Salary Tutor

Any help on negotiating a higher salary (and finding a more satisfying and rewarding job or career) is always a good thing!

From SalaryTutor:

Salary negotiation is tricky business, but this infographic offers some insight into the best times for bringing up your request and and other interesting job statistics to remind you that money isn’t everything.

In addition to noting that the best times to request raises are the weeks before the “J” months, the infographic shows the correlation between income and job satisfaction for a number of careers. Some really highly paid workers, like lawyers, aren’t happier than less well-paid ones, like writers.

The moral of the story may be to time your raise negotiation request but also find the job you like, hopefully one that pays $75,000. (Click here for why that is the magic income number for happiness: we’ve noted previously).

Make an Emergency Candle Out of a Tub of Crisco

I don’t recall the last time I saw a tub o’ Crisco, but this seems like a good trick MacGyver would suggest!

From Lifehacker:

Candles are always good to have on hand in case the power goes out, but if you get caught without any in your house, you can make a dead simple candle with a tub of shortening and a piece of string.
We’ve featured a number of DIY lamps for those emergency situations, but it’s hard to get any simpler than this. Just pull out a tub of shortening, put a piece of string in the middle, and light it up. Not only will it burn, it’ll last for 45 days—enough to get you through a zombie apocalypse or two. eHow recommends using a candle wick, but you should be able to use regular old string, too—some people even say a rolled up piece of paper makes a good wick. For the full step-by-step, check out eHow’s guide, and for more tips and tricks hit the link below. Photo by Amy Stephenson.

Crisco Candle | Permaculture Forums via Reddit

Remove the Tube and Pull Up: Your Toilet Paper Roll Is Now a Box of Tissues

Clever idea even MacGyver would be proud of! 🙂

From Lifehacker:

Next time you’re using a roll of toilet paper as a box-of-tissue stand-in, take this handy tip from reddit user FlintsDoorknob: Remove the cardboard tube from the middle of your toilet paper and pull up. Your TP roll is now a proper box of tissues.

For obvious reasons, toilet paper is often used as an alternative to Kleenex/tissues. Whether you’ve taken a firm stance against the lotion-y tissues or you just came down with a cold and don’t have any tissues on hand, toilet paper is the next best thing. But unlike a box of tissues, it wasn’t designed for the easy pull-and-blow. This simple little trick solves that problem.

Take your poor-man’s tissue paper to the next level with one of those decorative tissue box covers and your pet will never know the difference! (And yeah, I couldn’t find any decorative tissue box holders at my home. But that kitchen utensil holder is rather fetching!)

Eat Like a Foodie at Home, Without Breaking Your Budget

Some of these ideas just sound yummy; others a little silly (hacking your beer cooler??). I have successfully used some of these ideas and will try others. I have also been to Zingerman’s (suggested in the “how to buy other quality food for cheap” section) in Ann Arbor – great experience!

From Lifehacker:

Just because you enjoy great food doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money dining out or buying upscale foods for delicious meals at home. With the advice of some noted chefs and food writers, you can elevate the level of your home-cooked meals even while working with a tight grocery budget, producing feasts that wow for just a few dollars per serving.

We’ll show you where to shop and what to stock in your pantry to maximize your dollars-to-enjoyment ratio. We’ll also show you how to save more on buying meat (often the most expensive part of the meal) and techniques and recipes for cooking up some exquisite dishes. Note: you don’t have to consider yourself a “foodie” to use these suggestions—all you need to bring is a desire for great food.

Learn Techniques to Make the Most Out of Your Meals

Some cooking techniques like braising and slow cooking are very cost-effective and simple, producing flavorful meals; you can tenderize extremely tough—and inexpensive—cuts of meat with these techniques.

Make the Most Out of Cheap Proteins

The biggest cost savings you find may be on proteins, especially with today’s rising meat prices. If you’re not a vegetarian, the meat portion of the meal could very well make up the majority of your grocery budget (thus, it also follows that you can make the most out of your food budget by switching to a flexitarian diet or just eating a meat-less meal every once in a while).

Learning a few cooking techniques to enhance even cheap cuts of meat can help you turn a $5 steak into a $50 steak, so to speak:

Slow cooking: Even if you don’t decide to hack your slow cooker into an off-the-charts sous vide cooker, a slow cooker can make even the toughest of meats tender and tastier. (Apparently you can also hack a beer cooler into a sous vide cooker.) Plus, the hands-off approach of using a slow cooker also means you can get flavor-packed meals without a lot of effort. You don’t want just an everyday slow cooker meal though: foodie recipe search engine Punchfork can help you find more advanced slow cooker meals to make at home, like this carnitas recipe from TheKitchn that uses an inexpensive cut of pork: place a 6-8 pound pork butt (a.k.a., pork shoulder) in the slow cooker with some spices and tomato and orange juice and 8 hours later, you’ve got tender meat that falls off the bone.

Braising: Deb Perelman of the beautiful Smitten Kitchen food blog suggests we embrace braising. Cooked low and slow, ribs, briskets, pork shoulders, and so on “make incredible flavor-packed, stewy meals that can easily be spooned into tacos/served over rice or egg noodles and stretched to feed you for a week.” Want recipes? Try Deb’s knee-weakening braised beef short ribs or other braised recipes. Don’t know what braising is? Previously mentioned cooking video library Cookblast has some videos and recipes for this slow cooking technique.

Salting: That $5 steak that tastes like it came from the very expensive steakhouse? It’s all about salt. Basically, salt your steak like crazy at least 40 minutes before cooking (wash the salt off before) for the juiciest steak you’ve every made. You can intensify the flavor of all of your meats with wet and dry brining techniques—basically using salt to enhance the flavor of your meats by immersing them in a salty solution or just applying a dry salt rub directly.

How to Save on Proteins

With the techniques above you can make cheaper cuts of meat, like pork shoulder, taste extraordinary, but here’s how to save even more:

Process your meat yourself: For the most savings, buy your meat (and other foods) minimally processed. Serious Eats‘ James Kenji Lopez-Alt (who forever transformed my steak-cooking technique and subsequent lifelong enjoyment) says that his biggest tip is:

Buy your meat in the least processed form possible and learn how to do some very minimal butchering yourself. So don’t buy boneless skinless chicken breasts. If you want them, buy a whole chicken, which ends up costing about the same price as you’d pay for its breasts alone, but then you end up with chicken leg meat for a whole extra meal, as well as a carcass with which you can make stock. Three meals for the price of one, and all you’ve got to do is learn how to break down a chicken.

Buying and learning how to cook cheaper cuts of meat is very useful as well. Pork shoulder, for example, to me tastes a hundred times better than a pork chop. You just have to be willing to cook it a little longer. It takes well to methods like braising, slow roasting, or grinding into mince.

He also recommends buying a meat grinder, because not only will it give you the freshest tasting burgers, it lets you use up leftover scraps of meat you’d normally throw out. (Ready to take the plunge? Serious Eats shows you how to buy, use, and care for a meat grinder and what to do once you’ve got one.)

Cheaper cuts: Katerina, who writes the Daily Unadventures in Cooking blog says that:

One of the well kept secrets of foodies is that the cheaper the cut of meat, the harder to cook but the more the flavour. Lamb shanks and neck? Pork belly? Octopus? Short ribs? As proteins, they all represent a cheap way to impress guests at home if you are willing to take the time to properly cook them.

For example, if you have some cheap pork shoulder, TheKitchn managing editor Faith Durand says you can really maximize the flavor of it by grilling before braising.

Clay Dunn, who writes the popular and informative Bitten Word blog with partner Zach Patton, generously offered these two preparation techniques:

One of the best, most versatile and most affordable cuts of meat you can find is a skirt steak. You can often grab it for about $2 per serving. Another plus: It’s also one of the easiest cuts of meat to cook. Amp up the flavor by rubbing the steak with instant espresso powder and some cayenne pepper. Then just sear it in a stovetop pan over high heat for a couple minutes per side, let it rest for several minutes, and slice it against the grain. You can stretch your protein dollar even further by incorporating the skirt steak into a steak salad: It’s fantastic tossed with fresh dark lettuces, green beans and a sweet vinaigrette.

Another favorite inexpensive protein of ours is chicken thighs. They’re tasty and succulent — way more flavorful than white-meat breasts. And you can frequently find chicken thighs for about a dollar per serving. We always by these instead of chicken breasts. Sear them on all sides in hot oil, toss some chopped onions and fresh tomato into the pan, and throw the whole thing in a 375-degree oven for 16-18 minutes to roast. Delicious! Maximize the flavor — and your budget — even more by stirring in a few fresh basil leaves, chopped, right before you serve.

Buy from a farm directly: Brian Lee, who runs the EatDrinkMadison dining guide says you can save a lot of money by purchasing a side or ¼ beef (100 lbs.) from a farm. You’ll need a separate freezer, most likely, or someone to share with you, but you can get quality, ethically-raised beef for between $3.50-$5.50 per pound from the farm versus three times that much or more from Whole Foods.

How to Save on Fresh Produce

Speaking of Whole Foods, you don’t really need to shop there for any or all of your choice foods. Farmer’s markets, or greenmarkets, offer fresh-from-the-farm foods, and as mentioned here at Lifehacker previously, shopping later in the day at a farmer’s market can save you some extra cash. (Dunn said you can find some really great deals at farmer’s markets if you buy the fruits and vegetables at the peak of the season—you could get a pint of berries for a third of what it would cost you at the grocery store.)

Joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) group may likewise be a worthwhile investment where you get a load of in-season veggies and/or fruits (or even eggs and flowers) for about $20-$50 a month.

Canningfreezing, and even layering in salt can extend your food’s life as well.

Perelman also reminds us that good looks don’t always matter when it comes to your fruits and veggies:

Don’t be afraid of ugly produce (in fact, be more suspicious of the overly pretty stuff and what has to be added to the soil to get blemish free beauties); ugly tomatoes make great sauce

To get the most bang for your organic buck, you can also focus your spending on just those organic foods most prone to pesticide (e.g., with this organic food buying cheat sheet). If your main reason for buying organic is to avoid pesticides, foods like avocado and bananas, which have thick peels that aren’t eaten, can be bought safely non-organic. Peppers, celery, peaches, apples, strawberries and other fruits and vegetables with thin or edible skins are better organic options. 

Of course, you can also save a lot of money by starting your own vegetable garden, if you have the space. Cheap Vegetable Gardener has a chart of the most profitable vegetables/herbs to grow yourself. (Previously mentioned tools like Smart Gardener can help you set this up and grow your own food successfully even if you don’t have a green thumb.)

Where to Buy Other Quality Food for Cheap

Beyond fresh produce and meats, you can save a whole lot more by shopping in unconventional places.

Look to ethnic grocery stores for better deals on spices, for example, or just the international aisle of your main grocery store, Dunn advises.

Online shops let you find specialty foods that you couldn’t find in brick-and-mortar stores. International food market places like FoodzieZingerman’s and Import Food offer specialty ingredients that can elevate your dish. As CNN reports, most foodmakers will also ship direct to you, for even more savings:

A pound of Humboldt Fog goat’s-milk cheese, ordered off Zingerman’s, will run you $35; the same amount from the cheesemaker, Cypress Grove, is $20.

How to Stock Your Gourmet Pantry/What to Buy

Sometimes, all it takes is that one key ingredient—a unique sauce or a condiment—to make your meal extraordinary. Investing your food money wisely lets you scrimp on some expensive items (like meats) while still getting a lot of flavor from your meal.

Stephanie Trahd at artisan foods marketpace Fooducopia says “It’s much more affordable to take a cheaper cut of meat and dress it with a gourmet steak wash, than it is to buy a filet and only be able to afford a parsley garnish!”

Likewise, Chef Mark Estee, owner of Moddy’s Bistro and Lounge and Burger Me in Truckee, CA, reminds us that having great staples in your pantry is important because “bad quality in, bad quality out.” The staples he suggest you invest in: extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salts, chutneys, and mustards.

Durand adds to the list nut oils like hazelnut and roasted walnut oil for delicious salads, and really likes this smoked olive oil featured on TheKitchn. (When cooking, stick to cheap olive oil to save cash, but for salads or drizzling over food, you may actually taste the difference in a higher-quality oil.)

Keeping basics in stock will also help you avoid the dine-out/take-out bug. Lopez-Alt says he always has on hand a collection of Chinese, Japanese, and South East Asian condiments and sauces ready to go, so all he has to do for a quick and savory meal is pick up a protein and boil some rice.

I’m with Perelman on splurging on milk, eggs, produce and meat; it’s worth the extra cost to us to buy ethically raised and cleanly produced foods. But even then, you can still save even on organic produce, grass-fed beef, free-range eggs and the like using some of the shopping tips above.

Favorite Versatile, Inexpensive Meals

When asked what their most delicious yet cheap meals were, our food sources had so many great suggestions:

How to Get More Value Out of Your Wines

If you agree with the old Andre Simon quote that “Food without wine is a corpse; wine without food is a ghost,” you’ll probably want some good vino with your home-cooked meal. For many people, a wine store filled with bottles upon bottles of wines of varying prices can be overwhelming.

Jsaon Mancebo, who writes the 20 Dollar Wine Blog, said the best strategy is to develop a relationship with a wine monger at a smaller wine shop, so he/she can get to know your style, palate, and price ranges. Regionally speaking:

The usual suspects for bargains in the past 10 years or so are Australia, Chile and Argentina, but recent economics make Spain, Portugal and even Italy VERY attractive now. Great Rioja, Alentejo and Barolo are certainly within reach! If you’re normally only a red wine fan, try some rose’ from Provence or white from the Langhe. There’s lots to explore and great stuff to pair with the dishes you create!

Though you can find good wines at $10 or below, they’re not as easy (i.e., super-easy) to find at $20. The sweet spot, Mancebo says, may be about $15-17.

I also like Lopez-Alt’s answer: “It’s the summer. I like having inexpensive, easy-to-drink wines, like a nice cold vinho verde.”

“Foodie” Meals at Home: In a Nutshell

To sum up, you can save more but still get a lot of value and tastiness out of the foods you buy and make at home. The basic guidelines:

  • Buy from less conventional/mass marketplaces. Explore ethnic markets, farmer’s markets, and grow your own if you can
  • Buy as much as you can whole and unprocessed
  • Learn how to preserve your foods (e.g., how to store food properly in the freezer and fridge or food preservation techniques)
  • Use all parts of the food if possible. Use chicken bones to make stock, toast pumpkin seeds, etc.
  • Splurge on items that will enhance the rest of the meal and where a little will go a long way. Or focus on one quality ingredient in each dish.

Doing this may increase the quality of your meals at home to the point where you might even prefer dining in rather than out. Bon appetit!

Got your own tips for increasing the foodieness of your homecooked meals (on a budget)? We’re all ears in the comments.
Photo by benicce / Shutterstock.

6 Money Management Tips

These are some good tips – especially the housing costs number.

Illustration of numbers and percentages

From RealSimple:

Tip 1: 28% = The Share of Your Pretax Monthly Income That Should Go Toward Housing Costs

Why this target: During the housing boom, many people laid out unrealistic amounts of their gross income (sometimes 45 percent or higher) for their monthly mortgage payment, real estate taxes, and home owner’s insurance. And everyone knows how that turned out (see: foreclosure crisis). These days many banks have tighter lending standards, meaning they may not lend to someone whose housing payments are liable to exceed the benchmark of about 28 percent. (Some experts say that up to 38 percent of pretax monthly income is a reasonable target.) If you want a home that takes you over this limit, it won’t be easy to get a loan: Typically, you’ll need a minimum credit score of around 740 and a down payment of 10 percent or more, says Carolyn Warren, the author of Homebuyers Beware ($20,

How to hit it: Use a mortgage calculator to estimate your costs (try the one at If you’re just over the 28 percent mark, shrink your monthly costs by making a larger down payment and signing up for a high-deductible home owner’s policy, which could reduce your premiums by 25 percent. You could also lower your mortgage interest rate by paying “points” to a lender up front. (A point is 1 percent of the total loan.) You’ll pay heftier closing costs, but your monthly outlay will be smaller.

See here for the other five tips:  6 Money Management Tips | Real Simple

Stock Up on Peanut Butter Now Before Prices Get Ridiculous

Gotta move fast on this PB&J lovers. You only have a couple more weeks before the price of most jars of peanut butter skyrocket! Alternatively you could look into making your own (that is what Dan would do!), but as you ramp up to more and more DIY mode, buy some jars for investment purposes!

From Lifehacker:

The time to buy peanut butter is now, friends. The Wall Street Journal reports that prices for Jif, Peter Pan, and other peanut butter jars will be going up as much as 40% starting in a couple of weeks.

In just one year, the wholesale price of peanuts has skyrocketed from $450 a ton to $1,150 a ton, thanks to Mother Nature and human folly. As a result:

Wholesale prices for big-selling Jif are going up 30% starting in November, while Peter Pan will raise prices as much as 24% in a couple weeks…Skippy [prices] are 30% to 35% higher than a year ago. Kraft Foods Inc., which launched Planters peanut butter in June, is raising prices 40% on Oct. 31

Invest now in a few jars of your favorite peanut butter brand (and, presumably, peanuts too) before this food staple becomes a luxury item. Photo by Stephen Depolo.

Peanut-Butter Makers Face Crunch | The Wall Street Journal via Gawker

Give Berries a Hot Water Bath to Prevent Mold Growth

Berries – YUM! Especially blueberries! YUM YUM! And I think I recall they are good for memory – or was that….. what was that?!?

From NYTimes:

ONE of summer’s great pleasures is eating berries of all kinds by the basketful. One of summer’s great frustrations is having baskets of berries go moldy overnight, or even by nightfall.

Over the years I’ve come up with various strategies for limiting my losses, but this summer I came across a surprising one, the most effective I’ve ever tried. Thermotherapy, it’s been called. A very hot fruit bath.

Fruits go moldy because mold spores are everywhere, readily germinate on the humid surfaces of actively respiring, moisture-exhaling fruits, and easily penetrate the smallest breach of their thin skins.

The first thing I do with a haul of berries, after eating my fill straight from the basket, is to unpack the rest and spread them out on kitchen or paper towels, so they’re not pressing against one another and trapping moisture.

If I want to keep them overnight or longer, I refrigerate them, because cold temperatures slow fruit metabolism and mold growth. I repack the berries as sparsely as possible, nest each basket in a second empty one to leave an air space at the bottom, and inflate and tie off a plastic produce bag around the baskets, so there’s room for the berries to breathe and the bag itself doesn’t cling to their surfaces.

Even with these precautions I’ve had baskets mold overnight in the refrigerator. So I followed up right away when I saw a reference in an agricultural journal on extending the shelf life of strawberries not with a chemical treatment or gamma irradiation, but with heat.

I gathered a dozen or so reports that hot-water treatments suppress mold growth on berries, grapes and stone fruits. The test temperatures ranged from 113 to 145 degrees, with exposure times of a few minutes at the lower temperatures, and 12 seconds at the highest.

I found it hard to believe that any part of a plant could tolerate 145-degree water. My finger in the same water would get a third-degree burn in less than 5 seconds, and eventually reach medium rare.

I bought pints of various berries, divided each batch into two samples, and heated one by immersing and swishing its plastic basket in a pot of hot water. I emptied the heated sample onto towels to cool down and dry. Then I repacked it, and encouraged both baskets to spoil by wrapping them airtight and letting them sweat on the kitchen counter. After 24 hours I counted the moldy berries in each basket.

The strawberries fared best when I heated them at 125 degrees for 30 seconds. In two samples from different sources, this treatment gave a total of 1 moldy berry out of 30, where the untreated baskets had 14. I also treated some bruised berries, including one with a moldy tip. After 24 hours none were moldy. The tip mold not only hadn’t spread, it had disappeared.

I tried the same treatment, 125 degrees for 30 seconds, on raspberries and blackberries, and got the same good results. There were many fewer moldy berries in the heated samples.

For thicker-skinned blueberries, a Canadian study recommended a 140-degree treatment for 30 seconds. I tested it twice, with samples of around 150 berries each time. That heat took the bloom off. It melted the natural wax that gives the berries their whitish cast, and left them midnight blue. It also cut the number of moldy berries from around 20 per sample to 2.

Research has also shown that exposure to hot air slows fruit spoilage. But hot air can take several hours, and I found it harder than hot water to apply precisely in the kitchen. I did spread some raspberries out on a sheet pan lined with towels, and put them in a 150-degree non-convection oven for 20 minutes. The berry bottoms got hotter than the tops, which were cooled by evaporation. Still, only 1 out of 48 heated berries became moldy, compared with 7 out of 52 in the unheated basket.

Why is it that delicate berries can survive heat high enough to kill mold and injure fingers? Probably because they have to do so in the field. One study of tomatoes found that intense sunlight raised their interiors to 122 degrees. Such heat hurts the quality of growing fruits, but I couldn’t taste much of an effect on briefly heated ripe fruits.

So if you find yourself plagued by quickly spoiling fruits, start giving them a brief hot bath before you spread them out or chill them. Thermotherapy can be healthy for all concerned.