Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Double Bubble

"I hardly ever buy Fairy Liquid," says the blithe housewife in the vintage ad.  "I buy it a little less often, ha!" raves One Mean Housewife, triumphantly shaking a fist at the telly.

You see, I can tell by the look of that woman that she has a spotlessly clean home.  I bet she even wipes the nozzle of her bottle.  She wouldn't allow this grotty build-up of gunk in her kitchen, even if it is premium, long-lasting, Fairy gunk.

More fool her.  Every day, she wipes away a little bit of money.  Every day, she squanders a few seconds of her time.  She knows not of the simple scrimping pleasure she squanders.  She doesn't know that she could could have a free sink of dishes, that if she waited until enough of that green gold accumulated she could rinse the nozzle as she filled the bowl and get bonus bubbles.  

The following video contains explicit scenes of a woman enjoying cheap kitchen thrills, and a very dirty nozzle.

Now hands that do dishes can feel smug as can be mmm!

One Mean Housewife, with a sharp implement, commences scraping the soap dish...

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Mother / Goose

Only the best will do for my baby's bottom.  The French Renaissance satirist Rabelais reckoned the best thing to wipe your backside on was the neck of a goose.  Decadent!  But they don't sell them in Mothercare and I can never get the damned things to lie down on the changing mat, so baby wipes it is.

Wipes, however, do not please a mean and lazy housewife.  They work out at 1p each and you go through them like, well, geese. They are also indestructible so probably not the best from a sustainability point of view.  In this house, we have gone to reusable cloth nappies and, because it's easier and cheaper, we have gone to reusable cloth wipes too.

The best known brand, Cheeky Wipes, come in at £27 for a kit to use alongside real nappies, £13 more to add the extra bits you need if you don't already have a cloth nappy set-up.  You'd save money after a few months, sooner if you are wipe-happy.

Or you could make my IKEA wipes kit for a fiver.  I used:

How to:
  • Cut washcloths into quarters.  Five washcloths should do.  Save the rest for other scrimping.
  • Run a zig-zag stitch along the raw edges of each piece.  If your machine has an overcasting foot, use that for a great edge.
  • Put the wipes in the box and add some plain tap water.  
You get three boxes in the pack so you can have one for each wing of your mansion and one for the nanny's room.  Or use one to store all the money you've saved.  If you want to go out and about with them, use a sandwich bag.  They are ten times better at the job of bum cleaning than slippery wet wipes too.

Finally, when you've hung your wipes up to dry after the wash, try not to squeak with pleasure as you pull them off the line like this, ready folded to the perfect size for your little box:

One Mean Housewife, with a faraway look in her eye, lovingly strokes a Swedish storage solution...

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Measure For Pleasure

This mean old housewife is a 1980 vintage: pleasantly mature, but young enough to have been bottled up in metric measures.  750ml, not 25 Fl. Oz. That said, we remember the information we use most and I never approach the bar and ask for 568ml of 80-/ ale.  No wonder I still have to thrash through a frantic mental conversion every time I see metric.

A very well used opaque plastic measuring jug.
My tatty and trusty jug.
But measuring is important. If you're going to scrimp, you need to make sure you feed the family and not the bin and that means preparing the right amount of food.  One of my aims is to cook (or defrost) a square meal from fresh ingredients every night.  Get the amounts right and you can have exactly one for the table and one for the freezer, clean plates, full bellies and disgruntled, underfed garden birds.

Modern Wastrel, go tomorrow and purchase a jug and scales and position them at the front of your cupboard. You already have a jug like that?  Well stop using it to microwave beans and restore its dignity (you'll never get rid of the orange glow, mind).

Here are some of my magic numbers, memorised to help me cope with the metric problem:

  • 400ml = a whole adult meal dished up.  200ml for One Weaned Infant.
  • 100ml by volume = rolled porridge oats for one (same for the child!). 200ml of milk.
  • 100g = uncooked pasta for one (less with cheese sauce).
  • 75ml by volume = uncooked rice for one, twice as much water to steam.
  • 100ml = the exact volume of both of my ladles.  They are different shapes.  Also, for breeders, the volume of one of those little Tommee Tippee food pots, up to the opaque line.
  • 100g = enough meat for one adult.
  • 200ml / half a tin = enough cooked chick peas, lentils, etc. for one adult.
  • 1 Brussels sprout = more than enough for anyone.

One Mean Housewife, with pipette and burette, measures out tomorrow's watery gruel and pease pudding.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Packaging Matchmaking

Now you can read "Charlotte's Web" while listening to Nick Drake and watching "Bambi", but there is nothing, nothing in the world sadder than this:

A baby slot-in jigsaw board puzzle with a missing piece.

Ah, the missing puzzle piece: gone forever or just snuggled up in the drawer of the DVD player? You'll never know with a toddler in the house.  If you are One Mean Housewife, you might also find yourself quite upset by this:

A plastic zip-lock back with hanger; packaging for some baby sleepsuits.

It's an empty packet of baby pyjamas.  Look at all that plastic.  Look at all that reusable plastic, with its resealable zip lock, just crying out to be used again for something or other.  What a waste to chuck that straight in the landfill.

Now I can't stand waste, but I don't want to be the subject of one of those Channel 4 extreme hoarding documentaries.  Once every three months after Toddler Boy was born, as I unpacked the next size packets of vests and pyjamas, I was faced with a selection of those plastic wallets and every time it was an uncomfortable experience.  To bin or not to bin: that is the scrimper's question.  Couldn't do it.  Somewhere in the whirling eddies of my intuition, I knew there was a use for them.  So I indulged myself with a spot of light squirrelling.    

I wasn't wrong, reader.

Now, you can pop bubble wrap while scratching your itchy foot and writing in biro on a banana, but there is nothing more satisfying than a perfect storage solution.  

Three different colourful wooden puzzles, bagged in the zip-lock sleepsuit packages.

It's a match made in packaging heaven.  The packets even come in varying sizes to suit the wee one's different puzzles and, because they are transparent, His Little Highness can look and choose.  How developmentally appropriate, ha.  

Hand-me-down, complete jigsaws in salvaged plastic storage sacks. Oh yes.

One Mean Housewife, for longer than is appropriate, agonises over a shoebox...

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Baby Volume Control

Toddlers have a really annoying habit of growing.  Mine is always at it.  Last week he decided to grow a bigger head and expand out of his beautiful pom-pom hat, just in time for the cold weather.  Naughty child.

We had a rake in the hand-me-downs drawer and found a beautiful replacement.  However, it was three sizes up and he'd only been good enough to grow two sizes overnight.  The solution was obvious: buy a bigger hat up his porridge ration every day for a week and see if I could fatten him up enough to fill it.  Didn't work; time for an old fashioned solution.

Today, I made like my One Mean Granny and sewed him up a little pad for his hat:

The idea is to fill up the excess space at the top of the hat and keep its shape nicely.

I used a little bit of a £1.60 IKEA fleece blanket.  This is a much cheaper way to buy fleece fabric than off the roll in a haberdashers.  The pattern is a circle for the bottom panel and four curvy triangles for the top.  This shape sits nicely inside the top of the hat but two circles would probably have done the job.  I stuffed it with a little bit of wadding from a dead cushion.

Urchin to cherub in one easy step:

One Mean Housewife, examining a babygro, wonders just where you would sew in a gusset...

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Scrimping Through The Eye Of A Needle

I do love my little sewing machine but sometimes I wonder if she's a bit wasteful.  Imagine!  The very gadget I bought to turbo charge my scrimping.  But sometimes I look at Janome (it's "Ja-GNOME-ay" says The Sewing Machine Man), with her two tails of dangling thread and I just see pennies waiting to go down the drain.

Her methods are mysterious but I can tell you that, to get started without losing your thread back through the eye of the needle, she needs to have these two tails dangling at a length of at least 120mm.  When you finish your piece of stitching those tails will be hanging out of the start of it and all you can do is trim them off and pull out a similar length for next time.  That means, if you have a lot of pieces to stitch, you end up with a pile of waste threads big enough to make One Mean Housewife choke on her gruel.

Tonight's project is to repurpose some redundant facecloths into reusable baby wipes by cutting into quarters and hemming off the raw edges.  I'm going to sew two dozen pieces so that's 24 x 240mm, which is a whopping 5.76m of wasted thread, and it really is good for nothing, unless you have a lot of vacuum cleaners that need destroying.

Here's my prudent plan:

Rather than trim off each piece after sewing and pull out a new pair of tails to start the next, you can put the next piece straight under and sew, like this:

That saves pulling out a length of thread just to waste it and you end up with, instead of a dozen pieces each with a tail, with a little string of bunting with just a tiny length of thread between the pieces for trimming off, like this:

23 tail-ends saved (can't save the first one) with an average join of 20mm x 2.  So that's (240-40) x 23 = 4600, 4.6 metres of thread still safely on the reel and away from helpless Hoovers and Housewives.

One Mean Housewife, desperately seeking to quantify her thriftiness, Googles the price of thread.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Rag Trade-Off

On the 5th of November I received this question from a reader:
Dear Mean Housewife x1:

I am wearing a shirt that I think is a bit too shabby even for a student, and I am about to throw it away. The question is: is it worth washing (cost of soap, hot water, electricity) in order to recycle as clean rag? Or is it cheaper to just buy J cloths or similar?

Yours ditheringly

It's a burning issue and is just crying out for proper thorough and scientific investigation.  Well, you're not going to get that here.

However, I'm interested in the answer as I have recently washed and cut several garments for this very purpose.  It's a bit of a mystery, the cost of running a wash.  There are so many variables to consider: power, water charges, soap, time spent not having a life, etc.  Let's ignore lots of them and have a rather half-hearted look at the 'details'.

This geeky forum's users reckon a wash might cost about 15p in electricity (I'm assuming you cold-fill because gas is the same price as gold).  The same geeky forum's other user reckons in his area, with low standing charges and high unit charges, it's about 0.1p per litre for water.  Waterwise reckons an average modern machine uses about 50 litres, so about 5p per wash.  Aldi's own brand washing powder comes in at 10p per wash.

So that's a total of 30p for a load of washing.  Now you could wash at least 15 shirts in one wash so I'm going to say 2p to include the shirt in question.

For that 2p, you'll get at least a dozen rags out of the front and back of that shirt (these areas are unlikely to be worn out).  You can pick up a packet of 10 Asda generic blue and white cloths for 36p and you'd have to get to the shop and back.  One-nil to the old-fashioned rag method, I think.

Martin, you may snip with confidence.

One Mean Housewife, clutching an upcycled semmet with intent, gets back to polishing the brasses.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Playing The Stock Market

In case you didn't know it already, stock is the key to happiness for the mean and workshy cook.  It's the philosopher's stone for getting tasty dinners out of cheap ingredients without much effort.

Now, obviously I have fresh, homemade stock bubbling on the stove at all times. Ahem. However, I do like to keep a little library of stock cubes in the cupboard for emergencies. Today I had a look at my selection and I think I may have been buying na├»vely.

My current cube collection is all branded. Frivolous! I always buy that Marigold Swiss bouillon vegetable stock powder: it seems to go in anything and I like the tub/spoon set-up. I used to buy Knorr cubes but last time I fell for the funky design and crumblability of OXO. Deciding which of my stash to use today, I discovered that you need two OXO cubes to make the pint (-ish) of stock you get from one Knorr cube.

I thought I would look more closely and compare my stock of stock for the greater good.

Warning: grocery geekery ahead. Here are the values for one litre of stock: how much you need, how much sodium is in there (stock cubes are mainly salt) and how much that will cost* to buy.

Cubes/spoonsful Sodium Price
Knorr (Ham) 2.2 cubes 3.8g 38.4p
OXO (Vegetable) 5.2 cubes 4.9g 43.4p
Marigold (Vegetable) 4 tsp 3.6g 23.8p

*Asda prices from on 31/10/2012.

So, yes, compared to Knorr it's 5p more per litre for OXO crumblability and more of it is salt. You also need to unwrap 6 times! BUT, you can get the equivalent amount of Marigold for 15p less with a similar salt content. If you're prepared to buy a double size pack of OXO you can save about 25% on the total price, bringing it cheaper than Knorr.  

Marigold still wins on price and for me it wins on usability. The tub and spoon means the exact quantity you want and no unwrapping. Now if only they would drop the veggie health food stance and make it in smokey pig flavour...

One Mean Housewife puts on her spectacles and takes the ruler to the spaghetti...

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Down With This Sort Of Cling

Behold the world's least desirable roll of cling film!

A floppy box which flattened on first contact, ends which exploded moments later, a cardboard blade which couldn't cut chocolate mousse, never mind the world's stretchiest, most indestructible substance inside: it's quite a package.  I don't understand how the stuff can be so thin it's near unusable and yet strong enough to resist cutting with any of the myriad blades in my kitchen.

Every encounter with the thing has given me a grey hair or a wrinkle and yet this tormentor has lasted 4 years in my workspace.

Why?  I don't like to waste.  I couldn't bring myself to throw it out.  I felt I could/should thole it until it ran it out.  But it never ran out.  How could it?  Would you use it?!

Well, today is a great day.  By way of a special offer at Lakeland, I have acquired for free a roll of superior cling wrap and a dispenser that actually works.  Praise be!  It's so pleasing to use.  I'm wrapping things that never needed wrapped.  I'm not sure if my husband can still breath in there.

I'm going to wince when I do it as there are many, many metres left, but today is the day I finally get that grease-stained, malformed little box of misery out of my life and into the bin.

One Mean Housewife, an oblong box in hand, skips out of the back door in her slippers.