July 11, 2009

Tips for Buying from the Bulk Bins

There are a lot of advantages to buying foods & spices from the bulk bins at your local store. The stuff is usually a lot fresher than pre-packaged items, plus you can buy only what you need. A lot less packaging goes to the landfills, too. Often you can find products in the bulk bins that you can't find pre-packaged without going to a more expensive store. And the unit cost can sometimes be much, much cheaper.

Here are a few tips for getting the most out of buying from the bins:
  • Buy herbs & spices as you need them. This is great if you need a seasoning you don't use often. Buy only what you need in the quantity you need it, so take your measuring cups & spoons with you. For example, I recently got 3 tablespoons of whole dried rosemary for 9 cents.
  • If you only need a small quantity of flour, for example, don't use the large plastic bags. Put it in the smaller bags offered for spices. You'll save a teeny bit on weight, but the biggest benefit is you won't put a larger bag in the landfill.
  • Don't use the twist-ties the store provides. Instead, carry a marker with you. Write the product code on the bag itself and tie it loosely. Since the cost is calculated by weight, every little bit you can save helps.
  • Some stores offer nice, thick plastic bags to put your selections in. Unless you have a planned use for those bags when you get home, pop over to the produce section and get a lightweight bag for your purchase. Again, you're saving on weight.
  • Transfer your purchase to an airtight container when you get home. Remember that flour, seeds and nuts should be frozen (or at least refrigerated) if they're not going to be used right away. They can go rancid.
Does anyone have any other tips? Please leave them in the comments...

July 09, 2009

My Husband + Our Finances = Huh??

I'm worried. I take care of all of our money and everything related to it. Every dime. My husband doesn't even get an allowance and has to call me to see if he can buy breakfast when he's stuck out of town. (He's a truck driver.) He has no clue how to do a budget or balance a checkbook. He doesn't even know exactly where all our money "lives", though he does have some idea of the names of the institutions. Who do we owe? A vague idea. How much? No idea. Our net worth? Totally clueless. He doesn't even know how much his paychecks are until he gets the stub in the mail.

But that's the way he wants it!

It's worrisome because what if something should happen to me? Oh, he could pay the bills because that's all organized. He knows where the book is that has all the websites, login IDs and passwords written in it (I pay everything online). He could figure out how to log in to the sites but he would have a terrible time figuring out how to get to the "pay bill" screens.

I log in to our checking and savings accounts every day, tracking spending and looking for identity theft. He could log in to our primary bank, but I know he wouldn't be able to read that code that our checking account transactions are translated into, like "61910061323 BONNEY LAKE 308023 07/06619100613 $9.15". Because I keep every debit receipt until it clears the bank, I can quickly find the one for $9.15 and verify that it's OK. He wouldn't do that. Identity theft could be a real problem for him.

Hubby might be able to cobble together a budget because I keep a year's worth of weekly budgets in reserve in case there's a dispute over whether something got paid or not. He could look at those and figure it out. But would he stick to it? He doesn't track spending so I'm not sure he even knows how. I foresee lots of overdraft charges.

What worries me the most is that he has no idea how to manage money and refuses to learn. He needs to know how to prioritize and track spending and research investments. He needs to know how to plan for the future. He won't let me teach him, either. Says it's all too complicated. (This from a man with a genius IQ who can remember everything he ever learned about cars, trucks and motorcycles. Seriously!) I've simply quit trying to convince him that this is something he needs to know about.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how I can pull this ostrich's head out of the sand? Should I even try?

July 07, 2009

My Two Personal Finance Gurus

Mary Hunt

When I became disabled in 2001 I was in debt up to my eyeballs. I thought I was going to have to file bankruptcy because I had no clue what to do. I had already filed bankruptcy once in my life and it really, really messed up my credit. I did NOT want to have to do it again.

So I started researching on the web. There weren't quite as many personal finance gurus out there then as there are now but there were lots of them. I think I went through them all until I found my savior, Mary Hunt. Her book The Complete Cheapskate gave me step-by-step directions on how to get out of debt and stay out. It's not available at Mary's site anymore but you can still find it at Amazon.com.

Mary has revised her guide over the years. It's now titled Debt-Proof Living and can be purchased through her bookstore at her website, aptly named Debt-Proof Living.

I haven't purchased the new book; the old one has stood me in good stead. Even though my husband and I have been living hand-to-mouth since 2001, we're now almost debt-free and we actually have savings in the bank. To keep motivated and to learn all sorts of new tips & tricks for living frugally I subscribe to Mary's newsletter.

Mary's website has some free access pages, but most of it is reserved for paid subscribers. I haven't subscribed so I can't comment on what's there - you'll have to visit and see for yourself.

In summary, Mary was a godsend to us. She continues to provide us with simple, concrete things we can do to save money on living expenses. She gives good financial advice for people who are at the low end of the income scale by answering readers' questions in her newsletter. She also publishes lots of reader submissions and her own tips for living frugally. Here's one of my favorites: make your own laundry detergent. It's quick, easy and best of all, it's waaay cheaper than buying commercial detergents that are mostly water anyway. Why don't you visit Mary's site and see if you can find her recipe?

Trent Hamm

I found Trent last year. I read one article and I was hooked. He writes a blog called The Simple Dollar which focuses on frugal living and personal finance, and he writes more broadly than Mary does. Trent writes about subjects like personal finance, motivation, organization and time management (among many others). He's always publishing reviews about books pertinent to his topics, too. Like Mary, he answers readers' questions but unlike Mary he has responded to me personally a couple of times! Every single one of his articles has been thought-provoking in some way; most are helpful in very discrete ways. And often there's a lively discussion of his articles via the comments.

The Simple Dollar's website is great. It's easy to navigate and you can find links to the important stuff on every single page, including the archives. (When I first found Trent I spent hours reading through the archives, that's how fascinating I found his writing to be.)

Trent's advice is most frequently geared towards changing attitudes and behaviors. He writes a lot about how we got ourselves into debt and what we need to change within ourselves to get out. But he's a hands-on guy too - there are lots of discrete, how-to tips and tricks in his writings, like his article on Ten Great Ways to Make Powerful Visual Reminders of Your Personal Finance and Other Goals. I subscribe to Trent's newsletter; he writes at least once a day and I usually read him first thing in the morning. I also follow Trent on Twitter (trenttsd); he's always tossing out interesting quotes and links to interesting stuff.

I'm sorry to say that I haven't read Trent's book, 365 Ways to Live Cheap, but I plan on buying it in the next month or so. He also offers some very low-cost ($2) ebooks such as 31 Days to Fix Your Finances, "... about figuring out what you want out of life and reorganizing your finances so that you can have it". He also offers a wonderful FREE ebook titled Everything You Ever Really Needed To Know About Personal Finance on One Page. It's a terrific introduction to the basic concepts of managing your money and I highly recommend it.

Here are a couple of my [current] favorite articles from Trent: Trimming the Fat: Forty Ways to Reduce Your Monthly Required Spending (notice the word "required" in there), and Is Suze Right? Do Emergency Funds Now Trump Debt Repayment?

Trent also offers a step-by-step-with-pictures guide to making your own laundry detergent, but I prefer Mary's recipe. (Sorry, Trent.) Why don't you go check out The Simple Dollar? I'm betting you'll be very, very glad you did.

July 06, 2009

Motivation: Take a Different Perspective

I don't know about you but I have a terrible time motivating myself to do things I consider unpleasant. I didn't learn much self-discipline as a child and haven't learned much as an adult, either! A broad category of "unpleasant" for me is - housework. Ugh. I'd almost rather take a beating than wash dishes or do the myriad other chores necessary to have a clean and neat home.

Recently, though, I learned a new way of looking at unpleasant tasks. For example, I used to say to myself "I have to wash the dishes" which was immediately followed by "I don't *want* to wash the damned dishes, it's boring!". Now I say "I want to wash the dishes because I'll enjoy having a clean kitchen and I'll be proud of myself for doing it." This doesn't always work because the underlying fact is still that I hate to wash dishes. But I know if I keep applying this mental technique to all my housework chores I'll eventually have a neat and clean house without so much struggle. I really want to have a neat and clean house. My friends want me to have a clean and neat house, too, so they don't start sneezing every time they come over. (We have 5 cats and 2 dogs in the house.) My friends would also like to enjoy my delicious cooking without fear, too.

The beauty of this concept is that it can be applied to so many things in our lives. It makes for a more positive attitude, which is one of the components of happiness. It seems such a simplistic thing, to take a different perspective on life. But it can be difficult because old habits die hard. Keep at it, though, and it can change your life.

July 05, 2009

Things Recipes Don't Tell You

Herbs & Spices
  • Quantities are guidelines only. The actual amount you use will depend on how old your spices are; if they don't smell very strong you'll need to increase the quantity (and buy new spices). This is why you should taste your dishes whenever possible & adjust the spices accordingly.
  • It usually isn't necessary to add salt as called for in a recipe. However, I can think of two exceptions: plain mashed potatoes (or any other food that's known to be really bland), and baked goods where salt is a necessity for rising and so forth. Oh, and although there's a lot of debate about this one, I believe you should salt meat you're going to grill/broil if you want a nice crust on it.
  • Dried herbs should be measured, then crushed between your fingers to release the flavor before adding to a dish. Fresh herbs should be chopped at least a little bit, too.
  • If a dish calls for an herb or spice you don't usually keep on hand, try to find it in bulk. You can buy 3 tablespoons of rosemary, for example, for about 9 cents. Plus, it's fresh! And if you're not any good at estimating quantities, take your measuring spoons with you.
  • The only time it's necessary to be absolutely precise when measuring is when the ratio of one ingredient to another is critical. When making baked goods from scratch, like bread, it's necessary. It's also necessary when making sauces or gravies. The rest of the time, don't sweat it.
  • When a recipe calls for "1/4 cup chopped parsley", chop the parsley and then measure it. If the recipe calls for "1/4 cup parsley, chopped", measure the parsley by first packing it loosely into a measuring cup; then chop it up.
  • When measuring dry ingredients, don't shake the cup or spoon. Just loosely scoop or spoon the ingredient in, then use the back of a knife to scrape it off level with the top of the measuring implement.
  • The only times I know for sure that it's necessary to preheat the oven are when baking pizza, and when making baked goods like cakes, bread, etc. For roasts, casseroles, roasted vegetables, lasagne, etc. etc., it isn't necessary and wastes money. Just add a few minutes to the cooking time instead.
  • There are charts and tips all over the WWW for substitutions. All I wanted to say about them is don't be afraid to substitute things. It's the way you truly learn to cook!
My husband calls me "The Kitchen Goddess" and every time he says it to someone I blush. I'm not a goddess, just a darned good cook. If you have any specific questions feel free to leave them in the comments and I'll be glad to respond. Happy cooking!