Toaster ovens are a great alternative to regular ovens. They cost less to operate and won't heat up your kitchen as much. You can cook or bake most anything in it that you would in a regular oven, but in smaller portions. Using a toaster is still your cheapest option for toast and bagels, but you can bake, broil, roast or reheat foods such as sandwiches, appetizers, mini pizzas, fish, beef, poultry, desserts, etc., in a toaster oven, too. They work well during holidays if your regular oven is full. Visit your local library and look for toaster oven cookbooks, or search online to find hundreds of recipes. If you find a used toaster oven without a manual, make a call to the manufacturer. Checking online for your toaster oven's make and model might bring up a copy of the manual, too.
The first reader shares how she uses her toaster oven:
Use a toaster oven: I use a toaster oven for 90 percent of my cooking. I have a Black and Decker model with convection. Tonight I'm cooking homemade lasagna in it. Another hidden benefit of cooking with the toaster oven: If you are cooking anything smelly (like fish), you can take it outside!
Cast iron for frying: I know people love stainless steel, but I've never had good luck with it when using it for frying. Maybe it's because I'm used to cast iron, which in my opinion is the best bang for the cooking buck. It can be used for baking as well as frying, and its low-stick coating is completely renewable and gets better with age. I love stainless steel for other cookware, but not for frying.
Cutting down on holiday waste: I've been using reusable gift boxes for going on 20 years now. I discovered that men would rather give a gift unwrapped than deal with paper and tape. Gift boxes and bags were my solution. Christmas morning cleanup is so easy -- just put the boxes back in the tub of gift-wrapping stuff.
Chocolate-dipped fortune cookies: My kids have lists as long as their arms of people they would like to give gifts to, so I needed to come up with something cheap and cute for them to give out. I contacted one of our local Chinese restaurants to purchase a box of fortune cookies and discovered I could get 175 cookies for $11! With various sprinkles purchased at the Dollar Tree and dipping chocolate and wrapping bags (100 for $1.99) from a local discount party store, I'm looking at 100 great gifts for around $0.40 each. I am currently printing out tags that say "I am Fortune-ate to have you in my life." And for anybody who did the math, I actually have 75 individually wrapped cookies to set out for my mom's 60th birthday party, too. Thought I would share this in case anyone is still looking for cheap ideas.
S.S., West Virginia
Buy with a friend or family member: When I was single, I did not need five pounds of ground chuck or 10 of any one item, and buy-one-get-one-free items would go to waste. So my friend and I decided we would split sales. Besides taking advantage of special offers, we would also split 10-pound bags of potatoes, oranges, onions, etc.
Note from Sara: This works well when shopping at wholesale clubs such as Sam's or B.J.'s, too.
Pressure-cooking: I like cooking in mass amounts. I save time by using a pressure cooker, which saves on energy because it cooks so quickly. I then can my meats, instead of using a freezer. I don't have to pay for additional electricity, the food is cooked and ready to serve, it stores for years rather than months, and I only have to stay by the stove once for a limited number of meals.
If you like this idea, I began by checking out YouTube videos by michigansnowpony. I can cook pinto beans in six minutes of cooking time (plus a bit more time to let the pressure release and whatnot). A four-pound bag from Save-A-Lot was $4.19 and made eight quarts. The equivalent in canned pinto beans from Wal-Mart would have cost $1.48 per can, for a total of $23.44! I use the beans for chili, soups, refried beans, tostadas, etc.
• Sara Noel is the owner of Frugal Village (frugalvillage.com), a website that offers practical, money-saving strategies for everyday living. To send tips, comments or questions, write to Sara Noel, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106, or email email@example.com.