put the baking soda in an even layer in the casserole dish.  Use about two cups, or whatever quantity makes about a 1″ thick (or smaller) layer in your pan.  The thicker the layer, the longer it will need to be heated and the more it will need to be stirred while heating.

Now place the baking soda dish in the top rack of your oven.  Leave it there while you do your normal cooking.  Leave it there even when the oven is off.  Every few times you use the oven, take the dish out and stir the baking soda and put the dish back in the oven.

Let the baking soda sit in the oven for a week or so until you have about six cumulative hours of heating the oven to 375 degrees or higher.  By then it should have converted to washing soda.

Although it works to simply heat the baking soda alone for about 3 hours at 375 degrees, I don’t recommend this because the expense of heating your (gas) oven for 3 hours would be about $.34 an hour for a total of $1.02.  That would actually make your homemade washing soda cost more than the washing soda you could purchase in the store.

If you could find it in the store, that is.

If you normally cook at temperatures above 400 degrees F, then you may find that your baking soda converts faster.  You may also need less time if you start with very small quantities of baking soda.

Use the tests below to determine when you actually have washing soda. If your tests show it has not converted yet, just put it back in the oven and continue heating.

How can you tell if your baking soda has converted to washing soda?

There are several ways that will help you determine if you have made washing soda:

Secret 1:  The volume of the soda has increased.  Heating about 2 cups of baking soda will convert to about 2-1/2 cups of washing soda.

If the volume has not increased, put it back in the oven for more heating.

Secret 2:  Dissolve a tablespoon of the powder in about 1/2 cup of clear water.  Washing soda will dissolve quickly and stay dissolved.  Baking soda will need to be shaken, stirred, shaken again to get it to dissolve.

Then let the solution sit for about 15 minutes.  The washing soda solution will stay clear.  The baking soda solution will develop a layer of white powder on the bottom of the cup after 10-15 minutes.  That’s because you thought the baking soda dissolved in the water, when in fact it was just fooling you.

Secret 3:  Look closely at the texture and color of the powder.  Baking soda is a brilliant white and the particles look like very tiny grains of white sand or sugar.  Washing soda has a subtle gray cast (compare it to unheated baking soda) and the texture is more powdery, like a fine talcum powder.

The difference is subtle, so don’t be discouraged if you feel that you are just guessing that the color and texture has changed.

Secret 4:  Do a pH test on the washing soda.  Dissolve the washing soda in a 1/2 cup of filtered water.  The washing soda solution should test alkaline with a pH of 11.6.

Here is a photo of baking soda:

Spoonful of baking soda being put in a cup of water











And here is a photo of washing soda:

Spoonful of washing soda added to a cup of water











Once you’ve made the washing soda, keep it in a sealed container. I use a 32 oz size yogurt container, but you could use a zippered plastic bag, a clean jar, or any container with a lid.

To boost your laundry detergent, use about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of washing soda per load. It can also be used as a heavy-duty cleaner – just mix with a little water to make a paste or more water to make a spray solution.

Remember that washing soda is caustic. With a pH of 11.6 it is more alkaline than ammonia which has a pH of 11.5. Bleach has a pH of 12.6. Don’t let washing soda powder or solution come in contact with your skin.

You can read the details of my seriously flawed pH test and the later successful pH test as I tried to determine whether I had actually converted the baking soda to washing soda.

Enjoy the process and savor the savings! That’s The Fat Dollar way.




Make a Refrigerator List to Save Money on Food

Refrigerator shelvesWe’ve all had experience with the grocery shopping list. Myself, I have a magnetized notepad right on the refrigerator and as soon as I notice we need an item, I jot it down on the notepad. Then when I’m ready to go grocery shopping, I just tear off the top sheet and I have the start of my shopping list. It works great in saving repeat trips to the grocery store.

There’s another list for the refrigerator that I only recently discovered and it has already began saving money on the grocery budget. This is a list of what’s in the refrigerator, instead of the shopping list which shows what is not in the refrigerator.

I’ve been on a quest for the last few months to cut back on our monthly grocery spending while increasing the quality of our meals. I’ve made good progress with a variety of methods, like cooking meals ahead, using some coupons, studying the store ads, and growing some of our own food.  Even so, every time I cleaned the refrigerator, I was throwing out food that had been forgotten, and therefore spoiled. After working hard to cut down on our spending, it was very discouraging to discover wasted food. It’s like throwing money in the trash can.  It feels even worse when the spoiled food was a favorite dish or fruit that we would have enjoyed … a week earlier.

I tried some methods that worked partially, like having a special shelf just for leftovers, or a special night for cooking with leftovers.  I didn’t really keep these systems up very well, so of course they didn’t give the results that I wanted.  I needed something simple, yet workable!

I keep a list of foods that are in the freezer that works quite well and it made me wonder if it would work to keep a list of the food in the refrigerator.  At first it seemed way too cumbersome – so much activity of food going in and out of the refrigerator, and such a headache to list them all.

Then I realized that it is really only a half dozen or so things that were the problem areas.  I really only needed to keep track of the leftovers and any other highly perishable item.

For me, this includes things like fresh mushrooms, fruits and vegetables in the crisper drawers-(I’ve thrown out more brown lettuce heads than I care to share) – open packages of cheese, restaurant doggie bags, and packages of lunch meats.   Milk, eggs, and fruit juices have a high turnover and it would be unnecessary busy work to put them on the refrigerator list.

Not surprisingly, a study by NDRC (National Resources Defense Council) states that the average American wastes a lot of food – up to $43.00 a month per person.  Wow!  For my family of three, that would be $129.00 a month.  I’m pretty sure we don’t waste that much, but if we were less careful, I could see that it would be a very possible amount.

Even beyond the money savings, though, the list has some unexpected bonuses.  When thinking about dinner plans, what to take to the office for lunch, or even snacks, I can just look at the list.  I don’t even have to open the refrigerator and I especially don’t have to rummage through the shelves to try to figure out what dishes or ingredients we have.  It feels much calmer and simpler and I like that.

Yes, I know, the list is not perfect.  One of us will forget to write on the list, or more likely, will forget to cross something off.  Yet even that is workable because it’s a short list and the turnover, by its nature, is pretty quick.  I can quickly update it as needed when I notice an unlisted item or an item that needs to be crossed off.

My list is still new enough (just a few weeks) that I’m learning the habit of looking at it before I open the refrigerator door and especially before I start dinner.  I’m getting there.

So far it seems to be a good method of saving money on food.  I’m estimating that my refrigerator list is saving $5.00 to $10.00 per week for the three of us.  I’ll have to see if I can figure a way to keep track.  At best I’ll just have to watch how much food is being thrown away and try to compare that to how much we threw away in the past.

This is my kind of savings … reducing landfill waste, making things simpler, and of course, savings on the grocery budget.  Now that’s The Fat Dollar way!

How about you?  What methods do you have for reducing waste on your refrigerated foods?  I’d love to see your ideas.

Visit The Fat Dollar website for more money saving tips!





Washing Away Your Money – Detergent Waste

In the case of laundry detergent, more is not better.  In fact, more detergent can actually be much worse on your clothes, your washer, and your budget.

An article in the New York Times, For the Dishwasher’s Sake, Go Easy on the Detergent, states that our number one problem with appliances is that we use too much soap.  Up to 15 times more than is needed.  You heard it right.  15 times.

Too much detergent not only sends your money down the drain, but the excess detergent builds up in the washer, causing mold and mildew (according to Jill Notini, a spokeswoman for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers).

In fact, as stated in a Consumer Reports article, Some Laundry-Detergent Caps Can Result in Overdosing (June 2009), too much detergent can lead to a washing machine breakdown:  According to Chris Zeisler, an appliance-repair expert at,  too much detergent  can plug or restrict ports or filters and those deposits could result in mechanical failure.

In the same Consumer Reports article, the researchers found that many of the laundry caps are poorly marked and that the proper measurement for a large load of laundry was often not a full cap.  A medium load – the most common size of laundry – was always less than a full cap.  Therefore, if you always use a full cap of laundry detergent, you likely are using too much detergent.

Too much detergent also leaves resides in your clothing, making them stiff and prone to attract more dirt.  It may also weaken the fabrics in your clothing, making them wear much faster and tear more easily.

Vernon Schmidt, author of Appliance Handbook for Women: Simple Enough Even a Man Can Understand, believes that most people use 10 to 15 times the amount of soap they need!  He is discussing not only laundry detergent, but also dishwasher detergent.  He suggests using 1/2 to 1/8 of the amount recommended by the detergent manufacturer.

Mr Schmidt recommends a test that we can easily try to see if we are, in fact using too much laundry detergent.  He says to set your washing machine on hot, with a medium load setting.  Put one or two clean towels (four to six if your machine is a front-loader) in the washer and allow it to agitate for about five minutes.  If the water is sudsy or has a soap residue, then you are probably using too much detergent when you do laundry.

If you cut your use of commercial laundry detergent use in half, the savings are nice:  according to Consumer Reports laundry detergent ratings*, the top rated brand of detergent laundry detergent (Wisk Deep Clean) costs $.17 per load.  If we assume that this is the cost for the correct amount of detergent to use, then if you were using double the amount needed, you would be spending an extra $.17 on every load.  If you washed six loads of laundry a week, and cut back your use of detergent by half, you would be saving $1.02 in detergent every single week.

Try using less detergent for a few loads of laundry and see if your clothes still come out clean and bright. Experiment to see how much less you can use and still have your laundry come out perfectly clean.

This is one of my favorite types of cost savings because it is very easy to do  and it is better for your washing machine and for your clothes – which saves even more money in the long run.  Now that’s The Fat Dollar way.



* Consumer Reports Laundry Detergents and Ratings

Got Used Coffee Grounds? Use them!

We make a pot of coffee everyday which means that we have a filter full of used coffee grounds everyday.  Since we have a septic tank and we don’t want the grounds to build up a sludge inside the tank, we don’t rinse these down the drain.  That leaves me curious and looking for uses other than simply tossing them in the garbage can.  Over the years, I’ve found a long list of really excellent uses for these grounds.

Occasionally we will make a second pot of coffee.  Since the grounds are already in the filter, I put about 1/2 the usual amount of new grounds right on top of the freshly used ones.  It still makes a very good cup of coffee, although not as excellent as that first, smooth, deeply flavored first cup of the morning. Could just be that I’m not as groggy and my taste buds are fully awake by the time we start on the second pot of coffee, though.

It’s nice that the second pot of coffee costs half the price of the first pot. That is a savings of $.50 to $.75, depending on how strong we want the coffee. *   If we did this everyday, and still enjoyed the second pot of coffee, the savings would add up nicely.

Beyond that, we have many other excellent uses for the grounds.  The one I use most often is to sprinkle them around the rhododendron bush, the blueberry bushes as a mild acid-enriched fertilizer and as a general nitrogen-enhancing additive for the rest of the garden.

Probably the next best use is as an exfolliator and cellulite reducing beauty treatment.  Messy, messy, messy, but possibly very nice results.  Do an allergy test first if you are going to try this.

I’ve posted an article on The Fat Dollar site,  26 Uses for Used Coffee Grounds … -including using them for repairing scratches in wood, as a scrubbing agent when cleaning, making a treasure stone for the kids, a pesticide, natural deodorizer, a hair rinse … and more!

It feels great to keep something out of your septic tank or landfills and at the same time make a money-saving very effective use for it.  That’s exactly what you can do when you have a second use for your used coffee grounds and that ‘s The Fat Dollar way!

Don’t forget to have fun finding new uses for the grounds.  If you have another use for them, share it with us in the comments below.  Thanks!



Article references:  Uses for Used Coffee Grounds – The Fat Dollar

Brewing Tips from Polly’s Gourmet Coffee


* Pricing – Copper Moon World Coffee Hawaiian Hazelnut from Sam’s Club – 2.5 lb for $14.98 – we use 1.75 to 3.0 oz per pot of coffee.  Not including the water, electricity or wear on the coffee maker, a pot of coffee will cost between $.78 to $1.41, depending on how strong we want the coffee.

According to, the SCAA recommends 3.75 ounces of coffee (about 10-11 tablespoons) for each 64 oz pot of coffee.



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The Cost Savings of Freezing Milk

Gallon of milk and jar of frozen milkI’m always delighted when I do something to make my life easier and find that it saves money, too. In this case, I’m referring to freezing milk for later use.

Milk can be easily frozen.  A quart sized (or pint-sized) canning jar is perfect for freezing milk.  Be sure to leave room in the container for the milk to expand as it freezes.

When milk freezes, over time the fats in the milk separate from the water in the milk.  To avoid this, freeze milk for very short periods, such as 2 -3 days.  Alternatively, you can vigorously shake, stir, or blend the milk after it is thawed to redistribute the fats.

The best way to thaw frozen milk is to put it in the refrigerator overnight.  Larger quantities of frozen milk may require longer than a night to thaw.  An alternative is to put the frozen milk ontainer in a sink or bowl of cold water to thaw.

At my local grocery stores, milk is currently on sale for $2.50 a gallon.  That translates to $.156 per cup.   Freezing a quart of fresh milk to prevent it from spoilage and resulting waste will save $.62 (4 cups @ .156/cup)  Freezing and later using a quart of milk each week would save $32.24 a year, or the equivalent of over 12 gallons of milk a year.

Even better than the money savings is the convenience of always having milk for cooking and eating.  No more special trips to the store for a gallon of milk!  And hey, that saves gasoline as well.  Now that’s The Fat Dollar way.


Related article on The Fat Dollar website (more detailed) – Freezing Milk

Garage Sales for Bargain Kitchen Appliances

This is the time of year for garage sales … there seems to be one or two in full display nearly every time I run an errand.

If you have been considering a purchase of a small kitchen appliance or specialty gadget, garage sales are a great way to have an inexpensive “trial run” to get an idea of what features are important to you, as well as whether you will even use the item at all.  A large majority of small kitchen appliances are rarely used and many of them find their way to garage sales.

For example, bread making machines are a common item to find at garage sales in my area.  The average price for a new-looking machine is about $5.00.  Yup.  $5.00 for a machine that probably cost $60.00 to $100.00 new.

Personally, I love my bread machine.  I use it often.   But if you visit garage sales in my area, it would seem that I am in the minority, and that many bread machines get used once or twice and then abandoned.

So, in this example, if you have been thinking about buying a bread machine, you could find one at a garage sale and take it home and experiment with it to see if you will actually use it enough to warrant owning one.  If so, then using the machine will also help you to decide what features are important to you and if you are satisfied enough to keep the one you bought or if you will now buy a new model with greater confidence of which one to select.  If you choose to buy a new machine with better features, the garage sale machine can be given away to a friend or charity for a win-win solution.

My guess is that you’ll save a considerable amount of money on small kitchen appliances this way, especially the specialty ones.   Many (if not most!) specialty appliances  are used once or twice and then forgotten, given away or sold.   Bread makers, waffle makers,  ice cream makers, single milk shake mixers, tabletop grills, frozen ice drink makers, pocket sandwich makers, food dehydrators, etc., are the type of appliance that you tend to either really love and use or you find that it’s just too much trouble to get it out, use it, and clean it.  Weed out the latter ones with a $5.00 or $10.00 purchase price, rather than spending $75.00 or $100.00 for something that will sit unused in your cabinet.

One important note – whenever you buy a small appliance at a garage sale, take the time to ask the owner if the appliance works and what they did/didn’t like about it.  I almost always get an honest answer.  Quite often the item is still in the original box and looks barely used.

My son has been asking for waffles, so I’m on the lookout for a waffle maker.  I’ve checked out prices for new ones, so I’ll recognize a true bargain when I see it.  Now that he’s been asking, I’m looking forward to having a breakfast of waffles, too!  Since I have my doubts that I’ll use a waffle maker often enough to warrant spending a lot of money on one, I’m looking for one in great condition that I can experiment with.

How about you?  Have you found a favorite kitchen appliance at a garage sale? I’d love to hear about your experience.

Have fun looking for and experimenting with your bargain garage sale finds.  That’s the Fat Dollar way.