Tuesday, March 25, 2014

How to Manage Your Money When You Don't Have Any - A Book Review

How to Manage Your Money When You Don't Have Any, 
Erik Wecks, 2012

I have read a whole lot of books about personal finance, and this is definitely my new favorite. As you might guess from the title, this is not your big book of investment advice, but rather a realistic, practical approach to dealing with life after the Great Recession.

I love this author's conversational, non-judgmental tone and sense of humor. Erik helps us to find our own mission, and he uses his experience in financial counseling to give us strategies, not just tactics, to reach our own financial stability.

Escape to Prosperity - A Book Review

Escape to Prosperity, Wes Beavis, 1999

This is an older book, which is still spot-on. It is a fun book to read - unless you want to continue to do the things that keep you broke. This is a book about money principles, which is written in an always interesting and sometimes humorous way.

Wes Beavis talks about paying off your mortgage, making tax-paying more pleasant, the cost of owning a car. He also talks about getting out of debt. But most of all, he talks about how to go about these things, all in a story-telling way. This book was required reading in my (home school) high school curriculum.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Three Can Minestrone

With only three of us living here now, I pulled out my 1-1/2 quart crockpot, and I started experimenting with making soups that are small and simple. 

Now, I do want to tell you that I think fresh foods are even better for us; but I grew up as a Girl Scout, with the motto, "Be prepared". I like to have some meals and soups that I can make with ingredients that I can keep in the house. 

I've been tweaking this recipe in several attempts, and tonight I was delighted, if I do say so myself. So, I thought I would share it with you all. 

Three Can Minestrone

1 can (15.5 ounces) Great Northern beans, drained
1 can (14.5 ounces) sliced carrots, drained
1 can (14.5 ounces) Italian diced tomatoes
½ cup water with ½ teaspoon chicken bouillon
OR ½ cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt or to taste
dash of black pepper
¼ teaspoon basil

Fresh option:
2 tablespoons finely chopped onions or green onions

Put all ingredients into a 1 ½ to 2 quart crock pot and stir.

Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.


Note: This recipe was created after the Myers Family Cookbook was published, so it is not found in that book. There are other soup recipes in that book, as well as other recipes you can make from items you can keep in the pantry. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

De-cluttering - What about the old philosophies? - #7 - Retro equipment

Old Philosophy #7: " If you have items that are no longer in general use, for example, vinyl records, you should keep them until you can have them converted or until you can buy the equipment to convert them yourself, or better yet, buy the re-manufactured retro equipment to play them on."

MY husband is a musician, so, I bought him a record player for all his vinyl records. However, I'm not a musician, so I didn't select a record player with high quality sound. Oops. 

But, that brings me back to hobbies and passions, once again. What kinds of things do we want to save? If it's our vocation or avocation, then we might want to go for it. But we might want to consider how many passions we have the time, energy, and space to pursue. 

Incidentally, my husband also has large reel-to-reel tapes that his father taped from radio programs or records. (I started to inform you that his father did this many years ago; but hey, when did you last see a reel-to-reel tape player?). We did finally let the reel-to-reel player move on.  Now we need to address the tapes. I'm making a list and seeing how many of them we can get on CD's or perhaps digitally. 

And - I know I'm repeating myself - but here we go again: I have quite a few old movies on VHS, but movies are not my passion; I'm not that "into" them, so it's not worth it to me to convert them to DVD's. So I will be letting most of them go. 

I guess what I'd really like to share with you is the feeling that we don't have to keep everything just because we have it. And it isn't always wise to acquire more to justify what we have. Unless it's our passion, and it fits our space, budget, etc., we can simply let it go. 

You can read Decluttering - What about the old philosophies? - #6  or #8.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

De-cluttering - What about the old philosophies? - #6 - Our own childhood stuff

Old Philosophy #6: "You should save your college textbooks, other books, your childhood toys and games, and clothing that no longer fits you, for your children and grandchildren to use some day."

This one is simple: Don't do it! (Okay, I'm really not telling you what to do; just sharing my opinion.). Except...

I decided to save a few things for my grandchildren (should I be so lucky) to use at my house. But I don't want to saddle my kids with a lot of my stuff, or with guilt if they don't want to take it. 

Maybe you want to keep a few college textbooks that fit your career or hobby, for your own enjoyment or reference. Perhaps you want to keep some children's books to read to your children or grandchildren, or that they can read while visiting at your house. Maybe you want to keep several childhood games that you can play with your children or grandchildren. Perhaps you want to keep a few extra coats and hats in the closet, in case someone gets their things wet. 

As I mentioned in another post, sometimes it's good to just keep numbers in mind. You might want to keep a few games, but you don't have to keep 20 games from your childhood, or you don't have to keep 50 games from when your children were growing up...unless you still play all those games on a regular basis. 

As I look at our coat closet - I mean game closet - I think this is as good a place as any to mention something important. Many of us live with another decision maker besides ourselves. We might not always agree on what to keep and what not to keep. If something belongs to someone else (for example, our spouse), we can beg, barter, or cajole; but unless and until they "come around" to our way of thinking, it's basically not ours to dispose of.

Any thoughts you'd like to share? 

De-cluttering - What about the old philosophies? - #5 - Old things we don't use anymore

Old Philosophy #5: "You should keep old things, like holey socks, because you might need them in an emergency or in an economic downturn."

Yesterday, we experienced an emergency. I didn't need any holey socks. I was glad, though, to have an old somewhat-worn blanket on hand, which I'd been debating whether or not to keep. We didn't end up needing it, as the electricity came on before we went to bed. But I was glad I had it for the peace of mind, as it brought the number of additional blankets up to what I hoped would be just enough. There are many, right now, in my area and other areas, who are without power, trying to find ways, no doubt, to be warm, or at least to keep from freezing.

Although I was happy I had that old yellow blanket, looking back, I realize there are three reasons why I hadn't gotten rid of it. I love the color; it had belonged to my son who passed away two years ago; and also, I have a long-standing personal philosophy that "you can never have too many blankets". I came up with this personal mantra decades ago, when I was considering baby gifts for friends; but as I had more children, its value became more apparent. Even with our children grown now, you never know who might be staying for a visit or a transition.

But when it comes to socks, I have to admit, when I replace them because they have holes in them, I throw away the old ones. Personally, I don't really see much value in holey socks unless it's all I've got. In an economic downturn, I would undoubtedly have holey socks soon enough (been there, done that), without having saved a drawer full of them. But to save them, on purpose, ahead of time?  Someone once said about this depression philosophy of saving worn out clothing, "In a depression, we would be depressed to have all these worn out things."

Rather than indiscriminately saving old things, in case we might need them in an emergency, what if we were to be pro-active about planning for an emergency?  I'm not referring to the long-term apocalyptic preparations that some people make. Although I don't criticize those, it's not my way. I'm referring to the emergencies that occur somewhere in the world every day and could occur in our world. How about having a small portable snack in our purse or backpack, and non-perishable foods, that don't require heating, in our homes?

How about having a way to get help - or just to stay in touch with people - during an emergency? We still have a landline phone, so one of the things I've saved is an old corded phone that I can plug in during a power outage...and yes, it works without electricity,  provided the phone lines are good. But this is only true if it's truly a landline, which I realized when I was going to loan this phone to my neighbor. She has Comcast phone service, and Comcast was down.

And what about alternative ways to charge the cell phone, besides plugging it into the wall? I was glad, yesterday, to have finally gotten a phone for which I could get (and had gotten) a car charger.

Now let's go back, for just a moment, to the idea of preparing for an "economic downturn". If you live where you own your home outright, and maybe you grow your own food, and maybe you have skills you would be able to barter; then perhaps you would have no need to move, and maybe saving old things might work for you in such an emergency, if you have room for them. But for some people, if hard times were to come, it might mean moving....in order to take a new job, or to live for a bit with a relative or friend, or just to downsize to a lower rent or mortgage payment. In some cases, "saving stuff" for an economic downturn might just be counter-productive.

But blankets? We can always use them to pack our stuff in, right? Actually, as I said in my last post, I believe you can collect too many of  pretty much anything. So you might not want to take my "you can't have too many blankets" mantra too seriously and accumulate way more than you need. And we can always offer old blankets to homeless shelters or, if worn, to an animal shelter.

But now, I need to go research how to mend a certain yellow blanket.

Read De-cluttering - What about the old philosophies? - #4
        Or De-cluttering - What about the old philosophies? - #6.

De-cluttering - What about the old philosophies? - #4 - Reuse or Repurpose?

Old Philosophy #4: "If you can remake it, or you might be able to use it in another way some day, you should keep it for when you have time to do that."

Like the other philosophies that were passed down from the depression, this is another one that can be good or bad.

This isn't about simple repairs, which I talked about in another blog post. This is the "reuse" in "reduce, reuse, recycle", but people were doing it long before that expression became popular. When I was a child, I had an aunt who was struggling financially. One year, to make Christmas gifts for my sister and me, she cleaned out old bleach bottles. She added little pieces of felt to make them look like pigs, and she punched a hole in each bottle for us to put money in. It was the best piggy bank ever, I recognized the love that went into it, and it was one of my favorite gifts.

Whole books and blog posts demonstrate the many ways we can reuse various items in other ways. My Repurposed Life is a blog I sometimes visit, just for fun. I simply enjoy the author's projects, ideas, and the visual appeal. This woman loves to take a piece of old furniture and make something new and beautiful.

When we re-use things, sometimes we make something beautiful and other times we just need something useful. For example, over the years, I've often saved glass jars...to dispose of grease, to store beans or grains, or to save pocket change or buttons. But I've found the key to control - hey, let's not forgot these posts are about de-cluttering - is to pick a number. Maybe the number is five or maybe it's three. Depending on the type of item, and our needs or hobbies, it could be a larger number, but the idea is to have a definite number. By saving only that number, and putting the rest in the recycle bin or garbage, we can keep the clutter down, as we go along.

I've learned to try to only save things to reuse, which we know we will actually use, and to limit the number. What about you? Do you save things to re-use? What do you save and how do you re-use it?

RRead: De-cluttering - What about the old philosophies? - #3
             Or De-cluttering - What about the old philosophies? - #5.

De-cluttering - What about the old philosophies? - #3 - Donate?

Old Philosophy #3: "If it is worn out, you should give it to Goodwill."

This one goes way back to my childhood. 

When I was a young girl, I cleaned my closet one day, and I set aside games, which I no longer played with, to give them to Goodwill. My dad complained that I was trying to give away all my good games...and, consequently, he built each of us shelves in the basement to store the things we were not currently using. 

In some ways, I haven't changed much since I was a little girl. Here's my 'thing' about Goodwill. On the one hand, it doesn't have to be perfect for you to give it to Goodwill. Goodwill not only provides people with various products more cheaply than they can get them at the department store, but it is an organization which also trains people and gives people jobs. As a good friend recently pointed out, even sorting through the donated items is a job for someone. 

On the other hand, I don't feel comfortable thinking of Goodwill principally as a place for my worn-out items. I myself shop at Goodwill to find the "treasures". So, I like to help re-stock the place with treasures for others to find, also. I like to pass along some things I no longer want which are still very nice. 

Of course, Goodwill is not the only option. In my area, we have a St. Vincent de Paul bin with a sign on it, saying that clothing donations go to help the homeless in our local area. So, nowadays, that's where my clothing goes (and some other things go to Goodwill...and there is also the Vietnam Veterans, or our church's flea market in the summer). 

When I had blindness materials to distribute, I went to the Blindhomeschooler Yahoo group. When I had homeschooling materials to give away, I wrote to the local homeschool group we had participated in until my youngest went to college. The last two or three summers, I've had the opportunity to give religious and educational books to a visiting priest who was sending them back to his mission in Africa. 

I've given household items to local residents through Freecycle, and I've given old blankets to an animal shelter. Of course, all of this takes time, and sometimes it's easier to just pick it all up and take everything to two places, a thrift shop and the garbage. 

As far as worn out items, if it's really and truly worn out - not just in need of a minor repair - I throw it in the garbage. But if it's clothing, and it's at least partly cotton, I make it into a rag. I cut it open, so it won't sneak it's way back into a drawer. But first, I take off any buttons. Yes, I save buttons. Usually, when I need buttons for a project, I find myself buying them...still, I save buttons. But remember, recycle sewing is my hobby. I figure that saving stuff is okay if it's small and it's part of your hobby, right? 

De-cluttering - What about the old philosophies? - #2 - Fix it or not?

Old philosophy #2: If it is broken, you should keep it until you can find a way to fix it.

I once read something like this, "Throw away all the broken toys and other broken items in your home." Do what??  I thought it was heresy or something. (I've since changed my mind a bit.) 

My husband and I were both brought up with the philosophy that "if it's broken, you fix it". If you don't have the skills to fix it, you pay someone else to fix it. Or, you save it until you can learn how to fix it, or until you can get the parts you need to fix it. Or you keep it until it magically fixes itself. (Yes, I added that last part just this moment, tongue in cheek.)

I once splurged and bought a really nice watch. It wasn't overly expensive, but it cost me more than I usually spent for a watch. It stopped working, so I took it to the jewelry shop where I had bought it. When I came back to pick it up, they said, "That will be $$." I don't remember the amount, but I was in shock! If I remember right, it was considerably more than I had paid for the watch.  I asked them why they hadn't given me an estimate, and they said that if they went into the watch to find out what was wrong with it, that was about as much labor as fixing it, and that my bringing it in was my permission for them to fix it. That day I learned a lesson in communication. I also learned that sometimes, it's cheaper not to fix something. 

I no longer think you should fix everything. I think what we repair - or pay someone else to repair - is different for each of us. My husband and I pay someone to fix our cars. My current car is 11 years old. My former car, an American minivan, made almost 200,000 miles before it finally became irreparable. My husband's Jeep has way over 200,000 miles. We have other places we would rather put our money than newer cars; but that's not a decision for everyone.

How do we know whether to keep something, so we can fix it, or whether to just give it up?  I think the best way to figure that out is to consider value, enjoyment, and "likelihood".  

How much money and/or time will it cost to repair it? How long will it last after it's been repaired? Is it worth it? During our last move, a piece of wood near the bottom of my china cabinet broke, making it unusable. I thought it was all over (the cabinet, not my life, but I was pretty sad). But my husband found a strong glue, and he glued the piece back together, and it's been good ever since. 

Another question related to value might be, is it something essential, and we can't afford to get a new one right now? Would it be cheaper to have it repaired than to replace it? 

Or, does it have strong sentimental value?...which brings me to my next criteria. How much enjoyment will we get from the item if we repair it?  Is it something that brings us joy? Will it continue to bring us joy in its repaired state? 

And lastly, what is the likelihood that we really will get it repaired? If we haven't fixed something for months, or perhaps years, when do we think we are going to begin? Is there something that will help us to get started, or it it time to be honest with ourselves? 

If you know me, you might know that I like "fixing" clothing items...repairing, re-purposing, changing out the buttons, etc. I enjoy figuring out how to save something, and I enjoy hand-sewing, so together they constitute a hobby that brings me a lot of enjoyment. My dad once got free lumber and nails in exchange for taking down a building, and he used them to build a house. Cheap housing was a necessity for him at the time; but building was also his hobby. 

If it's our hobby, by all means, let's fix it. If not, we might want to consider whether it's worth it, how much we will enjoy it, and the likelihood that we will actually get around to it. Otherwise, we might want to get it - whatever it might be - out of the house. 

Is there anything special that you've "saved" that was worth it, or that you really enjoyed fixing? 

De-cluttering - What about the old philosophies? - #1 - Gifts

Old philosophy #1: "If you spent good money for it, or it was a gift, so someone else spent good money for it, you should keep it."

This is a hard one. No one wants to waste their money. No one wants to think of crumpling up a twenty dollar bill (or more) and putting it into the trash can...or through the shredder...or, as people used to say, down the toilet.

But let's look at some of the ways we spend our money, other than buying "things"...just to dig a little deeper  into why we do what we do.

Perhaps you travel somewhere by airplane. You don't bring the plane home with you (not unless you own the plane, which most of us don't). If you travel by plane, perhaps you rent a car. You don't take the rental car home with you. If you aren't visiting relatives or friends (and, sometimes, if you are), you might stay in a motel. But you don't bring the motel home with you, nor the sheets and towels. But, generally speaking, we don't say, "I threw my money away."  What do we say? Hopefully, it's something along the lines of, "I had a wonderful time!"

We pay for a certain value.

If we go out to eat, we nourish our bodies and we enjoy time with our family or friends. If someone likes to golf, they get a feeling of accomplishment and perhaps camaraderie. If someone goes to a concert, they enjoy the music. At the end of the day, we have nothing to show for the money spent. Perhaps a carton of leftovers for tomorrow's lunch; maybe a scorecard or a program. Maybe some pictures. And that's all. But it's really not all, because what he have are the things of the mind and heart. And we can't put those in a box, or on a shelf, or away in a closet.

Now, I'm not suggesting we don't buy any "things", and I'm not suggesting we don't keep any "things".  But I am wondering if we could apply a similar value rule to the things we buy as we do to our experiences.

Years ago, my dad gave us a bread machine. We used it so much, I bought another one, so we could make two loaves at a time. Later, with less people living at home and a busier life outside the home, I wasn't making bread anymore, so I gave up the bread machines. Although both my father and my husband had worked hard to pay for those bread machines, we had already gotten our value from them, many times over.

If we have gotten our value from something, and we don't use it anymore, maybe someone else could get value from it now. And maybe we could use that space for something else that might bring value to our lives in the present - perhaps that something might be an item we have stored away, or perhaps just more space.

But what if we spent good money for something, but we have never used it? Shouldn't we keep it because we spent all that money to buy it?  Shouldn't we keep it, in case we want to use it some day?  But wait. If we haven't used it, what are the chances we will use it in the future? Maybe we need to own our mistake and move on. Maybe we need to move it on out, so we will stop seeing it and regretting that purchase.

If you are reading this post and you don't know me, you might think I advocate not keeping much of anything. If you knew me, you would know that's not true, as I drive an old car, and I like to give new life to old clothing.  And that's what I plan to write my next post about: should we keep it, so we can fix it some day?

Read De-cluttering - What about the old philosophies? - #2.
         and the previous post, Why is it so hard to dig out of the pack-rat den?

Why is it so hard to dig out of the pack rat den?

"You're a pack rat," one of my sons told me recently, and I looked at him in disbelief. When we relocated, a few years ago, from a huge house in the country, in Kentucky, to an apartment, in Baltimore, I'm the one who - after the initial yard sale - used Craigslist and Freecycle to whittle our stuff down, again and again. I'm the one who has sold and given away dozens (perhaps hundreds?) of books.

But I looked around our apartment, and I thought about what he said, and I realized he's right. My husband and I are both pack rats, just in different areas of life and perhaps for both some different reasons, as well as some intersecting reasons.

I'm slowly working toward minimalism - toward reducing "stuff" - without giving up the second two parts of "reduce, reuse, recycle". But in the meantime, I've been exploring 'how we got this way'. So, this morning I made a list (of course). It's a list of what we learned, mostly from our parents, who - just for the record - grew up during the Depression. Not all of these items apply to us...although many of them apply to one or the other of us...but I've gotten them all from observing ourselves, our parents, and our siblings.

Please do not take these and run with them, so to speak. Many of them are better "re-thought" entirely, and others at least modified. Most of them bog us down in life. But until we see where we're coming from, I figure it might be harder to figure out where we're going.

Old Philosophies about “Stuff”:

I kid you not (as we used to say). My Dad always had two cars, even though he was single in later years. And when we were at my Dad's house after his stroke, my brother-in-law and I were able to find everything we needed - some parts in the garage, some parts in the basement - to put together a coffee maker, even though my Dad had made nothing but instant coffee for decades. At that point he didn't understand that we were at his house making coffee, but I'm sure he would have been pleased.

I'm open to your comments and ideas...but please remember that, although I don't recommend wasting resources, neither do I recommend the above philosophies, at least not without some modifications.

And now, back to my de-cluttering. 

P.S. (August 2015). I wrote the above about a year and a half ago. I have now written about each of the above points, and each of them is a link to those blog posts.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Cooking in a Power Outage

Lately, I had been thinking a lot about how to cook in a power outage. The last time we had a power outage, we went out to eat. I enjoy going out to eat now and then, but I want to do it on our own terms, when it's a good time to spend that extra money, as well as when we're not in the middle of a snow storm, ice storm, hurricane...you get the idea.

We have a gas stove, but it has an electric starter. So, I kept thinking, could we bypass that electric starter?

With a snow storm coming, and being near a Dollar General, I went in and looked for one of those long lighter things...utility lighter, they call it.

I remember the days when gas stoves didn't have pilot lights, much less electric starters. We would have to turn the flame all the way up, and hold this little match up to it. And I was afraid that either my hand would burn or I would blow us up with too much gas. I never did either one, but I never got over that fear. So, I was delighted when one of my sons held the long utility lighter up to the stove, turned the gas on ever so slightly, and there was a nice, slow flame. It seemed so safe. 

I was even more delighted that now, if we have a power outage again, we will be able to cook. 

It's lucky for us, too, because we are not allowed to use a barbecue grill on an apartment balcony, and I'm thinking that applies to portable gas stoves, as well. But if you have an electric stove in your home which won't help you in a power outage, and you have a yard...you probably could use a portable gas stove (or the barbecue grill) on your patio or in your yard.

But what do you think of this clever little camp stove that I found online last night? It has a battery-operated fan to fan the flames into being. And while your food cooks, it can charge your phone! 

We had fun, when I was a girl, making those little Girl Scout stoves out of a coffee can, tuna can, paraffin, and cardboard. But it was a lot of work to make, and I don't know how many meals you could cook on one of those little burners. 

What do you do about cooking in a power outage? 

Mama's Bank Account - A Book Review

Mama’s Bank Account, by Kathryn Forbes, 1943 - A Book Review

Pleasant surprises abound for the reader, beginning with the first chapter. At first glance, you might think this book is primarily about how the author’s mother managed the family’s finances. But Mama’s practical psychology and everyday wisdom are perhaps even more important than her thrift and planning. 

Even though the book is about an era nearly a hundred years ago, the way Mama dealt with life offers us invaluable lessons that we can use in our twenty-first century lives, yes, both in terms of general living and economizing. 

Laugh, cry, and nod in approval and amazement as you enjoy this tale.