Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Frugal Hits and Misses: May Report

May has been a strange month. 
     On one hand, we've been trying to make progress on the house. 
     On the other, we still have to work, if we don't want to dip into the 401Ks. (Technically the Brick could -- but we promised ourselves to keep hands-off as long as possible.) 
     There are a zillion small expenses in connection with the guest bathroom. Son #1 keeps traipsing to Home Depot for this and that. I know he's trying to keep costs down. (He found the floor tile below, after all.) But $20 here, $30 there adds up fast. 
      I bite my lip, and hand over the credit card. At least we get some cashback on purchases. And this money will all flow back into the coffers when the house is sold. 





FRUGAL HITS:

Floor tile for the guest bathroom -- a penny each!  Son #1 was brilliant on this...and managed to use all penny tiles without having to break into the boxes (of the same tile) that I bought at $36 each. What a guy.  (I returned the expensive tiles, by the way -- $76 extra toward the bathroom costs.)

Piano lessons continued. So did some appraising here and there. Plus bus driving, on the Brick's part. Work is work. It pays the bills.

Threw outdated and not-that-important coupons away.  (Felt wonderful.) Cleaned out several junk drawers, while I was it, and washed a boatload of extra potholders for the garage sale.

Didn't go out to eat -- except for a few Little Caesar's pizzas and a couple of stops at Red Robin. (The latter were paid with my $50 gift card from last month.) Daughter #2 insisted on paying the tip for the RR visits. (The sweetheart.)

The Mama gave us a $10 Burger King gift card for Easter. Better than chocolate eggs any day!

Both the Brick and yours truly earned a $25 gift card from Amazon, thanks to Swagbucks: $50 total. This program is soooo easy to join, and I only use it for the searches and purchases I would have made, anyways. Generally we earn enough points for 2 or 3 gift cards a year. Which adds up-- and pays for a lot of presents and extras.  Go here to find out more.

$3.50/lb steak -- and Oscar Mayer hot dogs (the good kind)  a buck a pound, plus $3.33/lb cubed steak for shishkebobs for Mother's Day. Found a ham at 77 cents/lb, and deli ham & turkey marked down to half-price. (The Brick loves deli meat for sandwiches, and it's thin-sliced enough for me to spread it out to multiple uses. A little goes a long way.)
     Redeemed a big batch of free coupons from both King Soopers and Safeway.

The buy of the year from Sam's Club:  a four-pack of Pillsbury crescent roll dough for 51 cents. Total.  A  close contender: 20 oz. of Hormel bacon bits -- the equivalent of five pounds of bacon, but ready-cooked -- for $4.00.  (The other brand was more than double-- on sale.)

Lots of sale veggies and fruit from Sprouts, with careful thought when I did buy. Credit from the Brick's prescription hack has been paying for much of our groceries this month.



Ice cream on sale. Half-priced Magnum ice cream bars...yes, these are expensive. But the Brick loves them -- and I added to the savings by using coupons. Also: 99-cent Lucerne ice cream sandwiches.

A doctor visit for the Brick -- surprisingly, when he paid cash, it was only $75.

Saw the movie "Chuck" for free, along with friends. Thanks to the Nextdoor neighborhood ap.

Watched a bunch of shows for free again, including the movies Logan, John Wick: Chapter Two and Passengers, and the tv series Supergirl. (The latter was better than I thought it would be.)  Our normal favorites, including Walking Dead, 24 and Designated Survivor, are all on hiatus right now. Darn.

Rebound four quilts, using vintage fabrics -- did some restoration, as well.

Picked greens in the backyard: radishes, baby lettuce and radicchio from the garden bed, but also lambs' quarters (technically a weed). They've given our meals a nutritious boost. I've picked a few handfuls every time I visit the chickies, too. (Not that they're grateful.)




I finally sent off a group of appraisals that was due some time ago -- but not for pay. I believe in this particular cause, and because we've had the house expenses, I haven't been able to do much for them. So I did them as a donation, instead. What they don't have to pay me can go right back to keeping the doors open, at a museum I believe in.

Three bouquets: $1.99 x 2 plus $2.50.  Got three 99-cent large tubes of marzipan, too, for a future batch of banket. (Thanks, Sprouts.)

Careful about giving gifts to graduates -- kept it to $10 per person.  Went to two open houses for cake and snacks; dropped off a present to a third.

I only bought one book all month (on Amazon).  That may not sound very noble to you -- but for a confirmed book fanatic, it's tough. (At least I got it on discount.) I bought a few DVDs, as well, for a piano student. (Thank you, Swagbucks gift card!) Plus three videos, a buck each, from the library's used book room.
     On the other hand, we've donated more than a dozen bags of books...and even sold a few books via Amazon.

No stops at the thrift shop. Not much shopping period, except for Home Depot and such. (Including for Christmas presents -- we just don't have the room in the trailer, anyways. But I may be sorry, come December.)
    That was the nice part about working on the house and other things; there just wasn't time to wander around town.

FRUGAL MISSES -- 

The chickens are still sluffing off. We delivered a final two dozen eggs, and told our last customer we wouldn't be selling anymore. We don't get enough to cover our own needs --
     They have less than two weeks to start thinking about being fricassee.





Missed using a few coupons (again). At least they weren't freebie ones this time. (Just found an expired coupon for a free loaf of bread. Oh well.)

Paid to register the truck. (Could have been worse. At least we live in the unincorporated area of the county -- if we were residents of Castle Rock, the tax would have been considerably more.)

Ongoing payments for bathroom renovations. You don't want to know.

It's fun to read how others scrimp and save.  And do it graciously.  They give me ideas -- hopefully, they help you, too. You'll also find my current series thought-provoking, at the least: Cutting Expenses - When You Think You Can't.

June brings two teaching gigs, plus a  judging/appraisal week. But for the Brick, the school year is done. No more bus driving. Which means no extra income to cover renovation costs. On the other hand, that gives him more time to work on the house. My personal goal: to have the house on the market in early July -- absolutely no later than August.. We'll see if it happens.

For April's report, plus links to earlier months of Frugal Hits & Misses, go here. 





Mom Stuff -- Can You Relate?



I'd add 'your website is down...and we don't know why.'
(The Brickworks site has been quiet for what seems an eternity . We nearly got hacked by -- ironically -- Russians, and my IT guy is determined it will never happen again. Which means a full rehab on the site. Sigh.) 









...not that our angelic daughters would ever do anything to deserve something like this.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Happy Memorial Day


Remembering those who served, and sacrificed so we could remain free.

Thank you.



Sunday, May 28, 2017

Monday Stuff On the Way to Other Stuff: Roses!

Colorado -- at least our area, south of Denver -- is going through its brief "monsoon" period: rain nearly every day for the past week. The ground squishes a bit when you walk on it, and everything is an incredible heartshaking green. 
     One of the bonuses this time every year are our roses. The shrub types do best right now, including my Harison rose, which wasn't sure whether it wanted to live or not. Apparently it made up its mind -- now in its third year, it's doing its best to spread in several different directions at once. The bright yellow blooms show well against the stickery branches.
    (The Harison - yes, that's the spelling - is the traditional Yellow Rose of Texas.) 


Voila...plus weeds and sticks. (They should be cleaned out this week.)

      Another yellow rose, a Persian with origins from centuries back, is full of fat buds. Hopefully it will hold off flowering until the Harison is finished. Tea roses, plus a few climbers, are growing , but generally do their thing later. All the roses are healthy -- thank God for chicken manure. 

      We have other roses, but they're not from us -- God planted these lovely pink wild blooms. They've gradually spread along the side fence, and are pushing up by the chicken coop. I have no idea how the coop clump got there -- they just sort of appeared. I've tried to transplant the wildlings, with no luck. They remind me of a big hedge of pink roses that grew by the road by the Michigan farm where I grew up up. 
      Their fragrance is exquisite.

I will miss these so much when we move.

The Brick, keeping a nosegay of wild roses company


Are Christians the most persecuted religion? Facts say... YES.   (From IJR)

"No one owes you anything."  A letter from Dad to his nine-year-old daughter.  (From the Simple Dollar)

 Lessons learned from Bill Gates.  And oldie but goodie from yours truly, via Midlife Finance.

Mr. Biggles: an adoption memo for a cat that isn't exactly sunshine.

Art out of a tennis racquet.   (From Life After Money)



Renovation of a mustard jar -- a reminder that, like Mr. Biggles, good things can turn up in odd places!  (From Jenny and John in Brittany)

The Prince of Wales, an old war hero friend, William Gordon-Cumming...and a huge scandal that badly damaged Queen Victoria's monarchy. See more about the Great Baccharat Scandal here.

Mark Zuckerberg calls for a 'universal basic income' during his Harvard commencement speech...so people can be free to try new things. That's great...is he going to pay for it? What about the people who don't feel like working, and want to smoke weed all day? (Mark, I'd be happy to get a check -- make it out to me personally, ok?)

Ten smoothies that are formulated to help you lose weight. We'll see... (From Prevention)

A bear chases a mountain biker -- yikes!



Millionaire spending habits.  (From Budgets Are Sexy) Hey, talk to Mark Z. about this.

Using passive income to help yourself to financial independence.  Granted, there are a lot of steps between 'there' and his 'here'...but at least it inspires thinking about possibilities.  (From Financial Samurai)


And in honor of Gregg Allman, who died this past weekend:





Have a productive week...stop and smell a rose or two!



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)

Part V (Insurance and other Necessary Evils) is here.

Part VI (Death and Taxes) is here.

Here's Part VII -- Extra Income!

Monday, May 22, 2017

What the Heck Are They Staring At?

Dinner? Elvis? Bigfoot? 




Photo by Regina Forsythe, from the Irish Examiner Facebook page.
Introducing Felix the cat, Muttley the dog, and hens Martha and Bernie.

No doubt Charley and Abby would be up there, too.


A Strange Experience

    Sunday lunch was barely finished when the text came.

'We just pulled into Castle Rock,' it read. 'We'll wash off the road dirt and be at your house 430-ish.'

What?

"Who's this?" the Brick said, looking accusingly at me.  As if I'd invited the Mormon Tabernacle Choir over for tea and snacks.

(After a grueling stint on Worship Team -- 7:30 or 8 a.m. practice, then two services' worth of music afterwards--  we generally don't accomplish much on Sunday afternoons except a long nap.)

I had no idea. 

A quick look at my phone produced the names of Auntie C and Uncle R. They enjoy traveling, and we meet up with them now and then. Strangely, my aunt had just been at our niece's baby shower, hosted by The Mama, Cousin Joy and yours truly. (It was in Michigan, I couldn't be there, but I helped with costs.)  Had Auntie C. said something to The Mama...and both forgot to mention it to me?

We texted back -- 'Come at 530ish instead.'  No answer, but naptime beckoned.

The alarm rang: 5:00 p.m. We were both feverishly cleaning toilets, loading the dishwasher, shoving piles aside to get the table set. It didn't look too bad, considering we've been packing and renovating for weeks.

Somehow a meal was prepared. The teakettle was on. As the Brick pointed out, we even put on CLEAN SHIRTS.




After 6 p.m. No aunt and uncle. Where could they be? 

Finally, about 6:30, we called.  Auntie C. had accidentally re-sent the text they used last June, when visiting us. (Apparently she didn't notice that I'd answered her back earlier in the day.) They were still at their house in Lansing.

Lansing, Michigan. 

The house looked cleaner. The dishwasher was running, and the kitchen tidied up. We had steak tacos, instead of the usual popcorn,  for Sunday night supper.

I called The Mama, to apologize for thinking badly of her. (She just laughed.)

Auntie C. was embarrassed and contrite. The Brick told her not to worry about it. He enjoyed the meal so much, he said to tell her to text again next week!







Sunday, May 21, 2017

Monday Stuff On the Way to Other Stuff: Making Progress

Now that I've nearly caught up on work...
And the Brick is done driving schoolbus for the summer...
And our contractor (Son #1) is due back from vacation Wednesday night...

The real work begins. 
    After Son #1 finishes up the guest bathroom, he'll start on the master bathroom next.
    Meanwhile, the Brick and I have big plans to go through as much as possible of the stuff we've accumulated over the past 35+ years. We're planning four piles:  keep (for the trailer), keep (in storage), donate -- and throw away. A huge orange dumpster is sitting in the driveway, just waiting. 

I've been taking photos, for stuff to be put on Craigslist. 
We'll have a garage sale here soon -- hopefully Memorial Day weekend. 
Now the snow's gone, I've got plants to get in the ground, as well. Hopefully, they'll add a cheerful note to the back patio. (We have a wonderful 50-mile view in three directions. You'd love it.)

One more detail to take care of this week. The chickens (15, at last count) have been laying fewer eggs every week -- an average of 2-3 eggs a day, sometimes less. In other words, at least a dozen chickens are sluffing off, lazing in the sun and gobbling up feed. Our job will be to figure out who's still producing, and save them for the last. A good number of the rest will go to That Big Freezer in the Sky before week's end.

In case you're wondering:
    Here's how we'll probably do it. (Butchering the chickens, that is.)

What?!? I'd better get laying...and fast.
* * * * * * * *
Thank you, Thank you!! The blog is now consistently hitting more than 5000 visits a month. I hope I'm helping and encouraging you, Gentle Readers, the way you do that for me.
                                                                                                               * * * * * * * * * *

An iconic part of Everest has collapsed: the Hillary Step.  It's thought an earthquake took it out. It's been a rough year, anyways -- as of this writing, five climbers have died, including Ueli Steck, a Swiss climber of some renown, and an American doctor from Alabama.

Dollar movies for kids -- all summer long. (Maybe some adults, too.) From Regal Cinemas.

10 'minor' decisions that had huge consequences.  (From Listverse) Also from them:

10 heroic people who spit Death in the eye. 

Mr. Money Mustache builds a studio. Step-by-step, expenses included.

House-rich, cash-broke.  The plight of Johnny Depp, Nicolas Cage and other big spenders.  (From the Trust Advisor)

Strawberry shortcake in a mug. Quick, easy and delicious.  (From Hungry Girl)





Crispy salmon skin and sushi made from foraged greens.  Hey, I'll try anything once.  (From Penniless Parenting)

Are you training your kids so they know how to work?  A thought-provoking essay by Living Life in Rural Iowa.  P.S. I think she's right.

'Expensive' chalk paint -- made with baking soda!  (From Hometalk)

Homemade noodles -- make them yourself and save a LOT.  (From Pennies & Pancakes)  Her homemade Utah Scones are good, too.

What Bernie Madoff looks like right now.  Definitely not a wet noodle.

Burritos -- and cars. A classic from yours truly. The burrito recipe is a good one -- and they freeze nicely.

There's a big fight (and a lawsuit) over a necklace from Elizabeth Taylor's estate and Christie's auction house. The fun starts here.

And finally, a great quote:

"When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson



Here's to making progress on your week, too!




Saturday, May 20, 2017

Things I Don't Understand


Gentle Readers, here are a whole raft of Random Puzzles in the Universe that should be cleared up. The world would be better for it.


Okay, I can figure this one out...no thanks to friend Thommy


Why is sour cream okay -- but sour milk isn't?  (My dad, a farmer's boy from South Dakota, refused to eat sour cream or cottage cheese, on the grounds that they were "spoiled milk.")

What exactly are "heebie-jeebies," anyways?

Why does Pinterest think I want to see all the newest bra commercials, along with chocolate wedding cakes, funny dog pictures and quilt stuff? Well, maybe I can understand the latter...

Why do friends tend to show up when you've got the least time to deal with them?

If something's "out of whack" when it's messed up, does that mean that it's "in whack" when it's running properly?

Why do Coloradoans gauge everything direction-wise by the mountains? (Confession: I do it, too.)



Why does it have to start snowing on the day I plan to put in flowers?  Colorado is famous for this in April and May. June even. The past few days, we got more than a foot of the white stuff. Which brings up another question:

Charley in the snow May 18...these are actually bent-over trees

How come we have these huge storms in the West...then within a day or so, the snow is gone? Even stranger:

Sir Charles in the 'snow,' the morning of May 20...
Even that will melt by nightfall.


Why do some of our biggest snowstorms happen on nights a Broncos game is televised?

Why are some of the best writers the worst when acting as human beings?  Hemingway and Arthur Miller come directly to mind...especially Miller's treatment of his handicapped son. 

Double this for famous professionals.  Like Steven Jobs, a man few people can say nice things about. Even Warren Buffett, one of my 'buddies,' as the Brick would say, was not exactly kind to his first wife.
     Extra points for celebrities who have short-lived affairs, then deny paternity...until they're forced to admit it, and support the kid. (Eddie Murphy and any number of sports stars, stand up, front and center.) How do you think that child is going to view you, as they grow up?

Why, Famous People Who Act Badly, would you think that you wouldn't be held accountable for your actions? 

How come no one's gotten a clear, realistic photo of Bigfoot yet?  Or video, for that matter. And I don't want to hear any smartypants comments about him/her not existing...




Aren't journalists supposed to be gathering the news in an unbiased manner, presenting it...and letting us decide? I am sick and tired of all the insults, implied and otherwise, on both sides of a story, whether it be politics, climate science, religion... or whatever. The name-calling gets old, too. Whatever happened to showing respect for the office -- or position?

Whose side -- really -- is former FBI director James Comey on? He seems to have infuriated both the Trump/Republican and Clinton/Democratic camps. (Actually, making them both mad might speak to his truthfulness; I read once that a good compromise makes both sides unhappy.)
     I'm not the only one looking forward to his upcoming testimony.

Why do people say "thick as a Brick" in a negative way -- when it's supposed to be a good thing?

How come it's okay for rich people to do odd things ("eccentric" is almost a compliment)...and if poor people wear unusual clothes or walk down the street yelling, they're typed as violent -- or mentally ill?

Now double that question for celebrities: Lady GaGa, in particular. Speaking of:

Why didn't all the celebrities who threatened to move to Canada if Trump was elected...actually do it?


And...if they're so rich, and spending money on everything from jewelry to security... why can't all of these people consistently give at least 10% of their income to good causes? 
      While I'm at it, on celebrities (and others):

Why are women's butts so important right now?  I'm almost ready to stop reading TMZ and the Daily Mail's celebrity section, for all the prominently featured backsides -- not to mention thongs. Next question:
      Why would you be proud of showing anything this way? And what would it qualify you for, except bad taste and trashy behavior?

And finally:

Why would the media believe we care about the Kardashians' opinions on anything? (The Jenners run a close second.)

     Except their butts, apparently.



Presents...For Much Less

    Unless you're a bazillionaire (or spend like one), it's easy to look at the list of people you want to buy gifts for...      an...