Readers' Tips

Convenient Dinners

I like to buy good deli meat, cheese, and sub buns and have subs. Each person can make their own however and whenever they want. You could also either use pre-made meatballs or make up a bunch and add some spaghetti sauce and mozzarella cheese for meatball subs. Add some celery and peanut butter or carrots and dip, grapes, etc. to get your fruits and veggies in!
Laura (via Facebook)

editor's note: Visit here for more convenient dinner ideas.

Lowering Your Grocery Bill

One of the easiest ways to lower one's food budget and eat well at the same time is to plan vegetarian meals. They are as easy as rice and beans or as elaborate as a plantain-sweet potato stew with collards.

Another favorite easy dish of mine is made with eggs and stale bread. Soak about eight slices of bread or a small baguette in about a cup of milk, saving out a few triangular cut pieces for decoration. Mix four eggs with another cup of milk and salt and pepper. Pour over the bread. I like to add in whatever vegetables I have on hand. Frozen mixed vegetables are great. Stand the bread triangles up on end around the casserole. Bake like a custard at 325 degrees until done in the middle. It's yummy, easy, healthy, and delicious.

I usually add a can of cannellini or chickpeas to stews that offer little protein. Better yet, buy a bag of dried beans, cook it all at once, divide into usable portions, and freeze. Two pounds of beans make at least eight servings and cost under $2. They cook in 15 minutes in a pressure cooker or an hour or two in a regular pot after soaking.

You will be doing both your wallet and your health a big favor.

Cheap and Fun Christmas

This is a wonderful time to start teaching your children that Christmas is about more than presents. When I think back to my childhood, I remember very few of the gifts I received, but the memories of decorating the tree, singing Christmas carols, and wrapping presents make me smile. Here are some cheap or free experiences for you to enjoy as a family.

Take advantage of your local library. Check out Christmas books to read with your children. Christmas movies and music may also be available to check out. (My library often has very few DVDs on the shelf, but by searching the computer catalog, I can find them and place them on hold, so when they are checked in, the library will notify me and hold them at the circulation desk for a few days.) The library is also a great source of community information, and you can look for seasonal events that are free to the public.

Watch the TV listings for Christmas movies and specials to watch together.

Even if you are too busy to craft this Christmas, you can encourage the kids to make things. Search the web for age-appropriate crafts for the kids, and set them loose to make decorations, gifts, and Christmas cards.

Put the kids in charge of wrapping presents. Start collecting boxes now (cereal boxes are good) to put their gifts in so they can be wrapped sight unseen.

When the season gets too hectic, turn off all the lights except the tree lights and snuggle with the kids. Add mugs of hot chocolate and marshmallows and tell them stories about your own childhood Christmas memories.

Additional TDS Resource: More suggestions for a cheap and fun Christmas

Simple Homemade Gift

I recommend making homemade bath salts and bubble bath. These recipes are simple and every bit as good as products that cost ten times as much!

Bath Salts

1 cup Epsom salt (available at drug stores)
1 cup sea salt
5 drops of food coloring
15 drops of fragrance

For the fragrance, use the fragrance for soaps and cosmetics that is found at craft stores. Add all ingredients to a jar, cap with a tightly sealed lid, and shake well!

Bubble Bath

1 cup unscented clear dish soap
1/4 cup glycerin (available at craft stores)
1 tsp. sugar
15 drops of fragrance (same as for the bath salts)

Mix gently. The sugar needs to dissolve without completely foaming up the liquids.

If you don't want to be fancy, a plastic bag will be fine for the salts, and a used plastic water bottle will be fine for the bubble bath. Otherwise, you can buy nice containers at local dollar or craft stores.

Changing Your Home Decor

I like to freshen up my home's space by adding little touches here and there. My new favorite is wall stickers! I have been able to achieve many different looks, depending on which I choose. From dry erase calendars in the kitchen to a beautiful quote in the bedroom, these have been an easy and inexpensive freshener for my home!
evaeli5252 (via TDS Forum)

Prevent Car Starting Problems

Before cold weather hits, disconnect and clean off the corrosion on your car battery terminals with a wire brush. Then coat the terminal with Vaseline after it is disconnected. This ensures a good connection all winter long, which hopefully will keep your jumper cables unused.

Cartoon Character PJs

I wanted to get my girls some matching cotton pajama sets for Christmas that featured their favorite cartoon characters. The prices I found were pretty high and not the material I wanted either. It occurred to me that I could buy them plain cotton long sleeve shirts and tights and put an iron-on applique of the cartoon character on the shirts. This saved me quite a bit on their pajamas, as the appliques were only a couple of dollars, and I also used the material I wanted. Plus, my girls will be thrilled with it!
Julie S.

Don't Waste the Paste

Most recipes call for only a small portion of tomato paste. After using a tablespoon or two, the rest invariably goes to waste. To save the remainder, carefully open both ends of the can with a can opener. Remove one end and discard it. Leave the other in place. Wrap the entire can in plastic wrap and freeze overnight.

The next day, use the metal end to push the frozen paste out the open end. Discard the can, tightly rewrap the unused portion, and store in the freezer for up to three months. Slice off what you need each time you cook.

Freezing Meats

I used to have an industrial sized deep freeze. My father raised cattle and pigs, so we always had huge amounts of meat to freeze. The owner of a meat locker told me to save plastic bread wrappers and outer wrap all freezer paper with at least two layers of plastic bread bags with all the air squeezed out and tied tightly. I then labeled the outside with a black permanent marker. If you have beef processed or purchased at a meat locker, it's generally cheaper by the pound and they wrap it in freezer paper for you. This is much cheaper per pound than a supermarket or even a club store. The enemy of long time meat storage is air, which causes freezer burn. Most meats can be stored six to nine months with no ill effects. Be sure to keep a thermometer in the freezer and check it every few days to ensure proper and even temperature.

Additional TDS Resource: More suggestions on safely freezing meats

Cleaning Supplies

I discovered a professional janitorial supply store when I used the restroom at a local store and the soap they used was wonderful. I asked the name, so they gave me an almost empty bottle and told me where to get it locally. I have to buy it by the case since it is a special item, but since the case is six one-gallon jugs, it lasts forever. I usually order one case every three years for $25. We use it in our bathrooms and kitchen and love it.

I also buy commercial cleaning products at the supply store. It's much cheaper and means less trips since a gallon of commercial strength glass cleaner (for example) lasts for about five years. Check out a local janitorial supply store! You will save money and trips.

Short-Term Pets

For those of you who enjoy animals, but don't enjoy the long-term responsibility or high cost, our family has found the answer. We do foster care. Our local animal shelter has a foster program where we can foster young or ill animals for a short time. The shelter gives us everything we need (food, bedding, cage, toys, etc.) for free, and we provide a safe home with lots of cuddles. The shelter does this so that animals get used to the sights, sounds, and smells of a home, so whoever adopts the animal will not have any animal behavior problems that unsocialized animals often have. It's also a great way to see if you really want to have the long-term commitment and expense of owning a pet. Our oldest daughter (11) wants to be a vet, so this has been a great way for her to learn about different animals. In the past two years, we've had twelve bunnies and six cats at different times for four to six weeks at a time. We hope to get a litter of puppies in the spring.
Tiffany in Irvine, CA

Find the Pen

Tired of looking for a pen or pencil at the bottom of my purse, I repurposed an eyeglasses case. I can fit six pens in it comfortably, and it is much easier to find than a single pen.
Susan B.

Easy Shower Clean

You're not likely to reuse your washcloth after you've washed in the shower, but there's still a lot of soap on it. Why waste it? Soap is soap, right? I use mine to give my shower stall a quick scrub. It also gives me an excuse to be under that nice, hot water for a few extra seconds.

Removing Ink Stains

I have gotten many ink stains and even black motor oil out of winter white slacks with this combination. I make a paste out of OxiClean® and apply it directly to the stain and rub it in thoroughly. If the stain is breaking up and coming out, rinse and repeat until the stain is gone. If the stain does not appear lighter, then apply Goo Gone® in addition to the OxiClean® paste and rub in. The stain will disappear! It may take a couple of applications, but I can promise the stain will come out! Goo Gone® is available at most grocery stores, at some of the dollar stores, and at mass merchandisers like Kmart® and Walmart.

It works miracles on grease, chewing gum on/in bedding, what stickers leave behind on painted walls and clothing, crayon marks, and tape.

Additional TDS Resource: More ways to remove ink stains from clothes

Staying Warm

I am a single, work-at-home mom. Most of my days start off in sweats. When I go to bed at night, I simply put the next day's sweats underneath the covers on the empty side of my bed. In the morning, I put on warm clothes! I've also found that putting a quilt underneath the fitted sheet also makes a big difference in warmth.

Natural Christmas Decor

When I buy my fresh tree, I ask the owner if I can pick up the extra branches that were cut off from the bottom of sold trees. I use those to decorate my mantle. I insert small figurines or Christmas bulbs in the fresh green pine needles of the branches.

Usually they'll make a fresh cut on the bottom of trees when they're sold. I pick up those trunk ends. They can be sanded down. My kids and I paint or wood burn decorations in them.

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