Money for nothing

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This article was originally published on my old blog site on January 5, 2010.

The american dream isn’t it? Getting something for nothing at all. It seems so real, and yet so unattainable all at the same time. Why is that? Why does it seem like we just can’t get something for nothing? I ask myself this all of the time, but lately I have come to a realization.

However, before I get there, I need to ask you, my dedicated reader, how do you define the word “something” when you hear the phrase “something for nothing?” Working under the assumption that I am not as abnormal as everyone makes me out to be, then I am probably safe in saying that when you think of all of this, you probably think of something large — a car, or say a million dollars. I know that that is what it used to mean to me.

The realization that I have come to is that something doesn’t have to be something. I can get something for nothing simply by looking at the way I live. We buy a lot of stuff. Lots. And a lot of this stuff is just stuff that I never really thought too much about. Taco seasoning is a great example …

Obviously, if you are going to make tacos, and if your tacos are going to have some sort of ground meat in them, then you will likely want some sort of taco seasoning. But what are you really paying for when you shell out $1 for that little envelope of seasoning. Maltodextrin? Salt? Corn Starch? If you look at an average list of ingredients on taco seasoning, there are probably only 2 ingredients out of the top 6 in your pantry: chili powder and salt. All of those silly ingredients don’t make that taco seasoning more valuable — just the opposite.

In fact, how much taco seasoning do you think you get for $10? Maybe a 1/2 of a cup? Maybe? Now what if you could make a full cup of the stuff for $15? And what if you needed less seasoning per pound of meat? I haven’t actually measured any of these things, so this is all based on estimate; but I have made my own taco seasoning. I figure I made enough for 20 meals, and it probably only cost me $6. I figure that I dropped the price per meal (for this portion of the meal) down to maybe $0.15 — that’s a 85% saving just for throwing together a few spices (I have a load of spices in my pantry) in about 5 minutes.

Too small of a scale you say? Who cares about $0.85 you ask? Well, how about we look at something more substantial. Shampoo. (Yep, I’m going there). Most people’s immediate reaction is “ewww.” But ask yourself this … have you ever seen a toddler wake up from a fitful nap all sweaty and nasty? Have you ever felt that same kids hair 30 minutes after they wake up? Most of the time, their hair is not all nasty and greasy. Yet you, nasty reader, probably have disgusting greasy hair most mornings when you wake up. Why is that?

Biology is an amazing thing, and we as a society tend to not give our bodies enough credit. Our scalps produce oil to protect our hair. That oil keeps our hair moist, and healthy; and when our scalp is functioning normally, it produces oil at a normal rate, and effectively keeps your hair clean. Yes you read that right — the oil produced by your scalp keeps your hair clean. Your body expects your hair to have a certain amount of oil in it.

Enter shampoo. Any idea why shampoo burns when you get it in your eyes? Because it is a detergent, a degreaser if you will. You wouldn’t squirt WD40 on your head, but you put shampoo in it multiple time a week. The shampoo effectively strips the natural oil our of your hair, thereby leaving it dry and brittle. Conditioner was invented to put moisture back in your hair that shampoo takes away. Since the shampoo strips all of the moisture out of your hair, your scalp figures out that your hair is dry, and goes into overdrive producing oil. By the time you wake up in the morning, your scalp has overproduced oil, your hair feels greasy, and you shampoo it — making the cycle even more vicious.

That toddler up there with the surprisingly clean hair has a scalp that still has some sense of balance, and their hair isn’t dry to the core — don’t let that feeling that the conditioner gives you fool you, you hair is dry.

I discovered all of this accidentally (and it is actually related to taco seasoning), along with an old timey solution that works amazingly well — baking soda. I don’t have a ton of hair, and I figure that I was probably spending about $2 a month on shampoo just for me. Now I did have to invest a few bucks in spray bottles, but here is how it worked for me.

In one spray bottle, I mixed 2 cups of hot water with 2 tablespoons of baking soda. In the other spray bottle, I mixed 3 cups of water with 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. About 2x a week I spray the baking soda solution on my head and massage it in. Then I rinse it out. About every 3 or 4 times I do that (so somewhere about once every other week), I finish with a vinegar rinse (and rinse that out with cold water). That’s it. I haven’t put shampoo on my head since mid-october (I think), and my hair has never felt better. But the best part is that I have probably spent $0.35 on hair care since then (not counting the spray bottles).

So what difference does a dollar here or there make? Who knows? I guess it is up to you. But, some experts would contend that $1 per month invested in a 401K starting at the age of 25 would be worth more at 65 years old than $5 per month invested in a 401K starting at the age of 30. But if you start adding these things up (look into laundry detergent sometime), then you might just have a few more dollars at the end of the month than you used to have. Some might call that money for nothing. I call it good sense.

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