Flickr/CC - numberstumper

There's no mystery to taxes really for the average wage earner, it is just a matter of figuring out if you want a big refund and smaller paycheck or if you want a smaller refund and a bigger paycheck.

If you are like me and you always seem to owe, then sitting down to the IRS tax calculator this time of year would be a good decision. Or if you wanted a smaller tax refund this year then last year, this would be the perfect time of the year to get that straightened out.

This calculator allows you to determine if you need to adjust your w-4 with your employer. These adjustments can be made at anytime of the year.

Who Can Benefit From The Withholding Calculator?
  • Employees who would like to change their withholding to reduce their tax refund or their balance due.
  • Employees who may need to increase their withholding due to the Making Work Pay provision in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, that caused changes to the federal income tax withholding tables and may result in too little tax being withheld.
  • Employees whose situations are only approximated by the worksheets on the paper W-4 (e.g., anyone with concurrent jobs, or couples in which both are employed; those entitled to file as Head of Household; and those with several children eligible for the Child Tax Credit);
  • Employees with non-wage income in excess of their adjustments and deductions, who would prefer to have tax on that income withheld from their paychecks rather than make periodic separate payments through the estimated tax procedures.
CAUTION:    If you will be subject to alternative minimum tax, self-employment tax, or other taxes or, if any of your current jobs will end before the end of the year, you will probably achieve more accurate withholding by following the instructions in Publication 919, How Do I Adjust My Tax Withholding?

You will need: 
  • Your most recent pay stubs handy.
  • Your most recent income tax return handy.
Of course, the optimum result is that you owe nothing and you get no refund. Even-Steven.

 Reader Chad asked the following question, looking for advice:

It seems a lot of the advice to be frugal involves a lot of time we can't find or space we don't have, such as gardening or making cookies for gifts. Any good advice to staying frugal for a couple that works over 40 hours a week, lives in the city and is not a D-I-Y type person? 

There can be a few things to try since you live in the city.  Sometimes saving money is going to be about the big ticket items when you don't have time for the smaller savings. But, you would be surprised at what you can fit into your schedule and it doesn't take a whole lot of time to do.

Flickr/CC - wonderferret

These are my ideas for the non-DIY urbanite who works too much:

Have a Goal -
First of all, as a couple it is good to be on the same track for spending and saving and working toward a common goal. Nothing hurts a relationship like one half of the couple feeling like they are doing all the saving and cost cutting and the other half doesn't see the need.

Transportation - 
If you are within the city limits, then public transit or a bike will save you the most amount of money. No more car payments or insurance payments. And if your downtown is like Denver, there is always a car rental place around the corner if you do grocery shopping once month.

Spending List - 
Keep track of your spending for a good month, whether it's cash, check or charge and find out what you are spending your money on. This may help you see that too much is going towards clothes shopping or impulse buys. Your main goal is to find a pattern on what you spend and how much and then you can cut back where needed.

Shopping Around- 
Overpriced is the name of the game in the city, so keep your eyes peeled for 2nd hand stores that sell clothes, housewares and check the back of grocery stores for marked down food. Shopping online through Craig's List is also handy for your 2nd hand furniture - set up a time to rent a truck or borrow one.

Gift Giving - 
I know from experience that living downtown can really cut into your daily budget. Planning ahead to save a specific amount from each paycheck during the year will help cut down on the worry when the holidays come. Take a look at what you spend your money on for gifts, are they to impress and make you the "best relative" in the family or are you giving gifts to people you hardly know, but don't have the money for? Perhaps there are some creative ways you can give by way of a personal hobby or just spending time with them that will save some money.

Cleaning Up -
My most expensive cost at the store is buying cleaning supplies. Try cleaning with baking soda, vinegar and soap and water to clean instead of the expensive stuff. Dusting with a lightly damp cloth and a dry rag will work just as good too.

Cleaning Out - 
If you haven't already gone through your drawers, closets, and shelves to sell what isn't nailed down that you want to sell, do that now as well. Getting some extra money for the emergency fund or the holiday gift fund is always a good idea and why not sell what you don't use.

Eat Up -
If the vending machine is a temptation, don't keep spare change on you if possible. Take your lunch to work and a snack to keep at your desk. Bring in your leftovers from your home-cooked meal the night before. Simple stuff really but many people forget how much eating out sucks up our money faster than a tornado.

Free Entertainment - 
When I lived downtown, it seemed like there was always something going on that was free in the park or the at the nearby museums. Check online or in those free newspapers to see what is going on in your area that will entertain you both for free. There are ways to see free or cheap movies as well.

Overall, I think that you are on the right track since you have already been searching the web for ways to stay frugal. Glean what you can from the information out there, use your head and try to challenge yourself on new things. As long as you both are walking down the same road together it will be a better journey and who cares what others may think or say.

Ok Readers, Jump in with your thoughts on how to stay frugal in the city? What are your experiences?

There is nothing so disgusting as the odor from feet... smelly farts come in a close second. Is it summer or winter that brings out the sweaty, stinky feet? For my house, it is summer because my sandals absorb the sweat from my hot feet and the stink just follows you around like toilet paper stuck to your foot.

First off, sweaty feet is your body cooling off and a natural part of biology and only you would know if you sweat excessively. Sweat itself is odorless, but when it comes in contact with the bacteria on your skin and stays in a dark, damp and warm place for a period of time, it starts to smell.

Photos courtesy Flickr/cc - cell105 and Save vs Death

There are a few home remedies for the stink that come from the feet.

De-stink the Feet
  • Wash and Dry Well. Start the day with feet that are clean and dried well to give yourself a head start.
  • Foot Antiperspirant. The same antiperspirant that is used on under arms will work with the bottom of your dried off feet as well. All your body parts should be clean and dry, so roll on or spray on and go.
  • Change Socks. Changing your socks once or twice a day after drying your feet off will help cut down on foul smelling bacteria that builds up on your feet.
  • Feet Soaking. There are quite a few options for soaking your feet. 1 Gal. Warm water with 1/2 C. Hydrogen Peroxide, or 1/2 C. Baking soda, or 1/2 C. Bleach. (bleach is not good if your are diabetic), or 1/2 C. Vinegar. Whichever you choose, doing this over a period of 1 week to 1 month every night appears to help many people. 
  • Dead Skin Scrub. Getting a pumice stone or old toothbrush to ex-foliate your feet and give them a new life.

De-stink the Shoe
  • Natural Materials. Shoes and socks with natural materials and not man-made, like canvas or leather shoes and cotton or wool socks, allow your feet to breathe and dry out.
  • Just a Sprinkle or Spray. Baby powder, baking powder or Lysol will work to dry up the shoe, absorb the odor and get you ready for day two.
  • Newspaper Absorption. No powder around, no problem. Stuff the shoes with newspaper to dry them out. 
  • Rotating Shoes. Since air drying shoes does not happen over night, you would want to have some other shoes to use while they dry out fully. 
  • Wash and Dry. Toss the shoes into the washer for a good soak and swish, then let them air dry. One alternative is to wipe out the shoes with hydrogen peroxide or vinegar and then let them dry.
  • Reusable Absorption. Pour kitty litter or coffee grounds into pantyhose legs or and old sock, tie off the end and fit it to the shoe for overnight odor remover.
  • Change Insoles. Take out the old insoles and replace them with some new insoles or odor eater variety
I think that about covers it. I have washed down my sandals with hydrogen peroxide and water (tested small area first) and they seem to be good for now.  Just a matter of keeping feet and shoes clean and remembering that the opposite of dark, damp and warm is best for my shoes and feet.

** There is a non thrifty way to kill the bacteria in shoes and that is with a shoe tree with UV light. These are found at Amazon under Sterishoe for about $130 and I don't know how well they would work with sandals, if at all.

What other thrifty suggestions do you have for stinky feet and shoes?

I have two things I will never go shopping without and they save me more money than coupons or anything found on a clearance rack.

1. A Shopping List
2. A Calculator

Shopping List
I save more money when I write down what I am going for, than when I run in to grab a couple of things without a list. Stores are set up to grab you and have you with emotion. It is estimated that impulse buys account for upwards of 30% of our total bill.

Stores are set up for the impulse buy for sweets and for the latest item that is on sale. But, with a shopping list I know what I am there for and am reminding myself as I move about the store crossing off items on that list.

With a list I can have a feeling of accomplishment.  I saved time not being distracted by items that would have technically fallen onto my WANT list.

When I take the time to write a list, I have already eliminated anything that is not a need or not within the budget by not adding it to the list. And, by taking that time to write the list I will be able to get home without having to go back out again to pick up something I forgot to get.

This isn't a must for everyone, you could just write down the prices of the items on the list and add them up as you go. Even though doing math long-hand is good for your brain, I don't want to stand in the middle of the aisle while I figure that out.

The calculator helps me keep a running total if I am trying to stay within a certain amount. When I round up to the nearest 50 cents or dollar, I have the taxes covered as well. If I have overestimated, I figured I saved money which is usually true,  or I can quickly go back and grab any extra items that might be a want instead of a need.

Keeping a calculator handy also helps me figure out price breakdown per ounce or pound. It also helps me figure out what  a true price might be that has a 35% markdown on the lowest price, especially when in a second-hand store. When I see those sales numbers I can better decide if it is what I want to buy.

The Final Total
When I'm all done and walking out to my car, I am never surprised at the total cost. I am always happy with what I have bought because I took the time to write down what I needed and I made sure I stayed on budget or, at the very least knew how much money I was spending. That, in a nut shell, makes me feel better than any coupons or sales could ever do.

Depression is a cross I bear and one I am learning to build up muscles for, while I am carrying it. When depression kicks in, my "I don't care" glasses also come down around my eyes, and that can be detrimental to my health and to my finances. When I look through those glasses I don't see beyond the here and now. Looking to the future is too painful as I only see a bleak one. Instead I have to work with what I have, the here and now.

One of the ways I fight my depression and build up my mental muscles is to see the world around me with a bit of gratitude. Just a small lens is all that is necessary to shine a small speck of light and brighten a dark place.

1. “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.
- Socrates

If we appreciate the items in our life that are now considered "necessity" we will not appropriately appreciate those that are luxuries. Those luxuries that are now necessities (depending on your location and age) are cell phones, answering machines, email, warm water, indoor plumbing, cable tv, electricity and the list goes on.

If we don't appreciate how we live now or how we play, we become numb as new items, new ideas and new people come into our lives. We appreciate the moment or the item but then it becomes part of our everyday life and we then feel we deserved it in the first place.

2. "Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty."
- Doris Day

When I have paused and looked around me at my friends, family, and everything that is important to me I realize how truly rich I am. Appreciation for the birds singing in the morning as they wake me up makes me feel part of something bigger than myself. It takes the focus off of me and lifts my spirits.

Complaining simply drains the speaker and the listener mentally, putting a tarnish to everything we see around us. All we see is that nothing is good enough and has worth.

3. "Gratitude is the memory of the heart."
French proverb

If I take a moment to be grateful for someone or something, I recall the original reason I appreciated that person or thing coming into my life. It is like taking a step back into time and the emotions that were there on the first meeting come flooding back. A smile may come to my face as I recall the importance it brought to my life.

4. "The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it."
- Richard Bach

We don't savor much anymore. We eat in our cars or standing over the sink, so we don't have to clean up as we head to somewhere else. We leave before the 9th inning or the final bow at the show to get to the car and beat the rush of traffic if we can. It seems the only time we slow down is to watch tv or go to sleep. Neither of which allows us to enjoy the moment of time, the people around us, or the world that moves on outside.

I sold a sofa to a man on Craig's List and before we even exchanged money for sofa, we talked, for a good hour. Initially, I was perturbed that he was so talkative and didn't just pay and leave me alone. I had to realize that this isn't always about me. Sometimes I need to slow down and go with the flow. I don't recall anything major about the conversation but I learned to make myself slow down and just enjoy the time I had in front of me.

5. "Real life isn't always going to be perfect or go our way, but the recurring acknowledgment of what is working in our lives can help us not only to survive but surmount our difficulties."
- Sarah Ban Breathnach

Sometimes I feel so horrible about life to really think of anything to be grateful for, so I go with the easy basics.  A roof over my head, a comfortable bed to sleep in, food to keep me alive, a group of family and friends that care. Eventually I start to remember more and more items and,  my attitude changes and in turn helps me through the day better than any shot of caffeine, pill, or ray of sunshine could do.

6. "No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night."
- Elie Wiesel

When good days, weeks, or years come, I must be appreciative. Not because I am doing well but because it is when I am doing poorly that the times I am good are that much sweeter. I need those valleys to help me appreciate those high hills and when I am on those high hills, I need to look on those valleys and be grateful for them as well. Good times are the other side of the coin to the bad times. We can't have the beautiful world in the daylight if we don't also have the night to make it so bright.

I hope these thoughts and quotes have opened up a river of gratitude for  you and I thank you for taking your time to stop and read.

'Tis the season for the fleas, Flea markets that is. They've got antique stuff, new stuff, dusty stuff and broken stuff. When you've gotten enough stuff you can turn around and resell your stuff at the flea market too.

If you prefer a cheap day, don't take any money, just look around and try to find the most unique or oldest item.

flickr/cc via karen horton
Flea Market Resources (US):
Great Flea Market
Flea Market Directory

Flea Market Resources (Can): 
BestBuys Flea Markets
Flea Markets, Coast to Coast

Here are the shopping basics from the National Flea Market Association for a pleasant shopping experience.

* Coffee. To get the best choices and bargains, be among the first through the doors, which often open by 8 a.m. So get up extra early, grab that java and go!
* Small bills. It's a simple bargaining trick: If offering $13 for something, show them the $13, exactly. Pulling out a $20 bill doesn't work nearly as well.
* Several large canvas bags and some tissue paper. Sellers will be happy to wrap items, but are likely to throw in an additional item if the customer personally does it.
* Water! When the sun is shining, open-air markets get hot quickly. Stay hydrated to keep calm and happy. A wide-brimmed hat helps too.
* A camera. There are many unusual sights at flea markets just begging to be photographed. These photos can make great art displays for your home. Just be sure to ask permission from the vendor first before shooting.

Have you ever heard of Hwy. 127 Corridor Yard sale? It is the longest US roadside sale, ONLY 675 miles long, and covers states from Michigan to Alabama. Very cool! They generally have their sales running in early August. Get your Brochure now!

Before you hop in your car and go withdraw a wad of money, go prepared so you don't have buyer's remorse. 

*Go with a 'grocery' list of what you are looking for, include size, color and any dimensions you will need.  If you are shopping with others, show them the list, too, so more eyes are looking for what you need
*Take a measuring tape 
*Pick up and carry items you think you will buy. The same goes for items that don't have a price. Don't assume items will still be there in 10 minutes.
* Get money in small bills. (Nothing like whipping out a bunch of $20 bills while you are trying to haggle them down).
* Speaking of Haggling- When you haggle, be polite, not everyone is willing to haggle. But don't get caught up and pay more than you set for yourself to pay for it. 

*Take food with you. The flea markets I have been to jack up the prices on the food, an igloo cooler of food will help you save money and allow you to pick up a few more treasures!

If you have been to the 127 Corridor Sale, I an other readers would love to hear your stories and see your pictures. 

One summer while I was sweeping the kitchen floor, I noticed the dirt moving. I swept it back into place and it still moved. There was no wind in my home at the time; upon closer inspection it wasn’t dirt at all, but ants!
Thankfully I was wearing shoes and squished the buggers flat, continuing with my sweeping.

My partner came over and said I didn’t get them all, there were more and they were getting in the dog’s food dish. This was not going to be a fun cleanup day.

With my partner's  help, I moved the stove while she got some vinegar and bleach and cleaned up the flattened bodies. We traced back to where they were coming in and cleaned the hole out and “patched” it back up. We had to call into the apartment office to set up a work order to have this permanently fixed.

Flickr/cc via Snap®
Other Ant Killing ideas:
*Vinegar to get rid of tiny ants.
*Mixing baking soda with powdered sugar and applying to infested areas
*Pour a line of any of the following where the ants are entering the building: cinnamon, cream of tartar, red chili pepper, salt, dried mint or sage, or cucumber peelings
*Pour boiling water over the nest

There are more wonderful ways to rid yourself of them thanks to this archived US.MIL site as well.
Kill Roaches:
* Repellent - equal parts of baking soda and powdered sugar
* Set out a dish of equal parts oatmeal and plaster of Paris
* Take a one pound empty coffee can. Place 1 or 2 pieces of bread in the bottom of the can and soak thoroughly with beer. Place in areas known to have roach infestations. Be prepared to view a can 1/4 to 1/2 full of roaches the next day!

 Repel Flies:
* Place tansy near your kitchen door or where flies tend to cluster. Other repellents include oil of cloves and mint springs.
* Set a sponge in a saucer and soak it with oil of lavender to repel flies.
* A pot of basil set on a window sill or table will help reduce the number of flies in the room

Wisdom is oft times nearer when we stoop than when we soar”  ~William Wordsworth (poet)

I just find it amazing how some people can walk by 1 cent on the ground and not see it as money.

The guy in my building; two floors up used to toss his pennies over the banister of his patio onto my driveway below. One day I found 17¢, in pennies, that he had thrown away, and I picked up every one.

Now I told this to a friend of mine and she said, “I wouldn’t stoop down for anything less than 25 cents”. I reminded her that over the course of the last couple of days, I had picked up at least 25 cents in pennies, she still thought it wasn’t worth the time to bend down for them.

The most I have found is a $20 bill, once while walking to school and another time while standing in line at the grocery store and seeing it wedged between two magazine. But I always keep my eyes out for the penny, nickel or dime as well. I figure it all adds up, and I have my coin jar as my evidence.

I wonder if there is any correlation between those who don't stoop for pennies and those who don't use coupons. Any ideas?

flickr/cc by Lawrence in Houston
Would you pick up a penny and what is your reasoning? 

 ⟺⟺ ⟺⟺ ⟺⟺ ⟺⟺

⟺⟺ The Simpler Living Blog had 10 lessons learned for yard sales:
"Make sure you check the contents of things your selling"

⟺⟺ Ken Rockwell's article on how to afford anything was a good read through. His main goal in life it to make sure he can afford photography equipment.
"Sorry if this article starts to read like a self-help video, but honestly, if you can't afford these things today, you're going to have to make some changes in your life if you want to. It doesn't take money. It takes the guts to be a cheapskate."

Some of the suggestions Ken has may be the equivalent to picking up pennies, "why sweat the small stuff." But for some, the small stuff adds up to something bigger for them.

⟺⟺ I was recently listening to Tom and Flexo's Consumerism Commentary Podcast with Donna Freedman who spoke about micro-saving and even picking up pennies as a way to save for an emergency fund.

I'm a big fan of Donna's from SmartSpending and her new blog, Surviving and Thriving and have recently enjoyed her daughter Abigail's blog, I Pick Up Pennies. I hope that doesn't sound stalker-ish! They are both just really enjoyable to read.

This is a wonderful standby for more than just medical. When I was a police explorer many eons ago, when we would go into a particularly raunchy house, the officer I was with always handed me a small tube of menthol jelly to put under my nose so I wouldn't get sick.

I also have hands that peel in the winter, they can peel so bad it bleeds. So when it gets uncontrollable I will get some thin cotton gloves and coat my hands with jelly, then put the gloves on so that while I sleep at night my hands have time to heal. This works wonders over the course of a night or two.

Below you will find other uses for it as well, and as usual please feel free to comment with what you have used it for. It really is a more solid form, and smells better than wd-40.

¤ Rub it on your hands to form an invisible glove for your next paint job or dirty chore. (The same trick works to protect your face when painting the ceiling).

¤ Put a thick coating on the threads of glue tubes or any screw cap where the ingredients can seal on the cap, for easy removal next time around.

¤ A thin coating over the threads of light bulbs makes removal a cinch. (I have done this with my new CFLs and it works)

¤ Remove white water rings and hot dish marks from furniture by coating with the jelly and letting stand overnight.

¤ Petroleum jelly shines patent leather.

flickr/cc chefranden

¤ Petroleum jelly on the car battery terminals will help prevent corrosion. (Thanks to anon-1 in comments. this is situation where if you haven't tried it and it is all over the web, doesn't make it a good idea. Best bet would be to use a wire brush to get the corrosion off the terminal and keep it clean that way)

¤ Instead of masking tape, use a Q-Tip to apply jelly to the panes of glass right next to the wooden parts

¤ Coat the chrome on your car with petroleum jelly before you stash it away for storage

¤ In an emergency, a lit birthday candle in a jar of petroleum jelly will burn for hours

¤ Work in some petroleum jelly into your hands before you put your work gloves on and go outside to work. This helps with chapped hands

¤ The attachments for your vacuum cleaner will be easier to remove and install if coated

¤ Don’t just put a tennis ball over a trailer hitch until you coat the hitch with jelly and then add the tennis ball

¤ Nuts and bolts that must be removed come off easier when coated with petroleum jelly.

¤ A refrigerator door gasket that doesn't quite seal can do its job better with a thin coating.

How to make non-petroleum Jelly
2 ounces olive oil
1/2 ounce grated beeswax
12 drops grapefruit seed extract

1. In a double boiler over simmering water and medium heat, combine the olive oil and beeswax, and heat until the wax has melted.
2. Remove mixture from the heat and add the grapefruit seed extract.
3. Beat with a hand mixer until creamy.
Makes 1/4 cup; store in a glass jar with a screw-top. This jelly will keep for a year, so mark well.
¤ Stop a squeaky door by coating the hinge-pin with the petroleum jelly. No danger of dripping as with oil

While it is commendable that the average amount of savings in America has jumped from around 1% to 3.1%, I believe we can do even better. Unfortunately, excuses pop into our heads to stop us from saving that much needed money for our future or a rainy day.

Excuses are the nails used to build a house of failure.   
~Don Wilder and Bill Rechin (Cartoonists)

Those excuses that we fall back on pave the road to the future that we will be living in and dealing with. If we want a future that has a better safety net, whether it is 3 months from now or 30 years from now, we have to toss away the excuses and venture onward to a better quality of life. The excuses won't bring you the savings that you hope for. You have a mind and a will, use them to your advantage and, not to bring yourself down.

1. I Don't Know How

Truly? Think about it. We collect shoes, comics, artwork and other items that make us happy. It is a matter of changing our thoughts about money and deciding to collect that. We know how to do it, we do it with other items. We have need to decide to do it and then determine how much. 

Start with a $2 savings plan, find small ways to trick yourself into saving or make your savings account a bill each pay period.

2. I Don't Have Enough Money

With determination you can find a way to save money; it may not be much, but it is something and that something is "money in the bank" better than an excuse! You can always find a way to do something if you are determined enough to look past the roadblocks and like a little two year old walking over their toys to get to Mommy, you too can walk over those roadblocks to the prize.

It is amazing the ways that we come into money when we least expect it, whether it is money found on the ground, gifts we receive or saved money we didn't expect. And let's not forget those vices that pull money out of our pocket that can be plugged and used to start that new savings account. 

3. I Don't Have Any Time

Saving money is one of the least time consuming areas of personal finance. You can set up an automatic withdrawal from your paycheck to go to a retirement fund or a savings account. The time in setting this up is usually smaller than 15 minutes because companies have all the information ready to help you and banks are more than willing to talk with you on the phone to get you started with a paycheck deduction plan. 

I love reading about teachers, garbage collectors, librarians, and the list goes on, who most people would not view as rich but with each dollar they set aside, they built up for themselves a better future and eventually a better future for someone else by donating their estate. 

I always read those and am inspired that if they find the time to set aside their money, find the time to figure out what they value most and get rid of the excess, than I can as well. Ultimately, it isn't about not having the time to save money, but taking the time to save the money. If we can make time for when we go to the gym, when we watch a tv show, even when we help out others, then we can move up that priority to take the time to start saving as well. 

4. I Don't Have the Education

Saving money doesn't need to be about stocks, bonds, CD rates or best banks. Just the fact that you are stuffing $20 in a jar and not spending it means you are $20 smarter than the person who isn't. 

As your money grows larger in that jar you may feel that you want to gain more for your time with a good interest rate and that takes a few minutes to find a decent bank with a high interest rate. 

And if you aspire to retire at 50, then as you save up your money, you have time to find the best route to attain your goal. But don't ever let a lack of education stop you. Determination can move you toward the goal you desire. Did you know that Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy's, had dropped out of school at 15? Or that Simon Cowell dropped out of boarding school at age 16? 

In Summary

If you are determined, you will find out how to save money, whether you have enough money, time or education. The question you first ask yourself is, "How much do I want this?

Helen Keller said, "When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us."

We have a wonderfully creative mind that is made to move beyond obstacles, to take a look at life and create a better life from what we area given. Stop making excuses for yourself and step out into a better financial future for yourself.

Photos courtesy flickr/cc - brad montgomery and Nic's events recently highlighted a situation in a Super Kmart in Ohio where a woman didn't take to kindly to another person ahead of her in line who was using coupons.

From the Chronicle-Telegram:

"According to a police report, the 32-year-old victim was at the store in the 5300 block of Leavitt Road trying to redeem a $5 off coupon at the checkout around 4:50 p.m. when a woman in line behind her yelled at her to go to customer service with her coupon and called the victim an obscene name, police said
When the victim said she wasn’t going to customer service, police said the angry woman poked the victim in the cheek as she held her 11-month-old son and threatened to slap the victim.
When the woman put her son down in her shopping cart, the suspect attacked the victim, was pulled off by another female customer and fled the store, police said.
Officers are hoping surveillance footage will help with the investigation."
Experience is showing me that those who scream and fight the hardest against something seem to be hiding themselves from the truth that lies within them. So hear me out on this one.

When playing on the playground, girls and boys may fight because they don't know how to handle the new friendship they have for one another. In the political arena we see politicians who fight loudly against an issue but, time or missteps show us that they were only trying to cover up the truth within themselves from others.

The same could be said about the perpetrator that assaulted the mother; perhaps she truly loves to use coupons but, she can only see the frustration this causes to others and so, she had buried this desire to use coupons because she is concerned with how it will effect others around her.

We may have heard tales of kids who were forced to cut out coupons neatly and stack them in specific categories. We all see the sighs and grumbles from those with us in the grocery line as a person ahead of us hands a small stack of coupons to the cashier. We all know how much easier it would be to just blend in with those around us and not rock the carts at the grocery store by digging for coupons or finding the right item to match the coupon, thus blocking the aisle for others.

Because of this ingrained attitude from childhood, perhaps this perpetrator of violence had seen a vision of herself - a 30-something mother who was content to be herself, not caring about what others may think and couldn't stand the thought that the woman ahead of her in line, was happy with who she was...a Couponeer.

Time to take pride in yourself, live true to yourself and be happy that this is who you are!
Time to come out of the closet, pick up your scissors and wave your coupons like flags!
It is time to show the world that we are not going to worry about the dirty looks, the rolled eyes and the loud sighs!
It is time we stand up for ourselves and make ourselves known that we won't be pushed around anymore, but are going to save money, no matter how large or small!!!

This June, raise your coupons high and join me in becoming the true self that you were meant to be, a Couponeer!

flickr/cc via striatic

I was reading through Chris Thorman's post about 10 steps to negotiate rent and since rent negotiations are coming up for me in a few months and we are determining how low in rent we may be able to go to save some money. Chris blogs about landlord software at Software Advice.Conveniently, my lease expires within the same week as the last day of my job lay off.

Because of the lay off we have been deciding what amenities we feel are needed (garage, freezer space, workout room, etc) and how far of a drive we want in order to save money on rent. I have checked out a fun site called Rent-o-Meter to check my area out. I'm still not sure how far I want to drive to save money - anyone have any way to calculate what a good amount of driving is compared to lowered rent?

One of the places we are looking at has a huge field and walking area to walk the dog. Though I don't think we will come across any skunks to deal with, like Chance has when her dog got skunked, I do now have a homemade option to clean my little Maltese if she should get into something stinky.

I borrowed Ramit Sethi's book I will teach you to be rich from the library and since then has kept an eye on his site. His post about the areas people think they are making money, but aren't was enlightening. I don't agree with him on coupons but most things I do agree with. However, it is still good to be challenged on an idea once in while.
◊◊◊◊ recently posted an infographic that compared generic drugs to brand name ones - I have to admit, when I see name brand item on sale at the same price as a generic one, I will grab that one off the shelf instead of the generic one. I admit it, I can be a brand whore, it's gotten into my system and I'll fall for it. But I'm never afraid to try a store brand, even it's it 2¢ more.

If you do a search online for “thoughtful living” you will find a lot of interesting results. The thoughtful living I am thinking of has nothing to do with the metaphysical, fine wine or a class taught at the university. It is instead a change of attitude, eventually of mindset and ultimately of lifestyle that not only reduces the unnecessary in your life, but also impacts the world you live in.

They are two main aspects of Thoughtful Living for Frugal living
1. You have to slow down long enough to think about what you buying, why you are buying, do you really need it and is this something I need new. In essence you are slowing down the treadmill enough to limit consumerism impact on you.

2. You have impact on the world that is around you. Whether you directly want to, or indirectly, effect the planet, the smaller your footprint is, the bigger shadow you will cast to those who walk behind you.

The two ideas are interlocked like a chain and together they connect the important pieces of your life.

When you buy fewer new clothes and make more trips to 2nd hand stores or yard sales, you not only are saving yourself money, but reducing the waste that would otherwise add to the landfills. When you consider making more food items homemade or reheating leftovers, you are not only stretching a dollar, but also fighting against the consumer mentality that says our lives would be happier if only we bought their brand.

In some ways it would be exciting to see a revolution of sorts with people buying only second hand, reheating left-overs, making things from scratch and saving items from the dumpster; instead of being another statistic among consumer research and how much money they have made. Perhaps instead they would measure gross product recycled (GDR) instead of gross domestic product (GDP)

Thoughtful living is by far the best way to live, because not only do you get your cake, you get to eat it as well. We, being naturally selfish and self-serving people, we want to live prosperous lives, whether they be prosperous financially or of a quality of time. Living a thoughtful life not only allow us to do that, but indirectly allows us to become more community oriented, helping each other recycle more and that in turn helps others who are in need.

Let’s take it one step at a time, if we are already living thoughtfully and suffering burn out, look at the larger picture; who you effect and the smaller footprint you leave behind. If we are unsure about starting a thoughtful life, then consider the smaller steps that will take us to a future of greater success, either with money or quality of time.

This isn’t a 12 step program or a pill that will make things better. This is a change of attitude, mindset and lifestyle over the remaining part of our life. Through this we will make mistakes, we will go overboard in one direction or another, but ultimately we will find the balance that leads to a more content person, one might even say, happier.

The pessimist may see the flaws and reality in this, but the positive person will see hope and eventually, success.

photo courtesy flickr/cc - Randy Son Of Robert

Reader Elaine wrote me the following:
I have a lot of debt. I'm a crazy spender. I love purses mostly. Lately
I've been trying to control my spending. I have $35k credit card/loans, and $51k student loans.

Needless to say I hate life. I feel overwhelmed with by debts. I've been holding off paying on my student loans (deferment), but that will end in December 2010. I am no good with credit cards. Should I close out the credit card when I pay off a card? I know it will hurt my FICO score, but that's messed up anyway.

Any guidance you could offer would be appreciated.

My Advice:
I don't know if the following will help advise you or guide you, but the following is what I have done and am still continuing to do for my debts and for me, it seems to be working out for me ok.

I know EXACTLY how you feel and have been right where you have been, and to a degree still am. BUT it does get better as time goes on, even though you may think it very frustrating. If you can keep at it, your debt will go down. May take awhile, but the results in the end will be awesome for you when you see that big light at the end of the tunnel.  I kept at it, and believe me it was frustrating and stressful, but I now see a good light at the end of my tunnel.

 As far  as closing out your credit cards and it hurting your FICO score, it does hurt your score, but temporarily.  It usually adjusts back within a few months to a year. Mine did.  I have closed out all my credit cards for stores and major credit cards EXCEPT for three. I have two major credit cards for emergency use only such as major medical, air fare, or car repair if needed, and a  Dept Store card. And I dropped the  limit at my request to where I can better control that limit. (They thought I was a little crazy or something, but they did it for me.)  I use that once a year for Xmas gifts. They are all paid in full and I have them in my ice tray in the frig' frozen in ice so I can not get tempted and get them so easily.  And I always try to pay cash for things first. I have found out that is all that I really need in cc's. For me, that is very easily handled and controlled.  AND also, I still am working on my other cc's and loans that I still have, but it is now controllable and I shred those cards and close those accounts as they are paid off EXCEPT the three I have kept and are in the ice.

And as for your student loans, when the deferment ends, you can set up with them an automatic payment system where it will come out of either your savings account or checking account each month, and won't have to worry about it.  And I am sure that you could do that with your other loans and credit cards as well, so this way all will be easily controlled.   The best option is to talk to your bank, and see if you can set up where they can send your payments for your cc payments and loans each month.  I would advise going in and talking to them about that since your cc and loan debt is $35K  and your student loan is $51K. And also, your bank more than likely can offer you counseling and advice about your debts.

Last, IF you are still a crazy spender, please try to get counseling as to why you spend so much and help to control that spending. In the end, you will have much more peace inside yourself and be much happier in the long run, finding that you do not need those purses or other crazy expenditures, but instead finding yourself putting money into your savings and letting it grow.  Even if you put a couple of dollars or so in your savings each payday, it adds up. That in itself, will give you a bit of a satisfaction and help you to want to continue to work on your debts, and as you continue, you will see that go down.  It won't happen overnight, but you will see an improvement. When you see that, you will feel better about yourself too.

Here are some sites that you may wish to check out to further help you:
Debtor's Anonymous
Credit Info Center
I Just Can’t Live Within My Means! - Find blogs about debt reduction
Also check with your bank for financial budget help.

Photo courtesy flickr/cc: Amy Loves Yah

Readers: If you have suggestions, please pass them along. Thank you.

There is a standby that I would always fall back on if I ever came up short on money for food.
And for the kitchen inept like myself, they are easy to make. I will share my favorite cheap food and you tell me yours, then we can get a list going below.  (email me, post your own or comment below and I will add them)

This is also a handy list to refer to when you just don't know what to make and need something easy.

My Favorite
Macaroni and Tuna
1 Box of Macaroni
1-2 cans of tuna
Prepare macaroni to instructions on the box, after final step of stirring in cheese, add 1-2 cans of tuna and stir until evenly spread about. When sick of tuna, substitute with ground beef, chicken or meat of choice. Makes 2-3 servings

More Recipes 
Hashbrown casserole
1lb hashbrowns 
1 can of condensed mushroom soup
1/2 cup of milk
1 cup of grated cheese
1 small container of sour cream
Preheat oven to 400°F
In a medium casserole dish, pour condensed mushroom soup, milk, and sour cream. sprinkle on half the grated cheese. Dump frozen hashbrowns into the mix, and stir it up 'til it's chunky-yet-goopy. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top. Put it in the oven for approx. 40 minutes, check on it periodically, take it out when it's nice and browned and a little crispy on top. Serves 4-5 people

Taco Salad
1 Lrg can of chili
1 Head of chopped Lettuce
1-2 cups of grated cheese
Medium bag of corn chips
Heat up chili in large pan, stir in chopped lettuce and grated cheese. Stir on low heat for about 5 minutes and pour over corn chips already on the plate. Eat with a spoon. Serves 4 large helpings.

Egg Salad Sandwich
6 hard cooked eggs
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. chopped celery
1/4 c. chopped sweet pickle
1/2 c. mayonnaise or salad dressing
12 slices bread
Soft butter
Chop eggs and place in a medium sized mixing bowl. Chop celery and pickles on a chopping board. Add celery, pickle, salt and mayonnaise. Toss with fork to mix well. Spread bread slices evenly with the softened butter and then with the filling. Use cutting board to cut sandwiches into the shape you would like.
To add a special touch, garnish your sandwiches with pickles, sliced olives or radish roses. Makes 6 sandwiches.

Hamburger and Potatoes
1 lb hamburger
1 medium sized onion, chopped
3 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped in small chunks
Cook hamburger until about 1/2 way done, add onion and potatoes. Cook on low heat until potatoes are soft. When mixture is beginning to brown on bottom flip over til beginning to brown on other side. I add salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder for seasoning. Serve with baked or vegetarian beans.

Goulash (Thanks to mom)
1 lb ground beef
1.5 cups dry macaroni
2 cups water
1 can tomato soup
chili powder, salt and pepper.
Brown the ground beef in skillet, drain grease. Add 2c water, macaroni, and salt and pepper. bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. When it boils, lower the heat and cover with a lid and simmer for 10-15 min. add can of tomato soup and spices (1-2 tsp chili powder, oregano and marjoram) stir well and simmer to blend flavors. Let cool and serve. 5-6 helpings

1 pound hot dogs (cut up in chunks)
1 white onion cut up
1 green pepper cut up
1 large can on tomato sauce
1 small can tomato paste.
Put all in a crock pot, fill with water and let it cook for several hours for the best flavor but if you are in a hurry, cook hot dogs, green pepper and onion till done, transfer all to a large and add the tomato sauce and past, fill pot with water and cook for 20 minutes.

Brown Rice w/ Vegetables
1/2 Cup brown rice
Assorted raw vegetables
Steam both as directed on packaging or until tender. Add your favorite lite sauce (made per instructions on packaging) and eat.

Other Suggestions:

Pulled Beef Sandwiches (via
3lbs of chuck or shank (the tougher cuts - also the cheapest - preferably w/o the bone)
1 can of root beer, Coke or Dr. Pepper
1 bottle of your fav bbq sauce
Place the roast in the slow cooker and cover with the can of soda. Cook for about 7 hours on low. If possible, turn the meat half way to make sure the soda touches all sides.
After 7 hours, drain the soda, partially shred the meat and pour the entire bottle of bbq sauce over top. Cook on low for another 3 hours.
Serve on buns with yummy sides, like coleslaw or potato salad

Super Easy Chili
In a pot put:
1lb ground beef
1 chopped onion
1 small green pepper chopped
Fry until no pink remains in meat.
Drain fat.

in a strainer drain and rinse:
1 can kidney beans
1 can kernel corn
add to meat mixture
Add 1 tablespoon of chili powder and simmer on low for an hour. Add more chili powder and a few drops of hot sauce if you like it spicier.

Photo courtesy flickr/cc - suzettesuzette