Saturday, December 30, 2006

Cold-EEZE vs generic - Real Relief

It's the cold and flu season again. Guess who is sick first? Yep, it's me. But, I since I found out about using zinc lozenges for colds I won't suffer nearly as much.

My cold is not too bad, but I do have a cough and irritated throat. I'm sure my throat would hurt more if I still had my tonsils. I had a tonsillectomy as a child and haven't had a really painful sore throat since.

Anyway, a friend told me about using zinc lozenges for a cold years ago. I was skeptical at first. I knew there was no cure for the cold since it was a viral infection rather than bacterial. And, I had used most over-the-counter (OTC) medications meant to treat the symptoms of a cold.

Most OTC meds offered limited relief, but they were all that was available as far as I knew (other than vitamin C). Then I tried the zinc lozenges, and I was sold.

The most commonly known brand of zinc lozenges is Cold-EEZE, but there are generics. I usually buy generic zinc lozenges from Dollar General. They are more a tablet than a lozenge, but are meant to be dissolved slowly in the mouth just like a lozenge.

All brands of zinc lozenges leave a funny taste in your mouth that seems to coat your tongue. This means the zinc is doing it's job. The taste is not pleasant but the relief of cold symptoms coupled with a shorter duration is definitely worth the unpleasant taste.

The generic zinc, in my opinion, has a stronger taste than Cold-EEZE but it's about half the price and works just as well.

If you begin taking the zinc lozenges at the first sign of a cold you can sometimes stop it in it's tracks. Taking it after your symptoms are full-blown will still reduce the longevity by almost half. And, the zinc actually relieves your symptoms for about 2 hours.

I have bought the brand name of zinc when I had a bad cold. After a few days of taking the generics, the taste can be off-putting, and Cold-EEZE does taste better.

Other than taste there is another potential side effect. Some people experience an upset stomach if the lozenges are taken on an empty stomach. That's an easy cure though. Just eat before taking it.

Overall, I would recommend the generic zinc lozenges mainly based on cost. If you have kids, you will want to keep zinc on hand, and if everyone is taking it 4 times a day it can get expensive to buy the brand name lozenges.

If the taste is more important to you, buy Cold-EEZE. Whichever brand you choose, I would definitely recommend using zinc lozenges to reduce the symptoms and duration of your family's colds. This stuff really works!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Stock Up On Food Sales - Maybe

Buying in bulk to get a good price or because something is on sale is a great way to save money - but only if you don't end up using more than you normally would.

When my partner and I make up the grocery shopping list every two weeks, we check the sale papers. Often there are sales on items that we normally buy anyway. These sales help us to keep our food budget low, and if the sale is good enough we will stock up.

We are careful about what we stock up on, though, because in the past we've found that sometimes we ended up spending more money rather than less. Why? Because with some items we tend to eat more when we have more.

The way to prevent this is to ask yourself a question before you buy more than you need. "Will we eat more of this if we have more in the house?"

An example of something we will eat more of if there is an abundance is cheddar cheese. Everyone in my family loves cheddar cheese. Cheese is a good source of calcium, and since we don't drink much milk the calcium we get from cheese is an important part of our nutrition.

The problem is if we see a large amount of cheese in the fridge, we tend to eat more. Besides the fact that cheese is high in fat, we don't want to eat more than we need because of the cost of cheese (if you don't know the price of cheddar cheese, I'll tell you. It ain't cheap.)

So, if we stock up on cheese and everybody knows we have an abundance, everyone tends to eat it more often. This ends up costing us more money than it would have if we only bought what we needed.

We found a way around this when it concerns cheese. We just hide it deep in the freezer and once a week we move 1 pound of cheese to the fridge. Out of sight, out of mind works for us in this regard.

I think every family probably has something that tends to be consumed as quickly as it's brought home. With these foods, be careful about how much you buy, or hide the excess from your family (or yourself). Allot a certain amount per week and only have that amount available for consumption.

Make sure those sales actually save you money.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Unexpected Expenses - Are they Really Unexpected?

You know how it seems that as soon as you get close to accomplishing a goal something always comes along to set you back? That happens often in my life, especially with my financial goals.

It seems like every time I free up money - by paying off a debt, getting a raise, or a money gift - something comes along to eat up that money. And, that "something" always shows up AFTER I've made plans to spend the extra money or have actually already spent it.

So, I've paid off my credit card debt and freed up $185 a month. I planned to put that money toward paying down the mortgage, saving to buy a house in the country, and adding a little extra to my food budget.

And that "something" showed up. That "something" is Major car repair. OK, it wasn't really unexpected. I knew it was coming, eventually. Both of our cars are OLD, and my car has been sitting in the driveway - not working - for several months now.

I've had my car in the shop 3 times in the last year to fix the same problem. It seems there is not one mechanic in this town that can figure out what is wrong with it, so I just keep paying to fix something else "that might be the problem," but isn't.

So, we just parked the car and decided we could get by with just one car. We've been told that the transmission in this car is on it's way out. The "brilliant" mechanics in our area told us that the transmission could last another 6 months or another 6 years. That was 3 years ago. So, I guess it's close now.

The car still works, but it's something that we just can't keep ignoring. There are little sounds and symptoms that warn us of imminent doom. So, why haven't we been saving and preparing for this major expense?

When you've lived poor as long as I have you learn to just push the specter of major expenses out of your mind, because you know you don't have the means to really prepare for them.

But, that has to change now. I have money freed up that can be saved for this expense.

So, I've re-written my goals again, including the car repair.

New Goal #1: Pay Off Credit Card Debt

SHORT-TERM GOAL: 3 more months till all credit card debt is paid.ACCOMPLISHED

LONG-TERM GOAL: Stop using credit cards unless total can be paid each month ACCOMPLISHED

New Goal #2: Save for Transmission Repair/rebuild

New Goal #3: Save just for Home Improvements needed to Sell the House

New Goal #4: Save for Down Payment and Closing Costs on a Home in the Country.


They say that Life is what Happens When You've Made Other Plans. I guess they were right.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Buy Contact Lenses Online - Save Big

I have found another reason to keep one of those credit cards after you've paid off your debt. Buying contact lenses online.

I had no idea how much money you could save buying contacts online until my partner was advised to switch from rigid gas permeable (RGP) lenses to soft lenses (replacement/disposable).

Switching from gas permeables to soft lenses meant an increase in cost of almost 100% since gas permeables can last for years and soft contacts last, at most, 2 months per pair (soft lenses are recommended for 1 month's use, but most eye docs will ok their use for 2 months or until there is a noticeable difference in vision or comfort).

After being quoted a price of $30 for a box of 6 soft contacts lenses at the docs office, I decided it was time to do some research. I knew there was big online market for contacts, I'd just not looked into it since my partner hadn't needed contacts for the last 3 years.

After reading up on contacts and learning what I needed to know (OD, OS, Base Curve, etc.) at AllaboutVision.com, I did a Google search to compare prices. And, boy was I surprised.

It seems the eye docs really mark-up the contacts they sell. The highest price I found online for the contacts my partner needs is $25 a box, but the lowest price was only $15.

Even after you add in shipping (most online companies won't charge shipping if you spend $99 or more) you still come out saving about 40%.

So, how do you take advantage of this great savings? You order online and pay with a credit card, of course.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm certainly in favor of buying ONLY what you have the money for, but paying with cash is sometimes NOT the best way of being frugal.

So, hold on to at least one of those credit cards. You might find that with a little discipline, it actually helps you SAVE money.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Credit Cards for Online Shopping

Who used a credit card for Christmas shopping? Raise your hand.

I not only used a credit card for some Christmas shopping, I also applied for a new one. I know what you are going to say. It's not a great idea to get a new credit card when I have worked my hieny off to pay my credit card debt in full.

And, if you subscribe to Dave Ramsey's way of thinking, you would be right. But, I've found that cutting up all my credit cards and using cash for everything just does not fit my lifestyle.

Since I'm frugal, first and foremost, I must find the best deal on the things I buy. And often, the things I've decided to buy are a better bargain online.

For example, I decided that I was going to buy a better air purifier this Christmas. I have been using a Holmes air purifier, and although it is a good price at my local Wal-Mart, it doesn't do a great job cleaning the air. Also, the filter has to be replaced often and the price of the filter is almost as much as the machine itself.

So, I decided I was going to do some research. I wanted to find an air purifier with a better customer rating, and one that has a washable/permanent filter. The first place I look when I want customer ratings is Amazon.com.

Amazon.com has just about everything I'm looking for, and most things at Amazon have customer ratings (if there is no rating, I wouldn't buy it unless I have recommendations from friends or family).

So, anyway, I went to
Amazon.com to find ratings on an air purifier and found one with 4.5 stars that I liked the look of. This air purifier (Honeywell HFD-120Q Tower) has a permanent (washable) filter and the manufacturer offers a $20 rebate.

Also, Amazon had a promotional discount for purchases over $125. This discount deducts $25 from your order when you enter the promo code at checkout.

See the savings adding up?

Now here is the clincher. Amazon.com has partnered with Chase to offer a branded Amazon.com Visa credit card. If you apply for this card through Amazon's site, you will receive a $30 credit after your first Amazon purchase.

How could I pass this up? I was going to buy an air purifier anyway. But, buying it through Amazon.com with the Amazon credit card would save me $30. Once I deduct the $25 promotional code and the $20 rebate, I end up paying $75 for a $150 air purifier.

Now, how can you be frugal and NOT take advantage of this deal? Since I make purchases from Amazon several times a year, this credit card will continue to earn credits for me everytime I use it.

Using credit cards saves me money, especially when I shop online. So, I won't be cutting up all of my cards.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Do You Have a Rag Bag?

You have a rag bag, right? You know what a rag bag is - a bag, box, or storage container where you keep all of your old, torn, stained, or unwearable clothing and linens.

I knew you did. Who would throw all of that great material away?

A rag bag isn't just a frugal way of re-making your cast-offs into something useful, it's also a fun place to let your imagination go wild. I love my rag bag, because there is always something in there that I can use to fire my imagination.

I have found that there are some things that are just impractical to save, though. I can't come up with any useful ways of re-purposing bras and underwear. Although I have tried to re-use the elastic from them, they are usually too worn or stretched out by the time they make it to the rag bag.

Other things that I have found too impractical to save as material:
  • coats or clothing with many decorative seams - the useable material between the seams is too small to be of use
  • socks - these are good as dusting cloths though, so save them for that
  • slick, slinky polyester or nylon - I find this material too hard to handle and difficult to sew

The best things to keep in the rag bag:
  • cotton or blend sheets - remake into pillows, throws, window quilt backs, crocheted rugs
  • towels - remake into wash cloths, rugs, cleaning rags
  • curtains - remake into pillows, quilts, window quilt backs, crocheted rugs
  • tablecloths - remake into any of the above
  • cotton or blend dresses - remake into pillows, quilts, shirts
  • flannel, cotton, or blend shirts - remake into napkins, pillows, quilts
  • fleece or sweat pants and shirts - remake into reusable cloths for the Swiffer or Wet Jet mop, cleaning cloths when you need a material that holds water, throws
  • sturdy polyester or nylon - remake into pet beds, pillow covers for outdoor furniture
  • denim - remake into floor pillows, sit-upons, bed pillows, throws, purses or totes, rugs
A rag bag can be a treasure trove for those of us who like to sew or make crafts. Don't throw all that great material away unless it just can not be used for something else.

Make Your Own Cloth Napkins

About.com has a great "How-To" on making napkins from used cloth like old tablecloths or shirt backs. This is where I got the idea to make our napkins.

I didn't make our napkins that big, though. Pat Veretto, your guide to Frugal Living at About.com, suggest making the napkins 16" square.

I suggest thinking about where you will keep your napkins and design them for that space. A 12" or 16" napkin takes up too much room on the small shelf in the kitchen cabinet where we keep our napkins.

At a minimum, napkins need to be as big as your hand. After some trial and error, I found that the best size - based on use, comfort, and the space we had to store the napkins - was twice the size of my hand.

So, I cut the material into 8" x 13" rectangles. I used old flannel shirts because my family perfers the softness and absorbency of flannel. Also, the plaid design and colors mask any stains that might not come out in the wash.

Once you decide how big you want the napkings to be, it's a quick and simple job to cut and hem them. Just cut out rectangles, fold 1/2" seam, then fold 1/2" again to hide the raw edges, and machine sew.

That's all there is to it. After you have them hemmed, just fold the napkins in half cross-wise, then again horizontally, and your napkins will take up a very small space in your cabinets.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Let Your Kids Trade Clothes with Their Friends

Do your kids give their clothes away? My teenage daughter does. This drove me crazy until I realized that new-to-her clothes were appearing in the laundry.

Now, trading clothes with friends might seem like an odd way to get clothing on the cheap, but hey, if my picky, fashion-conscious teenager thinks it's cool, then I'm all for it.

When she first started giving her clothing away I decided it was time to have a talk. I explained to her that I was not in a financial position to buy new clothes to replace the ones she was giving away.

Her argument in favor of the practice was that she didn't like the clothes anymore and she wasn't wearing them anyway, but her friend did like them. So, she wanted to pass them on.

How could I argue with that? If the clothing was just hanging in her closet, it was much better to give them to someone who would get some use out of them.

Completing the trade may not occur with the same friend. But, it usually evens out, because there is always another friend who doesn't like some of her clothes. So, periodically I find new-to-her clothes in the laundry.

Trading is not limited to clothing. My daughter has traded purses, backbacks, shoes, and even jewelry. These things are often traded back again, though, so maybe it's more like borrowing. (Who can follow a teenager's thought processes, anyway?)

I can't say that I am always happy with the trade. If I've spent more than $30 for an item and she gives it away, I feel a frugal pinch in my pocketbook. (When you are Living Poor, spending $30 for one item is a chunk of cash, and it doesn't happen often.) But, as long as my kid has enough clothing to last the season, and she is happy with what she has, I'm not going to complain.

So, I recommend the practice. Let them trade, or borrow clothes from each other. It's a viable way to get new-to-them clothing - on the cheap. And, truth to tell, you probably couldn't stop it if you tried.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Replace a Dryer Element

Have you ever tried to replace the heating element in a Dryer? If you haven't, I wouldn't recommend it.

When our clothes dryer stopped heating, I did research to find out whether it was something we could repair ourselves. It looked easy online, but it was a tough one in real life.

After ordering the element for our dryer, taking the dryer apart (not an easy task), and carefully re-stringing the darn thing, it worked for one day and started blowing cold air again.

The clerk that worked at the dryer-part store where we bought the element warned us not to pull the heating element too hard because it could break. So, it was strung very carefully.

There were no visible breaks when we finished, but it still didn't work. Evidently we did something wrong. We ended up having to buy a new dryer.

If you encounter this problem, I would recommed that you either let a professional replace the element, or just bite the bullet and buy another dryer. It's too delicate to be one of those DIY jobs, in my opinion.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Easy Cash Budget - Envelope System

Some people simply do not like to budget (go figure). It's understandable, though. Budgeting can take quite a bit of time in the beginning, especially if you create a spreadsheet yourself, from scratch.

There is a simpler alternative to saving all of your receipts and keeping track of every dollar spent. It's the Envelope system. With this method of budgeting, everything is done with cash.

Here is how it works. Cash your paycheck and divide it up for each spending category you have. Put the amount needed for each category in an envelope and write the category names on the envelopes. Put all the envelopes in a safe place until money is needed for an expense.

Let's try an example. You get your paycheck for the week and cash it. You know you will need money for rent, gas for the car, groceries, the electric bill, the phone bill, the bill for cable TV, some money towards Jr's school clothes in the summer (school starts in 6 months), money towards insurance for the car (due in 6 months), and something for entertainment.

OK, that's 9 envelopes. Label each envelope and write the amount needed for the month on them. Divide the amount needed for the month by how many paychecks you get that month. For example, if you get paid weekly you will divide the monthly bills by 4.
  • Rent - $350/4 = $87.50
  • Gas - $50/4 = $12.50
  • Groceries - $250/4 = $62.50
  • Electric - $100/4 = $25
  • Phone - $35/4 = $8.75
  • Cable - $50/4 = $12.50
  • School Clothes (needed in 6 months)- $100/6 (months) = $16.67 (a month)/4 = $4.17
  • Auto Insurance (due in 6 months) - $350/6 (months) = $58.34 (a month)/4 = $14.59
  • Entertainment - $20/4 = $5
Technically, there are an average of 4.3 weeks per month, but I always use 4 because most months have 4 weeks. This adds in an automatic cushion that should carry over each month.

This cushion should be put into an envelope labeled "Unexpected Expenses." It will be used when the car needs a new tire, or everyone gets sick and you need to buy a zillion dollars worth of vitamin C and cold medicine.

Place the calculated weekly amount into each labeled envelope and put all of the envelopes in a safe place. When you are ready to go food shopping or a bill is due, take the money from that envelope and pay that expense.

Once the envelope is empty, there is no money left for that category of spending. If you find that you run out of money before your needs are met in certain categories, you will need to re-work your budget, or find a way to cut back spending in that category.

The Envelope system works fine for a family with basic budgeting needs, as long as they have the needed discipline to stay out of the other envelopes when one is empty. This method of budgeting removes the need for listing each dollar spent, and offers the ability to see how much money is left in each category by simply opening the envelope.

Just remember, Do not spend the cushion money (Unexpected Expenses) unless a real emergency occurs. (Eating out is NOT an emergency)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Budget for Entertainment - Give Yourself a Break

It's really important to have an Entertainment category in your budget. Even if you can allocate only $5 a week for entertainment, set aside that $5 to spend for fun. This creates a positive feeling about your budget, and gives you a break from working on all the debt you are trying to pay down.

If you are Living Poor, like me, you will have to make your entertainment dollars stretch, but that isn't too hard to do. Here are a few Ideas that we use to entertain ourselves on a slim budget.
  • rent movies - some movie rental stores have deals like 5-for-5 where you can rent 5 (not new release) movies for 5 nights for $5. There are some great movies out there that you probably haven't seen yet.

  • save until you have enough for a board game - my family enjoys playing Trouble, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, and Yahtzee. Our next game will be Scrabble.

  • go to the library for movies, and spend the money on popcorn and candy as though you were at the theatre.

  • buy an extra $5 gas and go for a ride in the country, to a park, or just to some place in your neighborhood you haven't been before.

  • buy ingredients to make a big batch of cookies and bring your entire family in to help make them.

  • save until you have enough to take the family out for breakfast. You needn't go to a fancy restaurant. You can have fun going to Shoneys or even to McDonald's if you make an event.

However you decide to allocate your Entertainment money, have some fun with it. With all the hard work you are doing to get your spending under control and pay off debt, you should have some easy jobs like blowing a little pocket change.

The Fun of Budgeting

I just love working on my budget. There is something so satisfying about closing out your monthly budget when everything has stayed within your budget goals (or come under budget).

It's even more fun now that I've paid off my credit card debt, because I can increase the budget a bit in some areas. Since I've freed up $185 a month, I can allocate that money to other categories in my budget, like Groceries, Savings, and Mortgage Paydown (which is a subcategory in my Savings category).

I'm always within budget in all spending categories now, but it took a while to get it down pat. In the beginning, I would overbudget and end up with money just sitting in a category.

Now, that might seem like a good thing, but when that money could have been in my savings account earning interest, I consider it a lost opportunity. (You might want to have a category to make sure you don't overdraw your account, call it Cushion or Overdraft protection, and make sure you keep $10 or $20 in it.)

Another thing that I think is fun about working with my budget is being able to watch my savings grow. Since I have a separate spreadsheet within my budget for each spending category, I can keep track of both my spending and my savings totals. And, with weekly deposits going into my savings categories, there's that immediate gratification of watching the numbers go up each week.

Budgeting is fun for me, and it will be for you too, once you get the hang of it. If you have a weekly or monthly deposit going into your savings account, you will feel deeply satisfied as you watch it grow.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Urban Legends and Affiliate Programs

While reading at MyLot.com I found a post that indicated that Wal-mart was donating 5% of online sales to the Washington DC Community Center for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender folks (The Center).

According to this news article, this 5% donation was seen as proof that Wal-mart had a "gay agenda," and The American Family Association (AFA) was encouraging it's members to boycott Wal-Mart during Black Friday (the Friday after Thanksgiving) because of it's supposed support for same-sex marriage.

Upon further research I found this report to be inaccurate. It seems that The Center (Home for GLBT in Metro DC) joined an affiliate program that Wal-Mart offers to web site and blog owners through LinkShare (the company that runs affiliate programs for many online stores).

About.com has designated this confusing and misleading campaign an Urban Legend, and states that it is not clear why the AFA found it necessary to mislead it's followers in this regard.

In short, Wal-Mart does not have a "gay agenda." They simply have an affiliate program as do most online stores. Many web site and blog owners (both homosexual and heterosexual) have joined this affiliate program to make a bit of extra money by posting links to Wal-Mart and other online shopping sites.

For those of us who support the GLBT community there is some good news to report. During my research of this Urban Legend, I discovered that Wal-Mart joined the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce earlier this year. And they have pledged to sponsor some of its programs.

This is just one more reason to like Wal-Mart.


LinkShare  Referral  Prg

For more information about joining Wal-Mart's affiliate program, click on this image to join LinkShare.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Need Food for Christmas - Ask at Church

Most churches do much to help the poor throughout the year, but during Christmas they really work hard to provide a good Christmas dinner for needy people in their community.

I know of at least 2 churches in my community that give away boxes of food to families every month (I'm sure there are more, but I personally know of these two). These boxes contain cans of vegetables, boxes of pasta, canned fruit, dried fruit, frozen dinners, desserts, dried milk, beans, and sometimes personal hygiene products like toothpaste, mouthwash, feminine products, and soap.

During November and December these food boxes are supplemented with special purchases like frozen hams, cakes, pies, stuffing mix, frozen cooked chickens, canned concentrated juice, and condiments.

Supporting the community is one of the missions of most churches. So, if you need a little help during the holidays don't hesitate to ask for help at a church. And, if you don't need any help, consider donating to a local church, especially during the holidays.

Friday, December 15, 2006

5 Year Balloons - Losing Your Home

My partner's co-worker is losing her home.

No, she didn't miss too many payments. No, she didn't fail to pay her real estate taxes. She just picked the wrong mortgage when she bought her home. She chose a 5 year Balloon.

A Balloon Loan is somewhat like a 30-year mortgage. Both loans have payments that are amortized for 30 years. The difference is that with a Balloon, after the specified time period is up (5 years for a 5 year Balloon, 7 years for a 7 year Balloon, etc) the remainder of the loan becomes due in full (What is a Balloon Loan).

That means that after 5 or 7 years of faithfully making your payments, you have to come up with the entire amount that is still owed on your loan. The amount that is still owed is usually a very large sum of money, because not much of the principal has been paid off in only 5 or 7 years.

Many people choose these types of loans because the interest rate is a little bit lower. They figure they will want to sell the house within 5 years, or they think it will be easy to refinance the loan if they decide not to sell the house. All too often, neither is the case, and they end up needing a huge hunk of cash.

It's not uncommon for the bank or Credit Union that holds the Balloon to decide NOT to refinance the loan. In this case, if you haven't prepared yourself you will be rushing around desperately trying to find a bank that will refinance your loan in a short period of time.

If you fail to find a bank in time, you must either pay the loan in full, or lose your home.


This is what happened to my partner's co-worker. She had no clear idea of how the Balloon worked, so she didn't research and pursue a new loan. She waited till the last minute and was shocked to find that she was not only going to lose her home, but her credit rating was going to be decimated as well - by defaulting on the loan.

My advice is to stay away from Balloon loans. With a 30 year fixed-rate loan, if you decide you want to sell the house after 5 or 7 years, you will have time to do it without the spector of doom hanging over your shoulder. And, you won't be homeless on Christmas.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

How to pay for Christmas

How are you going to pay for Christmas this year? Did you save money throughout the year? Surely you knew Christmas was coming, right?

I saved a little bit of money each payday, and had it automatically sent to my Freedom (Smart Money) account at INGDirect. So, when I was ready to go Christmas shopping all I had to do was log in to ING and have the money transferred to my checking account. It only took 2 days for the money to get there, and I was all set to shop.

You don't have to make much money to do this. Five dollars a week adds up to $260 a year, and you won't even notice it coming out of your paycheck. Five dollars is easy to forget about.

If you are thinking that $260 is not even close to what you need for Christmas, then by-all-means save more. Whatever you do, do not touch those credit cards. STEP AWAY FROM THE CREDIT CARDS!

If you didn't save money for Christmas, now is the time to start saving for next year.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Refinance to pay off Credit Card Debt - No Way!

There's always been so much talk about using a cash-out refinance to pay off credit card debt. I've always believed that this was a Bad Idea. But with Christmas right around the corner the temptation to do this is even stronger, and refinancing to pay off credit card debt after Christmas is an even Bigger Bad Idea.

Why? Because...
  • you will charge more for Christmas knowing that the debt will be consolidated (you tell yourself that with a cash-out refinance the credit card debt is paid off. But it's still there - added to your mortgage)

  • you will actually pay just as much, if not more, for the credit card debt - even if you refinance at a lower interest rate - because you will take longer to pay it off (Home Equity is your nest egg...)

  • credit card debt is unsecured. If you default on your credit cards (don't pay them) creditors can hound you, but they can't foreclose on your home. If you move that debt into your mortgage you are securing the debt, and if you default the mortgage company will take your home (cash-out refinancing).

  • a cash-out refinance costs money (loan origination, closing costs, etc). If you can come up with cash to refinance, why not use that toward your debt? If you can't come up with cash, are you going to add the closing costs to the loan? If so, you are adding debt onto your debt to pay off your debt. (Sounds rediculous, doesn't it.)

  • home equity is your nest egg. It's your security during a time - your retirement - when you have little or no ability to create income. Find other ways to pay for the things you want now (like Christmas gifts), while you are young and strong and able to make money.

  • if you cash out more than 80% of your homes value, you will pay PMI (private mortgage insurance). PMI will offset the savings you hoped to gain by refinancing (Understanding cash-out...).

  • if you have substantial credit card debt, you are more than likely NOT managing your money well. Do you really think that paying off your credit card debt will stop you from charging again? If you are considering a cash-out refinance because you want to spend more than you have for Christmas, you will more than likely end up with new credit card debt - and be in far worse shape than you are right now!
Using a cash-out refinance is Bad Idea. Using a cash-out refinance to pay for Christmas is an even Bigger Bad Idea. Don't you agree.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Easy Gift Cards with MyPoints

There are tons of ways to earn gift cards, music downloads, and long distance calling cards online. Although this is not, technically, earning money, if these are things you would buy anyway, it amounts to the same thing.

My favorite method of earning money (gift cards) online is with MyPoints.com. Once you sign up, MyPoints will send you email containing advertising offers. You read the email, click on the "Get Points" button in the email, visit the site that opens (for as little as a few seconds), and your account is credited 5 points.

Five points for each email doesn't sound like much when you need 500 points or more to get a Gift Card. But it really is fast and easy to earn a $10 Gift Card. And the stores you can get Gift Cards for are probably stores that you shop at now.

Wal-Mart, Target, Sharper Image, Pier 1, Old Navy, Linens'n Things, Bath & Body Works, Kmart, JCPenny, Home Depot, Gap, CVS, Blockbuster, and Barns and Noble all offer a $5 or $10 Gift Card for 1500 points or less.

Fifteen hundred points is three hundred clicks on that "Get Points" button, but that isn't hard to do. I have MyPoints send the email to my yahoo mail account (not my primary email account) and I go there when I have free time or I'm just surfing the internet.

I open the email, click on the "Get Points" button, let the site load, then close it. It only takes a couple of minutes to earn that 5 points, and sometimes I earn much more than 5 points.

One day I was comparing prices for printer ink online, and doing the MyPoints clicking at the same time. I opened one of the MyPoints emails and found an advertiser offering a decent discount on the printer ink I had been looking for. I surfed the advertisers site, satisfied myself that they offered a good value and bought my ink from them.

I earned extra points on the purchase, plus the 5 points just for visiting the site, and found the printer ink I was going to buy anyway. How easy was that!

I've also earned 10 points per dollar spent at Overstock where I go to buy sheets, anyway. I bought a set of 400 thread count, King size sheets for $40 at Overstock and earned an extra 400 points. Forty dollars for King Size sheets! You can't find 180 thread count sheets in King size for $40. (shipping at Overstock is $2.95, no matter what you buy.) Now, you can't beat that with a stick.

Anyway, so far I've earned three $10 Gift Cards from MyPoints. I redeemed them all at Wal-Mart, because I shop at Wal-Mart every week, anyway. Earning that $30 was easy, and I actually found some great deals along the way.

Give MyPoints a try. If you surf the internet, read online, or just like to comparison shop on the web, it's not too much trouble to click on some email while you're doing it.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Easy Microwave Cleaning

Our microwave gets tons of use. It's easily used 6 - 12 times every day. But, I never think of cleaning it until I am just about to put something in there. Right at that moment, I don't want to stop what I am doing and get a scrubber to clean it.

So, here's what I do (it only takes 1 minute to clean):
  • put a cloth or sponge wet with water, windex, disinfectant, etc into the microwave
  • turn the microwave on high for 1 minute
  • be careful of the HOT cloth! - wipe the softened food off the microwave with the cloth
Whatever you use to wet the cloth with will leave its scent in the microwave, so be sure the cloth is clean and you like the scent you are using.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Has anyone Heard of myLot?

I found out about myLot on a thread that was offering tips on making money on the web. Has anyone made any money using it?

I've only been reading there for 2 days, but I have already found some interesting conversations going on. They have a Living Frugal area at the site, and it's fun to respond to some of the questions that are posed. Reading there also gives you ideas for posts you might want to write about in your own blog.

I don't expect to make much, if any, money using myLot, but it can be an entertaining way to spend some spare time.

Don't use Credit Cards - or should I?

I have a dilemma.

For over a year, I scrimped, sacrificed, and did without in order to pay off my credit card debt. I am now debt free.

The next logical step is to cut up all my credit cards (I've already cut up most of them), and stop using credit, right?

Well, this is where I have the dilemma. I have 2 credit cards that give cash back, and I'm torn about whether I should continue to use them for everyday purchases.

On the one hand it seems silly to NOT get the cash back on items I am going to buy anyway. Why not get a discount on necessities, if you can? Isn't that the frugal mantra?

Isn't the definition of frugal money management paying as little money as possible to meet your needs?

When I used these cards, I deducted the charges in my check register and always paid the balance off by (or before) it's due date. So, it's not like I was charging purchases, just making the minimum payment, and incurring interest. I spent quite a bit of time making sure the charges were accurate, and paid on time.

On the other hand, my brain repeats the mantra "credit cards are dangerous, don't use them." "Use cash," my brain (and Dave Ramsey) insists.

Now, this is a bit narrow-minded, I admit. I do tend to have a one-track mind once I make a decision about something. But, there is a valid point here.

If you never use a credit card, you can never get into credit card debt. If you don't use credit cards, there is no need to worry about a mistake or oversight, no trying to jump through hoops to meet the criteria for the cash back (only certain stores qualify), no concerns about the due date changing from month to month, no temptation to charge something you don't have the money for (but it's a really great deal and you can save a lot money buying it now).

In short, if you don't charge it, you don't have to fight an entire industry that is working it's hardest to get interest and fees from you. And, you don't have to fight you-as-your-worst-enemy syndrome.

So, I'm stuck. I actually called a credit card company to re-issue cards (I had cut them up) for my account. Now, I'm wondering if I made the correct decision.

What do you think? Is the hassle and risk of using a credit card worth the cash back offer?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Keep Saving after Credit Card Debt is paid

I've paid off all of our Credit Card debt. So now, what do I do with that extra $185 (plus the $200+ from Kim's part-time job) that I was sending the credit card companies every month?

Yep, you guessed it, I'm going to save it. Or, most of it anyway.

The money from Kim's part-time job is nice hunk of change, but it's not something I am counting on. Part of the agreement Kim and I made about her getting another job was that it was temporary and she would quit at the first sign of feeling over-worked. (While the job lasts, it will all be saved in the New House fund.)

But, the extra $185 a month that went to pay off our credit card debt gets to be redistributed in the budget. And, that's going to be fun!

A small portion will go back into our food budget to add a little variety, and provide us with occasional treats.

Things like herbal tea, Ruffles potato chips (a rare treat, but the best brand of chips out there), roasts, lasagna (high cost for the cheese and sausage), and steak were cut from our food budget. They can come back in now - on an occasional basis.

Another small portion of money will go back toward paying down our mortgage. Paying just a small additional principal payment can shave years off your mortgage, and save you money in interest payments.

By paying an extra $30 a month for 2 years, I've cut the mortgage back 3 years and 1 month. That saved me $3720 in interest payments.

The biggest chunk will go into our New House fund and be saved for a down payment and closing costs on a new home in the sticks. (I enjoy other people, their guests, friends, music, and pets the most when it's from a distance :-).

So, most of the money I freed up by not having debt gets saved.

Saving money is a permanent goal for me, and will always be a part of my budget. It's a truly satisfying feeling knowing I will have that money tucked away - ready for what we decided is most important to us.

Credit Card Debt Paid Off - was it worth the sacrifice?

I did it! I paid off all of our credit card debt. Hooray for us! (We did the happy dance yesterday, when I sent that last payment to Bank of America.)

If you read Tweak Your Financial Goals - 1 Year Mark, you know that as of November 7 (2006), I still owed $560 on the last credit card. I figured I would have it paid off in 3 months.

I was sending approximately $185 a month to that last credit card company. Now, that might not seem like a lot of money to some folks, but when you're supporting a family of 3 on less than $20,000 ($16,700 take home) a year it's a hunk of cash to come up with every month.

If you've done the math, you can see that sending $185 a month for 3 months pays off that $560, and that was my plan. But, when I made the November payment, I was so excited about being so close to my goal that I dug even deeper to pay it off early.

I made the November payment on the 17th, and by the 27th I came up with enough money to send an additional payment. Then yesterday (December 8th) I had December's payment a week early, so I made 3 payments in about 21 days..

How did I manage to come up with $560 in less than a month? I did two things.

One, I pared our living expenses down to the bone. That meant:
  • a cold house (turned the heat way down-this meant I could use some of the money I had saved for propane, because we would have more left for next year)
  • no treats or snacks in the food budget (we rarely eat junk food so that part wasn't too hard, but entres of ground beef, eggs, beans, soups, or pastas was boring at times)
  • no eating out (we don't do this often, but I even eliminated our once-in-a-blue-moon fast-food run)
  • no extra principal payments on the mortgage (I usually send in additional payments to accelerate our 30 year mortgage, instead I sent that money to the credit card company)
Two, my partner got a part-time job at a nearby grocery store. Now, this method of coming up with extra money obviously made the biggest difference in the short run, but it was the most challenging for me.

Kim had been talking about getting a part-time job for a while, but I was against it. I felt that she was already contributing enough by working 40 hours a week at her regular job. Also, I didn't think she would find a job that would allow her to set her own hours (she wanted to work one day during each week and Saturdays).

But, she persisted. She really liked the people at the grocery store where she does our shopping, and she believed that the manager there would let her work on the two days she had available. So, I figured it was worth a try. She was right. He hired her on the spot.

The hourly wage is low, and some weeks she is only scheduled for one day, but the $50 she makes on that one day made a huge difference in our saving ability. (And, she really likes working there.)

The job doesn't cost us much. It's only 5 blocks from home, so the gas use is negligible. She packs a lunch, or comes home to eat. And, she didn't have to buy any special clothing; it's a grocery store so jeans and tennis shoes are fine.

So, that's how we did it. Lots of sacrifice and some extra work. Was it worth it? You betcha! We are Free from debt (except the mortgage), and that feels really fine!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Organize your Kitchen

Cleaning out your kitchen cabinets and drawers might not be the most fun you’ve ever had, but it offers some real benefits.

  • An Organized kitchen
  • Less clutter; more space for everything; less breakage when rooting in the cabinets
  • Time savings – no more searching through a drawer full of utensils for the potato peeler
  • Money savings - you won’t waste money on duplicates or things you don’t need

Are you with me? Then let’s get started.

First decide how many dishes your family needs. If you have a family of 3 like I do, a service for 4 is enough. If you have a family of 6, a service for 8 will give you 2 extra place settings. If you have guests often, then you will want a few extra, but don’t have (buy) more than you need.

Why? Because the more dishes you have, the stronger the temptation to let them pile up. If you have just enough dishes for everyone, they will be washed quickly because they are needed. They won’t be piling up in your sink.

Now, open the cabinets that hold your dinnerware. This is where you will start. Once you get your plates, bowls, and glasses pared down based on your family size, other decisions come easier.

Take out any dishes that your family doesn’t (or rarely) uses. Do you actually use those small glasses? What about coffee mugs; how many of those do you actually use?

Do your plates all match? Do you want them to match? Pull out what you don’t use.

Second, move to the silverware drawer. You might want to keep extra forks or spoons. If your family is like mine, you have a problem with disappearing forks or spoons. So, pare down based on your family size (2 of each utensil per person), but keep extra disappearing utensils (we keep extra forks).

Third, tackle the preparation and cooking utensils. Take your time here and really think about whether these are actually used. Most of us have too many cooking and preparation utensils, and we don’t use most of them.

The cook in the family usually has a favorite spatula, slotted spoon, ladle, potato peeler, paring knife, and carving knife - and she/he doesn’t use anything else. But, count how many spatulas, spoons, peelers, and knives you have. Wayyy more than you use, I bet.

If you don’t use it, get rid of it. It’s just taking up space and making it difficult to find what you need.

Fourth - on to the mixing bowls. Unless you mix and bake several things at the same time, you only need 3: small, medium, and large. If you have several sets of mixing bowls, keep the glass bowls and get rid of the rest. Glass is best because it won’t react with anything you put in it, unlike aluminum (which doesn’t get along with acids).

Last, take a good look at your cookware. How much of it do you use? Does anyone actually use that little saucepan that comes in the set of pots and pans? I think my daughter has used ours for hot dogs a couple of times, but mostly it just takes up space.

If you get stumped along the way, or just have a difficult time letting something go, put it into a box and set it aside (in the garage or shed). If you find you need it, it gets to come back inside. If you don’t go looking for it, you don’t need it. Pass it on to someone who will use it (donate it).

There, now you have an organized kitchen. You can reach your mugs without knocking the glasses over. You're saving time because you know where everything is. And, you won't be wasting money to buy duplicates of things you can't find.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Christmas Gifts Coming in - old stuff has to go Out

Christmas is a great time to weed through all your "stuff." With everyone in your family getting gifts, a bunch of new things will be brought into your house, and you will have to make room for it all. This is also a good way to discover what you really need for Christmas.

Remember, if you want to be organized and clutter-free,
old things have to go Out when new things come In (unless you don't have enough for the basics).

I'm starting with the linen closet. So grab some boxes and let's get started. You're doing this with me, right?

It might amaze you to see how many duplicate linens you have. It surprised me, and I usually keep my belongings to a minimum. But, when I opened my linen closet, I had to ask myself, "How did I get so many "extras," and how many do I really need?"

For example, how many sets of sheets do I really need for 3 beds? I had 8 sets of sheets, plus 3 unmatched sheets. Two of those unmatched sheets were for a twin bed! We haven't had a twin bed in years.

I pared these down to 2 sets of sheets for each bed. One set for the bed, and one set for the laundry (this way you won't feel pressured to wash your sheets immediately).

I pulled the two oldest sets
(they were pretty worn) and the unmatched pieces. These went into my sewing storage for future projects (I crochet rag rugs, and sheets make excellent material for this). This left me with 6 sets, just enough.

If you find that you don't have enough sheet sets, put them on your Christmas list. Maybe someone will give you a gift certificate and you can pick out the sheets that match your bedroom decor (you could drop a hint). (Overstock.com is the best place to buy quality sheets at a real discount.)

How about pillows? How many bed pillows do we need? Four pillows for each bed is too many if you ask me, but everyone wants four pillows on their bed, so 4 for each bed it will be. Eight pillows is what we needed, 11 pillows is what I had.

The extra 3 pillows went into the trash. (They were too lumpy to be used, even as pet beds.) Need pillows? Put them on the Christmas list.

I figured we needed 2 blankets and 2 comforters per bed. One light-weight blanket and comforter for summer, and a heavier weight blanket and comforter for winter. We had an extra comforter that I pulled. This went into sewing material storage. It will make a great window quilt.

Winter throws; I had 2. I am making the third as a Christmas gift. (shhhh don't tell.)

Now, how about towels? Two towels per person is enough. One towel in use; one towel for the laundry. Six towels is what I had. The old towels had already been delegated to wet dog duty.

I had 10 washcloths, and only needed 6 (2 per person, one set for the laundry and one set in use), so the older, thinner washcloths will be used as cleaning rags.

That's it for my linen closet
(how did you do). I've pared down to basics, and cleared out space for Christmas gifts. Next, the kitchen cabinets.



Overstock.com, Inc.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Money Tips for Teens

  • Save 5% of All the money you get - Gifts, too.
    Saving 5% isn't hard, it's only a nickel out of every dollar. But the earlier you start saving it, the faster it will grow. So, when you need a hunk of cash to buy a car, clothes for the prom, or an expensive trip with your classmates, it will be there for you.

  • Have a Savings Goal.
    Are you saving for a car? The prom? A trip? Whatever your goal is, figure out how much money you will need, and start saving. Having a goal focuses your brain power, and makes it easier to save (It's cool, too. Watch your friend's reaction when you tell them you are saving for a car).

  • Open a Savings Account.
    You can open a savings account online or at a local bank. You will earn a higher interest rate with an online savings account. Either way, you will need to have your parents open the account for you if you are under 18. If you want to be the only one who can access your cash, then save it in your room somewhere. Just make a commitment to save, and don't touch that money until you've reached your savings goal.

  • Spend your money with a Plan.
    Take a minute to write down what you want to buy and how much it costs, before you go to the store. At the top of a piece of paper, write how much money you have. Subtract the cost of what you want to buy. Is there enough left for your 5% Savings (leave 5% at home so you can't spend it)? Do you have enough for the tax? It only takes a minute to write it down, but it keeps you on track once you get to the store.

  • Go online to find the Best Price.
    Always compare prices at different stores to find the best price for what you want to buy. You will be surprised how much you can save just by shopping at a different store. Try Froogle.com or pricegrabber.com for online shopping, or go to local store web sites like Walmart.com or Sears.com to find local prices. You don't have to buy it online, you are just checking prices.

  • Think of what you buy as an Investment.
    An investment is something you spend money on that you expect to last for a while. So, ask yourself how long this thing (that you are buying) is going to last. If it isn't going to last very long, like a pizza, don't spend much money for it. If it will give you value for a long time, like a CD player, then it is a good investment and spending more money on it is a good idea.

  • Don't Borrow Money without a Plan to Pay it back.
    Avoiding debt (owing someone money) is best, but if you do borrow have a plan to pay it back. Write it out on paper (writing always helps to focus your brain to work on your plan, even when you aren't consciously thinking about it). Can you work it off? Can you earn extra money recycling aluminum, cutting grass, doing laundry for someone? If you can't come up with a plan, don't borrow money.

  • Save all your Receipts.
    You just never know when something you bought is going to break, stop working, or just not work right. If you have the receipt, it's easy to take it back (most stores will give you your money back on defective merchandise for up to 30 days after you buy it). And, receipts are your record of what you spent your money on. With a record of your spending habits, you can go back and see if you are making good investments or bad ones.

Friday, December 01, 2006

#1 Money Tip for Teens

You've got your own money now. How cool is that! So, what are you gonna do with it? Do you spend it all on that 6 CD changer stereo that is "off the chain," or on the newest, slimmest flip cell phone, so you can impress your friends?

Between the two, the stereo is the best investment. Why? Because a cell phone is a financial commitment; that means that you have to keep paying for it. The stereo is a done deal. It's paid for and you can use it over and over again without spending any more money.

You want to avoid financial commitments if you can. Once you are committed, like when you sign a contract for a cell phone plan, you have to keep paying a set amount of money every month.

So, what happens when you don't have any money next month (cause you spent it all on pizza for your friends, and a new CD)? You lose the cell phone service, and the money you spent to get the phone is wasted.

Well sure, you still have the phone but you can't call anyone with it, so what's the use? (Those games get boring after you've played them 300 times.)

So, the #1 tip for spending your money is to think of what you buy as an investment.

I know, I know, investment is a boring word. You're probably thinking that "investment" is some old-person word, and you aren't even listening, right? Well, that makes sense. But, bear with me.

Using the word "investment" in this sense just means that you expect what you buy to last for some period of time. You wouldn't buy a stereo or CD player and only expect it to last long enough to play one CD, or one song from the radio, would you? Of course not.

So, when you think of that 6 CD changer as an investment, you're just saying that you expect it to entertain you with music for years and years.

The good investments are the ones that you don't have to spend any more money on; they will work even if you don't spend one more penny on them.

An example of a good investment is that CD player you are thinking about buying. You might want to buy new CDs to listen to on the CD player, but you don't have to buy any more CDs for the CD player to work, right?

What about the cell phone? Will it work even if you don't spend any more money on it? Well the games will work, but you can't call anyone with it if you don't pay your bill month after month after month.

See what I mean? A cell phone is a bad investment, because it just keeps costing you money. And if you don't have the money one month, they turn off your service, and the phone is useless.

So, you decide. Do you want a good investment (something that lasts without spending more on it), or a bad investment (something that keeps holding its hand out for mo' money and mo' money and mo' money)?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Brand Names I'll pay Extra for

Most of us Frugal Aficionados praise generics, and attempt to prod you into trying the no-brand equivalent of the items you buy. And, in most cases, buying a generic will not only save you money, it will do the job just as well as a higher-priced Brand Name. However, there some generics that just won't do the job or fill the need as well as Brand Name products.

Now, I can squeeze a penny till Lincoln squeals, and I enjoy doing it. But, saving money is just not satisfying when the product you bought doesn't fill the need. And, it doesn't save you money if you end up buying it twice (once for the generic, and then a second time to buy the brand that fills the need or does the job right).

So, here is a list (HA you knew it was going to be a list, didn't you) of Brand Name items that, in my opinion, are worth the extra money.
  • Colgate Total toothpaste.
    For the last few years, I've noticed that my teeth seem to be shifting. Once this became obvious and I realized it wasn't my imagination, I did some research and discovered that more than 75% of Americans over 35 have gingivitis or periodontal disease (which can cause loosening or shifting of the teeth). Colgate Total is the only toothpaste approved by the FDA for helping to prevent gingivitis. It also contains triclosan, a mild antimicrobial that has been clinically proven to reduce plaque and gingivitis. I've been using Colgate Total for about a year now and my teeth have stopped shifting.

  • Crest Pro-Health Oral Rinse.
    This mouthwash effectively kills the bacteria that causes gingivitis and periodontal disease (and bad breath). Because it contains no alcohol (alcohol containing mouthwash can actually make bad breath worse), it is much easier to keep in your mouth for 30-60 seconds as recommended.

  • Pantene or Tresemme shampoo.
    If you've read Frugal Extremes you know that I prefer these products because they do a better job with my fine, limp hair than the generic shampoos. And, because these products are thicker, you use less so it ends up costing about the same as a generic.

  • Caress bath soap.
    Generic (and many brand name) bath soaps dry my skin out. That means that when I use a generic soap, I must also buy a moisturizing lotion. Caress ends up costing about the same as a generic soap + lotion, so I skip the extra step and just buy the Caress.

  • Swiffer Sweep and Vac.
  • I know, I know, a broom is wayyy cheaper. But, a broom also sends the dirt and dog hair flying all over the room, and I end up having to sweep again and again and ... (well you get the idea). I can't stand it when I mop - after using a broom to sweep - and find dried dog hair stuck all over the floor. The Swiffer sweep and vac simply works better and saves me time and frustration. (I don't buy the Swiffer cloths, I make my own).



  • Dawn dishwashing liquid.
    It takes less to do a better job. It's also a great stain lifter in the laundry.

  • Awesome or Greased Lightening cleaners.
    I don't know if these are big brands any more, but they both still work very well. When you have a really grungy cleaning job, they do the job.

  • Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.
    I don't buy this product often, maybe once a year. But nothing works better on textured surfaces (like the refrigerator), or to get out stains that would otherwise need such hard scrubbing that you risk damaging the surface.

  • Hunts or Del Monte ketchup.
    I don't really care which brand I buy as long as it's a name brand. Generic ketchup does not taste very good to me, and I do like my ketchup.

  • Dukes mayonnaise.
    Another food that I am picky about is mayonnaise. It has to be tangy and it has to taste rich, and Dukes is both. My family will just not eat the generic.

  • Prego, Hunts, or Del Monte spaghetti sauce.
    Like with ketchup, I will eat several brands, but I won't eat generic pasta sauce. I just don't like the taste. (With the can sauces I have to add a teaspoon of sugar, I like my pasta sauce a touch sweet).

  • Purina dog and cat food.
    Now, I know that Purina is not one of the top brands of pet foods, but it is one of the lower priced brands that is actually good for your animals. I had a vet tell me that Purina foods are just fine for your pets, and they cost significantly less than the fancier brand names. The generic pet foods are so full of fillers that to give your animals the needed nutrients you have to feed them much more food (that's not saving money), and they make your pets poop more often.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

10 Tips for Cheap Clothes

OK, it's another list. I know a list isn't as fun to read, but I'm a big fan of lists because the main points (or suggestions) are easier to find. So, here goes.
  1. Look for clothes on auction sites like Ebay, Yahoo auctions, Overstock auctions, and Bidville. But be careful. If you are really picky or hard to fit, only buy brands that you know fit you right. I bought some Aeropostale tops, at a great price, for my daughter on Ebay. Once we got them we discovered that they had a square rather than tapered cut to the body and my daughter wouldn't wear them. Remember to add the shipping and handling into the cost of the item. If the price (including S & H) is not cheaper than the store, and you are not sure of the cut, don't buy it.
  2. Only buy clothes when they are on Sale. Stores discount their clothing just before the seasons change. So, if you wait until fall to buy your summer clothes they will always be on sale.
  3. Look for rebates, ebates, and coupons BEFORE shopping. You can find sales, rebates, and coupons for items you were going to buy anyway.
  4. Don't buy high-priced clothing when you know they are going to be stained. Why pay "quality" prices for play clothes, gardening apparel, fishing/hunting camouflage, etc. Ask yourself, Are you trying to clothe yourself, or just show off (keep up with the Jonses)? Shop accordingly.
  5. If you are a Jr or small size, check out the boy's department. Children's clothing is usually cheaper, and for items like T-shirts, sportswear, shorts, etc., the styles are often similar. Always try clothes on before buying.
  6. Don't buy clothes that won't match what you already have. I don't care that it's on sale. If you have to buy something to match in order to wear it, it's not saving you money.
  7. Make small repairs before they become big problems. If you notice a hem or belt loop loosening, repair or reinforce it now, before it becomes a big hole that can't be fixed.
  8. Check Freecycle, and Craigslist for free or low cost clothing.
  9. If you find a great sale buy more than one. Make sure it matches what you already have, and it's something you know you will wear. If you are buying for a child, buy one in her current size and one in a larger size for next year. Last fall, I found the style and color shorts that I prefer at WalMart - marked way down. I bought 2 pair of each color. Now I have enough shorts for years to come and paid less than I would for one summer.
  10. Shop Thrift Stores. That old standby that everybody knows about can get you some new clothes that still have the store tags, or something cool, retro, or funky that fits your style.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Winterize Your Home

Keep the Heat inside this year:
  • Seal up cracks in walls, around door frames, and around windows with caulk. You can reduce your energy bills by as much as 10% by sealing the air leaks in your home.
  • Buy new door sweeps (check them yearly for cracks or splits), or make draft dodgers.
  • Use expanding foam to seal around your dryer vent, pipes, or drains with openings to the outside.
  • Make window quilts or hang heavy drapes to keep cold air from coming through the window.
  • Use foam weatherstripping around outside doors, and inside doors to rooms that you aren't heating.
  • Add Insulation to your attic. It is one of the most cost-effective ways of moderating the temperature in your home.
  • Keep the curtains or blinds on south-facing windows open on sunny days (close them at night). Use the sun to warm your rooms.
  • Insulate heating ducts that run through unheated spaces like the attic or basement. You can lose up to 60% of your heated air if your ducts aren't insulated.
  • Insulate the first 6 feet of the hot and cold water pipes connected to the water heater.
Many of these insulation methods cost very little, but can make a big difference in your heating costs, and the comfort level of your home. We just made a Walmart run and bought insulating foam for the outside doors ($2.72), a door sweep ($2.54), and expanding foam for the dryer vent ($3.97).

Ground Beef in Recipes

You can use 3/4 lb ground beef in a recipe that calls for 1 lb. We always do this and never notice a difference. It's an easy way to save a little bit of money with every meal that uses ground beef.

Always buy packages of ground beef that are 3 lbs or more. Most grocery stores start their meat discounts at 3 lb.

Divide ground beef into 3/4 lb sections, put them into freezer bags, squash them flat, seal, and freeze. Flat packages stack easier in the freezer and thaw out faster.

If your ground beef is frozen and you want to use it right away, boil it
in water instead of browning in a frying pan. It not only cooks faster, the meat has a softer texture, and you don't have to scrap it as it cooks. We boil all ground beef when it is to be crumbled, and never have to remember to take it out of the freezer to thaw. (use a potato masher or fork to break it up after cooking)

A good rule of thumb for meatloaf, meatballs, etc., is 1 (3/4) lb ground meat, 1/3 Cup bread crumbs, and 1 egg. If you remember this ratio, you can make the basis for an entre of any size that you want to stretch. 1:1/3:1

Beef Stroganoff

Ingredients:
Brown ground beef. Drain. Boil egg noodles. Drain egg noodles, put them back into the pot and add all other ingredients. Stir to blend. Heat through; approx 10 minutes.

You can change up this recipe by:
  • adding peas
  • using onion powder instead of garlic salt
  • mix with cooked rice or mashed potatoes instead of egg noodles

Crockpot Beanie Weenies

Ingredients:
  • 4 cans pork n beans
  • 1/4 Cup ketchup
  • 1-2 large onions - chopped (optional)
  • 1/2 Cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 Cup mustard
  • 1/4 Cup BBQ sauce
  • 1 lb hot dogs - sliced into bite-sized pieces
Add all ingredients to crock pot and stir to blend. Cook on Low 3 - 4 hours.

BBQ Beans

Ingredients:
  • 1 lb bacon - cut or broken into pieces
  • 1 & 1/2 bell peppers- chopped
  • 1 & 1/2 large onions - chopped
  • 1/4 Cup brown sugar
  • 18 oz BBQ sauce
  • 6 TBS white vinegar (optional, only if you like it tangy)
  • 6 cans pork n beans
Cook bacon and save drippings; cut or break into pieces when cool. Saute bell pepper and onion in bacon drippings.

Add all ingredients to large pot, stir to blend, cover, and simmer for 1 hour or more (longer it cooks, more the flavors blend), or crock for 3 hours on Low.

Spanish Rice

  • 2 Cups rice
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 19 oz water
  • 1 tsp chopped jalipeno peppers (optional)
  • 2 TBS taco seasoning (make your own)

Add all ingredients, except rice, to sauce pan and stir to blend. Bring to a boil. Add rice, stir, cover, and lower temperature to a simmer. Simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Crockpot Baked Potatoes

These potatoes come out tasting more steamed than baked. They are firm, sweet, and delicious. I always fill the crock as high as I can because everyone wants to eat them the next day.

  • 12 (or more) small to medium potatoes
  • foil to wrap potatoes
Wash potatoes and pat dry. Wrap each potato in foil and place in dry crockpot. Cover and cook on Low for 6 hours.

Crockpot Green Beans and Kielbasa

Ingredients:
  • 8 oz Kielbasa - sliced
  • 14.5 oz (or similar) can stewed tomatoes
  • 1 (4 oz) can mushrooms (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp basil
  • 3 cans Green Beans (2 of them drained)
Add all ingredients to crockpot and mix thoroughly. Cook on low for 3 hours.

*Hint: Buy your spices at Big Lots for 50 cents each.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Fixer Upper - Leaking Hot Water Heater


My hot water heater is in the bathroom. One of the previous owners had built a box to cover the hot water heater by covering a wooden frame with beadboard paneling. I use this box as a table and keep books, lotion, blow dryer, etc on it.

Anyway, I moved the box to clean under it and noticed that the coupling on the hot water outlet was covered in rust, and a pool of water had collected in the depression. Needless to say, there was a leak in the fitting.



Image is to show the depression where water pooled. This is not my water heater.


(This was one of the times that I was glad that I'm picky about cleaning under things, otherwise we wouldn't have known about the leak until it was pouring out onto the floor).

After watching it for a couple of minutes I was able to determine that the water was coming up over the compression nut and running down to the depression and pooling. So, I figured that the compression ring has deteriorated and failed.

The rust looked bad and I was concerned that it may have eaten into the water outlet fitting. I was worried that we would have to buy another hot water heater. So, I wasted a week doing research, and asking my maintenance friends a bunch of questions.

Finally I worked up the nerve to actually try to remove the compression coupling and see how far the rust went. It turns out the rust was only on the surface and I was able to repair the leak by cutting the copper pipe back a few inches, and replacing the compression ring and nut.




Saturday, November 25, 2006

O% Credit Cards and Signature Loans

A few days ago, a friend came to me and explained a financial scenario that he was considering. He wanted to know if I thought the scenario was a good idea. Now, I'm no expert in all things financial, but I do have opinions and some knowledge in this area.

(I'm also known as a person who can squeeze a penny till Lincoln squeals, but that's another story.)

Anyway, this person, we'll call him Ron, said that he needed money to move, but didn't have any saved. He said that he had a plan to get the money and wanted my opinion of his plan.

Ron had been mailed one of those "0% APR for 6 months" credit card offers and thought that he would take out a signature (or personal) loan from a local finance company to pay for his move, then use the "0% APR for 6 months" credit card to pay off the signature loan.

The local finance company was charging 28% APR for a signature loan, but Ron figured he could pay it off as soon as he got the "0% APR for 6 months" credit card in the mail. His thinking was that he would end up paying no or very little interest on the whole deal.

He wanted to know if this would hurt his credit and if I thought it was a good idea. I didn't think it was a good idea.

Here's why:
  1. My first thought was, "I don't think your credit card application will be approved once they run your credit history and find a new signature loan in your credit report." Signature loans are often considered "high risk loans" because of their high interest rates and high frequency of default (Top 7 Ways to Improve Your Credit Score-Play by the Rules).
  2. Hard credit inquiries hurt (lower) your overall credit score and he was going to add two hard inquiries in less than a month (How Credit Scores are Calculated-Interest in obtaining new credit).
  3. The Credit Card company may not offer a way to pay off the signature loan other than a Cash Advance, which may not be included in the 0% introductory offer. And, a cash advance may incur interest as high as 30% APR.
  4. If Ron makes just one payment late, that 0% APR skyrockets to the Default interest rate, which can be much higher than the normal (non-default) APR.
  5. Using a Credit Card to pay off a Signature Loan is a dangerous juggling act that will fall apart with one mis-step. If Ron takes out a Signature Loan first, then finds that he can't get the"0% APR for 6 months" credit card, he will be paying 28% in interest throughout the life of the loan.
I'm assuming that Ron needs a loan because either his take-home pay is not sufficient to enable him to save money, or he is managing his money very poorly (or both). In either case, I don't think that adding new debt to an already precarious financial situation will improve his money management skills.

So, lowering his credit score by adding two hard inquiries, taking a chance that one of the credit applications may be turned down, risking the possiblity of having to pay a cash advance rate on the credit card, and the risk of making a mistake or making one late payment, means that if one thing goes wrong, Ron will go from struggling to save money to drowning in debt.

In my opinion, the risks in this plan are just too high.

Make Your Own Gift Bag from recycled clothing

I am a big fan of recycling, re-using, and re-purposing clothes. It bugs me to throw out a shirt that has a small damaged or stained area, while it still contains good material. So, one of the ways I re-use shirts is to cut them up and make Gift Bags. Depending on how much "good" material you get from the shirt, you can make small, medium, or large Gift Bags.

Making a Gift Bag can be as simple as sewing three sides of a square (or rectangle), hemming the top, and using a ribbon to tie the bag closed.




Or, as elaborate as making mitered corners, a casing to hold the ribbon that will tie the bag, and a buttonhole opening for the ribbon.

You can even line the bags if you want to be fancy.



If you have a large flat-bottomed gift to wrap, you can add a bottom to the bag. If you want to add a bottom you will need four sides for the gift bag, rather than two.
  • Measure the bottom of the gift
  • Add 1/2" all around for the seams, and cut out your fabric bottom
  • Cut and sew together the four sides of the bag, leaving 1/2" unsewn (seam allowance)
  • Sew bottom piece to the (sewn) sides, using the 1/2" seam allowance

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Make Your Own Cream of whatever Soup

This recipe makes the equivalent of 9 cans of soup, at a cost of pennies per recipe.
  • 2 Cups powdered mild
  • 3/4 Cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 Cup instant Chicken bullion
  • 2 TBS dried onion flakes, or minced onion
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
Combine ingredients, stirring until distributed.

To substitute for 1 can of cream of whatever soup, combine 1/3 Cup dry mix with 1 + 1/4 Cups cold water. Heat and stir until it thickens. Then use as you would the canned soup.

When a recipe I'm making calls for a can of Cream of "Whatever" soup, I don't bother with the Whatever part. I just make the soup (above) and add it to my recipe. But , if you'd like to add the "Whatever" to your creamed soup, here are some suggestions:

Mushroom: add ½ cup finely chopped mushrooms.
Celery: add ½ cup minced celery.
Potato: add 1 cup cooked diced potatoes.
Chicken: add ½ cup cooked chicken.
Vegetable: add 3/4 cup cooked vegetables.
Broccoli: add 1 cup cooked chopped broccoli.