Friday, September 26, 2008

Time to get serious

If you've paid attention at all, you know that our economy is reeling from many blows. I'd love to be able to write encouragingly, but I can't. We're in trouble and that's all there is to it.

How many times have I said it? Get out of debt. Position yourself to need very little income to survive. If you haven't done it, do it as quickly as you can now.

We don't know - nobody knows for sure - but it could be that the government will able to patch it up this time.

But what about next time?

Monday, September 22, 2008

It's almost pumpkin time again

I've got pumpkin in the freezer from last year, so I need to use it before this year's trip to the Pumpkin Patch. One pumpkin goes a long way, but I never can get by with buying only one pumpkin. (They're better in threes...)

Anyway, I've got this pumpkin in the freezer. I've made pumpkin pies, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread and pumpkin soup over the past year. My favorite was the muffins but I might just make pumpkin custard to use up these last three packages.

Pumpkins are wonderful food, nutritious, delicious and easy to cook with, too. It's easy to take a fresh one and turn it into a year's worth of good food. It's a lot cheaper than buying that canned stuff (and it tastes better, too!).

If you have a blender and a stove, turning a pumpkin from a seasonal decoration to good eating is simple. You can bake it or boil it, then puree it and package it for the freezer.

I like to bake it whole, then scoop out the seeds and scrape out the stringy stuff. You can scoop out the meat or peel off the rind, whichever you prefer. Puree it and package in one or two cup containers, depending on how you're likely to use it.

Save the seeds for snacks. Make them the same way you make sunflower seeds. There are several methods, but what I do is soak them overnight in salt water, then drain and roast slowly until they're very slightly browned. You can toast them in butter in a skillet on top of the stove, too, and/or use dry ranch dressing to coat them.

I can't emphasize enough the difference in quality and price between fresh pumpkin and canned pumpkin. Once you taste a pie made from fresh, canned pumpkin pie will never taste right again.

Go ahead and save yourself some money and treat your family to something special at the same time.

More on pumpkins: Have Your Halloween Jack O'Lantern and Eat It Too!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Thank you

Thanks to all of you who have expressed sympathy for my mother's death. It's never easy, but it helps to know there are those who care.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Thanks, Mom

As my Mom lies on her deathbed today, the life lessons she taught us keep running through my head. One of them is a love of nature, just like it is. No manicured, sterile lawns, no bordered rose gardens. Her garden was the world where she took us as children on afternoon strolls. We learned how to climb over fallen tree trunks without scraping our knees, how to pick wild rose hips and where the fish were the friskiest.

Another thing she taught us is that death is part of living. We were born to die and there's no getting out of it.

She also taught us that life is too short to hold grudges or to complain about minor things. People are fallible. Accept that and accept them as they are because you can't change them.

She is strong... what can I say about a shell of a woman who lies, waiting for the last of her family to gather before saying good bye?

Life will go on without her, just as everyone else's has who has lost a Mother. Our worlds shrink and gray, then begin to bloom again. She taught us that, too.

Thanks, Mom.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Winter time's a comin'

The garden is winding down, with the cool nights we've been having. Locusts are quiet now and I think some of the birds have gone already. It's a different world outside my back door. Fall colors are already tinging the leaves and grasses!

It's early, isn't it? Please tell me that it is. Time goes so fast that I can't keep up with it anyway, but this is really pushing it.

I wouldn't mind at all (I'm not a hot weather person), but the thought of heating bills looms in the very near future if it keeps this up. And... the Farmer's Almanac says we're in for a colder, harder winter than usual!

I've done just about everything to this house that I can to keep it from leaking warm air when the temperatures fall. For almost every house,windows are the biggest problem. They're like having big holes in the wall and even the smallest window is still a big hole!

Even with caulking, storm windows or double paned glass, triple glazed glass or whatever you can do to upgrade your windows, they still, by their very nature, let in cold air.

Heavy draperies help if you keep them closed when it's cold, but open them when the sun shines in to take advantage of free solar warmth. My curtains are not heavy, so last year I bought fleece blankets at Big Lots for $3 each and cut them to fit behind the curtains. I tried several methods, but finally used straight pins to pin them to the backs of the curtains.

It seems like only so many things can be said about getting ready for winter and I've said them all at one time or another and I said a lot of it in this article:

It's Time to Winterize Your Home

Do what you can to seal off cracks or holes. Take a candle and go around every corner and joining wall, every window and door. Use caulking and weather stripping wherever it's needed. Decide how you're going to cover the windows, make sure you have plenty of blankets will keep you warm when you turn down the heat at night.

This year, maybe more than any other year in the past, it's important from a financial viewpoint, to prepare for cold weather. Prices on everything are going higher, and heating fuel will go up, too. People have less money to spend. If we really do have a longer and/or colder winter than usual, many can be in real trouble.

Don't be one of them; get ready now, while it's still warm.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A savings challenge

We in Frugal Land talk about a lot of things that are important to being more frugal and living better because of it, but one of the two most important things you can do to get ahead is to put money into a savings account or other safe place. (The other thing is to get out of debt.)

I don't care how many plastic bags you wash out or how many pennies you pick up from the sidewalk or how many lattes you forego, if you don't save the money you save, it's all pointless. I mean physically save money. Put it in an account, put it in a piggy bank, in a cookie jar, under your mattress, but put it somewhere away from your daily finances.

The problem is in funding that account in the first place, even if we're actively frugal and save every where we can. We often save in such small amounts (although many times over) that the money just get lost in the bigger picture. We tend to let a lot of loose change slip away just because we don't actually see the savings. How do you get the money saved from a fifteen cent coupon to a savings account? Or how do you figure the savings when you opted to NOT buy a new outfit for work? The key is one word: Tracking.

Now don't get me wrong, if you don't track and you save fifteen cents by using a coupon, you have fifteen cents more than you would have otherwise. It will eventually add up and you should notice a difference in what's leftover each month if you save wherever you can. You can just put that in your savings account, but the chances are that you've lost some to the wind along the way.

Tracking is something that a lot of people don't like to do and I'm one of them, so I can sympathize. It's the best way to control your money, though.

You'll need to write down your savings every time, no matter what the amount. If you want to really save the money you saved from not buying that outfit, record the cost of it as savings. There may be some times when you won't record a "savings" because you didn't have the money in the first place and were only dreaming when you wanted something. Record only the savings you made when you seriously considered buying something then changed your mind for frugal reasons.

A far as real cash flow goes, put real savings pennies and dollars in the bank. You can add in the pennies you find on the sidewalk and the change found in the washer, if you like. If you go to the grocery store and save $1.43 by using coupons, either write that amount down to be added to other funds for the savings account, or physically take that amount of money out of your cash and put it away. Add to it as time goes by and you'll soon have enough to make a deposit into your checking account. Be as faithful as you can to track every bit.

I know that sounds petty and a lot of trouble for some of you, but it works. If you're not convinced that you should or that you even want to, I challenge you to try it for a month. Give it a fair chance and see what happens.

At the end of the month, add it all up and multiply by 12, then ask yourself if you don't mind wasting that amount of money every year. And if you do mind, put it in the bank and go for another month... and another one.

Saving this way will soon become second nature and not nearly the chore it once seemed to be. Your savings account will thank you with its own rewards. How can you lose?

P.S. They're discussing this very thing over at Dollar Stretcher Community forums: "Small Change" Tricks