• Thu, Sep 23 2010

Bullish: Money-Saving Tips That Don’t Involve Bread Bags or Baking Soda

I am convinced that most of what we consider sound financial values about budgeting and saving are illogical Depression-era holdovers.

At Barnes and Noble this week, I paged through a copy of Everyday Cheapskate’s Greatest Tips. Maybe I’ll learn something useful, I thought. And I did. Here is the one useful thing I learned:

“Disposable razor blades get dull quickly because the metal blades begin to oxidize from the first time they touch water. They will last almost twice as long if you can slow down that process. Rinse razors after use and store them blade head down in a small cup of cooking oil. Light canola oil works best.”

You hear that, ladies? Store your disposable razors in cooking oil. If you use an opaque cup (like one of those nice porcelain toothbrush cups that accompanies a matching soap dispenser), you might be able to do this without looking like you have early-onset Alzheimer’s and might also be keeping your bra in the crisper.

Here are some other tips from the book:

For each teaspoon of baking powder in a recipe, you can substitute 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, and 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch. (I was astounded enough by this suggestion to look up the prices of all of these items on Freshdirect and convert them to per-ounce format: baking powder is 29¢ per ounce; baking soda, 7¢ per ounce; cream of tartar, $1.18 per ounce; cornstarch, 12¢ per ounce. I guess the cost of cream of tartar has gone up since FDR’s administration; subbing it in for baking powder would actually lose you money. But, even if it saved a few pennies: seriously, how many carbs can you possibly be hand-preparing in the first place?)

When you buy a set of sheets, buy an extra queen-size sheet and make extra pillowcases rather than, um, buying extra pillowcases. (I looked this one up, too: save your needles and thread).

Are you spending too much money on American flags? Instead, try ordering discount flags from your Senator!

This is my favorite one: “It makes a lot of sense to carefully unwrap gifts, rescue the paper, and save it for later. But that tedious routine can annoy the people around you. Having said that, here are a couple of tips for how to re-use gift wrap so no one is the wiser. To remove folds and wrinkles from gift wrap paper, lightly spray the wrong side with spray starch and iron it out using the low and dry settings on your iron. Roll into a cardboard tube to store.”

Use an empty salad dressing bottle as a vase! (If you do this in a non-ironic way, it is simply not true, as suggested by the book, that “no one will be the wiser” — rather, you will look like a Depression-era grandmother cheerfully trying to distract everyone from the fact that dinner is potatoes and old boot leather again).

YOU CAN STORE YOUR ONIONS IN A CUT-OFF PANTYHOSE LEG. (There’s really nothing I can add here. You can store your onions in a cut-off pantyhose leg. I mean, you can….)

Alright, enough with the comic relief. Let’s talk about some actual ways to save money. Let’s start with the really obvious stuff: Pay yourself first sending part of your paycheck directly to savings! Credit cards and in-store financing are bad deals! Thrift stores sell cheap used stuff! Dry cleaning is expensive! Use a refillable water bottle! Stay-cations are cheaper than vacations! Entertain yourself via the free activities in TimeOut! Pre-game! Starbucks is more expensive than making your own coffee! If you only pay the minimum balance on your credit card, you end up paying way more for all the stupid shit you bought!

You’ve heard all that before, right? Okay, here are some perhaps less-obvious suggestions:

  • The companies you buy drugstore items from sell the exact same products much cheaper in other countries. This may carry over to parts of your town with substantial immigrant populations. I used to live in East Harlem, where the local discount mega-store (3rd Ave and 118, if you’re wondering) carried foreign versions of American-brand products: Nestle baby formula in a Spanish-language can, that sort of thing. Last time I was there, two years ago, I saw Colgate toothbrushes with Vietnamese writing on the package in three-packs for $1.99, so I bought 30. This is great if you have a lot of one-night stands: offering a new toothbrush to someone you may never see again is a beneficent way to send your erstwhile sex partner off into the sunset.
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  • Shilo

    While I totally support the idea of subletting my apartment for some time to go be somewhere else that’s cheaper – I’m currently doing that exact thing from Australia, I gotta say, there is some wisdom in the razor thing.

    Not the keeping it in oil part, that’s weird, but using an old-school safety razor (the kind that uses actual rectangular razor blades, not a cutthroat razor) over modern disposables or semi-disposables (“permanent” handle with disposable blades).

    Disposables and semi-disposables are all horrendously overpriced chintzy crap and I could buy the absolute top of the line safety razor refills and it’s still WAY cheaper.
    Instead, I use middle of the road blades I get from a shaving place in nolita and a top of the line handle that cost me thirty bucks on amazon. After the initial cheap setup, I spend about $20 over the course of a year compared to my husband’s $300+ yearly shaving costs.

    It’s not a huge amount of money, but hey, I’ll take it.

    • Jen Dziura

      Ooh. I kind of wish there were pictures. But … $300 in shaving costs? I think I spend about $20 a year on disposable razors. I guess faces are lumpy and need better equipment.

    • bodo

      get a real razor, just one blade, and a sharpening leather, buy only soap hence

    • Bob V

      I think we men are just tech-driven. I use that same kind of razor though I get the best kind of blades. There actually is a semi-movement toward moving back to such blades as evidenced by web sites such as classicshaving.com.

      That said, I will occasionally slice my neck open. The rest of time though I get to pretend I’m a brown Cary Grant.

  • Bob V

    >Relocating

    What do you do with your baking powder and other such stuff while you are between leases? Do you just pay for storage? And the moving? Is there storage in New York? Do you deposit your things at friends’ places? Does that result in your needing to find new friends in addition to a new apartment when you get back?

    >You can just call your credit card company and ask for a lower APR.

    Isn’t this only helpful if you are violating the cardinal rule of not carrying a balance on your credit card?

    By the way, another thing you can do if you have balances on a bunch of different cards is to call each company and tell them that you are going to be consolidating your debt to the card that gives you the best interest rate and canceling all the others. It takes more time, but it works if you are serious about eliminating credit card debt for good.

    • Jen Dziura

      Hey Bob,

      Yes, the relocating idea only makes sense if you don’t have a lot of stuff (true of a lot of young urban people), you can store stuff at your parents’ place, or you’re subletting your place. There certainly is storage in New York — the cheapest kind is the kind where they pick up your stuff and haul it away to New Jersey and store it there, and then they deliver it back to you sometime later. If you want your stuff to stay in Manhattan, it costs more. But storage is very heavily advertised here in NYC.

      Hmmn. While of course it’s bad to carry a balance on your credit card, I also like to maintain lower APRs just in case I have an emergency and end up carrying a balance.

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