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 Texas : Features : Humor : Column - "A Balloon In Cactus"

Ways to Save

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
Whatever Washington D.C. chooses to call it, the U.S. economy is like the rubber duck swirling down in your kid's bathtub after you pull the plug.

Too lazy to be a professional saver like thrifty women you read about who clip coupons and save big-time bucks annually, I'm the one who accidentally finds ways to save a little here, a little there, till it finally adds up to a tank of gas for the old kid-carrying SUV.

Speaking of gas, I don't care how many politicians tout small cars, electric cars, or corn-fueled cars, my family needs our SUV, so here's what I learned that saves a little on gasoline. Besides, I tried doing what the politicians said by sticking an ear of corn in the gas tank but the car just stood there.
SAVING GAS: It may sound too simple to be true, but keeping tires properly inflated according to the car's manufacturer, actually does get more mileage out of every gallon.

  • Turn the ignition off at red lights. This isn't easy because I used to think more gas was required to re-start the car, but that's a fallacy. I was pleased to learn that this saves a little -- and it adds up.
  • Another hard one, unless it's December, is not turning on the air conditioner. Even harder is disciplining yourself not to open the car windows. These also add mileage to each gallon. Yes, it's really hard when kids are in the car, but we could always make it up to them by petitioning our politicians to install safety belts in school buses. (But that's an idea for another article.)
  • If you're buying a new car, go for the stick shift. It saves a lot of gasoline and the car will be cheaper than if you buy automatic.
  • Resist fast accelerating, fast braking (shifting down before stopping increases brake life), and speeding. It's true that 55 mph gets the best mileage, though I confess to loving highways with 75 mph speed limit. I just love it, I don't do it.
  • SAVING WATER: We're wasting time arguing about drilling here or there, invading other countries for oil, and fooling around with ecologically endangered areas looking for oil. Heck, we haven't got enough refineries anyway. Our real worry should be about water, not if we'll run out, but when. Each of us can help; here's what works for me:
  • Take shorter showers. Duh. Not easy with teens in the house, but I never said these were easy, just ways to save money and energy. Offering them a bribe helps.
  • Skip the last rinse in the washing machine by soaking the laundry before any wash cycle begins. This method lifts dirt off first and eliminates need for final rinse.
  • Professionals say we should rinse vegetables in a pan of water instead of under running water. That's probably a good idea but I've never figured out why we have to wash vegetables anyway, unless we're going to eat them raw. How can germs live if we boil, fry, or nuke them in a microwave? Don't look at me like that, I told you I wasn't a professional.
  • Don't use a hose to clean off your driveway -- that's why God invented brooms. Make it a point to stay away from those noisy leaf blowers; they sound like you're being chased by a freaked-out dentist aiming a pneumatic drill at your mouth. Besides, they contribute to noise pollution -- not to mention flying pollen and more dust in the house.
  • Use left-over ice cubes instead of watering trees and plants. It works fine, just takes a little longer.
  • SAVING ON BEAUTY PRODUCTS: I felt like Columbus discovering America when I found the horse shampoo, Mane 'n Tail. It's way cheaper and much better for human hair than the perfumed stuff. I'm not making this up. All these years, I'd been spending a fortune on fancy shampoos and conditioners when horses got better results than I did. That's no accident, that's Mane 'n Tail. You can find it in some grocery stores, probably on the bottom shelf in the shampoo section because they don't pay extra to be placed on eye level shelves like the famous ones. Why should we pay for their TV commercials? When did you last see an ad for horse shampoo? How about never? Mane 'n Tail actually makes human hair stronger, prevents split ends, and creates silky shine. Best of all, it's MADE IN THE U.S.A. (Straight Arrow Products in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.) Just call me Seabiscuit.

    Throw out every beauty product in the house, unless you bought it in the last six months. There's no moisturizer like humidity, whether it's supplied by nature or by hanging your face over tonight's stew pot. Drinking a lot of water is great for the skin, too. I haven't found replacements yet for make-up so if you know of any, let me know.

    Wrinkles are God's memory of the sacrifices you made as mothers and nothing will change your facial history, short of plastic surgery or maybe a little Spackle. (I'm kidding about that last one.)
    Dry your clothes outside; they smell better and the outside is still free (so far).
  • Clean your DVDs and CDs with Windex Wipes. They work great and are cheaper than cleaners sold at places like Circuit City.
  • Cancel all magazine subscriptions; read them at the library.
  • Turn off lights when you leave a room but actually unplug electronics when not in use -- it's cheaper than just turning them off.

    I'm continuing my never-ending quest for cheap. Not the cheap of buying foreign products at Wal-Mart or CostCo. but the cheap of being smarter than they think. I can break those spending habits acquired by paying attention to marketing ploys.

    What's in my wallet? Their hand, that's what! And I'm the only one who can yank it out.

    Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
    "A Balloon In Cactus"
    September 17, 2008 column

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