Improvising

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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

 

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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)

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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?

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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.

Money, Money, Money (2017)

money-money-money

(re-posted from December 29, 2014)

2017 is officially here. We’ve made lists of things to do better this year. On almost everyone’s list is something regarding money – saving more, getting out of debt, donating more, etc. If you’re really serious about your money resolution, it’s time to come up with a plan. Here are some ideas that have worked for our family over the years:

1. Give back! – Every time you get paid, write out a check, set aside the cash, or schedule an online payment to give back at least 10% of what you’ve earned. Many people of faith refer to it as tithing – giving back to God, since He’s the one who gives us the strength to work. Give it to the church/house of worship you’ve been attending. If you don’t have a church, find a missionary/charitable organization, and commit to regularly supporting them. If you are not religious, donate to your favorite charity. You’ll be amazed at how giving blesses the person who is giving.

2. Live BELOW your means! When you are looking for a house to buy and the bank okays you for a $200,000 loan, don’t buy a $200,000 house. Find a modest house that meets the needs of your family, and be okay with it not being bigger and better than your friends’ houses. Same idea for buying a car. Hey, it needs to get you from point A to point B, and be reliable. And if you’re at a point in life where you really can’t afford even a used car because the insurance would be a killer, get humble and explore the city bus system to see if it would work for you.

3. Pay the credit card(s) down to $0.00 every month. If you can’t do that, it means you’re spending more than your income. If you can’t pay it off entirely, pay as much as you can each month instead of the minimum, lock down your spending to just the bare essentials, and get it paid off as fast as you can. Don’t be a slave to credit card companies.

4. Analyze where every penny of your income is going with a fine-tooth comb, and separate out your “wants” from your “needs”. Make a list of every necessary expense – some will be weekly (groceries), some monthly (electricity), some quarterly (garbage pick-up), some bi-yearly (car insurance, property tax), and some yearly. Then get out the calculator and figure out how much that would average out to in a month. Compare it to what your monthly income is.

5. Look at everything you are buying that isn’t a need, and consider pitching it. This includes buying clothes, going out to eat, vacations, cable tv, expensive cell phones, etc. You get the idea.

6. Get rid of some of your “stuff”. Sell off things you don’t need/use, and put the money toward bills/debt. You’ll find it easier to clean the house without that extra stuff sitting there. Give those clothes you never wear to your favorite thrift store so someone else with a limited income can buy it reasonably. Got sentimental items around your house that mean way more to your brother or sister than they do to you? Give it to the one who will treasure it.

7. Develop a love for doing things that don’t cost any money. Talk to a friend or neighbor, spend time with your family, play table games instead of going out to a movie, check books out of your local library instead of buying them, listen to free pod-casts from i-tunes, take a long walk and do exercises at home instead of paying for an expensive gym membership, and so on.

So the bottom line is: 2017 will be what you make of it. What you do with your income is your decision, but you will be happier if you’re in control of your money, instead of your money controlling you. Blessings and peace to you in the new year!

Hitting The Tootsie Roll Bank?

tootsie-roll

Okay, so you made it through all the holidays – Halloween, All-Saints Day, Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Now the fun’s over. The credit card bills are rolling in, your car’s transmission decides to go out, your cable is going up by $30 a month, the deductible on your medical insurance is starting over because it’s a new year, and the textbooks for the classes you’re taking add up to more than you have in your checking account.

Time to look for some cash around the house. You check in all your coat pockets, in the car’s glove compartment, in your spare purse/wallet, under the couch cushions, in your sock drawer, in bathroom drawers, hoping to find money (preferably paper). You might even dump out the loose change you’ve been accumulating in that old Tootsie Roll container. You add up everything you find, and you’re still short.

If this is you, let this year be the year you get control of your money instead of your money controlling you! Here’s how you start: find out where all that money is going (and I assure you it’s not little elves absconding with it in the night!) Here’s a basic spending chart you can print off:

basic monthly budget.jpeg

Tape the chart to the fridge, and write down every penny you spend every day. At the end of the month, you can see plainly where the money is going. Some bills only come every three months (water), every six months (car insurance) or annually (car registration, property taxes), so you’ll need to track your expenses for a full year if you want to capture the whole picture.

Compare the total amount of money going out to your monthly income. There is no shame in admitting that your expenses are too much for the amount of money you make. But it’s time to face the problem head-on, make some changes, and look forward to a better January next year. In future posts, I’ll share some ideas that work for our family, and that might work for you too.

Seasonal Cereal

2016-11-14-aldi-cream-of-wheat

During a recent visit to my favorite Aldi store, I noticed this addition to the cereal section: “Creamy Wheat”. I did a double take, as I had never seen a store-brand version of Cream Of Wheat before. The look-alike cereal was about half the cost of the name-brand version, $1.99 instead of $3.79. Considering the difference in price, it was too good to pass up.

Creamy Wheat went home with me, and we put it to the test. It didn’t taste any different than the Cream Of Wheat that was already in my cupboard. Kudos to Aldi stores for making a great hot cereal for such a reasonable price! Hopefully shoppers will buy enough of this cereal to persuade Aldi to keep it in stock all year long.