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

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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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.