Thursday, December 8, 2011

Convert a Chest Freezer to a Kegerator for Under $20

Kegerators can be a great way to keep beer on tap in the house, but they're expensive to build or purchase, which is why Instructables user MrBippers put together a guide to converting a chest freezer to a kegerator for just $20.

The real trick here is that this guide uses a cheap, custom installed temperature controller. It turns out, hacking in your own can save you quite a bit of money, and it doesn't seem to take too much to do yourself. MrBippers' version doesn't have the front side tap like we've seen with other instructions and instead has a picnic tap connected directly on the inside, but for $20, it's hard to complain. If a kegerator isn't your thing, you can also convert it into a fermenter.
So there's a couple other instructables already about converting a chest freezer to a kegerator (aka keezer), but most of them use the expensive plug and play temperature controllers. If you're willing to get your hands a little dirty, cheap controllers to hardwire in can be found on eBay for ~$20. Not only do you get a nice digital readout with the current temperature and the ability to set to specific temperatures, you also have the option of adding a heat source as well to turn the freezer into a temperature controlled fermenter.

Temperature controller:
I purchased this one for $19.88. eBay links don't last forever, but you can search for "digital temperature controller 110V." Many of them are designed to run on 220V, so make sure you get the proper voltage controller (110V in the US). This particular one allows for many customized settings include compressor delay, which is important as rapid on/off cycling can kill the compressor.

Tools needed:
Dremel/rotary tool or jigsaw
Wire cutters
Multimeter (recommended)

Misc parts:
Wire nut
Electrical tape
Extra power cord
Foreword: You need to be very careful about cutting through the walls of the freezer as most of the walls contain the cooling element. If you puncture a cooling element, all the coolant will leak out and you'll be left with a fancy box. In my freezer, the was an area in the bottom right side that contained the compressor, enough room to install the controller, and a thin wall obviously devoid of any cooling parts.

Measure the size hole you need to cut and trace it out on the wall. Double check you're not drilling through the thick part. Drill a hole in each corner and cut between them with either a dremel tool or jigsaw. If using a jigsaw, make sure the blade won't poke through far enough to hit and of the compressor lines. Make sure the controller will fit in the hole you cut.

An alternative to mounting the controller on the freeser is to use a plastic junction box and put the controller in the middle of the existing power cord. A blank faceplate provides a suitable surface to mount the controller. The finished results may not be as neat, but it gets the job done.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dumpster Diving?

Dumpster Diving?

Have you ever thought about getting your food out of a trash can? Don't laugh. Dumpster diving has become a hot new trend in America. In fact, dumpster divers even have a trendy new name. They call themselves "freegans", and as the economy crumbles their numbers are multiplying. Many freegans consider dumpster diving to be a great way to save money on groceries. Others do it because they want to live more simply. Freegans that are concerned about the environment view dumpster diving as a great way to "recycle" and other politically-minded freegans consider dumpster diving to be a form of political protest. But whatever you want to call it, the reality is that thousands upon thousands of Americans will break out their boots, rubber gloves and flashlights and will be jumping into dumpsters looking for food once again tonight.

So is this actually legal?

In some areas, dumpster diving is considered to be legal. In other areas, dumpster divers are technically breaking trespassing laws. Although in most areas the police have so many other problems that they aren't really concerned about cracking down on dumpster divers.

One of the biggest issues facing dumpster divers is safety. Crawling around in back alleys and side streets in the middle of the night is not exactly the safest thing to do. But the lure of large amounts of free food is enough to keep some people coming back over and over again.

During the recent economic downturn, the popularity of dumpster diving has exploded. Today, there are dumpster diving meetup groups, dumpster diving Facebook groups, and even entire organizations such as Food Not Bombs that openly encourage their members to go dumpster diving.

If your family was going hungry, would you go dumpster diving?

You might be surprised at who is doing it. Dumpster diving is not just for the homeless and the unemployed anymore. A lot of people that have decent jobs have picked up on the trend.

Just check out the following example from a recent MSNBC article....

A programmer by day, Todd takes to the streets of North Carolina by night, digging through Dumpsters at drug stores and grocery stores all around his rural neighborhood.

"You would be simply amazed at what businesses throw out," he said. "I've only had to buy two loaves of bread all year. ... Last week I had a trunk full of cereal, cookies, chips and ramen noodles."

Todd slinks in and out of smelly places with low-light flashlights to evade rent-a-cops who will shoo him away. Most nights, his 14-year-old son comes along.

Dumpster diving has become such a prominent trend that even big television news networks are doing stories about it....

The truth is that dumpster diving is just another sign of the times.

Food prices continue to rise and this is putting incredible stress on the budgets of average American families. We just saw another huge rise in food prices during the month of August. Just check out the following data from a recent article posted on The Economic Policy Journal....

The index for finished consumer foods jumped 1.1 percent (13.2 percent annualized) in August, the third straight rise. Over thirty percent of the August advance can be traced to meat prices, which climbed 2.4 percent (28.8 percent annualized). Higher prices for processed poultry and eggs for fresh use also were major factors in the increase in the finished foods index.

If you are married and have a couple of children it can cost a lot of money to feed them every single month. It is not hard to understand the allure of dumpster diving for people that are having a hard time making ends meet.

Other Americans are choosing to dumpster dive because they believe that it helps them live a simpler lifestyle. There is a growing movement of people in America that are rejecting all of the "consumerism" that we see all around us.

Today, the average U.S. household has 13 different credit cards. We are constantly being bombarded with ads that tell us that we need more stuff in order to be happy.

Well, a lot of people have decided that is a lot of bunk and they are doing whatever they can to simplify.

Other dumpster divers are absolutely horrified by how much food is wasted in America.

It has been estimated that 263,013,699 pounds of food is thrown out in the United States every single day.

Can you imagine?

We are probably the most wasteful nation on the planet. With the number of hungry people in the world, it is absolutely criminal how much food that we waste.

So in that sense, it is probably a good thing that dumpster divers are saving some of that food from the landfills and are finding positive uses for it.

But what is going to happen when the economy gets even worse and we start seeing fights over the food that has been left in dumpsters?

In my recent special report about poverty in America, I noted that 46.2 million Americans are now living in poverty. For now, the U.S. government is helping feed over 45 million Americans through the food stamp program, but what is going to happen once the social safety net starts to break?

The number of good jobs in America continues to decline, and thousands more Americans fall into poverty every single day. Things have gotten so bad that other countries are actually making videos that make fun of our poverty.

This country is rapidly losing confidence in our leaders and hopelessness is spreading like wildfire. Today it was revealed that Barack Obama's disapproval rating has now set a new high of 55%. Not only that, 62% of the American people disapprove of the way that he is handling the economy. It turns out that they don't really think much of the Obama jobs plan after all.

Unfortunately, even though our economy is rapidly falling apart and most of our leaders are either deeply corrupt or completely incompetent, most Americans are still way too apathetic. If you can believe it, the American people spend a whopping 53 million minutes a month on Facebook.

Hopefully we can get more Americans to wake up. Hopefully we can get them to understand that they need to get active, that they need to prepare and that they need to get their priorities in order.

Right now, dumpster diving is cute and fun and an interesting way to save money, but in the future there will be millions of Americans digging around in trash cans if we don't get this economy turned around.

This country is rapidly changing, and not for the better.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Discounters fill space left by closed stores

The hulking shells of former big box stores, victims of the economic downturn and the rise in online retailing, have quietly started filling up with commerce again.

The spaces formerly occupied by retail heavyweights including Circuit City, Linens 'n Things and Borders are now welcoming sellers of discounted designer jeans, used video games and surplus merchandise. Many of these new stores moving in trumpet terms such as "off-price," "discount" and "value" in their slogans.

This shift in the bricks-and-mortar shopping landscape is bringing a different vibe to shopping hubs across the metro area, even in the relatively upscale environs of Chesterfield.

Stores including Big Lots, Ross Dress for Less, Jo-Ann Fabrics and Nordstrom Rack are among the wave of retailers capitalizing on lower rents, the new frugality of shoppers and the struggle of mainstream retailers to retain consumers fleeing to better deals online.

With a business model that's better protected from online rivals — selling items too cheap to be shipped cost-effectively — discount retailers are expected to be a resilient player.

"These days, I think everybody is a discount shopper," said Tim Lowe, vice president of leasing for THF Realty, which owns and operates the sprawling Chesterfield Commons.

Until recently, the last new major tenant in Chesterfield Commons was a Dick's Sporting Goods, built in 2007. But last month, a 23,000 square-foot Big Lots opened in the strip's former Circuit City store. A new Gordman's and an Aldi grocery are being built nearby and are slated to open this fall.

And the other gaping hole at the Commons — the empty Linens 'n Things — was also recently claimed by Ross Dress for Less, which is entering the St. Louis market for the first time. The store has an opening date set for March of next year.

"We didn't want to put just anybody in," Lowe said. "We pursued Ross. We knew they were coming into St. Louis. And we wanted to expand our apparel offerings."

Ross Dress for Less, an off-priced retailer similar to T.J. Maxx, also has signed a lease to open a new store next year in the shuttered Linens 'n Things in Fairview Heights. The opening date has not yet been announced.

The store chain has been on a growth spurt of late and is making inroads in the Midwest. In 2008, the California-based company had 838 stores nationwide. But by the end of May, it had 998 stores, impressive growth given the country's jobless recovery.

driving a bargain

A major catalyst to the changing retail landscape has been attractive leasing deals.

"These sites have been sitting empty for a couple of years, and so they are pretty cheap," said Sherif Mityas, a partner in the retail practice of the consulting firm A.T. Kearney. "So from a retail perspective, you can get sizable real estate at a pretty good discount."

Big Lots now has 13 stores in the St. Louis region, having opened two stores recently in the vacant Circuit City stores in Chesterfield and Fenton. Nationwide, it rolled out 80 new stores last year and plans to open 90 more this year.

The affordability of prime real estate has driven much of that growth, said Toni Fink, a company spokeswoman.

"We've been able to take advantage of a lot of empty Circuit Cities and empty World Markets," she said. "And so we've been able to get into nicer spots in more-upscale shopping centers."

The moves make sense, too, because more of Big Lots' customers seem to be coming from higher income levels. The stores have seen many "new faces" in the aisles in the last couple of years, Fink said.

The extreme discounters should remain strong even if economic conditions improve, retail experts say. Big Lots, for instance, thrived in the boom years before the recession hit, noted Martin Sneider, an adjunct retailing professor at Washington University. And it doesn't have the same sort of challenges as some of the other recent bricks-and-mortar casualties.

In selling bigger ticket items such as electronics, Circuit City and Ultimate Electronics competed against the 'sweet spot in what the Internet can offer," Sneider said.

But online retailers have proved less of a force in selling basic, cheap commodities, he said. What's more, many of these discount stores inspire foot traffic because their merchandise changes fairly quickly depending on whatever surplus goods it comes upon.

"There's a treasure hunt aspect to it," Sneider said. "You never know what you're going to find."

moving in

Five of the seven area Circuit City stores, which closed in the early part of 2009, now have new tenants.

"I would say there has been a surge of activity in the last six to eight months," said Joe Ciapciak, managing director of broker services for Pace Properties.

A recent CoStar report showed that the retail vacancy in the St. Louis region dropped to 7.9 percent in the first quarter of this year — the lowest it has been since the third quarter of 2008. The rate was as high as 9 percent in the first quarter of 2010.

Average retail rents also have dropped over the last year, the report showed.

But plenty of empty big boxes remain. Four of the six Linens 'n Things locations remain vacant.

These stores that have had a harder time finding renters tend to be in either less desirable locations or have peculiar attributes, Ciapciak said. For example, people are always asking him about the empty Linens 'n Things next to the St. Louis Galleria, which would seem to be a coveted spot.

"But it is basically a three-story building, and retailers don't do that anymore," Ciapciak said.

The liquidations this year of three area Borders stores and four Ultimate Electronics stores have added hundreds of thousands more square feet to the availability list, not to mention the pending closure of four American TV stores.

Still, the vacancies appear to be filling more quickly. Ciapciak said he had already received several offers for the empty Borders store in Ballwin, as well as at the Ultimate Electronics stores in St. Peters and Fairview Heights. So he expects to fill them soon.

"There are better deals to be had and more competition for them," he said. "Retailers are coming to the conclusion that the window may be closing."

The two other Borders stores have already been snapped up by Joplin-based Vintage Stock, which is putting "Bam!" superstores into them. They sell and trade new and used music, movies and video games. The store at Chesterfield Mall opened Friday, and the one at Mid Rivers Mall is expected to open later this summer.

Rodney Spriggs, chief executive of Vintage Stock, had been eyeing those locations for a while. He contacted the malls within a day of the announcement that Borders would close those stores. He had a deal signed within 30 days.

His business has grown — sales were up 7 percent last year — which he attributes in part to the low prices his stores offer on new as well as used products.

"As times get tougher, people are trading in more of their products," he said. "If money is a little tight, we're the alternative, because you don't have to pay cash for what you want to buy."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Extreme Couponing: How to Save Big Online

By Samantha Murphy, TechNewsDaily Senior Writer
12 April 2011 10:30 AM ET

A new show on the TLC network debuted last week, showing America that it's possible for shoppers to get $600 worth of groceries for less than $10 at checkout.

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"Extreme Couponing" – which airs at 9:30 p.m. EST on Wednesday nights – follows the lives each week of dedicated so-called "couponers" who spend countless hours cutting coupons, seeking deals and strategizing how to hunt the supermarket.

By pairing manufacturer coupons from the Web and Sunday newspaper with items that are on sale at the supermarket, couponers can walk away from the grocery store after paying only mere cents for their items. (In some cases, items coupled with coupons can even be free).

But some people like 27-year-old Joanie Demer — the co-founder of popular coupon tip blog, who was featured on the show — take couponing so far that they even jump into dumpsters to collect a number of the estimated $57 billion worth of coupons Americans throw away each year.

Although big savings can be had in stores, not everyone has the hours or ambition to go to such extreme lengths. But the good news, according to these extreme coupon enthusiasts, is that anyone with Internet access can trim hundreds of dollars off online purchases if they want to.

Heather Wheeler — also co-founder of, which has experienced a big jump in traffic since the show aired — said that while you can't hand over a stack of clipped coupons through your computer screen to online retailers, there are still great ways to save.

"Whether you are shopping online or in stores, you should never ever pay full prices for items," said Wheeler, who started couponing about three years ago to cut back on expenses in the middle of the recession. "While you might not be getting products for free or 'money-makers'" – when coupons save more than the price at the store, so shoppers actually walk away with a profit – "there are still big savings online. You just have to work for it a little."

Tips on saving

Free shipping codes and coupons are often available from popular retailers, so online shoppers can easily save money by simply staying at home and not using up gasoline to head to the store. Sites such as offer Web discount codes that include everything from free shipping to 20 percent off an entire order for more than 65,000 stores.

Retailers also send out information about new sales, promotions and coupon codes via e-newsletters. Signing up for these lists can also increase savings.

In addition, merchants often tout savings and discount codes on Facebook and Twitter, so "liking" and "following" these companies will bring shoppers even closer to sales and deals.

Another trendy way to save these days is through daily deal sites, such as Groupon, Living Social, Mamapedia and No More Rack. Not only do they offer 50 percent off deals on a variety of restaurants, apparel and services, most of these sites offer a $5 to $10 credit just for joining the site. They also offer credit incentives for referring friends.

Where and when to shop

The best online deals are often found via mainstream shopping sites, similar to how the best grocery store deals won’t be found at the local corner store but at a national chain location, Wheeler said.

For example, Safeway, which also offers groceries online, accepts digital coupons and promo codes on orders, which are two essential ways to lower a bill. Safeway also features free shipping on first-time orders.

Meanwhile, some sites already factor in coupons from manufacturers ahead of time so shoppers don't need to hunt for discounts. For example, — named after the maid from the TV show "The Brady Bunch" — directly applies coupons to the list price of items on its site.

It's no secret that the Internet makes it easy to comparison shop, too. Not only do comparison shopping sites help shoppers find the best deal, the information learned from these searches can be leveraged to mark down prices with competitors.

For example, Wheeler and her husband recently bought a new mattress and carefully selected a store that would meet and beat any competitor, including online prices.

"After some research, we found a great online price on a mattress we wanted," Wheeler said. "The store verified it and beat it by 5 percent, including free delivery to our home. This saved us over $400 just by doing some extra research."

When buying airline tickets, Wheeler also suggested checking out, which searches multiple discount sites simultaneously. She also said to then search airlines such as Southwest for deal opportunities.

But knowing how to shop is just the first step. Knowing when to make a purchase is also important.

The best time to buy airline tickets is on Tuesdays, according to Wheeler, and about three or four months ahead of time before you want to fly. Prices will also be lower when traveling during off-peak times.

In addition, online retailers have seasonal sale cycles just like physical stores: "Warm-weather clothes are more expensive now, but clearances will start to happen in late July and August – similar to how winter clothing goes on sale in January," she said.

"When new product models come out, older ones will often go on sale, making it a great time to buy."

Save on shipping

Just like clipping tons of coupons, organizing them in a binder and waiting for those items to go on sale is important for in-store shopping, patience is something you need that will save a lot of money when it comes to online shipping methods.

"Choosing the cheapest shipping option available when checking out online will help shoppers save substantially, even if it takes a few extra days to get to you," Wheeler said.

Shoppers can also avoid high shipping costs by visiting sites such as and that offer a buy-online, pick-up-in-store option, so buyers can purchase products online and then pick them up in a store for free whenever they have time.

Some retailers such as Amazon offer programs to help certain types of shoppers save. Amazon Student – a no-cost program for college students with an email address ending in "edu" – provides free two-day shipping for one year with Amazon Prime shipping benefits, as well as exclusive offers via email. Meanwhile, Amazon Mom members, a group that includes parents and caregivers, also receive benefits, including 30 percent off diapers and wipes, with discounted shipping and deals.

Another program called Amazon Subscribe and Save gives people who frequently re-order household products (from grocery and office supplies to health and beauty needs) via the site an extra 15 percent off and free shipping on products.

"The bottom line is that you can get crazy deals online, just like you would in a store," Wheeler said. "But just like shopping in stores, we will not make a purchase online unless it is on sale and we can get a coupon code, too. All of this is just smart shopping.