Monday, February 1, 2016

9 Ways to Use Cardboard Tubes

Image courtesy
One of the best parts of being frugal (and the part that sometimes will get you the strangest looks) is finding uncommon uses for common or throwaway things.

So did you save the tubes from the wrapping paper at Christmas? Neither did I. Thinking about it today, though, I wish I would have!

There are so many things one could do with them. They're part of the "raw material" of consumerism and as such, they can be ultimately useful and just plain fun.

Tubes from toilet paper (yes, those...) aluminum foil, plastic wrap or wax paper tubes, and miscellaneous other sources, such as rolls of plastic gloves, are all fair game for these uses. Since you use many of those things anyway, you might as well get some frugal use from them!

  1. Make fire starters with them. Stuff them full of shavings or very small kindling size pieces of wood, then pour melted wax into them. 
  2. Use them as small logs by rolling paper, especially newspaper, tightly enough to fit inside. They burn longer than just paper.
  3. Use them to corral a tangle of electric cords by putting all the cords through one tube before plugging them in.
  4. Make bird cakes for your feathered friends by adding bird seed to suet and stuffing a toilet paper roll with it. Thread a wire or cord through the center and freeze, then when you need it, peel the cardboard tube off and hang it up.
  5. Longer cardboard tubes, like those that come wrapped with aluminum foil or plastic wrap, make great toy logs for the kids. Save them until you have several before presenting them. Cut small "notches" to help them stack together, or let them use tacky glue.
  6. Glued to a base, cardboard tubes can hold pencils or knitting needles or chopsticks...
  7. An old one: Cut into one inch slices and decorated, they make napkin rings. Cover them with foil or decorative paper to camouflage them.
  8. Cover with Christmas wrapping paper to make Christmas crackers. Cut them a couple of inches longer than each end and tie with ribbon.
  9. Use them as gift containers for small items like jewelry, pens or gloves and hair accessories. Tape pieces of paper over the ends and wrap with gift paper or use markers to decorate.

Do you have a good use that I haven't listed here?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Low Gas Prices Are Not Good for Everyone

Sure, it's good that gas prices are low, especially if you have to drive to work every day or you are planning a driving vacation. It's true, also, that eventually, low gas prices should drive down other prices because of the lower cost of transportation. (Isn't that what they told us when food and other things got so expensive when gas prices went high?)

So, what's the kick?

Small oil companies have already gone under. Large oil companies are cutting back and laying off people - again.

Manufacturers, distributors and all the supporting services that oil companies require... what happens to them?

A lot of people are (were) employed by the oil business in the US, either directly or indirectly. A lot of people who were employed bought houses. They bought cars and trucks and clothing. They ate out, went to concerts and ball games. Money kept changing hands because it was there to change.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Real Money Versus the Other Kind

I remember 'way back when, as the cashier would ring up my purchases, she (few men were cashiers then) would ask "Cash or check?"

Remember that?

Now, it's "Debit or credit?" Meaning "Which kind of plastic are you using?"

I paid for some groceries with cash the other day and the cashier did a double take. He had to try twice to get the right change, although the cash registers do it for them now.

When I was a teenager, I worked in a drugstore "fountain," where we offered sandwiches and fries along with Cokes and malteds. We rang up sales on the cash register, which opened when we hit the right button. That's all it did. It expected us to supply it with cash and to take out and count back the correct change. To be sure that we did, it would often close of itself as soon as we got the change back. Reopening it without a cash transaction wasn't hard - all you had to do was hit that button again, but it was embarrassing to not get it right the first time.

Those were the days. We used our heads for more than earbud holders. 'Long time ago.... '

It only stands to reason that the more we use technology, the more dependent we become on it and the less we pay attention to the details that can make a difference in how we handle money.

Push your cart up to the grocery store check out, stare at the magazines and gum and candy while the cashier empties your cart, put your debit card in the slot  and you're done.

Have you noticed how few people are in line at the bank any more? Or maybe you're one of those who never go to the bank but do everything electronically.

The trouble with all of this is the way our brains process things. When we don't actually see the money (or shells, or salt, or whatever), the idea of exchanging it for something moves from a concrete experience to an abstract one. An abstract idea, by definition, is not one that truly affects us. We don't see it.

It takes determination and self control to see abstract money the same way we see concrete money.  If you offer a child an intangible reward versus tangible reward, which will the child choose? Tangible, of course. That's the way our brains are wired, so beware when you pull out the plastic, whether it's debit or credit. You're in dangerous territory.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Owe it to Savings

If one of your New Year's Resolutions was to save more money this year, you may be wondering how you're going to stretch your money far enough to do it.

Sometimes, mind games work very well, so here you go:

Treat your savings account as if it were a debt. Whatever savings goal you want to meet is the amount you "owe."

Do whatever you have to do to keep your mind working that way. Make up a pad of payment coupons, or make a spot for it in your list of bills or write a note to yourself every month, reminding you that a payment is due. Put it in your budget.

Then follow through, no matter what. If something happens and you need extra money, find another way to get it, but make that payment to the savings account.

If you have to buy another car or something breaks down and you have to use the credit card or borrow money otherwise, you will have to make payments... so why not make them to yourself?

The best thing about building a savings account this way is that we get to set the payment amount. (No changing it after, though, barring a serious change in finances). Whatever your goal for the year is, divide it by 12 for months or 52 for weeks and that's the payment you should be making.

A little bonus is that you'll actually have more than you saved in a year because of the interest gained.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ten Ways to a Frugal New Year

Start the new year off on the right foot! Now's the time to review, revise, revisit and rework, whether it's yourself or your financial picture. Get going on the track that will put you in more frugal (read: prosperous) condition for this year and the year after and the year after...

Review all of your insurance
Home owner's insurance,  vehicle insurance, health insurance, life insurance, whatever you have. The beginning of the year is a perfect time to be sure you're paying the least amount possible for the amount of coverage you need. Raise your deductible if you can, revamp values, revisit needs. Go over everything first by yourself, then with your insurance agents. Tell them you need to lower your premiums, but don't cut yourself short if you need to use the insurance.

Get a grip on your taxes
Don't overpay the government. If you did this year, make some changes right away so that you won't next year. They don't pay interest and a bank does. Enough said? If you're afraid you'll blow any extra money, the frugal thing to do is have it automatically sent to savings before you get your check. Don't underpay, either, because the government will charge you a penalty. (Usually, it's not too high, so count your pennies and decide which is better for you.) It's probably impossible to get it just right, so if you overpay by just a little, that's safest.

Don't be too good for your own good

Not everything has to be top quality. For instance, children's clothing is usually outgrown long before it's worn out, so it's frugal to buy them inexpensive clothes. Other things that you won't use often before they're outdated, can be of lower quality since they don't have to last. Weigh your options carefully before buying anything.

Shake hands with Second Hand Rose
Not everything has to be new. Second hand cars, clothes and household items can save you a bundle. Do your homework before buying appliances or mechanical items (including cars and lawn mowers) second hand, though. Know what to look for to spot problems. Never be shy about asking why the owner is selling. It's not frugal to buy someone else's problems.

 Get your hands dirty
Learn to do your own maintenance on the car and the lawn mower. You can save a few dollars by doing it yourself and it's not as hard as it may seem. The internet is filled with information on just about everything. Before you buy another, or pay someone else to fix yours, do some research to see if you can fix that microwave or CD player or vacuum cleaner yourself. You might be surprised at how much you can do to save.

Turned on? Turn off

TV's, computers and other entertainment electronics may not take a lot of electricity to operate, but if they're on for hours with no one watching, listening or using them, they're wasting it. Most electronics have "instant on" features, which sit idly by, sipping up electricity 24/7 whether the component is being used or not. It's worth a few dollars for a power strip with a switch. Turn them off at this switch and they won't keep sipping all day and night.

Ignore the masses
"They" say you should do this and "they" say this is good, and "they" say you shouldn't be without this. They might be right sometimes, but don't believe them just because they say so. Take your own situation into account, look at it and pretend like you never heard anyone talk about it. Do you really need it? Want it? Take your time and make a list of pros and cons if you need to, but make your own decision based on what you want and need. Be your own person, not an echo of someone else.

Send your big balance credit card to Never-Never Land
If your credit card balance took on a life of its own and is out of control, you need to close the account. You'll have to pay the account off, of course, but you don't have to pay it off to close it. Only after you've closed it, cut up the card. Don't destroy everything that has the card number on it, though, as you might need it when you deal with the issuing company. They will continue to send you monthly statements until it's paid off.

Get on friendly terms with a good bank

One that will give you free checking and allow you a savings account with no or very low minimum balance required. (Never go under that balance, whatever it is.) Then use the savings account. It's good for short term savings for certain wants or needs - anything from a new furnace to a set of tires. Be religious about putting money into it, even if you can only afford five or ten dollars at a time. It's much more frugal to pay for something before you get it rather than after. Savings accounts pay you interest. You pay lenders interest. Which would you rather do?

Stay healthy!
I know it's easier said than done, but if your health is good, do everything you can to keep it that way and if it's not, do everything you can to get it that way. Get the exercise you need, get the rest you need and watch what you eat. Doctors are adding a new rule to healthy living now: Keep a positive attitude. Doctors, drugs and hospitals cost more than you need to pay, even with insurance.

If you find this list a challenge, let me ease your mind somewhat. You don't have to do all of them right away. Work your way into it and tackle the things that seem most interesting or easiest first. When you see the progress you've made toward a more frugal lifestyle, you'll be motivated to do more.

Some of you do some of these already, but if you don't do them all, now's the time to tackle the rest. And if you do all of them now, more power (and savings) to you!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Last Minute Gifts You Don't Have to Buy

Oops... you thought you had all your shopping done for the holidays? And then... well, you got a gift from someone you had forgotten about. Or a coworker suddenly decided you were worth a plate of homemade goodies. One of the kids got invited to a Christmas party that requires a gift.

And there you are, turning your credit card over and over, contemplating yet one more shopping trip.


There is time to create quick and frugal gifts even if it's the day before Christmas.

For kids:

Get one of those cardboard boxes that you keep tossing back in the garage or basement and fill it with those clothes and shoes you keep intending to give to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. A dress up box encourages imaginative play and will fill many hours of happiness for your children.

Create an art box with any smaller box you have on hand. You probably have an assortment of paper on hand. Graph paper, note paper, colored paper, wrapping paper, plain white printer paper... Look around for stickers, stamps, pencils, pens, paper punches, glue, tape, templates of various kinds. You might be surprised at what you can find. Then go to the internet and look up "coloring pages." Choose a few that are appropriate for your kids and print them.

For women:

Baskets, baskets, baskets. You probably have one or two, but if you don't decorate a box. Fill it with whatever she likes, from food to yarn to stories printed from the internet. Add a pouch of instant cocoa or coffee and a mug, or look in your own stash for things you haven't used that she would like.

Start a slip from one of your own houseplants. If it has to be rooted, present it tied in a plastic bag of water and set in a cup or pretty little planter. Add a pouch of potting mix if you have it on hand.

For men:

For a single man, homemade bread with butter and jelly included in fancy containers; 'instant soup'  - your own homemade dehydrated vegetables mixed with bouillon. Tear jerky into small bits and add to the mixture if you have it.

A handmade gift certificate for whatever he now pays for - washing the car, mowing the lawn, shoveling the sidewalk. Make sure it's something you can carry through on!

For everyone:
You don't have to buy a gift brand new for it to be appreciated. Look around. A 'first edition' of a favorite book or an old picture of a special place or person can mean more than a gift you spent a fortune on.

Save your money and your sanity.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Beware the Commercial Christmas Syndrome

Christmas is practically here! Suddenly all the things I put off until later because it was too early, now need doing immediately because it will soon be too late!

While it might feel like (and actually be) panic time, it's the worst time possible on our pocketbooks for us to panic! When we feel stress, we spend more. We don't take the time to compare prices, we don't watch as closely for quality buys and we don't even think about creating our own decorations and gifts.

"Look, Mommy!"
The little girl was pointing to a middle aged couple who were carrying bags and boxes and coming quickly down the center of the mall walkway. Now and then one of them bumped another shopper with a box or bag, but their faces were set in grim determination and they plowed a path for themselves straight ahead.
Mother grasped the little girl's hand and whispered fiercely, "It's not nice to point!"
"What's the matter with them?" the little girl asked.
"Shh... they have Commercial Christmas Syndrome. Hush, now."
The little girl stared at the couple as they came closer and edged closer to her mother. The woman noticed her and suddenly a small, fake smile plastered itself on her face. The little girl simply stared...

But worst of all, we begin to exhibit the symptoms of the Commercial Christmas Syndrome.

Credit cards begin to grow in our wallets and sales flyers bring a flush to our faces. Shoulders become rigid and calloused from pushing our way through crowds of other shoppers. We have trouble holding coherent conversations and often jump up from our seats at inappropriate times to make notes or phone calls. We become exhausted and develop dark circles under our eyes. A forced smile is often, but not always, noticeable.

Other symptoms include headaches, muscular tension and irritability, which make sleep difficult. That, in turn, diminishes the ability to think clearly and symptoms worsen dramatically.

The Cure

The cure is quite simple, but it must be applied firmly and continually over a period of several hours, or, in some cases, days.

A cup of hot tea or coffee or hot chocolate taken while sitting in a rocking chair is a good way to start. One must spend a few moments in a comfortable place with a comforting drink or snack for the cure to begin to work properly.

When you're ready, you may begin. Follow these steps:

    * Remove all credit cards from your wallet, purse or pocket. This may be painful, so prepare yourself first by meditating on a list of bills that will come immediately after Christmas.
    * Find (or make) a list of names for whom you still need to buy gifts. If there is a name you can eliminate, do so now.
    * Set a limit on what you  will spend for each person. Be realistic from your point of view, not theirs. If you can only afford five dollars a person, then that's all you can afford.
    * For each of the other names, think hard about what they would like. Concentrate on that person; think about their styles, their hobbies, their interests. Write down whatever comes to mind and work on it until you know what you can get them. (Hint: a basket filled with homemade goodies or an IOU for a service is appropriate for almost anyone.)
    * Make a list of frugal things to do during the season. Tree lighting ceremonies, church and school pageants and Christmas parades all set the scene frugally. Or have a cup of coffee with an old friend. Go caroling or ice skating or looking at other lighting displays.
    * Don't make shopping for gifts, food or decorations the number one priority!
    * Make your Christmas menu, then cut at least one (but more if you can), item from it. Substitute a more expensive dish with a less expensive one. Think of what your family and/or guests will really eat.

Keep on applying this cure until you feel it taking hold, but don't quit too soon. Commercial Christmas Syndrome has a tendency to reappear suddenly without warning, so be on the alert for it!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Black Friday Countdown

It really is that time of year, isn't it? Black Friday, that day where super sales can make a huge dent in your gift list, well be here in barely over a week from today.

You've no doubt seen ads for it already as stores start building anticipation for the frenzy, but don't just jump and run Friday morning. Plan, plan, plan... and look closely for the best deals.

Personally, I am not one to get up at 12:05 AM and stand in line for the latest gadget at the lowest price, or fight my way through crowds to it, but online? Oh, yeah.

Whether you shop Black Friday in brick stores or online, the folks at The Penny Hoarder' Black Friday Deals Blog are hard at work this year, keeping on top of the best sales from everywhere. It's well worth checking now and a few times before the rush, and of course, on Friday morning!

Not only the sales, they're ready with tips and tricks to save even more. They're putting out an ongoing effort to keep up with everything and we can really benefit from it.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

6 of the Best Free Things You Can Find Online

Some of us get our internet free or at a very reasonable price, while others pay dearly for the service. Either way, an internet connection can be used to save money during the holidays (and every day). Why not use it to save money and make the holidays go easier by using it for free things? Things like:

1. Music. There are many "radio" stations online, with every kind of music you could ever want. Just search for them by genre or search for "Christmas music" or "Irish music." It's out there and it's absolutely free.

2. Games and puzzles for you and the kids. Crossword puzzles that you can print out or work right online, jigsaw puzzles, mazes and many variations of games and puzzles for the kids are available. Search for them by name or just put "puzzles" into the search box.

3. Stories and books to read, either to yourself or to the kids. Free audio books can be found, too! How much free reading and listening material out there still amazes me.

4. Free software and not just little snippets some kid put together because he was bored. I'm talking about full blown, very usable and portable software programs. Open Office rivals Microsoft's pricey alternative. Older, free versions of almost every program in use now can be found by searching for "old apps" and clicking on the site of that name.

5. Coupons and rebate offers. To get the best coupons, go to the site of the product you want. You might have to get on a mailing list, but you will get the best coupons there are for the product. You can use the coupon pages that many sites offer now. Most stores accept coupons printed from the internet, but check before relying on them.

6. Ideas, directions, instructions, patterns, recipes and advice, whether you're preparing for a holiday or want to paint your house yourself, you can find out how online. It's the greatest, biggest, most complete do-it-yourself encyclopedia ever. Take advantage of it!

If you're not familiar terms with a good search engine, maybe it's time to cozy up to one!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Why You Should Use Less Laundry Detergent

Manufacturers' scoops are bigger than you need! As a matter of fact, most laundry will come clean with about half the recommended amount of detergent. Try it yourself and see. Be aware, though, that your washing machine probably holds enough detergent to wash a load without adding any.

As a matter of fact, it's a good idea to run a load of laundry through your machine without adding detergent now and then, especially if you've been using the recommended amount, but even if you haven't.

Why should you use less?

1. It's frugal. There's no need to use as much as they say because it isn't needed. If the manufacturers had their way, you'd be using a half a box for every load.

2. Too much is hard on your clothes because it wears on the fabric. Laundry detergent has fillers in it and they get trapped in the fibers and scrape, cut and wear it out.

3. Laundry detergent builds up in your washer, causing it to trap dirt and smell, as well as coating the insides of hoses and so forth.

4. It's not the healthiest product. Read the label. The less used, the better.

5. It's hard to rinse out and the buildup on the fabric traps dirt and germs. Laundry detergent that's deep in the fibers makes a garment look dingy and old and it can also smell. It makes it harder to remove stains, too.