Avoid eating out by having a plan
Editor's note: This is Sara Noel's last Frugal Living column. You can continue to get tips and advice at frugalvillage.com
Try to have a couple of quick and easy recipes in your meal plan. It can be as simple as having a soup and sandwich or chef salad night. Or add cottage cheese and shredded mozzarella to spaghetti sauce and elbow macaroni, bow-tie pasta or rotini to make mock lasagna in less time than traditional lasagna.
The first reader shares another quick meal idea:
Cheap eats: Kitchen sink meat hash is a meal that we all like and is easy and customizable. I basically chop up whatever veggies are hanging around in the fridge and toss them in a pan to saute. Then I add a package of ground beef (a little less than a pound; I usually keep precooked ground beef in the freezer). Season with salt, pepper, garlic and whatever herb floats your boat. Then I make a quick sauce with soy, broth and cornstarch to thicken, pour in the pan and stir until thick. I serve this on mashed potatoes, rice or noodles. You can also do it with a can of cream of tomato soup or a can of tomato sauce to replace the soy sauce gravy. You can also use frozen veggies. When I'm really short on time, I take out one bag of meat, one bag of veggies and one bag of precooked brown rice and throw it all together in a pan. Dinner in just over 10 minutes! We also do loaded omelets with whatever is in the fridge.
Save Box Tops and labels: Check your shelves for products that have the Labels for Education and/or Box Tops for Education. Many schools collect them to secure equipment and other things for their students. A lot of people just throw them away, but they can be put to good use! The labels are on cereals, snacks, soups and many other things found in your home. (I even found them on a cleaning product.) I no longer have school-age children, but I still collect the labels for a local school. Some of my relatives have been in the habit of saving them for me, too. All a person has to do is call a local school to find out if they collect them, then periodically have someone take them to the school. (Some schools have volunteers who will be glad to do so.) Save them year-round and find out when the deadline for redemption is so you get them to the school in time.
Baby-sitting, pet care, etc.: Care.com provides listings for child care, pet sitters, elder care, etc. I signed up as a provider about six months ago and have had a few inquiries. But of course results will vary according to your location and experience.
Buying precious metals: I own some silver and gold. As with anything, you need to know why you're buying it and understand how it fits into your overall financial plan. It's not a get-rich-quick scheme, and it's also not a guaranteed way to preserve wealth. I purchase my gold from Bullion Direct. There's an auction part of their site and also a fixed-price listing. I paid a few dollars more and used the fixed-price side. They shipped it to my door via FedEx.
• Sara Noel owns Frugal Village (frugalvillage.com), a website that offers practical, money-saving strategies for everyday living. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.