Monday, November 28, 2011

N-times-epsilon

This summer while I was yard saling, I bought a large black roasting pan (with lid) for $1.  Plan A was to use it in a solar oven to heat water, but I didn't have any cardboard boxes lying around that were large enough to make a solar oven that big, so my solar cooking is still restricted to the small black pot and my existing small solar oven.

Plan B: cook the Thanksgiving Turkey in it.  I have a lid-less pan that I've been using for years, and so in the past I had to cover the turkey with aluminum foil.  This Thanksgiving, thanks to my new pot, I saved several pennies on aluminum foil.  If aluminum foil costs $8 for 200 feet, then I figure I saved 16-20¢.  Woo-hoo!  My pan will pay for itself in just 6 years!

"Oh, geez!" I'm sure people are thinking, "she's obsessing about aluminum foil now".  Not really -- I'm still obsessing about light switches; aluminum foil is mere white noise.  Still, I've been professionally trained to believe that it's all those small habits we pick up that add up to huge differences in the long run.

This is a really big epsilon!
Mathematicians know this well -- the subject of calculus is built on accumulating small changes.  We use the greek letter epsilon to name this small change, and we use N to describe a really big number.  We're fond of pointing out to anyone who hasn't figured out how to avoid us at parties that N times epsilon can be really big number, too -- a single rain drop (epsilon) is small, but put all those raindrops together, and you might flood the neighborhood!

As with geeky math, so with saving money.  Here are a few of the tiny things I didn't spend money on this Thanksgiving holiday (I do my little happy saving-money dance):
  • aluminum foil (big black pot, yes!)
  • paper napkins for my large family (cloth napkins instead)
  • paper towels (love those rags!)
  • gasoline (I walk to my office, and many other places, too)
  • hair stylist (I cut my daughter's and husband's hair, per their requests)
  • bottled water (for good or ill, our family drinks tap water)
  • soda (see entry on bottled water)
  • restaurants (home cooking, mostly from scratch)
  • movies, tv, new books (hurrah for a visit to our local library!)
  • electric lights for rooms that no-one was in.  (I'm following you!  Turn off that light when you leave the room!)
I did spend big bucks (for me) on Thanksgiving dinner -- $142 at our local market, a few dozen at the wine store.  My husband made several unspecified trips to the grocery store to buy things he feels are necessary.  Our regular household expenses are high -- we're putting lots and lots of money into paying off the home loan.  And of course we try to make sure that we share what we have with others who don't have as much.  With the possible exception of the grocery store runs, those are the parts of the budget I feel like we ought to spend MORE, not LESS, on.  That money has to come from somewhere.  

What pot could that money come from?  From my new black pot, of course!  And from all the frugal habits that go with it.  (Big black pot, big black pot, tra la la).

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