Archive for Money Saving Tips

Getting Ready to Keep Cool This Summer

May has arrived with a bit of flair.  While cold snow was raging in Colorado, the temperatures hit the 80’s here in Indiana.   Odd.  I wonder what other bad behavior May has planned for us.

Melting Ice CubesThis early May heat makes it clear it’s not too early to start getting your house ready for summer.  We don’t have central air conditioning in our old farm house, so we depend on a variety of natural ways to keep our house cool. Here are a few tips we use for keeping cool without spending a fortune in energy costs:

1)  If you have ceiling fans, now is the time to switch the fan’s rotation.  Most ceiling fans have a switch that allows you to change the direction of the blades.  For cooling in the summer, the blade should rotate counterclockwise.

Note that the ceiling fans don’t actually cool the room – they circulate air so that the air flow makes you feel cooler.  If you have a ceiling fan running, you should be able to raise the thermostat 2 – 5 degrees and still feel quite comfortable.

According to the California Energy Commission Consumer Energy Center, you could save up to 2% in energy costs for every degree that you raise the thermostat during the air conditioning season.

2)  During these transition days from pleasant spring to summer heat, let nature cool your house.  Check to see if your windows have a feature that allows them to lock while partially open.  If so leave your windows open a bit in the evenings to let the cool night air into your home.

In the mornings, one of the first things we do now is to open up many of the windows in the house to let the cool morning air in.

When opening windows, open at least one on each side of the house.  This allows the air to flow through, creating lovely breezes.   As the temperatures outside start to exceed the indoor temperature, it’s time to shut the windows. We open the windows again in the evening when the temperature outside falls below the indoor temperature.

3)  Curtains and blinds are your powerful friends in the summer.  Close the blinds or curtains to block out the rays of the hot summer sun.  Open them once the direct sun has rotated away from the window.  Opening the blinds is another of my daily routines.

If you have venetian blinds, you can set the blinds so that you still have a view and the room still gets natural light, but the hot sun rays are fully or partially blocked.  Just turn the blind slats so that the bottom of the slats point down toward the window and the tops of the slats point up toward the room.

4)  Set your dishwasher to air dry.  That saves it from heating up your kitchen in the summer.

5)  Run your heat-generating appliances, like your clothes dryer and your dishwasher, at night when it’s cooler.

6)  Better yet, let your clothes dry in the dryer for about five minutes, then hang them up to air dry.  The few minutes in the dryer will remove most of the wrinkles and most clothing will dry completely after being hung up overnight.

7)  Clean the filters and vents on your air conditioners now, before you start using them for the summer.  Most room air conditioner filters can just be rinsed out in the sink and air dried. Your air conditioners will have better air flow and therefore run more efficiently with clean air filters.

8)  Get out your collection of slow cooker recipes so you can use your slow cooker instead of the oven.  You can even use the slow cooker to bake a cake.  I haven’t baked one yet, but I have a few slow cooker cake recipes that I’m planning to try.  I’ll let you know how they turn out.

9) Turn off your TV, especially if it is a plasma TV.  Those big screen TV’s can generate a lot of heat!


Do you have any secrets for keeping your house cool in the summer?  Share them with us in the comments, please!

These tips should get you started on keeping cool this summer and will help you to save on your energy costs, too.  Staying cool and saving money, too … now that’s The Fat Dollar way.





California Energy Commission – Summertime Energy Savings – Tips for Businesses



Clothing and Furniture Donations on Your Tax Return

[Editor’s note – this article was updated on 02-14-16 to reflect current tax years and links]

One common and easy way to help a charity is to donate your good used clothing, furniture, and household goods.

Family Donating StuffBesides a clean house with more usable space, you may also receive a tax deduction for the fair market value of your donations.   A tax deduction on your income tax return can mean more money for you to pay bills, enjoy, invest, or to donate to charity.

To claim a deduction on your 2015 Federal tax return for a donation, you will use the Schedule A (Itemized Deductions).  Yes, this means that you must be able to itemize deductions in order to claim a Federal deduction for a donation in 2015.

One common question with donated clothing, furniture and household goods is how to figure the IRS donation values.

The short answer is that you will be able to deduct the lower of the fair market value or your cost basis of the donated property.

Figuring your cost basis is simple.  Your cost basis is how much you paid for the item.  You may also add in any additional costs to improve or prolong the life of the item.  For example, you may have paid $55.00 for a pair of shoes.  $55.00 would be your cost basis.

As another example of cost basis with extra costs, you may have paid  $50.00 for a dresser at a garage sale, and then another $25.00 to buy new handles, glue, and paint to improve it.  Your cost basis in the dresser would be $75.00.

Note, though, that the amount you can deduct is the lower of the cost basis or the fair market value. For most taxpayers, fair market value is what they will use on their tax return to value their donations.

So how do you figure the fair market value of donations?  Good question and the simple answer is:  fair market value is the amount that you could sell the item for.   Usually this will be the thrift shop or garage sale price.

Here are some resources to help you value your donated goods:

Goodwill Industries – Donation Value Guide  This Goodwill page has a link to a downloadable booklet which gives guideline values for clothing, household goods, and furniture. The link is toward the bottom, under the section Taxes and Your Donations. For example, according to the Goodwill guide, a woman’s shirt in good condition would have a fair market value of $2.00 – $12.00.

The Salvation Army also has a guide – Valuation Guide for Salvation Army Donations  In their guide, the Salvation Army values a woman’s blouse between $2.50 and $12.00, similar to the Goodwill values.

If you frequently shop at garage sales or thrift shops, then you likely already know what prices are reasonable for valuing your clothing and other items.

Other things to keep in mind for tax return purposes when donating clothing, or household goods:

The condition of the items must be at least “good” condition before the IRS will allow a deduction.

The donation must be made to a qualified charity.  Giving furniture to a deserving family is a worthy action, but it will not be tax deductible because the family is not a qualified charity.  Use IRS Search for Charities – (previously Publication 78) to see if your charity is qualified.

Keep a detailed list of your donated items, or snap multiple photos for your records.  Also keep notes on the date of the donation, the address and name of the charity that you donated to.

If your donation value will be $250.00 or more, be sure to get a signed, dated receipt from the charity.

If all of your noncash donations for the year total $500.00 or more, you will need to report the details on Form 8283.   The Instructions for Form 8283 are also a good resource of information on donations of noncash items.

IRS Publication 561 has good information – Determining the Value of Donated Property

Simple Life Corp has a more detailed article on taxes and giving items to charity – Is Your Donation A Tax Deductible Donation?

How much will a donation of household items affect your Federal taxes?

Let’s use the women’s blouses as an example.  Say you do a major clean-out of your closet and end up donating a variety of 20 women’s blouses in good to excellent condition to Goodwill Industries.  Using Goodwill’s valuation chart, you value these at $8.00 each.  This gives you a deduction of $160.00.  If you can itemize and you are in a 15% tax bracket, you will reduce your taxes by $24.00.  Not bad for an hour or two of cleaning out your closet.

Even better, you’ve helped out a charity, you now have a simpler, less crowded closet, and you got a few extra dollars to donate, spend, or invest. Now that’s The Fat Dollar way!




[11-30-13 … the link to the Salvation Army valuation guide was updated.  Also note that Publication 78 is no longer published by the IRS, but the link allows you to search for qualified charities.]

This article is for guidelines only and not to be considered specific tax advice. Consult your tax professional for specific advice on deducting donated items on your tax return.


IRS Upgrades ‘Where’s My Refund’ Features

hundred dollar bills[Note 03-01-14:  The information and links on this page are still valid.  IRS refunds are processing in as little as 5-6 days, but allow up to 21 days according to the IRS. ]

Let’s face it.  An income tax refund is a nice relief.  Nice enough to let out a secret “whew” when a refund shows up on the bottom of your tax return.

This tax season is a little more chaotic than most.  It has started late with the IRS not even ready to process returns until Jan 30 2013.  It continues as the IRS will not be accepting certain returns (such as those claiming education credits) until at least mid-February. To add to the murky calendar, the IRS has also implemented new fraud prevention processes which promise to cause further delays.

One thing stands out this year so far:  The IRS has rolled out their new and upgraded “Where’s My Refund?” site.

This year the IRS is making no promises of a regular cycle of refund processing.  Tax practitioners have been advised to let clients know that their refund should arrive within 21 days.  That’s a far cry from the refund chart we had last year that generally allowed us to predict when a client’s tax refund would arrive (usually within 7-10 days).

That makes the new IRS “Where’s My Refund” site more attractive.

The site now has three powerful components.  First, it will acknowledge that your return has actually been received.   The site indicates that about 24 hours after you file, it can show that your return has been received.  Actually, so far my clients’ returns are showing up in as little as a few hours after they have been transmitted to the IRS.

Second, the site has a feature that will tell you not only that the return is still processing, but it will alert you when there is a problem with your return or if the IRS needs more information from you to continue processing your tax return.

Once the return has finished processing and is ready for a refund, the site will show that your refund has been approved.  At this point the IRS will give you the date that your refund will be issued.  According to the IRS, this will be an exact date, not an estimate, and will be personal to your income tax return.

To use the program, you will need to have your 2013 [updated from 2012 in the original post]  tax return in front of you – you’ll be asked for several pieces of information from the return.

Last year more than 90% of tax refunds were issued in less than 21 days after filing. Despite all the late starts, this year will likely have about the same results.

You can visit the “Where’s My Refund?” site at .  Remember to have your tax return in front of you.

I wish you many happy refunds!





Easy Savings Plan for The New Year

Woman's hands holding a jar of coins and dollar billsIf you take only one financial step this year, you can make it a powerful one by setting up an automatic savings plan.

In his book, The Automatic Millionaire, author David Bach considers this a secret to getting rich.  After witnessing how it has enriched my clients’ financial well being and even my own finances, I have to agree.

An automatic savings plan is simply where you set up a method for money to automatically be deposited into a savings or investment account on a regular basis.  The deposit should ideally not require any further action by you once it is set up.  It will be made electronically on an automatic basis.

After the plan is set it, you should consider the account off-limits.  In fact, you should do your best to simply forget that it is even possible to make a withdrawal from your savings or investment account.  The more trouble it is to make a withdrawal the better.  If it is an investment account, do not add a “telephone withdrawal” feature.  If it is a savings account, set it up in an out-of-town bank, or any bank that takes some time and trouble to get to.

Once you have set up a method for the money to be transferred regularly to a savings or other investment account,  some magic begins to happen.

First, the pain of having a little less money to immediately spend begins to fade and you find that you have simply adjusted and likely do not even miss the money.  This one will really surprise you.  If you are like me, you will be shocked that you could adjust to a little less money each week.

Next, the account begins to build.  Not fast, but after a few months you suddenly realize that you now actually have an emergency savings account and you no longer have to be afraid of what would happen if, say, you were unable to work for a week.

As the months turn into a year, the savings quietly and without any effort on your part continues to grow.  You now realize that it really may be possible to do some of the things you’ve been dreaming about – like save enough for a down payment on a house, or to finish your college degree and change careers.

As you learn the discipline of regular savings, it becomes natural.  When you get a raise, a bonus, or some unexpected income, your first thought is ‘how much of it should I save?’ and not ‘whoo boy!!  Party! New shoes! Dinner out!’

Do not let a tight budget stop you from learning this habit.  At first, it is not the dollar amount, but the discipline of setting up the process, letting it continue, and keeping your hands off the savings account that is important.

I remember that years ago, when I first set up an automatic investment account, I had $5.00 deposited from each paycheck into a savings account.  At the time, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to afford it. After a month or so, I didn’t even miss it.

A year or so later, I got a large (for me) bonus at work.  I decided to invest in a mutual fund with most of the bonus money, mostly because I now had the experience of knowing that the pain of parting with the money would soon pass and that I would survive (and thrive).

Over the years, I increased the automatic savings and also started an automatic monthly investment into my mutual fund.  I slowly added other automatic investments.  I did not worry if the starting amounts were small.  I worried about maintaining a regular habit of saving and investing.  Those habits made a huge difference in my financial health today.

There are many ways you can set up an automatic investment and I highly recommend that you pick one and get started … even if you can only part with $5.00 or $10.00 and even if it is painful to part with those dollars.

Try one of these:

1.  If your employer offers such a program, have your employer automatically deposit from your paycheck to your savings account.

2.  Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account.

3.  Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to a brokerage account.  There are many brokerage firms that accept and encourage small automatic investments … try researching Fidelity, E*Trade, American Century, ING Direct, ShareBuilder, and many, many more. (Note this is not a recommendation or endorsement of any of these firms, just a list for you to start researching on your own.)

4.  Join your employer’s 401(k) (or similar) plan and have an amount invested with each paycheck.  This one often carries a bonus:  you will immediately double your money if your employer offers a matching investment plan.

5.  If your employer does not offer an automatic savings plan, then pick your dollar amount and each time you deposit or cash your paycheck, be certain that this amount goes into your savings account.

6.  If none of the above are feasible, then get a jar, cut a coin and bill sized opening in the lid, then glue the lid on the jar.  Now decide on a dollar amount, and a set day and time of the week to make your automatic investment.  For example, you may choose to put $5.00 in the jar every Friday at 5:30.  Then do it.

It is not rocket science.  It’s discipline.  And the more financial discipline you learn, the richer you will become.

Now that’s a nice way to begin the new year.  And that’s The Fat Dollar way.

Here’s to your growing wealth.  Happy New Year!



Last Minute Low-Dollar Gift Ideas … Scouting Out Ideas

I spent some time looking for last-minute gift ideas.  While many links were hardly worth clicking, a few sites had some good lists:

I found this post on Money Crashers titled 10 Romantic and Inexpensive Gift Ideas for Your Girlfriend or Wife. The ideas were for Valentine’s Day, but they would all be lovely and thoughtful gifts for Christmas.  A few of the suggestions might require that you plan it now and give a coupon for redeeming.

There is a recipe for delicious homemade chocolates, an idea for a hometown tour vacation, a couple of romantic craft presents, creating a date-of-the month club, and even the ultimate: breakfast in bed.

All these ideas can be done without long, harried trips to the mall.

Other links to last minute gift ideas: 10 Last Minute Gift Ideas That Are Shockingly Cheap  from (I’d ignore the one suggesting you find a house in Detroit priced at $1.00)

Simple Organized Living also has Quick, Simple, Inexpensive Last-Minute Gift Ideas with several unique ideas, such as homemade wooden blocks or a homemade bulletin board.

While we’re being thrifty, Modest Money has a good post 7 Ways to Lose Money with Last-Minute Gift Shopping that you should take a look at.

Work Save Live has 5 Frugal Christmas Ideas for Children

The Dollar Stretcher has a few Last Minute Christmas Gift Ideas that I liked.

When doing last minute shopping, don’t let panic overtake reason.  Determine your budget before you begin shopping.

Look through some of the above lists so that you have some good ideas and feel that you have some choices.  This will help to alleviate panic spending.

If you are shopping online, don’t forget to check for coupon codes. and  are good places to check. You can also just google “coupon code” and the name of the online store you want to purchase from.

And don’t forget the advice from the Beatles … “Can’t buy me love!”

How about you?  Do you have an idea for an awesome last-minute gift?  Share it with us in the comments. Thanks!

Ho Ho Ho!  Enjoy!

Merry Christmas from The Fat Dollar!


Related posts from The Fat Dollar –  More Inexpensive Christmas Gift Ideas – $10 or Less!

Frugal Gifts – 10 Inexpensive Gift Ideas

Awesome, Yet Inexpensive Gift Ideas






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!