Category Archives: free

Toilet paper the old-fashioned way


Cost: Free!
Success: 5/5

Toilet paper is kind of a waste if you think about it. With its bleached brightness and quilted layers of softness, it comes across as pretty pompous for the crappy* job it has. If toilet paper were a person, it would wear a sequined gown to the bottle depot, or a diamond-necklace to McDonalds. It only makes sense to kick toilet paper off of its high horse by using a more frugal alternative.

From what I have read, wiping one’s butt with catalogues used to be a luxury. And what’s good enough for my dad and grandparents on the farm in Saskatchewan is good enough for me!

I get four free papers a week, and that makes more toilet paper than I can possibly go through.

To make the rolls, I started ripping the newspapers sideways. As long as you rip with the grain, they should tear into neat strips. I used my toilet paper roll to measure the width.  I taped each new length of newspaper down so the roll wouldn’t unravel.

The result is something practical and also fun to read, in case you get bored.

*Hehe! Pun!

PS: April Fool’s!!


Jen’s quest for free samples – Burt’s Bees edition


Cost: Freeeee
Success: 4/5

Quite a few years ago, I signed up for something called BzzAgent. The idea is that people try out products sent to them by BzzAgent and spread word of mouth about the products. The word of mouth doesn’t have to be good – it just has to be honest. Generally the companies behind the campaigns have a lot of faith in their products, so they tend to be good.

I think BzzAgent had me of their ‘slacker list’ for a while because I signed up for an e-book campaign, then didn’t read and review it. I was kind of surprised they would re-appear with such a generous campaign. I filled out the survey, found out I was eligible, and not too long later I got a surprisingly generous parcel with two full-sized bottles and several little samples of moisturizer to give to my friends. The cleanser and moisturizer are worth about $45 together – score! All I have to do is tell people about my experience, which I’m doing right now. (Sneaky, eh??)

So I went into this with high hopes. Both skincare products boast as 99% natural, and neither contains fragrance. I am surprised and intrigued by the lack of parabens, because any cosmetic that contains water (as these do) needs a preservative (you wouldn’t believe how quickly germies breed in water). From skimming the list it looks like phenoxyethanol is used as a preservative, which has a moderate toxicity score according to the Cosmetics Database.  It gets score of 3-4 , while parabens get about 5/10. I would recommend that anyone who’s concerned about the safety of their cosmetics take a look through the Cosmetics Database and evaluate each ingredient – including the natural ones. There are natural ingredients that are dangerous as well. If you are curious, the Cosmetics Database gives the moisturizing cream a toxicity score of 3/10, which is pretty good I guess.

I started using the facial cleanser and moisturizer about a month ago. I found the cleanser very oily, and I had to rub my face with a wash cloth after I left the shower. The moisturizer is quite nice. It has a pleasant natural smell.  It’s light and makes my skin fairly smooth. Sometimes it almost seems like it makes my skin shinier rather than more moisturized.

My skin changes throughout the month, so there are times I’m more prone to acne than others. I think it may have contributed to slightly more acne than usual.

Overall it was okay, but I wouldn’t buy it for myself. I prefer the stuff I usually use – 9 to 5 cleansing lotion from Lush, and a Vichy moisturizer, which leaves my skin glowing in an oh-so-healthy European way (when I remember to use it).

I do appreciate the effort, though. It’s harder and more expensive to formulate an effective cosmetic without using the regular junk, and hopefully Burt’s Bees will perfect the formula over the years.

BzzAgent wants me to include this:



Cost: Free (with old bread and crackers)
Success: 4/5

During my housewarming party, I was in such a rush to get the food out that I shoved the crackers back into their boxes without closing the bags properly. A week later I realized this, and now the crackers are stale.

But that’s fine, because they were in the perfect condition for making bread crumbs!

I put some bread and several crackers in a pie tray, mostly because my baking trays were in use. I took the bread out once in a while and squished it flat with a cleaver. If there is any moisture left in the bread, it squishes flat without making many crumbs.

It’s a delicate balance, because the bread will also burn if it’s in there too long. Baking it takes away most of the stale taste.

The crumbs made from bread turned out quite well, and I used most of them in my chicken parmesan.

The crackers were not quite as successful. I had them in for about 10 minutes at 425 degrees, and some of them burnt and got that funny smell. I broke off the dark parts, and squished them anyway. They’re sitting in a Saskatchewan Tupperware container in my cupboard.

Full of promise:

Ah, crap. They’re burnt already:

Scavenging at the library


Cost: Free
Success: 3/5 (the selection’s lame but the price is right!)

The other day after my boyfriend finished his volunteer shift, he showed me the carts of free books in the basement of the Bellingham library. There was a book by the author of Sex and the City, which was a book before it was a TV show. I took that one.

Sometimes libraries will give away old books, or sell them for low low prices. These books are not exactly the pick of the litter, but I’ve seen some decent ones.

The more obvious thing to do at the library would be to get a card and actually borrow books. It’s been on my list.

Clothing swaps


Cost: Free
Success: 5/5

Clothing swaps make perfect economic sense. Let’s say you have a pile of unwanted clothes that you paid about $300 for.  Some are too small, and others make you look kind of funny. Instead of getting rid of them… wouldn’t it be nice to trade them for roughly $300 of clothes that you like better? (Why do all of my posts sound like infomercials??)

That is what makes clothing swaps such an ingenious idea. A bunch of friends or coworkers get together, they bring the clothes they don’t want anymore, and they paw through other peoples’ stuff and take what they like. Everything that’s left over at the end goes to charity.

There was a clothing swap at my work last Thursday. I brought in a bag of my stuff, including a really nice dress that made my arms look like tree trunks (see right, observe head:arm ratio), tops that made me look weirdly disproportional, and other clothes that didn’t quite fit right. There were about 20 of us in different ages and sizes. I circled the room several times and picked about 15 different things from shorts to a trenchcoat that would serve any flasher well.

Most of the stuff was in good shape. Some things had gross body oil stains, so I steered clear of those. It’s a good opportunity to try styles that are a little more adventurous.If it doesn’t work you can just bring it back to the next swap!

Coffee for plants


Cost: Free
Effectiveness: Hard to judge

Once in a while I clean my coffee machine by ‘brewing’ a batch of water without using any new coffee grounds. I’m left with a pot of coffee-infused water.

I don’t like pouring perfectly good water down the drain, so I wait for it to cool, then water my plants with it. It’s easy to pour, and it will give plants an  ‘extra shot of nitrogen and acidify their soil a little.’ That’s assuming the plants want their soil to be acidified. Many don’t.

Plants that love acidic soil include ferns, cilantro, lemongrass, gardenias, rhododendrons, magnolias and foxgloves. Stinging nettles also love acidic soil, but I can’t stand those things. You might think I’m really knowledgeable because I just pumped out that list, but actually I got it from this very thorough site.  Judging by the list, most plants that like acidic soil originate from Asia.

It’s hard to tell how effective this really is. I’ve been watering all of my plants this way, when I should have been sticking to the ferns and cilantro. Next time I’m going to give the whole pot to the sad-looking ferns in my bedroom.

Saskatchewan-style tupperware


Cost: Free !
Success:  4.5/5

I call re-purposed plastic containers ‘Saskatchewan tupperware’ because it’s a family tradition that goes back at least as far as my Grandma. She owned a couple of the big round Tupperware containers from the 60s or 70s – the ugly ones that came in olive green, amber and burnt orange. The rest of her reusable containers were old cottage cheese, yoghurt and sour cream containers, and the 4L ice cream buckets from Co-op. The ones that are so big and heavy that they come with a handle.

My Grandparents had a farm near Strasbourg where my dad grew up.  He and his two siblings were born in the 40s. Farming must give people a certain appreciation of where their food comes from because they see just how much time and work it takes to grow. I used to be annoyed at how stingy my dad and my Grandma were. Now that I have a better understanding of the context, I think they were miles ahead of many modern environmentalists. They took reducing and reusing  very seriously because it was practical. They they couldn’t bear to throw out things that still had some use left.

I’m not quite as thrifty as them, but I enjoy how living on the cheap makes me evaluate every decision and make sure it’s practical.

Anyway, it’s handy to have some Saskatchewan tupperware around the house.

Sending food home with friends
When I give friends containers of food, I can almost count on not getting the container back. People forget, and my containers get mixed in with their collection of mixed containers and after a while peoples cupboards are filled with a colourful mosaic of containers that don’t belong to them.  When I give people food in Saskatchewan tupperware, I can keep my matching set of containers safe, and I’m not sad if I never see my container again.

Marinades n’ things
Since a lot of dairy containers are tall and narrow, they’re a good way to marinate meat with minimum marinade.  (Note that your containers will stink for a while afterwards.)

Freezing garden vegetables
My Mom and Grandma would always fill up several Saskatchewan tupperwares with tightly packed spinach, beans, beets, herbs and things from the garden, then stick them in the freezer. My Mom must fill at least 20 each year, so it makes sense to do it cheaply by reusing old containers. I would take the food out before putting it into a pot or the microwave, since there has been so much talk about the chemicals plastic releases when it’s heated.

Hardening fat
This one’s pretty gross. For fattier meats like ground beef, turkey or duck, the fat should never go down the drain. My Mom always pours it into a container, pops it out and throws it in the garbage when it becomes solid.

Keeping craft supplies
Sometimes I put craft supplies in my Saskatchewan tupperware. If you’re worried about plastic chemicals leaking into your food, this is a good alternative use.

I still have a matching set of the good containers because I let my Saskatchewan tupperware do the dirty work.