Aromatherapy: Incense on a budget

I have been getting into incense lately, and I’ve always been into good smells such as candles and fancy soaps and such. The problem is, these things can be spendy!

I recently learned how easy it is to make my own incense. It’s not only easy, it’s not as messy as most crafty bath, body, and similar crafts. Here’s how I do it, and I have already been able to sell some after just my first effort.  They make lovely and unexpected gifts.

Blank sticks are available at a number of incense and candle shops online, as well as Amazon and eBay. It pays to shop around, however, as the prices vary like a theme park roller coaster. When you order your blank sticks, also known as punks or joss sticks, have a look at the essential or fragrance oils. Again, prices vary crazily, so beware.incense bundles

Essential oils are far more expensive than your average fragrance oil or burner oil, but they do provide the purest scent. Many fragrance oils are of very good quality, so it’s a personal choice for you unless you desire the essential oils’ therapeutic benefits. I have used both already, and I am pleased with all of my results so far. Just keep in mind, if you are shopping offline, to sniff each sample if you can before you buy, as it won’t be pleasant to burn if it’s not pleasant in the bottle.

Pick up some denatured alcohol. You can also use vodka if you already have some, but for me, since alcohol is so much cheaper, it’s a no-brainer. This will “cut,” or thin out the oil, which will be too smoky (and more expensive to use) if you don’t perform this step. Mix the oil and the alcohol using a “part” method, such as 1 part oil and 2 parts alcohol. If you like a stronger scent, mix it 1:1, but it will use more of your oil. I am finding a 1:2 ratio also works well. Then stir or shake until the oil and alcohol are completely mixed.  There is a solvent called DPG, for dipropylene glycol, which sounds like something from the chemical factory but is quite safe, that you can also use to cut the oil, but it’s more expensive and not readily available in our area in stores.

Place some punks in a tray. I’m using an olive tray and a Rubbermaid drawer organizer without mesh sides. Pour your prepared scent oil over the charcoal portion of the punks and roll them in the tray to ensure even coverage. Then, the hard part: waiting.

Allow the sticks to soak in the oil for 24-48 hours. Your patience with be rewarded! Periodically roll the sticks in the oil as they stand. Once this time is up, place them upright in a vase or a tall glass to dry. This could be the most important step, and it again involves your patience. Allow to dry for another 24 or more hours. I have found 48 hours works best for me in my current rainy spring climate. If you don’t allow them to dry completely, they won’t light well or burn well, and they won’t have the scent you are looking for. Be Patient!

Once the sticks are completely dry, place the bamboo end in a holder or some sand and light ‘er up. When the tip glows a nice red, blow out the flame, sit back, and enjoy your efforts. Not only will you have the scent you want, not someone else’s version of what you should like, but it will be far, far, far thriftier than if you buy your incense at the store.

spa-setting-100152642Incense is out of the stoner’s closet and into the aromatherapy mainstream. With the savings and ease of making it yourself, give it a try. You’ll be surprised and pleased with your results. Who knows? You might discover a new revenue stream.

 

Thrifty Tip of the Day:  Soap Oils can also be used for your fragrance, and they tend to be even cheaper than fragrance oils.  Their scent isn’t as true, but if you like what you are smelling, go for it.

Couponing for Extra Credit

Some places of worship still have coupon exchanges, and perhaps you need to start one if yours doesn’t. Any place shoppers gather could use one if there is someone willing to maintain it by removing expired coupons and add new ones.

At our Kroger, there are coupon pages available at the customer service desk just for seniors. Yes, there are a few advantages for those of us who creak when we walk. Not many, but a few. Too bad these discounts don’t quite make up for the increase in our medical bills! Check where you shop and see if they have such a program.

Lastly, don’t forget to check packaging while you’re using up product. Occasionally manufacturers will include coupons in or on their product packaging for future purchases or to encourage you to try another of their brands. While you’re looking at the package, see if there is a phone number for the manufacturer, or for questions or comments. Call and ask, I like your product; do you have any coupons you can send me? Most companies appreciate your loyalty and will be happy to send them to you. In fact, some reserve their best coupons for just such customers. Yes, I actually do this, and often. It works and these coupons are usually good ones.

If I can get my butt in gear and write it, refunding is another method of gathering up savings that deserves its own treatment. At one time when I was a young bride, I reserved two drawers in my kitchen for my “trash,” as a girlfriend and I called our UPCs and other proofs of purchase and receipts. They didn’t last long; now I am hard-pressed to find room for my gadgets.

There are many places to find grocery coupons, and even some that aren’t physical coupons! It’s enough to say that with a little legwork (well, fingerwork) and organization, you can save a lot of money on your next trip to the grocery store.


 

Thrifty Tip of the Day:

Next post will be starting a series of seasonal topics. Here’s a hint on one of them, an eBook that you should definitely have a look at if you are engaged or if you know someone who is: http://www.amazon.com/For-Richer-Poorer-Wedding-ebook/dp/B00C69HF0G/ref=pd_rhf_cr_p_img_1_MG8J . This easy-reading book is available for just 99 cents on Amazon’s Whispernet, so you can download their free Kindle software if you haven’t already. Then you can read it immediately on your PC or Mac if you don’t already have a Kindle.

Here’s the publisher’s official description:

In this practical and entertaining guide to a tasteful yet fun wedding for the budget-savvy couple, SKR Publishing presents a common sense approach to starting out richer, rather than poorer for the couple wishing to kick off their financial relationship on sound footing. The first in a series of clever budgeting books, ‘For richer or poorer: your wedding on a budget’ is a charming and engaging look at the process of wedding planning from the aspect of a thrifty purse.

At once offbeat and still honoring long-established customs, this guide offers tips and tricks to ensure your event remains grand and chic, yet sticks to your budget leaving no one the wiser.

Some of the ideas presented here are so innovative and fresh, you’ll wonder why no one has thought of them before. Congratulations on your upcoming wedding, your sage sensibility, and the forethought to purchase this book!

As for me, I have already reviewed in on Amazon, and since I’m thrifty in more ways than one, I’ll just copy my review here:

There are a lot of creative ideas in this book that you haven’t heard before, and there are some that have been freshened up. Not to provide any spoilers, but there is an idea for a date night that you just have to try! It’s a lot of fun, with a lot of new thoughts. I hope they hurry up with the rest of this series!

Couponing 202: Smartphones!

Now that smartphones are ubiquitous, the number of iPhone and Android apps to add coupons to your phone has exploded.  In many ways, this might be the easiest method of all to coupon, but the technology is still evolving and the number of coupons is still limited, even if the buzz is big.  The apps duplicate many of the big players already in the game, so you’ll find a lot of duplication.  The good news (typed with a grin):  most stores will let you use those duplicating coupons, too!  So, sign up for the free smartphone apps you fine at Googleplay, Android Market, Amazon, or iTunes, or wherever you get your smartphone apps.

Try some of these:

The Coupons App:  This little gem needs your location to do its best, but it will serve up coupons based on where you are.

SavingStar:  Grocery coupons that can duplicate paper, automatically applied when you purchase a product and scan your store’s loyalty card.  More stores are joining this program, but it’s still rather limited.  I have had some luck with this one.  I like the sweet little surprise I get when one of these coupons shows up on my cash register receipt!

GeoQpons:  For savings that users are raving about, try this app.  Another that will need your location, this highly-rated app will give you restaurant discounts based on your physical location.  It also silver-platters coupons for local businesses and shops.  It’s one of the higher-rated apps, so it’s worth a try.

These are just a few of the free couponing apps available.  Give them a try and see which are best for you and in your area.  While you are at the app stores, check out Key Ring, which will allow you to scan in all your loyalty cards.  Be aware that not all store laser scanners are good at scanning your phone, though, so it can’t do away with them all.  Optical scanners seem to have better luck.

Next time:  And you thought I was done!

THRIFTY TIP OF THE DAY:  With St Patrick’s Day forthcoming in just a few days, it’s time to pick up your corned beef (or if that’s too serious, try a bone-in ham shank) and cabbage.  While you are at it, try something new and Irish:  Colcannon.  Make sure you get a large head of cabbage.  This will usually serve 4-6 depending on the size of the roast you purchase.

St Patty’s Slow Cooked Dinner:

Place a rinsed corned beef (with or without the seasoning packet, depending on your tastes) in a 5-6 qt. slow cooker.  Top with 6 wedges of a large head of cabbage you’ve cut into 8 wedges(shred and refrigerate the remaining cabbage). I like to use a slow-cooker bag.  If you have a smaller cooker, you can use oven bags successfully, but you’ll have to cut your meat in half and use less cabbage.  Pour about a cup of hot water over the top and start ‘er up.  Slow cook on low for 6-7 hours or high for 4-5 hours (older cookers might take a little longer).

About a half hour before serving, make the Colcannon.  Boil 3 lbs potatoes and make mashed potatoes with a little milk and butter; they need not be completely smooth.  Meanwhile, saute the remaining cabbage in 2 tablespoons of butter.  Combine the mashed potatoes and cabbage and mix well.  Top with a few dots of butter and one nice pat and serve with the corned beef (sliced across the grain) and maybe a salad if you prefer to act like this is a healthy meal.  Crusty rolls are nice to sop up the juices!

Couponing 201: Web savings sources

image of coupon with scissorsYou’ve likely seen the little red shelf-talkers from SmartSource at the grocery store, where you can pull out coupons or rebate forms or advertising concerning new products.  They also have a great web site for printing coupons, which online couponers go to for printing their own coupons.  Perhaps the best known site for this purpose, SmartSource is only one of a myriad of such sites.  Other examples are Red Plum.com, ShopAtHome.com, Coupons.com and an interesting site called the Penny Pincher Gazette, or ppgazette.com, where you can not only print coupons but also find inexpensive recipes and much more.  There are plenty of coupon sites; these are just a few.  Try keying in printable grocery coupons in your search engine and see what you find, but set aside some time for this project!  There are hundreds of sites and not all are above board.  You’ll have to figure out which ones you like best.

Before your next shopping trip, spend a little time getting organized.  Write up your list, gather your coupons, and only then sit down at the computer.  Visit SmartSource and Red Plum.com and other sites you like, printing the coupons for the items you need coupons for.  If your list isn’t already covered in terms of having a coupon for each item (wouldn’t that be nice!), keep looking within a reasonable time limit.

Next, try some of the manufacturer’s sites.  Companies like Pillsbury, Smart Balance, and the like currently have coupons of their own.  While clipping or printing coupons for items you don’t currently need isn’t necessarily a good idea, with manufacturers’ sites, it might be worth it.  They can and will pull their coupons without notice, even while currently running ads.  Another place to check would be sites such as BoxTops4education.com, where you can print a number of coupons for baking mixes and other products that carry BoxTops for Schools.

Some stores have coupons on their own sites, although these are becoming fewer.  Check stores’ individual web sites for printable coupons.   New services, however, are springing up to replace those that are disappearing.  The Kroger and Carr’s/Safeway families of stores also participate in Shortcuts.com.  This is an online coupon service at which you check off the coupons you like and they will be deducted from your total at checkout without your having to present the physical coupon, all in addition to the store card discount and any manufacturer’s coupons. It’s worth checking to see if your store participates, too.

While it takes some time, online coupons are a great source of higher-value coupons.  You have to balance the time and expense with the savings, but it’s kind of fun for a thrifty soul like me!

My next post will cover mobile apps.  Oh boy, they are booming!

Coupons 102: Store Loyalty Cards and Programs

 

Sign up for a savings card if your store offers one.  It will be a source of big discounts and clipless coupons when you scan it at the checkout.  Some stores actually send you “Best Customer” style coupons in the mail as well, which are targeted in conjunction with the items you have purchased with your card as recorded during your shopping trips.  Be aware that the store computers are keeping track of your purchases in this fashion; if you are worried about your privacy, you may not want to take advantage of these savings.  Cough, cough.  These large savings.  I like to scan my own Kroger loyalty card at the end of my transaction just to see the ticker add up – it’s fun!  Drives the cashiers nuts waiting…

There are also online coupon sites that add coupons to your store cards, which I will discuss in another post.

Don’t forget about your pharmacy or discount store cards, either.  Just because they aren’t a grocery store doesn’t mean they aren’t a worthy source of savings.  The key is, don’t buy anything you weren’t going to buy anyway just because it has a coupon.  Keep repeating that mantra or your home will fill with stuff you don’t need and won’t use.

Next time:  POS (point-of-sale) and online coupons.

 

Thrifty Tip of the Day: January is traditionally White Sale month, so if your bed linens are threadbare, now is the time to look at replacing them. 

Shhhh, save a few bucks on flowers for your Valentine! We won’t tell!

OK, Guys, Hello.  Guys?  Dink, Dink!  HELL-O!  Yeah, men, I’m talkin’ to you today, ’cause you don’t have a lot of time left to think up your Valentine’s Day plans for your Sweetie.  You can’t forget about it and get away with it, considering all the advertising on television, in magazines and newspapers, even on radio for all those dozens of roses and accompanying chocolates.  $19.99 for a dozen roses at Proflowers with a TV coupon code, you say?  Pretty attractive price, right?  See and hear the fine print, and add the shipping, which in this example runs a low, low $9.99 plus an extra $4.99 for Valentine’s Day delivery, plus all the other tiny little fees, and you end up with this:

Order Total

One Dozen Rainbow Valentine’s Day Roses + 12 FREE $39.98:        $29.98

Large Ginger:   Free!

Standard Delivery        $9.99

Guaranteed Valentine’s Day Delivery  $4.99

Care & Handling          $2.99

Tax:     $3.36

TOTAL:           $51.31

The advertised discount code didn’t work so I was unable to get the $19.99 price.  However, I did get both $10 off the regular price and another dozen free – wow – plus a free “standard” ginger jar, which is clear.  Other vase styles were available – for additional charges, of course.  These aren’t long-stemmed, either.  They are the shorter version, which will probably still make your sweetheart swoon nicely.  The chocolates were 6/$9.99.  You can see how such a low, low advertised price can turn into a major expense fast.

There were a myriad of other possible charges:

Guaranteed Valentine’s Day Delivery

From $4.99 to $9.99

Monday Delivery

From $4.99 to $9.99

Saturday Delivery

$9.99

Rush Delivery

From $4.99 to $9.99

Morning Delivery

$14.99

Alaska/Hawaii Delivery

$19.99

“Care and Handling???”

And I hope you don’t mind your posies presented in the afternoon, Tuesday through Friday.  And not in a rush.  Oops, Valentine’s Day is a Tuesday….and for Proflowers, even the day before Valentine’s day resulted in an additional charge, unless you were okay with “flexible delivery,” meaning your blossoms could be delivered either Valentine’s Day or the day before.

So how do you save money and still get your sweetie some stems?  Thought you’d never ask!  If you must use a long-distance delivery service, I suggest going online to find a Teleflora or FTD arrangement you like the appearance of, then finding the telephone number of a florist near your honey with an online directory such as www.yellowpages.com.  Or, simply key “florists in <your desired location>” into your search engine and see what it comes up with.  Then, call directly.  Describe the arrangement or give the title and the price you are willing to pay for “something similar to but not necessarily the same as.”  The florist won’t have to pay the franchise fees to the service and you’ll reap the savings.  Remember, though, that if it comes with a special vase or accompaniment, you might not have access to it without paying those fees.  Florists can’t make trademarked arrangements unless they pay the services for their use.  You can also give the florist a free hand – they are trained in making creative arrangements, and your recipient will end up with a less commonplace look for their lovelies.

Shop owners appreciate not having to pay fees to such services, as customers are disappointed when they receive less for their money – and prices for flowers have risen with everything else.  When you call a florist directly with a good idea of what you want to send or the title of a similar arrangement, they can make up something fabulous within the budget you’ve set and deliver – sometimes for free – your sentiment to your Valentine without intermediaries.  So get on the stick and call them directly, ’cause you are running out of time!

Today’s Thrifty Tip:  to keep your flowers fresher longer when you don’t have those handy packets of preservative,  use this recipe to make your own mix:  combine  2 tablespoons white vinegar,  2 tablespoons sugar,  1/2 teaspoon household chlorine bleach, 1 quart warm water.  Change the mixture every 3 to 4 days to keep blooms fresher longer.  Be sure to remove any leaves below the water line.

Brrrr, it’s chilly out there! Icicles and snow ice cream, anyone?

Ahh, winter.  Crisp, cold air, pristine white snow, icicles reflecting the morning sun.  I remember our snow when I was growing up in Michigan being so high that we could actually reach up and pull off icicles from our roofline and eat them as popcicles.  Unsanitary?  Toxic?  Perhaps that’s my problem…lol  Hopefully those icicles are hanging from trees and not your eaves.

Icicles forming from your soffits (without the presence of the fast melts and refreezes with rapid temperature changes) are a sure sign of insulation problems in your attic.  Lovely as they are, they are a dangerous sign that your insulation has pulled from the roofline or that it is insufficient altogether.  They are dangerous in that when they become unstable as they thaw, they can fall and injure someone.   If maiming or killing someone doesn’t bother you, perhaps your insurance deductible (and rising rates) after a claim will, when someone is struck by a falling icicle.  Add enough insulation to prevent heat loss through your attic or roof space and icicles will stop forming there.

What, you don’t find insulation fun and interesting?  Then how’s this:  instead of playing with icicles, how about sending the kids out for a big bowl of clean, fluffy, fresh-fallen snow to make ice cream.  No kids?  Set a bowl out to collect the falling snow – wait until the snow has been falling for at least a half hour or so to ensure it’s free of contamination.  Resist the temptation to dump a shovelful of snow into the bowl.  Those dirty specks (or worse) will not fool anyone into thinking it’s anything other than plain vanilla flavor or anything besides dirt.  Use your noodle and get clean snow with clean utensils.   If you are using a metal bowl, it will chill faster.   Once filled, move smartly back to combine ingredients, then chill in the freezer for a short time until ice cream is firmed throughout.   Yummy!

Snow Ice Cream
1 c. Half & Half
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp real (pure) vanilla extract
dash of salt
5 c. of fresh, clean snow

Combine all ingredients, firm up in the freezer, enjoy (yes, you can skip the second step)!

This is an inexpensive frozen treat for the “chillrens,” and only takes up minimal freezer space for approximately 10 minutes .  They will be chilled when they come in from collecting the snow for you, so come back again for more recipes to help keep them busy on snow days!

Thrifty Tip for Today:  Check your vanilla extract label for corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup.  Odd that it would be included in even Pure Vanilla Extract, sometimes it is.  Usually, the “pure” varieties are rather more expensive and contain exotic additional ingredients that to me have no place in a a jar of pure vanilla extract.  Still, they are there.  Choose your vanilla from those with vanilla as the first ingredient and get your money’s worth.  Additionally, compare apples to apples, oranges to oranges.  Prices between types vary, so be sure you are buying the least expensive among pure vanillas without the icky stuff.