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It’s time for another edition of Cheap Thrills! This time, we’ve asked local business owners and tastemakers to share their favorite “life hacks” — those astoundingly affordable items or cunningly clever tricks they just can’t live without. Because sometimes, it really is the little things that make a difference! So, we asked, and we’ve got the answers with 13 cheap, easy — and even free! — FINDS and tricks that just make life a little easier and a little happier!

Birminghamians’ Favorite Life Hacks & Cheap Tricks

CULINARY SHORTCUTS

Norpro gripping, flexible cutting mats, $8.29 for a set of four

Ashley McMakin, owner and head cook of Ashley Mac’s, swears by her Norpro gripping, flexible cutting mats. “I have everything from antique cutting boards to heavy-duty commercial-kitchen-grade cutting boards, but my go-to for weeknight cooking are these plastic cutting board sheets! They are great for chopping an onion, slicing lemon for tea and other quick chopping duties,” she says. “They are light and easy to store, quick to clean up and cheap, so you can throw them out after a few months.” Find this set of four for $8.29 on Amazon.

Set of four Norpro flexible, gripping cutting mats for $8.29 on Amazon

Set of four Norpro flexible, gripping cutting mats for $8.29 on Amazon

Indoor veggie garden grow light, starting at $5.98

Callan Childs, Design and Marketing Manager with Sloss Real Estate has some clever tricks up her sleeves when it comes to buying and growing vegetables. “We love to buy our produce at the huge Mr. Chen’s International Supermarket on Green Springs Highway — things like baby bok choy or Japanese purple sweet potatoes. We usually end up giving some to friends because they come in bulk-sized bags,” she says. Callan also has a flourishing backyard vegetable garden thanks to her indoor starter garden. “We start our vegetable plants for the garden inside with a grow light from Lowe’s in our dining room. We save lots of money starting from seeds, and our plants are bigger sooner than if we had sowed directly into our raised garden beds.” Find grow lights, starting at $5.98, at Lowe’s.

Find your own grow light for approximately $30 at Lowe's.

Find your own grow light at Lowe’s starting at $5.98.

K-cups, roughly $10 to $17

Things can get pretty hairy when Second Hand Rose owner Gina Saab is jonesing for her java, so her trick for keeping her coffee consumption in check? “K-cups! I’m a morning coffee person, and K-cups help me ‘limit’ my coffee intake,” explains Gina. “If I fix a whole pot of coffee, I’ll drink the whole thing. This way, I can limit myself easier!” Find a 24-count box of K-cups at your local drug store, grocery store or online for $10 to $17, depending on type of coffee.

Find a 24-count box of K-cups at your local drug store, grocery store or online for $10 to $17, depending on type of coffee.

Find a 24-count box of K-cups at your local drug store, grocery store or online for $10 to $17, depending on type of coffee.

Wash it with Wine! (Cheap bottle of white wine, starting at $5 — but really, this trick is priceless)

This clever culinary trick turns your vino into a vacuum! Rug and textile expert Paige Albright of Paige Albright Orientals shares her secrets for tackling all types of stains. “I have a dog, Buddy, who is (cough, cough!) not always well trained,” says Paige. “So, I put paper towels under my rug, flush with water and blot until it is clear. You can then sprinkle with baking soda to absorb any residual odors.” When dealing with a red wine spill, she says to follow the same process with an unexpected twist. “Same process: flush, blot, flush; however, WHITE WINE gets out red wine!” Who knew?! And, she adds, hydrogen peroxide gets out blood stains. Find any cheap bottle of white wine at your local grocery store or drug store, starting at $5.

cheap white wine, starting at $5

Cheap white wine, starting at $5

RELATED: Cheap Thrills: Local Chefs’ Favorite Cheap Eats

Emergen-C vitamin packets, $9.99 for a box of 30 packets

Marjorie Johnston & Co. Interiors and Design lead designer Marjorie Johnston and her family rely on Emergen-C vitamin packets to ward off sickness and bolster immunity. “Everyone in the family drinks one of these a day to fend off bugs and the germy perils of the office and classroom,” she says. “Pink Lemonade is the family favorite flavor, and it supports Breast Cancer Awareness!” A box of 30 Emergen-C packets is available at Target for $9.99 or find the single packets for under $1 at your local grocery store or drug store.

A box of 30 Emergen-C packets is available at Target for $9.99 or find the single packets for under $1 at your local grocery store or drug store.

A box of 30 Emergen-C packets is available at Target for $9.99 or find the single packets for under $1 at your local grocery store or drug store.

Jiffy, 49 cents

FoodBar‘s Executive Chef George McMillan III uses convenient shortcuts in his home kitchen, just like the rest of us. “At the restaurant, it’s cornmeal, corn flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, eggs, milk and butter,” he says. “But at home, I get it done in a ‘Jiffy’ — America’s favorite and mine!” Find Jiffy corn muffin mix at Target for 49 cents per box!

Find Jiffy corn muffin mix at Target for $0.49!

Find Jiffy corn muffin mix at Target for 49 cents per box!

Homemade salad dressing, FREE-ish

Jane Hoerner, Senior Marketing Manager at Bayer Properties, representing The Summit and The Pizitz Building, never splurges on store-bought salad dressing, using everyday ingredients to whip up delicious dressings like an expert saucier. “I’d have to say my cheap trick is always making my own salad dressings,” she says. “I never buy from a store and always make them fresh at home. They taste better and last longer, and I know exactly what ingredients I’m putting in them!” Whip up your own salad dressings using one of these delicious recipes!

Whip up your own salad dressings using one of these delicious recipes! Image: Recipe Tin Eats

Whip up your own salad dressings using one of these delicious recipes! Image: Recipe Tin Eats

HEALTH & BEAUTY

Conair WetBrush, under $10

Betsy Bayer, owner of B. Bayer & Co. Monogramming & Gifts, loves her leopard print Conair WetBrush. “I cannot live without this Conair WetBrush! This has saved my life with my youngest daughter’s tangly hair and tender head, and you can get them for under $10!” Find it at your local Target, Ulta Beauty or online at Amazon for under $10.

Conair WetBrush, under $10

Conair WetBrush, under $10 at at your local Target, Ulta Beauty or online at Amazon

Long walk, FREE

Wendy Barze, daughter and design partner of Marjorie Johnston with Marjorie Johnston & Co. Interiors and Design, hits the reset button with a rejuvenating jaunt on the lush, popular trail along Mountain Brook Parkway. “A long walk on Jemison Trail is my cheap thrill. It’s less expensive than therapy or a Swedish massage. Hitting the three-mile path restores and renews on any day,” she says. “Friendly faces and stretches of quiet can do wonders!” Hit the Jemison Trail for a therapeutic walk for free!

Hit the Jemison Trail for a therapeutic walk for free! Image: alltrails.com

Hit the Jemison Trail for a therapeutic walk for free! Image: alltrails.com

RELATED: Birmingham’s ‘Central Park’: Nearly 100 Years in the Making

Coconut oil, ranging from $6 to $20

Milan Ballard of the Alabama Outdoors marketing team can’t do without her coconut oil, which she praises as one of her favorite beauty products. “I love it and use it daily,” she says. “It removes makeup the best, moisturizes, is a natural SPF and soothes sun burns!” Find a jar of coconut oil, ranging from $6 to $20, depending on the brand, at your local grocery store or drug store.

Find a jar of coconut oil, ranging from $6 to $20, depending on brand, at your local grocery store or drug store. Image: coconutoil.com

Find a jar of coconut oil, ranging from $6 to $20, depending on the brand, at your local grocery store or drug store. Image: coconutoil.com

Beauty samples, FREE

“I have a secret obsession with beauty products,” says Ginny Hutchinson, owner of The Scribbler. “This photo shows what arrived at my door in one week, with promises of longer lashes, less wrinkles and smoother skin! I can’t pass up the Sephora samples and free gifts, and I am anxiously awaiting my thicker, darker lashes from Rodan + Fields.”

Shop Sephora and make sure to take advantage of the free samples at checkout!

Make sure to take advantage of the free samples at checkout! Image: Ginny Hutchinson

TRAVEL TRICKS

Dryer sheets, $4.99 per box of 105

Allison Dixon Ingram of Paige Albright Orientals has a few travel-savvy tricks up her sleeve. “I put dryer sheets in my suitcase, so everything smells nice, and I always travel with a trial-size Febreeze; it’s an easy way to ‘dry clean’ garments if they need to be worn again,” she says. “And I wrap my hanging clothes individually on hangers in dry cleaning bags so that they won’t wrinkle. It works!” Find Bounce dryer sheets at Target for $4.99 for a box of 105 sheets.

Find Bounce dryer sheets at Target for $4.99 for a box of 105 sheets.

Find Bounce dryer sheets at Target for $4.99 for a box of 105 sheets.

Outdoor garbage bags, $10.99 per 36-count box

“I’ve moved many times — and I’m happy to now call Birmingham my home — but the thing I hate most about moving is hanging clothes,” laments Morgan Berney, Director of Marketing and PR at Vulcan Park & Museum. “A cheap trick to keeping hanging clothes organized and to stop them from sliding all over your car is to tie the clothes up with black outdoor garbage bags, clean ones of course! Tie them around the hook of the hanger to keep them together and it’s much easier to transport the most essential items in your closet.” Find heavy-duty multipurpose garbage bags for $10.99 for a 36-count box at Target.

Find heavy-duty multipurpose garbage bags for $10.99 for a 36-count box at Target.

Find heavy-duty multipurpose garbage bags for $10.99 for a 36-count box at Target.

Now go make the daily grind a little easier with these life hacks and cheap tricks!

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