Edible Weeds?

I hate weeds. I hate weeding, so much so that I usually wait far too long to do it and let them get a bit crazy. It seems like weeds are the only plants that really thrive where I live. One of the most pervasive weeds around my house is Purslane. If you do any gardening, you’ve probably seen it, as it grows just about everywhere. It has light red stems and oval shaped succulent leaves. It is one of the fastest-growing weeds and will quickly choke out a flower bed if you don’t keep up with it.

I used to hate it, but now I’ve found a new way to deal with it- Eat it! That’s right, eat it. Purslane is edible, and has a mild “peppery” flavor that goes well in salads. It is quite commonly used in many European and Asian countries in everyday cooking. Not only is it edible, it’s good for you!

Key Benefits, according to “HealthGuidance”

    Purslane is known as an excellent source of vitamins A, C and E and the essential amino acids. Reports describe Purslane as a “power food of the future” because of its high nutritive and antioxidant properties.

    Purslane leaves contain Omega-3 fatty acid which regulate the body’s metabolic activities. Purslane herb is known to have one of the highest known concentrations of Omega-3 fatty acid in any plant.

    The stems of Purslane herb are known to be high in vitamin C.

It also has some medicinal properties. The crushed juicy leaves can be directly applied to skin to soothe burns, acne, insect bites, and psoriasis. It is used in some parts of the world as a natural remedy for many ailments including headaches,coughing, and arthritis. It is NOT recommended for pregnant or nursing women.

It can be used raw in salads, sauteed in a side dish, or the chopped leaves can be steeped into a hot tea. I tried it raw in a salad and found it quite tasty. It is best harvested from wet ground. All parts are edible, but I recommend the smaller stems and leaves. Who would have guessed that such a pesky weed could be so remarkable!

So, next time you weed your garden, save your swearing for the goatheads, and eat your purslane!!

What to do, what to do?

Finding things to fill your time is not hard. Finding worthwhile and inexpensive things to fill your time takes a little doing. The TV can suck away your whole evening before you even realize it. So will random web surfing or Facebook. The problem is that, after a certain point they just eat up your time and give you nothing in return. You’re not getting the most value for your time, and that’s not frugal! Here are some things that are free or inexpensive, and have brought me great returns on my time investment. I hope they work for you, too

Volunteer Work: There are always opportunities to give back. Check around your area. There is always something that needs to be done. Many communities have adult literacy programs. Check with your local library. Being a reading tutor is fun and very rewarding. Animal shelters and Animal Rescue groups in many communities are looking for help. If you are a nature lover check with the National Park Service for volunteer opportunities. The Special Olympics seek volunteers when they have their events. Homeless shelters are usually looking for help. If none of these sound good, just google “volunteer”

Reading: Reading is the most “personally profitable” way to pass the time. You can educate yourself about nearly anything in the world you can think of, or read purely for pleasure. The library is the frugal person’s best friend. You can learn how to repair just about anything by yourself. I’ve been a “Do it Yourself” guy all my life, and it’s still a real charge to learn a new skill.

bookshelf
Scene from my “Lair” Project Mancave
Reading can also save you from wasting time and money. If you become interested in a new hobby or activity, head to your library and read a couple of books about it before you spend your hard-earned money. Sometimes you’ll find it’s just not your cup of tea, other times you’ll just lose your interest. In either case, you’ve saved yourself money and you won’t have expensive dust magnets sitting around the house.

Music: Many folks have guitars or other musical instruments tucked away somewhere collecting dust. Take them out and pick up wherever you left off! If you have a guitar, you are really in luck, because there are more than a few websites dedicated to teaching people how to play. Most of them are free or very inexpensive. My personal favorite is justinguitar.com Guitar strings are very cheap. You can get a good set of strings for around $5.00.

Geocaching: Geocaching is a family friendly form of treasure hunting that came about when GPS(Global Positioning System) Satellite signals were made available to the public in the year 2000. People all over the world hide small containers, known as geocaches, containing a logbook to sign and sometimes some small items for trade. Then they post the GPS coordinates of this cache on the geocaching web site. To begin hunting these caches, just register with the web site.(It’s free) You will then be able to get a list of caches near you and their coordinates. The hunt is on!

GeoCache and GPSr

One of the best things about geocaching is that it can be incorporated into any trip you may take. Kids really dig the whole “treasure hunt” thing, and it can break up the boredom of a long car trip to stop and hunt a few caches. You can incorporate geocaching into a camping trip, or an international vacation. There are geocaches all over the the world! A basic GPS unit can be had for around $75.00 with some careful shopping, and you may already have GPS on your phone, although the monthly charge may quickly add up to more than a basic unit would cost. One of your friends may have a GPS unit that they bought on a whim and don’t use any more. Check out Geocaching.com for more information.

Drawing: You don’t have to be born with the talent to be able to draw. It is a skill that can be learned. You may not be the next M.C. Escher, but you can become proficient at it. Once again, the Internet is your best friend. There are many websites on which you can learn to draw for the cost of pencils and paper. try Drawspace.com to start. There are many books available from your local library, also. I would suggest “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards.

So there you have it. A few ways to have fun without beating you poor wallet to death. I invite your suggestions, questions, and comments in this area or about anything frugal. Let me know what you want to see here…

Eating well for less, Part II

Last time I covered shopping sensibly for food and cooking it yourself. That was the “eating for less” part. Now it’s time for the “eating well” part-the most important step. Nothing else you can do has more effect on overall health than eating properly. Most Americans eat too much, and eat too much of the wrong things. According to the Food Research and Action Center:

68.8% of adults are overweight or obese; 35.7% are obese.
31.8% of children and adolescents are overweight or obese; 16.9% are obese.
30.5% of low-income preschoolers are overweight or obese.

This is a national tragedy, especially for the children. What can you do? There are a thousand “experts” out there, and they all have their own theories. Every week some food is reported to be “bad for you,” only to become “good for you” the next. I decided about a year ago to stop listening to them and think for myself. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Eat the appropriate amounts based on your age, gender, and activity level. Your body “sees” only three types of food, protein, carbohydrates, and fats, otherwise known as macronutrients. There is a lot of disagreement about the exact ratios you should eat of each, but a good rule of thumb is 25/50/25: 25% of your daily calories from protein, 50% from carbohydrate, and 25% from fats. You can find your recommended daily calorie intake here A 25-year-old female that walks two miles a day requires 2000 calories a day. This works out to 250 grams of carbohydrates, 125 grams of protein, and 55 grams of fat.

 

  • Drastically reduce or even eliminate added sugar and white flour from your diet. We’ve all heard it a million times. Sugar and white flour are “empty calories.” You get nothing from them but a quick dump of sugar into the blood. This can be great if you are running in a marathon or a triathlon, but for most people this extra sugar gets converted into…you guessed it…fat. For example, people who stop drinking sugar-sweetened soda are often amazed at losing significant amounts of weight without doing anything else.

 

  • Get the majority of your carbohydrates from fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Frozen produce often has more nutritional value than fresh because it is frozen soon after harvesting, rather than riding for a week or more in ships, trains and trucks. Moderate your portions of “starchy” carbohydrates, like pasta and potatoes according to how much energy you need in a day.

 

An easy way to keep track of what you eat is to use a fitness tracking website such as Sparkpeople or Fitday. They both give you an assortment of tools to track your eating and your workouts. Fitday seems to me to be geared to those who want to get in, log their food and exercise, and go on. Sparkpeople is far more socially oriented.

Planning your menus, shopping sensibly, and eating right will not only save you money, but will give you more energy, help you lose or maintain your weight, and improve your mood. That’s what I call getting the most for you money!

Good Food
National Cancer Institute

Eating Well for Less, Part I

The easiest place to start saving money is in the Kitchen. If your idea of cooking is pressing buttons and removing plastic film, you’re in for some big savings. The best thing you can do for your cash flow is know how to cook! If you don’t know how, it’s easy to learn and also free. Your local library will have at least a few beginner’s guides to cooking. The internet has a wealth of websites on which you can learn any style of cooking you can imagine, including Klingon. Your local community college or Parks and Recreation may also offer free or low-cost classes.

Cooking your own food will save you a ton of money over restaurants, take out, and frozen food. Even if you’re single, you owe it to yourself to learn. Not only will you save, but you will know what is going into your meals, and you will control the portion size. If you have a microwave available at work, you can package up your leftovers in readily available and re-useable plastic containers for a good, hot, and inexpensive lunch. What’s that? YOU DON”T EAT LEFTOVERS?! Shame on you. You’re throwing a lot of money away. Besides the waste factor, many foods actually taste better after a day or two in the ‘fridge. Spaghetti sauce and Chili are at the top of this list, along with soups and stews.

Spaghetti- Public Domain Image

If you’re still with me, you’ve decided to learn how to cook. Fantastic! Before you head to the grocery store, take some time to plan out your menu for the next week or two. You don’t have to specify what day you will eat each meal, just know what you will be making. Be sure to leave in “Leftover Days.” From this menu, you create your shopping list. Sticking to the list will save you the maximum amount of money. I use a little program called Shopping List that lets me point and click to create my shopping list, along with giving me the total amount it will set me back. Best of all, it’s free! The program does require you to edit prices on items in the database, and enter those that are not, but after making a few lists, this will become only an occasional necessity as you try new things. If you’re not sure of the price at first, guess. Always try to guess on the high side. After a while you will have a good idea of how much things cost.

A brief word on equipment. If you don’t have any cookware at all, go slow! Read over your recipes, and buy the single items as you need them. It’s tempting to buy an entire set of pots and pans, but if you only use half of them, you’ve wasted your money. Nobody really cares if they don’t match. Buy the best you can afford. Cookware is one of those areas in which you get what you pay for. You may be tempted by those big flashy knife sets, but you will get by very well with a 9″-12″ “Chef’s Knife” or a Santoku, along with a paring knife. Steak knives are nice, when you can afford a decent set.

If you were formerly eating at restaurants, picking up take-out, and heating up frozen meals, you are going to save about 50% right off the bat, along with a 100% improvement in the quality and nutritional value of your food. Enjoy, and enjoy the savings!

The Frugal Smoker

Smoking woman Kelsey

There’s only one way to be a frugal smoker, and that is to Quit!  Please don’t think I’m just tossing that out there lightly. I was a smoker for over twenty-five years. I started smoking at around 12 or 13 years old, I don’t remember which. It was mainly to fit in to a group. All the kids that smoked at my junior high school hung out by an old, defunct storage tank a couple of blocks away from the school. We were known as “Tankers.” Of course, being part of a group with a rebellious habit and a sort-of cool name kept me from being singled out, which is one of the worst possible things that can happen in school. Smoking was a part of my “coming of age,” which is why i think it was so hard to quit. It became part of my adult nature.

On January 29th, 1999, I quit for the fourth and final time. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I am glad for it not only for being healthier and not smelling bad, but for the money I save. I smoked almost two packs a day. At $5.00 a pack nowadays, that would be $300.00 a month! Holy nicotine fit, Batman! What helped me was figuring out that my difficulty wasn’t so much withdrawal from nicotine, which was over with in 4 days, but two other factors: I saw smoking as a big part of what made me an adult, and the whole “ritual” of smoking. Certain events during the day required a smoke. Waking up, after-breakfast coffee, (the best one of the day) morning break, etc. There was also the physical part of smoking, holding the cigarette, lighting it up, drawing in the smoke, and blowing it out, as well as the whole social side of the smoke break.

I really hope you decide to quit. Don’t give up if you’ve tried before. Most people have two or three failed attempts before it finally “sticks.” The key to quitting smoking, or breaking any bad habit, is to replace the negative habit with a positive, or at least neutral, one. I started using cinnamon sticks as a substitute for cigarettes, and that’s what did the trick for me. There are many resources available to you to help you quit. Nicotine patches are very helpful to get over the physically addictive part of your habit, and are available over-the-counter for about the same price as a carton of cigarettes. There are medications your Doctor can prescribe for you also that may help. The best way is to use one of the above along with a support group. The American Lung Society is a great place to start, or you can call them at 800-LUNG-USA.

Do it for your family, Do it for your wallet, Do it for yourself, but just do it!

In defense of Walmart, and other “Big Box” stores- Part I

The following first appeared in another blog of mine, “Inside Ed’s Head,” in October 2010.

For the past few years, one of the hot topics in the U.S. is the “invasion” of so-called “Big Box” stores into small towns and the negative effect they have on local businesses. Let me tell you about one of my experiences in this regard. One day my dog broke her tie-out chain, so I needed a new, stronger one. (She was a rescue dog and had runaway issues. Putting her on a tie out kept her from getting loose and running the roads) My first thought was the small, locally owned store where we bought her vaccination kits. So I look around a bit, and I see a single blank space on the wall where tie-out chains were usually displayed. I asked the proprietor if they had any tie-out chains in the storeroom, and she informed me that they only carried one, and it was out of stock.

I went to the next locally owned pet store. I walk in, and the clerk is engaged in conversation with another customer. I patiently wait for my turn, but after about 5 minutes, I moved a little closer and listened in a bit. It turns out the “customer” was a friend of the clerk, and they were planning their weekend! So I interrupted as politely as possible to ask if they had tie-out chains. I got a dirty look, a finger point and a brusque “over there.” So I looked “over there,” and it was not the type of tie-out I was looking for. “OK,” I say to myself, “enough with the local stores.” I drive across town to Petsm@rt, which was close to my Gym. I walk in and I am greeted at the door by a sweet young thing with a big smile and a “Welcome to Petsm@rt, may I help you?” I tell her I need a tie-out chain and she takes me right to the tie-out chain section, about 15 of them, in different styles and strengths. I found exactly what I needed in about 30 seconds, and resolved to pick up my pet supplies there from now on, as it was also about a block from my gym.

The moral of the story? When faced with competition, you must compete or lose…

Effortless Saving

Spare change
Image courtesy of:ntwowe

You’ve heard it said: “Mind the Pennies and the dollars will mind themselves.” I take this little homily to heart. I rarely spend change, because not spending change makes an effortless small-scale savings plan.

At the end of each day, I throw all my change into a container, and I keep doing that until the container is full. Then I head off to the nearest “Coinstar” machine and cash it in. If you’ve never used one of these machines, it’s pretty straightforward. You feed in your coins, the machine totals them all up and then prints out a voucher that you take to a cashier to exchange for your cash. Coinstar charges roughly 10% of the total value for doing this, which is tolerable to me because it saves me the trouble of counting it all, rolling it all up, and schlepping it all to the bank.

So how much money do I end up with? It depends on the size of the container. A regular quart-size mayonnaise jar yields about $75.00 or more. My wife and I have saved for some nice weekend get-aways this way. It’s also a good way to build up quarterly contributions to a DRIP investment plan. (More about those at another time)

I have also experimented with not spending five dollar bills. Just tuck them away somewhere and leave them alone. This can build up a surprising amount of cash over a year. Tucking away two fivers a week will net you over $500 in a year, no pain and all gain!