Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Really Great Quilt (Maker)

I saw this Bakers Dozen quilt by Jen Kingwell via Pinterest...

     featured in Today's Quilter.


All I can say is... wow.





Here's another quilt design by Jen Kingwell --

More Pinterest images here --

Her Facebook page is here.

She really is amazing. 

Cutting Expenses -- When You Think You Can't (Part IV: Saving on Food And Dining Out

Hopefully this current series on cutting expenses, even when you think there's no breathing space, has been of help. The Brick and I have lived on a limited income for much of our married life. We spent modestly, even when we didn't have to, so he could retire at age 60, and we could do some things we've always wanted  -- like spend three weeks in Panama, and travel the country in a 5th wheel. We're currently looking at the possibility of a round-the-world cruise in 2018 -- provided we find tickets at the right price, that is. 

You've thought about the basics (Part I), ideas on money and interest (Part II), and everyday expenses (Part III).

Now comes one of the hardest areas to consider:  FOOD.


Like pizza -- one of the best budget foods out there, if you make it yourself.

We all need it.  
(And if it's Tostitos with Lime chips, plus the Brick's wonderful coffee, want it!)

How can you save on it? 


I've studied this area extensively. (My chubby belly proves it.) I've written several articles on this, including:

*spending $30 (or less) a week 

Here's a three-part series, Thriving At Rock-Bottom, that should help:

Part I is here.   (What to buy -- and where.)

Part II is here.    (What to do with what you buy.)

Part III is here.     (Easy-to-make meals)


Protein, fruit and greens... yum!   :)

Here are some more ideas:

*Make do with what you have... 
     Even if it's not perfect. Or you'd prefer something else. 

     *Keep to a set amount. How much can you afford? That is what you have to spend. (Yes, within limits, you can hold to an extremely modest budget -- and still eat well.)

 *Unless it's absolutely essential (like milk or eggs), don't buy groceries unless they're discounted, or on sale. (Take advantage of every freebie you can -- like King Soopers/Kroger's Friday Download program.) For now, at least, use up what you've already got stashed.

     *Buy flour and sugar. Learn to make your own bread, cake and cookies. Our food blog can help, with plenty of thrifty recipes.

     *Buy meat and cheese thin-sliced...or slice it yourself.

     *Go vegetarian -- though I am not convinced this is the absolute best way to save. Too many 'organic' and 'gluten-free' specialty products shove their way in -- and unless you're buying directly from the source (like a farmer), they're not always a good buy.  Plus, whether you like it or not, your body needs protein and fats for best health. You can't always get those from vegetables.
     I would advocate a balanced diet, instead -- plenty of veggies, but some meat and a few carbs mixed in. To make your meat (which admittedly is expensive) go furthest, here's an interesting guide. 





     *Keep something quick on hand. A few cans of soup, purchased on sale, make an easy meal, next time you're sick or have to work late. (Buy your favorites -- this is no time to skimp.)

     *Make your own coffee or tea. (Get the brand you like. Even if it's more, it won't equal Starbucks' price. Get a coffeemaker you can program to automatically start in the morning -- ours came from the thrift shop, and was $10. You'll save that amount quickly.) Stock up on your favorite soft dinks when they go on sale. (Like Memorial Day or the Fourth.)

     *Don't go out to eat. Yet. If you absolutely must, because of company or business, order an appetizer, salad or bowl of soup -- and drink water. Or get the special. Eat half -- and save the rest for tomorrow's lunch or supper.  (My favorite restaurant hack: get the Tavern Double from Red Robin: $6.99.  Eat a third of the burger, then fill up on the unlimited fries. Ask for tartar sauce -- it's thick, creamy and full of crunchy stuff to dip your fries in.)

     *Take the opposite approach:  go out to eat less. But pay more. Trade two quickie fast food meals a week for one at a better restaurant -- you'll probably get more food -- and better-- for the money! Take this even further, and dine out once a month, but at a much more upscale restaurant, steak or seafood place. Use a Groupon to make your money go even further. Or:

     *Gift cards are a good way to pay for dining out -- provided you got them on sale, or with a bonus of some kind. Buy them when you can afford to; use them when  you can't. (See Part II of this series for more.)

     *Use up leftovers.  Like this fudge: cheap, fast and delicious. Oh my.

FIVE-MINUTE FUDGE

1 can sweetened condensed milk*
4 cups chocolate chips**
1 teaspoon vanilla
chopped nuts, dried cranberries or raisins

*or use this homemade version, instead.

**or what I used tonight: a chocolate Santa no one would eat at Christmas, 2 broken chocolate bars and two cups of chocolate chips.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave -- about 3- 3 1/2 minutes. Stir in milk and vanilla, then pour into a greased round or square 8" pan. Top with nuts, etc. Cool in the refrigerator until firm. That's it!



Good food, well presented, can help you and your family get through a lot of uncertainty and hard times.
     Edith Schaeffer taught me this in her wonderful book, Hidden Art -- and she's right.






Next time:  Saving on the Inevitables -- insurance, medical and funeral expenses

Friday, May 26, 2017

Cutting Expenses -- When You Think You Can't (Part III: Everyday Steps That Help)

     By now, if you've been reading this series, you've already figured out how much your current income and expenses are, and have taken some steps financially to help yourself. 

     One of the real places to save is through regular life -- small decisions that can really save money in the long run. Here are some that have helped us:

*Turn down your thermostat, or keep the air conditioning on only when you really need it. You'll save more this way than you think -- and you'll see the results directly on next months' bill.
      We save even more by not turning on the heat at all, until late in the fall...and turning it off in spring.  We use the electric fireplace or the woodstove, or cuddle under a blanket if it gets too chilly.

*Combine errands. As a kid, we went to town on Saturdays:  the post office, the bank, the grocery store, then the library -- with a stop at the ice cream parlor across the street! I didn't understand why The Mama wanted to do all this traipsing about at once -- but I do now. It saves gas, time and money.  To make it work best, though, you'll need to:

*Keep a list. What's almost out...or needed for next week's party? Write it down, or do what the Brick does -- keep it on the phone.
     This seems a little silly, until you have to trudge back to the grocery store because you forgot pancake syrup. Then it makes all the sense in the world.

*Fix your stuff, and keep it in good condition.  Sew on a button, stitch a hem, clean out the coffeepot or bathtub drain. You won't have to replace these items for years, or pay for expensive care. Youtube is full of videos on everything from trimming a tree to repairing your dishwasher.
      Often fix-it items are cyclical -- like turning your mattress twice a year, or polishing winter boots before storing them for the summer. For example: our waterpipes can clog from tree roots -- unless we pour a special cleaner down twice a year. What's cheaper -- buying the powder, or putting out for a plumber's house call? (Yet another reason to keep a list, by the way, to remind yourself.)





* Save your work clothes for work
. Did your mom ever announce, once you walked in the door from school: "Take those nice clothes off and change into play clothes." Jeans and a sweatshirt, once you get home, will be more comfortable -- save the nice pants and shirts for work or doing errands.
     Same for shoes; in fact, leaving them at the front door will protect your floors longer, and lessen the need to vacuum as frequently.  Wear slippers -- or just go barefoot, instead. Strengthens your feet.

*Hang clothes up -- or out. Dryers take a lot of energy, and have a bad tendency to fade and stress your clothes, particularly the dark-shaded ones. (Black dye still is not that long-lasting. How long do your black jeans last before fading?) Solve the problem by hanging clothes outside, or on a rack until dry. Do this often, and you won't need a humidifier, anymore. Your clothes, towels and bedding will last longer, which means you won't have to buy replacements as often, either.

*Buy the best you can afford -- used or not. A 100% wool sweater from a good brand, purchased at the thrift shop, will last years longer than that trendy rayon number you just picked up at Target. All sorts of goods, from refrigerators to oriental rugs, stay useful with little maintenance if they're good quality, to begin with. Do your homework -- be picky -- then buy.

*Compare prices -- and always keep an extra of the essentials on hand. Computer ink is expensive when you buy it at Office Depot, unless you've got a coupon or it's on sale. Buy the ink online, instead, and you'll save a bundle. But you must have enough to keep you from an emergency trip -- and you need to know which is the lowest price.
     This doesn't just apply to household goods. The Brick relies on GasBuddy to tell him where the cheapest gas is. And if that place also is connected with King Soopers or Safeway, we get an additional discount from our rewards card.  (See below) But we wouldn't know this if we didn't check.
     While you're at it:

*Even if you don't follow a budget for anything else, keep to one for presents and celebrations. Many are the parents who blow a couple hundred on a kid's birthday party, then worry about paying the gas bill next month. You can't do this anymore. You won't have to as much, frankly, if you compare prices, buy presents on sale or at discount, and stock up on party food and decorations when they're a great buy. Do this from the getgo, and you'll have even more money saved.

*Take advantage of Swagbucks. I do a lot of searches for my writing -- or my own curiosity. When I do, the Swagbucks program awards that with SBs. (I'll also go through them to rent hotel rooms, shop at Ebay, that sort of thing.)
     Once you earn enough Swagbucks, they can be exchanged for goods and gift cards. It may not seem like much, but the Brick and I earn the equivalent of $100-150 annually! We use ours for Amazon or store giftcards -- like Lowe's and Home Depot. (We're making a lot of visits to HD, lately.) The nice thing: they don't pester you, or sell your contact info.
      Go here to find out more. If you decide to sign up, then I get a bit of a bonus, too.

*Movies, books and other entertainments:  rent them, buy them at discount -- or get them free.  That's what Redbox and the library are for. Our library has a used book-and-movie room that often has an excellent assortment. So does the local thrift shop. (We live in the one of the highest-income counties in the country -- and what gets donated is often higher-quality than what's available at Walmart and other discount places.) I use these for our pleasure, but give them as presents, as well. (Check first to make sure they're in usable condition.)
      If you really want new, unused items, check places like Amazon and Wal-Mart.com. Or wait for Target's or others' Black Friday promotions.


DVDs and books...perfect for weekends, especially snowy or rainy ones


*Same for plays, movies, concerts and such. Groupons and other specials are out there!  I can't tell you how many big-time Denver theatre productions show up on Travelzoo or Groupon... why in the world are you paying full price for them?  On their websites, these places often offer early specials or, toward the end of the run, last-minute discounts. Free events happen more than you think, too.
     For movies, wait until they hit the discount theatre (our favorites are the Elvis Cinemas here in the Denver area), go to the early show, or rent it when it hits the library or Redbox. Movies seem to move through this process much faster nowadays. Or:

*Don't pay for cable. Why should you, when Netflix, Hulu and other offerings are out there, at much cheaper prices? You can even time this -- sign up for a trial free period when you've got extra packages to send (Amazon Prime), or the holiday specials are out. (Just be sure to cancel in time -- put it on your calendar or, er, list.)
     You can also find movies, sports events and television series online for free. (In fact, we just watched Passengers and John Wick: Chapter 2 in the past few nights, thanks to the Brick.) Some channels, like AMC, actually offer episodes free for a limited time.
       It may take some searching, but websites like watch-series.com are out there, and usable for seeing series episodes and such. (Warning: these sometimes include spam -- you should have good firewalls on your computer, anyways, to protect your computer.) 

*Use coupons, but only when you really like the place: restaurant, grocery store, clothing or whatever. This isn't depriving yourself of everything you like -- it's saving on what you prefer.
       Check promotions, too. For example: Outback has free Bloomin' Onions on Monday when the race car driver it sponsors does well. If you're planning on going there, anyways, and  you're fond of these crunchy guys, why not go on Monday, instead of the weekend?
   
*Join rewards clubs, when you like the place. It often gives you a nice discount -- like a free birthday burger at Red Robin (or a free burger, after you buy 10), or a free grocery item at King Soopers/Kroger's or Safeway. (Check on Fridays.)  These places will offer discounts and freebies to members that they don't normally mention to others. Why not take advantage of them?

*Buy gift cards -- but only when they include something extra. Usually it comes in the form of a 10-20% discount, a free movie ticket, drink or other item.
     The best time used to be at Christmas -- but I've seen promotions lately for Easter, Mother's Day and Father's Day, as well. Only buy gift cards for the places you really like, so will often use.
      Gift cards make welcome presents -- and cost much less to send than a package. (We often pick restaurants, which lets people feel they're splurging when redeeming the card.) They don't have to be expensive, either -- a $10 giftcard will buy a nice lunch at fast food or casual place for a college student or Uncle Fred.

*Give something away.  So many others are in worse circumstances than you -- and me. Why not help? Sure, you can give a donation. (And I would recommend that for other countries besides our relatively-prosperous U.S...and for organizations, like the Mennonite Central Committee, that pull out very little for their own expenses.)
     But it comes to much more than that. Your neighbor or Aunt Sadie could use a ride to the grocery store, and some company. (A cookie, from the pack you just opened, and a cup of tea or coffee won't cost much at all.) The boy down the street wishes someone would notice his new (or new-to-him) bicycle. Take some flowers (purchased at discount, or picked from your garden) to the neighbor down the street. Spend a little time writing a note to someone you love -- or someone who's helped you. Or volunteer at a pet adoption center, Habitat for Humanity, or senior care home.  They're not going to ask -- you have to step up and do these things yourself. 
       Not only does your time, attention and money help others -- it helps you in the long run, too, by reminding what's really important.

It's what responsible adults do. And so you are.





Part I is here.

Part II (Money) is here.

Part IV (Food) is here.

Doggone: The Latest

I can't help myself -- these put a grin on my face. Fellow dog-lovers, you'll feel the same way.





Charley would do exactly the same thing...








And finally, this story:

An older, tired-looking dog wandered into my yard; I could tell from his collar and well-fed belly that he had a home and was well taken care of. He calmly came over to me, I gave him a few pats on his head; he then followed me into my house, slowly walked down the hall, curled up in the corner and fell asleep. An hour later, he went to the door, and I let him out.
The next day he was back, greeted me in my yard, walked inside and resumed his spot in the hall and again slept for about an hour. This continued off and on for several weeks.
Curious I pinned a note to his collar, 'I would like to find out who the owner of this wonderful sweet dog is and ask if you are aware that almost every afternoon your dog comes to my house for a nap.'
The next day he arrived for his nap, with a different note pinned to his collar, 'He lives in a home with 6 children, 2 under the age of 3 and he's trying to catch up on his sleep. Can I come with him tomorrow?'
[sent in by George Hammond]



"I'll respond, Mom, once I get my essential nap in..."

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Cutting Expenses -- When You Think You Can't (Part II: Money Steps That Help)

Here we go, on the path to Doing Something about your financial struggles. I'm assuming you've:

*Read Part I of this series, and thought about it.

*Gotten a better idea of exactly:

            --how much your income each month is
            --how much your expenses are

Every place you can cut reasonably painlessly -- or add in the same way -- will improve that bottom number difference between income and outgo. And it will let you pay off your debts more quickly.

     And what better place to start, than your money?

     Remember: these are baby steps you can take right now -- no fancypants hacks or drastic actions.
If these seem silly or too basic to you, that's the point -- they're very easy to accomplish, once you put your mind to it.These are all items the Brick and I have done, particularly during times when income was short. In fact, we use them now.
      They work. And they save money.

 As Financial Samurai points out, "It's not what you make -- it's what you keep."



*Get your income in the bank -- direct deposit, if possible.  Some people deal in cash, using the "envelope method." For us, having the money in our credit union account works best. We pay for nearly everything online, which saves time and postage. (Not to mention questions when your check doesn't arrive promptly.) But here's what also helps --

*Make a separate deposit to a savings account -- preferably automatic. Most people get paid close to the same amount every month. If you fall in that category, it would be fairly simple to make a direct deposit of say, 5% or 10% of that amount, in a separate account. Use that as an emergency fund -- or a quick source, if you absolutely have to, of money to transfer to your regular account.
      If you're really strapped for cash right now, even a small deposit -- $15, $25 or so -- will add up in time.

*Add income tax refunds, raises, bonuses and money gifts to the savings account...until you've got enough for at least a month's worth of expenses. I know -- the experts say 3-6 months' worth. But you're just starting out. Do the best you can.

*Use a bank or credit union account that doesn't charge a monthly fee. Avoid the ATM if it charges you a fee, as well. Sometimes the bank account requires that you keep a minimum deposit, to avoid that monthly charge -- use that as your emergency fund, and "forget" it's there, for now.
    You want to look for accounts that you can use regularly, and still pay you interest, of course. In our experience the past few years, that's well-nigh impossible, unless you count 1% as a 'good' rate. But try, nonetheless.

If possible, make any payments on interest-bearing debts early.  I'm not even talking about extra $$ above what's due. (Though that's good, too.) Make your standard mortgage or car loan payment days, a week or two weeks before you're required to.  Voila -- you'll save a surprising amount of interest in the long run.

*Keep a sugar bowl...which is where my grandma placed loose change. I kept piano lesson money and egg sales in ours -- and yes, as a joke, it was in a sugar bowl. It broke, so I use a tin bank now.
    The Brick likes to empty his pocket change nightly into the top drawer of the bureau. I clean it out periodically, then deposit into the credit union account. (Last time: nearly $50.)

*Apply for a credit card with no annual fee...plus cash back. 
        To make this work, you should use it wherever possible to pay your bills. (You've got to pay them, anyways -- why not get 1% or 2% of that money back?) Apply the cashback option to the monthly payment...and pay the card off in full every month.

*Use a credit card's billing cycle to your advantage.  My income depends on the teaching and appraising gigs I do. If it's a lean month, I will often delay going to Sam's Club or Wal-Mart until just after the cycle ends. (In our case, it's the 10th or 11th of each month.) Which lands that higher bill due on a prosperous month, instead.

*Don't make any further purchases on a credit card you owe money on. Every additional purchase just collects interest until you pay it! Interest, particularly on credit cards, is the killer. Better to pay cash, instead.

*Don't be afraid to ask when something goes wrong. Politely. (And it will.)  During our 35+ years, we've gotten fees retracted for bounced checks and late payments -- simply because we asked, and had a good reason why it happened. (We were also good customers who rarely messed up.) Our last query got us a $100 gift card. Wouldn't that be worth talking to the bank about?

*Do you really need it?  Then buy it "tomorrow." It won't hurt at all to wait 24-48 hours; sales usually run a week or a month.  Can you buy it online for cheaper, or used? IIf you only need it for a short time, can you rent it -- or borrow one from a friend or neighbor?
      If not -- and you really do need it -- then go ahead.

*If you must replace larger items, like a refrigerator or laptop, find a "buy it in X months, pay no interest" program. If the store doesn't offer this, your credit card may. We use Paypal Credit. But you must make the payments regularly and on time, or they will sock you with hefty interest charges.

*If you're buying for your kids  -- they can often help.  Offer to match whatever they contribute, rather than covering the whole cost yourself.

*Go through the basic list:
      *Do I really need this?
      *Can it wait?
      *Can I get a better price on sale, online or used?
      *Can I borrow or rent one, instead? 

And, of course:

*Use any money saved to pay down debt. Especially if that debt involves interest.


Next time:  Tweak your everyday life to save even more

Start with Part I of this series.

Part III (Everyday Expenses) is here.

Part IV (Food) is here.







Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Manchester

I feel sick.

Not only was the Manchester bombing a horrible thing...but once again, the 22-year-old who did it was "known" to British authorities.

Meaning he'd had some contact with them before.

     Others have been arrested -- including the suspect's father and brother in Tripoli. "This is a network we are investigating," according to the spokesman. It's about time.





Horrible.


Doesn't it make you wonder how many of these have been foiled by our amazing American police and security...and we just never hear about it? 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Cutting Expenses --When You think You Can't (Part I)


How in the world can you get ahead, when your paycheck disappears into bills every month? The secret: somehow, some way you must find a way to change this. 


"I can't," Inner Self protests. "We had unexpected company. I needed new shoes for that party at the boss's houses. The car battery died. Little Frieda got the flu -- and gave it to me."

You can listen to your IS -- and actually believe him/her. 
     Or you can do something about it.

     *Something has to change. Whatever you've been doing, isn't working.

     *Where is your current income going? You'll probably need three or four months of bills to get a better idea of this. How much are you spending on food, clothes, gasoline, rent and utilities?

     *Are you paying interest on any of your bills? If so, how much?

     *How much do you owe?  (Take heart -- you're going to work on the debt, instead of ignoring it. Or trying to.)

     *Is everyone in the house doing something to help out...or are you the one working, then coming home to household chores every night? (We women are notorious for this. Me included.)





Some ground rules to remember:

    *You are not a stupid person. You're not in this position because you were (and are) too dumb to do anything about it. You can take positive action.

     *This might hurt. Or it may not. You may find you don't miss [whatever] at all!
At the very least, change is going to feel strange --  different than whatever your usual is. 
     That's okay.

     *This may well be temporary...until you get back on your feet, so to speak. Or it may actually be better, in the long run.

     *You don't have to do this alone. Okay, sometimes you do. But usually there are others who can help out:  your kids, partner, family members and friends. Sometimes they're the reason you've gotten yourself into this mess, to begin with. If so, they can help you get out.

     *You can no longer spend more than you make. Even if only a few bucks clear every month, that's a positive step forward. (And I have ideas on how you can get more.)

     *You can no longer pay interest, unless it's absolutely essential. (Transportation and home mortgage payments come to mind here. Maybe college loans... but maybe not. Everything else, generally, can wait.)

     *If you are paying interest, you must find a way to pay less -- then eventually pay it off. (Bear with me. I'll have a lot of suggestions here, too.)

Finally:

     *Even tiny changes eventually make a difference. As Prudent Homemaker points out, "You may think something that only saves you 5 cents a day isn't worth doing. However, that one thing will save you $18.25 a year. If you find 20 tiny ways to save that each save you 5 cents a day, you've saved $365 a year."



YOU CAN DO THIS. 

Tell your nagging Inner Self, "This is what responsible adults do. And I am."

 




Part II (Money) is here!


And so is Part III (Everyday expenses).

Part IV's up, as well.  (Food)

A Really Great Quilt (Maker)

I saw this Bakers Dozen quilt by Jen Kingwell  via Pinterest...      featured in Today's Quilter. All I can say is... wow. ...