Help Us Help Ourselves: March 2007 Edition

image via smiteme.

The Background: Help Us Help Ourselves is a project started by Lauren, where bloggers across the ‘sphere are asked to contribute their suggestions, advice and tips on how to do anything and everything. There’s an emphasis on saving money, but HUHO can offer help on just about anything. Round-ups happen roughly every month. The last one can be found here. Now, reader Arriana has created a HUHO Wiki, which is still awaiting approval, but which I think will be fully fabulous.

The March Carnival: We’ve gotten quite a few submissions, and they’re posted below the fold, divided into several categories. Check it out, and start thinking of ideas for next time. If I missed something, email me.

Hillbilly Housewife offers up a $45 emergency menu to feed a family of 4-6 for a week. She gives a meal-by-meal breakdown (including nutrition facts!) and a shopping list.

Sundre has a recipe for for a spicy lentil stew-thing that sounds pretty delicious.

Chai gives advice on how to be vegan for a month.

The Budget Wino is a man after my own heart.

Betsy sends on the following recipe:

Roasted chickpeas and vegetables:

My boyfriend and I (grad students) probably make this at least once a week – it’s easy, quick, tasty, healthy, and very very cheap*
*With the caveat that one needs to have a few spices and some olive oil on hand, which are often not cheap.

1 onion, roughly chopped
1 pepper, roughly chopped
any other roasting veggies lying around in the bin, roughly chopped
2 cans chickpeas, drained
spices to taste – any combination of garlic powder, cumin, chili powder,
coriander, cayenne pepper, turmeric, and/or curry powder – go crazy (in other
words, sorry that I don’t have exact measurements!)
Rice, brown rice, or couscous, cooked, or tortillas/wraps

Preheat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread the chickpeas and chopped veggies on the pan. Pour olive oil them and toss until coated. Sprinkle with a healthy amount of spices, enough so that you can see them on the chickpeas, in whatever combination you like. We tend to throw in a bit of everything and a lot of garlic powder. Toss again, until evenly coated.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20-23 minutes, until chickpeas are slightly browned and
crispy on the outside. Serve with rice, couscous, or wrapped in a tortilla.

Managing Bureaucracy
Zuzu gives great tips on low-cost legal services.

J.D., though not an official contributor, nonetheless posts on what to do if your identity is stolen.

Money-saving (and making) tips

Lauren with great advice on making quick money by selling clothes. And avoiding a pricey visit to the vet if your cat has eye herpes.

Your truly offers advice on how to travel on a shoestring.

Dylan emails this suggestion for getting your money’s worth from Coinstar machines:

Ok, this one is SLIGHTLY unethical, but it works.

You know those Coinstar machines in the grocery store? They are great, but they take 9 cents out of every dollar in change that you give.

But, they do give you the option to cash in your change in exchange for iTunes cards. If you choose this option, you will not be charged the surcharge. Fortunately (for us, unfortunately for them) they need the power of the internets to give you the card. If you unplug the phone cord from the back of the machine, it will try and try and try until it gives up and just prints up a reciept for the full amount.

Auto Advice

Beth sends on the link to another J.D. post about how to buy car parts from the junkyard. He has a follow-up post here.

Frumious B gives us the basics of car tune-ups:

I noticed a dearth of car related advice in the last round out. Cars are essential for a lot of people, and they cost bucks to maintain. Most tune up work can be done by anyone with a minimum of investment in tools. Parts’ prices at Autozone (my favorite store) are so much lower than what the mechanic charges that you quickly come out ahead even with the cost of tools. Even for repairs that you cannot do yourself, understanding what is broken and what needs to be fixed can keep you from being ripped off. Things that are easily changed by the home mechanic:

Spark plugs/plug wires
Air filter
Fuel filter
Radiator fluid
O2 sensor
PCV valve
clean the MAF

All of these are easy enough to do early Sunday morning while the apartment complex manager is still hungover and won’t bust you.

Things which can also be changed by the home mechanic but maybe require access to a driveway:

Alternator (depending on your engine)
Brake pads

Start by purchasing a Haynes or Chiltons manual. They are issued for specific make/model/years and have pictures of your engine including exploded views, pictures of the tools you need, and step-by-step instructions. Googling will help you come up with all sorts of instructions as well. Look around for forums specific to your car where you can ask questions and learn from others. Check out the forums on

Clip your nails first, or you are guaranteed to tear one. Remember your safety goggles, jackstands, and wheel blocks.

And make sure there’s a six pack in fridge BEFORE you start. You will really need it when you are done (drinking while working is not recommended).

Magikmama tells us how to get a better deal when buying a car:

Always, always, always pay in cash. Even if you don’t have it.

The way to do this is to get a loan (from a credit union, b/c they will give you the best rates and terms – but make sure it is a REAL credit union, not one of these new ones that has popped up) for exactly how much you are willing to buy a car for. Find a car that is near that range.

Then, you start calling dealerships. Tell them what you want. Tell them you are buying in cash. Tell them you are buying TODAY. If they don’t have the car you want, or they try to tell you you want a different car, or they tell you that the price is unnacceptable – LIE. Tell them that some dealership nearby has it, or that they offered you a better deal, whatever. If they are still evasive, hang up and move on.

Continue until you’ve got one or two options. Start faxing them your offers and try to talk them down. (Library’s often will have a fax machine for fairly low cost, sometimes free if you are only using it once or twice.) If they are a bit more progressive, try emailing. In the chicago area, most dealerships haven’t figured out the email revolution yet.

Once you know where you are going, take the cashier’s check from the credit union loan and cash it. Take only the amount that you plan on spending on the car. Bring no other money. When you get to the dealership, they will try to tell you that you have to pay bullshit fees – especially if you have breasts or seem to possibly be poor or non-white. Point out that you brought EXACTLY the amount they agreed to. Car salespeople work basically on commission. They do NOT want you to walk away. Use that – work it. If they do anything but agree to the original price – leave. Immediately. Do not pause or look back. They WILL stop you, and try to bargain by saying they could waive this or that. Leave AGAIN. 99% of the time, they will drop it after the second walk-out. They REALLY want the $.

Next most important, read what you sign. If you are a slow reader, or don’t feel comfortable with legalese, bring someone who does. Call them as soon as the salesperson agrees to your price. If they are there before hand, it would weaken your position. After the agreement however, it strengthens your side because the salesperson cannot agree to waive the fees and then slip them back in the contract. And they can’t argue against someone double-checking it without revealing what they have done.

In the end, you will have the car you want. You will have payed what you can afford. Your interest rate will likely be about the same, but the terms will be better (credit unions don’t generally charge interest if you pay off early, and are FAR more lenient about late payments.) which serves those of us who live paycheck to paycheck.

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A RECEIPT WHEN YOU LEAVE. You will have to give that receipt to the credit union as the surety for the loan. Also, if you got a better deal than you anticipated, use the extra money to immediatelly pay down the loan.

This is how I have gotten a brand new car that MSRP was $22k for $14k, which meant the difference between me affording it and not. Also, when I was able to get into some bonus money, I was able to pay off the loan early, and save alot of interest, which meant it ended up costing me $11,898.72 instead of $22k interest. I have done the same thing for my parents (they saved about $13k on a brand new minivan) and for my cousin (who saved about $2500 on a used taurus.)

Now alot of these HUHO things are for people in absolute poverty, but sometimes when you live in an area where you need a car, being able to get a reliable car in good condition is worth the investment, if only you could get the investment down to where it’s feasible to do. In fact, because you can predict the car payment much better than sudden large repairs, it can add a certain financial stability to buy new or recently new ( less than 3 years) vs older.

Fun Stuff
Elizabeth emails in fun recipes for DIY bath products:

HUHO Contribution: How to make bath goodies


Let’s face it: baths are a wonderful way to de-stress, but the lovely bath products that you can buy at places like Lush are just obscenely expensive. Fortunately, both bath salts & bubble bath are easy to make. These also make for good cheap-ass gifts.

Bath salts

1 c Epsom salts (available at common grocery/drug stores in huge ½ gal cardboard milk containers)

1 c salt (I use Kosher or cheap sea salt from the local Chinese market)

15 drops of scent – optional (I use soapmaking supply scents – available at art/craft stores)

5 drops of food coloring – optional

Add everything to a plastic container and shake until the coloring is completely uniform.

Bubble bath

1 c unscented dish detergent

¼ c glycerine (available at art or health food stores)

1 tsp sugar

15 drops of scent – optional (I use soapmaking supply scents – available at art/craft stores)

Add everything to a bottle and gently agitate until sugar is dissolved.


What do you mean poor people are lazy?
Statistics, graphics, videos, and other materials about the causes and extent of social inequality in the world or in the US.

19 comments for “Help Us Help Ourselves: March 2007 Edition

  1. March 1, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    J.D., though not an official contributor,

    No, but if you let me know about this in the future, I might be. I think this is a terrific concept (and you’ve got a great site).

  2. March 1, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    Thanks for linking, Jill!

    We’ll only get approval to start up on wikia if we get lots of support, so hopefully lots of readers here will follow the link over and show support by editing the application page and voicing their support in the “Comments from the Community” section.

    Btw, is it just me, or do those WLA badges make you think Women’s Liberation Army?

  3. March 1, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    I’m glad I’m a man after your own heart. Funny how a budget bottle of wine can have that impact!

  4. March 1, 2007 at 10:55 pm

    Is there any carnival that features posts like the Metafilter one you link to at the end?

  5. March 2, 2007 at 1:27 am

    Great list.

    And you know, I’m sure I’m just nitpicky, but the Coinstar suggestion really, really bothers me. It’s theft, plain and simple, and vandalism to boot, and — IMNSHO — doesn’t belong on this list.

  6. Shay
    March 2, 2007 at 10:23 am

    Hugo, I don’t know why you’re apologizing. I feel exactly the same way. The Coinstar suggestion has no place here and is enough to make me discount this site (I’m visiting for the first time via a link from Get Rich Slowly). It’s the phrase “SLIGHTLY unethical” that really puts it over the top.

  7. Frumious B
    March 2, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    Here’s some follow up with some links to actual instructions

    Spark Plugs/Wires,2019,DIY_13787_2278765,00.html
    Comments: Torque wrenches are pricey and unecessary. Tighten the plugs with a rachet until they are tight, then give it another 1/4 turn. I dislike the feeler gauge style gap checker. I prefer the wire style.
    Comments: Changing spark plugs was the first thing I ever did myself. The do-it-yourself scale in this case is bogus.

    Air filter

    Radiator fluid
    General comments: You MUST recover all fluid that you drain out in every flush. That stuff is poisonous, bad for you, bad for the environment, bad for pets who might lick it up. If you have a hose, then awesome, you can use the hose to flush the thing. If not, buy at least 10 gallons of bottled water – preferably distilled. It’s impossible to drain all the fluid at once, so you have to drain, refill, run engine, repeat about 87 times until the water runs clear. Use two buckets. You can drain into one while you refill the empty water jugs with the used fluid in the other. Then fill with the new antifreeze/water mix. This job is surprisingly easy to hide from apartment managers. Just position a bucket under the drain, open the drain, and stand around nonchalently with the hood down for 15 min or so. Do not leave, you want to be around to scare off stray kitties who might want to drink the stuff. you will have to find the local hazardous waste disposal site to get rid of your used fluid. This job has a high hassle factor which might turn into a deal breaker.

    General comment – you do not need to change your oil every 3000 miles unless you drive a mail truck. Most people only need to change their oil every 6000 miles. My brother advocates changing the oil filter every 3000 miles and changing the oil every 6000 miles. If you do this, you will need to add a quart of oil when you change the filter. you can take your used oil to Autozone for recycling. Oil changes at home are messy, and oil changes at Jiffy Lube are cheap, so this might be one you don’t care to conquer yourself.

    Lots More



  8. March 2, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    Shay – why discount the entire site for a single suggestion emailed by a reader? That’s a little ridiculous.

  9. March 2, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    I think a better way to deal with the iTunes card from Coinstar is to take it from the machine and put it up for sale on eBay. If you list it as Buy It Now for a little bit less than its value, it’s still a good proposition for the purchaser. You can e-mail them the code so you don’t even pay for shipping.

    The reason Coinstar doesn’t discount the value of the iTunes card is because they’ve got a deal with Apple for recompense. The company has to make a profit to stay in business, and a gross 9% margin that nets them even less due to their operating costs is not egregious. Even if it were, that would be no reason to steal from them.

  10. Neely OHara
    March 2, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    One way to get around the Coinstar thing, if you have a branch in your area, is to go to a Bank of America – they have their own coinstar-type device that doesn’t charge a surcharge.

  11. March 2, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    What is Coinstar anyway?

  12. Shay
    March 3, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    I discount the site because it was the site’s decision to post that Coinstar suggestion. I am a proud feminist and I think exemplifying good ethics is an important part of media that calls itself feminist – for lots of reasons, but let’s start with the fact that women are stereotyped as deceiving / duplicitous and likely to “just cheat a little” whenever it’s to our advantage. I’m not interesteg in seeing stealing described (again, in Jill’s / the site’s words) as “saving money.”

  13. March 3, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    Actually it’s also listed under “making” money too. :P

    In all seriousness, this is a brand new carnival and I hadn’t thought of or employed any screening process at all. Jill is the first host of the carnival off my site, so please, no blame to her. I’ll think up some protocol in the meantime.

Comments are closed.