Three Obscure Personal Finance Hacks

Tyler Linsten Personal Finance

Not to be confused with Three Personal Finance Plaques.

I admit to doing weird stuff to save money sometimes. You (and especially my wife) might say I have a particularly George Costanzan approach.

Season 3, Episode 2, “The Truth”

Elaine (speaking to George): You’re extremely…careful with money.

George: What?!

Elaine: Forget it.

George: I’m cheap? You think I’m cheap? How could you say this to me, I can’t believe it!

Anyway, the truth about this post is that I only have one obscure “personal finance hack.” And it’s not really even a hack, so much as it’s literally about a kitchen utensil. I only told you it was three items because that’s called clickbait. Again, this is a post about a single utensil. Not even three different utensils. You’ll see why.

If you’re still with me, maybe you’re willing to come a little further.

Behold, the jar scraper:

The jar scraper is the index fund of the kitchen. It’s cheap, prevents wasted money, and is only exciting to the truest cheapskates. Its yearly return on investment when compared to financial products is bonkers.

Maybe this is something everyone has in the kitchen, but we were gifted a utensil set recently and this was my first exposure to its brilliance. I realize I might be really late to the jar scraper game.

I had my doubts about the jar scraper. It sat dormant for a long time, awkwardly taking up real estate with other utensils in our starting lineup of spatulas, wooden spoons and whisk. So why did I keep it on the roster for so long if it wasn’t getting any playing time?? I only have the kitchen gods to thank. Praise be.

It was only until an intense moment of peanut butter need that I gave it a shot. My jar of peanut butter seemed woefully empty – I forgot to buy more and saddled myself with nothing but an “empty jar.” My PB&J was surely going to be reduced to a “J” sandwich. But then I saw it in my moment of desperation. It was time to get this jar scraper in the game.

Now, this jar of PB was beyond merely being what I previously knew as empty. It had already been through a thorough scraping from a regular butter knife. How it came to still be in the cabinet was beyond me. Traditionally, this was game over. But this is the magic of the jar scraper. This SOB can scrounge up at least another full serving of peanut butter from seemingly nothing but brown residue.

See that little notch?

The notch is the most important part of the jar scraper. It lets you get underneath the contoured top of any bottle or jar. There’s at least one spoonful of PB under that little shelf and the jar scraper is your key to unlocking it. I promise you, the jar scraper will get it for you and it won’t even complain about it. It works selflessly for you at any time.

Not convinced? Let’s look at the numbers:

Let’s say you are the consumer of $5 of “jarred products” per week. Maybe it’s peanut butter. Maybe it’s jelly. Maybe it’s Nutella. Whatever it is, you like it and you’re wasting a bunch of it. Until now.

My extensive research says there’s roughly 10% of product left for your jar scraper to redeem after an initial round of scraping with a knife. This means you’re wasting 50 cents per week! 50 cents multiplied by 52 weeks gives us $26 per year in JSR, or Jar Scraper Revenue. The Le Creuset jar scraper costs a mere $14, even if you buy it directly from them. That’s an 85% return on investment in the first year alone. Just imagine the compounding effects of decades of jar scraping. Maybe you’ll spend it to build a little shrine for your jar scraper, but the choice is yours.

Don’t just take my word for it. See your new best friend in action:

Let’s Chat About This Frightening Times Article

Tyler Linsten Not Sarcasm, Personal Finance

Do I have your attention? Yes, the previous post here was about a scary data breach. No, the blog isn’t pivoting into doomsday-prepping( sorry, Preppers). But given the recent Anchorage earthquake the subject couldn’t be more timely. 

There’s not a distinct and direct financial planning angle here, but I can’t get over the headline of this stunning Seattle Times piece out today:

Say what??

You can read all the juicy details for yourself – like how they won’t release all the details of the study for fear of exposing infrastructure vulnerabilities – but it’s kind of shook me to the core when thinking about my own disaster preparedness.

Personally, we have some basics on hand but are nowhere near prepared for up to two months without water. I’m sure 99% of the population is in the same boat, which is exactly the big worry. It will be utter chaos if and when The Big One hits. If you live within SPU’s service area – or any water district that could be this vulnerable, which is probably most – it makes sense to start thinking about how to store more water than just a case of small bottles. It’s probably unrealistic to store two months’ worth of water, but shooting for more than whatever’s on hand now is a worthy target.

Click on the links for good places to start on water treatment and water storage.

OK, here’s the small financial angle: It also makes sense to keep some cash on hand as part of your emergency kit. Money talks, especially in an emergency. And, no, I don’t think a thumb drive containing bitcoin is going to do the job.

Specifically having a financial emergency kit could also prove very useful. Here is FEMA’s PDF if you want some late-night reading on the subject. The four main subjects in their Emergency Financial First Aid Kit:

  • Household Identification
  • Financial and Legal Documentation
  • Medical Information
  • Household Contacts

I’m still shocked after seeing what kind of disruption a large earthquake will cause, and that’s only covering one basic need. Hopefully this post will, at nothing else, be reason to check and confirm what level of preparedness you have, and whether you’ve considered the financial angle. I know I’m re-evaluating.

Prepper post: Over.

Remember That Credit Freeze Post? Hotel Edition

Tyler Linsten Personal Finance

This credit freeze post.

Today we woke up to news about a massive data breach at Starwood Hotels, as announced by parent company Marriott, which may affect as many as 500 million people. It’s reported to be the second largest breach in history.

Why am I mentioning this? Well, it’s a perfect opportunity for self-indulgent told-ya-so-ism. I recently wrote about how being able to freeze your credit with the three major credit bureaus — for free — is a game changer when it comes to protecting your personal information, and your financial future.

While freezing your credit is not a perfect firewall, it sure makes it less scary when you see headlines like today’s Starwood breach. That’s pretty much financial planning in a nutshell: Doing small annoying things that will pay off big-time in the future. To freeze all three took me about 15 minutes. As someone who has stayed at Starwood hotels, I don’t feel great about this news, but I feel a hell of a lot better than I would have if my credit weren’t frozen.

If you haven’t frozen your credit, here’s the link again.

Q3 Client Letter

Tyler Linsten Client Letters, Investing

It’s been kinda nasty out there – what to do about all of the spookiness? 

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Spending Hack: Stop Wasting So Much Damn Food

Tyler Linsten Not Sarcasm, Personal Finance

Click for the personal finance angle, stay for the recipe at the end.


Food waste is a huge problem. This piece in the Seattle Times estimates the number to be $1500 per household in the US. I waste more than I’d like, and I bet you do, too. Just like other financial hacks – like opening a high-yield savings account or diverting spending through a cash-back credit card – minimizing a painful line item like food waste can have a big effect on your annual finances.

As we know, lower spending equals more savings.

And more savings equals more dollars flowing into the Magic Compounding Machine, also known as your long-term investing portfolio.

And more money in the Magic Compounding Machine means you’re closer to doing whatever it is you want to be doing with your money.

If we think of it in terms just like the other financial hacks I mentioned, it’s pretty compelling:

  • Use high yield savings account (yielding 1.90% today, versus 0.05%) on $25K in emergency savings account: Gain $462.50 per year
  • Use 2% cash-back credit card for $30K in annual spending (and never carrying a balance), versus using a debit card: Gain $600 per year
  • Cut food waste in half by being more conscientious and getting creative with cooking: Gain ~$750 per year

So there’s $1812.50 we just found. That’s not nothing. It’s very much something for most people and for someone earning $60,000 per year this is the equivalent of a perpetual 3% raise in pay.

Oh yeah, here’s the recipe from the Times article. Sounds pretty tasty:

Serves 3 or 4

Use any melting-friendly cheeses you’ve got — the more the merrier; cheddar, jack, mozzarella and Gruyère all work great in strata. For your extras, more is more, too; the last one I made had green onion, prosciutto and lots of rosemary, and it came out fantastic (and I don’t even especially love rosemary). And you can sub half-and-half for the milk and cream. If you have leftovers, they reheat perfectly: Just pour a little half-and-half, cream, milk or stock over them to revive, then bake covered for 20 minutes at 375 degrees, or microwave.

About 6 to 8 slices of bread (about 6 cups cubed)

5 eggs

1¼ cups whole milk

1¼ cups whipping cream

1 teaspoon salt

Several dashes of hot sauce

2 (or more!) cups grated cheese

A couple handfuls of extras, e.g., chopped onion (green or otherwise); mushrooms or zucchini; pieces of ham or prosciutto; bits of cooked bacon or sausage; any kind of fresh herb(s), chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Butter a 2-quart or 2-liter casserole dish.

3. Cut or tear bread into about 1-inch cubes (a serrated knife works nicely).

4. In a medium bowl, mix the eggs, cream, milk, salt and hot sauce (a hand blender is quicker than a whisk).

5. Make a layer of about a third of the bread cubes in the bottom of the casserole dish, and sprinkle with about a third of the cheese and half of your extras; repeat for another layer, then top with the remaining bread cubes and cheese.

6. Pour the egg mixture into the casserole. (If you want to make it ahead, it can be refrigerated now all day or overnight before cooking.)

7. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes; let rest about 10 minutes before serving.