Readers' Tips


Homemade Taco Seasoning Mixes

Here's our method for seasoning taco meat. It's easy, inexpensive and nutritious, and it makes plenty for leftovers. To a pound of ground beef that's been browned and drained, I add a jar of salsa and a can of black beans. Then I let it simmer for about 15 minutes.
Ann

editor's note: For more on homemade taco seasoning mix, please click here.

Hanging Wallpaper

The most important thing that anyone putting up wallpaper can do is to start by sizing the walls. Itís a clear coating that you put on the walls. If you don't and you get tired of the paper, it will be harder to take the paper off. I have been a contractor for over 25 years and have had to deal with it both ways.
Tiger

Updating Vertical Blinds

I have vertical blinds in many rooms in our home. I have changed their look several times by purchasing fabric to recover the inserts. I make a paper pattern and then cut the fabric. I use a hot glue gun to glue down on the insert and then put them back in the vertical casing.

A decorator originally did this in our master bedroom and charged me $5 per vertical plus the cost of a designer fabric. I have changed the fabric in the verticals myself twice. It can be time consuming and you need a large table or work surface to cut and glue the fabric panels, but it will only cost you the price of the fabric.

I have also found large pieces of decorator fabrics on eBay that were being sold because they were at the end of the bolt. I remove the old fabric before replacing or the insert will become too thick to fit back into the casing.
Colleen in Santa Maria, CA

Additional TDS Resource: More suggestions on updating plastic vertical blinds

Ready Chicken

About every few months, our local grocery store has whole chickens on sale. I buy several chickens. I cook the chicken in my pressure cooker at five minutes per pound and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then, I take the chicken off the bone and freeze it in freezer bags. I can go to my freezer at any time and have cooked chicken to add to many recipes!
C.

Solar Ovens

I use a solar oven for at least two meals per day. I made one out of a pizza box and aluminum foil. It is cheap to make and free to use later on!
B.

Additional TDS Resource: Readers share their experiences with solar ovens

Have a Local Dairy?

My husband got a second job about a month ago at our local dairy. The dairy throws crates full of milk onto a pallet every night with milk dated within seven days of the expiration date. These pallets are placed outside for anyone to come and take as much as they want for free. The dairy gets to write it off as a charity loss, and a lot of us get free milk, cottage cheese, blocks of cheese, eggs, sour cream, chocolate milk, and strawberry milk. If people look hard enough, they'll find their local dairy and it could be quite profitable to ask about the items that will be expiring soon.
W.

Bulk Storage Containers

I wanted to comment about storing flour in plastic containers. Unless it specifically says that it's food safe, assume that it is not. A large, food safe plastic bag can be used inside the plastic container.
Pat (via Facebook)

Additional TDS Resource: More on storing foods so they don't spoil

Saving for Appliances

Here's an idea for anyone who wants to purchase a washer and dryer after months of dragging baskets of dirty laundry back and forth to the laundromat. Unfortunately, it's hard to save, so it's tempting to use a charge card. Go ahead and buy it, but also get a piggy bank from the local thrift shop. Make sure it's one that can be opened. Every time you wash and dry a load of clothes, drop in the amount of money you used to spend at the laundromat. A similar strategy could be worked out for other appliances. Just set a few dollars aside every time you use it.

At the end of each month, you'll have a good start toward the credit card payment without really missing the loose change.
D.

Finding Affordable Furniture for Smaller Spaces

I have a small bungalow and needed furniture that would fit. Older furniture is usually smaller, but still classy and one of a kind. For my living room, I went to an antique auction and picked up two upholstered chairs and a smaller sized couch from the 20s for $350. They have carved wooden legs and are very comfortable. I had them reupholstered for $850 and have a beautiful, functional living room as a result.

For a room over the detached garage that was to be a teen hangout, we found a large selection of furniture from IKEA at great prices. They have a catalog if you don't have one near you. The very small sectional we bought is cute and contemporary.
V. Powers in California

Additional TDS Resource: More on finding small furniture

Your Kids & College Savings

Discuss your college savings with your children. I found that my kids stopped feeling as deprived when they understood that the iPads and trips they didn't get were offset by money we put aside for college, so they don't have to go into debt for college. This can lead into a discussion of how much college costs, how much public and private schools cost, and why it is cheaper to live at home.
Tamara W.

Mosquito Control

My cousin came up with an excellent idea to keep mosquitos at bay. In a spray bottle, mix 1 cup water, 1 cup LEMON ammonia, and 1 cup lemon dish soap. Spray all over the yard or patio. For some reason, they don't like the lemon scent! And it works very nicely.
Linda W. in Waverly, Iowa (via Facebook)

Additional TDS Resource: More on repelling mosquitos without harsh chemicals

Furnishing Your College Apartment

It's August! Summer's ending! Stores are blowing out patio furniture like crazy. This is great news for college students. If you're going to live in an unfurnished house, apartment or condo, consider snapping up a hugely-discounted set of patio furniture with cushions for your living room or a nice table and chair set for the dining area. This is attractive, well-made furniture, and the seating has comfortable cushions. Right now, such items are marked down really, really cheap at the big box discount stores.

Depending on its style, you can repurpose all kinds of outdoor furniture for use inside. For example, use an occasional table designed for use with a chaise lounge as a lamp table or nightstand. Sometimes these deals are even better than buying used furniture at thrift stores, but always check your prices. Act quickly. This stuff is selling out really fast. If you wait too long, it'll be gone. As an added bonus, once your college days end, you (or your parents) can use the nice outdoor furniture on a deck or balcony.
Lynn

No More Lost Buttons

I put a drop of super glue on the center of the buttons on my shirts to keep the thread from coming unraveled. It works great!
W.

Homemade Steak Sauce

I make my own steak sauce. It is so easy. I have been told that it tastes similar to A.1.®, which costs quite a bit in the grocery store.

Add one teaspoon of ground ginger to two cups of ketchup and Worcestershire sauce mixture and simmer. If one desires it to be a little sweet, you may add some brown sugar to taste. After this cools, I pour it into a squeeze bottle and keep it in the cupboard. You can refrigerate it if you desire.
Elaine

Additional TDS Resource: More homemade steak sauce recipes

Cleaner Baseball Caps

I was looking for some plastic "cap" holders to keep my caps in shape while washing them. I couldn't find the holders so I put them in the dishwasher. I sprayed them with Shout® and used powder dishwasher soap. I washed them twice and laid them on a towel to dry overnight. They turned out great.
B.

A Better Litter Box

I have a wonderful litter pan called "Clevercat," which allows me to put a litter pan in places that might not work for a litter pan otherwise. It's wide and deep and has a lid with a hole in the middle for my cat to enter. It works great to keep kitty litter from being scattered around. When my cat digs, the high sides and lid keep the litter inside. And, the litter box doesn't look like a litter box.

The Clevercat is expensive at about $40, but you can make your own litter box very much like it for much less! Buy a heavy-duty plastic storage tub and cut a round, 9-inch hole in the top. Use the Clevercat online ad to show you where to put the hole. This works perfectly! The cat likes it just as well as the expensive one. You do need to be sure it's heavy-duty, so the lid will be strong enough to support your cat when he/she is climbing in and out. You might already have a good strong one in your garage that you could re-purpose!

The Clevercat is 20 inches long, 15 inches wide, and 15 inches deep with a 9-inch-diameter hole. You'll want to make yours about that size. Use about an 18-gallon size container. Tape the edge of the hole just to make sure your cat doesn't scratch himself on the cut edge. A clever cat uses this box, and a clever human saves money!
Anne W.


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