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Archive for the ‘Frugality’ Category

There are lots of supermarket sale items this Thanksgiving week, so it is a good time to stock up.  You can easily supplement your emergency food supplies by picking up a few extra cans or boxes of the following:

  • canned corn
  • canned green beans
  • instant mashed potatoes
  • canned cranberry
  • canned mandarin oranges
  • canned peaches
  • gravy packets
  • pumpkin puree
  • flour
  • sugar
  • yeast
  • baking powder
  • baking soda
  • bread mixes
  • canned evaporated milk
  • canned condensed milk

Make sure you check expiration dates before you buy.   Don’t pick the items from the front; those usually have the shortest expiration dates.  Reach way back in the shelf.  I realize some store clerks don’t like this, one pointed out there is no difference in reaching way back.   The stores usually keep the earlier expiration dates in front, so I reached to the back of the shelf anyway.

These deals won’t last.  Last year I waited until after Thanksgiving, thinking the low prices would continue.  But I found out that inventory gets really low after Thanksgiving, and prices go back to normal levels.  This time, I am not waiting around.  If I had more space, I’d have picked up more.

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In my last post about using less of everything, https://apartmentprepper.wordpress.com/2010/09/19/using-less-of-everything-hair-product-update/, I mentioned the next project was trying to use less deodorant.

The main purpose to these experiments is to try using less of common products to make our supplies last longer.  A side benefit is the money saved from not having to buy new supplies as quickly as before.  Regarding the use of antiperspirants and deodorants, many people are concerned about the aluminum content of these products and the effect this may have on health.  Interestingly, I found the enclosed article on MSNBC, “Great Unwashed Raise Stink about Being Clean Enough”  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39937951/ns/health-skin_and_beauty/ Is there a trend here?

I am now ready to post the result of the experiment.

I tried the following on different days:

  • Using no deodorant, but bathing daily.
  • Using a natural Crystal Deodorant.
  • Baby powder
  • Baking soda
  • Rubbing Alcohol

I did the experiment on days when I was working from home.   I was the test subject and I also did the evaluation.  As a backup, my family also gauged whether the remedies were effective or not according to the degree of complaints.  The main variable was the weather on various days;  I also tried the remedies on days with no workout, and on days when I did work out.

To my dismay, we had several days of intense heat and humidity in our area.

  • On cooler days (under 80 degrees), with or without a workout, all the remedies worked well.
  • On very hot days (around 85-100 degrees or more), WITH a workout, none of the remedies work.  At the end of the day, I checked it myself and I felt need to run, not walk, for a second shower.
  • On hot days WITHOUT a workout,  a combination of the crystal deodorant and baby powder worked very well.
  • Baking soda applied under the arms worked as well as baby powder on a standalone basis.
  • Rubbing alcohol under the arms is supposed to be a good substitute, as alcohol kills bacteria; this remedy also only worked well on cooler days.
  • On very cool days (75 degrees and under), without a workout, doing without deodorant altogether, with a daily shower actually worked well for 24 hours.
  • During the experiment, I found I was having to wash my shirts after wearing only once, particularly on the intensely hot days.  Therefore we used more detergent on those days.  This gives me an idea that my next experiment will be to try to make homemade detergent to see if is works as well as store-bought.

As a conclusion, the use of antiperspirants/deodorant is only necessary on intensely hot days, as I did not find a substitute that works as well.  So I am not tossing out the underarm products as truthfully, I won’t feel “confident dry and secure” on those hot and humid days.  However, on cooler days these remedies all work very well.  I actually bought the crystal deodorant for everyone in the family as I was satisfied with the result.  I am pleased that we can actually cut down on using antiperspirants or deodorant depending on the weather and level of physical activity.  Just between us, I think the family is relieved that this experiment is over.  🙂

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My favorite survival cookware are cast iron pans.  For anyone who is unfamiliar with cast iron, they are the black heavy iron pans that have been around for hundreds of years.  They must be “seasoned” or coated with oil or they can rust.  But a pan that is used constantly and kept dry after use will last for generations.

My mother-in-law actually introduced me to cast iron pans.  Whenever I helped her cook anything in her kitchen, I marveled at how the cast iron pans cooked everything so well, retained heat evenly and performed like nonstick pans.  In those days, I used teflon pans, but they peel and shred after a while.  Teflon pans were also found to pose a health hazard.  If overheated, they release a chemical:  perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), known to cause cancer and birth defects in animals, according to a Consumer Reports article.  I tossed out all my teflon pans and asked my mother-in-law to help me find some cast iron pans.

She did not take me to a cookware store; instead she took me to Goodwill.  She said she found the best seasoned cast iron pans there.  In those days, new cast iron pans were not pre-seasoned and you had to work on it a while.  But people would toss them out thinking they were inferior to Calphalon or other name brand cookware.

If you are in the market for one, try second-hand stores like Goodwill first.  Only buy it is if you find a slightly rusted cast iron pan, all it needs is a little TLC.  The same process to salvage it, is the same process to season a new pan.

  • If you have a new pan, just wash and rinse, no scraping needed.  If you are working with a used, slightly rusted pan, wash with a strong dishwashing liquid and scrape out the rust with a steel wool.
  • Dry completely with a dish towel.
  • Coat the pan with cooking oil all over.  I have used vegetable oil, olive oil or peanut oil
  • Turn the oven on low heat, around 250 degrees and leave the pan in the oven for 4 hours.  Do not leave unattended.  It may get a bit smoky if the heat is too high.
  • Turn of the heat and leave the pan in while it cools.
  • Repeat the process over a few months until the pan turns black.  You now have a well-seasoned pan.

As a benefit for us preppers,  they can be used over an open flame in an emergency, and will cook evenly.  Also, use of the pan adds iron to your food, which helps avoid an iron deficiency.  Because they will last a lifetime, you don’t need to spend money for replacement pans.

Cast iron pans are now available pre-seasoned.  You don’t have to go through the process if you don’t feel like it.  Just remember the pan should not be left sitting in a sinkful of water.  It should be rinsed and dried after use and coated with a thin layer of oil.  They are still fairly inexpensive, around $10 for a non-seasoned pan, and about $20 for a pre-seasoned one.

Since I am still new at prepping, I know I still need a few more items to round out the survival cookware.  Leon over at Survival Common Sense has an excellent article about Dutch ovens.  Check it out at http://www.survivalcommonsense.com/2010/09/27/dutch-oven-survival-kitfeed/ .   I have not tried Dutch ovens but will not add it to my list, along with the sun oven.  Once I try them, I will be sure to post about my experience.

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One of the recent comments on one of my postings, from Madmax808 (thanks!), mentioned stocking up on Spam-the canned meat kind, which got me thinking about it so I picked up a couple of cans that were on sale.

For anyone who has never tried Spam, it is a canned meat by Hormel, made of pork shoulder and ham.  It looks like a pink brick when you first take it out of the can.  A lot of people hate it, but there are a great number of fans out there.   My parents actually introduced me to Spam.  Since they were kids during World War II, they grew up eating Spam as a special treat.  Meat was scarce back then so having a little meat, even from a can, was a good thing.  My Mom made me Spam and cheese sandwiches with mayonnaise on white bread up until high school when I got too “grown up” to bring Mom’s lunches to school.

When our family visited Hawaii a few years ago, we found fast food places like McDonald’s actually served Spam, egg and rice for breakfast.  Not sure if they still do, but we tried it and it was pretty good.

Here is the quick recipe:  Slice Spam into thin slices.  Fry in a bit of oil until browned and sprinkle sugar on top.  Serve with scrambled eggs and white rice.  Or, make a breakfast sandwich with Spam, a fried egg and American cheese between two pieces of sliced bread.

There are lots more ways to cook Spam, but these are my favorites.

This is not a paid endorsement and I have no connection to Hormel.  I am always on the lookout for inexpensive foods with have a good shelf life that the family likes.  I think Spam is a worthy addition to the larder, as it is actually pretty tasty if you cook it the right way.


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Last week we heard the Great Recession which began in 2007 actually ended in June 2009.  Just a few days before that declaration, we also read that 1 in 7 Americans lives in poverty.  I am not an economist and don’t claim to be an expert in these matters, but this sure does not feel like a recovery to me.

I have a feeling it can still get worse.  These are already happening (in no particular order) and are likely to continue:

  • Commercial real estate foreclosures
  • Increased unemployment
  • Continued residential foreclosures
  • Increased homelessness
  • Increasing food prices
  • Increase in crime
  • Bank closures
  • Store closures
  • States slashing funding for public programs

Which got my husband and I having a conversation about:  “How bad can it get for us personally if the economy gets even worse?

I had not actually thought about the nitty-gritty details.

First a definition of what is “worse?”  Worse to us would be if we both lost our jobs at the same time, and could not find new jobs right away.  We rent, so there is no house to lose.  We do still need to pay rent on time, or we would get evicted.  So, let’s say we’re both out of a job, that would mean cutting all expenses except food and utilities.  That means no more cell phones or basic cable; our budget would be bare bones.  If we get unemployment checks, we may be able to continue living in our current apartment, but what happens when unemployment runs out too?  We don’t have a lot of family in the area.  If there were no jobs out there, and unemployment benefits are no longer available, we would have to sell everything we own, and move to a one room apartment.  We’d be cramped, but have a roof over our head.  But once the money runs out, then what is left?  That is how families become homeless.

I don’t think I had ever considered the possibility that we could become homeless if things got bad.  But homelessness is happening to many families who have already had the bottom fall out from under them, so I have to think it can happen to anyone.

All the more reason to continue prepping for an uncertain future:  continue to save, store food, water and other necessities, take care of security and acquire a few skills like canning, fishing, etc.  I am grateful we are able to prepare now, to hopefully protect us from this possible worse case scenario in the future.

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A while ago I posted about trying to use less product to make our stored items last longer.  See https://apartmentprepper.wordpress.com/2010/05/30/using-less-of-everything/.  We can only store a limited amount of everyday items, due to our lack of space, so our challenge is to make each item lasts as long as possible, so we don’t have to keep using up and buying more.  At the same time, we can figure out inexpensive substitutes for commonly used items.

Shampoo

Shampoo is one item I use everyday.  We live in a hot and humid climate, so I have to wash my hair daily to keep it clean.  And I have allergies, so I need the daily shampoo to keep dust and pollen from sticking to my hair causing sneezing attacks.

First I tried using less and less shampoo.  I reduced the usage from half-dollar size, then to nickel size and even less to a dime size and the shampoo continued to work.  Wet hair thoroughly first. then lather up the dime size drop on your palm and rub on the scalp area.  Work the shampoo down to the ends and rinse.  There is no need to “Lather, rinse, repeat” as direction says on many shampoo bottles.  The hair comes out pretty clean with very little product.

The next day, I tried just washing the hair and not using shampoo at all.  Just wet the hair thoroughly, massage water into the scalp and that’s it.  Since the hair is washed daily, it is not that grimy to begin with.  After all. I don’t roll around in dirt or cobwebs,  I just need to rinse off the dust and allergens.   My hair still came out clean without shampooing!

The last thing I tried a few days later was baking soda.  I mixed a 50% solution of baking soda and water in an empty shampoo bottle.  I shook it up to mix it.  First I thoroughly wet my hair, then rubbed the baking soda and water mix into the scalp and hair.  I then rinsed it off thoroughly.   The result?   My hair felt clean and fresh.  Baking soda is actually known to remove build up of other hair products.  I have to admit, I missed the sudsing action of shampoo, and the hair is not as soft, but it was clean.   I had read that apple cider vinegar can be used as a rinse to soften the hair.  I purchased apple cider vinegar and as I was about to try it.  But as I caught a whiff of the vinegar smell I decided against it.  Smelling salad dressing in the shower, even if it rinses off, just did not appeal to me.

I will stick to baking soda as my shampoo alternative.

Conditioner

I used to condition my hair every time I shampoo.  I used the “use less” principle and found that very little is needed to prevent static.  Now I only use about a dime sized portion and only apply it to the ends of the hair.  It rinses out quickly but  is enough to prevent tangles and static.

Another alternative is not to use conditioner at all, but mix water and conditioner in a spray bottle and spray on dry hair before blowdrying and brushing.

The next substitutes I will be testing will be for underarm deodorant, but I will wait until I am feeling bold enough and when I won’t be around a lot of people!

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Back in July I wrote an article about the need to  know how to prepare coffee off the grid. https://apartmentprepper.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/nothing-beats-the-smell-of-coffee-in-the-morning/

We finally saved up enough to buy the rest of the materials/equipment to accomplish this such as:  campfire popcorn popper (or small covered skillet), green coffee beans, manual grinder and french press. I will tell you exactly the steps I did and the result.

How to Roast Green Coffee Beans

  1. Since I am trying to have a backup plan in the event of an emergency and we are off-grid, I used our propane camp stove.  Warning: I do not recommend using a camp stove in your kitchen:  this would be unsafe and can cause carbon monoxide build-up.  Camp stoves should be used outside.  Also, I read from various articles that roasting green coffee beans may cause a lot of smoke.  Our apartment has a very sensitive fire alarm which gets set off very quickly, so we did this outside,  so the fire alarm does not go off.  We don’t want a visit from the fire department from having the fire alarm go off while we are roasting our beans!  If you are roasting on a stove indoors, turn on the exhaust fan or open a window to make sure your area is well-ventilated.
  2. Assemble all your materials in advance:  green coffee beans (I used Kona coffee), campfire popcorn popper, measuring cup, colander (optional)
  3. To start small,  I measured about a quarter of cup of green coffee beans.
  4. Turn on the fire to low setting.  Preheat the popper on low flame.
  5. Pour the green coffee beans into the skillet/popper, cover and shake.
  6. I held the popper steady for five seconds then started moving it around.
  7. Keep the popper moving around and start listening for a popping sound.
  8. Check under the lid and look at the beans.  They started to turn brown after about 5 to 7 minutes.
  9. The popping is not constant like popcorn, but happens every few seconds as the beans crack.  This  is about the time the beans start to smoke a bit.
  10. After about 10 minutes, I checked again and it looked like the beans were brown so I turned off the fire.
  11. You will notice some bits of chaff:  pour into a wire colander or just blow on the beans and the bits  fly off.  Now you are ready to grind the beans.

These photos show the difference between the green beans and the roasted beans.  The smell is also quite different: the green beans do not smell like coffee at all, they have a pungent, plantlike smell, while the roasted ones indeed smell like the strong coffee smell we all know.  The aroma does linger long after you have finished roasting them.

Grinding the Beans

  1. I used the Danesco Manual Coffee Grinder.  Adjust the grinder for maximum coarseness, if you will be using a french press.  To do this, take off the handle and adjust the cog wheel up and tighten it back up.
  2. The grinder does not have any cushioning under the bottom, so you will need to stabilize it on the counter by placing a towel or pad underneath.
  3. Remove the cork stopper from under the grinding mechanism. 
  4. Pour the beans and start grinding.  Hold the grinder stable with the left hand and grind with your right hand (vice versa if you are left-handed).

I have to say this was the hardest part!  It took a bit of muscle power to continuously grind the beans and hold it down.  All in all, it took about seven minutes to grind the quarter cup of beans.

Brewing with the French Press

  1. I used the Bodum Shatterproof (AKA plastic) 8 cup French Press Coffeemaker.  Eight cups sound like a lot of coffee, but actually, the “cup” is actually a 4-ounce cup, not an 8-ounce mug that most of us are used to.
  2. The quarter cup of whole beans made about 2 level scoops (measuring scoop came with the french press) of ground coffee.  The rule of thumb is to use one scoop per cup of coffee.
  3. Boil water in a separate pan.  I boiled about 2.5 cups of water.  Turn off fire once the water boils.  Because this is a plastic press, the instructions indicate the water must be hot but not boiling.  I would think a glass french press would work with boiling water.
  4. Remove the cover/plunger of the french press.
  5. Pour the ground coffee into the bottom of the press.
  6. Pour the hot water.
  7. Slowly insert the cover/plunger.   Turn the lid so the opening/pour spout is sealed and away from you.  and press the water/coffee gently until plunger cannot go any further.   Do not apply too much pressure or this may cause the water to splatter up.
  8. Once the coffee is pressed, it is ready to drink!

I have to say this was a fine cup of coffee.  It seemed like a lot of work for two cups, but it was worth it.  The result was a very fresh tasting, strong cup of coffee.  Roasting the green coffee beans was not hard at all;  I can roast a larger batch next time.  My husband and I both like the coffee and will be using the french press on weekends.  I am happy we are able to roast and brew coffee off the grid!  In addition, with the price of coffee going up, it is cheaper to buy green coffee beans and roast it yourself than buying it roasted.  Even if we never need to make coffee off the grid, I now know I can save money on my daily brew.

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