Monthly Archives: September 2008

Packing a Lunch…or….Pennies Add Up to Dollars


There are several ways I save money by taking my lunch that don’t end up costing me too much time.  The last thing I need is one more thing to add to my to-do list!


On Sunday, I brew a large pot of coffee. Since I’m the only one who drinks it, I have my first cup and then store the rest in a quart-sized canning jar in my fridge. There the coffee stays fresh and I microwave a cup every morning for breakfast while I get ready for work.  This saves time and money (the cost of electricity.)


Also on Sunday, I put several potatoes and eggs in a large pot and bring to a boil and turn off the heat.  When cooled, I have cooked eggs and potatoes to use in many ways. The hardboiled eggs are quick to grab and eat on those early morning bus-duty days or days when school clubs are meeting.  The potatoes can be used for fried potatoes for breakfast, or for topping with chili for a super easy dinner. If there are potatoes and eggs left by Friday, I make potato salad for dinner.  I should note that my eggs are freshly laid on Saturday by our hens.


While I could always fall back on school lunches that cost $3.20, I try to have some fallback things at my desk in case I forget to take my lunch. My pennypinching budget plan is to always spend a dollar or less per lunch or breakfast meal. 


Frugal fallbacks for me are a jar of peanut butter and a box of crackers, and cans of soup that I buy when they are $.50/can. 


One of the healthiest, cheapest and unusual lunches I have eaten often during the fall are sweet potatoes.  I learned this from a dieting teacher friend who would microwave a sweet potato every day for lunch. 


When another teacher offered a boxes of sweet potatoes for us, I kept ten in a box in my room closet—dark and cool.  I ate about two a week with salt and butter.  I never had to remember to pack a lunch and they lasted through the winter!! By spring the couple that were left began to sprout –so I planted them and…..


Now I have LOTS of sweet potatoes to harvest for my lunches this fall. 


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Filed under breakfast, lunch, penny pinching, Recipes

Academic Quiz Bowl Frugal Alternatives

Let’s face it, teachers are competitive people and as such, we want our students to do their best when competing in academic quiz bowls.


But who has a budget that will allow for a $400 buzzer system like the Geosafari Quiz Bowl?


Part of training kids to be part of an academic quiz bowl game is helping them with the buzzers. We have found that no matter how good a kid is at memorizing the answers, if they can’t manipulate the buzzer they are dead in the water.


Unfortunately, the teachers at my school do not have one of those high-priced, professional buzzers that are used at the county and regional level of competition.


So we improvise…


The most basic, yet I think beautifully frugal, idea is to have the kids hold pens that click open. Find some that make a big “click.”  Last year I had a kid whose mom worked in a doctors office donate a bunch of them (all sounded the same) that were pens given to them as a marketing ploy of some medical product.


The pens give the kids the experience of connecting their answer to the buzzer. Kind of like Pavlov’s dog….If they can’t do that, they won’t get to answer the question so it’s imperative they know how to do that.


The next solution, Eggspert, allows up to six players and lets you set the answer time from 5-30 seconds. It combines light and sound.  It sells at the academic superstore for around $40.


The last cheap solution I have is is to buy the hardware only for the old “Quizzard” game on ebay. These sell for between $20 and $30. Beats the price in the educational catalogs anyway.


Team academic bowls are a great way to motivate kids (and tightwad teachers.) Let me know in the comments if you found these helpful or have another solution!



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Filed under Uncategorized

Educational Video on the Cheap

Let’s face it. Not all our schools have a budget that allows for high-dollar membership in great online teaching resources like United streaming.  What are the rest of us to do?

Well, your school may look at an extremely stripped down version such as learn360 It doesn’t have the lesson plans or full-length videos, but at least it has good short videos that can enhance your teaching and give a visual aspect that kids need to understand concepts they learn on paper.

I’ve been able to supplement with the totally free teachertube.  On the anniversary of September 11th, I found two very moving slideshows that helped kids understand what happened without being so gruesome or scary as to traumatize younger students.

I’ll include links to those teacher-made slideshows soon. Keep tuning in.

Next, The History Channel has wonderful programming for students early in the morning say from 6-8 am EST.  For instance, you cans see all of the excellent episodes of Liberty’s Kids there as well as superior documentaries on most state social studies and history standards.

You can go here to check the History channel schedule:

I don’t know the legalities of taping these days so I won’t suggest anything along those lines…

Also at the History channel are short videos you can watch, for instance about Amelia Earhart.  Use these short four or five minute videos as a jump start to your lesson.

I cannot say enough about the math videos at thefutureschannel.  Kids need to see that the daily math they do has real world applications that are interesting. There are resources to go with the videos.

PBS teachers will keep you up to date about what is coming up on programming via email.  This is also a good source of good video and lesson plans and resources for classrooms.

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Filed under educational video, history channel, math video, pbs, teacher resources

How I Started My Intensively Planted, Organic, No-Till Garden on Hard Clay Soil With Weeds (or “Diary-of-Someone-Who- Saves-Tons-of-Money-by-Growing-Their-Own-Food”)


I started by laying cardboard down on top of the grass where I wanted my garden.  Then I threw all kinds of leaves, grass clippings etc. on top.  After a few months, I cut holes in the cardboard, dug a hole and planted a plant with some good compost (spread the poor soil over the compost on the cardboard). The first year I didn’t attempt planting seeds.


(NOTE: You don’t have to PURCHASE a tiller!)


Thereafter I just kept adding leaves, paper, and cardboard to keep the weeds out.  We don’t have trash pickup so all paper products, boxes, etc. go to the garden.  This is a great way to get rid of juWhy put compostables in the landfill? 


My compost pile is constantly moving. When I need space to plant, I shove it over. Or plant in it!  Cover with grass clippings if you don’t want to see carrot peelings and such.  If a weed comes through, I pull it and throw it on top of the compost/mulch.  If it has seed heads, it goes to our free-range chickens.


I use a deep composting method in my chicken coop (all free, I’ll mention that later) so I drop composted chicken manure near the base of the plants for extra fertilizer.


The first year I didn’t garden at all in the winter (I am able to garden nearly year round in our mild climate).  I simply lay cardboard down so it would be easy to plant (no weeds) in the spring. Then I pulled it aside to my paths.  I kept the boxes from blowing around by weighing them down with uncomposted cow manure or chicken manure (whatever you have on hand).  You don’t want to put uncomposted manure on plants, it will “burn” them.


This reminds me why I don’t like raised beds in boxes–it’s a pain to pull the weeds at the outside and inside edges of the boxes.  I can easily put newspaper to the edge of what is growing. Plus, I’m too cheap and lazy to build boxes. And too impatient:)


I started with rows, but have now made wide beds that the middle can be reached from each side easily.  When I plant spinach for instance, I fill the entire bed for a foot or so in the bed, then put something else next to it. You might say my rows look striped. I try to confuse the bugs.  It is far easier for them to traverse a straight row of something they love to eat.  They get confused if they have to jump over garlic, say to get to something they love.


I use all manner of boxes for my paths. Just stick your thumb on the seam of a cereal box and you will split it.  I put the colored side up on the paths–last longer.


I sprinkle egg shells around my tender seedlings to protect them from slugs and cutworms.  I dump my coffee grounds around the base of the plants once they are strong and this fertilizes them and keeps the weeds down at the base where it’s hard to pull weeds.


(NOTE: You don’t have to PURCHASE good fertilizer!)



The first year I started with easy things to grow: beans, squash, garlic.  At the beginning I was not strong enough to dig the holes–I had to rely on my DH!  Now the soil is very workable and almost black.


(NOTE: You don’t have to PURCHASE good soil!)


When planting, I look for a big weed that needs to be pulled.  I just plant in that hole. A twofer!  When you plant intensively, the good plants crowd out the bad weeds.  You don’t want ANY exposed soil.  So plant lettuce between your cabbages and broccoli in the spring.  Until cabbage and broccoli gets big (and it gets too hot for lettuce) your lettuce will be something to eat while keeping that space from getting weedy.  By the time it’s too hot for lettuce, the cabbage and broccoli leaves have filled in the space.


Announcement of soon-to-come-post: You don’t have to purchase seeds! Tune in next time…..




Filed under garden, saving, Uncategorized

Cleaning White boards

Speaking of whiteboards, how about cleaning them cheaply?  I like to either use a 100% water spray (recycled spray bottle) with paper towels, or, I mix a small amount of alcohol in with the water for extra oomph. The alcohol helps dry the board.


If you are really interested in tested methods of cleaning whiteboards, read this.


It beats buying products any old day.


Oh, and if you write by mistake using a permanent pen on a whiteboard–write over it pressing it hard against what was written previously. It really works. I wouldn’t believe it either until I saw it!


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Filed under cheap, classroom, frugal living, Frugality, teacher, teaching, tightwad, Uncategorized, whiteboard

Small Whiteboards for playing Games

Classroom games are fun ways to learn and review, but often purchasing the materials can add up.  Each year I try to add to my arsenal so that student interest is constantly being stimulated. There are old standbys we always play, but I add new games that are specifically related to one area or another.

While some games are provided with the curriculum, sometimes pieces are lost over the years with teachers switching rooms, etc… Or, the curriculum will have a great idea, but it takes a lot of time and some expense to create the visuals. If you teach in middle or high school, you need to use materials that will last the day while being handled by 100 students!  Mere paper won’t do.

One solution is to make small whiteboards yourself using bathroom tileboard from the hardware store. Tileboard is used to insulate bathroom walls from the moisture.  But they are erasable and cheap. That is, if you already own a saw.

I save my markers that are starting to be less sharp for these games. If you don’t have enough money for a classroom set of whiteboards, you can make enough for six and play the game with groups, or take turns.

You can also make a cheaper, easier version using zip lock bags. See the instructions at instructables.


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Filed under cheap, classroom, cleaning products, education, frugal living, Frugality, teacher, teaching, tightwad, whiteboard

Classroom Set-up and Design

     I think the classroom environment is very important to learning. One aspect of it, classroom design/decoration, can be handled frugally if you utilize many resources.


     Use craigslist and freecycle to ask for items for your classroom.  Teachers (and parents) everywhere have things shoved in closets that they would love to get rid of.


    I have a turning book display and wire shelves I got behind a store that was closing. It pays to drive behind stores to see what hardware they are throwing out.


    Let’s face it, part of the battle of education is being efficient. That’s why classroom design is so important. If you can’t find the handout for science until your allotted time is over—it’s a big problem.


     I recommend looking at other teacher’s rooms.  Teaching Heart has pictures of classrooms from around the world.


     Most of my office supply containers are from thrift stores and yardsales. They are very kitschy and the kids love that they are unique.  This room is, in fact, their home away from home so it’s important they feel comfortable there. I have a comfortable seat for a V.I.P student to sit and relish in their specialness.  These seats include a bean bag, a garden bench with pillows and a wire dorm chair—some gleaned from my own kids!


     When you buy your office supplies for pennies at yardsales, you are not bothered when (not if!) a child drops and breaks something.  Remember, we are creating a place that is child-accessible.


     I’d love to hear your ideas for classroom set up and display!

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Filed under classroom, Frugality, personal finance, teaching