Tapestry and Nail Polish

2017-05-29 footrest and pillow

About a month ago, I found this sweet little footrest for $20 in one of my favorite thrift stores. As a bonus, there was a piece of extra tapestry fabric that came with it. Ah, I thought, just right for making a matching pillow. Then I put the fabric in the closet and forgot about it.

When I cleaned out the closet last weekend, there was the piece of tapestry, beckoning me to transform it into a pillow. So I fired up the sewing machine, and proceeded to sew the edges. Hmm, it was fraying badly. Even reinforcing the edge with a zigzag stitch was not going to keep it from coming apart, as you can see:

2017-05-29 badly frayed fabric for pillow

Then inspiration struck: if clear fingernail polish could stop runs in pantyhose years ago, couldn’t it stop cloth from fraying? I brought the cloth out to the deck, applied the clear polish to the edges of the tapestry, and let it dry.

2017-05-29 fabric and clear nail polish on deck

After it had thoroughly dried and the funny smell had dissipated, I turned the fabric right side out, put stuffing in it, and sewed the last side shut. Now we have a great little pillow that can either be put behind the back or on top of the footrest for extra softness. I love it when something is so easily fixed. Now if only all life’s problems were that easy to solve…

Pay It Forward In Allergy Season

Zyrtec

Last week our family’s allergies were kicking in massively (it’s those darn flowering trees), so I added Zyrtec to the grocery list. I grimaced at the cost – $35.99, then noticed that some kind person had put a $10.00 off coupon next to it. I carefully checked to make sure the coupon wasn’t expired, and that it was for the right pill count. Yup, it was, so I saved ten dollars!

Yesterday I got the mail out of the box, rummaged through the free coupon handout, and found a $10.00 coupon for Zyrtec. It would expire in less than a month. Since someone had done me a favor in leaving the coupon last week, I decided to pay it forward. During this morning’s grocery run, I carefully put the coupon next to the 70-count Zyrtec. (I had also written with marker on it “70-ct” so the recipient wouldn’t get to the counter with the 24-count bottle.

I was blessed last week, and someone else will be blessed today. It feels great to pay it forward, even if it’s something small.

Comcast vs. Over-The-Air Television

TV compare 5

This week I stopped into my local Comcast office to try to negotiate a better price for our family internet service. For the past four years, I have been quite successful, talking the customer service rep into a much better deal (usually about half the price). This year’s negotiation did not go as well. I have apparently used up every advertised deal, as well as every individualized special deal. I was only able to bring our internet bill down by 25%. But we’ll have the same internet speed for the next 12 months, and we now have a small package of TV channels.

I have resisting their sales pitch for TV service for the past four years. We don’t need TV, I always told them. We just watch Netflix online. Who needs cable TV? But now we have it, about 40 channels, mostly channels that we were already getting OTA (over-the-air) with our wonderful outdoor Clearstream 4 roof antenna.

After my son set up the Comcast TV box, we fired up the TV. Hmm, not impressed. I hauled out the spare TV and set it next to the Comcast TV for comparison. We noticed three things:

1.Comcast TV lagged behind the OTA TV signal by about five seconds. That made it hard to compare the exact picture quality since the scene was always changing.

2.The Comcast TV channels were broadcasting in a lower resolution. High definition was now standard definition, and even standard definition was degraded.  In the picture above, Robert DeNiro is seen on the low-resolution channel Bounce, and he definitely looks sharper on the TV using the roof antenna.

3.The color on the Comcast channels was off, veering into red and purplish tones. The OTA TV needed no picture adjustment, as every color was perfect.

So there you have it. The free over-the-air TV looks way better than Comcast’s watered-down TV service. I imagine if we coughed up money for a high-definition TV box, the picture would look better, but we’re not doing that. We’ll just keep enjoying our high-speed internet and Netflix, watch over-the-air tv with our roof antenna, and occasionally turn on the Comcast TV. Oh well…

 

Improvising

hexagons a

I’m wanting to make more of those hexagon flowers that I decorated my jean quilt with.
https://alwaysreading1.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/a-promise-to-myself/

Grabbing the scrap bag, I cut out a bunch of squares, enough to make 17 flowers. But I had only a few of the paper hexagon patterns to make them (it takes seven paper patterns for each flower). Instead of buying a package of 100 at the fabric store, I improvised with some index cards and my ancient paper cutter. Now I’m ready to start stitching again!

hexagons b

 

A Budget You Can Live With: Internet (2017)

One item on your home budget that straddles the line between a “want” and a “need” is internet. You can, in some situations, get by without it. Maybe you can use the computers at work for personal use during lunch or before/after your shift ends. Maybe you live a block from a public library, and you can get a free hour or two of internet. Or maybe you have a neighbor that gives you the password to their network and says they don’t mind if you use it. Given that internet service is easily $50 – $80 a month, you could save close to a thousand dollars a year by not having it.

Having said that, most of us need at least some internet access at home. Several days ago, I got a brochure in the mail from Comcast, listing the prices for internet/phone/tv service. Here’s a snapshot:

2017-01-26-comcast-xfinity-internet-prices

They advise you to save money by “bundling” – also buying TV and phone service through them, but generally after your initial 6-month good deal, the price quietly jumps up. My solution? Only subscribe to what you really need. In our case, we don’t need their phone or tv services, despite never-ending pleas from Comcast.

So once or twice a year, I walk into the local Comcast office and talk to a live person . First, I let them know that their internet service works well most of the time. Then I go on to tell them (politely) that we live simply, don’t need all the bells and whistles, and will not spend more than $40 a month on internet service, and what kind of deal can we make? Amazingly, this has worked for about four years now. The customer service rep looks through the special deals they have, and matches me up with something that we haven’t already used. If they can’t find any advertised deal, they shove a paper at me to sign saying I threatened to quit, so they are giving me a special price. It generally covers six to twelve months, at which time I return to them to talk again.

Then I ask them to print me a confirmation of the monthly price, and how long it will last. Yes, they have tried to up the price on me half-way through the agreed-upon time, at which time I walked in with my printed confirmation sheet, and they corrected it. We have Blast internet – listed at $79.95 a month – for $39.99 a month. Several years ago, I was actually able to negotiate the price down to $29.99 a month!

So that takes care of home internet. What about that data on your cell phone, a.k.a., internet on the go? Two suggestions: 1) have a cell phone that has unlimited calling and texting, but NO data, or 2) turn off the data manually on your phone, and only turn it on when you really need it. By doing this, I maintain a cell phone bill of about $22 a month. If I’m at the store and need to check a price online, I use the store’s free wifi signal instead of data. The majority of stores, doctor’s offices, hospital, and public buildings now have free wifi, so make use of it.

One more thought on internet service at home: don’t rent the equipment from Comcast or AT&T. As you can see from the price chart above, Comcast will charge you $10 a month for the modem, and $10 a month the wireless device, adding $20 a month to your bill. That’s $240 a year. We bought both devices at Best Buy years ago for less than $200, and avoid the rental equipment fee.

So take a close look at your internet bills – the home one and the cell phone one – and see if you can get buy on less internet, or negotiate a better deal. Talk to your service providers. The worst they can say is no, and they might just reduce your bill.

A Budget You Can Live With: TV (2017)

tv-3-1-cbs

Yesterday I wrote about a necessity in everyone’s budget – food. Today I’m focusing on a non-necessity: entertainment. That covers tons of things, depending on your tastes – concerts, golf, amusement parks, etc. But the entertainment almost everyone has is TV. According to an NBC News story, Americans shelled out an average of $99 a month in 2016. Fortune.com’s website listed the average at $103 a month. That comes out to about $1,200 a year!

Last year, I really dug into the cost of all the TV options in our area:
https://alwaysreading1.wordpress.com/2016/01/16/a-budget-you-can-live-with-television-part-1/
https://alwaysreading1.wordpress.com/2016/01/16/a-budget-you-can-live-with-television-part-2/
https://alwaysreading1.wordpress.com/2016/01/16/a-budget-you-can-live-with-television-part-3/

This year’s options are pretty much the same, albeit with higher prices. Last year I really put in a good plug for using OTA (over-the-air) television, and mentioned the indoor style antenna (mohu leaf for as little as $40, winegard for a little more). They work well if you don’t have a lot of trees or buildings to block the tv station signals, and have tv stations fairly close. This summer we decided to go one better, and bolted a Clearstream-4 antenna with a 70-mile range to our roof. We were astonished to see that we could get 37 channels on a clear day, up from 20 channels on our indoor antenna. Obviously, some of them are what I call “junk channels”, so I blocked those on our TV settings. The antenna costs $123 online at Amazon as of today’s date:
https://www.amazon.com/ClearStream-Indoor-Outdoor-Antenna-Mount/dp/B008PBTPOI/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1483625335&sr=8-2&keywords=clearstream+4+antenna
(Note: don’t get the one that is only $99, as it doesn’t have the parts to bolt it to your roof.)

Every network has a main channel that is broadcast in 1080 high resolution:
CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, ION, and FOX
plus two sub-channels in standard definition that air older tv shows and movies. Here are some examples:
Comet (classic sci-fi)
Laff (comedy)
Justice (crime shows)
Cozi (family shows from the ’70s)
Escape (forensics, FBI)
Antenna tv (60’s shows)
Worldview (news from around the world)
Grit (westerns)

So my recommendations for home entertainment are about the same as last year:

Get rid of cable/satellite tv!
Subscription tv will just keep bleeding your wallet. Try an outdoor antenna or maybe even no tv at all.

Check out DVDs from your local library.
Most libraries have at least some movies and tv shows on DVD available to check out free. Just don’t bring them back late.

Re-watch the DVDs that you already own.
Most people have them stashed about the house, watched once and then forgotten.

Swap DVDs with family and friends.
Just remember to return them as soon as possible and in good condition.

Branch out into other forms of entertainment that are free.
Writing, board games, listening to free podcasts, walking/jogging, etc.

Is Food Eating Up Your Money?

groceries-1

Food is a huge part of most family budgets. According to the Department Of Agriculture, in November of 2016 the average adult spent between $165 and $346 on groceries. Couples spent between $381 and $761 for the month, and families of four shelled out between $555 and $1,273. And this doesn’t even count eating out, or grabbing a morning coffee at Starbucks on the way to work! You can see that food is one of the largest expenses in a budget, rivaling the cost of a house payment in some areas.
https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/sites/default/files/CostofFoodNov2016.pdf

Here are some thoughts I’ve shared previously on how to spend less on food expenses:

Set a dollar-amount limit on your groceries.
It might be hard to figure out an amount at first, but it needs to be enough so that you can eat all your meals at home for the whole week. That doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally spend extra to stock up on a fantastic food sale, but you need to have a goal to shoot for.

Buy groceries only once a week if at all possible.
The more times you step foot in the store, the more you’ll end up spending.

Pick one or two grocery stores in your area that seem to have the best price, and do your regular shopping there.
Make a list of the food items you buy most, grab a notepad and pencil, and visit all the grocery stores in your area.Write down what each store is charging for the items on your list. I got a few odd looks from other shoppers, but I really didn’t care.

Check your grocer’s sale ad before you shop.
Most stores have their weekly sales ad available online. I look at the ads for the two grocery stores I regularly use before heading out to get food. I try to plan our meals around the items that are on sale that week.

Make a list, and buy only what you originally planned to buy.
Impulse purchases add tremendously to your bill at the cash register.

Make sure your stomach is full when you go grocery-shopping.
When you’re hungry, you will be tempted to throw extra items into your shopping cart.

If possible, don’t take along the kids, unless you’re training them how to grocery-shop.
If they are going to be begging you to buy extra items, it’s better to keep them at home.

Lastly, eat at home instead of going out to a restaurant, grabbing drive-thru food, or having pizza delivered! You’ll be amazed at how much you can save on the food bill.