Nothing too heavy here, just a lightweight round-up of ways I’ve saved recently and one tip from an expert:

Credit: Reading Mint.com yesterday and discovered “the best kept secret in lending“: that regulations require potential creditors to “when evaluating the creditworthiness of an applicant, consider ANY information an applicant presents that reflects the applicant’s creditworthiness.” That means you can take it any and all evidence of your bill-paying history that doesn’t appear on your credit report (such as cell phone bills, rent and utilities) and the bank has to take it into account when deciding whether or not to loan you money, as well as what interest rate to tack on. Another example of little-known consumer rights – if only the rights we’re entitled to was as easy to come by as what we’re responsible for.

Groceries: We regularly end up too rushed to shop smartly, stopping at the Co-op or Wildberries several times a week rather than making one organized run to a variety of stores to get the best deals. I’m convinced we’re spending too much. Next to rent, groceries accounts for our biggest expenditure – with a family of four-to-five (depending on if our oldest is living at home or not) – that makes sense, but I still think planning better would result in savings. So my new thing is making a list based on what everyone agrees is a sensible menu for the week, then hitting, in this order: Costco, Grocery Outlet, Co-op/Wildberries. Buying tortillas, peanut butter and maple syrup at Costco definitely saves money over the other options; finding deals on staples at GO is always awesome; the local produce at the local markets is a non-negotiable part of our food lives. I don’t spend enough time at Safeway to know if including it would make a difference. Anyone?

Also, since we have to travel to SF regularly, I’m starting an advance Trader Joe’s fund. Shopped there with a friend while in Portland and was reminded of how much cheaper everything is. Mindblowingly less expensive. As in, I kept saying to my friend’s great annoyance, “Wow! I can’t believe how cheap everything is!” Hopefully I’ll have at least $100 set aside for the trip in May – a $100 that will go twice as far as it would at more local options.

Bars: Give them up. You’d save so much money. Think of all the better uses you could put those fund to. Or is that just… me? In any case, never walk into a bar with plastic. Have only as much cash as you really can spend. Prices vary significantly, so do some barhopping and find the best booze for the best price. (Plaza Grill is a leading Arcata contender.) Order a soda back with everything. Ask for it in a pint glass. Splurge on tipping well, not drinking badly.

Utilities: I recently revisited my phone and internet bills and figured out ways to cut them down, saving $50 each month. When we qualified for low-income offsets through PG&E and AT&T, those programs also saved us a significant amount of money. Point being, go through your bills and re-examine your options. A call, painful as it is to sit through all the automated agony to get to a real person, often ensures you’re getting the best deal – sometimes customer service really is.

Skin care: I’m pleased to report that inexpensive food-based face scrubs, masks and toners continue to work as well or better than any commercial products I’ve ever bought. As someone pointed out, if you’re buying “natural” skin care products because they have olive oil or cucumber or banana or avocado or honey or whatever, why not skip the double-digit price tag and go straight to the source? I’m particularly fond of mixing a little baking soda with whole-milk plain or honey yogurt as a daily face scrub. For oily skin, skip the yogurt and go for lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. Likewise, honey and yogurt make the best moisturizing face mask ever. Mix in some ground oats to really tighten things up. Add mashed banana for even more indulgence. Other good scrubs are ground almonds mixed with rose water, ground adzuki beans and, the simplest, corn meal. You can combine equal parts corn meal and ground oats with olive oil to make a nice scrub for heels, elbows, knees and other various rough parts. Ideas and recipes abound online.

Hair care: As much as I love high-end hair products – and unlike skin care haven’t found food-based substitutes that work – I have to say, after budget constraints sent me into the shampoo aisle at Target, the Suave options are doing just fine. My hair still feels soft. (I’m running my hands through it right now.) Yes, the plastic consumption bums me out, as does supporting corporations I’m uneasy (to say the least) about, but if I save money on products, I can afford to pay a stylist, so, boom!, there’s my contribution to the local economy.

One more note about buying local: I get the economics of it and I do it when I can, especially when buying food. Total local foods advocate here. But I draw the line at sacrificing my own family’s financial security. Everyone has to figure out what works for them. I feel a lot less guilty after realizing how many buy-local activists also shop at Costco. You should, too.

Money: What do you want to talk about?