Save Those Pancakes!

pancaakes 2

The week before school started, the grand-kids were over and I decided to fry up some pancakes for them. But not just any pancakes – chocolate chip pancakes! I stirred up the pancake mix and dropped 4 small blobs of it into the large frying pan (about 1/4 cup for each). I quickly sprinkled chocolate chips into the batter.

pancakes 1

When the edges of the pancakes turned brown and air bubbles rose all over the pancakes, I flipped them over and cooked the other side. Then onto the plates went the piping hot pancakes, with syrup on the side for dipping. (These pancakes are so rich you don’t want to pour syrup over them.)

There was some left-over batter, so I just made up some more chocolate chip pancakes. After they cooled, I put pairs of them in sandwich baggies with folded wax paper between them to prevent them from sticking together. Today I pulled out one of the baggies and popped the frozen pair into the toaster. Just like pop-tarts, they were ready in under a minute. Instant breakfast at a fraction of the cost!

Advertisements

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.

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.

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!

Jean Handbag

completed jean handbag

 

It started off as a random muse. My granddaughter had several jeans with holes in the knees. Other than that, the fabric was in good shape. What a shame to throw these out, I thought. Hmmmm, maybe I can make something out of the good parts. So I cut out the intact parts of the jeans, including the pockets, and discarded the rest. My mom also happened to be discarding some jeans, which she offered me. They were a different shade of blue, but so what?

 

Jean handbag a

(The thread tension kept jamming up and snapping, and the turn-handle fell off repeatedly.)

converting t

(converting one of my dishtowels into the inside of the handbag)

 

I decided to make a jean handbag. My grandmother’s manual sewing machine was in the closet, where it had been for years. After dusting it off and re-learning how to thread it, I went to work. After some trial and error, and eventually switching to a different sewing machine that didn’t malfunction, I finished it!

 

 

butterfly.jpg

(I sewed a butterfly onto the handbag with some old embroidery thread)

 

The best thing about this project was that I didn’t have to spend a penny to make it. I used old blue-jeans, one of my flour-sack dishtowels (for the inner lining), and a butterfly that I cut out of an old t-shirt that didn’t fit. It doesn’t look professional, and those who know how to sew properly would probably cringe at some of the flawed details of my project. But the handbag will work just fine for me, and I look forward to doing other sewing projects in the future.

 

 

CBS Radio Mystery Theater

CBS Radio Mystery Theater

 

Before everyone had a smart phone or tablet with instant movies on it, we had DVD players to play our rental movies on. Before we had DVD players, we had videotapes with a less than perfect picture. Before videotapes, we had color tv’s that seemed to be too green or too red. Before those, we had little black and white tv’s with a lot of “snow”. And before that, we had… the radio.

In the 1920s, vacuum-tube radios started transmitting programs from a handful of stations. People began to hear bedtime stories, sports games, presidential addresses, news, and dramas from this new device. In the 1920s, Americans were treated to Amos ‘n’ Andy, the Grand Ole Opry, The Dodge Victory Hour, National Farm And Home Hour, Great Moments In History, and others (about 45 total).

 

Girl listening to radio

Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Public Domain PhotographsThis media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the ARC Identifier (National Archives Identifier) 195876. Created December 31, 1937.

 

By the 1930s, radio exploded as families rushed to add this modern marvel to their homes. There were more than 170 programs airing by then, including: Abbott and Costello, Ellery Queen, Burns and Allen, Lone Ranger, Lux Radio Theatre, Mickey Mouse Theater Of The Air, Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan, Red Skelton, Dick Tracy, Death Valley Days, The Shadow, Fibber McGee and Molly, Strange As It Seems, Tarzan, The Green Hornet, The Jack Benny Program, and of course, The War Of The Worlds.

In the 1940’s there was an even larger selection, with a few hundred shows to choose from. Some of the most popular included: Dragnet, Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, Dr. Kildare, Guiding Light, Hopalong Cassidy, The Bickersons, This Is Your Life, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and Perry Mason.

By the 1950’s, the new craze was television sets. Some of the radio shows, like Dragnet and The Lone Ranger, were moved over to television, where they lived on. But radio had lost some of its luster.

In 1974 CBS created the CBS Radio Mystery Theater to keep old-time radio alive, and hopefully interest a new generation in. They created 1,399 new radio dramas from 1974 to 1981. Now all of the episodes are totally free to listen to, download or even burn onto CD’s. You can find all of them at:
http://www.cbsrmt.com/
So if you’d like something a little different to listen to while you drive or work around home, this is a great site to check out. And the best thing is – it won’t cost you anything!

A Budget You Can Live With – Telephone Service

desk phone

A hundred years ago, everyone considered the telephone to be a luxury that hardly anyone had. Now, almost every household has some sort of phone service, and most of us consider it a necessity. But can your budget afford it? Here are your options:

 

No phone
Bad option! You have no way to keep in touch with your family, boss, doctor’s office, school, etc. And good luck finding a public pay-phone when you need one.

Payphone

 

Traditional landline
Telephone line that runs through old copper wires into your home. This is being phased out by AT&T, although it’ll still be around for a long time in more rural areas. You’ll pay a base amount of $25-27 a month (up from $17.55 in 2010), plus about $10-15 for an array of charges, surcharges, access fees, and taxes. Expect your actual bill to run about $40 a month, and that’s just for local calls. Long distance calls and Caller ID are extra.

ATT landline bill

 

VoIP landline
This is what most people with landlines have. Instead of traveling through the old copper wires, your voice is transmitted over internet fiberoptic lines. You can buy VoIP landline service from AT&T (U-Verse) or your cable company (Comcast/X-finity). These companies typically pressure you to also buy tv and internet service from them (they call it bundling), and will give you a discounted price for a year or so, then the price goes up. It’s hard to tell how much of the bundled price is actually for phone service. If your internet or cable goes out, so does your phone. A 24-month contract is usually required.

ATT VoIP telephone

 

Contract cell phone
This is cell phone service from companies like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, or Sprint, for a contracted amount of time (often 2 years). With this type of phone, you can make calls, send texts, check your e-mail, use the built-in calculator, take pictures, play videogames, watch netflix, listen to music, or read an e-book. You may pay hundreds of dollars for your cell phone. While rates vary enormously, the average bill is $73 a month.

Cell phones

 

No-Contract cell phone
This is “pay-as-you-go” service. You can buy both phones and phone calling cards from Tracfone, Net10, Virgin Mobile, and Boost Mobile at Walmart and most grocery stores. A phone can be bought very reasonably ($15-$50) and monthly service ranges from $10 a month to about $50, depending on much time you spend on your phone.

Now the contract companies are jumping on the idea, offering no-contract calling cards as well (Sprint Pre-Paid, AT&T Go, Verizon Prepaid, and T-Mobile Pre-Paid).

Tracfone

 

 

Skype phone
This is telephone service over the internet through the Skype company. It costs $30 a year for a regular telephone number, and $30 a year for unlimited calling anywhere in the United States, a total of $60 a year or $5 a month. You will need a good internet connection and a device with the Skype application on it (a computer, laptop, tablet, etc). The service can be a little buggy at times, but it’s improving every year.

Skype

 

So there are your options. Telephone service can easily add up to thousands of dollars a year. That’s a big part of your budget. Ask yourself how much talking you actually do on the phone. Do you really need to surf the internet on a cell phone, or could you just use the internet at the public library for free? Instead of buying a $600 phone that takes great pictures, could you just buy an inexpensive digital camera and a more basic phone? Do you need both a landline and a cell phone? Look at all your options and see what works for you without breaking your budget.