If you’re willing to get a jump on chili season before the hooded sweatshirts come out, you can save a mint due to the glut of local tomatoes.  Just walk into any break room across this great land of ours and nab the bag of tomatoes labeled “TAKE…PLEASE!”    Cut them up and dump them into a pot on top of browned meat of your choice and an onion.    Add half a bag of dried beans you soaked overnight.

Congratulations, you’re eating for a week for no money and didn’t get carpal tunnel opening a dozen tin cans.

It turns out that second only to Christmas, computer manufacturers depend bigtime on back-to-school demand to fuel the sales of computers.  Well, according to major player Intel, the kids (or cash-strapped moms and dads) didn’t want near as many as anticipated and they are stuck with a surplus on their hands.  If you’re willing to wait a month or so, this soft demand might mean an excellent deal if you were on the fence about a purchase.

Sure they give you a sweet deal on a phone when you buy one.  They’re not counting on you being a big-picture person.  Over the life of the contract, each one of those little amenities or extra services really add up.  There’s a huge markup, additionally on those accessories, i.e. junky headsets that make you look like a pretentious fool or schizophrenic in a public place and only cost 30 cents to make…

Or in this case, charging dock.  Not only does this free one you can make yourself look sweeter, it stays on the outlet and off the floor/countertop.

Anyone have a shampoo bottle?

Here are a few more ways to save significant amounts of money from the new book by Jeff Yeager called Cheapskate Next Door.

-Cut pieces of foam insulating board to fit windows in the winter and put them in at night or when you’re away to save a fortune on heat.

-Save big money on a car rental by helping auto transport companies relocate vehicles.  Lay down a deposit and they’ll provide a vehicle and tank of gas for approved drivers.

-Over a lifetime you’ll save about 5,000 gallons of gas and $30,000 or more by driving only cars with manual transmissions.

-Dry cleaning is a $9 billion a year business in the United States, loaded with toxic chemicals.  According to an article in Consumer Reports, “Dry-cleaning isn’t the only way to safely clean garments labeled dry-clean only, and other methods might even do a better job.”

Here are a few belt-tightening culinary tips from the new book The Cheapskate Next Door by Jeff Yeager:

-Order only tap water with your meal when you go out to eat. Beverages are typically marked up 300 to 600 percent. Ordering water only will save you about $800 a year.

-Put box-wine into premium label bottles and no one will know the difference. Check AccidentalWine.com for for up to a 40% discount on premium bottles with cosmetic packaging imperfections.

-If you use a crock-pot once a week for eight hours, it will only use 30 cents of electricity a month, making cheap, tough cuts of meat fork-tender.

-Choose to host brunch, giving everyone their own quart-size ziplock bag and a serving tray of tasteful omelet ingredients.  Add a couple of eggs and boil all for fourteen minutes for perfect custom omelets, saving you $100 over a sit down dinner.

CouponMom.com proposes “cutting your grocery bill in half” with downloadable coupons and a state-by-state grocery coupon database. Owner Stephanie Nelson estimates her regular site users save $2,000 per year.

In the early 1980’s, the local Oscar Meyer plant pulled up its ramps and closed the killfloor. However, the storied tradition continues the last week of July as squealing tons of undulating meat pack Brady Street in the name of “fun.”

All of which, it turns out, got seeded ahead of me for the 36th Annual Quad City Times Bix 7. Apparently an answer of “0” on the registration for prior Bix finishes funnels one into the pile with certain species of mold, molasses, and garden slugs. Silly me, I forgot to pack my salt shaker!

That being said, I can’t really complain about the finish. It’s a number that reflects an outdated engine being fueled by aggression and liquid-cooled by a torrential downpour.  As a reward, it’s time to hang up the $120 shoes that cost 17 cents in foam rubber and Malaysian labor in exchange for a world where one doesn’t walk down steps like Frankenstein.

In retrospect, I learned an awful lot about this little subculture those sweltering Thursday nights and that timed monsoon morning.

-The finish-line beverages they serve to simultaneously carbo-load and rehydrate you are especially refreshing at 930AM.  What better way to celebrate the legacy of young Beiderbecke?

-The people that live along the route are a special breed of patient, compassionate, and proud.  Your selfless hose work and ice cubes every Thursday night are a testament to the human spirit.

-Antagonizing people whose bodies are in oxygen deprivation with a lit cigarette is not funny. Seriously dude, you have a problem. That problem, incidentally, is that you’re plagued by erroneously finding your schtick amusing.  Your sidewalk privileges are revoked effective immediately.

-Don’t respond with an impudent tone when it’s suggested you double-knot your laces prior to the race.

If you’ll excuse me, I have a one-floor elevator ride to catch.

In case you’re wondering, it has a grade of 7-9%.

I know a few masochists taking part in the area’s premiere social/sporting event, the Quad-City Times Bix 7.

It was my hope this post will collect new knowledge, as well as construct a semblance of personal commitment resulting from the embarassment of not not taking the plunge and registering.  I started writing several weeks ago before the registration price went up, after this brave young lady was randomly chosen to draw the world’s spotlight for a shot at a small fortune. There would be no jackpot victory with any kind of Ed Froehlich advantage thrown thus beginner’s way.

The nadir of six months of accumulated self esteem occurred at the first of four Bix at 6 events, designed to fine tune the mettle of participants.  Methinks these events were designed out of necessity, as this footrace is clearly the magnum opus of convicted Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele.  However, by the looks of the participants, these training runs are more recess time for human gazelles than the potentially injury-prone.

The Bix 7 is what is it means to be a Quad-Citian.  It started as a Prohibition-era cornet playing phenom of dubious repute, became a little jazz festival spawned out of civic pride in the 70’s, and then blossomed into a monolith that almost eclipses our little burg.

However, given the Bix’s history and global renown, there is a surprising dearth of information out there when Google searching for “tips”, “strategy”, and “advice” outside of the sagelike wisdom to drink water and prepare for hills…for real people, that’s embarassing.   It’s 2010 in the age of global GPS and I sadly have to straw poll my neighbors for data.

Advice would be great, as there are hills, and there are HILLS.  Lower-case hills are what are alive with the sound of music.  Bix 7 HILLS are acts of hatred borne of a sadist’s wicked imagination.  They are the hills your grandparents walked up both ways to get to school in the snow.  As I sat there at the base of on mile 3 profusely swearing, I felt like Medic Wade in Saving Private Ryan.

So here are some techniques developed by a pale, sickly amateur, since over several decades of accumulated experience no one has posted any truly prescriptive course advice on the Internet.

1- Run the four Bix at 6 practices.  They are free, and an excellent value because of the safety personnel and water stations.  If you go in there half-cocked, you will have a rude awakening.

2- Take Brady excessively  slow so you have something left.

3- Take two waters at the turnaround and nurse off the second’s cup of ice, also pop 4 GU Chomps

4- Drink a water before the race and eat a bunch of rice at lunch and a couple bananas in the afternoon (can’t rightfully say if this helped, but it didn’t hurt).  Fine for 6pm, not sure about how this would work at 8am.

5– Fire off a rallying soundtrack at about 1.5-2 miles left as you pass Arlington or Davenport street as a reward for making it back up the cruel ascent.

6– Yes, you do need to prepare for hills, but where, what, why and how safely is what no one is covering.  Do a few circuits at Longview Park Rock Island’s bike path in your off days.  Sidewalks are for people paying attention.  Don’t be the person with the MP3 player oblivious to vehicles making turns.  Pedestrians have an obligation to be courteous that comes with their right of way.

Bix at Sixes 1-75:38 2-74:41 3-72:13 4-74:31 (Extreme humidity, for which I am told there is no known cure)  Not exactly a Kenyan pace, but it’s as far into the red as I can push this old jalopy.

With one week left, shin splints and knee pain are signs this bag of bones is betraying me.  Progress toward this foolhardy goal ebbs away with every day of inactivity.  Finish line “refreshments” and 35 dollars spent in vain are the only thing that will rouse me out of bed next week.  The forecast for running through a 7-mile sauna isn’t helping matters either…

Admittedly, we’re probably a several weeks away from harvesting from our gardens, but it doesn’t hurt to start planning early.  And what better (or more fun) way than to look through cookbooks? After all, you might never have even considered planting brussels sprouts until you see Keith Snow’s  “Brussels Sprouts with Mornay Sauce” in his Harvest Eating Cookbook. OK, maybe you’re still not considering growing brussels sprouts, but you get the idea – grow what you like to eat.

Taken in part from Snow’s PBS series, this book features delicious, simple recipes – none takes longer than a page to describe – using seasonal local ingredients. Some of those ingredients – avocados, mangos – aren’t exactly locally grown here in Iowa, but there are plenty of fresh ideas for local favorites – asparagus, butternut squash, tomatoes, corn, etc.

Don’t have a garden? There’s a huge variety of beautiful, locally grown produce at the Freight House Farmers Market here in Davenport, held every Saturday from 8am to 1pm and every Tuesday 3pm to 6pm, year round.

One final tip from the latest book, New Frugality.  If you can, buy college in advance.

Between 1982 and 2007 the cost of fees and tuition rose 439 percent.  Even when adjusting for inflation, the increasing cost of college education is greatly outpacing the purchasing power of the dollar.

So, if it is a foregone conclusion that screeching diaper-clad sleep thief will end up in a dorm someday,  you can purchase it down in advance.  Sometimes, you can even lock in today’s price and future proof yourself.

There are 529 plans, which offer tax-free withdrawal on earnings in the account, since the profit is earmarked for a future college education.  Some states also offer prepaid college tuition accounts, where you can lock in semesters today even though they will surely cost ridiculous amounts tomorrow..

On a side note, did you know that Augustana costs around $47,000 a year?

Another financial tip the new book, New Frugality.   You’re smarter than a wall-street money manager.

Index funds duplicate the performance of a particular stock market index.  The most famous equity index fund is the S&P 500.  It is made up of stocks of the 500 largest publicly traded U.S. companies.  They’re on that list because they are the 500 BEST COMPANIES!

“Indexing is commonly referred to as passive investing.  No professional money manager is trying to beat the market, rapidly buying and selling stocks. Yet index funds routinely outperform most actively managed funds.  Why?  A big advantage is their low cost.  The annual fee for investing in the S&P 500 is some 0.10 percent versus an average of almost 1.5 percent for actively managed funds.  Index funds have no research analyst costs or multimillion dollar money manager salaries to pay.

Mark Kritzman of Windham Capital Management simulated an imaginary investor using index funds, mutual funds, and hedge funds.  Index funds had the highest rate of return at 8.27 percent, since the actively managed mutual fund’s costs are 3 times higher, and the hedge fund six times higher.

According to millionaire philanthropist Robert Wilson, “I’d say as a general rule put it in index funds.  I don’t see why small investors should horse around with money managers.”