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Instead of posting links to Making Do Ideas on this blog now (I'll just post my own projects here though they are few and far between now), I'm now posting them on my Pinterest Board named Making Do Stuff.
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Friday, February 27, 2009

Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

I have been using a lot of vanilla lately for cooking. I actually hate cooking, so I haven't done much in the past, but now to save money, I am cooking a lot more items and from scratch if possible. But now the vanilla flies off my shelf so quickly that I started to hate the $3.86 generic vanilla price sticker for such a little thing!

So, I am making my own! It will take 8 weeks for the first batch so I have to keep getting those $3 ones in the meantime. :( I am so thankful to a friend for asking if I had ever made my own since she had made her own. Her comment made me look it up!

I bought 750 ml of some cheap vodka from a liquor store for $5.56. I bought vanilla beans from this guy on ebay that I had heard good things about on some discussion board. (BTW he is great, my vanilla beans were evidently given quite the trip to get to me and after 2 weeks of not receiving it, he put replacements in the mail for me, the next morning my beans arrived in scuffed up written on condition so I was able to catch him before he put it out in the mail, but he was kind and ready to replace it and I am happy with the beans.) I bought the 30 vanilla bean assortment. If you buy so much you get so much free, so I got 10 free beans too for $14.59 (includes S&H) or 36 cents each.
(No it's not bad vodka in the pic, the beans are already in there!)

There are all different recipes out there, I have a feeling you really can't go too wrong with how many variations there are. This site had nice instructions. You're best off to use glass according to most instructions, but I decided to leave it in my cheapo plastic vodka bottle.

I chose to go with 3 beans per cup as the above site suggested, but I sliced them lengthwise AND cut into half inch pieces like other sites mentioned. So, my vodka is 3 cups worth so I put in 9 beans. I placed a sticker on the back to remind me when 8 weeks have come and gone and you are supposed to shake it once a day. It already looks and smells heavenly! Not sure it needs the full 8 weeks, but I am going to let it
sit the full time anyway. (I ended up using it 4 weeks later and it was great)

So $3.86 for 2 fl oz or $8.78 cents for 25.33 oz. Cost per ounce - store $1.93 homemade $.35. Woohoo and it's the real stuff baby!

Buy some fancy little bottles and give them away for Christmas presents! This stuff is supposed to be just like wine, leave that bean in the bottle and it gets better with age.

UPDATE: I used it one month later and boy was it awesome, but I will from now on use only half of the called for measurement. It was heavenly, but very powerful! I think I could easily get away with half as much, making the savings even better!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Figuring a Recipe's Cost and Nutrition

Are granola bars cheaper and healthier, I'm asked.

I have found two online sites and I have made a spreadsheet that can help you with figuring that out if you care when cooking your recipes. You can see if you truly are saving money or making things more nutritious if that is your main goal for cooking that recipe.

I would want to say right off the bat my granola bars are healthier just by the fact it is made from scratch and without the preservatives which is more of the reason I want to avoid prepackaged food. (I'm really not into the counting calories)

But to find out if it's healthier, I found this site - FitDay. You do have to sign up for a free online account to use it. Once you have, you get to fill in what you ate all day and it will give you the total calories you consumed with other information. But, for our purposes, just plug in the recipe ingredients on a blank day, and that is the recipe's health info. Divide nutritional information by how many servings your recipe makes.

Now, to find out the cost of your recipe, I made a simple spreadsheet calculator. In a spreadsheet application like Microsoft Excel or OpenOffice Calc, make your default calculator that you will leave to copy and paste for all the ingredients you want to figure out.

So in the example here, the top boxed set with the titles is my calculator that I will leave for copy and pasting. I wrote in the A cells what I need to remember for plugging in. The B cells is for my own desire to remember how many ounces are in the package, how many measurements are in the package and how many I use in the recipe. This is optional. C cells only have the formula in C4. What you write in cell C4 is formula


It has an error message in the default calculator because it can't do the math with words, when you replace the words with numbers, you get the answer of how much you spent for the amount of that item in your recipe. So, I highlighted and copied all the cells of my default calculator and pasted it further down on my spreadsheet. The spreadsheet will automatically change your C4 cell formula to pick the new cells for calculating wherever you paste your calculator so you don't have to come up with any new formulas.

So I plugged in the amount of Vanilla I used in my Granola Cereal Recipe. I had a 2 oz. bottle that I bought for $3.86. There is a total of 4T in a bottle and I used 1 T in the recipe. Once I plugged in the numbers, I got the answer that I used $.97 worth of vanilla in my recipe.

You can easily do this in your own spreadsheet and copy that example calculator infinitely until you get the amount of items in your recipe. I am sure you can make a formula to add all the C4 formulas, but I am not that good at spreadsheets, so I just add up all the answers by calculator. For the next recipe that uses vanilla, I can just simply change the servings used to get my new total.

If you are just way too freaked out to use a spreadsheet, there is one online cost calculator that I found like this, but you can only do 7 ingredients at a time and they are not savable, but you can find it here:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Make Your Own Granola Cereal

So, I am trying to figure out ways to not spend $3.12 cents on a box of cold cereal (which I love) that only lasts about 2 days in our house, so I looked up making your own granola cereal. I found several that went in the dehydrator and decided I would give making my own a try. Some recipes had raisins, some cherries, butter, no butter, etc. This is what I thought would make a tasty cereal for me and it sure did! (You can also do this in the oven, but smaller appliances take less electricity, so I chose the dehydrator.)

(Now it would be much cheaper if I forgot the almonds - It costs about $7.50 worth of ingredients and it will last almost the whole week for both me and spouse, $2.50 cents of which is nuts. So it would only cost $5 if I forwent the nuts bought at the store. We go through about 4 boxes of the other cereal costing $12.48. So perhaps this isn't the big saver that I thought it would be, but once my almond tree starts producing then it might be! I am absolutely positive this is cheaper than store bought granola, have you ever bought a small box of granola cereal for, oh, $4 and found out that 3/4 of that box was just air!!!)

Dehydrated Granola Cereal

5 cups instant oats
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 dried apples chopped
1 T vanilla
1/2 cup chopped dates
1 T cinnamon
1 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup butter melted
1/2 cup wheat germ

Mix ingredients together. Place in a dehydrator on plastic sheeting (Here's my homemade plastic sheeting) in a thin layer.

Dehydrate for about 3-5 hours or until crunchy. Save in airtight container.

It is a little messy getting it off the dehydrator into the container. I have just used a spoon to scoop off the majority and move the rest to the edge of the plastic sheeting which I pick up and dump into the container.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cereal Liner Dehydrator Sheets

My dehydrator came with one plastic sheet to make fruit roll-ups etc. But I wanted to make my own cereal, and I ran across the information that you can make your own granola cereal in the dehydrator, but you need plastic sheets and one would not be enough! So, I didn't want to spend money to special order more, so I had to find something to make do with.

Cereal Bag Liners! Take a cereal bag liner and rip open the seams and get your dehydrator rack or the plastic liner that came with it for a pattern.

Then take a marker like a sharpie and trace the pattern onto the liner. Cut it out; make sure you cut off the ink of the marker.

Then lay the liner on your dehydrator rack and fill with food. I have used this twice for making very yummy granola cereal (tomorrow's post is the recipe; don't fret!) and they have worked well. They are obviously flimsier than the other and will curl up, so you just have to uncurl the curls to put the cereal on the top. I have yet to make fruit roll ups, so I am unsure if they would work for that, but they work for this and you just wipe them clean in the dish water and hang them over other dishes to dry and reuse.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Reupholster Your Lamp Shade Take 2

My last reupholstered lamp shade I did years ago because it was ugly.

Well, I now had to do one this week because my lamp shade broke off. It had absolutely nothing to do with my moving a king size mattress by myself and knocking the large art frame picture off the wall on top of it, nope!

This is what I had to work with.

So I went through the fabric stash and found something suitable, I didn't have a big enough piece to cover it with one piece, so I decided to make 4 same size panels. I draped it on to make sure I would be ok with the effect.

I measured the circumference of the lamp wire which was 38" and made 4 10" inch panels. Then I pinned them to each other to sew up. After taking this picture, I realized I needed to iron these panels first (like I should always do, but don't) since there would be no way to iron it once it was a lamp shade.

To make my 10" panels fit, I had to have a seam of 1/2" on all the panels, so I used a pencil and ruler to mark my seam since there really would be no way to fix or readjust since I have no more of this fabric and can't just wing it like I normally do.

I sewed each panel to each other. Before sewing the first panel to the last panel, I cut the seams down fairly small to keep them from hampering the light output.

Also, before sewing the last panel to the first, I hemmed the bottom making those seams lay flat and cut the excess as well.

Then I sewed the front to the back, trimmed that seam and put it on my lamp shade wire circle. I made sure to match my pattern which gave me a visual guide to line up the shade onto the wire circle, but if I didn't have a pattern, I would need to have drawn a line to help me line it up evenly on my lamp shade.

Then I took a hot glue gun and laid a bead of hot glue on the wire itself and folded the fabric over the hot glue.

After it was set, I cut the excess fabric from around the top.

And I am finished. May not be as pretty as the last one nor professional looking, but I think it works just fine.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Dress Clothespin Bag

To keep my clothespins sliding with me on the clothesline, I made a clothespin bag from a toddler dress. I found one that fit snugly on an adult hangar, so it wouldn't slip off. It is a size 2T. It needs to have a back opening.

Then I turned the dress inside out and sewed the bottom together. You don't have to use a surger, I was just too lazy to take the hot orange thread out of the sewing machine.

Then put it back on the hangar. Keep the back opening unbuttoned or unzipped to put in and take out clothespins.

I think it's pretty cute myself.

UPDATE: Or you could use a toddler boy's button down shirt like Katydid.

UPDATE#2- Plastic hangars will snap off at the hook when the friction of sliding it across the line starts sawing through the plastic. A Metal hanger will start bending with the weight of the pins. So far, I've had good luck with an actual nice suit hanger. Sturdy metal hook, but wooden body. I would try my hardest to scrounge up a suit or wooden hangar.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Line Drying Indoors

Drying your clothes on a line not only saves you money, but saves your clothes and avoids much static cling.

Outside I have a clothesline strung between three trees. Yesterday, I was silly enough to hang them out in a 45 mph wind and one of the strings snapped, so I would not advise doing that! :)

When it is yucky outside, or night time or there are 45 mph winds that take off pieces of your roofing which should make you think you ought not hang them out, I hang them inside.

I have 3 drying racks.

And a retractable clothesline. I have a fairly large open downstairs, so I can get quite a bit of distance. If I didn't, I think I would hang it on one wall in one corner, put a hook on the other side of the room in the middle and the end hook on the opposite corner of the first wall making 2 lines in a "v" shape for more surface area. The clothesline retracts and the mechanism fold up against the wall hopefully pretty inconspicuously. I have also heard of people putting two large hooks in their ceiling and hanging a storable dowel rod on the hooks and hanging their clothes on plastic hangars.

Since I have started doing this, I have noticed about a pretty persistent $30 less a month in electric bills as compared to last year. It may not all be the dryer, but my guess is most of it is. I have not accidentally shrunk anything or inadvertently set in a stain I missed. The sun does wonders for stains, just pin that garment in the place where the sun shines the most and most if not all will come out regardless of pretreating. I rarely have static cling, what I do have must just be from the dry air of the house.

My mother used to hang laundry and as a teen I couldn't stand "cardboard" feel jeans. I really didn't want to do this initially because I didn't want those cardboard jeans. Well, using less detergent and natural or homemade detergent keeps that from happening. And of course, if you put them out on a highly windy day they get dry very fast and are very soft from all the wind beating they take!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Homemade Pizza Dough

Obviously paying for Pizza delivered is an expensive frugal no-no. When in the time it takes the delivery man to get it to you, you can make one yourself.

Ever since I was little, Mom and I would make the dough from a prepackaged envelope. If it's in a convenience package it makes you think that it has to be too long and cumbersome to make. Well, I tried making it from scratch several months back and amazingly, it takes very little more time to make it homemade. Won't be doing that anymore!

Just a simple Betty Crocker Recipe:

1 package (2 1/4 tsp) dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees, check with candy thermometer or just wing it)
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 T oil
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt

Dissolve yeast in warm water in large bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients, beat with mixing spoon 20 strokes. Let it reast 5 minutes before shaping.

Smear on some canned spaghetti sauce, sprinkle with garlic powder, minced onions, oregano, whatever else suits your fancy, topped with what you have around the house and cover with shredded cheese.

425 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Homemade Deodorant

I was really tired of buying $2+ stick of deodorant that often didn't work. Plus, I am sure we have all heard the not-so-sure-deodorant-is-a-good-thing cancer and Alzheimer-wise, so I have fiddled with many things taking others suggestions offline, from family, etc. and have finally come up with something that works. It's my own "recipe."

I bought a little pump sprayer which I fill with rubbing alcohol. Then I have an old powder jar which I fill with baking soda and I have a ton of perfume and samples etc. I usually don't wear perfume because it competes with my deodorant smell. And I had been using a "natural" deodorant that made me smell like a cedar tree - what perfume compliments cedar tree? And I especially hate baby powder smelling deodorant. Inevitably sometime during the day, I'll sniff and wonder where the baby is and then realize it's me.

So I put a squirt or two of alcohol under my arms, then using a powder puff I pat on the baking soda which adheres now with the alcohol wetness and then I add a squirt of perfume under each arm as well. When I get to using the perfumed talc, I think I will just mix it in with the baking powder.

This has worked well for three weeks now, so hubby is glad he doesn't get to smell my failed experiments anymore, and I am glad I am spending such a tiny amount and smell like I want to smell.

Monday, February 16, 2009

T-shirt Pinafore aka 24 Hour Bib

I just put out the next size dresses for my girl since she is getting so tall. She, of course, wanted to wear them, right now, before going down to eat breakfast. We have been having a fight over putting on a flour sack bib lately. Wanting to choose my battles with the 2 year old, but not already have the size 3 dresses be stained before year 3 even gets here, I decided to be tricky.

What if I made the bib into a dress - wait, they used to have kids in pinafore's all the time. I had always had in the back of my mind when seeing pictures of those that they were a useless garment, but no! A 24 hour bib they are! And the child thinks it's a pretty, so she'll wear it.

So we were hungry, refusing to take off the dress, so I ran to my t-shirt pile. Laid another dress on the t-shirt with the shoulder seams on the side of the t-shirt.

Then child decided that that dress should be the one worn, using freshly peeled off dress, I folded in the arms and cut around the dress shape and cut a neck hole.

Then I cut 2 long strips of material that I cut in half to make ties for the sides.

Then I did a quick 10 minutes of hemming and attaching ties and we have a pinafore. Badly done I know, but I was ready for breakfast. This will be a good outside gardening one. Will have to make some nicer sewn ones.

She is still not to fond of wearing this to eat, but she will accept it easier than the bib now, maybe it has to do with not being tied around the neck.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Pantry Money Safe

Leave out enough change and cash in a piggy bank or jewelry box, or any other normal hiding spot to make a would be burglar believe he's found your stash.

Then take a tin can of something normally found in your pantry in multiples and use one of those can openers that open the lid from the side of the can.

Wash it out, stuff in the big money and put the lid back on.

Put back up in the pantry. Hopefully, no one is going to go looking in your pantry for money, especially if he/she has found your "stash" already.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Leftover Chili Manicotti

I love Manicotti, and we make Chili a lot. I put enough Chili for a meal and freeze for another day and use the leftovers for this. I love Chili leftovers because of this recipe! I also generally have a half a peanut butter jar of spaghetti sauce leftover in the refrigerator from spaghetti or pizza, so this takes care of that as well.

Leftover Chili Manicotti

3 +/- cups of leftover chili
1 +/- cups of spaghetti sauce
7-8 Manicotti Shells
1 +/- cups of shredded Cheeses
1/4 cup of Parmesan grated
1 small carton of ricotta cheese
1 egg beaten
shredded cheese

Cook Manicotti according to package. Mix Spaghetti Sauce and Chili, set aside. Mix egg and cheeses for filling. Place half of the tomato mixture on the bottom of a 9x13 greased pan. Fill shells with cheese mixture laying on sauce. Cover with the rest of the tomato mixture. Top with Shredded Cheese. Bake 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Christmas Shopping All Year Long - On a Budget

I just bought Christmas Presents today. I have a budget sheet I carry with me in my wallet that I make new every year right after Christmas to start Christmas shopping for next year. It is a half sheet of paper printed off from a spreadsheet. I fold it up and stick it in the slot where cash is supposed to be (but never is). It looks like this:

I have a column for each person I am supposed to get a gift for accessible anytime I am out shopping. (I have a birthday list budget too). I have the amount that I have budgeted for each person. In my house budget - YNAB, I have a specific category for Christmas family presents, since I have a goal of $195, my budget is $17/m in that category. I have a column that reminds me of the target $ goal. When I find a gift for that person, I write what I got them, and cross out the money and put what is left if there is any. (If I go over hopefully there is some "spare change" left where I stayed under budget to steal from.) And I have a column to remember what I got them to keep me from buying more than one gift for the person for they will now be stored in the Christmas closet space .

Then, you have to keep your eyes peeled all year. At Walmart today, I passed the clearance aisle and saw the remnants of after Christmas Clearance Clearance. So I looked through the items for possible presents. I found these:

The toothbrush kits were on sale for $1 instead of $5. The Moon Shoes were $17 instead of $30. The Play Makeup was $9 instead of $14 and the Massager was $9 instead of $39.

You do have to pay attention not to buy "fad" gifts when you shop this early. Especially for Children. For Example, Leap Frog may be cool today, but will they be in 10 months? Will they still make accessories for that? Will the kid still have the machine to use the accessories on?
So, you need to buy more in general. Like I had a choice between the Moon Shoes and a Gutiar Hero Air Guitar Play Set. I figured, who knows if Guitar Hero will still be cool or superseded by something else in the future, but I wish I could try out the Moon Shoes. So Moon Shoes it was!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Wool Sweater Chalkboard Eraser

So now that I have a chalkboard, I need an eraser. The best chalkboard erasers are suede or felt.

So, I grab my bag of really tiny felted wool scraps left over from my shrunken sweaters from diaper cover making.

I tried to find the heavier, stiffer wool pieces. I cut out 7 rectangles about 1.5 inches by 5 or 6 inches.

I folded them in half and used the sewing machine to sew each of them in half. They barely made it under the machine foot, but they made it.

I wanted to make the non-sewed edge side the nice cleaning edge of my eraser, so I lined them all up with sewn edges next to each other. Then I took a needle and thread and started sewing in a serpentine fashion to catch all of them and try to keep then next to each other. It did curve up a bit on the edges, but I was ok with that. It was so thick that I had to make the needle go through only the first half in order to catch my needle to get it through the next half.

And the final resulting chalkboard eraser. Works great. I thought I would hot glue it to a thin piece of board. I may do it later, but I think I like it just how it is.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Kitchen Cabinet Door Grocery List/Menu Chalkboard

Going shopping with a grocery list always saves me money. I still sometimes wander off of the list, but it mostly helps organize myself before going so that I don't end up with only half of the ingredients for something I intend to make and then that second or third trip to the grocery store is a doozy. Then I make sure I write down my meals that I have just bought the groceries for to keep me from forgetting why I bought ricotta cheese and letting that spoil, etc.

I have been printing out a pre-printed list of everything in my pantry and circling what I need, but I am wasting paper and ink.

So my plan is four fold:
1) Print off that pantry list and set it next to the pantry to remind me of what needs to be in there to have a final look at before heading to store
2) Have a reusable board to write the things on the list that I discover I need throughout the week to make sure they get on the grocery list when I am planning next weeks meals
3) Use the back of junk mail/used regular mail envelopes the list for the week
4) Have a reusable board to write the menu plan for the upcoming days to remind me what I have available to cook

So, I bought some chalkboard spray paint a few months back and was wondering what was going to become my chalkboard. I was fiddling between getting some lumber, somehow using a picture frame or masking taping off a square on my kitchen wall and making a permanent wall chalkboard. I actually really like that last idea, but the kitchen will be remodeled in the future and it will have to move somewhere else and I didn't feel like wasting my time on something that will be painted over later. Then I remembered that we had some cabinet doors from the last house (we replaced the doors with doors to match the rest of the cabinetry there). So, if my kitchen had any cabinets (can you believe it doesn't - hate it), I would have done it right on one of those, but here's what I did.

First I took off the door from its hinges. Then using junk mail newspaper and masking tape, I covered the area that I did not want to have painted. Be very diligent about placing the masking tape, make sure nothing is covered you want painted and all is covered that you don't want painted.

Then I painted the door per directions on the chalkboard spray paint. In retrospect, since this was an unfinished door, I probably ought to have used wood filler or paint to fill in the wood grain. I thought I would like the wood grain behind it and I kinda do, but the chalk dust fills it up and makes it stand out.

And here is my cabinet door chalkboards.

Now you need an eraser. I made mine from wool sweaters.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Wash Ziploc Bags

My mother-in-law washes ziploc bags, and I have to admit I thought that was crazy. I decided years ago that I was never going to "stoop" to being that frugally silly.

But, then I picked up an old copy of the "Tightwad Gazette" a few months ago at a used library book sale. I was reading the article on washing baggies half-heartedly, but it ended with these paragraphs:

"I can wash out a plastic Baggie used to store broccoli in the freezer in 11 seconds, saving $.05 per bag ... or I can throw the bag away and reach under the counter to get a new Baggie in 5 seconds.

Figuring that she spends 6 seconds to save $.05, she calculated the savings rate of washing Baggies is $30 per hour."

Ok, how can I possibly continue to refuse to save $30/hr???

So, I attempted it. But I had a greasy water problem which kept those bags nasty. So I had to quit until I figured out how to get my bags clean. A little sprinkle of washing soda in the water was the winning ingredient to getting my dishes oil free.

So, now, I am able to save $30/hr. Turn them inside out to wash. Put one hand in there spread out and use the other hand and dishcloth to wipe. Dry inside out in a dishrack on top of a chopstick wedged in between dishes.

So, if you don't have chopsticks from China in your utensil stash, every time you go to a Chinese Restaurant (or friends who go have them collect for you) take a set of chopsticks home, wash them and use them for baggie drying. I keep these chopsticks in an old peanut butter jar behind the sink ready for this purpose.

FYI - don't use baggies that had meat in them. Throw those away, but all the rest can be washed to save money.

Then, I cut out the back side of a cereal box and patched back up with tape. Once the bags are dry, I turn them right side out and wipe off any leftover wetness and place them in the cereal box container to pull out of when needed.

UPDATE - Be ready to get those used chopsticks off the restaurant table before the bus boy comes around! In-laws took up to dinner and I chose Chinese for the dirty chopsticks. (Funny reason to choose a dinner out, I think!) and so we were talking after we had completed eating and bus boy tries to take the chopsticks. Hubby grabs them back and says we will keep these. Banter between him and bus boy of, "I will take them, they are dirty, yes?" and "No really, we want to keep these, thanks." Finally after several takes the bus boy, insistent on the need to throw the chopsticks away, offers new chopsticks. Hubby smiles and thanks him for the generous offer of more new chopsticks, but still refuses to relinquish the old dirty ones. Bus boy gives up on his apparently extremely necessary job of keeping customers from taking out the trash for him and doesn't give us new ones. :)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Free Passport Photos

My hubby had to get a passport sized photo for a special license and I wasn't about to pay $15+ for the post office or other such people to do it.

So, I set him against a white wall, set the lights for no shadows and plugged them into this nifty site.

It gives you good directions on how to do it. Once you upload your picture, it helps you resize it so that the chin and forehead are in the correct position and dimensions .

This is what you get to download on your computer.

Then I printed it out on glossy photo paper from my printer.

And now, did it pass the test? We submitted the application with one of these photos cut out and attached to the paperwork. And this particular government agency accepted it. I am sure if they accepted it, then it would pass for a passport as well and any other purpose you would need this for.