Tips For Thrift Store Shopping

Filed under: Money — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:39 am on Monday, July 21, 2014

Yesterday, a friend asked me where to get an office chair. I told her I got it at a thrift store for $15. It’s black leather and in excellent shape.

She needed a chair too, so we went to the same store and she found a chair for $16. She wasn’t sure the chair was quite right, so we went to a big office supply chain and looked at the chairs. They had the exact same chair we saw in the thrift store for $50. She went back and bought the thrift store chair and saved herself $34.

On the same trip, I bought a hole puncher and a binder for $2.25, combined. The same thing at the office supply store would have cost $16, according to their website. That means I saved $13.75 by buying secondhand.

Thrift stores aren’t the only options for bargain hunting. Estate sales, yard sales, consignment stores, and even antique stores yield great deals all the time. But regardless of the places you secondhand shop, some basic procedures make shopping go smoother. Here are some tips:

Make a shopping list–I have a piece of paper in my wallet with a list of things I want for the house. Sample things on my list right now: A coffee table, nickel-plated hardware for the kitchen cabinets, a glass pitcher, vintage wall phone, and a rolling shelf to fit under my desk. The list also has dimensions for the furniture so I know how big it should be.

Put everything on the list–Lots of people look at secondhand shopping as just a way to get clothes or furniture, when thrift stores (and the like) are a great place to get everything from wrapping paper to frames to office supplies. If you want it, throw it on the list.

Be patient–The key to bargain shopping is to keep looking until the things you want show up. I just bought two never-used, restaurant-quality cookie sheets for $1.50 total. New they would have cost me $50. Great deal, right? The thing is, I’ve been looking for them for about 6 months. So I saved a whopping $48.50, but I had to wait 6 months. It’s a trade-off.

Carry a measuring tape–I cannot tell you how many times I have used that little measuring tape in my purse, not just for secondhand shopping but for life in general. Since I write down the dimensions of furniture I want on my list, it comes in extra handy at a thrift store.

Use your imagination–Could you take that ugly chandelier and spray paint it hot pink for your daughter’s bedroom? Maybe a golf caddy could be turned into a tool caddy for the garden? Or how about taking those old 1970s pepper mills and painting them an awesome shade of turquoise? It takes a little creativity to spot a diamond in the rough.

Don’t buy just because it’s cheap–A good deal turns to wasted money if you don’t need or want the item at hand. I had to learn this lesson about clothes. It turns out that if I don’t like some item of clothing, it doesn’t matter how cheap it is, I still won’t wear it. And nothing makes me feel dumber than buying something at a thrift store and then donating it again a few months later. So when in doubt, don’t buy it.

Check Out This $1 Mansion

Filed under: Money — Savvy Housekeeper at 10:37 am on Thursday, June 26, 2014

This historic mansion in Memphis sold for $1.

The owners, Jose and Jennifer Velázquez, put in $2.1 million of renovations, and look at it now.

Bedroom before:

Bedroom after:

Bathroom before:

Bathroom after:

The mansion is now a bed and breakfast. Rooms are $245 a night.

There are so many gorgeous historic buildings in America that can be purchased dirt cheap. I don’t understand why more people don’t do this.

Check Out More Pictures Of The House Here.

Homemade Vs Store Ice Cream

Filed under: Money — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:47 am on Thursday, May 29, 2014

savvyhousekeeping homemade ice cream should buy ice cream maker

The most expensive ice cream I’ve seen was $10 a pint in Louisville, Kentucky. I could hardly believe my eyes. Since then, I’ve noticed that ice cream prices have gone up. The local $4-a-pint ice cream is suddenly $5-a-pint ice cream, and goat milk ice cream has shot up to $7 a pint. (I never liked it that much, anyway.)

But I’ve found a way around this: make your own ice cream.

Before I go on, I should say that if I’m going to indulge in ice cream, I want real ingredients in it, like cream and milk and eggs. When you start to see corn syrup sweeteners and emulsifiers and ingredients like “Propylene glycol,” the price begins to drop, but so does the flavor. Luckily, I’ve found that making my own ice cream is a way to get high-quality ice cream on the cheap.

Of course, there are downsides to making your own ice cream: it requires time and an ice cream machine.

Some people make their own ice cream makers, but for most of us, it’s easiest to invest the $50-$70 into a new machine. (Or, as always, buy one used.) If you plan to eat ice cream regularly, the machine will pay for itself over time.

Here’s why: your typical pint of nice-quality vanilla ice cream costs about $5. Homemade vanilla ice cream costs me about $.60 per pint. That’s a savings of $4.40/pint.

Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe:


    2 c whole milk
    1 c heavy whip cream
    2 eggs
    3/4 c sugar
    1 Tbs vanilla


Beat the two eggs until they are slightly lightened in color. Slowly add the sugar and beat until integrated. Stir in the cream, milk, and vanilla. Chill thoroughly and pour the batter into an ice cream maker, according to directions. Let ice cream set up before eating.

This makes roughly 4 cups of ice cream, or 2 pints. I get the eggs for free from my chickens. The vanilla I made myself. The sugar costs about $.10. I buy whip cream in bulk from Costco for $3.99 a half gallon, or $.50 a cup. Milk is about $.25 per cup. That’s $.10 + $.50 + $.25 + $.25 = $1.10 for 2 pints of ice cream, or $.60 per pint.

Of course, most people buy eggs and vanilla, so lets add another $.70 on that price, or $1.80 for 2 pints of ice cream, or $.90 per pint.

I’ve heard that you can cut that price down farther by substituting half-and-half for the milk and cream above, although I haven’t tried it. This would have the added benefit of being lower fat, too.

There’s nothing wrong with buying ice cream from the store, and I still do it from time to time. But if you eat ice cream regularly, making your own saves enough money that it’s worth looking into.

And best of all, if you make your own, you can experiment with all kinds of crazy flavors. Here’s some recipes to get you started:

The Price Of Convenience

Filed under: Money — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:27 am on Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Most of us know that when you choose convenience in the grocery story–the food that has been sliced, diced, and pre-prepared for you–you pay for the privilege, but a recent article in ShopSmart, a magazine put out by ConsumerReports, demonstrated just how much.

The magazine sent their staffers to grocery stores in New York to compare the prices of “convenience” groceries such as pre-sliced apples or crumbled cheese to their whole counterparts. They found that sometimes you are paying a whopping 60% more for products that have been precut for you. Here’s the breakdown of what they found:

Baby carrots cost 63% more than whole carrots, at $3.99/lb. vs $1.49/lb. Since most baby carrots are whole carrots that have been sculpted down, that’s a pretty big savings. Switch to carrot sticks?

Broccoli florets cost 63% more than whole broccoli
, at $3.99/lb vs. $1.49/lb. It takes approximately 30 seconds to cut a whole broccoli into florets.

Crumbled feta cheese costs 63% more than whole feta cheese, at $8.65/8 oz. vs. $3.23/8 oz. I didn’t know this one, but I did know that crumbled cheese molds faster than whole cheese.

Sliced granny smith apples cost 50% more than whole apples, at $3.97/lb. vs. $1.99/lb. Like the broccoli, that’s a lot to pay for a few minutes of work.

Ground beef patties cost 33% more than regular ground meat
, at $5.99/lb. vs. $3.99/lb. You still have to handle the meat either way, right?

Cut-up chicken costs 25% more than whole chicken, at $1.99/lb vs. $1.49/lb. I can understand not wanting to cut up a whole chicken, but if you eat a lot of it, that’s a savings that’s hard to ignore.

The moral here? It sounds like you can passively add savings to your shopping cart just by opting for the more labor-intensive product. Convenience costs a lot.

And while we knew that, it’s still nice to see the numbers.

Homemade Vs Delivered Pizza

Filed under: Money — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:52 am on Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I eat a lot of pizza. As such, I have carefully analyzed the cheapest way I can purchase a good pizza. And by good, I mean a pizza with real cheese and a nice dough–not those paper-dough cheese-food pizzas you can get at fast food chains. Here’s my options for purchasing a large sausage pizza, from the cheapest option to the most expensive:

Homemade using my own dough: Dough: $.25, Cheese: $2, Sauce: $.10 (using tomatoes from the garden), Sausage: $.25, total: $2.65

The problem here is you have to think ahead and give the dough time to rise, so this option is not good on spontaneous “Let’s get pizza!” nights.

Homemade using the local pizzeria’s dough: Dough: $2, Cheese: $2, Sauce: $.10, Sausage: $.25, total: $4.35

When we are feeling lazy, we go for this option. We get a bag of the uncooked dough from a local pizza place and then use our own ingredients from there. (Trader Joes also sells uncooked dough for $1.30 a bag. It’s not the world’s greatest dough, but it’s passable.)

Take N Bake from local grocery store, on sale: $6

I’m not a fan of grocery pizza because they skimp on cheese. However, on sale this can be a reasonable way to get pizza.

Take N Bake from local pizza place, on sale: $6-$10

I used to use Papa Murphy’s when they first came out in the 1990s, but now their prices are so high, I don’t see the point of their pizza. If you have a coupon or get them on sale, they can be worth it, but not on sale, they are around $12-$15. At that price, you might as well just get a cooked pizza. (Costco also has a Take N Bake pizza for around $10. It’s pretty good.)

A pizza from my favorite pizza place: $15

Bricks has great pizza and we go there a lot. I have no complaints about Bricks, frankly. I love that place.

A pizza from local delivery place, take out, with coupon: $18

The local pizza delivery places have good pizza. Sometimes I take advantage and order a pizza, using the coupons I get in the mail and picking the pizza up. Without the coupon, the pizza costs between $21-$22.

A pizza from local delivery place, delivered, no coupon: $25

This is a hell of a lot to spend on pizza.

If you compare the most expensive way to get a pizza–delivered with no coupon–to the least expensive way–homemade with your own dough–you’re talking a savings of $22.35 a pizza. When you’re buying about four pizzas a month, like I do, that’s about $90 a month in savings. This is precisely why I almost always make my own pizzas. And if I do go pay for one, it’s usually to Bricks.

Here’s a recipe for making that sausage pizza at the top of the entry, courtesy of Eggs on Sunday.

Eat For A Week For Under $8.50

Filed under: Money — Savvy Housekeeper at 8:00 am on Monday, March 24, 2014


Last week my food budget felt tight, so I roasted a chicken. One whole chicken is enough for my husband and I to eat on for the entire week. That’s right, I get a week worth of dinners out of one chicken. And the best part is that chicken is so versatile, it doesn’t feel like you are eating the same thing over and over again.

I buy whole chickens when they are one sale. This one was $.79 a pound, which added up to $4.22. I used every part of the chicken, even the bones and the gizzard, as well the ends of all the vegetables I encountered during the week. In the end, I got six meals out of the chicken, if you count the chicken broth. The total cost? $8.48.

Here is how I did it:

Monday Night: Roast Chicken with Potatoes and Steamed Broccoli: $5.41

    Chicken: $4.22
    Butter: $.10
    Oil: $.05
    Herbs: Free from the garden
    1 Lemon: Free from the garden
    2 Potatoes: $.69
    Half of a bunch of broccoli: $.35

After the chicken came out of the oven, I cut some slices off the breast and served them with lightly salted steamed broccoli and a baked potato.

Tuesday Night: Chicken Salad with Oil/Vinegar Dressing: $.65

Chicken breasts plus:

    Lettuce: $.45
    1 Carrot: $.05
    2 Radishes: $.05
    Croutons: free
    Oil/Vinegar/Salt/Pepper: $.10

I cut up the lettuce, added the other vegetables, and mixed them with the oil and vinegar/salt and pepper. Then I put the croûtons and the rest of the chicken breast on top.

Wednesday Night: Chicken Burritos: $1.25

Chicken legs/wing meat plus:

    2 Tortillas: $.40
    Cheese: $.30
    Tomatoes: free from the garden
    1 Jalapeno: free from the garden
    Taco Seasoning: free
    1 Onion: $.05
    Beans: $.10
    Oil: $.05
    Half an Avocado: $.35

In a frying pan, I cooked the onions, tomatoes, beans, and chicken in oil with the taco seasoning. I added this mixture and cheese to the tortillas, rolled them, and cooked them in the oven for 15 minutes. I served it with mashed avocado.

Thursday AND Friday: Chicken Pot Pie: $1.07

The remaining chicken meat plus:

    Remaining Broccoli: $.25
    1 Onion: $.05
    1 Carrot: $.05
    Pie Crust: $.45
    Milk: $.10
    Butter: $.10
    Flour: $.02
    Oil: $.05

I made the crust in a pie pan. Then I cooked an onion, carrot, and the rest of the broccoli in oil. Then I made a cream sauce with butter, flour, and milk. When that was done, I combined the sauce, the rest of the chicken, and vegetables in the crust, finished the pie, and cooked it in the oven until the crust was done and the sauce was bubbling. The resulting pie makes enough for two dinners.

Saturday: Chicken Broth (In reality I didn’t really eat this on Saturday—we went out to dinner. But you could.): $.10

Chicken bones/gizzard/neck plus:

    The ends of the Onions/Carrots/Broccoli: free
    Water: free
    Spices: $.10

I boiled all the above in water until it turned into broth. If I had wanted to, I could have made soup out of it, but I chose to freeze it for future use.

Total spent on all the dinners: $8.48

If I were doing this in the summer, that number would be even lower because the carrots, potatoes, onion, lettuce, and radishes would be from the garden. (That would make the total cost: $7.09)

So there you have it. Chicken = the most frugal food ever.

Prolonging the Life of Simple Syrup

Filed under: Money — Savvy Housekeeper at 12:00 pm on Wednesday, March 19, 2014

savvyhousekeeping strawberry syrup
Strawberry syrup

I need simple syrup all the time for cocktails, Italian sodas, and desserts. The thing is, I have a problem with it going bad. Simple syrup is a combination of sugar and water that has been boiled until the sugar is dissolved. I usually do a 1:1 ratio–1 cup of sugar for a cup of water. This is a perfect environment for mold to grow in. It seems that no matter how tightly I put on the lid of the jar, mold appears within a week or two.

Yesterday a friend sent me this experiment. Camper English of Alcademics heard that “rich simple syrup,” which uses a 2:1 ratio, lasts longer in the fridge. He decided to find out if that’s true by making the different kinds of syrup and seeing when they spoiled. He also added vodka into the mix, which he had heard prolongs syrup. In the end, he had four bottles of syrup, as follows:

* 1:1 simple syrup
* 1:1 simple syrup plus one tablespoon vodka
* 2:1 rich simple syrup
* 2:1 rich simple syrup plus one tablespoon vodka

The results?

* 1:1 simple syrup lasted One Month
* 1:1 simple syrup plus one tablespoon vodka lasted Three Months
* 2:1 rich simple syrup lasted Six Months
* 2:1 rich simple syrup plus one tablespoon vodka lasted more than six months

Good to know.

Read the full experiment here.

The Safety Razor

Filed under: Money — Savvy Housekeeper at 12:00 pm on Wednesday, March 12, 2014

This is my safety razor. It’s from the 1940s. I use it to shave my legs.

I originally got the razor from an antique store. I properly cleaned it, of course. The reason they are called “safety razors” is because they were the next design up from a straight razor. They cut you less than the straight razor, thus the name.

I didn’t always use a safety razor. Until recently, I used a Gillette Mach 3. Before that, I used the disposables you get in plastic bags for $5. Then my husband got obsessed with old-fashioned shaving, and I learned that safety razors are a drastically cheaper option for shaving your legs.

Put it this way: A Mach 3 razor blade is about $13 for 4 blades. That is a staggering $3.25 per blade. If you get 6 shaves out of it, that $.54 per shave.

Compare that to the safety razor. We purchased 100 razor blades for $10, or $.10 per blade. If you use that blade 6 times, that’s less than two cents a shave.

That’s a savings of $3.15 per blade, or $.52 per shave.

Why is the price so different? It gets down to the proprietary nature of branded razors. Take Gillette–they have created a razor that takes specific blades so that no competitor can come along, make the same blade, and undercut them in price. If you buy a Gillette razor, you’re stuck with their blades.

By contrast, safety razors use common standard razor blades. Everyone makes them–you can get them at your corner drugstore–so they cost what a piece of sharp metal should cost, i.e. next to nothing.

I have also noticed that I get almost no razor rash or ingrown hairs with the safety razor. While the Mach 3 actually pulls the hair from under your skin to cut below the skin surface, the safety razor simply cuts along the hair follicle, thus making ingrown hairs unlikely. And because you’re dealing with one blade instead of three, you have to go slower with the safety razor, which is less stressful to the skin overall. This is especially useful for sensitive areas.

Of course nothing is perfect. It is supposed to be easier to cut yourself with a safety razor, although I haven’t experienced this. Also, it takes more time to shave, so it’s not great when you’re in a hurry. I keep some disposables around for when I’m in a rush and can’t be bothered to fuss with the safety razor.

Here’s a rundown of the safety razor:


    MUCH cheaper
    Less stressful to the skin–no razor rash or ingrown hairs
    A closer, cleaner shave
    Sticking it to man, er, corporate razor companies


    Easier to cut yourself
    Slower shaving time

Want to learn more? Here’s a whole forum of guys who can teach you about the safety razor.

5 Household Skills That Save Money

Filed under: Money — Savvy Housekeeper at 9:30 am on Tuesday, February 18, 2014

There are skills like sewing that may or may not save you money, depending on what you sew and how much you pay for fabric. Then there are skills that save you money every time you use them.

For example, plumbing.

Last week our water heater broke. Mr. Savvy took the water heater apart, tracked down the problem, and fixed it. If he didn’t know how to plumb (or wasn’t capable of figuring it out), we would have had to call in a plumber or maybe even buy a whole new water heater. Mr. Savvy’s plumbing skills saved us at least $500.

The thing about learning new skills is that the more you do it, the more confidence you gain, not just in your ability to do the skill at hand but also in your ability to tackle the unknown.

You think, hey I managed to fix that leak under the sink, maybe I can patch that hole in the wall too.

Or you think, hey I can make beer now. What other food am I buying that I can make for much less?

The next thing you know, you’re a Do-It-Yourself-Er and liking it… plus socking away money in the bank to boot.


savvyhousekeeping 5 household skills that save money

VEGETABLE GARDENING—Growing your own food, especially from seed, can save you hundreds of dollars a year, plus has the added benefit of forcing you to eat more vegetables. Last year I grew $1,300 of vegetables in my garden.

PLUMBING–This skill seems like it would be hard to learn, but it’s not. And while it’s inconvenient to climb under the house and track down a leak or clog, every time you do it instead of calling a plumber, you’re saving hundreds of dollars.

–Cooking from basic ingredients is almost always cheaper than buying packaged and processed food, or restaurant food. Here are some things I regularly make from scratch:


savvyhousekeeping 5 household skills that save money

BUDGETING–It’s funny but true: money management is a skill just like the others on this list. Learning to live within your means and save money takes a bit of practice, but it’s worth it in the long run.

CAR MAINTENANCE–The more you can do on your own car, the less you have to pay a mechanic. Changing the oil instead of going to an oil stop can save you $20-$40 a pop. Plus doing it yourself is a way to keep strangers from messing up your engine. (I’ve got some stories, let me tell you.)

What household skills save you money?

17 Supermarket Tips

Filed under: Money — Savvy Housekeeper at 8:59 am on Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Consumerist has an article on 17 Supermarket Tricks, Tips And Insider Secrets You’re Probably Clueless About. Here are some I liked:

1. Shopping carts are getting bigger so you’ll put more in them:
“We doubled their size as a test, and customers bought 19% more,” explained Martin Lindstrom, marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy.

5. Because grocery stores can’t compete with Walmart on price, they’re classing things up to bring you in: To compete with the low prices elsewhere, many stores are bringing in butchers who are skilled with the knife and produce managers who are pros on fruits and vegetables, along with dietitians who give seminars on healthy eating habits, according to Jeff Weidauer, a former supermarket executive and vice president of marketing for Vestcom, a retail services company.

And probably raising prices to match these classy environments, too…

9. Ask and ye shall receive: “The butcher will tenderize meat for you, the baker will slice a loaf of bread, and the florist will usually give you free greenery to go with your loose flowers,” says Teri Gault, grocery savings expert and CEO of “At some stores owned by Kroger, the seafood department worker will even coat your fish in flour or Cajun seasoning and fry it up for free.”

11. We’re all fools for the ten-for$10 promotion: “We’ll take an 89-cent can of tuna and mark it ‘ten for $10,’ 
and instead of buying six cans for 89 cents, people will buy ten for $10,” explains Weidauer. Who else feels like a sucker?

Not me! I ignore deals like that, since they almost always end up being more expensive.

Read the rest of the tips here.

« Previous PageNext Page »