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cheapest car ownership strategy featured

We have a love/hate relationship with our cars.  They can mean freedom, opportunity, adventure, and even self-expression.  On the other hand, cars also mean debt, frustration, and anxiety.

I have pretty much always needed car for my occupations and lifestyle.  I appreciate the practical, comfortable service of a well-engineered machine, but my affection for cars goes no further.  I have put a great deal of thought into my cheapest car ownership strategy, and I hope you can benefit as well.

Note: The examples shown are based on generalities.  I did my best to pick average costs for all of the different factors involved.

What not to do: example X

cheapest car ownership strategy example
“Why do I feel like I have lost 9 grand in the last ten minutes?”

The worst approach to car ownership is buying a nice, new car on borrowed money every five or so years.  Nevertheless, millions of people follow this approach.  You will be paying the most to sales tax, depreciation, loan interest, and insurance.  The amount you will save on repairs and maintenance is negligible. As example X shows, you will be spending thousands more every year than is necessary to get from point A to point B.

This example is based on buying a $25,000 car with $1000 down.  It assumes that you pay the average interest rate for a five-year term.

total new car cost

Estimated car value after five years: $10,049

This estimate is based on Money-zine car depreciation calculator. Depreciation will vary based on model, mileage, condition, and even color.

Annual cost to ensure: $1,800

Take this figure with a grain of salt, as there are so many factors in car insurance rates that it is almost impossible to generalize.  When financing a car, you are required to carry certain types and levels of insurance, so you have less wiggle-room to customize your policy.  Generally speaking, the higher the value of the the car the greater the insurance premium.

Annual maintenance and repair costs estimate: $180

Based on Consumer Reports (see the graph below), the maintenance and repair costs on a new vehicle are incredibly low.  This estimate assumes some services are provided as part of a purchase agreement and warranty.

Annual ownership cost: $5758.676

(Does not include down payment or recurring registration, inspection, and fuel costs.)

  • Purchasing costs: $1,959 (sales tax and fees)
  • Financing costs: $2,883.38
  • Depreciation: $14,951
  • insurance: $9,000
  • maintenance and repairs: $900 

Cheapest car ownership strategy: example Y

The cheapest car ownership strategy is to buy an economical, reliable used car in cash, but let’s start by assuming that you must finance a vehicle.  For example Y you will be buying the same car as in example X but as the second owner.

Example Y is based on financing a used car with a value of $10,049.

used car costs
Note: The interest rate on the loan is higher, which is typical for a used car loan.

Estimated car value after five years: $4,459

This estimate is based on Money-zine car depreciation calculator. Depreciation will vary based on model, mileage, condition, and even color.

Annual cost to ensure: $1,100

Take this figure with a grain of salt, as there are so many factors in car insurance rates that it almost impossible to generalize.  When financing a used car, you are still required to carry certain types and levels of insurance.  We can assume for this example that the lower value of the car means a lower insurance premium and obviates the need for gap insurance.

Annual maintenance and repair costs estimate: $545

Based on the Consumer Reports graph shown below, you can expect to spend four to five hundred dollars more annually for your used car over this five year period.

Annual ownership cost: $2,966.76

(Does not include down payment or recurring registration, inspection, and fuel costs.)

  • Purchasing costs: $1,003.43 (sales tax and fees)
  • Financing costs: $1,167.36
  • Depreciation: $4,438
  • insurance: $5,500
  • maintenance and repairs: $2,725

In sum, even when including the additional repair and maintenance costs, you are nearly cutting your car ownership costs in half.  You are saving almost two thousand dollars a year by driving a used vehicle.  At the end of the five years, you can use your car’s remaining value (about $4,500) and the ten thousand dollars that you saved to buy your next car in cash.

False arguments that “they” want you to believe.

car dealer
Photo by Brian Teutsch

As example X and Y show, there is no economical advantage to buying new.  The people perpetuating these false arguments are either trying to sell cars or trying to justify why they should have a new car.  If having a new car is important to you, go ahead, but do not argue that is financially sound.

“Trade in your vehicle while it still has a decent value.”

They best time to sell or trade in your vehicle is never.  There is no magic year when selling is best.  Mailers from a car dealership explaining why your make and model is suddenly and magically more valuable have an obvious ulterior motive.

The most dangerous time for depreciation is when your car is young.  The longer you run your car, the lower the rate of depreciation (e.g. A twelve-year-old car is not worth much less than an eleven-year-old car.)  Instead of trying to cash in on the remaining value, it is better to sock away the money you are saving by delaying.  The money saved and its interest will be greater than the depreciation.

“The interest rate on a used car loan is too high.”

used car loan rates graph

It is true that used car loans have higher interest (as this chart shows), but the difference can be in the hundredths of one percent.  Example Y above includes an increase of .2 percent (greater than the typical difference in a five-year loan).  The difference in your loan would have to be incredible to consume the money that you are saving buy buying used.

“Your older car will cost you so much in repairs that you are better off with a newer vehicle.”

cheapest car ownership strategy repairs graph

People who point to maintenance and repair costs as a reason to re-buy are ignoring the cost savings of owning an older vehicle.

This argument does make sense to a point. It is easy to imagine that a very old and unreliable car would spend so much time in the shop that it no longer serves its purpose in you life. On the other hand, as the graph shows, the costs of maintaining older vehicles starts to level off over time.  Even if your car is averaging $1000 in repairs every year and you are spending $500 in car rentals, it is unlikely that the costs will counteract your savings.

According to Consumer Reports, the most expensive 10-year-old cars are made by BMW and have an annual repair cost of $1,125.

Big Ways to Save on Car Ownership

1) Lose less to depreciation.

Depreciation is the biggest problem with buying a new vehicle. Robert Sinclair of AAA explains, “Depreciation accounts for almost 40 percent of the cost of owning a new vehicle, more than $3,000 per year.”

cheapest car ownership strategy depreciation
Car value lost from year to year.

Everyone is a victim of car depreciation.  Cars are almost always a liability rather than an investment.  The key is to minimize your liability buy buying a vehicle that has already passed through the steepest decline in value.

According to Edmunds.com, the sweet spot of used car ownership is found by buying a car that is 2-3 years old and driving it for 2-4 years.  This allows you to dodge the massive, initial depreciation drop and still get some value when you sell or trade the car later.  This makes sense for people who want to drive new-ish car most of the time, but it is not the cheapest car ownership strategy.

I would argue that the “sweet spot” is found buy purchasing around the five-year mark. A five-year-old car can easily provide you with another five years of reliable service.  The longer you can keep it, the less drastic the depreciation will be every year.

2) Pay less interest on your car loan.

cheapest car ownership strategy interest rates

Interest rates are still low compared to historical averages, but that does not mean that you should be excited about paying interest.  Even if you have excellent credit, carrying a car loan adds thousands of dollars to the cost of the car. In example X we added almost $3,000 to the cost of the car with only a modest 4.21% interest rate.

The less money you have to borrow, the less you will be paying in interest.  Paying a hefty down payment might not be in your plans, so you should buy the cheapest car that will serve your needs and borrow less money.  They buyer in example Y pays less than half the interest paid by the buyer in example X (even though the interest rate is slightly higher).

3) Find a way to exit the car lending cycle and start earning interest instead of paying it.

car loan cycle
Photo by Jack Rice

If you purchase a used vehicle as shown in example Y, you can put the money saved into an interest bearing account.  In this case, almost $300 a month.  This money should go to an automatic savings account labeled “CAR FUND.”  If you cannot put aside the entire amount, make sure that you are putting aside some of the savings every month.  Even fifty dollars a month will add up over five years.

Your “CAR FUND” will diminish or even eliminate your next car loan.  If you cannot buy you next car in cash, you will at least be able produce a larger down-payment and borrow less.  If we think about this process in five year cycles, you have to borrow less each cycle until you are paying cash.

When you buy your next vehicle in cash, you have broken the car debt cycle.  You are saving even more than in example Y, because you have eliminated loan interest from the equation.

4) How you can stop worrying about the cost of repairs.

cheapest car ownership strategy repairs graph

A key element of the cheapest car ownership strategy is your “CAR FUND.”  One of the functions of the car fund is to help you stop worrying about repair costs.  If you are setting aside hundreds of dollars every month, a $500 dollar repair or even a $2,000 repair becomes a lot less scary.  Take the money for the repair from you car fund, and remember that you are still beating the system in the long run.

In addition to paying for you next vehicle in advance, you are obviating the need for car repair insurance.  Car repair insurance companies are simply preying upon people who are not so well prepared.

5) Buy a cheaper car to pay less sales tax.

If you live in a state with no sales tax, kiss my bippy.  For the rest of us, the easiest way to minimize sales tax is to spend less money.  The buyer in example Y is saving a thousand dollars in sales tax right off the bat.

Sales tax is a regressive tax.  It impacts the poor more than the rich.  If you want to combat the regressive nature of sales tax, be smarter and spend less.  I would not mind being in a position where paying 7% more for a Lamborghini meant nothing to me, but that is not my current position.

6) How much you will save on insuring a lower-value car?

It is impossible to generalize about how much can be saved on insurance by buying a lower value car.  There are more factors to calculating your premium than in launching a space shuttle.

Your age, gender, the type of car, how much you drive, where you live, your parking conditions, and even the color of your car makes a difference.  Suffice it to say that you should buy a practical, safe vehicle with a lower value.

The estimates in examples X and Y were quite conservative.  The annual saving for my example Y was only $700, and it is likely that the savings would be more.

7) Buy a car with proven reliability.

car mechanic

Whether you are buying new or used, you can reduce car ownership costs buy buying a well-engineered vehicle, but how do you know if a car will be reliable?

In this regard, the used car buyer has a distinct advantage.  The data for the model and year in question has already been compiled by Consumer Reports, AAA, Edmunds, and others.  Conversely, when it comes to a brand new car, the jury is out on how reliable it will prove to be.

When preparing to buy a used car, I recommend purchasing a one month membership to Consumer Reports. (You can easily cancel once you have made your purchase.)  They will give you the data and rating for the exact model and year you are considering.  The $7.95 that you spend will give you peace of mind and might save you thousands.

8) Buy vehicle with a low overall cost of ownership.

Again, Consumer Reports can help.  In addition to helping you calculate what you can expect in repairs, Consumer Reports can give you a complete cost-of-ownership picture regarding fuel economy, depreciation, and more.  SPOILER ALERT! Pick-up trucks are the segment with the highest cost of ownership.

9) Follow the maintenance schedule.

cheapest car ownership strategy reliability

Preventative maintenance will save you money in the long run. A forty-dollar oil change can save you a $4,000 engine rebuild.

Preventative maintenance is not mysterious.  The owner’s manual will tell you exactly what to do and when.  I would suggest that after the oil change increments, the most important mileage number to remember is 30,000.  If you buy a used car, go ahead and get the 30,000-mile service regardless of mileage shown. (You do not know how faithful the previous owners were.)  Now you can rest easy and return to your previously scheduled program.

10) Own fewer cars.

This is obvious, but many households never take the time to consider whether or not they could get buy with one less car.  Think about it, four grand a year buys a lot of Uber rides.  Furthermore, being a one-car household means less paperwork, less maintenance, less environmental impact, and less headaches generally.

11) Keep your car as long as you can.

Imagine that you are the buyer in example Y.  You have completed the five year cycle.  Your car is worth a few thousand dollars and you have a few thousand saved up in your car fund. Time to go buy a car, right?

Whoa there, Spendy McSpenderson! I congratulate you on your accomplishment, but let’s not be hasty.  Cars are lasting longer than ever and modern safety requirements were in place ten years ago.  If your ten-year-old car is still safe, comfortable, and serving your needs, why not keep it around a while longer and allow that car fund to balloon?

Every year extra that you can keep your paid-off car is pure gravy.  You have plenty of money saved (in case the car gives up the ghost) and your savings are earning interest. Furthermore your insurance costs (liability only) are minimal.

Small ways to save on car costs

12) Join a rewards program or use coupons for oil changes and regular maintenance.

Don’t just pull in to the first lube place you see when the odometer rolls over.  Take a minute to print out a coupon.  Hey, ten bucks is ten bucks.

13) Do not pay for repair insurance.

Insurance in all forms is a societal rip-off. Think about it.  If we all put our premium payments back in our pockets, the collective amount saved would be greater than the collective pay-outs.  After all, the insurance companies have to get theirs.

While we may not be able to escape the necessities of car insurance or health insurance, we do not need to add travel insurance, water heater insurance, milk spoilage insurance, or car repair insurance.  By creating your “CAR FUND,” you are creating your own car repair insurance underwriting.  When a repair comes up, take the money from your car fund, and I will be very surprised if you deny your own claim.

14) Give your car spa treatments.

Spend some quality time with your used car.  Vacuum the mats, polish the headlight lenses, spray some fa-breeze, and armor-all the console.  Not only will you make your driving more pleasant, you will also reduce depreciation.

15) Spring for neat accessories.

Use accessories to make your used feel special.  When I bought my used Subaru Forester (even though I really wanted another truck), I bought a roof rack, some cargo mats, a dog gate, and some fun odds and ends.  This made me feel as though nothing I could buy would suit my needs as well as what I had configured.

16) Drive less.

Make your car last longer and spend less on maintenance and repairs by driving less.  This can be as simple as planning your errands thoughtfully or taking the train on an upcoming trip.

17) Say goodbye to trucks.

For me, this was a tough pill to swallow.  Trucks are more expensive to register, less economical to fuel, and depreciate quickly.

18) Some maintenance you can do yourself.

When you go to Jiffy Lube et. al., they will tell you that you need a new bulb, air filter, wiper blade, etc.  Make a note of their suggestions, but do not buy the replacements there.  Instead, go to the auto parts place and buy what you need.  Anyone can change and air filter or a wiper blade.

  • Easy: wiper blades, headlight bulbs, air filter
  • Medium easy: oil change, new brake pads, new battery, tire rotation, new fuel filter
  • Not very easy: transmission rebuild, adding hydraulic lifts, installing supercharger, inventing the flux capacitor.

19) Argue with insurance companies.

Every year I drop in to my State Farm agent for a visit.  It is pleasant for no one.

I beg. I rage. I plead. I weep. I argue. I delay. I pontificate.  In the end, the agent gives me a better deal just to get me out of his sight.  Is my dignity worth two hundred dollars? The jokes on them, my dignity is worth much less.

20) Buy tires at Costco.

You can save a lot by buying your tires at Costco.  They include a road hazard warranty, free balancing, free rotating, and nitrogen filling as a benefit to buyers who retain their membership.

21) Don’t smoke.

We have already established that depreciation can be the greatest cost in car ownership.  One of the worst ways to accelerate depreciation is by smoking in your car.  One National Institute of Health study found that smoked-in cars sold for thousands less than there smoke-free comparables.

Conclusions on the cheapest car ownership strategy

You do not need to be a math genius to figure out that a brand-new car is a poor investment.  Do not allow scare tactics, erroneous claims, or fatuous vanity to sway you.  Be intelligent and independent in making the car ownership decision that makes the most sense for you.

If you need more reasons to resist putting your money into an insidious industry, check out season 1, episode three of of Adam Ruins Everything. (The full episode is available on Netflix.)  Do not fund this despicable industry more than you must.

Do you have an addition for the cheapest car ownership strategy? Are any of my calculations or estimates off-base? Did I miss something important? Please, leave a comment.

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free stuff on curb featured

Scoring free stuff on the curb is a great way to beat the system.  You are keeping stuff out of the landfill, finding unusual items, and keeping money in your pocket.  In some cases, the found items are better than what you would have purchased in a big box store.

If you are reading this, you probably do not have a psycho-social hangup with taking home something that someone else discarded.  People who can go beyond illogical pressures can save some real money.  Since you are willing to think for yourself, here are 27 tips for scoring great free stuff on the curb.

Approaches to scoring free stuff on the curb

1) Target affluent neighborhoods and big houses.

wealthy home

This is like how trick-or-treat-ers swarm to the rich side of town.  If you go to the rich side of town, you get the best stuff.

People with disposable income dispose of a lot of property.  Many will not take the time to post items on craigslist or even to take items to a donation center.  Whatever their reasons may be, high-income people put out high-quality curbside finds. Familiarize yourself with the trash schedules in the well-to-do neighborhoods in your area.

In addition, grabbing the good stuff in high-income neighborhoods is easy; it is less likely that someone who lives there wants to be seen trash picking.

It is important to note that some of the best finds come from large, older homes that are continually purging their contents.  The larger and older the home, the more likely that the stuff I am interested will end up on the curb.

2) Think seasonally.

Spring is often the best time to find great free stuff on the curb.  Many people are moving, spring cleaning is under way, colleges and universities are wrapping up, and the divorce rate reaches its yearly peak.  This is a perfect time for you to get your own home organized and upgraded with some free stuff from the curb.

Spring is not the only season to consider.  The holiday season, the end of a particular sports seasons, garage cleaning season, yard-sale season, and so on might offer what you seek.

3) Note trash schedules.

trash day
Photo by Bob Mical

Your own trash schedule is not the only one to keep in mind.  Think about the neighborhoods that you want to target and get to know their schedules.  Taking a different route home on a certain day of the week might double your chances of discovering curbside gold.

4) Cruise colleges and universities.

Here in Philadelphia we celebrate Penn Christmas in May.  When the students move away, they toss tons of useful stuff.

Even when the students are not moving away, colleges and universities have great potential for garbage picking.  When offices are being renovated or reorganized, schools throw away great furniture, filing cabinets, office supplies, and more. Oftentimes these items are institution quality and built to last.

Drive around the back of the building to see what is there.  Just make sure that it really is trash and not waiting to be picked up and moved.

5) Check other institutions and businesses.

Retirement homes, office buildings, factories, libraries, etc. throw away some great stuff. They may not have a plan in place to dispose of, re-purpose, or donate perfectly serviceable items.

Look around these targets, but make sure that you are not trespassing or stealing.

6) Go off the beaten path.

free stuff on the the curb back alley

To find the best curbside gold, you may have to travel the road less traveled.  Service roads, alley ways, and loading zones are where the curb treasure awaits.  The next time you leave a commercial park, shopping center, or school, exit by driving around the back of the buildings.

Do not forget to stay safe.  Do not go anywhere where you do not feel comfortable.  Pay attention to lighting, entrances and exits, and visibility.

7) Follow yard sales, estate sales, flea markets, etc.

garage sale glasses

If you want to get the best stuff at a yard sale, go early.  If you want free stuff from the yard sale, go late.  Many neighborhood yard sales occur before garbage day because they know that many people will trash things that do not sell.  Consider hitting the yard sales after everyone has closed up shop.

8) Use apps, websites, and alerts.

There are many apps and websites helping people find free stuff on the curb.  This is the best way to go if you are looking for specific items. The drawback of this approach is that you need to be ready to act quickly.  Sometimes listings are not kept current or you arrive two seconds too late.

  • Craigslist free section
  • Nextdoor app
  • Curbsurf.com
  • Facebook (local groups)

9) Travel on foot.

No matter how slowly you drive past, you will never get the best view.  You will see more stuff and avoid wasting time on items that are truly garbage by taking the ol’ shoe leather express. Most of the cool things I have found have been while walking my dogs.  Get some exercise, check things out, and come back later if something big is worth picking.

Free stuff on the curb best practices

10) Inspect finds.

If thoroughly checking out a trashed item causes you embarrassment, get over it.  It is better to spend the time making sure items are what you want than to waste your time and energy.  Make sure all of the parts are there, look for irreparable damage, move any moving parts, and look for maker’s marks and labels.  Even if something is free, check it thoroughly before investing your time and energy.

11) Avoid bed-bugs and other pests.

upholstered items and bedbugs
Don’t do it!

Bed bugs and other pests are hard to detect and hard to kill.  Bed bugs are resistant to heat, cold, and starvation.  They can even hide in the folds of lampshades or inside electronics. Upholstered furniture, pillows, and stuffed animals are out of the question. When in doubt, leave it out.

You can treat large items with pesticides, but it is easier to avoid all upholstered items completely.  Any kind of textile that cannot be treated with serious heat easily (washer and dryer heat) is a no go.

12) Be prepared and safe.

There are a few things that you should keep in your vehicle to make sure that your curb surfing is practical and safe.

  • Work gloves
  • Closed-toe shoes
  • Eye protection
  • Straps and tie-downs
  • Flashlight
  • Basic tool kit (screw drivers, utility knife, hammer, pliers, etc.)

Be safe with your body.  Do not try to manage heavy or awkward items alone, be aware of your surroundings, and carefully secure items for transport.

13) Learn how to disassemble.

Depending on what you are looking for, you may need to do some disassembly.  A few well-placed swings of a hatchet or the ability to locate mounting screws makes all the difference.

I have smashed IKEA bookcases to re-purpose the melanin, removed table and desk tops, pulled drawers for new storage, and snatched hinges, casters, and hardware.  Just because you do not want the entire item as it sits, doesn’t mean there is nothing of worth.

14) Get handy.

pallet wood garden cart
I built this garden cart with discarded pallet wood and bike tires.

Many people are completely intimidated by minor repairs and modifications.  As a result, some quality items with minor defects are free for the taking.

Finding free stuff on the curb gives you a no-risk way to increase your skills.  You might be amazed by what you can accomplish with a few screws, a little glue, and some paint.

If you would like to learn more about how I made this cart from discarded pallets, check out my post “Get Started Turning Pallets into Stuff“.

15) Think creatively.

free stuff on the curb upcycling
I turned two old windows into neat cabinet doors.

Open your mind to re-purposing.  A small dresser can become a bathroom vanity.  A shoe rack might help you organize your art supplies.  A desktop can become a work bench.  Just because an item is no longer serviceable for it’s intended use, doesn’t mean it needs to go to the landfill.

16) Know garbage picking laws.

free stuff on the curb legality

You do not want to end up paying a hefty fine for trying to save a few bucks.  You also want to avoid unpleasant arguments.  Check your local regulations so that you do not end up in hot water. Here are some basics for understanding garbage picking laws:

  • Pay attention to signs and notices; they have legal bearing.
  • You are more likely to get in trouble for trespassing than taking garbage.  If the garbage is on private space, it is subject to privacy protection.
  • Garbage left on public space is no longer private property (Greenwood vs. California).  The contents of garbage bins in public space (the curb) are not protected by law.
  • If you are going through garbage on private property, you are trespassing and invading privacy.
  • Some cities (like New York) prohibit the taking of items that are intended for recycling.  This recycling makes the city or the city’s subcontractor serious money, so they do not want people grabbing it.
  • There are no federal laws preventing people from taking other peoples’ trash.
  • Some local laws prohibit trash picking.  A municipality may decide that people are being inconvenienced or generally put-off by scavenging and establish ordinances and fines.

“My wife is always trying to get rid of me. The other day she told me to put the garbage out. I said to her I already did. She told me to go and keep an eye on it.”

-Rodney Dangerfield

For more in-depth information on this topic, check out my related post:  Trash Picking Laws

17) Consider reselling.

I was surprised to learn that many people make real money from what they find in the trash.  If you are so inclined, look for items that might be valuable to someone else.

Related website: Garbagefinds.com

Top things to to target

18) Building materials

free building materials
My garage is stocked with free project materials.

If you take on little projects from time to time, keep an eye out for free building materials.  (Demolition dumpsters are especially good for this.) If you have the storage space, grab extra 2 x 4s, leftover plywood, random boards, etc. whenever you can.  Your stash might save you a trip to the home store on your next project or even provide inspiration for an unanticipated project.

19) Wooden Furniture (non-upholstered)

free stuff on the curb wooden furniture
This Danish side-table just needed a bit of glue and some polish.  The Cocker Spaniel is also salvaged.

I am shocked at the beautiful pieces of furniture that people throw away.  People trash this furniture due to a minor defect or because their tastes have changed. I often find that this furniture is better quality than the particle-board monstrosities that you find in Target or on Way-fair.

Pay special attention to wooden pieces even if they need some TLC. Wood is a very forgiving material to work.  With some basic tools and supplies, you might turn a piece of trash into a unique showpiece.

20) Outdoor furniture

free stuff on the curb patio furniture
This aluminum patio set was free and will never rust. I simply made the wooden tops and bought new cushions.

During the summer months, home stores offer a wide selection of replacement pillows and pads for outdoor furniture.  Nevertheless, many people throw away an entire outdoor set as soon as the cushions have been damaged by the elements.

You are the winner in this situation.  Snatch up that patio furniture, take a couple of measurements, and buy replacement cushions that match your style.  Now you have a new set for pennies on the dollar.

21) Vintage curios

best free stuff on the curb old maps
I found this awesome set of old maps in a school dumpster.  I can skip Google whenever I have a question on the Louisiana Purchase (almost daily).

If you live in an area with some older homes or institutions, you might discover people throwing away unusual, vintage items.  I am always on the lookout for strange little curios that add nostalgia to my home office.

22) Shelving

Basic shelves are one of those things that you should never buy.  Why pay money for something that is only going to hold laundry detergent, winter boots, or sporting goods? If you can exercise a bit of patience, the shelves that you need will show up for free.

23) Bins and containers

Unless you really need all of your containers to be uniform, you can find all of the storage that you need for free.  People seem to consider plastic bins disposable even though they are pretty durable, so hose them off and get your stuff organized for free.

If you are not sure if the bins are meant to be trash, leave them be.  Your image will not be improved by having retired people chasing you down the block.

24) Plastic coolers

free stuff on the curb coolers
Coolers are versatile.  The red one has been converted for brewing beer, and the grey one has become a solar generator for camping trips.

I don’t think that I have ever paid money for a cooler.  People are always throwing them away.  Maybe some people’s days of picnicking or tailgating are behind them, or maybe they are too lazy to clean them out.  Whatever the case may be, a bit of soapy water means a new cooler for you.

25) Picture frames

When people throw away artwork, posters, and framed documents, they also throw away the frame.  This is really a waste as many of the frames are really nice.

If a frame is close to the size you need, the framing store can perfect the framing by cutting a new mat.  If you are crafty, you can cut the new mat yourself.

26) Kitchen wares

Saving kitchen wares

High quality kitchen ware is expensive, yet people toss these durable goods to the curb just because they are dirty.  Some steel wool or some Bar Keepers Friend will polish up them up to look like new.  You will often discover that the saved item is very high quality.

Note: Avoid damaged non-stick cookware because the chemicals released by the scratches can be harmful.

27) Tools

Tools do have no expiration date.  When people clean out their garages and basements, they often throw away hundreds of dollars in tools. Where they see a worthless metal thingy, I see a $100-dollar sawyer’s vice.  They may not know what it’s for, but I do.

You do not have to know about obscure tools to benefit.  People are always tossing perfectly good hedge clippers, wrenches, hammers, saws, rakes, shovels, etc.  A new handle or some time with the sharpening stone can make all the difference.  Again, older is sometimes better as grandpa’s band saw is probably better made than what you will find in most stores.

28) Hobby materials

When it comes to hobbies, sometimes we just lose interest.  Other times the person who had the hobby has moved or passed away.  If you like a particular hobby, you might discover a huge bin of “garbage” that will keep you busy indefinitely.

29) Fitness and sporting goods

As with hobbies, fitness and sporting interests tend to come and go.  You will see everything from elliptical machines to fishing poles.  If you have a particular interest or keep a home gym, be on the look-out.

“Free Stuff on the Curb” conclusion

You may call it curb surfing, trash picking, dumpster diving, or free-cycling.  I call it fun, and I am not afraid to brag about the great stuff I have found. I feel that it signifies an ability to think creatively and scoff at convention.

Although many of these approaches have merit, my approach to finding free stuff on the curb is pretty simple.  I do not look for curb alerts, search postings, or do extra driving. I basically adjust where I walk my dogs and the route that I drive if I am on the prowl.

At this point in my life, I pretty much have everything that I need, so I can very selective.  Lately I have only been keeping an eye out for cool wooden furniture and project materials.

If you have a fondness for second-hand items, I wrote and in-depth post about shopping in thrift stores: Thrift Store Tips for Becoming a Jedi Master of Resale.

Were my free stuff on the curb tips helpful?  Is one of my tips erroneous? Did I miss an important tip? What is your best find ever? Please leave a comment.

money saving grocery list main image

This article is not about downloading apps, stacking coupons, timing sales, registering for rebates, or joining rewards programs.  There are tons of articles out there if you want to play these types of games.  I find such maneuvering tiresome and frustrating.  Furthermore, learning to include money-saving grocery items in your weekly shopping is a long-term solution.

Money-saving grocery list summary:

  1. Brown rice
  2. Chicken thighs
  3. Store-baked bread
  4. Popcorn (old-style)
  5. Potatoes
  6. Frozen veggies
  7. Eggs
  8. Oatmeal
  9. Tilapia fillets
  10. Fresh sausage
  11. Cabbage
  12. Pasta
  13. Bananas (and/or apples)
  14. Onions
  15. Sour cream

Why you should care about a money-saving grocery list

We are extremely fortunate when it comes to food costs.  Americans today have the cheapest food costs in the history of the world.  We spend a smaller percentage on groceries than any other nation and spend a smaller percentage than Americans in the past.

USDA chart on grocery spending
The low cost of food in America makes food insecurity even more tragic.

That being said, food costs are one aspect of your household budget where you have great control.  Your rent, transportation costs, and health-care costs may be fixed, but your grocery budget is not.  By habitually buying high-value items, you can dramatically cut the cost of groceries.

Related post: Top 7 Grocery Store Rip-offs

Money-saving item 15: Sour cream

money saving grocery items sour cream
This is a lot of sour cream for $1.99.

I don’t know why sour cream is so cheap, but it is.  My wife and I use it in soups, sauces, side-dishes, and baking. Not only is it tasty and versatile, it also has a decent shelf-life in the fridge, so don’t feel like you need to consume mass quantities.

I like to use a big tub of it to make french onion or ranch dips for football get-togethers.  Take a tub of sour cream, add some of that powdery mix stuff and a few veggies, and you are ready for kickoff.

Related link: Sour cream dip recipes

Money-saving item 14: Onions

Money-saving grocery list onions

I have one drawer in my kitchen reserved for onions, potatoes, garlic, and shallots.  I am never without onions when I am making pizza, grilled skewers, salad, breakfast skillets, tacos, etc.

You can buy onions individually, but it is much cheaper to buy the big bags.   If the bulbs come in plastic bags, make sure to remove them so that they will last longer. A big bag of onions for five bucks will last you a long time when stored properly.

Money-saving item 13: Bananas (and/or apples)

save money on groceries bananas

The photo above shows that bananas are only 49 cents a pound and only ten cents more for organic.  In the fall, apples are almost as cheap, so there is no excuse not to have some fruit included in your lunch.

Environmentally speaking, should people in New England be able to buy cheap bananas year-round? Probably not.  But there is no denying that bananas and apples are economical on a daily basis.

Money-saving item 12: Pasta

money-saving grocery list pasta

I am not trying to get you to revert to an all pasta and ramen noodle diet as you did in college, but you can include pasta in your weekly shopping without becoming a culinary low-life.

Typical dollar-a-box pastas can be very good when dressed up.  Try making your own sauce with fresh tomatoes.  Make a pesto sauce with fresh garlic and garnish with basil leaves.  Try adding some spinach, kale, or spiral-cut squash.  Make a bruschetta and spoon it over your pasta with some extra olive oil.  Do not feel like you are stuck with boiling the noodles and dumping on some Ragu.

My Favorite additions:

  • Onions
  • Pressed garlic
  • Black olives
  • A splash of red wine vinegar
  • Goat cheese
  • Edamame
  • Walnuts or almonds
  • Arugula (Careful! It’s powerful.)

Money-saving item 11: Cabbage

money-saving grocery item cabbage

Never buy store-made or commercial coleslaw.  It can be slimy and/or loaded with sugar.  Keep a cabbage in the fridge and make your own coleslaw or even sour kraut.  Stuffed cabbage leaves and boiled cabbage (New England boiled dinner) are also in my rotation.

Slaw-some weekly coleslaw

  • Rinse a cabbage and remove the outermost leaves (too tough and bitter).
  • Cut the cabbage in half, and put half back in the fridge.
  • Carve out the hard, rooty base of the cabbage.
  • Shave off slices of the cabbage with a sharp knife, cut the shavings into your desired sizes, and toss them into a large bowl.
  • Use a vegetable peeler to shave short strips of carrot into the bowl.
  • Add vinegar, mayo, salt, pepper, and other spices to taste.

What could be simpler? I like the vinegar to dominate the taste, and I avoid the sugar completely.

Money-saving item 10: Fresh sausage

money-saving grocery list sausage

Nobody thinks it is very special to have hot dogs for dinner (except me, because my wife doesn’t allow them in the house.)  Grilling up some fresh Italian sausage, on the other hand, makes a great dinner.

Meat is expensive.  It should be expensive (because we eat too much of it and it has a huge environmental impact).  However, when you want meat, some well-made sausage can be almost as satisfying as a thick steak.

Money-saving item 9: Tilapia fillets

money-saving grocery list tilapia

I am determined to eat more fish, but I am not very good at cooking it, and it can be pretty pricey.  In addition, there are always concerns about freshness and whether or not it was harvested responsibly.

I like to eat tilapia fillets because they are cheap, tasty, healthy, and farm-raised.  I typically buy a bag of them to keep in the freezer.  They are pretty thin, so they can thaw out between the time I get home from work and when I am ready to make dinner.  I usually use an egg-wash and some seasoned bread crumbs before baking or frying them up.

Money-saving item 8: Oatmeal

cheap groceries oatmeal
This is a lot of breakfasts for $2.79.

I will admit that I do not want to eat oatmeal porridge every day for breakfast, but it really hits the spot on a cold, winter morning.  Adding some dried fruit, yogurt, or nuts makes for a big improvement.

Money-saving item 7: Eggs

money-saving grocery list egg price chart

Even though the price of eggs has spiked recently as compared to many other food staples (up about 20%), eggs still represent a very inexpensive source of nutritious protein.  They are so cheap you can even upgrade to free-range or organic.

It is easy and delicious to include more eggs in your meals. Even on busy weekday mornings I still have the time to poach eggs in the microwave. (It only takes about a minute.)  Hard-boiled eggs are great with lunch.  Have a fancy chef’s salad as an easy and satisfying dinner.

Related link: Poaching eggs in the microwave

I even put eggs on pizza.  Crack the eggs right on to a pizza when it is about 6 or 8 minutes from being completely baked.  Eggs on pizza go great with feta cheese, bacon, Kalamata olives, spinach, hot sauce, and lots of other goodies.

Medical science has largely redeemed the beloved egg.  The cholesterol in eggs does not go straight into your system as previously thought; it is digested in your stomach.  In fact, it looks like eggs raise good cholesterol more than bad cholesterol.  Eggs are very nutritious, and some recent studies indicate that even eating an egg every day does not increase the risk of heart disease.

Related Link: “Is It Really OK to Eat Eggs Every Day?” from Health.com

Money-saving item 6: Frozen veggies

money-saving grocery list frozen veggies

There is no substitute for fresh, local veggies, but frozen veggies come pretty close.  While canned vegetables are economical, they can have a stale, weird taste.  Frozen veggies taste great and can hide in the back of the freezer for a long time just waiting to help out when all you have planned is kielbasa.  (Don’t just eat a whole kielbasa for dinner; you will not feel good about it.)

When it is my turn to make dinner, I typically try to put a protein, a starch, and some veggies on a plate together. (What can I say? I’m boring.) Frozen veggies fill out the plate cheaply and easily.  I would love to meet the person who invented “steam in the bag” and buy them a drink.

Money-saving item 5: Potatoes

money-saving grocery list potatoes

Maybe it is written into my Irish DNA, but I love potatoes.  I love them at breakfast (e.g. home-fries), lunch (e.g. potato salad) and dinner (e.g. potatoes au gratin).  They are as cheap as they are versatile.  I have even been known to give potatoes top-billing at dinner time with my epic baked potato bars. (Don’t forget the sour cream).

Caper crusader potato salad

  • Cube several potatoes (to the size you like in your potato salad).
  • Boil the cubes to medium-softness.
  • Drain the water and let the potatoes cool in the fridge for a while.
  • Put the cooled potatoes in a large mixing bowl and add the following to suite your taste:
    • mayonnaise
    • apple-cider vinegar (just a bit)
    • capers
    • salt and pepper
    • chopped red onion

Money-saving item 4: Popcorn (old-style)

money-saving grocery list popcorn
This two-pound bag of popcorn goes a long way at $1.79.

Snack foods are typically very expensive by weight.  Old-style popcorn is easy, cheap, and healthier than most other snacks.

Making old-style popcorn is superior than microwave or pre-popped in almost every way. Once you go old-style, you will never go back. It is so easy, and you don’t need a special popper.

  1. Coat the bottom of a large pot with corn oil.  (I like to add the salt to the oil so it is dispersed evenly on the popcorn.)
  2. Pour the kernels into the pot.  Add enough so that you have a single, even layer across the bottom; every kernel should be touching the oil.
  3. Put on the cover and give the pot medium heat.  The popping action will automatically stir the corn and prevent scorching.
  4. When popping slows, turn off the heat.
  5. Once popping has stopped, stir the popcorn so that the popcorn touching the metal doesn’t burn.
  6. Add flavor. (My go-to addition is a bit of onion powder.)

Money-saving item 3: Store-baked bread

money-saving grocery list store bread

If you have ever tried to bake French or Italian-style bread at home, you know what a great bargain store-baked bread is.  The quality is often excellent, and the store is saving you hours of effort for a buck or two.

A fresh loaf of bread makes any meal a special feast – even it is just some massive hoagies.

Money-saving item 2: Chicken thighs (or drumsticks)

cheap chicken dinner
This is my go-to weeknight chicken dinner.

Our society is fascinated with breasts.  (Have you ever heard a commercial for a chicken sandwich that wasn’t bragging about their breasts?)  Since chicken breasts and white meat are so desirable, chicken thighs (and drumsticks) are a great bargain.

Dark meat is flavorful, juicy, and hard to over-cook.  I often buy chicken thighs (with skin and bones) for 99 cents a pound.  (How is this possible?)  I usually remove the skin of a large family pack of chicken thighs and put much of the meat in the freezer.

Weeknight chicken dinner (as shown)

  • Remove the skin (leave the bones) and put the chicken thighs in a large, oiled pot.
  • Add 3/4 cup or so of your favorite marinade. (For the meal in the image I used Lowry’s Sesame Ginger marinade.)
  • Cover and put on medium heat
  • Remove the cover occasionally to release steam and stir the chicken.
  • It is hard to over-cook dark meat, but you can check with a thermometer if you wish (165 degrees is cooked for chicken).

Money-saving item 1: Brown rice

money-saving grocery list brown rice

I do not want to hear anyone complaining about the cost of groceries if they do not have a huge bag of rice in their cart.  In some cultures, everyone (not just the lower class) have rice with every dinner.

Whole-grain brown rice is incredibly healthy because it retains the grain’s fiber and endosperm (where the nutrients are).  The enriching process (as in flour) removes these nutrients because it makes the product more shelf-stable.  The bacteria does not have what it needs to flourish (but neither do you).

Because the nutrients are intact, whole-grain brown rice is less shelf-stable.  It is more difficult to find large bags, and you may not want a large bag anyway as it is more likely to spoil if you do not consume it quickly enough.  Never fear, a five-pound bag will cost you about three dollars and last a long time.

Related link: Health benefits of brown rice

Money-saving grocery list conclusions

Spending money on groceries is almost always cheaper than eating out. Further, once you are used to money-saving grocery list, you can probably justify getting some fancy steaks, seafood, cheeses, etc. (I am making myself hungry.)

On the day that I took some of these photos, I happened to be shopping at Wegman’s in Montgomeryville, PA.  That fact is unimportant, as I tend to rotate between different grocery stores.  These items are good deals regardless of where you are shopping.

You probably noticed that big bags of frozen burritos, take and bake pizzas, and the like are not on the list.  Not only are processed or prepared foods unhealthy, they are more expensive.

There is nothing revolutionary about this list.  Your grandmother knew that these items were a good value and so do you.  It is likely that these items will continue to be affordable for the foreseeable future.

using your home to make money featured
Featured image by mariozama

Using your home to make money is easier than ever.

You no longer need to run an illegal boarding house, throw rent parties, or start an underground casino. Technology has enabled property owners to capitalize through peer-to peer-transactions (uberization) like never before.

Your home is one of your greatest assets.  If your home suits your needs and you enjoy it, do not give it up because of a tight budget.  Do not take out a home equity loan (second mortgage) to pay for improvements or repairs.  You work hard for your home, and you can make it work for you.

Here are 11 ideas on using your home to make money.

Post summary:

  1. A Roommate
  2. Hosting travelers
  3. Hosting students
  4. Renting out useful space
  5. Storage
  6. Parking
  7. Filming
  8. Boarding pets
  9. Hosting campers or tiny houses
  10. Events 
  11. Renting out garden space

1) Getting a roommate

using your home to make money roommates
“I’m not sure this was a good idea.” Photo by dog97209

Most adults do not want a roommate.  Everyone values their privacy and independence.  On the other hand, having a roommate might be a wonderful experience.  One thing is sure, it can dramatically improve your budget.

Tips for taking on a roommate:

Anticipate friction.

Think about the issues your home, lifestyle, and personality might create.  How do you want to handle chores and responsibilities? How do you want to share expenses? Are their spaces that might be contentious?  Do you have habits, pets, or visitors that could create awkward problems?

The greatest day-to-day issues often revolve around bathrooms and kitchens.  Division of spaces often solves this problem but may not be feasible. Designated bathrooms, designated kitchen storage, or even an added kitchenette (a dry sink, toaster oven, mini-fridge, etc.) can go a long way.

When division of space is not possible, make sure to set schedules and expectations. Make a list of your routines (bathing, entertaining, exercising, etc.) and have your prospective roommate do the same. See if compromises will be possible.

Anticipate problems regarding habits, visitors, shared spaces, etc. and create a method for conflict resolution.  Unfortunately, you do not have resident adviser to turn to, so you will have to have create a plan with your roommate.  You could settle disagreements by using an online forum like squabbler, where site visitors decide your case.

Be clear.

Be honest with yourself about how you might irk others.  Think about what irritates you to an irrational degree.  (I can’t stand it when crumbs are left on the cutting board, but my marriage contract offers nothing on this point.)

Tell your prospective roommate about all of your peccadilloes and idiosyncrasies, and they should do the same.  Take the time to find a compatible roommate; your quality of life is important.

Do your homework.

Prepare a series of questions for your prospective roommate.  Do this before you even meet the candidate.  Make sure that you have honest answers for the same questions.

Do not be afraid to ask for references, and be prepared to offer yours.  This is a business arrangement and should be treated as such.

It is not out-of-bounds to do a credit check.

Put everything in writing.

This is an awkward way to start such a personal relationship, but it is necessary.  Offer as many apologies and disclaimers as you must, but a written agreement is fair to all.

If you are renting, put the written details into the lease or a sub-lease agreement.

If you are the homeowner, create a reasonable roommate agreement that works both parties.  Do not be afraid to include details that are important to you but might seem silly to others (e.g. no talking in the living room during first-run episodes of Wheel of Fortune); even if they will not hold up in court, everyone knows what the deal is.

Think about the end-game.  Make sure to address how the dissolution of the arrangement will work.  How much notice is needed? How will remaining expenses be handled?  When can I put your stuff in the dumpster after you disappear for three months to live on a commune with your personal trainer?

2) Hosting travelers

using your home to make money hosting travelers
Photo by Jens Fricke

It is easier than ever to host travelers in you home, and many cities have worked out the legal issues (setting limits on the number of days and visitors).

Using services like Air BnB and HomeAway offer you important protections, but it is imperative that you make sure that your municipality allows this type of hosting and that you are legally protected.

I was able to find the regulations for where I live, Philadelphia, pretty easily.

  • Thirty day maximum stay
  • 2 guests maximum (unless they are related)
  • 90 days a year
  • No permit required
  • 8.5% in taxes to the city
  • Smoke alarm and safety requirements
  • And so on

There are two basic ways to host travelers in using your home to make money:

Host present:

Air BnB and other similar operations give you the chance to host travelers for a profit, but make no mistake, it can be competitive and demanding.  With all of the customer support, cleaning, and managing, you may start to feel like you are running a small business.  Think carefully about whether or not this is right for you.

Host absent:

Many people do not want to share their residence when they are there, but that doesn’t mean it cannot earn money for you while you are away.

If you are going away, your home can host a traveler, but you must be willing to do some extra work in preparation.  You want to have happy customers and happy reviews. (After all, who wants to ruin someone’s vacation?) Homeaway and other brokerage services will help you create a successful offering.

Case study: I have an acquaintance who essentially lives in her basement so that she can continually rent out her three bedrooms and living spaces.  She works very hard to be competitive and receive positive reviews. She loves the arrangement as she is essentially living mortgage free.  She will remain nameless as she is in violation of the city’s rules.  

3) Using your home to make money: hosting a student

using your home to make money hosting a student

This is my favorite idea. (In fact, I am renovating a bathroom in preparation to host a student through a nearby college.)

If you live in an area with a few private high-schools or colleges, this option is almost certainly available.  You can receive upwards of $500 a month to host a students from another country.  It can also be very gratifying.

Check out the websites for the private schools and/or colleges near you to check the specifics of their program.  You may need to provide transportation, meals, specific living arrangements, etc.  Generally, the requirements are reasonable as they need reliable, engaged hosts to make their program successful.

There is much to recommend hosting a student as a way of using your home to make money:

  • The expectations are set:  You know the rules and so does the student.
  • The time is period is established:  You might plan to host one semester or session, but not the next.  This flexibility is great since you can’t kick out a roommate every few months and expect them to keep coming back.
  • Built-in mediation:  Both you and the student can refer to the program staff if there is a problem or concern.
  • Support and protection:  The program is there to support the student and the host.  You do not have all of the responsibility.

Case study: My friend and neighbor clued me in to the program at a nearby college.  He loves being a host.  He has hosted students from Bulgaria, Italy, Colombia, and many other countries.  As an immigrant himself, he loves playing host to young people learning their way around America.  He also likes getting some financial help in heating and cooling his size-able, stone home.

4) Renting out a useful space

using your home to make money office space

Not everyone has the space for their activities.  If you have the space available, you could be using your home to make money and enabling others to pursue their interests.

If you have an art studio space, check out brokers like stuso.

If you have an office space that you want to rent out, you could find renters through a website like sharedesk.  Even people that could set up a home office often prefer to keep their work space separate.

If you have a space for musicians, check out brokers like musicnomad.

If you have a space for pole-dancers wanting to rehearse…well…just put it on craigslist (and why do you have that space to begin with?).

NOTE: Check with your insurance company and municipality first.  You do not want to rent out your space and have a serious problem.  It is also advisable to get any customer to put everything in writing and wave any liability.

Case study: I had an artist friend in Los Angeles.  We worked together in a pizzeria, but he was an abstract artist (the modifier applies to both his work and his personality).  He lived in a one bedroom apartment with his wife, so he needed a studio.  It came in the form of a nearby, one-car garage with no utilities.  He was happy and so was the owner.

5) Using your home to make money: storage

using your home to make money storage
Photo by Martin Belam

I have been watching YouTube videos about people who live in vans. (Don’t judge me.) The biggest takeaway is that the majority of people in this society have way more stuff than they need.

Unless you are participating in a multitude of extreme sports, stockpiling supplies for doomsday, or hoping that your collection of vintage happy-meal toys will form the permanent collection of an esoteric museum to be named later, you probably have too much stuff.

The unattractive roadside displays of storage units attest to the fact that there is money to be made in storage.  Don’t be one of the suckers paying for storage, let the suckers (valued customers) pay you.

Climate controlled storage is at a premium.  Brokerages like storeatmyhouse.com and StoreWithMe will connect you with people who are materialistic suckers – I mean, have too much stuff.  The customers who use these sites feel safer knowing that their possessions reside with a caring steward (or, at least, someone who is around).

6) Using your home to make money: parking space

using your home to make money parking

Can you rent out your driveway or parking space? Yes! 

If you live in an area where parking is often an issue, your parking space could be making you money.

You do not need to build a kiosk and sit in it all day looking at your phone and whistling at passers-by.  Nor do you need to work out a deal personally. There are peer-to-peer brokers that handle the transactions.

Curbflip.com allows you to set a schedule of when you are not using your space.  After you create a profile, take some photos, and set the schedule and price, your space is ready for business.  Customer satisfaction is important as service is based on reviews.

Justpark.com is a similar service that works with individuals as well as parking companies.

7) Your home as an event venue (or to host visitors to nearby events)

using your home for weddings

You can use your home to make money by offering it to visitors attending a special event, like a golf tournament or a music festival.  People descend like locusts to see a special event and hotels are overwhelmed. You can help them out.

Eventhomes is broker that pairs available homes with people attending a specific event.  Let’s say that there is a big tennis tournament coming to your area; you can rent your home to a group of fans. Since you do not care about the event, you can go visit your mom.

If you have a large, attractive, or unique home, you might be able to rent it out as a venue for weddings, reunions, fundraisers, etc.  There are some legal issues involved, but they are not insurmountable.

Venuelust allows you to list your home as a venue for weddings and get-togethers.  They will walk you through the process and explain how their service offers some protection regarding liability.

8) Filming location

using your home as a filming location
Photo by Alex Lang

This method of using your home to make money is advisable if you live in an area with an established film industry or you have a unique and/or photogenic home.  Production companies prefer to work with home-owners rather than renters. You do not need to have a fancy mansion, but uniqueness is a big factor.  The photos that you take will be critical to your success.

Here are a couple of services to check out:

Both of these services require a monthly fee to list and promote your filming location, so do not waste your time unless you have a reasonable expectation that your home might be desirable.

9) Using your home to make money: pet boarding

using your home to host pets

This option is certainly not for everyone.  You must love pets, have a flexible schedule, be willing to work, and take customer service seriously. I am including this option, however, because you are using your home to help you make money.

Rover is the two-hundred pound mastiff of peer-to-peer bet boarding (they have recently bought out DogVacay).  Rover expects you to perform excellent customer services including pre-stay meet-and-greets and daily photos and updates for the client.

If Rover does not work for you, there are other, smaller options out there.

Related post: Be Cheap before Starting a Side Hustle

10) Providing camp and tiny house sites

using your home to make money camp sites

If you have some acreage, you could be using your home to make money by hosting campers, RVers, or tiny housers.  Depending on your situation, you may want to add a fire-ring, water access, picnic table, etc. to your private camping site.

Hipcamp is very flexible in what a host can offer.  They are clear about what is required and what is considered desirable in a site.  For example, if your property is less than 20 acres and the guest is not in an RV, you must provide bathroom access.

Campspace (which has absorbed campinmygarden.com) focuses on campers looking for unique, memorable camping experiences.

Gamping.com works best if you have a special piece of land or proximity to specific outdoor activities.

Try It Tiny, caters to the tiny house owners or enthusiasts.  Hosts can offer a tiny house (yurt, cabin, etc.) or just an area for a tiny house.

11) Using your home to make money: garden space

gardening

Yardyum connects plot owners with people looking for a place to grow vegetables.  Your agreement can include the sharing of the harvest.  This site is specifically for growing food as it relates to their sustainability mission.

I could not really find any other websites in the U.S. that help the homeowner establish this type of partnership, but you could certainly advertise the gardening space on your own.

Issues regarding using your home to make money

Each of these options includes issues regarding legality, liability, and taxes.  Once you have decided to pursue one of these ideas, take the time to do your research.

Make sure that you refer to…

  • Your own rental agreement
  • The homeowners association rules
  • Your local regulations (Make sure you know the limits of how long you can host guests, etc.)
  • A tax professional (The tax implications might not be all bad.  For example, some of these options would enable you to deduct some of the costs of home improvements.  When diversifying income this way, it is worthwhile to hire a capable professional who is familiar with the issues involved.)
  • Your insurance policy (Make sure that you are covered.  Meet with an experienced agent to discuss exactly what you plan to do.)
  • The details provided by the brokering service (If you are using a broker like Air BnB or yardyum, you want to make sure that the service will work for you, and that you can be a good partner.)

Conclusion on using your home to make money

Post review:

  1. A Roommate
  2. Hosting travelers
  3. Hosting students
  4. Renting out useful space
  5. Storage
  6. Parking
  7. Filming
  8. Boarding pets
  9. Hosting campers or tiny houses
  10. Events 
  11. Renting out garden space

Every one of these ideas on using your home to make money requires some degree of investment, inconvenience, or sacrifice. On the other hand, you might find that you actually enjoy the process (in addition to the income).

Do not hesitate to make your asset work for you.  It is not unseemly to use your home to make money. You are not taking advantage of anyone.  You are simply using your own asset to create a partnership that benefits everyone involved.

thrift-store-jeans

There are many great reasons to be a thrift store shopper.  It is good for the environment, saves you money, can help a good cause, and is fun. Before you launch into hyperspace across the thrift store galaxy, here are some thrift store tips to start your training.

Thrift store tips summary

  • Thrift store tip 1: Scout the stores.  Know which stores carry what.
  • Thrift store tip 2: Know that stores come in four main varieties.  They range from vintage boutiques to random bin warehouses.
  • Thrift store tip 3: Top ten items to seek:  Weekend clothing, wooden furniture, and housewares top the list.
  • Thrift store tip 4: Top five items to avoid: Items that can harbor bedbugs are no deal.
  • Thrift store tip 5: Process clothing: Keep items in a sealed bag until they can be treated.
  • Thrift store tip 6: Know the promotions.  Learn the promotion schedule or join the mailing list.
  • Thrift store tip 7: Know where the money goes.  Be proud when your money goes to a worthy cause.
  • Thrift store tip 8: Complete the cycle. Return the favor by donating regularly.  Your closet and garage will thank you.

thrift store aisles

My experience

I started shopping in thrift stores because I had to.  Now I shop in thrift stores because I love to; you never know what you are going to find. I enjoy the challenge and knowing that I am shopping conscientiously.

Since I am so cheap and have no sense of style, it would be pretty natural for me to do all of my shopping at Costco, JCpenney, Target, etc.  However, I know that this type store and their short-lived products take a toll on the environment and the global community.  Thrift stores enable me to be cheap and responsible, which brings balance to the force.

Over the years I have completed my training by mastering thrift stores in Los Angeles, Vermont, and the Philadelphia area. My thrift store tips can take you from errant young-ling to the resale Jedi council.

Thrift store tip 1: Scout the stores.

When you pull up to a unfamiliar thrift store, you have no way of knowing if your are headed to the dark side.  This can be fun unless there are really some items that you need.

Spend some time getting to know the thrift stores in your area.  Reach out with your feelings (or use google maps.) Spend some time visiting the stores when you don’t need anything in particular.  You will discover that some stores emphasize furniture, tools, housewares, clothing, media, and so on.  This will save you time and frustration later.

thrift store books

Scouting thrift stores general rules:

  • Stores in low-income areas may not have the droids you seek.  This makes sense.  People in these areas are highly motivated to take the best items quickly.  Additionally, stores near affluent areas tend to get some pretty sweet donations.
  • Keep travel to a minimum by avoiding the outer rim and frequenting stores near places you go anyway.  If thrift shopping is hassle, you probably won’t do it.  If your interests or occupation take you to an area often, check out the thrift store landscape as it may offer better options than where you live.
  • Know thy self.  Do you expect everything to be processed carefully and organized or are you OK with sorting through a mess?

Thrift store tip 2: Know that stores come in four main varieties.

You may think thrift stores are not for you, but hold on my very young apprentice; a key thrift store tip is that there is a thrift store for every shopper.  After scouting the stores, decide which type works best for you.

1) Fancy Boutique

These stores are generally small, selective, and located in an area with a lot of foot-traffic.  They only accept items that are appropriate for their discriminating clientele.  They are very clean and well-staffed, but this care is reflected in the prices.  If you seek designer brands or stylish jewelry, these are the shops for you.  Examples include Green Street and The Cinema Glamour Shop.

2) Epic planet of savings

awesome thrift store 130

Every once in a while you find a huge thrift store that is also clean, organized, and loaded with kyber crystals.  They seem to show up in buildings that were formerly grocery stores. This is my favorite type of thrift store. Examples include 2nd Avenue Value Stores and Heaven’s Treasures.

Note: Some Goodwill Stores, Salvation Army Stores, and St. Vincent De Paul Society stores meet the criteria of an Epic Planet of Savings.

3) Run-of-the-mill thrift stores

Most Goodwill, Salvation Army, St. Vincent De Paul Society, and church basement stores are like the mines of Kessel.  They tend to smell a bit like a Ton-ton and be a bit scruffy looking.  They may have just what you are looking for, but patience you must have.

4) Bin warehouse

thrift store bins 120

As cheap as I am, my thrift store tip is to skip these options.  They usually take the refuse from another thrift store.  There is little-to-no organization and much of the inventory has missing parts or a defective motivator. I am sure many have had success in these thrift stores, but it is like trying to hit a womp rat in a T-16.

Many of these stores sell goods by-the-pound based on category. Examples include Goodwill Outlet and the Salvation Army by-the-pound program.

Thrift store tip 3: Top 10 items to seek

Once you become a resale padawan learner, you will discover that there are some things that are almost never worth buying retail.

1) Weekend clothing

Why pay retail for clothes you are going to wear playing softball or milking thala-sirens?  I am pretty rough on my clothes generally, so I expect them to get ruined in short order.  A thrift store shirt can catch a glob of mustard just as well.  If you find something that actually deserves some care, consider it a bonus.

2) Wooden furniture

We are not really looking for another set of IKEA bookcases. You will be amazed how many neat pieces from the past you will find. Old furniture is often better made, and wood furniture is easy to refresh or repair and won’t bring unexpected house guests (more about bedbugs later).  For this thrift store tip, remember that a couple of screws, some polish, stain, or paint can go a long way.

Thrift store furniture 120
Plywood dressers at particle-board prices

3) Housewares

Some people take amazing care of their plates, utensils, glassware, etc.  When these people die, their kids donate these items, and I reap the benefits.  Again, some this stuff is of much higher quality than you will find in Target.  When I found the potato masher of my dreams for a dollar, I knew that I had brought balance to the force.

thrift store housewares

4) Tools

Like heirloom light-sabers, good tools are hard to find and easy to lose.  Most thrift stores do not carry tools, but, when they do, I am on it like a Wookie in a butcher shop.  These tools are often better quality than you will find at the Home Cheapo.

thrift store tools 120
Even this tiny assortment of tools is worthy of my attention.
thrift store clippers
I got this hedge trimmer for seven bucks. Don’t be afraid to plug things in before you buy them.

5) Sporting goods

People tend to give up sports over the years.  For example, I had to stop throwing my shot-put in the park after “the incident.”

Before going to Dick’s or Modell’s, look for that baseball glove, bike helmet, or Tae Kwon Do target at the thrift store.  This is especially true if you have kids who are trying out different sports through the years.

6) Media

Books and records are my main targets. It is nice take a book on vacation and not have to bring it back. I also love finding weird kitschy albums to add to my very strange collection.

thrift store records 120
Rendezvous Polka.  What else is there to say?

Related post: Collecting Vintage Vinyl for Cheap Beginners

7) Kids Toys

You know that your kids can make any toy look used in about five seconds.  You also know that they are going to lose interest in it faster than you can say, “That thing’s operational!”  Follow this thrift store tip so that you can tell them to pick out whatever they want and abuse it however they like.

8) Jewelry

This is my wife’s addition to the list.  After scouting the stores, you will find that some have great selections of jewelry, especially if your tastes are a bit playful or eccentric.  You probably will not find anything with a hidden monetary value, but who knows?

9) Gag gifts

Every year I have to find a ridiculous item to serve as the trophy for my fantasy football league.  The thrift store is great for this type of thing. One year I found a massive, novelty stein (probably holds 3-4 gallons) to present.  Another year I found a huge trophy where the figurine appeared to be having a gastrointestinal episode. (Don’t ask me what sport it was signifying.)

Related post: Reducing the Costs of Fun

10) Vintage curios

I like to fill my home office with esoteric scientific instruments and antiquated instructional aids.  These are things that you are not going to find at Home Goods.

Related post: Free Stuff on the Curb: 29 tips for scoring big

Thrift store tip 4: Top five items to avoid

This is predominantly a list of things that might contain bed bugs or other unwanted guests.  Bed bugs are the number one reason why people avoid thrift stores.  Heat treatment is the key.  Anything that cannot be easily put into a hot wash and dry or otherwise heat-treated is not worth the risk.

Link: Thrift stores and bed bugs

Stores may give items a visual inspection, but they do not treat for pests.

  1. Upholstered furniture

  2. Pillows

  3. Comforters

  4. Mattresses

  5. Things with many parts

    You may find a cool camping tent or a fancy cappuccino maker, but beware.  Even if the item was donated in complete and working order, the parts may now be lost in an asteroid field.  The odds of finding the right replacement parts at a reasonable price are approximately 3,720 to 1.

Thrift store tip 5: Handling clothing

I had a chat today with the manager of one of my favorite thrift stores.  I told her that I was a bit worried about bedbugs even though I had never had a bad experience.  She said that when she gets home from work, her clothes go straight into the hot cycle, and she has never had a problem.

Keep your newly acquired thrift store clothes in a sealed bag until they can be heat-treated in a washer and dryer or taken to the dry cleaner.

Thrift store tip 6: Know the promotions.

thrift shop entry 120

This can be a hard thrift store tip to follow.  Many stores do not have updated websites or clear schedules.  Most stores rely on posted notices and handouts at the register, so pay attention.  If the store has a newsletter or email list, sign up.

Case study: I went to one store today because they sell records for 97 cents on Wednesdays and Thursdays.  I didn’t realize that they also had a one-day, store-wide discount of %35.  I proclaimed, “Coatee-cha tu yub nub!” (“Celebrate the freedom!”)

Thrift store tip 7: Know where the money goes.

Many stores use your money to do good.  I love that Goodwill Stores make an effort to hire people with special needs and that shopping at Salvation Army stores helps people recovering from addiction.  Whether you are helping a charity, church, or cause, feel good about where your money is going.

Thrift store tip 8: Complete the cycle.

This last thrift store tip isn’t about shopping.  Complete the cycle by donating often.  After all, who wants to bother with craigslist, clothing swaps, or selling on consignment? Furthermore, if you are sending items that are worthy of resale to the landfill, shame on you.

Keep a donation box in some out-of-the-way location, and make sure that everyone in the household knows about it.  If you itemize deductions on you income taxes, don’t forget to ask for a receipt when you drop off your goodies.

Conclusions on Thrift Store Tips

Whether you need or want to spend less, thrift stores are a great option.  You can help the environment and a worthy cause. Join me in following these thrift store tips, and together we will rule the galaxy (of thrift stores.)

Note: National thrift shop day is August 17

Related post: The Tao of Cheap: What Taoism Teaches about Money

getting labels off bottles

We are surrounded by useful and often attractive glass bottles and jars; it is a shame to waste them.  You may want to reuse bottles and jars simply for storage or re-purpose the glass for a neat Pinterest idea, but first you must think about getting the labels off bottles.

The best way of getting labels off bottles and jars:

  • Save a bunch of glass bottles and jars to process at once.
  • Fill a large sink or bin with warm water and oxygen-based cleaning powder (5-7 scoops for a large sink).
  • Soak all of the bottles and jars for several hours.
  • Check on the bottles to see if the solution is dissolving the glue. 
  • Some bottles and jars will be stubborn; give the label surface a scrub with steel wool or even a blade so the solution can soak in. Let them soak some more.
  • Scrub off all of the labels and glue with the steel wool.
  • Give the bottles and jars a final rinse.

Reasons for getting the labels off bottles

I am a homebrewer.  I am always getting the labels off bottles because having to buy bottles all the time is a drag.  It was important to me that I find an effective way to get the labels off bottles on a large scale.  I tried many different methods, but when I started using oxygen-based cleanser, I stopped experimenting.  This method is by far the easiest way I have found.

getting the labels off bottles brewing Saving these bottles will save me $25 at the homebrew store.

Related post: Cheap and Easy Homebrewing

Once I found an easy method to get the labels off bottles, I started saving all kinds of glass containers to reuse and re-purpose.  I use them to store food, office supplies, and garage stuff.  I also learned how to cut the bottles and jars to use in little decoration projects.

getting the labels off bottles hurricane lanterns

I made three of these hurricane lantern candle deals for my friends with some glass jugs and some scraps from installing a butcher block counter top.  I thought they would use them on the garden walkway, but, to my delight, they are using them in their dining room.  Of course, for this project, I had to also cut off the bottom off the jugs.  The best way for cutting bottles is a topic for another time.

jar projects candle holders

These yard-sale candles were giving me fits.  They floated around the house for ages since we had nothing that could hold them safely.  I decided to embed them in plaster inside some pickle jars.  The solution is not very elegant, but it worked.

Detailed instructions for getting the labels off bottles and jars

Collect a bunch of glass containers to process at once.

This method of getting labels off bottles is pretty easy, but the solution takes a while to work.  You will also create a bit off a mess with all of the soggy, disintegrating labels, so it makes sense to do a bunch at a time. Start stashing all of the glass containers that you might want to reuse.

getting the labels off bottles collection

Gather your supplies for getting the labels off bottles and jars.

Once you have enough glass containers for a batch, make sure that you have steel wool, oxygen-based cleaner, and a sharp blade.  It is also a good idea to have a couple of boxes and towels to keep things neat and organized.

getting the labels off bottles supplies

I like to clamp a razor blade into a pair of vise-grips for scrapping the more stubborn labels.  I find that this tool is more comfortable and effective than those little razor blade holders that you can buy.

In getting the labels off bottles, know your enemy.

There are many different types of labels and glues.  Most labels will come off easily after soaking for a while.  However, foils and glossy papers will prevent the solution from penetrating into the glue.  Bottles with foil or glossy paper labels will need some extra abuse with steel wool or even a blade so that solution can start to soak through.

getting the labels off bottles using a razor
This squarish bottle is pretty neat, but the label is not cooperating.  It is time to bring in the big gun.

Plastic labels present unique problems.

Plastic labels can only be removed mechanically.  Also, the glues used with plastic labels do not dissolve easily.  For these labels I recommend the following:

  • Use a razor blade to start peeling back the label.
  • Use pliers (or tough, stubby fingers as shown below) to grasp the label and pull it all the way off.
  • Use a solvent (like paint thinner) to dissolve the glue.

getting plastic labels off bottles

Fill a large sink or bin with warm water and oxygen-based cleaner and let them soak.

For getting the labels off bottles and jars, you simply need to make sure that the oxygen-based cleanser solution can access and dissolve the glue.  You may even realize that some of the labels are floating to the surface on their own, leaving only a bit of softened glue on the bottle.

getting the labels off bottles soaking

As you can see, this sink it totally full.  If I am going to go through the trouble of getting the labels off bottles and jars, I am going to do a lot of them at once.  As I go though the process,  I may decide that some bottles are being too stubborn to bother with and toss them into the recycling.

getting the labels off bottles easy bottle

This bottle was not being stubborn at all.  The label basically floated away on its own.  This is a win-win since Victory beer is excellent, and the bottles are cooperative.  I don’t buy beer based on the label and glue, but there are worse ideas.

Scrub the labels with steel wool.

Once the labels and glue have softened enough to make your job easy, start scrubbing the bottles with the steel wool.  The steel wool will not leave any noticeable damage on the surface of the glass.  You will also notice that pesky dates and numbers printed on some bottles scrub away easily.

easy way to remove labels
This glue will come off in a jiffy.

As you get the labels off the bottles and jars, set them aside neatly.  I like to use a milk crate for this so that I don’t create a big mess that can fall over easily.  If you tilt the box the right way, the remaining solution can drip out of the bottle. Dispose of all of the labels and label remnants before draining the sink; you don’t want to put all that crap down the drain.

getting labels off bottles stacking

When the bottles are stacked neatly, they will not roll around, get knocked over, or fall on the floor. For you homebrewers out there, it is good to know that 25 twelve-ounce bottles fit perfectly inside a standard milk crate.  You can even put another milk crate on top and flip the whole thing upside-down so that the bottles can drip dry.

drip drying bottles
The bottles in the top crate are now inverted. They can drip dry so that there will be no water left when I store them.

Give the glass containers a final rinse.

With fresh, clean water, rinse off all of the bottles and jars, and give them a final inspection.  Run your hands around the bottle to feel if any glue residue remains.  Stack the bottles so that they can drip dry.

Rinsing the bottles as I wrap up
Rinsing the bottles as I wrap up

Getting the Labels off Bottles conclusion

Whether you are making wine, organizing your garage, or storing food, you don’t need to go to the container store, brewing supply store, or Target.  Be economical and sustainable by reusing bottles and jars that you already have or can find easily.

Below you can see the final result.  I was able to get the labels off a lot of bottles and jars at one shot.  Now I have the bottles I need for brewing and few odds and ends for storage and little projects.

getting the labels off bottles stacked jars

Glass is a uniquely useful material.  It is attractive, easy to clean and/or sterilize, and abundant. If you are faithful to one brand of pickles, you might have the solution that you need to finally organize all the random fasteners in your garage or junk drawer. Think twice before you chunk those bottles and jars into the recycling.

aldi store front
Is Aldi worth an extra trip?

Aldi is worth an extra shopping stop.

Philosophers and pundits have pondered the question “Is Aldi worth an extra trip?” since time immemorial. There are lot of expenses in your life that you cannot control.  However, The cost of groceries is not one of them.  Even though Americans are very fortunate in that we spend a very small fraction of our income on food, there is no reason that you cannot save by shopping around. I know which stores in my area have the best deals and best departments.  At Trader Joe’s you can bet that I am stocking up on cheese.  At Wegman’s I am definitely getting some steak and probably some fresh fish.  If I am at the Co-op, I am getting nuts in the bulk section.  At the Dollar Tree I am getting personal care stuff. (After all, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.) The Fresh Market in Cheltenham has the best produce.  Why not get the best values your area has to offer?

If you you ever shop around, you should definitely add Aldi to your rotation. Aldi is a bit out of the way for me, but there are several examples that prove that Aldi is worth an extra trip.

Related post: “Top 15 Grocery Store Rip-offs

Aldi is worth an extra trip if you are stocking up.

I am not saying you need to drive for hours, but there are several reasons why Aldi is worth an extra trip if it is available to you.  Fortunately, most of these reasons are shelf stable, so you will be stocking up.

You don’t have to be an extreme coupon-er to take a page from the extreme couponing handbook. I tried extreme couponing for a while, but decided it wasn’t a good use of my time. The main way that coupon-ers save is by stockpiling shelf-stable products. Therefore, Obsessing over clippings, codes, apps, and combining offers is not required.

stockpiling food
“Don’t smile like that while massaging my olives, Mildred. It’s creeping me out.”

You can get similar savings buy stocking up on good deals when you find them; you just need to figure out a storage solution.

NOTE: I am not saying that you should to have a doomsday bunker full of deodorant (and I am not saying that you shouldn’t.) You might start your stash with a few extra boxes of pasta, cereal, or olive oil – you don’t have to go crazy.  In the olden days a stockpile was simply known as a pantry.

is aldi worth an extra trip stash 1

is aldi worth an extra trip stash 2

I use this ugly, old hutch for my stash.  (Hey, it came with the house.)  Whatever you decide to use, make sure it is convenient and comfortable to access and organize or you won’t use it.  Boxing stuff up is a mistake.  If you are using open shelving, consider putting only cans on the bottom so that you don’t attract vermin.

vermin
VERMIN!

As a bonus, you will be amazed how often your stash will bail you out when you are under-the-gun to come up with a dinner.

Top 11 buys at Aldi:

11) Random non-grocery stuff

I don’t know why, but Aldi always has a random selection of household goods.  Sometimes they have tools, plumbing fixtures, patio furniture, slippers, small appliances – you name it.  Just be aware that these items rotate quickly.  I wanted to get a second step-stool one time, but I acted too late.

Is aldi worth an extra trip camping sink
On this last trip, I found this neat collapsing camping sink thing.

10) Gluten free products at Aldi

I like my food to be gluten-captive, but I am not prejudiced – some of my best friends are gluten free.  I was pleased to see that Aldi has some cheap, gluten-free products now, so I picked some up for company.  In fact, Aldi has a lot of products for people with different food concerns.gluten free at aldi

9) Dressings and marinades

A large bottle of salad dressing for 89 cents!  What else can I say?  These things are usually three bucks.

is aldi worth an extra trip dressing

8) Whey protein powder

I exercise religiously – every January 2nd, without fail.

When I do exercise, I like to be able to function the next day.  I find that a protein smoothie soon after exercise makes a huge difference, but protein powder ain’t cheap.  If you ever buy whey protein, you know that a huge jug for 14 bucks is a great deal.  This would be my number one answer for “Is Aldi worth an extra trip?” but not everyone needs it.
whey protein at aldi

7) Flour (and other baking staples)

My wife is a serious baker and will only use King Arthur flour.  I am not so picky, so getting a sack of flour for $1.39 is right up my alley.  I can save the three bucks and get some fancier toppings for my homemade pizza.

Related post: “Gourmet pizza for the kneady

6) Cooking oils and sprays

Whether it is cooking spray, olive oil, or regular corn oil, Aldi is the place to stock up.

“Is Aldi worth an extra trip?” Is a bear Catholic?

5) Anything in a can

I generally need a lot of canned beans, canned tomatoes, olives, and the like.  I would rather make a trip to Aldi than waste my time trying to find coupons for this type of thing.cheaped canned stuff for is aldi worth an extra trip

4) Breakfast cereal

If I buy the store-brand cereal at ACME on sale, I will pay $2.50 a box.  Aldi has them beat buy a good sight, and I actually like their shredded wheat cereal better.

cereal at aldi

3) Pickles

Pickles are literally 1/3 the price at Aldi.  I can’t taste the difference.  If I buy five jars for my stash, I am saving ten bucks in the long run.  Maybe more as pickles appreciate.  I bet Warren Buffet has a whole basement full of pickles.

2) Salsa

Salsa is a rip-off at most grocery stores.  Making it yourself is a great option, but sometimes you are just too lazy.  I refuse to pay five bucks for a jar of tomatoes and onions.

jars of salsa is aldi worth an extra trip
Big jars of salsa for $1.29

1) And the winner is… CRACKERS!

My household goes through a lot of woven wheat crackers  When you think about all of those tiny looms, it is no wonder that they are usually three dollars a box.  Aldi has a larger box than Triscuits and at a fraction of the costs.  This deal alone answers the question, “Is Aldi worth an extra trip?”

cheap crackers at aldi
“It was an honor just to be nominated.”

Before heading to Aldi for the best buys, know that Aldi is different.

Aldi keeps their prices so low by streamlining their process and minimizing staff.

  • There are no employees in the aisles to answer your questions.
  • The food is stacked in a utilitarian fashion – no fancy displays.
  • You will have bag or box your own stuff after you leave the checkout.  Make sure to bring some bags or boxes.
  • They do not carry multiple brands of the same product.  If you really like a particular brand, you will have to go somewhere else.
  • There is no bakery, deli, or butcher shop.  Whatever is packaged is what they have.
  • You even have to return your own cart.  They ensure this by making you deposit a quarter to receive your cart, so put one in your pocket before leaving your car.
is aldi worth an extra trip carts
You bet your a$$ I’m going back to get my quarter.

I actually find that this simplicity makes shopping better.  If you can live with their set-up, Aldi is worth an extra trip in your shopping.  If I can save $50 from one extra trip, it is worth it to me.  Thank you for reading “Is Aldi worth an extra trip?”

Related post: Money-saving Grocery List

cheapest car ownership strategy featured

Disclosure: This post is not for people who love cars.  If driving, admiring, or massaging your ride is one of life’s great pleasures, bounce now.  Nor is this post for people who are concerned with using their car to project an image of success.  This post is for people who feel that car ownership is a necessary evil, like flossing or making eye contact.

AAA reports that in 2017 the average annual cost of owning and operating a new vehicle was $8,469.  The average for sedan owners was the lowest, coming in at $6,354.  Owning a car does to your budget what working in a pizzeria does to your waste line. (I speak from experience).

Are you stuck in a hellish maelstrom of car costs?  Lenders are glad to hear it.  You start a new job, you get a new car (small down payment!), you spend five years paying it off, then you want to trade it in before it loses any more value, becomes unreliable, or damages your fragile image.  The auto industry, insurers, and state budget office are excited you will be starting the new car buying process again.

Newer post: Cheapest Car Ownership Strategy

Buying a new car:  Example X using calculator.net

  • Car price:  $34,000 (paying $1000 down and $300 in fees)
  • Sales tax: $2,380 (PA 7%)
  • Total loan interest: 3,464.71 (5 years at 4%)
  • After five years you have paid: 40,144.71 (not including insurance, registration, maintenance, etc.) and the trade in value is now $15,640 (if the dealer is willing to give full value to get you into a new deal).
  • Five-year loss= $24,504.71

car loan interest

How can you get off the merry-go-round of interest, taxes, fees, and depreciation?  What if you could cut your car costs in half?  What could you do with an extra $4000 dollars a year?  Rethink your car ownership habits and save yourself tens of thousands of dollars.

Big ways to save on car ownership:

Buy a used car: example Y using calculator.net

According to Consumer Reports, the average vehicle loses 64% of it’s resale value after five years. Do you think that a 2013 civic is 64% less useful than a 2018 civic? Let’s say you are on the other side of the equation in example X (shown above).  You buy a car that is five years old at a cost of $15,640 plus taxes and fees.  You give the same down payment and have similar loan terms (higher interest on used vehicles). Do you think that you can drive this vehicle for five years? (Of course you can; don’t be a weenie.)

used car calculator

  • The value of this car at 10 years old is about $6,940
  • Five-year loss= 11,830.83 (as compared to loss of $24,504.71 in example X)

True, the maintenance costs are likely to be higher, but will they be more than twelve grand higher? No. In addition, you will be spending less to ensure a car with a lower worth.  If you put the amount you are saving on your car payment every month into a car savings account, you will really be starting to break the cycle.

Follow these steps and break the car buying cycle.

  1. Buy your next car used (as in example Y).
  2. Put aside the hundreds that you are saving every month into an automatic savings account – a “car savings account.” (I use a Capital One 360 Savings account).  The interest rate is negligible, but you will be amazed how it adds up.  This money is for unexpected repairs and, ultimately, buying your next car in cash.  If you save $250 a month for five years you will have $15,000 (not including interest).
  3. Buy your next car in cash.  Let’s say you spend an additional $6,000 (from your car savings account) maintaining your used car from example Y. (Hopefully, you will spend less).  Take the $9,000 remaining in your car savings account and add it to the 6-7 grand the car is still worth.  Now you can buy a five-year old car in cash.
  4. Live the dream.  You are now saving all of the interest on a loan and you can move up to slightly better used car every five years.  Your payment (car savings account) will always be low.  Instead of paying interest, you are earning interest.

Own fewer cars.

one car family
Like a boss.

Is there any way you can be a one care household?  I am fortunate to live in a city with an excellent public transit system.  My wife takes the train every day and her SEPTA pass costs about $150 a month.  Her employer has even opted-in to a program where she can pay before taxes.  Switching from two cars to one will cut your costs (almost) in half.

  • Worst case: two new cars
  • 2nd worst case: one new car and one beater
  • 2nd best case: two beaters
  • Best case: one beater (You, my friend, are living the dream.)
  • Ultra: Being car-free

Buy a reliable car.

Consumer Reports is a must-use tool when it comes to buying a used car.  A lemon could turn your car savings account into a Chinese take-out savings account.  You can join CR for one month for $6.95 and access several used car tools and guides based on extensive data from repair shops and owners.  Once you have bought the car, cancel your subscription.  Seven bucks could save you thousands and give you piece of mind.

Buy a car with a low cost of ownership.

My doctor is telling me that if it tastes good, I should spit it out.  Well, if you think a car is sexy, spit on it.  Fully-loaded pickup? Sexy.  Monstrous SUV? Spit on it.  Classic muscle car? Hello, lovely. V-12 sports car? That’s hot. Elon Musk’s new vehicle that runs on rotten banana peels and emits only positive vibes? Damn sexy.  Consumer reportsEdmunds, and AAA can all help you identify the car that fits your monthly budget and keeps your sex appeal at a manageable level.  (Please, think of your neighbors.)

Related post: The Tao of Cheap: What Taoism Teaches about Money

Minimize car insurance

Be proud of your piece of crap car.  Smile every time that you look at, and think about the money you are saving.  Shake your head bemusedly at the vanity of your neighbors.  My car is compensating (for the fact that I am superior to all other mortals).  Feel good about yourself when your crap car helps others feel good about themselves.  After all, what would Jesus drive? Think about it. (My car is so humble it makes a donkey look like a Lotus Esprit!)

You still win because driving a crap car lowers your insurance.  Furthermore, if your car is worth six grand, and you have fifteen grand in your car savings account, how much insurance do you really need?  You might decide to pay for liability insurance only and pass the savings into that car savings account.

Cars and longevity

Car commercials want you to reach your full potential and have a car that is worthy of your majesty.  (I have news for them; my full potential is represented by an ’89 Ford Escort hatchback.) Car dealers will tell you that your current car is a death-trap, and it is a miracle that anyone in your family can still hold a sloppy Joe.  Are old cars really shameful or even unsafe?  Do I really need a car that will start talking to me when the lid to my coffee drifts into the wrong cup holder?

Cars are lasting longer than ever before.  You can get even the most temperamental models to reach 200,000 miles.  Since the late 80’s, modern alloys have made engines almost supernatural.  Stop looking at your older car like a ticking time-bomb, that’s what THEY  (the gov’ment and the bourgeois pigs) want you to think.

Small ways to save on car ownership

Car Maintenance

Everyone knows that you should “protect your investment,” but as I learned from Rich Dad Poor Dad, a car is not an investment but a liability.  Poor people think that their car is an investment whereas rich people know that it is an unfortunate liability.  What you really want to do is minimize your liability.  Keep up with you car’s maintenance schedule, check the tire pressure (which also improves fuel economy), change the filters, etc.

Think about the 30,000-mile mark.  For many makes and models, the 30,000-mile mark is when you get some important components serviced.  I confess that I really only think about the oil changes and the 30,000-mile marks.  If you are faithful about the multiples of 30,000 miles (which is easy to remember), you will be doing better than most used car owners.

You can save money by doing some things yourself.  I do not want to mess around with borrowing specialty tools or wasting a Saturday, but there are some things for which I will not pay:

  • Changing air filters
  • Putting in a new battery
  • Rotating tires
  • Replacing wiper blades

Note: If you are getting a warning light, most Pep Boys, AutoZones, etc. will plug in their diagnostic deally and tell you what’s up for free.

Car spa

Love your piece-of-crap car.  When you start to feel down on “Ol’ Bessie,” give her some love.  Maybe car spa can coincide with your 30,000-mile maintenance.  Quality time together may get you through the “my-car-gives-me-feelings-of-inadequacy blues.”  Some polishing and fancy accessories may be just what the doctor ordered.

family car

Best products for car spa

  1. Armor-all:  Old plastic looks like, well, old plastic.  Think of all the UV rays it has absorbed!  Armor-all is cheap and will make the interior gleam (for a while).
  2. Turtle wax: Once your car’s exterior is clean, put on some paste wax.  When the wax has dried, polish it with a clean terrycloth towel.  You will be amazed at the difference.
  3. Upholstery cleaner: I always keep this on hand, since I have dogs.  You can’t unzip the covers and clean them, so this is the best you can do.  It actually works pretty well.
  4. Accessories: Roof racks, dog grills, flood lights, inverters, floor mats, leopard print seat covers – it’s all fair game.  They are a tiny expense compared to a new vehicle.

Arguing with insurance people

Unfortunately, I have a yearly appointment at State Farm when I go in to the office and make a scene.  I think I may get a Tony Award for this year’s performance (#mantradesdignityforlowerrate).  If you can visit an office for twenty minutes and save $200, isn’t it worth it?  Every time I go in and make everyone feel ashamed of belonging to the human race, I save a nice chunk of cabbage.

Trucks

Do not own a truck unless you need to.  A truck with a 2.4 liter, 4-cylinder engine will get significantly lower gas mileage than a 2.4 liter, 4-cylinder car.  They are heavier and geared differently.  Furthermore, most states charge truck owners more for the privilege of registration.

Conclusion

That’s it.  Cars suck (money from your life).  Since I can’t get by without one, I want to spend as little as possible.  I could argue that I want to help the environment, but who would believe me?  Get from point A to point B without spending too many C-notes.

There are also un-quantifiable benefits to owning a piece-of-s#&t car.  I am reminded of when I used to blaze my abused ’91 Geo Metro (3-cylinder) down the Los Angeles freeway.  I would giggle with glee as the Benzo’s and Lexuses (Lexi?) cleared a path; they knew I had nothing to lose.  When I park my piece-of-crap car at the end of the subway line to go see a Phillies game, I do everything but leave the keys in the ignition. (The opossum living in the spare tire well is your problem now, sucker! PS. She answers to Irving.)  I think it was Kris Kristofferson who wrote, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”

Lastly, I used to (accidentally) live in a well-to-do neighborhood in Los Angeles.  I was struck (literally and figuratively) by the rich people who drove crap cars and careened recklessly though the canyons with their bathrobe belts flapping in the breeze.  They didn’t pin their worth to their mode of transportation and neither should you.

Am I way off base?

Did I miss something in my calculations?

Do you have any tips for spending less on transportation?

Please leave a comment.

best homemade gifts for adults wrapping

The argument for homemade gifts for adults

The promotions for holiday loans make me sick.  If you need the loan, should you really be spending so much on gifts?  Perhaps you should be saving up your emergency fund or paying down debt instead.  There are more thoughtful ways to make gifts special without taking out a loan.  Homemade gifts for adults can slash your budget and need not be lame, even if you don’t have crafty skills.

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Creative Commons photo by Christopher Porter

You may not be able to save money by making gifts for the young people in your life.  Most kids neither want nor appreciate a homemade gift, so focus on ideas to make homemade gifts for the adults.  This makes sense because it is probably impractical to make all the gifts that you need.

Purchasing gifts for adults is never as easy as we hope.  Think about how many hours you spend looking for the perfect gifts only to give up and buy the default cooking knife, coffee set, hand towels, slippers, or fill-in-the-blank.  Adults usually have the things that they need and are very picky about what they choose to keep in their homes.  Consumables (tea, wine, olive oil, coffee, stationary, etc…) are always welcome, but may not adequately express your regard.

Approach 1: Use your skills to make homemade gifts for adults.

Do you like to knit? Crochet? Do you have graphic design skills?  Can you bake? Can you brew beer? Bedazzling? Sewing? Photography? Canning? Sketching? Are you musical? Could you make candles or soaps?  Think about what you can do or would like to try.  

homemade gifts for adults woodworking

I enjoy woodworking.  Two years ago I made cutting boards, last year I made lantern thingies, this year I carved spoons from some local walnut.  I try to make several of one item because it is more efficient.  I don’t make too many because it starts to feel like a chore.  If I can think of purchased gifts for half of the people on my list, I can give the other half something homemade.  This allows me to eliminate the weakest shopping ideas and cut my budget.  Oftentimes, the purchased gifts that I thought were great ideas get a lackluster reception after all.

homemade beer for gifting
I brewed two holiday beers for gifting.  Plan to lose a few packs to “quality control.”

My go-to skills are woodworking and brewing.  What can you do?  Think about anything you have done in the past or would like to try.  This is a great opportunity to try something that you think you might enjoy.

TIP: If you are making homemade gifts for the adults in you life, make sure to start early, months early.  There is nothing worse than having your efforts defeated by unrealistic planning.

Homemade gifts for adults (skilled)

Woodworking gifts: Keepsake boxes, custom cutting boards, candle-holders, etc.

Knitting gifts: Gloves, hats, scarves, etc. make great gifts and don’t require too much time.

knitted fingerless gloves
My wife knit these for her mommy.

Felting gifts: Felting is a great thing to try if you want to be crafty but are intimidated by other needle-arts.

Photography gifts: Take a great photo with the recipient in mind.  Plan a photo shoot of their favorite place, pet, activity, etc.

Original sketch or painting: Create with the recipient in mind.  Are they into a particular animal, activity, astrological sign, celebrity, philosophy, or community?

Graphic design gifts: Compose an original logo, family crest, collage, etc.

Memories video: If you are into editing video, you could create a gift that will truly be cherished.  If you don’t have all the video that you need, use stills.  How about a highlight reel of their three-year-old in karate class?

Song recording: Can you compose, play an instrument, or sing like an angel? (I sing like the angel of death.) 

Original poetry: You could present the poem in a cool way, like painting the poem onto a piece of driftwood or something.

poem on driftwood
Creative Commons photo by Constanza

Homemade beer or wine: If you are trying this for the first time, remember that there is some aging time involved.  Also, people think its neat when you make the labels.

Canning gifts: I love it when I receive preserves.

canning gifts
Preserves from my sister-in-law.

Sewing gifts

Homemade jewelry

Baking gifts

Candle making

Fancy soap

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Creative Commons photo by Sonia Scommegna

General gift making: If your are a bit handy with the glue, you can make some cool stuff. Home and garden decor is a good candidate here.

homemade decor
Creative Commons photo by Frédéric BISSON

Approach 2: Use your time to make homemade gifts for adults.

Even if you don’t have any skills that naturally lend themselves to gifting, fear not.  There are lots of gifts that require effort if not special skills.

Prepared foods and mixes are a great choice.  Acquire a bunch of mason jars (always save these as the labels can be soaked off with oxygen-based cleanser) and fill them with goodies: baking mix, pancake mix, dry soup mix, granola, trail mix, salad dressing, dehydrated fruit, marinade, venison jerky, etc…  There are so many great and easy recipes to explore, and they require no special skills or equipment.

Homemade decorations are fun to make, give, and receive.  Increase your swagger with homemade swags.  Is your neighborhood full of holly bushes or evergreens?  How about arborvitae or English ivy?  Get a some ribbons, wire, little bells, or ornaments, and have at it.  If you want to challenge yourself, try making a wreath or garland.

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You may be surprised at how warmly your homemade gifts are received.  Beyond the holidays, homemade gifts can keep you prepared for house-warmings, anniversaries, appreciations, condolences, and so on.

Homemade gift ideas for adults (unskilled)

Mini-succulent arrangement

Mini-herb garden arrangement

Prepared foods and mixes

Homemade pasta: This can be frozen or dried.  It is always better than the pasta from box.

pasta maker
Creative Commons photo by vigilant20 (דָרוּך)

Dehydrated stuff: You can make awesome beef jerky or other dried foods in your oven.  You don’t need any fancy devices, but you might want one if this will become a habit.

Home and garden decor: Swags or garlands are easy to make.  Pressed flowers in a picture frame can be very attractive. Another idea is to take a memento and turn it into a snow globe.  Affix the item to the inside of a the lid to an attractive jar, add some sparkles and water and you are in business.

homemade bird feeder
Creative Commons photo by Susy Morris

Photo collection

Pickled veggies: There are many great websites to get you started.

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Creative Commons photo by Christopher Porter

The gift of time: Organize a special outing, event, or dinner.  Make a real effort to show how much you care.  This gift is highly under-rated.

Homemade gifts for adults is not a waste of time.

Adults know how precious time is.  When you use your time and effort rather than money, they will feel truly special.  Even if the gift is a bit of a flop, they will appreciate your efforts.  Don’t be insecure about your skills.  I am by no means an expert woodworker, but people adore the modest fruits of my labors.  Try making homemade gifts for the adults in your life, and I promise your time will not be wasted.

dumpster diving season

“Spring time and garbage pickin’ is easy / dumps are jumping and the garbage is high.”

-from Porgy and Bess

When people look at my body, they are surprised to learn that I am a competitive diver.  However, if they watched me on Fridays (garbage day), they would see me moving pretty fast and flexing my lifting muscles in some world-class dumpster diving.

Trash-picking saves money, helps the environment, gives the thrill of victory, and offers some cool old stuff that may be better quality than what you will find at Target, IKEA, or the rest.  If it helps you sleep at night, you can call yourself a free-cycler, up-cycler, or curb surfer.  Not me, I’m a old-school trash-picker / dumpster-diver, and there is no shame in my game.

In the competitive world of dumpster diving, Spring is playoff season. Everyone in your neighborhood has spent the winter reading Marie Condo and watching episodes of Hording: Buried Alive, the real-estate market is starting the Spring thaw, and divorce filings reach their yearly peak.

Do some calisthenics and put on your game-face, ’cause it’s time to score.

Note: I had so much fun writing this post that I decided to go deeper with this topic.  Check out my newer post, Free Stuff on the Curb: 29 tips for scoring big.

Top 5 Dumpster Diving Targets

5) Plastic containers

Paying for storage containers sucks, but people throw them away just because they are dirty.  Utility shelves, milk crates, storage totes, and old coolers are all fair game.  Just make sure you are not taking your neighbor’s trash receptacle.

uses for old coolers
All of these coolers were free.  The red one has been retrofitted for brewing beer.  The grey one is now a solar generator that I take camping.  The blue one is, well, for keeping things cool.

4) Vintage curios

If you live in or near an area with some old houses, you can find some really neat, old stuff.  I have an affinity for older stuff made made from “real” materials.  Some of these finds might even be eligible for resale.

freecycling vintage
I ordered an LED bulb to replace the florescent bulb in the lamp.  The stapler from the 60’s weighs eight pounds and is bullet-proof.
vintage maps
This awesome map set was in a school dumpster, but I had to make the brackets.

3) Patio furniture

People throw away patio sets just because they have ripped cushions or a damaged top.  Replacement cushions (fitting most designs) can be found in the home center, and you can pick a design that you like.  For many bases a different top can be attached.

replacing cushions on patio furniture
I made wooden tops for the stools since I wanted them to double as stands.

2) Construction materials

Even if you only do one or two projects a year, materials from the home center can really add up.  If you have a place to store these materials, you can save a lot of money.  Even a couple of 2x4s makes a difference.  As a bonus, you might save yourself a trip to the Home Cheapo.

salvaged construction materials

using old windows
I made this cabinet with two old window that I liked.  It now houses my wife’s knitting stuff.

1) Older furniture (nothing upholstered)

They don’t make ’em like they used to.  Old dressers, chairs, tables, etc. are almost always better made with better materials.  Wooden furniture is easy to spruce up.  A little wood glue, an added screw, some sanding, or some lemon oil can go a long way.  If you are going to give a piece some TLC, just be wary of lead or other toxins.

curb furniture
This stand from Denmark only needed some reinforcing and some lemon oil.  The cocker spaniel was salvaged also, but he has been much more trouble.

Top 5 Trash-picking Strategies

5) Think about bed-bugs.

If I brought pests into my house, my marriage would be over faster than you can say, “No, you cannot crash at my place you cheap bastard.”  Anything with stuffing, upholstery, or fabric is a non-starter.

4) Know the schedule, but don’t change yours.

I don’t make special trips around to look for scores.  It isn’t necessary.  I know the trash schedules for the neighborhoods around me, and when I walk the dogs or run errands, I peep the goods.  Taking a different street on the right day can make all the difference.

3) Institutions / huge houses.

Some buildings just give it up again and again.  It’s like being a home-run hitter and choosing to play for the Rockies at Coors Field.  Huge, old buildings have decades of goodies that need annual culling.

CASE STUDY: A young couple decided to fix up a massive house near me.  They were throwing out good stuff every Friday for years.  When we finally had them over for dinner, they realized that all of my furnishings came from their house.  They left early and now cross the street when they see me coming. OK, but it could have happened.

2) Prep. your kit.

Keep an extra hammer (the bigger the better), some screwdrivers, a saw, straps, etc. in the car.  One time a saw a desk with a beautiful top, but the base was ruined.  A few swings with the engineer’s hammer and the top was mine.  Another time I smashed some damaged Ikea bookcases since I wanted the melamine to make some closet shelves.  It’s a good idea to keep some tools in the car anyway.

1) Hit well-to-do areas.

It’s kind of like how poor kids go trick-or-treating on the nice side of town.  I am usually shocked at what rich people throw away.  (Couldn’t they even bother to call the donation center for a pick-up?)  The rewards are high and the competition low.  I think it was Socrates who said,  “One treasurer’s trash is a trashy man’s treasure.”

Related post: Thrift Store Tips to Become a Jedi Master of Resale.

Do you have any great moments in free-cycling to share? Any good tips that I can add to my repertoire? Please leave a comment.