Category Archives: Your Financial Health

My advice is simple: Spend less money than you earn. My readers are going to be in various stages of financial health. No matter what stage you are at, it is not too late to start…or improve. This section will cover ideas to reduce your costs and encourage you to eliminate debt.

Frugali-tea

Let me just start out by saying that I really like tea.  I always have.  I like it hot, iced, luke warm, black, green, red, plain, flavored, loose, bagged, morning, noon, night, caffeinated and not caffeinated.  I even like teas that are not teas: tisanes or herbal “teas.” So, this transition was easy for me…but for my husband–not so much.  He has often commented that he has nothing against tea, but that it doesn’t taste like anything. And he was always more of a coffee drinker in the morning.

I am proud to say that I have converted him. Not that he likes it much more than before, but, at this point in our house, it’s either water or tea, and however you squeeze it, tea has more flavor than water.  He still has coffee, too, so don’t feel bad for him.

The evolution of having just three things (water, tea and coffee) to drink in our house was gradual.   I used to buy a lot of juice, but, being cognizant of the amount sugar and calories most “natural” juices contained, I started to buy the stuff with the sweeteners. I would also occasionally buy soda if it was a really good deal, though diet, of course, because of the whole calorie thing. But, then I really started to worry about what the sweeteners were doing to my body.  At that time, I was also adding sweeteners to several cups of hot tea throughout the day, usually the yellow packets. And the simple truth is that nobody knows what sweeteners do to the body.  I decided I needed to stop playing roulette with a possible carcinogen and stop using sweeteners.  Okay, okay… I do still, on the very rare occasion, which is usually a latte, use sweeteners, but it is still a MASSIVE reduction for me.

Despite always having a cup of tea at home, I never really kept a pitcher of it in the fridge.  As long as I was buying juice, my husband wasn’t touching it. But once I decided to stop buying juice…I knew I needed another option.  I grabbed a margarita pitcher that, sadly, had never seen enough margaritas, and began to keep a pitcher of iced tea in the fridge.

There are many schools of thought on how to properly prepare iced tea.  This is my method: Fill pitcher with water, throw in 5-6 bags of tea, stick in fridge.  Within a few hours, it is steeped. I tend not to use hot water because I am using a glass pitcher.  I apologize to tea connoisseurs around the world that may be cringing at this method of tea preparation (i.e., not steeped at the correct temperature for the correct amount of time)  but it works just fine.  And, really, if it were more work, I might not do it.  I usually use a plain, cheap black or green tea bags as a base, and then add one to two bags of “flavor” such as mint or chai.  Sometimes, if I want to get fancy, I might add a bit of honey or fresh squeezed lemon.  And now that I have a juicer, things can start to get really crazy.

The advantages of converting to tea rather than juice and soda are numerous.  1) There is the health benefit of not drinking sugar and other crap and drinking tea, which has a lot of health benefits. 2) There is also the cost advantage.  If before I was spending $2-$4 on each 64 oz juice, now I spend mere pennies on a pitcher of iced tea.  For example, I just bought a pack of 100 grocery store brand black tea packets for $1.99.  If I made a pitcher of just plain black tea, it would cost just 12 cents.  If I added a couple of packets of Bigelow’s Plantation mint (on sale for $1.95 for 18 packets) the cost would shoot up to around 30 cents!  3) Plus, I am reducing the waste I am producing by not buying 2-3 large plastic bottles or many more cans every week.  When I am done using the tea bags they get fed to my worms.

Here is where I make my confession.  I still feel that my offerings are a bit meager for company.  I hate that I feel this way.  But I do.  As a hostess, I feel that I am being inconsiderate.  That not everyone likes iced tea like I do.  Or maybe they can’t drink it because of the caffeine. Or maybe they’re six years old.  So, I still feel pressured to go out and buy more choices.  I hope to wean myself off of this need.  And I think the way I will do that is by playing around with combinations of flavors to add to my tea, so that it’s an exotic offering rather than a boring one.  I’m already thinking of throwing a piece of ginger in the juicer and experimenting. I hope to come back to this page and add many interesting (and cheap) recipes.

Going Paper(towel)less

I always considered myself a rebel within my family for buying cheap paper towels. My sis, for example, is a paper towel snob and always has nice, thick paper towels. My mom, while not as particular, was fanatical about keeping them in the house, always. Her day would be immediately ruined if she realized that she was out of paper towels. I was somewhere much further down the spectrum (towards the less crazy end) but sheepishly admit that I never considered giving them up–even my really cheap, thin ones.

As I assessed the paper waste I was producing, I realized that paper towels were a sizable chunk. So I decided to make the commitment to using less. The obvious solution was switching to washable towels.

I resisted this idea for quite a long time because I bought into the idea that re-used towels would just be spreading germs all over the place. Modern marketing has done its job on me. (I mean, when I saw the new disposable towels for the bathroom, I thought for the briefest moment that I had to have them. But seriously, is it that much work to change out the bathroom hand towel? And for the most part, it’s just me and my husband…and we do things a lot more personal than share hand towels, so…no, I did not have to have this new product.)

My first foray into replacing disposable paper towels was a failure. I was in a neat, little shop I frequently frequented and came upon this seemingly brilliant product: Jagneus Design dish cloths. The product came in a pack of three, was eco-friendly and a bit over-priced, so I thought, “this has to be good!” Plus, is was Swedish, and they make nice things, right? The idea with these is that you use them, wash them, and when you are done, they are compostable. They are made of cotton and cellulose.

The problem was that they were incredible stiff unless fully wet, and I was trying to avoid constantly wet towels. Even if they were supposed to dry quickly, quick wasn’t a few minutes. So you were constantly messing with a wet towel, or a stiff towel. Maybe I just didn’t “get” them, but they weren’t for me. I don’t feel bad about this. The company seems to do just fine, and they should…charging what they do for a dish towel.

So I spent the same amount of money at Kohl’s and got a pack of 12, 100% cotton towels. They were just like the face towels I had purchased a couple years before, except in the kitchen section. And from I understand, these kind of towels are bio-degradable as well. Though on this issue, I will follow up because I am a bit skeptical.

As to my transition, I have certain rules. This section is for friends that come over so you don’t think I have a gross house. I have plenty of towels so that I don’t run out before I wash the lot of them, which is about every two weeks. I basically use a different towel every day. I only use counter towels for the counter and floor towels for the floor and I don’t use them for drying dishes. If I wipe up milk or clean up after meat, the towel goes in the dirty bin right away. The towels are never allowed to sit there sopping wet. To me, wet equals a bacteria breeding ground.

The pack of twelve set me back about $10 and I had some random other small towels, though I know it can be done more cheaply with a bit more investigation and planning. I am not counting the money spent on the Jagneus product– I am going to consider that as a donation to a green company. Anyhow, seeing as how I was going through a roll of paper towels a week, at about a buck if i was lucky, and now one roll lasts approximately a month, I feel that it is a worthwhile investment and a valuable effort. I’m not down to zero paper towels because every once in a while there is the warm cat puke or gross thing that comes out of the clogged drain that I just don’t want to mess with, and I tend not to buy napkins, which my mom just doesn’t understand. I am doing better, which meets my goal: to keep improving and reducing.

The Grocery Game

When my husband suggested we review the budget on groceries, I immediately took offense. I mean, I was the one that always did the grocery shopping. I thought I was shopping conscientiously. Plus, it was my husband who ate so much and who needed diversity. I could live on eggs, rice and beans for the whole month. When he pointed out to me that we were spending around $700-$800 dollars a month, I didn’t believe him. I kept saying that the month he was looking at was an anomaly. I told him to just look at the month before. Yet, it never really went down, and sometimes was a lot more.

I am going to have to admit that I didn’t have any idea of what we were spending. But the next thought was, “well…what should we be spending?” The answer to this questions varied and vague. According to an online article by NBC the USDA estimates that for a family of four “spending ranges from a “thrifty” $524 per month to a “liberal” $1,014.

We are a household of two adults…and two cats. We only entertained about once every other month, and I’m talking dinner with another couple, nothing lavish. Plus, we did not spend a lot on liquor.

I was stubborn and insistent that we weren’t overspending, not based on our salaries and lifestyle. Plus, did I mention how much my husband eats? No, he’s not fat. But he does exercise and weight train and he needs to consume a lot of food to keep his weight up around 180. He is also a bit fanatical about healthy eating. And as we were trying to eat healthier my costs kept increasing. I was now buying ground turkey instead if ground beef, wheat pasta, a lot more fruits and vegetables, Greek yogurt, and gallons if milk, for example these things were all more expensive than their less healthy counterparts.

I then got to the point where I was looking at the amount of protein rather than price and I was also looking for a lot of convenience items that would be easy for my husband to grab if he were looking for lunch or a snack, like protein bars and sandwich fixings, since he always looked into our full fridge and said there was nothing to eat since we had ingredients versus meals. We also had started making runs to places like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. In my mind, I blamed my husband. Though have you ever tried to walk out of Trader Joe’s or whole foods without stocking up on wine or cheese? Maybe it was partially my fault.

My arguments weren’t swaying my husband. He acknowledged we ate well, he thanked me for the efforts I made to keep him fed, and asked, can we cut this in half? I began to see that he had a point, and begrudgingly answered that we could, of course. He challenged me to bring the spending down to $100 a week. I said fine, but he had to come with me.

Now, this is not a story about advocating extreme couponing. That stuff takes too much time and space. You don’t end up buying what you need, and it’s usually processed and not good for you.

However one of the time-tested techniques which we did abide by was checking out the circulars before we went shopping. Around our house we have the choice of over a dozen chain and independent stores. I would normally go to Jewel, which I always valued for what it was: a big grocery chain that would have a lot of loss leaders, hence great sales. And I could shop there consistently because I wasn’t married to a set list of items.

However, around the time that we decided to meet the challenge, Dominick’s came out with this amazing app (also the same company as Safeway). I had never really shopped at Dominick’s, but this app really appealed to me. It was the kind of app I wish Jewel had come out with. With this Dominick’s app, we could load coupons right onto the card from the smart phone. We could check out what was on sale and plan what we would buy for that week. The app didn’t just have the circulars, it also had items that were deal matches from other stores, specials just for me, coupons, and sometimes free items.

Prior to this app, I would do what most people probably do…cut out coupons and then forget about them. With this app, I didn’t have to clip coupons. Now, the savings were right there. The only thing they could do to improve this app is allow me to scan my coupons from other sources right onto my cars…but hopefully that is around the corner.

Nonetheless, that one step of looking over everything on sale that week, was a big psychological prep. With my husband in tow we set aside a specific time to go to the store.

I quickly realized that this was also one of the problems. Previously, I would go to the store a couple of times a week, either on my lunch break or after work. My shopping trips were unscripted and too numerous. While I didn’t spend a ton each time, it added up quickly. This was part of the reason I didn’t feel I was overspending…because I never was on individual trips. Plus, my husband would also sometimes make a run if he was out of razors, deodorant, or hair stuff.

I was leery of having my husband along. He has the attention span of a five year old and easily gets bored. Luckily, he now saw these trips as a challenge. He kept engaged and interested by running the calculator. This also helped keep to the budget.

On very rare occasions do we go over $100 a week. We stay on budget by buying ingredients rather than processed or boxed foods and by being flexible with the grocery list. Brands do not matter. We just want the best deal. And we are willing to put things back if we go over $100.

We always check our receipt before we leave and have lost our embarrassment about going to customer service and asking for rain checks or refunds of a couple of dollars. One of the things we have learned is to not be afraid to ask. A few weeks back at Dominick’s, we realized that we had lost a $10 coupon we had earned the week before. We looked for it, blamed each other and then basically figured we were SOL. We decided to go to customer service anyway just to see if there was something that could be done. There were a couple more hoops we jumped through, but in the end, they were willing to give us a $10 gift certificate. Incredible.

We are also willing to go to more than one grocery store if we can find a great deal on meat or produce, though we try to avoid that to prevent the temptation to over shop. But to be fair to places like whole foods, there is no better or cheaper place to buy bulk, diverse whole grains, beans and rice. And can you beat three buck chuck from Trader Joe’s for consistent cheap wine?

There were lifestyle changes that we made that helped us save. There were little things like my husband converting to a vintage double edged safety razor and getting rid of the Tassimo. I also don’t buy juice anymore. We just drink water, tea and coffee (we have milk, but we don’t drink it straight). I’ve started to make my own all-purpose cleaner and I have stopped using plastic wrap. We are not willing to give up meat, though we tend not to eat much red meat. I’ve also explored making things like hummus and breakfast bars, which were things that we previously bought thinking that they weren’t expensive. However, when you realize that a bag of dry garbanzo beans costs around a dollar and yields about four cans of beans at around a dollar a piece, or about six tubs of hummus at around three dollars a piece, it’s a huge savings.

At this point we have successfully cut our grocery bill almost in half. But I know there is more we can do. Many people may be reading this thinking that $100 a week is high (though keep in mind that this budget includes toiletries, cat food and litter, household needs like TP, garbage bags, etc). What is important is to take an accounting of what you spend, then take steps to reduce it. Set a goal. It’s easier to make changes gradually as you realize the benefits of making those lifestyle changes. You can’t make comparisons to other families, because everyone is different. But, more than likely you are buying a lot of crap you don’t need, that is not particularly good for you.

According to my own smug advice, now that we know we can shop, with all of our personal, household and feline needs met, at $100, the next step is to reduce it. There is room for improvement, and it may not all be in food consumption. For example, if we can really reduce our waste, we’ll need garbage bags less often. Or, if I can make a pleasant, effective laundry soap, I wont have to buy detergent every other month.

As far as food goes, I am looking forward to summer when we can grow and pick our own produce. I need to learn how to can or freeze foods so I can use what I grow and pick throughout the year. Right now, I buy some frozen fruits and vegetables to supplement our needs because I really haven’t thought through the freezing of fresh items. But if I just freeze the stuff I grow, or at least when it’s in season, then that would be a nice chunk of monthly savings.

We are also committed to increasing our intake of produce and need to decreasing the amount of meat we consume.

Do I miss really good cheese? YES. Do I wish I could always have a bag of brown rice in the freezer without having to cook and divide it? Sure I do. But we are talking real numbers here, not just a couple of lattes, which is my usual measurement for whether saving is worth it. We are saving thousands of dollars a year! And I know we can do better.

Shaving Off a Bit More

Here is one of my husband’s contributions: a vintage razor. Yes…the kind you have to buy actual razor blades for. Out of the blue, my husband, we’ll call him Bruce, began to notice how many disposable razors he was using. Being in a profession that required a suit on a daily basis, he also needed to be clean shaven. Plus, he was never satisfied with the shave that the disposable razors were giving him. He had tried various electric razors over the years with dismal results.

So as a complete surprise to me, who didn’t even realize this was an issue…or an area we could save money in, he ordered a 1955 Gillette Super Speed Double Edge Safety Razor. The initial outlay was around $20 from eBay for the razor, which was used but in pristine and sanitized condition. He also ordered a shaving brush for around $10–though these, I understand can get very expensive. The shaving soap he got from the corner pharmacy for less than two dollars. The box of double-edged razors he got from Sally’s Beauty Supply for around a dollar for 12 blades. For those, non math whizzes out there, this adds up to around $33. This all went down in December 2012.

As with most transitions, the start-up costs are a bit high. But let’s say he was spending around five bucks a month on crappy disposable razors…with this new system, it’s now the very end of March 2013 and he still has razor blades. He finally had to buy more shaving soap two weeks ago. Accordingly, the break even point is June 2013 and, thereafter, the monthly cost is around around 50 cents, if not less. I really don’t know how long that box of razors will last.

My husband is also very excited that he is not dumping all that plastic into the environment with those plastic razors. On top of that, he says he has never had such a good shave. This style of shaving is called wet shaving. While researching the issue he discovered that the modern disposable razors with all their fancy multiple blades were nothing more than a marketing success story for a pretty lousy product.

It is true that there was a learning curve for shaving, but honestly, he used to bleed more with the disposable razors. It is possible some would argue that he was never using quality razors before, but that would only add to how much he was spending every month on a product that he would throw away. Did I mention how much he raves about the shave he gets? I cannot begin to tell you how many times he has made me feel how smooth his cheek is.

I have not been brave enough to try it yet…and I am not even sure I would be allowed since it is still currently one of his favorite new-ish things…and you know how they always think our leg hair dulls their razors, but at least I have other options available to me, like waxing. So I am content he found this new system and that it adds to our three goals of saving money on a monthly basis, producing less waste and having nice things.

The lightbulb moment: negative net worth

About four years ago, my husband and I went to see a financial planner. It seems we had finally been making enough money to cover all our debt and start accumulating savings. We had a nice little nest egg of about $20,000 and thought that we needed to go speak with someone about how invest this money. And I have to tell you, we felt that we had real wealth and that this wealth would only grow.

A funny thing happened though when we met with the financial planner. He pointed out all of our debt. Now, he didn’t necessarily have an issue with debt, but he highlighted a loan we had taken out for my husband’s big boy toy that was higher than the others at around 8%. If I recall, his advice was to try to refinance or roll this into a home equity loan to get a lower rate. On top of this debt both my husband and I had car loans, student loans and together we had a mortgage.

Going into this meeting we thought we were being conservative because we were living below our means and didn’t carry over credit card debt. I just took for granted that my twenties and thirties were about acquiring “stuff” and that naturally meant taking on debt. It’s what everyone else did, and we thought that because we didn’t buy the biggest house or the fanciest cars that we were being fiscally responsible.

My husband’s light bulb moment at that meeting was the realization that he not only had no wealth, he had substantial negative net worth. My lightbulb was that there was really no point in saving this money when we had debt we were paying interest on.

While we both arrived there a little differently, the conclusion was the same: we needed to get rid of our debt before we could even start thinking about saving for our future. We joked that we had more actual wealth the day we graduated from high school with a minimum wage job but debt free.

At the time of this meeting with the financial planner, about mid 2009, we owed over $100,000 in student loans between the two of us and had a mortgage of around $190,000. My car had a five year loan that was a half year from getting paid and my husband’s car was leased. We had also that unfortunate loan for my husband’s little hobby for about $50,000.

It was daunting. While we both made really good salaries, we had never considered paying much beyond the monthly amounts. We never thought we could do what we did, especially not as fast as we did it.

We went with the good ol’ snowball method: tackling your smallest debt first and then progressively attacking each subsequently sized debt. However, first, my husband sold his toy. We then took our savings and paid off my car early. This all happened fairly quickly and immediately freed up several hundred dollars a month.

The feeling was immediately empowering. We tackled my student loan, then dealt with my husband’s car, then his student loan. I have to admit it was frustrating at times to throw big chunks from bonuses and such at these loans. There were still things I wanted. Nice things. Expensive things. And throwing it at the loans didn’t actually result in any tangible returns.

As we were nearing having only the mortgage remaining we made a strategic move to change our loan from a 30 year fixed to a 15 year fixed. With interest rates so low, the new payments were roughly the same as before, but soooo much more money was applied to principal every month. Unfortunately with the real estate market being what it was in 2010, our house didn’t appraise high enough to get rid of PMI. Nonetheless, while we were paying about $115 before on PMI, the amount on the 15 year loan was only about $40 a month. And even though it was only $40, we made ourselves familiar with the rules regarding getting rid of PMI as soon as we could.

This strategy often meant living paycheck to paycheck because any money left over at the end of the month was thrown at the mortgage. It was a delicate balancing act to calculate how much we needed to have in checking to pay any bills before the next paycheck. Sometimes we would have only $1000 to our name.

When we had paid down about $80,000 after refinancing, we changed our strategy a bit. We decided to keep paying our normal monthly payments but to keep the money we would use to pay off the house set aside in a separate account. This would accomplish a couple of different objectives: We would have a savings account in case of emergencies and we would have a stash of cash in case we wanted to move, which was always on the back of our minds.

So this account grew and grew. When we got close, we threw everything we had into it. And requested our payoff amount. When I went into the bank to send the wire transfer, I wanted to tell everyone that we were paying off our house.

It took a little while longer than I thought it would at the bank, but all in all, around half an hour to send off the money. Just over $100,000. That hurt a little bit. Spending that money. All at once.

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Those were the texts we sent to each other that day and the next. It started to feel good. Knowing that next month we would not have to pay the house bill! It was like getting a $1500 raise a month !

So that was the first part of our story. I truly believe that any one can do it. I will admit that my husband and I, as attorneys, made really nice salaries. Really nice. But along with that, came the student loans, debt that a lot of people do not carry to the extent we did. Or, you may not own a home and have less to pay off. Everyone’s story and situation is different. But the first thing you have to do is stop. Just STOP. Figure out everything you own and owe. Make sacrifices and start tackling those loans. One at a time. As you pay one off, you will have more to throw at the next one. You may get there faster or slower than we did, but you’ll get there. Start now.

The Size of Your Package

Why are we so wedded to the idea of having dozens of channels we never watch to occasionally catch movies and shows we have already seen–all with commercials.  Clearly, I understand why people have cable.  I got cable as soon as I got a real job and a real TV after graduating college and had it up until a few months ago. I also recall delaying canceling the cable by one month because I panicked that my stepfather would not be entertained for Thanksgiving.  I even insisted on having a TV in the bedroom, though my husband didn’t really want it there.

When making the choice to quit cable, I thought seriously about the shows I would no longer get.  And I had gotten quite enamored of DVR’ing certain shows and having my own commercial-less marathons. So I am not coming at this from a position that TV is filth and that we would all be better off not watching it.  I like TV.  What I didn’t like was paying so much money for a “package” that had nothing to do with the way I wanted to watch TV.

We were paying around $60 a month for a package that didn’t even include HBO, Showtime and Cinemax. I brought up the idea one day to get rid of the cable and explore other options. Luckily, my husband does not watch sports or this conversation could have gotten ugly.

We did some research. Looking back, I can’t even remember why we went with the choice we did, but in the end, we decided on Hulu Plus, and for less than $10 a month we can watch TV. The transition has not been perfect. Hulu Plus has a lot of great trendy shows… but not the trendy shows I watched before. It seems that not all stations have jumped on the internet TV bandwagon…though I think it is only a matter of time before they will.  For example, none of the home improvement channels have come along for the ride, or CBS. Hulu Plus also has a lot of weird foreign stuff. Yes, I know that I am not the only person or race watching this stuff, but there is a lot of it on there, which, to me, means that much of Hulu Plus does not appeal to me.  Also, if you flip through Hulu Plus it seems that there is a lot of content and “TV” channels, but a lot of those channels either have no content or only clips. It is very misleading. Hulu Plus also still has annoying commercials.

I am still tweaking my optimal TV viewing package.  I am probably going to get a TV antenna, which I understand allows you to get up to thirty channels since the digital conversion.

This would include CBS.  Currently, I can watch CBS on the computer, and even mirror it to my big TV, but CBS only holds a few episodes at a time and the quality of watching it either on the computer or on the TV is poor. The cost of an antenna would be around $50, but it is a one-time fee and would solve a lot of my issues.  And, conveniently, since this form of TV does not require one-year or two-year contracts, I can still switch to Netflix without penalty.

So, in short, even though I am still trying to get the right formula, I know that the result for us is a savings of around $50 a month on a recurring bill.  That’s potentially two round trip tickets to visit my sister. $600 a year just for adjusting the way I watch TV.

Stop the Madness

This year we had a death in our family.  It was sad.  He had been with us for about seven or eight years, and always faithful, consistent and reassuring.  It wasn’t a pet, it was our coffeemaker.

Despite now having reached a new level of awareness, my husband and I have often been victims of falling for the “newest thing”.   This includes one of those press one button, pod, instant coffee machines. Our machine of choice was the Tassimo. Yes, we know we basically chose the laser disk of the coffee pod machine world, but we were loyal and committed, even as Keurig began to take over the world and Tassimo pods were harder and harder to obtain.  Plus, the Tassimo made cappuccinos and caramel macchiatos, which the Keurig never did (and still does not!).

We originally converted from a regular coffee maker to the Tassimo because only my husband was drinking coffee and he wanted a single serve machine that was convenient and low fuss. And it truly was convenient and low fuss. I mean, how easy: choose pod, insert pod, push button and voila, instant, good coffee for one person. As time went on, though, we realized that it was an expensive habit.  A package of regular coffee, with 16 servings would run about ten bucks, maybe less if you had a coupon, and many packages, especially of the larger servings had fewer pods. So if my husband wanted two cups of coffee a day, we would be spending close to $40 a month…on coffee.  If I spent that much on Starbucks a month, I can assure you my husband would have given me a talking to.

But that was only one aspect. We were also aware of how much we were throwing away with each serving of coffee. Sometimes I would remove the coffee to feed to my worms, but that was tedious and I was still throwing away the pod. Yes, once again here we are telling you what you should do, only after we splurged on what you shouldn’t do…we’re like your parents in that way. But as much as we hate to admit it, parents know what they’re talking about, right?

Still, we didn’t want to spend money on a new coffee maker when the Tassimo was still working. And we didn’t really know in what direction to go, so we just kept using it. It was almost a blessing when it started to crap out. Though, being conscientious, we tried quick fixes we found on the internet.  They worked! And Tassimo gained another eight months of life.

In the end, though, we decided when the last round of expensive coffee was done with, we would retire the Tassimo.  We spent a long time researching our options. My husband still wanted a coffee maker that would only make one cup at a time and now we had a new goal of not generating pod waste every day. Consequently, we wanted a machine where we would be able use our own coffee.

At this point we seriously considered a keurig or a keurig compatible machine, which honestly was, like, 99.9% of the single brew market. (Completely made up number.) There were so many options and brands, too.  With many styles you could buy your own K-cup and use your own coffee.  Plus you could always splurge on one of the billion flavors of coffees, teas, and hot chocolates in pods–you know, if you were into that kind of waste. Let’s not pretend I would be above that. We thought for sure we would end up with a Keurig, or K-cup compatible machine…I mean, really, do they make any others? Why, yes, they do.

We decided on the Hamilton Beach Single Serve Scoop Coffee Maker. http://www.amazon.com/Hamilton-Beach-Single-Serve-Coffee/dp/B005GUGBS4.  It is everything we wanted in a coffee maker.  Convenient, single-serve, very reasonably priced and we can use our own coffee.

With my husband as the judge, it makes a really good cup of coffee. And there is nothing to throw away but the grounds.  It has a double filter system which they advise you clean out after every use.  Amazingly, my husband does this step, which really just amounts to rinsing out the grounds and occasionally giving it a good rub with the sponge. Easy enough. Some reviews complained about excessive splashing on the backsplash, but that is because they either didn’t realize or were to lazy to move the platform up.  It adjusts for your cup/mug.  It can accommodate any size mug, and most normal sized travel cups. This was actually something annoying about the Tassimo.  It did not fit many of our mugs, and none of our travel mugs. The Hamilton Beach Scoop only has two options, regular and bold, hence two buttons.  This is a definite advantage over the Keurig machines since I think their machines are often confusing and difficult to maneuver–and I am no button-maneuvering slouch.  I know my way around buttons and menus, and Keurigs are plain tricky. This machine takes the “choices” out of the equation.  You only get the amount of water out that you put in and you measure a the coffee in your scoop according to your preference.  It may take a couple of cups to get it perfect, but even your trial runs will net a pretty good cup of coffee.

Because you are brewing your own grounds, this machine could still work for a large family or a fanatic coffee drinker. There is the extra step of rinsing out the scoops, but 1) it’s easy and 2) they actually give you two of them. So everyone can have the exact cup of coffee they want.  I like flavors, my husband doesn’t, now it’s a win-win. An six ounce cup of coffee is plenty for me and he wouldn’t mind drinking a 16 oz cup.  We can both have it to order and the coffee doesn’t have to sit around to thicken like office coffee if we’re on different schedules.

Just to be clear, my snobbery does not override my common sense. We did not resist a K-cup machine just because we had been loyal to the underdog, Tassimo, but also because the reviews for the re-usable filters were pretty unfavorable.  Plus the machines themselves were much more expensive.

Now, instead of spending $40 a month on coffee, we are spending around $15.  We still buy good coffee, like Starbuck, Gevalia and Caribou Coffee brands. Incidentally, have you noticed how they now sell coffee in 10 oz and 12 oz instead of a pound? Sneaky marketing bastards. We could spend even less money and get cheaper coffee, but let’s not be too hasty.

It doesn’t do espresso…but then again, neither does the Keurig  (though the pricey Starbucks Verissimo does.)  It just makes a solid, consistent cup of coffee that meets our goals of being less expensive and producing less waste.

One last thing, to try to decrease the amount of waste we would generate by disposing of the Tassimo (it wasn’t in good working order, if you recall) we gutted the Tassimo and listed the parts on ebay.  This idea may have been a few years too late.  We still have all the parts.  But at least it made me feel a little better about throwing away the entire thing.

First… admit you have a problem.

My dear, beautiful sister was always so proud of herself for getting such fabulous deals on after-holiday items, decorations and wrappings.  Perhaps the best example was Christmas.  Every year, she would buy her wrapping papers, tissues, foils, boxes, bags, decorations on super sale after the season and put them away for the next year.  She got such fabulous savings!

When she moved from Illinois to Arizona three years ago she brought out from under the house FIVE bins of Christmas stuff, much of it never opened. Together, with hands held, and tears in our eyes, we acknowledged she had a sickness.  If you buy things and never use them, it’s no deal at all, no matter how cheap it was.

Now, I will admit, I took a lot of it…she couldn’t take it with her and we weren’t going to throw it away…it was all free for me.  But, I have to be honest,  it will be years before I actually go through it all.  Especially since I have made a vow to never buy wrapping paper and gift bags again.  Once you make a conscientious effort to save tissue, gift bags, cellophane, bows, ribbon, fillers, foils, and boxes, it adds up very fast.  People may look at you strangely at a baby shower when you are folding all the tissue into manageable folds, but you’ll be glad you did. (Baby showers are gold mines for tissue paper, by the way).  There are so many uses for tissue paper.  You can shred it and use it for easter baskets, shipping delicate products, and gift baskets. You can even wrap presents with it. You can use if for decor on gifts of plain bags, such as making tissue flowers, bows, or taking some watered down glue and decoupage-ing.

At Christmas time, I collect the ribbon and tissue and bags that people otherwise throw away. And they throw so much away! Everyone so far has rolled their eyes at the idea of shredding and composting the wrapping paper, but I hope to put that into effect soon.  I also collect small boxes and ribbons like the ones that come with all those yummy office gifts. Even if it’s too small to actually use to wrap, ribbons are great for crafting.

Occasionally my husband also has a good idea. Sometime ago he collected a handful of flight maps that the local flight school was getting rid of.  They have now become his signature wrapping and everyone remarks on how clever it is.  Repurposing things like maps, comics, your kid’s coloring book pages, instructions, newspaper, magazine pages, and tissue as wrapping paper is a great and FREE idea. Don’t forget to shred and compost after wards (I know…I haven’t gotten around to that yet, but I WILL.)