Half is the Answer!

contributed by Susan

As I was splitting my newly purchased prescription pills in half, after coming home from a shopping trip and lunch out where my husband and I shared our oversized meal, it occurred to me how many times we save money by using or buying half.

My prescription costs $50 for 30 tablets of 20 mg size. When purchased as 15 tablets of 40 mg, it costs me $30. As my physician said, you can split them in a few minutes while watching the news or your favorite soap opera. Ask your doctor if this can be done with your prescription; your pharmacist will often do this for you if the medication is one that can be split. An inexpensive pill splitter costs around $5 to $6. Some coated tablets and other capsules cannot be split, so always ask the pharmacist.

Many restaurants serve excessively large portions; none, even the most expensive we patronize, has ever hesitated to bring us an extra plate and allow us to split our meal. We sometimes purchase an additional side salad. If you feel uncomfortable with this idea, ask the server how large the portions are next time. If they reply that they are large, as they often do, ask if you can share. Servers occasionally suggest this for you.

Half can be applied to groceries, menus, etc. as well. Select one dry cereal everyone in the family likes. Keep your menus simple, as three items are all that are necessary. Desserts can be fresh fruit in season or a dessert on Sunday only, as our grandparents served. Choose six to ten entrees and serve them often. Then you can benefit from bulk purchasing. For example, in my community, I can buy a whole pork loin for 30 to 40 cents less per pound than the cheapest pork chops or roast on sale. The catch is that I must buy an eight to ten pound roast. I have half cut into chops and save the rest as a roast. I then use the leftovers in a casserole or as lunch meat. I only purchase pork roast.

The same goes for chicken, fish, and beef. I only buy two cuts of beef and only when they are on sale. I have a whole beef sirloin cut up for steaks and use the less attractive pieces for stir fry, casseroles, etc. I also buy minute steaks when they are on sale. They are often priced the same as hamburger, but they have less fat and have been handled less. The butcher can't add trimmings to the minute steaks as they can to hamburger. I only buy skinless chicken breasts on sale. I use them to grill or fry, and sometimes, I poach them in the crock pot. Then I use the cooked chicken for other dishes or sandwiches. I buy large bags of our favorite fish when they are on sale. Great for the grill or frying. By only buying a few of these choices, I never run out and always buy on sale. I have several egg dishes I can make quickly for suppers or lunches as well. No thawing required for eggs!

Researchers say most families use only a few recipes regularly. Decide what these are and rotate them, buying only what you use for them. There will be less waste, and you won't eat out because you will have a smaller repertoire of dishes you can make quickly because you make them often. You will spend half the time shopping because you are not looking for "something different." Most husbands and kids don't really like something "different" anyway.

Mixes are something that I avoid for the "half" reason too. It takes half the space to store flour, shortening, salt, baking powder, etc. to make my own muffins, biscuits, and cakes. I use these items anyway and they don't get old when I use them frequently. My cupboards are more spacious and I never get bugs because turnover is quicker.

Learn to make a few basic recipes. Make them often and they will be better as you get experience. Keep your basic recipes typed up on cards taped to the inside of an upper cupboard door and you will soon have them memorized. Keep expensive additions to a minimum. Remember plain muffins with a little jam are delicious. Your family will never tire of them. You don't need expensive fruit, nuts, etc. to add to them.

Learn a few basic salad dressing recipes and mix your own. Or buy one dressing the whole family likes at the best possible price and use only that one.

Casseroles are usually full of simple carbohydrates, fat, processed soups, etc. If a recipe calls for cheese, canned soup, meat, sour cream, mushrooms, pimentos, etc. and you must cook rice or pasta and then bake the casserole, maybe you would have been better off serving a 30-minute meal of chicken breasts, peas and rice or salad. You'll benefit in cost, in preparation time, and health-wise, and you'll only have to keep half the ingredients on hand.

Half applies to portions, snacks, desserts and candy as well. Most portions today are twice as large as in the 50's, just as twice as many Americans are overweight or obese. My rule is to halve your entrée and double your vegetable or salad. Snacks, chips, desserts and candy should be eliminated from your cupboards or reduced to a once-a-week treat. My picky grandson enjoys fresh peas from the garden just as much as a cookie. Soda and sweet juices should be replaced with whole fruit, water and milk.

Half also works in purchases of household and personal items. For example, buy only one kind of shampoo, toothpaste, soap, etc. that the whole family likes. Then you can always keep a spare on hand, confident that it will be used up. This frees up half of the storage space.

Think about your house also. Many magazines show simple, uncluttered rooms. When we repainted, we removed and did not replace the wallpaper border, half of the wall decorations, and our curtains, leaving just the wide faux wood blinds exposed. That showed off the good looking woodwork we had been inadvertently hiding. This spring, I was surprised how much easier our housecleaning was. We saved money by not purchasing new curtains and wallpaper and my husband commented on how serene and restful the rooms look now.

Also think about a simpler color scheme. In a magazine article I read recently, the designer suggested a two-color scheme, especially in small rooms. We used this idea in our small bathroom. We painted the walls a soft blue and the woodwork the same white as the tub, shower and other fixtures. We used a white shower curtain, towels, etc. and added a simple blue and white striped rug for design. The room looks larger and cleaner. The same idea works by using white with whatever color tile or fixtures you already have. My sister had cream tile walls she didn't want to replace. So she accented it with white, hanging a white and cream colored shower curtain. The result was cool and sophisticated. Keep prints to a minimum and limit colors to two or three depending on the size of the room.

Half works in your wardrobe as well. Reduce your wardrobe to two or three colors that go together. Purchase your clothes with this in mind and you will need less clothing. Your wardrobe can spread across seasons because winter and summer clothes can be combined in fall and spring.

Get rid of items that need something special to match and do not fit today. Fewer choices mean getting ready in half the time. Classic colors are more sophisticated, making your discount or outlet mall clothing look more expensive. It also cuts your shopping in half. You may be able to purchase better quality by having fewer items, which is an idea that Europeans use. They would rather have one good suit of very good quality and wear it all the time than several of shoddy quality.

Use the half concept with your kids' clothes and possessions too. Many kids are susceptible to advertising. Kids who get too much are careless of what they have. Use some good judgment on the quantity of toys and clothes your kids really need. Less to clean, store and have scattered around the house. Let them donate some of the excess to a thrift shop or charity; don't buy new toys or clothes, even at yard sale prices, without getting rid of some of what has been outgrown.

The concept of half can be applied to much of your life. At the office, at the mall, with your family, less can be more. Limit activities outside your home for all of you. Let your kids choose one or two activities they really care about instead of hauling them to every recreational or educational activity available. Let them use some of the leftover time to read or help around the house or just be kids. Let them have the time to use their imagination to amuse themselves, which has become a very underrated skill in our impatient society. Learn to say "no." Only choose one or two causes you really care about and give quality time to them. You'll be much less frazzled and your household will be quieter and more organized. Spend some of that time playing ball with your kids or walking around your neighborhood, getting fresh air and acquainted with your neighbors.

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money please send it by MyStory@stretcher.com

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