No, I’m Not A Counterfeiter!

2017-06-05 conterfeit 20 bill.jpg

This morning I stopped by my neighborhood bank to deposit some cash that I figured didn’t have to be sitting around our house. The teller greeted me cheerfully, and started counting the cash. Then a pause. She recounted, stopping at one particular bill. A frown. She stuck the bill under the purplish light that checks for bad bills. Then she showed it to the teller in the next chair. Nope, don’t think that’s a good bill, she said. Both women held it up to the light and squinted at it. People were beginning to accumulate in the line behind me.

The teller asked me to look at the bill in question. Oh my, it certainly was off-center, as if it had been through a bad print job. She said they couldn’t accept the bill because it appeared to be fraudulent. About that time a third employee, I think the manager, walked by, took a look at the bill, and concurred with the two tellers. Wow, I said, I never noticed how off that bill looked. Honestly, I’m not manufacturing fake money in my basement (attempting to add a little humor). To which she replied, no I don’t think that, don’t worry, this just happens sometimes.

Then the teller had me initial the bill in one corner, and put her initials next to mine. I noticed a notebook on the counter behind her labeled “fraud book”. I said, well I guess this is going in your fraud book. No, she replied, this is going to the FBI. No kidding, I said. Hey, can I snap a picture of the bill before you send it off? She was staring at her computer screen, and didn’t say anything. I took that to be consent, or at least that she really didn’t care what I did, so I snapped a quick shot of the bill on the counter (see photo above).

As the teller typed on her computer, I asked if she was adding some notation to my account. No, she said, she was getting it ready for the FBI. Then she asked to see my ID again. She’d already seen, but she needed to see it again. Next it was my telephone number. At that point I started getting a little freaked out. Is the FBI going to call me? No, the teller answered, they turn it over to the Secret Service. The Secret Service – really? Do you have any idea where the bill came from? No, I do not, as it’s been sitting around my house for who knows how long. She said that’s what she figured – most people have no idea.

I left the bank feeling totally paranoid – like the FBI would be watching my bank account, monitoring my phone calls, looking at the bank video footage, etc. But hey, we’re already under constant surveillance. Everything is recorded, stored on servers, and preserved for future reference. It’s “1984” and so much more…


Money, Money, Money (2017)


(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?


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.

A Budget You Can Live With: Groceries, part 2

Shopping Cart by Suat Eman

(photo courtesy of Suat Eman at

The great thing about trimming your food costs is that there is SO much advise in books and online. There are hundreds of ideas out there, at least some of which can benefit you. Talk to family members and friends. Find some blog articles on grocery-shopping. Check books out of your local library on the frugal lifestyle, which always includes saving money on food.

Advice can get very detailed, and may start to feel like too much work. Don’t get overwhelmed! A lot of it will be whatever works for your specific situation at the current time. Some ideas work for some folks, but not for others. If you try something and it doesn’t save you money, just move on to a different tactic. But here are some basic thoughts to help you get started:

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 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.

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 can really add 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.

To me, these points are the foundation for most of the other grocery-saving ideas. Try following these guidelines, then building on it with more detailed ideas from blogs and books. Here are some that I found helpful:

Spending HOW Much on Groceries?

Cut Your Grocery Bill In Half – by Steve and Annette Economides (2010)

Budget Blues

Calculator and Money - Arvind Balaraman

(Photo courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at

It’s that time of the year. You’re off work today because it’s a holiday. It’s way too cold and gray to go outside. So you pop onto your computer, check your e-mail and Facebook, then your bank account. Hmmm, the checking account balance is dangerously low. Next you take a look at the credit card bills that you didn’t want to open the other day. Wow, you say, did I really spend that much money last month? You start thinking about the bills you know are ahead, like that root canal next week, and the repair work your car needs after hitting a patch of black ice on the road. How did my money situation get so bad, you ask yourself.

You are not alone. There are so many people who go through this crisis every January, or maybe even every month. But don’t give in to despair and depression. It’s time to do something about that hideous problem that keeps plaguing you. It’s time for… a budget.

Yeah, I know. “Budget” is a dirty word for a lot of people. But it doesn’t have to be. A budget is simply a way to help you track down where all your money is going, so that you can plan your strategy for making your income cover your bills, and maybe even save some of your money.

If you’ve never had a budget, today is a great day to start. You’ll need a chart or a spreadsheet to track where every penny is going. You can download budget software to your computer, buy an actual ledger book from an office supply store, or make your own chart with a pencil and ruler. (Or you can print up my basic budget sheet at the bottom of this post). The main thing is: write down everything you’ve spent, even if it embarrasses you. After a few months you should see a pattern. After a year, you’ll have a really complete picture of your expenses, including the once-a-year bills, the quarterly ones, and those annoying unexpected surprise bills.

Take the budget challenge! You’ll find yourself less stressed as you can analyze your spending and come up with a plan that works for you. Make this the year that you control your finances, instead of your finances controlling and terrorizing you.


(Please feel free to click on the image below and make as many copies as you need to record your expenses)

Monthly expenses

Reading Your Way To A Frugal Life


I read for a number of reasons. Sometimes it’s to educate myself about an upcoming election. Sometimes it’s to learn how to do something. Often I read just for enjoyment – a good fiction book or a biography about an interesting person. But more and more, I find myself seeking out reading material on living a frugal lifestyle.

First I sought out books on the subject. The concept of frugal was usually combined with ideas for simplifying one’s lifestyle. A few of them were good enough that I wrote up book reviews about them. Others seemed to have too much outdated material in them.

Then I started exploring websites and blogs. It seemed that a lot of them were written by stay-at-home moms with young children. That does make sense, since the years of having kids with only one parent working can really make paying the bills difficult. But I was looking for something that was a bit broader, a site that would have ideas for people of all ages and situations. That’s when I found “The Simple Dollar”.

“The Simple Dollar” was started by Trent Hamm in 2006, the year he decided he needed a totally change in his financial lifestyle. In less than a year, he had gotten out of debt and developed a way of handling money that really seemed to work. He decided to share his ideas on a blog, and “The Simple Dollar” was born. The blog got such a huge following that it started showing up in Forbes magazine and other publications. Eventually Trent sold it to the Soda media company, but continues to be a main writer.

This website is chocked full of great articles on everything: making a budget that works for you, having a frugal wedding, choosing a car, IRAs, emergency funds, meal plans, credit cards, jobs, building your own bed-frame, and tons more. If you’re looking for some good, down-to-earth advise, this is an excellent website to read.

Simplicity and Savings

Money money money


Here are some posts from the last year on living a simple life and saving money.


1. Start by taking an honest look at your spending.

“Money, money, money” – my basic thoughts on spending.

“America’s Cheapest Family” – how the Economides family saves money (yes, that is their real name!)


2. See if you can cut down on your grocery bill; it’s a considerable part of everyone’s spending.

“Cut Your Grocery Bill In Half” – how the Economides family seriously trims their food expenses. Picking even some of their strategies will save you money!


3. Get rid of some of your “stuff” that’s just taking up space. You’ll be amazed at how much bigger your living space feels!

“The Joy Of Less”

“All You Need Is Less”


4. Try making your own laundry soap, especially if you find that the perfumes in store-bought soap makes you rashy. There are dozens of recipes out there on the internet. This is just one that I happen to like:


5. Try altering clothes you already own instead of buying new ones.


This is just a start. Look around you for ways to simplify your life, and stretch those dollars!