Readers' Tips

Seasonality and Produce Prices

To determine seasonality, consider when a particular item is at its cheapest or on sale often. That is probably when it is growing locally. An exception in the Northern states would be citrus fruits, which are cheapest in the winter in most cases. For more information, check the USDA website or this one here.
Barbara in CT

editor's note: For more on Seasonality and Produce Prices, please click here.

Inexpensive Doggie Coats

Here is a tip for a dog coat! These things are advertised as a bargain at $19.95, but you can go to your local dollar store and buy a sweatshirt for a buck and use that instead. You can find one to fit your dog no matter how big or small and you need do nothing but put it on. They go into the washer and get softer and softer with age. At a dollar, you can toss them out when you want a new color or design. Our dogs love them because they do not cut or pull. Simply pull it over their head and put their front legs through the sleeves.
Fran M.

Cleaning Bathroom Grout

Bathroom tile can be cleaned easily by soaking paper towels in bleach and leaving them on the grout for at least one hour. When you remove them, the mildew is magically gone.

Additional Dollar Stretcher Resource: More on cleaning gross grout

Fresher Cabbage

Keep cut cabbage and Chinese cabbage fresh along the cut sides by wrapping them in their own outer leaves. Keep uncut ones fresh by wrapping in newspaper and storing them in a cool room (40-50 degrees F). The newspaper/cool room trick works for apples as well. I live in Japan and learned this from our local vegetable storeowner. It really works.

Home Haircuts

We live on one income, and I have learned how to cut my husband's and son's hair. I got the book Haircutting For Dummies, and after about six months of practicing on my son, I started cutting my husband's hair as well. We save at least $25 a month that way.
Jennifer E.

Reducing Dry Cleaning Bills

Burdened by dry cleaning costs? There are some garments in everyone's closet that just can't be tossed in the washer. You wear that jacket once, and although it may not be stinky, it might not be as absolutely "fresh" as you might like.

What do you do? Go to you liquor cabinet and pull out the bottle of the cheapest vodka you have. You're going to put some of that vodka in a spritzer bottle and set it on the finest spray possible. Then spritz the garment in question, especially in the underarms (both inside and out). The garment only needs to be made slightly moist. Vodka is clear and won't stain, but it will remove odors and give the garment a fresher appeal.

As with any crazy, penny-pinching tip, be sure to test the vodka on a spot where it won't be noticeable, particularly if you are freshening a lovely silk garment. This is a trick that wardrobe people use backstage to freshen costumes between weekly cleanings.
Stephen W.

Separating Your Laundry

A stretcher of mine is to buy two types of laundry detergent. I use the good stuff for my family's clothes. By good stuff, I mean the kind that holds the color and keeps things looking new (it does, too). It costs a little more, but with a coupon and on sale (plus the fact that it makes clothes last longer), it's a good deal.

Then I buy the cheaper (generic or store brand) for washing throw rugs, rags, and my husband's work clothes (he's in construction). I find that it cleans things "good enough," and I'm not wasting money on the "better brand" of detergent.

Packing "Peanut" Recycling

I use them to fill the bottom of all my planting pots in the spring (except vegetables or edible herbs). They provide great drainage and lighten the weight of the pot, so it can be moved around the patio. Also, I use less potting soil in each pot, which cuts the cost.

Line the bottom of each pot with two inches of peanuts and then cover with a screen (the type you use to rescreen storm doors and windows) so the peanuts don't float up when you water the plants. I reuse them each year, but you can also throw them out and use a new stock of "peanuts" each year.

Curing Athlete's Foot

I have found that applying vinegar (white distilled vinegar from the grocery store) to the affected areas of your feet will help keep athlete's foot at bay. Just saturate a cotton ball and rub down your feet. You have to keep up with it for a few weeks even after symptoms disappear because fungus will come back quickly. Do this morning and at night.

Another alternative for athlete's foot is to soak your feet in 1/2 cup vinegar, 2 T of salt, and enough warm water to cover your feet. Both of these methods are dirt cheap and as effective as (if not more so than) the expensive creams and powders at the store/pharmacy.
Susie M.

Additional Dollar Stretcher Resource: More on getting rid of athlete's foot

Cheaper Sodas

We drink a lot of soda, especially Mountain Dew. My husband and I both take several 20-ounce drinks with us to work each day. Buying these individually can get really expensive, so I have 20-ounce bottles saved that I refill from two-liter bottles. Six two-liter bottles at $1.30 each equal $7.80. I can get 3.5 20-ounce bottles from one two-liter bottle, so I get 21 20-ounce drinks out of six two-liters.

If I bought the 20-ounce bottles individually at a convenience store, they would run me $1.59 each. The cost for 21 bottles at this price would be $33.39, so I'm saving $25.59 over convenience store prices. Of course, that is not including tax, but you can see just how much you can save by filling your own 20-ounce bottles instead of buying them individually. I also keep extras in the fridge, and we grab a few for road trips to cut down on expenses.

Hair Deep-Cleansing

Recently I asked my hairdresser to recommend a shampoo that removes build-up from hair. Although he sells an expensive line of hair care products, he told me not to spend $10 on a shampoo designed to do that. Instead, he suggested that I go to the grocery store and buy a box of baking soda.

He then suggested that the next time I shampoo my hair, simply put some shampoo in my hand and add some baking soda. Mix the two together in my palm and then shampoo my hair as usual. After rinsing, use conditioner. Well, I tried it, and it works great! It left my hair looking shiny and soft. I gave myself a salon-style look for less.
Lorie L.

Easy Microwave Cleaning

Here's the easiest and most frugal way to clean a microwave. All you need is a dishcloth. Wet your dishcloth and squeeze out the excess water. Place the dishcloth in the microwave and run for about 35 to 40 seconds. Let stand for a minute or so. Then carefully open the microwave and test the cloth! It will be hot. The steam released from the wet dishcloth releases the food stuff. Just take the cloth and wipe the microwave clean; no elbow grease or cleaning products required. It only takes seconds, and it is one of the best cleaning tricks I've ever used!

Why I Read Credit Card Offers

Read the credit card offers that come in the mail. Recently a couple of banks that I have done business with have offered to give me a credit card with 0% APR for an extended period of time. In addition, they offered me $100 credit if I would spend $500 in the next three months.

I took them up on their offers. I paid off one of our debts ($500) with their credit card. I took $400 from my regular bill-paying money and then added their $100 to it. I used the other credit card to pay our regular monthly bills.

The trick is to put the cards away and never use them again, which I have done. We received one hundred dollars free, without putting myself in any other debt. Look over credit card offers that come in the mail. You might find one that will actually make you some money.

editor's note: Be careful not to do this too often. If you open too many accounts, you could hurt your credit score.

Washing Down-Filled Items

On multiple occasions, I have successfully washed down-filled clothing (the kind with nylon shells) using Woolite® and warm to cold water. Fill the washer and add the Woolite®. It's hard to get a down coat completely wet, as the air pockets in the down make it pop up. Keep working at it to get it as wet as you can. Run it part way through the cycle and then turn the machine off to let it soak awhile. Later, complete the cycle. It might be a good idea when it's done to run it through again without any detergent at all to make sure it's rinsed very well.

Place in a dryer on the AIR setting. You don't want any heat here. Place a clean tennis shoe or one to two clean tennis balls in with the coat and turn it on. My dryer had a time setting for the AIR cycle, so I'd set it for an hour, check the coat, do another hour, check, etc. until it was dry. The shoe/balls are essential for fluffing the down.

I have done this only with coats. I have a down comforter and was advised by the company that supplied the fabric (I made it from a kit) that washing it would remove the down-proof treatment on the fabric, so although the fabric appeared to be washable judging by the fiber content, it was not. They said to definitely dry-clean comforters. But I've never noticed an increase in the loss of feathers from machine washing down jackets.
Diane in Middletown, VA

Additional Dollar Stretcher Resource: More on cleaning down-filled items

Free Online Tax Filing

For as long as there has been online income tax filing ability, I have been in search of the cheapest way to do it. There are a lot of options for federal filing via, but I was paying for my state filing, even though I made far less than the limits for "free" filing.

The trick to filing for free is to begin by going to your state tax website. In my state, there are guidelines for who qualifies for free filing, and they give links to all of the companies that they approve. You really do have to use these links in order to get the free filing. The software company will get you signed in and send you a confirmation email so you can get into your account without backtracking through the state website.

You still file your federal return first to determine what is going to be used for your state tax filing, but it's done by the software you have selected to use.

Also, this trick may have to be used every year. The company you use will send emails every so often with tax filing hints and other useful information, but if you use the link to start your returns from these emails, you may end being charged for both federal and state filings. In that case, start over again, using the state tax website link for free filing your return. You may also find out that more companies have been added to the "free filing" list in your state.

Not all states offer free filing, but in my case, I saved nearly $40 for the state filing and at least $15 for the federal. I received a real refund this year, with nothing taken "off the top" for what should be a free service for my income bracket. Wish I had figured this out years ago.

Better Frozen Bread

Here's something that I learned about freezing bread from my previous life as an employee of a fast-food restaurant. We received our buns frozen and always set out what we anticipated using the next day. We were told by the people that devised the system that the package needed to remain sealed until they were completely thawed and all of the moisture (ice while frozen) was absorbed into the bread. Opening the package early made for a very dry product as the moisture could escape to the air more easily than back into the buns.

As long as we let them thaw completely, no one could tell the difference between the frozen/thawed ones and ones that had never been frozen.
Joseph B.

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