Archive | September, 2012

Is Bacon the New Ketchup?

28 Sep

ImageTwitter was all abuzz lately with rumors of a projected Aporkalypse. The summer drought has caused little piggies to go to market well before their optimum porkaliciousness, yielding less meat now and creating a paucity of pending porkers until next season. In light of this looming crisis, perhaps it’s an opportunity to rethink our relationship with the little oinkers, rather than just whine about the lack of swine.

Let’s face it, bacon isn’t exactly health food, nor did it ever claim to be so. I’m not a big meat eater, especially when it comes to pork, but not even I can resist the siren’s song of those tasty little pig strips better known as bacon. Unless you have been a sleep for the last decade, you know that most of our pork products come from horrific factory farms full of filth, disease, antibiotics, artificial hormones, pesticide & GMO livestock feed, animal cruelty and corporate greed; in short, you’d be better off eating roadkill.

What to buy.

If you are going to eat pork, eat the good stuff; I say this for a number of reasons. First of all, you want to avoid all the pollutants that come in factory farm pork. Never buy prepackaged meats; if it comes in shrink-wrap, it is definitely from a factory farm. It also means that they use a cheaper curing method that causes you to lose most of your purchase in the drip tray because what you really paid for is meat plumped up with water. When you buy meat from a reputable butcher the curing process is very different, you get to eat most of what you paid for since it does not cook off, not to mention that the taste and texture is far superior.

Let me break it down for you. The cheapest bacon in my area is Aldi’s for around $4/lb. After cooking it yields only about 1/2 to 1/3 of my original purchase. If I want it soft, it is way too fatty, and if I want to cook off more of the fat, the flesh becomes like a cinder. Yuck! For about the same price per pound (surprise surprise) I can buy nicely marbled Amish raised pork from a butcher at The Westside Market with very little lost in cooking. I go even cheaper and buy the bacon ends for only $1.50/lb., which are the irregular shaped ends of the bacon slab that could not fit through the slicer. So after cooking I get about 14oz of really tasty and healthier bacon for $1.50, OR for $4 get 6oz of crappy tasting and texture bacon full of harmful chemicals. You can clearly see which one gives you better value for your money, but don’t take my word for it, try it yourself.

How to cook it.

Another way to get the most out of your bacon is to cook it in the oven in a broiler pan. In this day and age there is no reason to cook your bacon on the stovetop in a frying pan; you are not a cowboy out on the lone prairie cooking your victuals in a black cast-iron skillet over a campfire. When you cook in the oven, you don’t have to watch and turn it constantly, you don’t have the safety risks of grease fire or burns from hot grease, there’s virtually no mess, and the bacon cooks more evenly, whether you like your bacon crisp or soft. If you are not using a broiler pan, you are essentially deep frying your meat which creates that unappetizing greasy cindered result.

Bacon as a condiment.

The recommended amount of meat per meal is about the size of that person’s hand. I like to feel like I got the most out of my portion and bacon is a great way to do that; because it is so flavorful, a little goes a long way. Rather than use bacon as my meat, I use it as a condiment, like ketchup. You can enhance the flavor of a dish by adding only an ounce or less. Crumbled bacon is great on salads, baked potatoes, roasted vegetables, omelets, even as a garnish to top your soup or other meats. You get your biggest bang for your buck with legumes; a cheap form of protein, vitamins, minerals and cholesterol lowering fiber. Not only are legumes very filling, but they take on the flavor of whatever you mix in, and that’s were bacon can come in very handy. Since legumes are best slow-cooked (I use a crockpot), I dice my bacon ends, instead of crumble or shave, to preserve the texture; otherwise, it just melts away. If you are new to legumes, start with something simple, like BBQ Baked Beans or Split Pea Soup.

Cutting back on pork will improve your health, keep more money in your wallet, and put less strain on the environment. So you don’t have to break-up with pork, just rethink your relationship a little.

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The Truth About Charity Donation Bins

19 Sep

ImageA while back I was reading an online rant about my favorite thrift store, in which the blogger fumed because the store was a for-profit enterprise rather than a charity. The store never made any claims about being a charity, but it did raise an interesting point: when you use a donation bin is it going to charity? Let me break it down for you so you can make an informed decision.

Charity owned and operated. The charity owns and operates everything from the bins to the collection trucks to the resale stores. An example of this is Goodwill. While this used to be the rule, it is fast becoming a thing of the past since this model is just not sustainable in today’s market. Think about it, they have to maintain buildings, trucks, liability insurance, staff, utilities, office supplies, advertising, etc. in addition to running the programs associated with the charity’s mission statement.

Charity affiliated. An example of this is Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Non-profits have to run leaner than ever with fewer staff, smaller facilities, and less general operating funds for overhead. If the charity’s purpose is to provide dental services to the working poor, it doesn’t make any sense for them to use part of their staff and facilities to run an additional retail business that is completely outside of their expertise. In this model, charities collect donations via bins, trucks or small collection centers, and then sell the items to for-profit business. Some for-profit businesses resell the items via thrift stores or a third party, while others recycle damaged clothing, glassware, etc. that are not suitable for resale into raw materials for manufacturing. The charity gets the money, and they use very little staff and resources to do it, so their profit margin is greater.

Cause oriented/Fake charity. An example of this is American Textiles Recycling Services Arizona. These can take the form of bins, trucks or collection centers, but bins are the most common. These “cause oriented” for-profit businesses rely on false claims, deception, or just donor naivete. They often have the words “aid” “care” or “goodwill” in their title to mislead the donor into thinking they are a non-profit or make claims of affiliation with a known charity. To make matters worse, some for-profit bin owners have been placing bins without the property owner’s permission, and have been vandalizing and raiding the bins of legitimate charities. Many of these operators claim that they are doing a “charitable service” by selling used items at low cost to low income people or have ecological benefit by keeping items out of landfills. With that rationale YOU could say the same thing about your yardsale! Some claim they give the proceeds to charity, but in truth, they only donate enough to get them a tax deduction rather than operating to benefit a charity. That would be like you claiming YOU are a charity because you donate and take the deduction on your tax return! Getting a charitable tax write off is not the same as operating for a charity.

So what can you do about it?

  • A legitimate collector will have the charity’s name clearly displayed; include contact information, and usually a bin number. ALWAYS contact them and ask for a receipt; that’s why they put the info on the bin. This will do two things: it will give you the tax deduction you are entitled to and it will establish the legitimacy of the owner. Fake charities count on the fact that most donors don’t ask for a receipt.
  • Call the number on the box and ask exactly how they donated items will be used to benefit the charity and what percentage of the proceeds go to the charity. A legitimate charity will have no problem answering these questions. Unless at least 60% of profits go to charity, its likely a for-profit company that files non-profit status to game the system at taxpayers expense. Planet Aid only uses about 29% of profits for charity and their “programs” are suspect at best.
  • Use online database search from Charity Navigator,The American Institutes of Philanthropy, GuideStar National Database of U.S. Charities, or Better Business Bureau to determine if they are a legitimate charity.
  • Report any suspected fraud to your State Attorney General’s Office or the BBB.

While you can’t always determine where your favorite resale store gets their items, you can stop fraud at the point of donation. Remember, just because someone has a website, professional signage or says that they support a charity doesn’t mean that they do. So get a great deal and support a great (& legitimate) cause!

Good news readers, you can now follow me on Facebook! Simply visit Real Penny Wise and click LIKE. Be sure to SHARE with your friends too.

Inexpensive Non-Toxic Soap Scum Removal That Really Works!

16 Sep

ImageI hate cleaning the shower; its right up there with visiting the dentist. I really hate all those expensive cleaning products that practically require a HAZMAT suit and still don’t solve the problem. So I went on a quest to solve the problem and keep more money in my pocket and I’m here to share my findings with you.

Here’s the scoop; as long as you have water (especially hard water) and soap, you are going to have soap scum. These new body washes with moisturizers are especially bad, forming a film on you skin and a film on your surfaces. Advertising geniuses tell you that you not only need an array of expensive foaming color-changing toxic chemicals to tackle this pesky problem, but now you also need to buy a battery operated device that constantly sprays your shower to prevent the film in the first place. The only result of these products is that they stink up your home, burn your lungs, nasal passages and skin, damage metal fixtures, and pollute the water. After all this, you have less money in your wallet, still do a lot of wiping and rinsing, and still have soap scum! And while you might not care about polluted water, remember this is the same water that waters the plants and animals you and your babies eat, and the water you and your babies drink and bathe in. Still think it’s not a problem?

So how do you prevent and get rid of soap scum?

Prevention

  • Buy soaps with as few additives as possible. Do you really need all those additional moisturizers? A few drops of baby oil on your wet skin before towel drying will seal moisture in skin more effectively for a fraction of the price.
  • Squeegee shower walls after each use. If it’s not on the surfaces, it can’t build up.
  • Spray regularly with a vinegar solution. Make a solution of white vinegar and water in a new spray bottle. I use 1:3 solution but you can increase the vinegar up to 1:1. The mild acid will dissolve minor build up and keep surfaces sparkling clean.
  • Use a water softener if you have really hard water.

Removal

You will love these methods because you will see the results instantly; it’s like magic! Depending on your surface, you can use a range of products. Always test on an inconspicuous area first to avoid scratching damage. Harder surfaces such as gazed tile and porcelain are more forgiving than fiberglass and acrylic. You can find generic muti-packs at your local dollar store so there is no need spend more on name brands. The trick is, the surface and scrubber must be completely DRY or they will not work effectively. Do NOT use in conjunction with any cleaning solution. It’s so easy you can even train your spouse and kids to do it each time they step into the shower before turning the water on. Assign each person their own wall they are responsible for, if you need to.

Plastic souring pads. This is for getting the really thick stuff off. Just make gentle but firm circular scrubbing motions, like you are waxing a car, and watch the soap scum flake off like a blizzard in record time! It also keeps your upper arms tone, reducing the dreaded “bingo wings”.

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Nylon scrubbing pads. This is for more delicate surfaces, lighter build-up, or getting into tight areas. These pads will retain the soap, so clean or replace them more often.

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Magic eraser. These are for the most delicate surfaces like chrome, fiberglass and shower doors. Use a simple back and forth motion and watch your shower doors become crystal clear in no time.

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So the choice is yours: spend dollars per use on stinky hazardous chemicals that cause damage, still require labor and don’t do the job completely, OR spend pennies per use on kid and earth friendly methods that actually work. Seems like a no-brainer to me!

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10 Tips For Thrift Store Clothing Shopping Success

6 Sep

ImageThere was a real stigma associated with buying from a thrift store when I was a kid; especially when it came to buying clothing. This attitude was based on two illogical ideas: first, anyone who bought from these stores was a “garbage picker”, and secondly, if you bought from a thrift store you were stealing the opportunity from a poor person to buy that item. In short, it was OK to donate, but not to support the store by making a purchase. Today, people are less ignorant and understand that their purchase, not just their donation, is vital to the success of the thrift store.

Thrift stores differ from consignment stores and resale shops in a couple different ways. The main difference is that thrift stores rely on donated goods, sharing none of the profits with the item’s original owner. Thrift stores do not require donors to make sure the clothing is clean, in good repair, or current. For-profit thrift stores are more selective about the items they sell since they need to turn a profit to stay in business: it doesn’t make sense to waste labor cost or expensive floor space on items that will not sell.

Since the economic downturn and foreclosure crisis began, all of these stores, especially thrift store, have been flooded with items from folks had to dump their belongings in order to lighten the load. Retailers of new clothing, noticing this trend, began to reduce their prices in order to compete for limited customers. As a result, thrift store now have some of the highest quality (often new) clothing for the cheapest prices. In addition, thrift stores have specials (usually half off) and coupons (also half off) for deals that cannot be beat.

Now that you have a better understanding of the current market, here’s some tips for a successful shopping trip:

  1. Take a shopping list. Know what you need and what you have that will work your intended purchases. Know what size you need and what colors and styles work best.
  2. Coupons & sales. Visit the website and check your local paper for store coupons. Check website for special sale days; check in-store signs to see which items are on sale that day, usually by color tags.
  3. Leave the kids at home. Period. This will save your sanity and avoid lots of regretful purchases.
  4. Eat, drink & pee. Since you will probably be in the store a while, make sure you have eaten to avoid low blood sugar irritability. Make sure you are hydrated and use the toilet, since most stores do not have water fountains or public toilets.
  5. Allergy proof. Thrift stores are notoriously full of allergens, especially dust and mildew. I always take an antihistamine before shopping to avoid the misery and constant hunt for a clean Kleenex.
  6. Travel light. Only take what will fit in you pocket. This will reduce your chance of loss and theft. If you can’t afford to lose it, don’t bring it.
  7. Dress appropriately. Since most stores lack dressing rooms, you have to try on clothing in public. If you wear lightweight or form-fitting exercise clothing, you can easily slide clothing on and off right over your outfit. Avoid wearing accessories since they make the process cumbersome. Pin your hair back or cover with a silky headscarf to make dressing easier and keep your hair dust free. Wear slip on shoes, especially if you are trying on pants.
  8. Wear gloves. I prefer cheap disposable latex medical gloves since they are easy to work in. This not only keeps my hands clean, but prevents hangnails and reminds me not to rub my eyes or face which can cause contact dermatitis.
  9. Avoid wishful thinking purchases. Don’t buy clothing that require weight loss, repairs, stain removal, etc. Let’s face it, you’re not going to follow through despite best intentions. Don’t buy items with the idea of reselling for a profit; it’s not going to happen in this economy especially if you are not already an expert.
  10. Wash immediately. If it’s dry-clean only, keep it in the trunk if you can’t go straight to the drycleaners; otherwise, put it straight in the washer. This will not only remove allergens, but remove the risk of infestation of bedbugs, lice, flea, etc.

With a little planning and basic understanding of the process, you can get some really great deals on a new wardrobe!

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How Living In A Wealthy Suburb Increases Your Car Insurance Rates

2 Sep

ImageSurprised? I was too. When we downsized from a Nouveau Riche suburb of McMansions with meticulously landscaped Chemlawns to an Inner-Ring Suburb with a Frontporch Culture of modest homes and mature trees, our car insurance rates actually went down by a couple hundred dollars a year.

After I got over my initial shock, I called my insurance agent to make sure it was not a misprint. Although many factors influence car insurance rates, I found out the main culprit is that people in affluent neighborhoods simply file more insurance claims, thus driving up prices for everyone in the area. The other main reason is that no matter where the incident takes place, both the site and the residence become part of the statistics. Below are some other common reasons for the increase:

Affluent ZIP Codes

  • More expensive cars; more expensive to fix
  • Multiple cars
  • Kids drive & often given a car; all the reckless inexperienced behavior & bad judgment that goes with that
  • NIMBY; translating into longer commutes to workplace
  • Shopping malls; whether it’s actually crime or a Lexus getting into a fender bender with a Jaguar in the parking lot
  • Chauffeuring children; rather than using school or public transportation

Modest ZIP Codes

  • Less expensive cars; less to repair
  • File less claims; usually know someone who can fix it, or not a priority to fix
  • Better access to public transportation especially to city jobs; avoids accidents, tickets & break-ins
  • Walkable neighborhoods & bicycle friendly; access to stores, parks, schools, church, etc

If you’re making at least six-figure, you’re not reading this blog anyway so you don’t care that you are filling the coffers of the insurance industry because they’re probably in your financial portfolio, but if you are a hard working middle class American who is fiscally prudent these are definitely points for you to consider.

Good news readers, you can now follow me on Facebook! Simply visit Real Penny Wise and click LIKE. Be sure to SHARE with your friends too.

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