Category Archives: Simple Thrift Nashua Telegraph column

Nashua Telegraph – College care packages don’t have to cost a fortune

Friday, January 15, 2010
College care packages don’t have to cost a fortune

by Wendy Thomas ◆ correspondent
When you have a college student in the family, there are times when you want to send him or her a care package, just a few things to let them know they are in your thoughts.
Many schools have services where, for a fee (usually a high one), you can get a prepared care package sent to your student. These boxes usually contain lots of candy, sweet snacks and toys – things that college students don’t especially need, especially around flu season or when preparing for finals. Continue reading


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Simple Thrift Column – Nashua Telegraph – December 29, 2009 – Keep on being thrifty

Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Keep on being thrifty
Wendy Thomas

This is the last installment of the Simple Thrift series. The new year is coming, and with it comes hope for a stronger financial situation for all.

For those who have been readers of this column, please don’t think that thrift doesn’t live on. For some of us, thrift is not something we do as a result of world economies; thrift is something we do as a lifestyle. It’s what we’ve been taught. Thrift simply makes sense. Some of us believe that even when the money is flowing, it’s just not logical to spend it when you don’t need to.

Like Virginia being consoled about Santa Claus, thrift will always live on in all who believe.

Being thrifty is evident in mothers who have created ingenious solutions for their children, when they bake something from scratch or figure out how to stretch that 1 pound of beef into a meal that will feed the entire family.
Being thrifty can be seen in families who choose to use hand-me-downs, who read books out loud at night instead of going to the movies and who just say no to fast food.

Being thrifty also means experimenting and trying out new things that may be at first uncomfortable. As a result of creating different cost-saving recipes, we’ve learned a few valuable lessons. I’ve learned I can never add ricotta cheese to something called cowboy stew if you want your kids to eat it. We’ve also learned that zucchini can be used in a million different ways, and in some recipes, you can’t even tell it’s there.

When we were challenged with thrift problems, one of my children would always ask “what if?” initiating conversation that would ultimately lead to some creative solutions. What if we celebrated the arrival of spring by packing muffins and hot chocolate for a picnic to greet the sunrise? What if we made a Christmas gift from things we found in the woods? What if we turned off the TV and instead played a board game?

As a result of thinking in a creatively thrifty manner, we’ve had birthday parties that haven’t broken the bank, made handmade gifts that are more valuable than gold, learned the importance of portioning food and made ourselves wait before making the decision to buy something. And – oh, yeah – we’ve also learned about chickens.

This series has bought those chickens into our lives. We’ve met and continue to meet some of the most wonderful people because of our birds. We’ve gotten some amazing pets out of them, as well as some stories that will forever be retold at all future family gatherings. I’m also happy to report that we currently get about six eggs a day from our girls.

Whoever thinks that being thrifty is not fun clearly never had chickens.

Being thrifty is nothing to be ashamed of. You should never apologize for holding on to your hard-earned money, but you should be productive and resourceful while keeping it. My kids have learned to make do with what we have before we even think about buying something new. They’ve learned to reuse sneaker laces and to see new uses in old containers. They’ve also learned to pass on what we no longer need. They have learned to become good stewards of our money, as well as thoughtful, responsible members of their community.

I know the economy is still challenging. I know that many people are still without jobs and are facing difficult times. I’m not going to pretend that times are rosy. But I will tell you that with creativity and gratitude for what you already have, being thrifty can result in so much more than just saving pennies.

When the economy gets better (and it will), don’t forget the lessons learned. Continue to take good care of your families and to reach out to your neighbors. And for those of you with the space, think about getting some chickens. Your kids will love you for it.

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Simple Thrift Column – Nashua Telegraph – December 22, 2009 – Lose some weight, then donate it to a good cause

Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Lose some weight, then donate it to a good cause
Wendy Thomas
Many of us are carrying extra weight. It’s tough to keep it off, especially at this time of year when so much of our holiday entertainment is centered around food. Add that to especially cold temperatures, and, well, it’s just easier to sit on the couch with hot chocolate than go outside for a brisk walk.
Not only is extra weight hard on our bodies (resulting in increased medical costs as we try to find ways to alleviate our aches and pains), but it also creates an increased cost on our food budget, as we have to buy the extra food needed to sustain the weight. Let’s face it: Extra weight on our bodies is just not a thrifty way to live.
The goal is then to lose the extra weight. It’s not easy, and often there is little incentive for us to pass on that chocolate cheesecake.
In a magazine, I recently saw a story about a woman who turned her weight loss into good for others. Weight Watchers has a program like this, as do a few other groups. It got me thinking.
I can do the same. Since last January, I’ve lost 22 pounds. I’ve had some ups and downs, but right now it stands at 22. At the end of the year, I’ll take my total weight lost for the year and will donate that weight in canned goods to a local food pantry.
Similarly, a friend of mine, Linda Lusby, of Indiana, told me about how she donated 75 pounds of food to her local food pantry through Weight Watchers. That food represented the 75 pounds she had lost from the beginning of the year until October. There were 13 (16-ounce) boxes of Cheerios to represent the 13 pounds she lost on her own before joining Weight Watchers, and 62 (16-ounce) jars of peanut butter, which represents the weight she lost while on the program.
That’s nothing short of an impressive accomplishment on her part, and the fact that she was able to do good as a result makes it just that more admirable.
A big part of living a thrifty life is sharing what you have with others. That’s especially important to remember at this time of year.

More eggs
You know that expression “be careful what you wish for”? Well, we are currently getting around six eggs a day, and the number will be increasing as our birds age into laying.
We are becoming very good at figuring out how to use eggs in our recipes. In fact, all of my kids are becoming quite adept at independently making some pretty mean scrambled eggs.
½ chopped onion
2 eggs per person, mixed in a bowl with a fork
A healthy pinch of shredded cheddar cheese
Splash of olive oil
Pepper to taste
Using medium-high heat, saute the onions in the olive oil.
Add the eggs, and start scrambling.
When the eggs are somewhat dry, add the cheddar cheese, and continue cooking until cheese has melted.
Serve with pepper.

With this basic recipe, my kids have also added different cheeses, leftover vegetables and even chopped-up meats.
Who knew that having chickens would result in my kids learning how to cook for themselves?

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Simple Thrift Column – Nashua Telegraph – December 15, 2009 – eggs and memories

Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Chicken eggs are coming, and more holiday ideas
Wendy Thomas

I haven’t talked about the chickens lately, but I have big news. We are starting to get eggs on a daily basis! The older girls have started laying, and the second younger batch of six should also be laying in the next few weeks. The eggs range from brown to light blue to green – proving that, indeed, there is such a thing as green eggs and ham.

We can positively identify two of the layers. Zelda, true to what her previous owner had told us, tends to lay double-yolked eggs. Her eggs are larger, and we need to avoid them in recipes where another yolk might be a problem. For your information, using a double-yolked egg in brownies may not be the best thing for your cholesterol, but it sure makes them extra “cakey.”

Squishy is the one who lays the brown eggs; this I know because I got a frantic call from my son one day telling me, “Mom, I saw the egg come out of Squishy. She was yelling, and then it just sort of popped out. How does that big thing come out of her like that? No wonder she was squawking.”

When I got home, he hugged me. “Mom,” he said, “do you know that you essentially popped out an egg like that six times? Wow.”

Yes, indeed, we are all still learning from our chickens.

Holiday memories
Here are some more holiday memories when money was tight that will warm your hearts.
n Every year, whether money was tight or not, my children and I made something homemade; even when they were teens, they still wanted to do it. We would buy plain Christmas balls and cover them with glitter, or at the craft stores, you can get little knickknack things and paint them. One year, we made Santas out of felt and walnuts still in the shell. Anyway, my mom and aunts still hang them on their trees each year. My children are now 25 and 29!
– SUSIE TAYLOR, Harpswell, Maine

Last year, I had $49 to my name. (I had savings, of course, but being retired, you never know how far they will go, and that’s for the future, anyway.) My day-to-day expenses left me with $49 until the end of the year. I had a thrifty year, because the economy took away the ability to withdraw from my savings, so it’s good that I ended in the black at all!
As a result, my grandchildren were the only recipients of gifts from me. I asked each one what they would like for a painting for their rooms. Kate chose horses galloping across a field, and Ben chose a soccer player scoring a goal.
– PAULA SUPER, Merrimack

There were many years my mother wouldn’t waste money on gift wrap and instead used the funny papers for wrapping presents. I’ve learned from her – my kids have been receiving gifts from Santa in the same recycled gift bags for years.

The adults in my family have, for a number of years now, decided that we can’t afford to buy presents for each other, and none of us really need anything anyway. (We’re not a well-off family, but we’ve also – knock on wood – been pretty lucky about staying employed and keeping roofs over our heads.)

So, one year we decided to start making gifts for each other rather than buying them. We make the same thing for everyone, so when the family gets together to celebrate Christmas, we all open, for example, my sister’s present at the same time, then my parents’ present, etc. That way, the surprise isn’t ruined for anyone else if one person opened the parents’ present while another opened sister’s. There have been some pretty imaginative and well-made gifts over the years.
The real concept is that a handmade gift is of far more value to us than a store-bought one. Of course, we each think our own handmade gift is the stupidest yet, so we ended up calling these our “Stupid Christmas Crafts.” I’m still working on mine for the year, and, yes, I think mine is the stupidest yet!
– JANE LAW, Concord

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Simple Thrift Column, Nashua Telegraph – December 09, 2009 – holiday memories

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Thrifty holiday days

Wendy Thomas

For many families, money is tight this holiday season. There might be fewer gifts, but that doesn’t mean that the holiday spirit still can’t burn bright.

I asked my friends to share memories of times past when money had not been in abundance. For many, it was when they were newly married or when they had young children. For others, it’s now while being a college student and having to watch pennies.

In all cases, however, these friends fondly remember the times when they had to make do with what they had. Having to be creative and resourceful left them with happy, nostalgic memories of a time when the focus was on more than just store bought gifts. Enjoy these memories.

Favorite cereal as a treat

I stumbled on this idea several years ago when strapped for cash, but looking for “bulk” under the tree, and now it’s become a family tradition: I buy everyone’s favorite cereal (and I actually spring for name brand!) and wrap it. Presto: For about $10-$15, I have four large wrapped gifts to add to the thrill of Christmas. And sometimes more when I know family members or friends will be joining us for the holidays.


Decorating and caroling

Well, as a college student, I’m strapped for cash. But I still get the holiday joy by decorating with the dollar store’s supplies. And I take up any activities that the college offers. For example, this Saturday, I’m going to spread Christmas joy by caroling with the Sisters of Rivier.


The kindness of others

I had my first son when I was 18, and for his second Christmas, we were on a list for gifts from the YMCA. He got clothes and toys. I also bought all his other presents at a consignment store. It was a wonderful Christmas where I was so thankful for the generosity of strangers.

– LAURA PLOSS, Merrimack

Handmade ornaments

As a young 18-year-old newlywed, I made salt dough ornaments and paper chains for the tree. In later years, the children and I hung gingersnap cookies on a tree so unwanted, the Boy Scouts couldn’t sell it, so it was free. We called it our Christmas bush because it was completely round. Now Bob and I are two of the 200 people who spend $5 for a permit to cut a small balsam tree from the White Mountain National Forest (and no, no one is allowed to know our secret spot!). I am still making handmade ornaments, and that is usually my Christmas present to friends.

– HOPE MANSEAU, Canterbury Station

Yard sale fun

Every year in my extended family, one of us is always strapped for cash, so instead of buying for everyone, we made a list of all of the adults, and we rotate every year who we will buy for. The fun part is the guys only buy for the guys and the women only buy for the women. The men usually go for the tools or books, and they are thrilled with the opportunity to buy for another guy.

One year, we planned early, and the theme was “yard sale.” The item you bought has to be from a yard sale. The one constant rule was that you couldn’t spend more than $10.

People get so creative when they have to work under guidelines. It was so successful that we all voted to do it again and again. This has been a tradition for close to 20 years now.

– DEE AVERY, Merrimack

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Simple Thrift Column, Nashua Telegraph, December 01,2009

Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Ideas for leftover food
Wendy Thomas
Recently, at a craft fair, one of my daughters fell in love with a snack called “trash.”
The clever crafter was giving out small samples, and with its sweet and salty taste, I could see how this treat could be instantly addictive.
Trash is a satisfyingly sweet snack consisting of popcorn, nuts, pretzels and candies that is covered with the “secret ingredient.”
At $3.95 for a small bag of this yummy snack, I ignored my daughter’s pleadings and instead hit the Internet when I got home to figure out how I could more cost effectively make this.
As it turns out, the recipe couldn’t be any easier. Basically, you melt white chocolate bits or wafers in the microwave and then add whatever “trash” you have lying around the house – cereal, small marshmallows, cookie crumbs – you get the idea. Just make sure that there is enough melted chocolate to give a good, but not heavy, coating to everything.
There are as many variations on this recipe as there are people who are making it. You can use white chocolate and butterscotch morsels. You can add dried fruit. You can add a touch of cinnamon. Basically, you can pretty much do anything you’d like.
When the batch is cooled, store it in zipped plastic bags to be given as hostess gifts, or presents for neighbors and co-workers.
This is one time when one person’s trash truly is another person’s treasure.
The following is a thrifty egg recipe from Gina Rosati, of Merrimack, that will feed many and that uses whatever leftovers you might have lying around. We save our uneaten vegetables in the “soup bucket” in the freezer, and because of this recipe, I just might have to change the name of our container to the “soup/frittata bucket.”
12 eggs, or 6 eggs and 3 containers of Egg Beaters
1 (16-ounce) package of part skim ricotta
Grated Parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese, about ½-¾ cup
Black pepper, to taste (optional)
Garlic powder, to taste (optional)
Mix all ingredients together, and throw in whatever you want – diced onions, sweet peppers, tomatoes, asparagus, chives, spinach, chopped broccoli, sliced zucchini, mushrooms, grated carrots, artichoke hearts, diced ham, pepperoni, sausage or salami, or anything else that sounds good.
Pour mixture into a greased 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees until edges are golden brown. Cut into squares. Eat warm or cold.

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Simple Thrift – Nashua Telegraph – November 24, 2009 – try bartering

Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Consider bartering during the holidays

Wendy Thomas

Bartering for goods and services has a long standing history in New England. We’ve all grown up reading stories about how the colonists helped each other out by trading products or services. Hey, I’ve got a dozen eggs – I’ll trade the eggs for help with tilling my garden.
These days, bartering is still alive and well. In my case, one way I save money by bartering is that I review books for a Web site. I don’t get paid for the reviews, but I get to keep the books, which then become gifts for friends and family. To me, that’s a pretty good tradeoff. Books are wonderful gifts and ones you can personally recommend are even better.
In another case, I have a friend who has offered to help us pick up the leaves in our yard in exchange for my setting her up an account and getting her going on Craigslist. Living near woods with lots of tall oaks, this is a welcome trade I happily accepted.
This season, think about how you might be able to barter for what you need. Can you provide a meal to someone in exchange for helping you figure out a software program? Can you watch a friend’s child for a few hours in return for help cleaning out a garage? Can your son shovel a driveway in return for some math tutoring?
With so much to be done in all of our lives and with continued limited funds, the time has come to be creative and think about how we can share what we have to help each other along.
More uses for eggs
With the holidays comes company. Here are some tasty recipes that will stretch your dollar as far as it can go by using those incredible, edible eggs. Which, by the way, we still have not gotten any more since that first (and last) one.

• 2 eggs
• ½ cup mayonnaise
• ½ cup milk
• 8 ounces shredded cheese
• 8 ounces imitation crabmeat, chopped
• Dill weed and chives, to taste
• 1 frozen pie shell (or if you are ambitious, roll a pie shell, or make a crust and place on a pie plate)

Mix together first five ingredients. Pour into pie shell.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving to allow it to set.
Serves 6 as a main dish.
(Recipe from Shannon Barnes, Merrimack)
• 4 egg whites, room temperature
• 11⁄3 cups sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 12 ounces chocolate chips, about 2 cups

Mix, whip egg whites until stiff. Add sugar and vanilla. Mix.
Add chocolate chips, and stir.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Put in oven, close the door and turn off the oven. No peaking until next morning.
Makes 4 dozen.
(Recipe from Gale Taylor, Merrimack)
Send your money-saving tips and ideas to Wendy Thomas at She also writes at

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Simple Thrift Column, Nashua Telegraph, November 17, 2009 Coupon Savings

Tuesday, November 17, 2009
If investing the time into them, coupons can be worth it
Wendy Thomas

I’ve never been much of a coupon user. I’ve always justified it by saying that I usually don’t buy the type of preprocessed foods that usually have coupons. Lately, though, I’ve started to rethink that. I’ve checked out a few Web sites and talked to a few people, and there is a lot to be said for using coupons.
There are lots of Internet coupon sites that teach you how to shop with coupons and help you match them up with what is on sale at different stores. A good one is, which tells you where to find the offers and coupons. On the site, you can also search for coupons using keywords or by a specific store.
Another good site is, where people post questions for other members to answer, post about successful shopping trips they have had with specific details on how to duplicate their success, and submit notifications of upcoming sales.
Carole Barker, of Nashua, introduced me to Big Tent. She told me, “At first, I was pretty overwhelmed. I stuck with it, though, and it began to make sense.”
Barker outlined the steps she takes to drastically reduce how much she pays out of pocket. She says you need to:
• Invest time to plan your shopping trips.
• Amass multiple copies of coupons (buy multiple copies of newspapers, have friends and family give you what they don’t use, search online sites for printable coupons, buy coupons for a fraction of their face value from coupon-clipping services and/or on eBay).
• Watch for sales.
• Take advantage of “buy x amount of these products, get y back to spend on your next purchase.”
• As much as possible, combine as many of these elements in each transaction as you can.
She explained how she now combines coupon offers: “I needed to get some Robitussin for my daughter. Before, I would have checked to see if I had a coupon for Robitussin, and maybe checked to see if it was on sale somewhere, and bought a bottle. It was, in fact, on sale at CVS that week, for $5.50 rather than $6.49, and I would have most likely had the $1 off coupon clipped from a Sunday coupon insert. So, $4.50 for one bottle. Good, right? Well, instead, I took the extra time to read the ad thoroughly. At CVS, if you spent $20 on a select group of cold remedies (of which Robitussin, both adult and child formulas, is a part), you got $10 back in Extra Care Bucks, i.e. $10 off on a future CVS purchase. I also went online and was able to print off two additional coupons for $2 off one Robitussin item.”
“So, off I went, got two bottles each of adult and child formula Robitussin, which came to $22 (and therefore, over the $20 threshold to get my $10 Extra Care Bucks). I also presented my three coupons, taking $5 off the $22 total. I also had a $10 Extra Care Bucks coupon from a deal last week, so I paid $22 minus $5 minus $10, equaling $7, and I left with $10 Extra Care Bucks, but even without that, to pay $17 for four bottles of Robitussin and then get the equivalent of $10 back – now, that is saving!”
Barker said it can take a lot of time at first to understand store policies and which stores to go to. “But when I tallied my numbers last night, I must say that I was pretty impressed.”
Barker admits that some of the products she buys she has no use for – such as blood glucose monitors, packaged food she doesn’t use – but when something is actually free or, in some cases, she makes money by buying it, she takes it and finds it a good home for it, such as food pantries, outreach agencies, etc.

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Simple Thrift Column – Nashua Telegraph November 10 Thrifty Gift ideas, Egg recipes

Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Gift ideas and recipes Wendy Thomas columnists653

I was talking with a friend of mine, who also has a handful of kids and an extended family that includes lots of cousins. We found ourselves trying to strategize on how we could have a nice holiday celebration for our broods without spending a ton of money. The goal was to make sure the kids still had fun and received gifts that were useful and meaningful.

One suggestion was to make decorative pillowcases. My friend told me that her son had received a frog-decorated one as a gift a while back and he loves it so much that it is all he wants on his pillow. The pillowcase has to be washed during the day so that it can be replaced on his pillow that night. What kid wouldn’t want his own fun pillowcase, she asked me? Continue reading

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Simple Thrift Column – Nashua Telegraph November 03, 09 – thrifty holiday gifts

Wendy Thomas – Simple Thrift

Published: Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Getting ready for the holidays columnists653

Oh, boy, the holidays are coming. And you know what that means: gifts – tons of gifts – and that usually means lots of money. In an effort to provide meaningful gifts that don’t break the bank, I’ll be exploring some inexpensive gift ideas in upcoming columns.

Continue reading


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