Friday, March 30, 2007
The overall unsettled economy makes me want to keep warning people to get out of debt now - but I do write about other things, too. Some of it doesn't even have anything to do with frugal living, believe it or not.
Anyway, here's my "Content Producers" page, in case you'd like to see. Content Producer: Pat Veretto.
Many of you have been to The Dollar Stretcher Community by now. What did you think of it, candidly? We're still in Beta and there are things that do go wrong now and then (sometimes more often than that), but what is your overall impression of it?
And thirdly (were you counting?) my yardwork is coming along nicely, although the rain/snow stopped it for a couple of days. A jonquil is blooming alongside a few lilies of the valley and the grape hyacinths peeked from under a layer of snow yesterday morning.
The grass is green, the leaves are coming out and I'm dreaming of real tomatoes already. It's springtime in Colorado, where the tornadoes roam...
He's doesn't mind a good petting session now and then, but he won't come around unless he's been called. What a cat, huh?
The one thing he does which is dismaying, is that he uses any dug up area for his personal litter box. That means one has to be careful with vegetable gardening, as cat feces contain dangerous pathogens which can be transferred to the vegetables.
One way we've discovered to keep him out of our gardens is to put down a piece of chicken wire or mesh fencing after preparing the soil, but before planting. If we put seeds or plants in the holes of the mesh, they do fine.
Cats won't be able to dig a hole without hitting a wire, and they won't be able to cover their scat without hitting one either, so they'll quit trying to use the area.
The one drawback to this method is that the wire makes it almost impossible to hoe, so you'll have to weed it all by hand. For small gardens, it's not so much of a problem, but if your garden is large or you have time or physical restraints, weeds can get out of control in a hurry.
In that case, I'd recommend a commercial product created for the purpose of keeping cats and other animals away. Our neighborhood cat responds well to the commercial products, but I don't, because of the cost. They are cheaper than buying all of your produce at the grocery, though!
Thursday, March 29, 2007
I should have had this picture on St Patrick's Day. We got a little snow (it's snowing as I type) that set off the green of spring. I was struck by the green on green of the varying trees, but the grass growing up through the snow really shows up. It's not a good picture, but the best I could do, as the snow kept getting on the camera lens and it was cold out there!
What's frugal about this? Snow is good for the lawn and garden. For those who don't live in a semi arid zone, you may not understand how we rejoice to see spring snow. It's very wet, it sticks and it melts into the earth.
I may be stretching it here, but anyway, that's my frugal thought for the day.
Things are popping at the DS Community - forums, in case you missed the announcement. If you haven't been there yet, check it out. It promises to be great fun as well supportive and educational, frugal style.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
(I) don't know where this tip might fit on the site, but I had an experience recently that is going to blow a big hole in my budget. I got caught speeding. Even though the trooper was merciful, court fees alone are 90 dollars. Speeding isn't worth the risk in safety and cost.
Once upon a time, many years ago, I attended a personal finance seminar where the speaker claimed to buy all of her clothing second hand, use generic foods and pay off her credit cards on the first of every month.
You know what stuck in my mind? She recommended using the library extensively instead of bookstores, but she then went on a tangent about library fines. It seems that the librarian knew she would eventually return her books and so wouldn't charge her the replacement fee on her books no matter how long overdue they were.
After all these years, I shake my head in wonder.
Why bother to pay attention to generic apple sauce for ten cents less than a name brand if you're going to pay the library two cents a day for three books for a month, because you won't take the trouble to return them on time?
What about other times when we cost ourselves money?
Times like when we have to pay late fees on bills when we could have paid them on time, or administration costs on insurance premiums because we pay them each month instead of each quarter or half?
Parking tickets? Overdrawn accounts at the bank?
Sometimes it's what we don't do that costs us the most money.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Another, a report on a book called "Maxed Out," by James Scurlock, tells of others who have committed suicide, and mentions those who are "victims of easy credit."
Yet another states "Credit cards are forcing families to the brink of financial calamity."
I don't often get emotional about such things, except to rant a little now and then, but this breaks my heart. I found myself on the verge of tears.
We tend to look at credit card companies and other lending entities as faceless, nameless businesses that operate by a set of rules and don't really know how it affects the people it manipulates for a profit.
That attitude makes it easier to deal with them and to roll with the punches, but those businesses are set up by people. Their rules are made up by people, their profit is raked in by people. So why do we think people don't know what is happening? Is the love of money so compelling that these people will do anything to get it?
It seems so.
Sure, people who go into debt have a responsibility. I wouldn't call anyone a victim who went into debt willingly, but lenders who deliberately set out to trap people into going deeper and deeper into debt, and those who make a living harassing the same people into deep anxiety about paying that debt, are selfish and cruel.
It makes me angry to see how people are taken advantage of and how little human concern is shown. Other times, it makes me want to cry. Lost love, guilt over something one has done, despair over relational situations... while those are not acceptable for suicide or deep depression, one can make allowances. But indebtedness?
There will be those who put the blame solidly on the shoulders of the borrowers, but you just can't clear the lenders of guilt. No one who gives an inexperienced teenager a credit card or offers financing for a house to a couple who can't pay for it or writes come-ons to entice anyone and everyone to buy on credit, can be innocent.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
I'm not really a "personal finance" blogger, I'm just a frugal one, but... well, like I said, I was challenged, so here it is:
Confessions of a personal finance blogger
Friday, March 23, 2007
Pointing out right off the bat that this was from a report from a "nonpartisan, nonprofit organization" lest anyone should think they have an agenda, they go on to say that a pandemic would kill over two million people and put 87.75 million people out of the work force for three weeks.
Then they quote the executive director of the Trust for America's Health as saying, ""The U.S. is not prepared to face an economic shock of this magnitude."
So we're back to worrying about H5N1 bird flu and projecting doomsday scenes if - or as the article seems to conclude - when it hits.
The article does mention that the accuracy of these projections depend on whether all of their assumptions are right.
Well, duh, as they say.
If anything happened that put 90,000,000 people out of commission for three weeks, we're probably in trouble. But then, if anything should happen to cause huge objects to fall from the sky, we'd be in trouble, too.
Well, they tell me it could happen.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Oh, the pain. I kept at it until I finished what I started and by that time, it was time for some serious recuperation. A rice filled pad went into the microwave, a glass of ice water by my comfortable chair. Soft knitted slippers for my feet and the piano bench to prop them on.
It felt like seventh heaven except for the ache in my back, but it wasn't long before that went away. I had a real urge to finish that little corner, but (high five here) I didn't do it! Tomorrow, maybe.
What's so frugal about all of this? I didn't spend but maybe a penny's worth of electricity for heating the rice pad and I recovered nicely from a case of spring overwork. No pills, no electric heating pad, no deep heating rub. I felt 100% better just by resting and applying cheap heat.
We've become such a pill popping, salve rubbing nation that often, our first thought is "What can I take? What pricey chemical can I put in my mouth or on my skin to make me feel better?"
Modern medicine is great when we need it. We just don't need it as often as we think we do. Try the simple cures first and you might be surprised at how frugal and sensible your health care becomes.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Ok, the story: My daughter's roommate's Grandmother loves cats... and she doesn't mind spending money, either. Anyway, she gave the roommate several cans of salmon (the $3 and up kind) for her cat.
They already had a good supply of cat food and of the three girls, my daughter was the only one who would eat canned salmon, so long story short, she brought it to me because she knows how much I love it.
I know it's not frugal to eat it this way, but it was free... so I'm having salmon and crackers. For breakfast, yet.
Hey, who says frugalistas never enjoy life?
And I know it's been said before, but it reminded me that if it weren't for all those money spending people, we'd have a lot harder time being frugal.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
I had a feeling I'd be disqualified if the answer were "not so frugal", so that was immediately out. The right answer, of course, would have been "extremely frugal", but I wanted to be honest, so I did a little soul searching before answering.
Just what makes a person extremely frugal? What guidelines can we use? Where do we draw the line? And... just what do those terms mean? What is "extremely frugal" and "not so frugal"? (And who knows what "fairly frugal" means? - email me!)
There are some things that go beyond extreme frugality. Being frugal or penny pinching to the point of hurting yourself or somebody else, either physically or mentally, is beyond the reaches of frugality. Call it something else, but it's not frugal. Here's what extremely frugal is not:
- Saving money for the sake of saving money. That's miserly. (Apologies to Jonni McCoy of Miserly Moms fame.) Before we go a step further, remember that 'miserly' comes from the same word as 'miserable'. Remember Silas Marner?
- Deciding against that piece of clothing that you really do need, and 'making do' with what you have - for no reason other than you're too stingy to pay for it.
- Not taking care of basic needs - medical care, nutritious food, shelter and a degree of comfort.
One woman wrote that her grandmother was extremely frugal because she only heated as much tea water as she needed at one time. Is that extreme?
Sunday, March 18, 2007
No kidding, it's a good drink with a little sweetener added. Free is frugal, right? And it's healthy, too.
So Saturday I started out to turn the soil in the two raised beds we made last year, but I got side tracked.
Halfway out to the garden area, under a sand cherry bush, was a large dandelion plant that I'd watched last year, just getting a good start on this year's growth. I had harvested some leaves and buds from it, but otherwise let it grow. (I know, but I LIKE weeds.)
Anyway, the ground was nice and loose from snowmelt over the last few weeks and just ripe for digging, so I dug up the dandelion and cleaned off the large taproot. I found another one nearby and dug it up, too, then I spent the time to clean, slice and roast them.
Then, of course, I had to have a cup of dandelion coffee. It was well worth the effort but I never did make it to the garden.
If you want to try it, make sure you have your other work done first. :)
[Warning: All parts of dandelions are diuretic. Don't drink this if you're already taking a diuretic for any reason, or if you have other health problems that would be affected by a diuretic.]
Be sure to not get it from an area that's been chemically treated in any way. My back yard is off limits to any chemicals, as I grow several "weeds" there.
Look for a healthy plant, dig around it at least a shovel's depth, then lift it out of the ground. You'll break the taproot getting it out; that's fine. It will grow back from what's left. Cut the crown from the taproot and replace it in the soil if you want to encourage even more dandelion plants to grow. Take the root and wash it well, trim off the hair roots and any very small side roots, then scrub well with a vegetable brush or a piece of plastic net.
When you're satisfied that it's clean, cut it into more or less uniform pieces and place it on a baking sheet. Heat the oven to 250 degrees and let it roast over the next few hours. Check it now and then, and if some pieces are brittle, remove them; they're done.
When they're all brittle, cool and store in an airtight container.
To make dandelion coffee, grind the roots in a coffee grinder or break them up with a mortar and pestle - not too finely because they don't settle as well as coffee grounds and you may have to strain the liquid.
Make the coffee like you would camping coffee: Add the ground root to cold water and boil it for a few minutes. It takes about a teaspoon per cup, more or less depending on your taste.
Side note: Frugally, I intended to use the crown for a vegetable, but it was so small and tight, that when I saw a pill bug in the water, I decide it wasn't worth it to look through it that closely.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
You can use evaporated milk like you use real milk in just about anything, but its unique flavor works better in some things than in others. Even if you stretch your imagination thin, it doesn't taste like "real" milk, though.
- In coffee, of course.
- Reconstitute it and use when you bake cookies.
- It's good in dark cakes (reconstituted), not so good in white or yellow cakes (But you might think differently).
- Use it in scalloped potatoes.
- In the summer when yellow sqash is cheap or free, boil chunked squash and chunked potatoes together, then add evaporated milk.
- Take the potato and squash a step further:Slice them and mix them in a casserole dish layered with crushed cracker crumbs, then pour a can of reconstituted evaporated milk over them. Cover and bake until tender.
- Yet another potato dish: Start with peeled, cubed potatoes and diced onions in just enough water to cover. Simmer until tender, add salt, pepper and evaporated milk. With a pan of cornbread, this is so good!
- It goes very well with potatoes, but if you like the taste, try it with bananas and a little sugar (bananas and "cream") or put it on your breakfast cereal.
- Use it in chowders or cream soups of any kind.
- Any kind of creamy based dish, like stroganoff or creamed meats or vegetables.
- Use evaporated milk to make cheese sauce or macaroni and cheese.
- Many desserts have been created just for this canned milk. Pet Evaporated Milk has some really good dessert recipes, so I won't try to duplicate them here.
Watch for sales when you can stock up. I've also found that generic or store brands of evaporated milk is just as good as name brands that sometimes are twice the price, so it literally pays to look around.
Friday, March 16, 2007
I was talking to a young friend awhile back who was getting WIC supplements for her children. She mentioned that they gave her a lot of canned evaporated milk.
"The only way I know how to use it is to make fudge!"
Oh, my. After enlightening her as to the real identity of canned milk (it's milk), I began to wonder how many other people don't know what to do with evaporated milk. Or clotheslines. Or dishpans. Or...
What you don't know can be painful to your money situation. There may be more important things than how to use evaporated milk, but the more you know, the more you can save.
Do you know what's the best deductible for your automobile insurance?
Do you know how much filler is in your laundry detergent?
Do you know that your printer ink cartridge is not empty when your computer tells you it is?
Not knowing those things costs us money. What we don't know can hurt us.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Are you willing to give up X amount of hours so that you can buy a new car? A big house? A diamond ring? Or is your life more important to you than that?
For example, if you make $20 an hour and you buy clothing (or anything) that costs $200, you voluntarily gave up 10 hours - more than one full work day - of your time here on earth to pay for it. It's lots more complicated than that by the time you account for taxes, work related expenses and so on - I won't go into any formulas. I just wanted to make the point that you give your life (your time, your interests, your basic enjoyment of living) in exchange for things that are not always worthy. And every time you don't, there are that many fewer hours you have to work to have the same amount of money at your disposal.
And (frugal bonus!) when you save money by not buying unnecessary things, you don't get taxed on your profit! If you continually use the money you save to buy things that will save you money, your profit can run pretty high, too.
When you make ten dollars, the government takes up to 40% of it in different taxes. When you spend that dollar, in most places you pay sales tax on it, anywhere from 3 to 12 cents per dollar. That's up to 52% of your dollar bill!
If you save ten dollars by better shopping (or not shopping at all), or any other way, you're money and marbles ahead: You don't pay taxes on what you've saved. If you save ten dollars, you can use it somewhere else, but if you don't save that ten dollars and opt to work for another ten instead, you'll need to earn up to $15.20 to get the same real money value.
I don't know about you, but that just doesn't make money sense to me.
The pink bread was made with wheat flour and milled dehydrated tomatoes - pretty good, too. I added garlic and onion to it, but should have added a little cheese sauce mix.
The purple came from a few beans that I tried to grow which didn't return enough of a harvest to make them worthwhile. I milled them into flour and added it to wheat flour. It wasn't as good as the tomato bread, but we ate it just the same - and as fast, too.
What else can you put in bread? Nuts and seeds, of course. Don't get hung up on sunflower seeds and almonds or walnuts. Try amaranth, caraway, lamb's quarter, or any kind of edible seeds, wild or not. Add oats, either rolled or milled into flour. Cracked wheat, barley and rye. Any vegetable that's been dehydrated to a crisp or hard texture. Sprouts can be added, too.
For the frugal part of this, you can use beans that are too old to cook up well, popcorn that won't pop and some of that squash you enthusiastically dehydrated last year and now can't find a way to use it up. Make "flour" of them and bake some bread.
Want to go a step further? Milled crackers or cracker crumbs. Unwanted pancake mix. Leftover popcorn... you get the idea.
Here are the "rules"
- Don't use much of anything unusual, maybe a quarter to a half cup for a loaf of fluffier stuff like popped popcorn, (chop finely by hand or with a food processor) and less for dense, small seeds.
- Don't use more than a fourth to a third total of any other flour than wheat without a recipe because some other flours don't have gluten, which is needed for the dough to rise.
- Go by the feel of the dough instead of a recipe. Some flours and combinations will absorb more liquid than others, so if the dough feels stiff, add a little more liquid.
This is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for complete novices at bread baking, but if you've baked bread before and you'd like to try something a little different, why not? Experimentation is how all those great recipes got started, anyway, and you can use food that would othewise be thrown out.
Maybe I should have called it frugal bread, but the color can sometimes be surprising. You can use a combination of things in bread dough, but keep the flavors complimentary. Tomatoes and cheese, rye and dill or corn flour and milled, commercial "bacon" bits are a few that work together well.
Try it. Half the fun of being frugal is in just trying it.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
This is not new, but if you haven't seen it, you can watch the entire thing online whether you have a fast or slow connection.
If you have a credit card, have ever had one, or intend to have one in the future, watch it.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
They turned out pretty good! Not quite as crispy as I'd hoped, but crispier and better tasting than the other batch.
Here's the recipe I followed and the changes I made:
2 cups flour
1/2 cup butter (I used a scant 1/2 cup of vegetable oil)
1 teaspoon yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup of cold water
Mix the yeast and salt into the flour, then pour the oil into it. Mix it in well (I wound up using my hands), then add cold water, a little at a time, until a stiff, but workable dough forms. (I kneaded it a few times to smooth it.)
Let the dough rest fifteen minutes, then roll thinly, pierce all over with a fork and salt the top. Cut it into squares or other shapes and bake at 350 12 - 16 minutes, until it begins to slightly brown.
I divided it into two batches and didn't get the full amount of water into the first batch. It came out ok, but the second one, with more water, was flakier. Not crispier, but flakier.
Is it back to the drawing board? I dunno. I've eaten so many that I'm tired of crackers for now. Not eating them at all will save some money, so it wasn't a total failure.
Friday, March 9, 2007
Well... why not? Here's a challenge:
Add up the cost of all the junk food you bought the last time you bought groceries. Include "necessities" like chips for lunches, and include cake mixes and cookie dough and canned sweet rolls. If you bake from scratch, add in the cost of ingredients as best you can.
Take your total to the store and just look. Look at the apples and the cabbage and the broccoli and the carrots. Estimate how much fresh produce you could have bought for what you spent on junk food and be as honest about it as you can.
Compare how long the produce would last with how long the junk food lasts.
I'm going to make yet another confession: I did this. For some reason, I bought more junk food than I usually do, so I added it all up and went and looked. I'm embarrassed to tell you how much healthy produce I could have bought for that amount, so I won't.
I know that not all of you even buy junk food, but for the ones who do... take the challenge.
Thursday, March 8, 2007
As a rule, home made, hand made, hand crafted, whatever you call it, is more frugal, too. I know it costs more initially to knit your own socks, but they last a lot longer. Some things are like that - you can't define frugal only by the evident price.
Can frugal people be snobs? I think so. I know so. But then, maybe we'd better define "snob."
Let's use this one, from Dictionary.com: "a person who believes himself or herself an expert or connoisseur in a given field and is condescending toward or disdainful of those who hold other opinions or have different tastes regarding this field: a musical snob."
I like the first part, anyway.
But when we begin to think that our way is the only way, we're wrong. Home made bread isn't easy for everyone to make and it may not even be cost effective for everyone.
That's one example, but if you think just a little, you can come up with examples of why your pet frugal ideas just don't fly for others. Maybe you can see, too, why some ideas don't seem to work for you.
So, can frugal people be snobs? Yep. Doesn't mean we should be, though.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Lest anyone think I'm a hoarder, I'm not. Really, I'm not. Honest. Ok, so there are a few things I hold onto, like plastic bags (but not so many), milk jugs (just enough - a dozen or so), twist'em ties (you never know when you might need one), plastic lids (frisbee? coaster? craft template?)... Maybe I'll never get into that skirt again. One day I'll use it for quilt pieces.
BUT... I never am at a loss when someone asks, "do you have anything I can use for...?" Or "How can I fix this without going to the store?"
Once upon a time, a sister-in-law came to my mom's house and asked for a "sack or something." Mom gave her a paper sack from the stack she always kept. My sister-in-law had thrown all of hers out and said so. Mom's not one to lecture, but she did have her say that day.
I won't repeat it, but before you throw something out, you might want to check around to see if any friends or family members keep a stash. Just in case, you know.
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Now, I don't think there's much real competition among the frugal community, but that's a discussion for another day.
So... if it really was my competition, I'm a traitor.
But I'm not, because all that time, I found inspiration there as well as common sense articles from Gary Foreman and many, many frugalistas around the internet. I don't know how many times I found awesome sites through there that were buried in search engine results.
After saying all of that, this is not about lauding Dollar Stretcher, although I'd gladly do that, but it's about me.
Yep. I'm going there to do something. Something BIG.. ;)
Can't tell you yet, but watch this space. Or, as they say on TV (do they still say it?) Stay tuned.
Monday, March 5, 2007
With the threat of postage increases, junk mailers may be more careful about targeting prospects in the future, but for now, we're still bringing it in and carrying it out. A lot of junk mail comes in one door and out another!
Here's how to get some use out of the junk return envelopes:
The backs of envelopes are just the right size for grocery lists. Put coupons or reminders inside and it's an all in one shopping helper.
They can also be used to organize coupons between shopping trips. Mark expiration dates or type of coupon - however you like to organize them.
If you save seed from year to year, window envelopes are ideal for them. You can see what's inside - but don't depend on that to remind you of what kind of seed you have. Only a few seeds are unique enough to recognize through a cellophane window. Write the name, date and other information on the envelope.
If the address isn't too big or bold and if the envelope isn't postage paid, (it's illegal to use someone else's paid postage for yourself) you can use it for your own mail. Sometimes those freebie address labels will work, other times you may have to write your name and address on a piece of paper and tape it over the name. Just make sure the tape covers their name completely to keep from tearing the paper.
Junk mail envelopes are fine for passing along things within the family. Checks, recipes, coupons, notes... whatever you need to keep together. Put their name on the outside and it's more likely to be seen and make its way to the recipient.
You can also use these envelopes to drop off night deposits. Just mark off labels, etc., and add your own notes if necessary.
If you find yourself shopping for someone else, an extra envelope can be used as a sort of wallet for their money and change. Fold it over to keep the money from spilling out in your purse or pocket.
Need to carry a day's worth of pills with you? Put them in an envelope and fold it over. It will fit easily in pocket or purse.
Use them to hold small things that you don't need often. Small tie tacks or lapel pins, saftey pins, rubber bands...
If you lose things in your purse, put them in white envelopes. They're easier to see than most things, even keys.
If you have to take a small appliance apart, use an envelope to hold the screws or nuts and bolts. That way you won't lose them.
Same thing with a computer case. Mine had seven screws when it was new. I think it has three now. I'm still learning.
There are a lot more uses for junk envelopes and usually it's just a matter of getting your mind working that way. If you save a few and keep them where you'll see them, you might even be looking for junk mail.
Wouldn't that be strange?
Saturday, March 3, 2007
But there seems to be a new caution in the air. People are talking about recession, either now or in the future. Today, the stock market is falling, and it's no news that a couple of mainstays of American economy - housing and automobiles - are down.
My one word of advice: If you're in debt, get out of it. Do what you have to do to pay off anything you owe. If you have something of value that you can sell, sell it and use the funds to pay off debt. If you have to take on a second job, do it. t may be the most important thing you can do to make it through the days ahead.
Debt can eat you alive in the here and now; what's it going to do if we go into a serious recession? How do you pay them without a job? What do you do when your savings quit earning interest? When you can't withdraw your savings for days, weeks or months?
I don't like fear mongers and that's not where I'm going with this. I just want you to know that if you're in debt you may be headed for trouble like you've never seen.
And if we don't go into recession? You'll be in better financial shape than ever!
Friday, March 2, 2007
Well, maybe it's a little more than frugal.
I found this old rag mop - a real rag mop that you put your own rags in (or buy one of those "rag" mops for). It was in an old abandoned house that was to be torn down and it was sturdy, like my Mom's old mop.
I've used it for a long time, something like 20 years. I know. They don't make them like they used to. Anyway, I thoght it was time to put an end to its misery when the bottom rusted through and the spring wouldn't hold it together any more. Maybe you can see the rubber band that's holding it together.
Sometimes I feel silly, being so close fisted, then I remember how much I've saved by not buying another mop or two or three or four over the years. Well, why should I? This one still works.
And that's your frugal lesson for today. Just don't ask me to explain it! :)