Saturday, December 22, 2012

Reducing the cost of motoring around

Several frugality blogs have recently mentioned that shopping around for auto insurance can save you money, so I won't be redundant.  I have learned a few other tips that could be helpful and will share those.

The first I've learned recently.  My 'new' used car has a cool MPG calculator on it.  When I bought it at 7,000 miles, the cumulative MPG average for the car was either 23.9 or 24 MPG. I've been fairly religious about using cruise control, even here in town. I've noticed on the 'instantaneous MPG calculator' that the real-time MPG usage improves by 20 to 25% when using cruise versus my foot on the accelerator. (I'm a scientist, so I did some trials to confirm my hypothesis!) I'm about to roll over 12,000 miles and my average MPG's have gone up to 24.3.  I rarely exceed the posted speed limit on the highways and use cruise control a lot. Based on the 'fill-up' method of calculating MPG, I'm getting around 30 MPG on the interstate using cruise control. That tells me it can save gas, which saves money.

Another weird thing I do concerns route planning.  I make a list of where I need to go on my trip around town, and then arrange my timing and route to do two things:
1. Make a one-way circuit so I'm not criss-crossing myself or re-driving the same road and
2. Drive the route so that I reduce or eliminate left turns at major intersections and when exiting parking lots.
Why is this frugal?  Many car accidents and fender-benders occur during left turns across traffic. Fewer left turns in congested traffic reduce the potential for an expensive accident. A small bonus is that you don't sit at the light burning gas waiting for your left arrow.  When using the 'right turn method,' you rarely wait (idling) a full cycle at any traffic light.

There are probably lots more ways to reduce your gas consumption and potential for every-day accidents.  What's your favorite?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What did you do last week? month? year?

I've made some progress this year as far as getting my house in order -- literally and figuratively.  I paid everything off, maxed my 401K for the year and then retired.  It was financially very tight doing so, but now that it's done it feels very good. Life is pay-as-you-go now. If I want or need to go somewhere else, I can.

The house isn't necessarily cleaner, but we've gotten rid of lots of unneeded stuff.  My plan is to continue that trend in the future. We're getting older and life is simpler for us. A lot of the 'stuff' is nostalgic -- some is actually from my parents and duplicated my own.  If it is still useful but not to us, we'll donate it to someone who can or will actually use it. A few things went to the local museum, but most was in the "How many cheese graters or bath towels do we really need?" category.

Some of my progress included finding a good bargain on a small solar system with battery storage, AA battery recharge and lights.  I found a food saver and repackaged some dry food storage items so they would last longer. We 'rotated' vehicles once I retired, allowing us to take a 21 year old car out of service. I found a good deal on a small portable wood burning heater for winter emergencies.  We bought a used BBQ for grilling, emergency or not!

Even more meaningfully, I had some success at growing produce in recycled 5 gallon buckets.  My previous gardening attempts here in the high desert had been much less successful. Strangely, asparagus, okra and beets were the big winners for surviving the heat and producing edibles.  I had early success with sugar snap peas, but they picked up a fast-moving fungus that killed them in about 2 days.  We planted a couple of berry bushes about 18 months ago. They didn't produce this past summer, but I have high hopes for next summer!

What were your big successes?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Vacuum Sealing for Space and Time

I'm no nuclear physicist, but vacuum sealing does help transcend some of my time-space (apologies to A.E.) preparedness problems!  If you need to make better use of your storage space, borrowing or buying one of these may be part of your solution.  OK, I'm a recent home-vacuum-sealing queen and am just amazed at what a system can do. 

These can be found in retail stores, on line and occasionally at garage sales. Mine is about the size of a boot box, but only half as high, so not a space hog.  You fill a bag with product, insert it carefully into the right place, push a button and it sucks out about 90% of the air and then heat-seals the bag, preventing the air from returning.  The process removes most of the food-degrading oxygen from your dry products -- usually extending the best use to about 5 years for most dry items like beans, rice and pasta. Though less shelf-life than the more expensive canned food storage, it provides a much longer window to rotate these deep-pantry foods.

In the process, vacuum sealing reduces the packaging volume for dry foods, and for other dry goods.  Other than a few hunks of meat for the freezer, I am not using this for fresh foods so don't expect any news flashes on that subject in this post!

There are several benefits to using vacuum sealed home packaging.  First is that you can buy in bulk but seal in 'retail' sized packages. That could be 24 fewer times you open that bucket of beans or rice, so the unopened packages degrade more slowly.  I separated my store bought rice into one and two pound packages.  Same with my beans. I did the opposite with spaghetti, and packaged a couple pounds in each.

Yes, the bags cost something, but you don't need to buy oxygen absorbers, so it's a bit of a trade off.  Yes, you still need to put the packages in mouse-proof storage containers.  In my storage, I needed those buckets for the bulk packages anyway.  I'm also finding that I can fit more into my buckets because I don't have big puffs of air inside the smaller packages.

I keep supplies in my vehicle. Today I sealed the emergency fleece blanket. It now takes up 50% less space and will be clean and dry when I need it. The wool clothes, same thing AND I don't need to be as worried about insect damage. The changes of clothes are next. 

Because these systems aren't huge and you don't need to use them every day, they are easier to share. If you have a group of families who are like minded, you can go together, buy one system and then take turns.