Sunday, November 25, 2018

How To Dehydrate Fruit In Your Oven

Dehydrated Grapes Become Delicious Homemade Raisins!
Dehydrated Grapes Become Delicious Homemade Raisins!

What To Do With Old Grapes...

Yesterday it came to my attention that some grapes that were forgotten in the back of the refrigerator were shriveling up and should be thrown away.  Nonsense!  They are starting to look like raisins anyway, so let's make them into raisins.

I took a baking sheet and sprayed it with a light coat of non-stick spray.  Then I pulled all of the grapes off of the stems and arranged them in a single layer on the baking sheet.  Fortunately, my oven has a dehydrate setting that runs the oven at 150 degrees and also runs the fan.  If your oven doesn't have a special dehydrate setting, set it to the lowest temperature.

Put the grapes in and let the oven run overnight.  Even stale grapes turn into delicious raisins.  The raisins I got from seedless red table grapes are much larger and more flavorful than store-bought raisins.  My homemade raisins are probably at least 5x the size of standard raisins.  I left mine slightly moist in the center.  They taste like they are filled with grape candy filling, but they are entirely natural grapes.

Don't Throw Away Those Bananas!

Make Dehydrated Bananas in your Oven
Make Dehydrated Bananas in your Oven

As my grapes were on their way to becoming raisins, I noticed some bananas on the kitchen counter that were starting to turn brown.  The usual plan for overripe bananas is to make banana bread with them, but this is a lot of work and banana bread is not very health to eat anyway due to high fat and calories.

Since I had the oven running anyway, I decided to spray a second baking sheet with non-stick spray and proceeded to cut up the excess bananas into coins about 1/4 inch thick.  After about 5 hours, the bananas were dehydrated and tasted delicious.  The banana flavor was concentrated and these bananas will definitely get eaten instead of going to waste (or going to waist in a banana cake).

How to Dehydrate Fruit in Your Oven

1. Set your oven at the lowest setting, as close to 150 degrees F as you can get
2. Take a baking sheet and spray it with non-stick spray
3. Place your fruit on the baking sheet.  Cut fruit into coins or strips.
4. Let the fruit dehydrate in the oven for 5 to 12 hours
5. Let the dehydrated fruit cool, then place in containers for storage

Dehydrated Bananas and Grapes from my Oven
Dehydrated Bananas and Grapes from my Oven

Copyright © 2018 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Do I Really Need to Pay an Out-of-state Parking Ticket?

A couple days ago, I went on an out-of-state road trip from Iowa to Wisconsin to meet my son at a musical performance.  The plan was to watch his performance and then take him to an event in yet another state.

As it happened, there was no parking anywhere near the music venue, except for one spot.  It was along a street in front of a driveway about a block away.  The curb next to the driveway was painted yellow for about 1 foot.  I was able to pull into the space so that I was not blocking the driveway at all.  I will admit that a little bit of the back of my car was into the 1 foot of yellow curb, but not even taking up the entire 1 foot.  I thought I was good.

Do I Really Need To Pay My Out-of-State Parking Ticket?
Do I Really Need To Pay My Out-of-State Parking Ticket?

Well, I came back a couple hours later and found a ticket on my windshield.  A $20 ticket!  My first thought was to crumple up the ticket and throw it away.  For one thing, I thought the way I parked was just fine, plus I was from a different state.  Are they really going to track me down in Iowa from Wisconsin and impound my car or something?

My initial decision was not to worry about paying an out-of-state parking ticket.  I put the ticket away to think about later after my trip.

After a bit of research into parking ticket enforcement, I decided to send my payment in immediately.  If it was easy to ignore parking tickets, no one would bother to pay them.  Here's why I decided to cough up the $20 even for an out-of-state ticket.

Many states exchange information, so the folks in Wisconsin can pull my vehicle record in Iowa and figure out how to mail me bills.  Of course I could choose to ignore the bills.  The initial ticket can escalate if you don't pay it, so that $20 ticket can turn into $50 or more.  So far this isn't really a problem because I could simply not pay the ticket.

Eventually, the ticket can be turned over to a collection agency to collect the money and can possibly impact your credit rating if it gets put on your report as an unpaid bill.  Dealing with letters and possibly calls from a bill collector could be a bit stressful, and getting something on my credit report and maybe a ding in my credit score would not be good.

But it can get worse.  If my car was found in Wisconsin with an unpaid ticket on the record, the car could get booted or impounded.  The next level of pain would be if the court in Wisconsin issued a warrant for my arrest, so if I am ever pulled over in Wisconsin, I could even get thrown in jail!  This sounds extreme to issue an arrest warrant for not paying a parking ticket, but apparently this is one of the tools in the toolbox to get people to pay up.

One way to avoid these problems would be to never go back to Wisconsin again.  Even so, there would be a warrant out for my arrest and this could show up in my records if anyone were to do a background check on me for an employment opportunity, etc. at any point in the future.

So I decided to either pay the ticket or appeal it.  The appeals process requires you to pay court costs if you don't win the appeal, around $150 in this case for the $20 ticket.  Since I was technically in violation of the yellow curb, and since I didn't take any pictures or have any other evidence, there would be almost no chance of winning an appeal.  It wouldn't be worth risking $150 to get out of a $20 ticket.

So I wrote a check for $20 and dropped it in the mail this morning.

Paying $20 for a questionable parking violation didn't seem like an especially good use of money, but in this case it was the best option.

Copyright © 2018 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Friday, January 26, 2018

Rockstar Rumble: Best Money Blog Post of 2017!

I am excited to learn that one of my blog posts has been selected as one of 128 competitors in the Rockstar Rumble tournament to determine the best money blog post of 2017!

Rockstar Rumble Tournament to Choose the Best Blog Post of 2017
Rockstar Rumble Tournament to Choose the Best Blog Post of 2017

My blog post selected to compete in the tournament is "Tightening the Belt: Are You Measuring the Wrong Things?"   This post opens with a puzzling contradiction: I had to tighten my belt, but the scale shows I have not lost any weight.  This contradiction brings a couple questions to mind:

  1. How is it possible to have to literally tighten my belt when I haven't lost any weight and 
  2. What does this have to do with personal finance?

The answers to both of these questions are revealed in this thought-provoking and memorable post!

The winner of "best blog post of 2017" will be selected in the Rockstar Rumble through a series of matches between competing blog posts in a bracket-style tournament.  Readers get to vote on their favorite of the two blog posts in each match to determine the winner.

The first round of the tournament with 128 competitors will be reduced to 64 after the first round, then down to 32 after the second round, etc.

My first face-off in Round 1 is against a post called "6 Hard Truths I Learned About Myself While Getting Out of Debt".  This is a well-written post, and it is organized around a list with a specific number of points which is a popular style these days.

I would be excited to win the match and move on in the tournament where more readers can discover Penny Pincher Journal...  Here is a link to view my entry in the tournament and vote:

Vote for "Belt" in Game 18

Vote for my entry "Belt" in Match 18!
Vote for my entry "Belt" in Game 18!

Thanks for your support!

-Dr. Penny Pincher

Voting has concluded, and my opponent has won the game, 64 votes to 49 votes.  Congrats to Jenny at  Thanks to Rockstar Finance for setting up the tournament, and thanks all for participating!

Copyright © 2018 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Monday, January 22, 2018

Book Review Comments: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly...

On December 15 of 2014 I published an ebook on Amazon called Pinch Like You Mean It! 101 Ways to Spend Less Money Now.

My Book Has Inspired Some Amusing Book Review Comments...
My Book Has Inspired Some Amusing Book Review Comments...

The good news is that my book has "sold" thousands of copies since then.  In fact, I once "sold" over 4,300 copies of my book in a single month!  The book continues to be popular on Amazon, currently ranked as the #4 best selling book in the category of Budgeting.

Now for the bad news: it is a free book.  I decided to price the book at $0.00 and see if anyone would read it.  While I am glad lots of people have read my book, I haven't made royalties from selling it.  That's OK.  I like seeing the continued sales roll in, and I am amused by the comments that readers leave in their reviews of my book.

Like all authors, I enjoy 5-star reviews and glowing praise for my work.  But I also think the bad reviews can be amusing.  When you are dealing with critics, you have to keep a good sense of humor and be able to laugh at yourself -- and the critics!

Here are some of my favorite and most memorable comments readers have left in book reviews: the good, the bad, and the ugly:

From Critical Book Reviews...

"It isn't easy to save money and not everything is cheap, and there are a lot of things that you must do in order to live a normal life and things that you simply can't live without."
-Jason on Amazon

"After I finished it, though, my main impression was that the economy would collapse if everyone followed all or even most of these suggestions."
-Leonore on Amazon

From Bad Book Reviews...

"If you do not know these tips you must be an infant."
-Daniel on Amazon

"It's a bunch of random tips on cutting back."
-Swedey on Amazon

"Not very imformative"
-Jeannie on Amazon

"...I'm glad I read the whole thing. Had I stopped reading, I would have missed tip #98, where he talks about testing batteries that came from his night vision goggles.

He does seem like the kind of fellow who would have night vision goggles. I bet he got them on sale at Kohls or Lowe's.

I got a little creeped out and missed the last three tips."

" sounds completely as though he wrote them while he was on an airplane trip, which he admits he did."
-Tracy on Amazon

"The writing is not great, nor are the author's personal stories and asides in his pursuit of the frugal life."
-Bibliobabe2 on Amazon

"I couldn't wait to finish, just to see if there were even one helpful hint I hadn't heard before or could actually use. There wasn't."
-LawDawg on Amazon

From Good Book Reviews...

"This book is so good, I am going to be known as Ms. Penny Pincher from now on."
-Coleen on Goodreads

"Got some good ideas, and I will be checking out the Dr Penny Pincher blog for more."
-Laura on Goodreads

"This book has really great practical ideas. It's worth reading it. I would definitely read another book from this author."
-Jasmine on Goodreads

"Lots of valuable tips about saving money in clear simple language and short entries.I highly recommend it. Thank you Dr. Penny Pincher."
-Amira on Goodreads

"Many clever tips. Follow up explanations. Very entertaining cheapskate."
-xxoo on Amazon

"I really enjoyed reading Dr. Penny Pincher's tips on saving money. The advice is practical, creative, and easy to follow."
-Michelle A on Amazon

"I bet everyone can find 20-40 of the 101 tips to use!"
-Dave on Amazon

"I love this book! I am an "extravagant cheapskate," love to do bit things on small budgets, and this book just made me smile and smile. :-)))"
Kitty on Amazon

"I really enjoyed the doctor's tips on living frugally. His advice is doable and not crazy like some penny pinching books are. It was a fun, encouraging read."
-Jan on Amazon

"This book helped me a lot, because I was not a frugal person. You get a lot of ideas while reading this book. I am now a frugal person and do not regret it."
-Pearl on Amazon

Copyright © 2018 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Saturday, January 13, 2018

5 Easy Steps to Meal Planning Perfection

If your household budget is like mine, you know that food is a major expense.  Food is an expense you can easily cut through planning and thoughtful effort.  But how can you cut food expenses without going hungry?  The answer:  Meal Planning.
I am not very good at meal planning, but fortunately we have a guest post today from Holly who posts on the Official Coupon Code  blog that takes you through the steps to follow to save big-time on your grocery budget.
If you want to see your writing featured here on Penny Pincher Journal, here is how you can be featured on a guest post.
Thanks to Holly for providing this awesome guest post!

5 Easy Steps to Meal Planning Perfection

Guest Post by Holly

Do you spend too much on food? Maybe you have a drive-thru habit because it’s just easier than figuring out what to cook? Perhaps you find yourself throwing away a lot of spoiled food that never got used? Or maybe you find yourself running to the store for one or two ingredients before you can start dinner?

5 Easy Steps to  Meal Planning Perfection
5 Easy Steps to  Meal Planning Perfection

Relax! Meal Planning is a great way to solve all of these problems, and it’s a lot simpler than you might think.

I’ve been planning my household’s meals for several years now, and have managed to cut our grocery/food budget in half. Plus, meal times are a lot less stressful. I can just look at my plan and I’m ready to cook!

Perhaps you don’t know how to get started or think it’s too difficult or time-consuming. Not so! If I can do it, so can you. Here’s how.

1. Take Stock
First things first: start by taking stock of the food you already have. A quick glance through the pantry, fridge, and freezer may reveal ingredients you forgot about. Get a good idea of about how long each item will last and plan to use them accordingly. You should also be aware of which pantry staples you normally keep on hand, and replenish them as they get low.

2. Find Some Recipes
This step can be as adventurous or as mundane as you choose to make it. Personally, I like to have at least 2-3 new recipes on my list each week. It keeps our family meals fresh and appealing. Others may like to stick with familiar favorites. Either way is fine! The important thing is to have a plan in place.

If you’re looking for new recipes, the internet offers a variety of options. I often use sites like SuperCook or MyFridgeFood to find recipes that use ingredients I already have on hand or ones that are on sale this week. You can also search sites like Pinterest or AllRecipes to find new and different ideas. Or subscribe to email newsletters from your favorite food blogs or magazines to get recipes delivered right to your inbox!

3. Make Your List
There are some great, free tools out there for turning recipes into shopping lists. My personal favorite is CopyMeThat because it does all the work for me. I also love that I can simply pull up the shopping list on my phone while I’m at the store. Of course, the old pen and paper method works too, if you prefer. The important thing is to choose what works for you – the easier the better!

Include breakfast, lunch, dinner, beverages, household items, and snacks too. You want to make just one trip to the store for the whole week. Once you have all of your ingredients listed, check off anything that you already have. It may help to sort items by category too, so you can easily find everything at the store. And don’t forget to check for coupons!

4. Prep, Prep, Prep!
So, you’ve planned your meals and bought all the food you’ll need for the week. Now you’re done, right? Well, you can be, but to really get the most out of meal planning, it’s best to do some prep.

If you’ve seen those containers of pre-chopped veggies or pre-mixed salads at the grocery store, you’ve likely been a bit shocked by the prices. They can get away with charging so much because having pre-prepped ingredients makes cooking a breeze. Take advantage of this idea on the cheap by prepping as much as you can for the week, all at once. I find that in an hour or so on a Sunday afternoon, I can get all the chopping and portioning out of the way for the whole week.

If I know some days are going to be particularly rushed, I’ll use freezer meals to get us through. These are recipes that you make in advance, then freeze. On the day you’re going to use them, just thaw and pop them in the oven. Dinner’s done!

5. Stick with the Plan (but Not too Closely)
The most important thing is to make your meal plan work for your family. Sometimes that means veering off course and changing things up for a day. Sometimes it means reworking a recipe to fit what’s going on in your life at the time. Last week, when my husband came down with the flu, I converted a chicken marinade into a tasty chicken soup by adding a carton of veggie broth and slow cooking it all day.

The idea is to have a plan for the whole week, and stick to it as much as possible, but remember to be flexible when needed. You’ll be amazed at the time, food, stress, and money you can save just by spending a little time planning ahead!

About the Author: Holly is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to the Official Coupon Code blog. There you can find her tips on saving money, couponing, personal finance, and frugal family fun.

Copyright © 2018 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Great HDMI Cable Conspiracy (or Why Stores Rip You Off on Expensive Cables)

The other day, I got a text from home.  A picture of something was sent to my phone.  It looked like a snake or a string.  Maybe it was a dog's tail wagging with a lot of motion blur in the photo.  I couldn't really tell what it was.

This blurry photo was followed up by an urgent text message:  "Dad, could you bring home one of these?"

After a few follow-up questions by text, I learned that the photo was of a damaged HDMI cable that connects a laptop to a TV that is used as a monitor.  The laptop's built-in screen has stopped working, so we plug the laptop into a TV to use as a monitor.  Apparently the cable broke while moving the equipment around.

Since I was at work near several stores, I agreed to bring home the specified cable.  I was curious about how much this cable would cost, so I checked some prices online.  I found HDMI cables from amazon, Target, and Best Buy for under $5.  That seemed reasonable.  But when I tried to select same-day in-store pickup, no $5 cables were available.  All that seemed to be in stock were the $20 cables.

I went to the store to investigate.  My first stop was Best Buy.  It was the case there there were no cheap HDMI cables in the store.  A store employee helpfully suggested that unless I had a 4K video set-up (I do not), I don't really need an expensive $24 HDMI cable.  I could use one of the cheaper cables down below.  The only problem was that these "cheap" cables were priced at $20!

HDMI Cable for $24!  Where are the cheap cables?
HDMI Cable for $24!  Where are the cheap cables?

The "cheap" HDMI cables are $20!  Where are the $5 ones?
The "cheap" HDMI cables are $20!  Where are the $5 ones?

Next, I made a trip to Target to look for a $5 HDMI cable.  To my surprise, they also had only expensive HDMI cables in stock, with the cheapest priced at $15.  I also checked Sears and found the same thing- only expensive HDMI cables for sale.

Why don't stores keep cheap HDMI cables in stock?  I think my next move answers this question.  I bought a $15 HDMI cable.  Sure, I could have ordered a cheaper cable to be delivered to my house with 2-day shipping, or maybe even found a store where I could get a $5 HDMI cable the next day for in-store pickup.  I could have continued to drive around and check other stores for cheap cables.  But I was there in the store and my son needed a cable in order to use the computer.  I decided I did not want to wait or mess around any more looking for a cable.

It makes economic sense for stores to only offer expensive HDMI cables.  They make more profit by selling expensive cables than cheap ones.  The profit margin is probably based on a percentage of the selling price, let's say there is a 25% mark-up over cost.  So selling a $5 cable would result in $1.25 of profit while selling a $20 cable would result in $5 of profit.  When you sell hundreds of thousands of cables, this adds up to a lot of extra profit for the store.

Selling people more expensive cables than they want or need is wasteful on several levels.  First, the more expensive cables really are better.  This means they consume more materials or higher grade materials to manufacture.  If you don't need an expensive cable, this is a waste of natural resources.  And of course it wastes money.  If all you need or want is a $5 cable and you end up spending $15, you just wasted $10 that you could have used for something else that you do need.

A lesson here is to know what kind of cables you need so you can avoid paying a lot extra for more expensive ones.  You might need to order cables online since stores tend to carry only the most expensive variety.

Another lesson is that a massive conspiracy among giant retailers to maximize profit can prevail over one man who desperately wants an HDMI cable...

Copyright © 2018 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

How To Take A Cheap Winter Road Trip

Our family recently got back from a winter road trip from Iowa to Florida, about 2,700 miles round trip.  It turned out to be a great time to head south since the high temperature in Iowa was below 0 degrees, and the high temperature in Cocoa Beach, Florida was 80 degrees.  We were able to swim and hang out on the beach all day.

Take a Cheap Winter Road Trip!
  Take a Cheap Winter Road Trip!

We decided to skip Christmas presents this year to help fund the big road trip to take the kids to see the ocean for the first time.  Based on this recent experience, here are some tips on how to take a cheap road trip:

  • Avoid tourist traps
  • Get food at grocery stores, not restaurants
  • Hotel hopping for the best deals
  • Drive, don't fly

Avoid tourist traps!

We thought about stopping in Orlando to visit attractions such as Universal Studios and Disney World, but decided the beach is where we really wanted to be instead.  It cost us $20 to rent beach chairs and an umbrella all day at the beach.  We brought a cooler with bottled water and snacks.  I also paid $10 to rent a boogie board for the day as well.

Had we gone to Orlando, I bet we would have spent hundreds of dollars on tickets for attractions and expensive fast food.

Beaches are a cheap activity, and also exploring national parks and other wild areas make for an enjoyable and inexpensive vacation activity.  If we had more time, we would have visited the Kennedy Space Center which would have been inexpensive and memorable as well.

Get Food at Grocery Stores, Not Restaurants

On the trip down to Florida, we stopped at a Target to pick up healthy snacks and grocery items.  In Florida, we stopped by a local grocery store to pick up snacks and food to prepare for meals.

One problem we encountered was that we bought some hamburger and pork patties with the intention of cooking them with the oven at our hotel suite.  Unfortunately, it turned out that our suite didn't have an oven, only a microwave.  Plan B was grilling them at a charcoal grill that was available next to the pool at the hotel.  When I went to grill the burgers, I realized that we would want some aluminum foil to put on the grill, plus some charcoal and lighter fluid.  This cost of this meal was starting to add up.

One of my kids found instructions for cooking hamburgers in the microwave using only paper plates.  At first I was skeptical that this would work, but decided to give it a try instead of buying grilling supplies to cook the burgers.  I checked the microwave burgers and found that they were hot and cooked all the way through.  They were actually pretty good, and a lot easier to make than grilling on the road.

By getting food at grocery stores instead of eating at restaurants, fast food places, and gas station convenience stores we probably saved hundreds of dollars.

Hotel Hopping for the Best Deals

We didn't have much of a plan when we left on our road trip, and that's how I wanted it.  The problem with making reservations ahead of time is that you are then tied to a plan which can add stress and forces you to keep track of time and try to meet a schedule.  Plus some reservations are not refundable, so you could end up paying for a hotel stay even if you don't stay there.

For the most part, Mrs. Penny Pincher checked for deals on Kayak with her smart phone at about 5 pm each day to figure out a good hotel deal.  By late in the day we had a good idea of where we would want to stay for the night.  We found a hotel on the beach that we liked at Cocoa Beach and ended up staying a second night.

Look for a hotel that provides a free hot breakfast, this provides a good value when you are on the road, especially in expensive locations.

Drive, Don't Fly

Flying a family of 4 to Florida would have been an expensive operation.  Instead, we drove my 13 year old Toyota Highlander with 155,000 miles.  The cost of putting a few more miles on a car this old is almost nothing.

On the highway, we got about 25 miles per gallon.  For the round trip of 2,700 miles we use about 108 gallons of gas.  At about $2.30 per gallon, this works out to $250.  Sometimes you can find good airfare deals, but there's no way you could get 4 round trip tickets to Florida from Iowa for anywhere near $250.  Even considering that we had to stay overnight on the way down and on the way back, driving was a lot less expensive than flying.  Plus since we drove instead of flying, we had a car available once we reached our destination, avoiding the expense of renting a car.

Copyright © 2018 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

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