Saturday, January 29, 2011

The future of food... is it here?

Ok, I'm worried. Or beginning to worry. Food prices are still going up and there are many reasons for them to continue to rise. One is the weather. You don't have to look very far to see extreme weather. Snow measured in feet instead of inches, droughts that hang on and on, floods, tornadoes in places that don't get tornadoes.

And then there is the threat of diseases. Blights, fungi and bacterial problems are beginning to plague monoculture megafarms. Loss of seed variety, encouraged by Monsanto and GMO practices, add to the threat. It's becoming more and more difficult to maintain heritage seeds - seeds that are needed to ensure the continuation of food crops.

Crop failure, no matter what its cause, can be disastrous now more than ever, because we live in a global world.  Preferring local food can be seen as backwards and nonproductive.

What product prices should we be most concerned with? Start reading the labels on your shelves because those products very probably contain some of these.

Wheat  - bread, rolls, cookies, cake... pizza dough, cabbage rolls and the hundreds of items that use wheat and/or gluten.

Corn  - popcorn, sweet corn, corn meal, corn flour, corn starch, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup... this affects the cost of literally thousands of products.Corn has almost doubled in the last 6 months or so.

Soy is another one that has seen rising prices. Not just in soy sauce or soy milk, soy is found in many, many products.

But maybe you've heard this before? In 2007, there was great concern (although much of it behind closed doors, they tell us) about rising food prices and possible shortages. Food prices did rise, but not so much that we didn't adjust and go on. Will it be that way this time?

I don't know, but I'm hearing rumbles that I never heard before. Rumbles of crucial food shortages, of hunger increasing, of government programs not being able to keep up, of food banks having to turn away people. Do you think our government will tell us if there was a serious food shortage? No way... people panic. People act stupid when they fear anything, and the government knows it.

Hunger and food riots have always happened somewhere else... not here in the USA. We have lots of cheap food... don't we? I believe the near future may tell us a different story.

Pay attention to the overall picture and watch your food budget closely.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Enjoying the fruits of my labor

I try to make it happen more often than not: A meal grown from my own garden or gotten by means other than go-to-the-store-and-buy-it. This time it was pinto beans grown in last year's garden. I put in a little turkey ham (cheaper than pork ham and considering that I can't eat pork...), and a little ham/smoke flavoring bought at the local salvage grocery for almost nothing.

With the beans, I had cornbread with the cornmeal made partly from corn I grew year before last and partly from popcorn that didn't want to pop well. I also used buttermilk from butter I'd made a couple of weeks ago. The teaspoon of baking powder it took came from a canister I'd found marked 'way down - an unusual find.

Along with beans and cornbread, there were greens. Wild greens, gathered from my back yard last year.

I also fried a pan of Jersualem artichokes, growing like weeds from a half dozen roots I planted about three years ago. I will never run out of those.

And butter, homemade. And ice tea, homemade.

I didn't add up the cost; somehow that would have spoiled the effect. I am happy to know that so much of the meal came from the labor of my own hands and not from some grocery shelf.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Gardening in January

So. It's mid January, the seed catalogs are piled high, the grow light is... oops, forgot to turn it on this morning. There, now. The grow light is encouraging a few onions and lettuce for now. Next year, I'm going to use it for herbs when it gets too cold outside. The other grow light - the one that's supposed to hang on something when I don't have anything to hang it on, will be used for starting seedlings for the garden soon. I lay it over bricks to get it the right height. Necessity is the mother of invention, right?

But this summer I plan to try to create a system similar to the one I got for Christmas which is the one I'm using now. It's a frame with a hanging light that can be adjusted over a planter.

Yeah... I can garden in the dead of winter. ;)

So far, I've just been looking at the seed catalogs, but sooner or later, I will try to plan where to plant what. With a limited area, I have to be pretty creative at times, but so far, so good. I already have most of the seed that will be needed this year, but of course, I gotta try something different now and then.

Frugal take on a garden is all that good food. It can be cheaper than the grocery store kind and it's a whole lot better.

Ways to make a garden more frugal:

  • Container garden in castaway containers.
  • Make your own compost. 
  • Hoe and pull weeds by hand. 
  • Try no till gardening
  • Make your own special fertilizers
  • Water by drip irrigation instead of overhead

Want to talk about it? It's time!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Are Travel Credit Cards Really Worth It?

You’ve probably noticed a huge surge in commercials for travel credit cards over the last few months. It seems as if every airline and hotel chain out there is trying to get you to apply for their credit card. Although these promotions are tempting, the cold hard truth is that travel rewards credit cards won't save money for most people. Let me explain…

Almost all of them have annual fees

First and foremost, very few of these travel cards are free. Sure, they may have a promotion that gives you no annual fee for the first year, but after that you will probably be stuck paying $60 to $100 or more just to keep the card. Think about it – if a credit card has an annual fee of $100 over the course of a decade you will have paid $1,000 just to have it!

Rewards/benefits are specific to one airline or hotel

Typically if you want the best benefits, you have to go with a credit card that is affiliated with a specific airline/hotel. The problem with this is that very few of us always fly the same carrier or stay at the same hotel. Most of us just go with whoever is cheapest at the moment when we are booking a trip. However if you have a United Airlines Mileage Plus card, for example, you may feel compelled to fly United even if they cost a few bucks more for a given flight. I know several people who do this – the ironic outcome is that their card that was meant to save them money is actually causing them to spend more money than they otherwise would!

You’re paying for benefits you don’t use

Personally, I believe a good chunk of annual fees are nothing but profit for the bank, but a portion of these fee do go to pay for cardholder benefits. Now if you use the benefits all the time then you could get your money’s worth. For example, my Citi Thank You Premier card makes sense for me personally because I use the travel benefits all the time... but for most people it wouldn’t be a good choice. If you have a card and you rarely take advantage of its benefits then you are definitely getting the short end of the stick.

Let me give you an example… a lot of folks sign up for the Delta credit card because of its first checked bag for free. That saves $50 per roundtrip so if you fly Delta multiple times per year it is probably worth it. On the other hand, if you only take a vacation once every year or two, you will be reaping $50 in free luggage in exchange for paying $95 per year just to have the darn card.

Rewards on regular spending are average
The typical travel rewards credit card may give double or triple points on purchases from its affiliated airline, but only one point per dollar on all other spending. If a bulk of your spending is with that affiliated airline/hotel, then great! However for the average Joe or Jane, only a tiny percentage of their spending will be on airplane tickets or hotel stays. So essentially, they will be getting closer to 1 point per dollar on average (and if that’s all they’re going to get, there’s plenty of credit cards that offer that for free).

Most travel credit cards are geared towards big spenders

With almost every airline credit card on the market, you will need to spend $25,000 to $50,000 just to earn yourself one free roundtrip ticket. For the average American, it could take years to spend that much… all the meanwhile they will be paying that annual fee. The math on a lot of these cards just doesn’t make sense unless you make a high volume of purchases.


Travel rewards credit cards only make sense for those that either (a) travel a lot, or (b) spend a lot. If you don’t fall into one of those categories, you would probably be better off with a good no annual fee cash back credit card instead.

This post was written by guest blogger Michael, the founder of CreditCardForum. On a personal note, he uses the Citi Thank You Premier card but only because he lives on the opposite side of the country as his family, and hence, flies back frequently to see them. He stresses that the card’s $125 annual fee would not make sense for the vast majority of people.