Coffee with bagel

The (J)Oy! of Bagels

Eating clean. It’s been real, it’s been fun, and it’s been real fun. It’s also been adventurous. Recently, in my committed attempt to eat bagels that do not have additives (like derivatives of human hair in them – blah!), I decided to make my own bagels from scratch.

The idea came to me when I had stopped in my neighborhood bagel shop and saw that a single bagel cost a whopping $1.30! That meant that a dozen bagels would cost me well over a dozen dollars (even with the price break you usually get by buying a dozen of anything), and I had a hard time forking over so much money for something that was made with flour (cheap) and water (really cheap). But, there was no going back to the  store-bought, 12-for-$5 bulk bagels either. So in a flash of genius (or maybe sleep deprived delirium?), I decided I would cut out the middle man and make the bagels myself.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I love New York style bagels. There’s just something about their chewiness that makes them so much better than the lighter, airy bagels out there (sorry Montreal bagel lovers!). So I decided to try out a recipe for chewy, New York style bagels (which I found here).

Having baked bread before, I knew that I would need to allow ample time for the dough to rise (Read: This will be a multi-hour process). However, what I didn’t account for were the many steps involved in the bagel baking process, which also included shaping the bagels and boiling them.

Now don’t get me wrong here, boiling bagels takes like a whopping 5 minutes once you have the water going. That wasn’t too bad. But where the real added time comes in in cleaning up all the mess that comes from boiling bagels (where do you put a dozen wet bagels once you take them out of the pot?) and sprinkling on sesame seeds (“nature’s confetti”) … which makes a mess that is really <insert-adjective-of-choice> to clean up.

All that by itself would have been okay, but I had no idea how to then bake the bagels to get the flat bottom and nicely rounded top. Do you bake them upside down and then turn them over halfway or is it the other way around? Or, maybe you just leave them as is and hope they bake evenly? “Hmm…These are questions the neighborhood bagel baker who charges $1.30 per bagel would know the answers to…”

In any case, I made a few guesses and a big mess and ended up with deliciously chewy, albeit misshapen, bagels. I’ve never felt prouder eating an uglier piece of bread in my life.

At the end of my bagel-baking adventure, I had delicious, “clean” home-made bagels that cost me a couple bucks (and a lot of sweat equity) to produce. And more importantly, I held the neighborhood bagel baker (and his prices) in much higher esteem. Maybe $1.30 for a bagel ain’t so bad after all!

How to Save $200 on a Pair of Jeans

I had a major shopping victory this week: I paid $10 for a pair of designer jeans. Really.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am the type of gal who is very particular when it comes to jeans. I like quality. I like cut. I like style. Pre-kids, I could spend a whole day trying on clothes and nixing them for one reason or another until I found “the one” (you know what I am talking about), at which point I would take out my shiny piece of plastic and charge it. Not so any more!

Now, since I am so particular when it comes to quality and since I live on planet Earth and have to stick to a budget, I had to come up with a new way to get high fashion clothing at low fashion prices. Here is how I updated my shopping strategy to save $200 on a pair of designer jeans:

  • Do your homework. Would you show up for an exam without studying and expect to get an “A”? Umm no. That kind of I’ll-just-show-up-unprepared scenario is the stuff nightmares are made of. You know, the kind where you walk into Mrs. So-And-So’s class and find out you have an exam you weren’t prepared for then wake up in a cold sweat? Yeah, not so much fun. Well, the same kind of prepared attitude needs to apply to shopping. Before you purchase anything, you need to know what you want, what the going rate is, and what you are willing and able to pay for it. This means you will need to put in a little bit of time initially doing some shopping research. In my case, I looked for my jeans at a handful of different stores: Nordstrom’s Rack, Macy’s, Bloomingdales, etc. so I could know what size, cut, color, and price I could expect. Note that you don’t need to comparison shop at every store. Just pick 3-5 stores you think might carry the designer brand you want at a decent price and check them out.
  • Comparison shop online. Now that you know what you can expect to pay for your desired purchase in person, check out three stores online to see if you can find the jeans (or whatever it is  you are in love with) at a better price. Why not just start online? Well, because I have found that often you will get better prices in a store when they have a sale or move the clearance for that season. Some stores try to lure you in to purchase their produces by tempting you with amazing prices on some (but not all!) of the products they sell. And sometimes online giganta retailers just totally undercut the market. But you won’t know until you compare.
  • Wait for Your Prey. Have you ever noticed how a cat will track its prey long before it actually pounces? It will just sit there licking its lips while it patiently tracks the poor mouse before finally pouncing. By waiting, the cat can put itself in a position to succeed before it jumps. Same goes for shopping. You see your prey (the designer jeans), you watch as the item moves through the season, you track the online sales, you compare the coupons that come to your inbox, and you wait patiently for the price to get within range of your budget before you leap for the item. Maybe you wait for the end of season clearance to score big. Maybe you wait for the sale on the end of season clearance. Often, the longer you wait, the lower the price will go (to a point of course).
  • Walk Away When Needed.  If you want to have control over your money (rather than your money having control over you), you need to be able to walk away from the purchase if it isn’t in line with what you can afford. The same principle applies when shopping online sales or auctions. If you find yourself saying things like “Oh, but these are PERFECT. I will be SO SAD if I don’t buy them,” then run to the nearest restroom, splash some cold water on your face, stare at yourself in the mirror, and tell yourself to get a grip by saying “I was perfectly happy before I saw <insert name of item here>, and I will be perfectly happy later if I don’t have it. I will live to shop another day.” Then go reward yourself (pat on the back, a cookie, whatever) for sticking to your budget. Good for you!
  • Step 5: Embrace De-Appreciation. We see shiny new things and think “Wow, my life will be so much better once I get a new pair of these amazing designer jeans.” Then 6 months or a year later, we may look at the same item and not really care nearly as much. Well, you can score big off of other’s lack of appreciation for the things they own. Maybe someone bought the jeans for $198 but now they are over them and the jeans are just sucking up space in their closet. Buy them like new for $10 on eBay or at a consignment shop or garage sale. Then you’ll save your wallet ($200) and the planet (no need to manufacture new jeans for you if someone has a pair they don’t want).

Follow these steps and you can score big on a small budget. I bought like-new gently used Hudson jeans that were hemmed (win!) on eBay for $10. If I had bought them in a store, paid 10% sales tax, and had them hemmed, I would have spent $198 x 1.10 + $10 = $227.80. Being patient pays off ($217.80 in this case)!






How To Throw Your Money Away – Almost Literally

Open your wallet and take out three dollars. Now, go to a public trashcan (where you won’t be tempted to dig it out). Look into the trashcan; inhale the sweet scent of rotting food, receipts, and stale beer. Stare at the trash – doesn’t it look so pretty? Now hold your fist with the three dollars in it over the trashcan, and let go. Can you do it? I bet you can’t (or if you can, you don’t want to).

When you purchase one-time use, disposable products, you are literally throwing your money into the trashcan (and generating a lot more waste in the process). In terms of energy and waste, it might even be better for the environment to just throw your money directly into the trashcan than to purchase plastic knives, which will remain a plastic fork albeit buried in dirt for hundreds or even thousands of years. To put this into perspective, it means that we could dig up plastic forks from the Civil War (if they had used them bask then) today. Is that the kind of legacy we want to leave?

To illustrate just how much money we are throwing into that dirty, smelly public trashcan, I went to Target to get some sample prices on disposable items. Here is what one dinner party for 8 would cost you:

  • $1.99 for a set of plastic forks and spoons for 8 people
  • $1.59 for “cute” paper plates for 8 people (16 total, 1 for the main meal and 1 for dessert)
  • $0.38 for 8 plastic cups
  • $1.79 for a disposable tablecloth

Total Amount of Money Thrown Away = $3.96

Now, if you happen to make a special trip to the store to purchase said disposable goods, you will need to add an additional $5.10 into your trashcan:

6.8 miles – Average distance from your home to the grocery store round-trip x $0.75 per mile (average cost to drive a car per mile)

Tack on another $1.79 for a disposable tablecloth and you’re looking at $10.85 you just threw into the trash. And we didn’t even include sales tax.

Now, if you decided to use real plates and utensils, you could load an entire dishwasher with them, use 4-6 gallons of water (on average) to wash them at $0.02 per gallon, 1.8 kw of electricity (average energy use for one load) at an US average of $0.13 an hour. You could even use a fancy dishwasher detergent pod ($0.19) and you end up spending 50 to 53 CENTS to provide utensils and plates for your dinner party. Of course you will need to factor in the cost of items like plates and a dishwasher (over time), but if you already own these (as most of us do), then why opt to waste money and resources and buy disposable when you can put that money to more enjoyable uses, like getting better food for the party or saving for a Hawaiian vacation (we can dream big here)?

So next time you reach for that disposable plate, ask your self, “Self, do we want to throw this money into the trash or do we want to sip Mai Tais by the beach?” I think you’ll know the answer.