NEW TO UNDER THE MEDIAN? LET ME SHARE MY STORY!

Pages

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Purchasing a Vehicle with Cash



 My husband's new all electric  Leaf. 

My husband just replaced our van with a Leaf all electric car.   The vast majority of our driving is within a ten mile radius of our home, making the Leaf perfect for my husband's daily commute to work.  The fact that this car is electric makes it a little unusual, but what is also less than average is the fact that we bought it with cash. We like to plan ahead and hand over hard-earned dollars for all of our purchases - including transportation.  


BUT... WHAT IF THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENS?


Your budget is on target.  You are cruising along at warp speed.  You are meeting goals, paying cash for every transaction, debt is in your rearview mirror, and you can see the financial freedom finish line up ahead.  Suddenly, the unexpected happens.  Your vehicle begins making a sound akin to a set of Ginzu knives slicing through a row of metal trashcans.   You are pretty sure that your formerly reliable transportation is about to give up the ghost. Less than 24 hours later you get the prognosis from your mechanic.  Humpty Dumpty cannot be put back together again.   

                                        PLAN AHEAD TO REPLACE THAT VEHICLE!

In the Ware household, as soon as we purchase a car, we begin saving to replace it.  We never purchase brand new cars.  It just doesn't make sense.  Transportation is not an investment.  It is depreciating from the moment you drive it off the showroom floor.  When we first married, our goal was what we called the 4/40 vehicle:  4 years old and 40,000 miles on the odometer.  However, in nearly 30 years the price of cars has escalated to the extent that our new norm is generally 6-7 years old and 70,000 miles.  We purchase with cash and keep vehicles for an average of 10 years.  When the cost of mechanical repairs begins to outstrip the value of the car, we replace it.  We try to estimate the life of our current model and then save accordingly.  For instance, if we expect our current automobile to last for 10 years, we decide how much we are willing to spend to replace it, and then divide that amount by the number of months until our expected purchase date.  If we are willing to spend $15,000 on a car and we have 10 years to save that amount, then we must set aside $125 for the next 120 months in a "car replacement fund." 

 So, let's see how that concept fits in with today's story, the one in which your ailing transmission just moved your vehicle replacement plan to the forefront of your budget. 

                                  WHAT TO DO IF YOU NEED TO AMEND A GOAL:   

- First, do not panic!  Share a car with your spouse, take the city bus, or get lifts from friends, neighbors, or coworkers for a week or two as you narrow down your options. 

- If you have two cars, you could opt to do nothing and survive with one vehicle for a period of time.  We did this when I quit work to stay at home with our firstborn.  We sold our extra car and lived with one car for several years.  

- If this is not an option, then you must find a car that fits within your car replacement fund. If you don't have a fund, then you must devise some ways to throw as much money as you can at that goal in a short period of time. 

                                   STRATEGIES FOR SAVING MONEY FAST!

1)  Cut or reduce the amount allocated to other budget items.  Eat beans and rice.  Your foot should not hit the pavement outside of  restaurants, video rental kiosks, clothing shops, or even thrift stores. Don't leave the house unless you really need to go somewhere.  You'd be surprised how much you can save in 30 days.  A "no spend" month, garners cash in a hurry. 

2)  Sell possessions.  What do you own, that others need or want?  Antiques or collectibles?  Gently worn, name brand, children's clothing goes for a good price.  Baby accessories, if they still conform to current safety standards, are a sure winner in the resale market.  Craigslist or Facebook both offer free venues for offering your items to the public. 

3)  Work overtime.  If you can't do this, get creative.  Cut lawns.  Deliver firewood.  Walk dogs.  Clean homes.  Cook for senior citizens.  Think of anything you can do for someone that they would prefer to not do themselves.  Then, offer them your services.  

                                                       PURCHASE WITH CASH!

No matter when your mechanical marvel bites the dust, shop for a new ride using only the money you have available.  No car loans.  Repeat after me!  No car loans!   A lot more than your pride is at stake if you give into the temptation to spend money you don't have, going into debt for the next seven years for an item that depreciates in value every day that you drive it.  For the next 72 to 84 months, you will send the bank money at regular intervals, praying to God that the car will not die or be damaged beyond the its value before you get done paying off that loan.   If this happens, you are upside down on the loan.  The bank will sell the car, leaving you responsible for the difference between the sale price and the amount still owed on the loan.   Inevitably you will take out another car loan, tacking on the amount still due on the first car loan.  Yes, you will be making payments on car #2, while also paying for car #1.  The only problem is that car #1 is no longer in your possession. You are paying for something that you can no longer drive or enjoy. 

There is hope!  This bump in the road does not have to drive you off track.  First, plan ahead.  Next, keep your current automobile maintained.  Finally, set aside money each year for both car repair bills and car replacement. 

Until next time, 

Do all for the glory of God, 

Hope

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Ten Tips for Thift Store Shopping


I love a good thrift store find!  Nothing beats the feeling of finding the perfect accent piece or outfit at a price that is a mere fraction of what you would have paid for it at retail.  But, what happens when you get that item home and it wasn't at all what you thought it was in the store?  The zipper is broken, the ornamental button is missing, or there is a yellow stain that you didn't notice while in the store.  We've all had this sort of thing happen.  

That's why today I'll share:  

10 tips for making thrift store shopping a positive experience.   



1.  Know your prices.  

I have created a descending hierarchy of thrift stores within a certain radius of my home.  Where I begin my journey depends on what I am shopping for.  If I am looking for furniture, I may choose to begin my search at the Mission Mart.  There are two locations in my town and they generally have a nice selection, with fantastic prices.  Plus, all the proceeds stay local and are used to benefit our local women and children's mission.  If I just can't find what I want there, I will look at The Attic, a high end resale shop.  Their prices aren't as good as the Mission Mart, but the quality is fantastic and they have a "Dutch Auction" system, in which the longer the item has been in the shop, the lower the price of the item descends.  If clothing is on my list, the stores I visit first, second, and so on will be in a different order.  Think through your shopping strategy and driving route before you leave home.  This will save you time and money. 

2.  Know discounts, sales, and cycles.  

The nice thing about turning 50 is that the senior citizen discounts start rolling in!  And when you turn 60, this trend continues to soar!  Ask your local thrift store about discounts for senior citizens, armed services members, city employees, educators, etc.  Make a note of the days of the week on which discounts are offered for which you qualify.  Also ask if they have a monthly sales flyer.  This document will list special discounts for every day or week of the month.  For instance, every other Friday is "five dollar clothing bag sale" at our local Mission Marts.  So, when back-to-school time approaches, I'm going to pick one of those Fridays to visit the Mission Mart locations (both of them) with a list of items and sizes in hand to maximize my shopping dollars.   

3.  Get to know the employees.  

Be kind to these employees, who are most likely working long hours for minimum wage or slightly above.  They are doing their best to provide you with great service and low prices.  However, they must follow the rules of store management.  I have found that a little honey goes a long way.  I have had store employees grab items from the back when I am finding clothing and accessories for my child's "50's party".  They have pointed out discounts of which I was not aware.  They have helped me shove as many items of clothing as possible into a "$5 bag".  If there is any "give" in their policies, they may be more than happy to get an assistant manager to discount that item with a flaw they did not notice when pricing the item.  

Don't ask for a discount on every single item.  Don't abuse your power as a customer.  If there is a flaw, point it out and then be gracious as they make their decision about a discount.  Always, always, always be absolutely, positively honest!  No switching price tags (happens all the time to second-hand stores) and no getting upset if they honestly cannot help you. 


4.  Know your name brands. 

Let's face it, name brand items often last longer, are manufactured with stronger stitching and better fabrics, and the colors don't fade.  But, there is NO way that I am paying the prices that department stores charge for name brand items.  This is where thrift stores shine!  Use you smart phone to check the price of the same (or a similar item) brand new.  Then you will know that you are getting a bargain that will last a long while. 

5.  Have a list of seasonal needs.  

As soon as thrift stores put out their new seasonal merchandise, plan to descend on them like a horde of locusts.  Just kidding!  Seriously, go through your bins of clothing, shoes, and accessories.  (You should have these sorted by size and season).  Write down a list of sizes for next season's boots, mittens, shorts, swimsuits, etc.  Stick the list in your purse.  This list allows you to buy with confidence.  In this way you don't overbuy or miss getting something that you should have bought. 

6.  Bring along a flashlight!  

The florescent lighting in many stores is a "yellow light" and does not show up light colored stains!  A true white light will show imperfections.  It also allows you to see small print better.  Even one of those small pin lights will shine a more perfect white light and show stains and imperfections.  For those of us over 40, flashlights also aid us in seeing small print on electronics and appliances.  

7.  Ask about return/refund policy.  

Ask if their return policy is in writing.  The policy is for both your protection and theirs. A lot of questions and hard feelings can be avoided with a clear, concise return policy.  Once you have the policy in hand, follow it.  If something breaks a day or two after the expiration date, it doesn't hurt to ask for special dispensation in returning your item.  Sometimes they will have mercy (especially if you have been kind and considerate in the past).  But, if they say "no", continue to be kind and take the item back home and dispose of it.  No fair disposing of the item in the store's dumpster (especially if it is a large item).  Believe me, these stores have to throw out a lot of junk that is donated.  They use every square inch of that dumpster every week. 

8.  Don't be afraid to bring an item with you! 

If you are matching a color, texture, or style, don't be afraid to bring along the item that you are trying to match.  If you need shoes or accessories to match your blue dress, bring along the dress.  I ALWAYS stop by the front counter and show them the item in my bag.  "Hi, I'm here today to find earring and a necklace that match this dress.  I brought this from home to be sure I get the right color."  I have NEVER had an employee turn down my request to carry my own item into the store. In fact, more times than not, they have taken time out of their day to offer to help me.  But, do be sure you are absolutely, positively transparent about what you are bringing into their store.  Yep!  Believe it or not, some people try to sneak (steal) items from their establishment.  

9.  Ask to plug it in and test it out.  

It is NOT inconveniencing store employees to ask to try out an appliance or electronic gadget before purchasing it.  If an employee rolls his or her eyes or gives you an indication that you are being a pain in the backside for asking to test an item, then it it the employee who needs a change in attitude.  Many years ago my husband began bringing along a CD or DVD that he knew played properly.  When he was testing an item that required it, he would just tell the employee, "I brought this CD from home and I'd like to use it to test this player,"  We have never had an employee decline.   

10.  Try the zippers, check the seams, examine the hemlines, and look at the buttons.  

In my zeal over a new "find", I sometimes forget to check the basics.  If those buttons are hard to match, you may wind up replacing every single button on a sweater, rather than sew on one that definitely looks out of place.  Making a simple check-list is really helpful if your children are shopping with you.  This trains them on how to shop second-hand too!  These skills are wonderful when passed down generationally!

HAPPY SHOPPING!  Did I miss anything?  If you have tips or great thrift stories, I'd love to hear about them in the comments.  


Remember, 


Do all to the glory of God, 


Hope


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bulk Cooking Sample Weekly Menu With Photos

 Let's Get Cooking!

Here it is!  One week's worth of meals - prepared in 6 hours!  

Welcome to "part 3" of bulk cooking.  In case you missed them, here are links to part 1 and part 2.  Admittedly, this cooking session went a little long.  But, in my defense, I kept stopping every few minutes as my 13 year old sidekick, had a blast attractively displaying the food at various stages and snapping photos for this post.  Thanks to my son, Daniel, for his assistance in all of my cooking adventures! 

First, a confession:  I eat a whole foods, plant based diet - which is a fancy way of saying that I am a vegan who doesn't eat processed foods.  If it's a whole food, grows in the ground, on a stalk, or on a tree, then I probably eat it.  If it came from a factory, it probably doesn't reach my plate very often.  So if, like most Americans, and you are trying to put more veggies and fiber on your plate, then I'm your girl!

Let's go over some tips and then take a look at this week's menu.  I deliberately selected recipes that are family favorites!   They resemble traditional American fare, but have zero cholesterol, a ton of fiber, are nutrient dense, low-fat, low-sugar, and low-salt.  As an added bonus, they look and taste fantastic!  These have been certified as "outstanding" by my four sons, ranging in age from 20 - 9. 

TIP:  We eat with all five senses!  When I plan my menu, I try to think in terms of aroma, taste, texture, and color.  I vary all of these throughout the week.  No one wants to eat a plateful of food that is the same color or texture!  Seriously!

TIP:  Eat the rainbow.  When you put all your ingredients out on the counter, you should see as many colors as possible.  For a simple guide to help you in this quest, check out Dr. Don Colbert's "Eat This and Live."  I love this book!  It's so easy to use and is divided into sections according to the colors of foods.  Want to know what is so fantastic about deep purple or blue foods?  Turn to the purple section of the book and find out.  The colors show up as bands of color at the edge of the pages. So, you can look at the outside edge of the book and turn to the purple section very easily.

TIP:  Plan recipes with versatility in mind.  For instance, smoky black bean filling can top a baked potato or be rolled in a tortilla.  But, It can also be topped with a dollop of spicy garbanzo bean spread and then sprinkled with chopped green onions, red peppers, and sweet onions.  Then you can scoop it onto tortilla or corn chips and enjoy!   Many recipes can be used in multiple ways and for multiple meals.

TIP:  Plan a weekly hot stuffed baked potato night!  Roast some plain, large baking potatoes and sweet potatoes.  Set out any leftover veggies, beans, rice, casseroles, bean burgers, or chili that you have in the house.  Most leftovers are really good on top of potatoes!  Think outside the box.  Pineapple, salsa, stir fried veggies, and hummus are all fantastic on top of a potato!  My boys like to top sweet potatoes with pineapple chunks, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, raisins, and walnuts.  No sugar.  Really sweet potatoes are just that ... sweet.  A potato night is a GREAT way to keep everybody happy!

TIP: Look in the middle of the tray in the photo at the right.  The bulbous end of a butternut squash makes a fantastic natural bowl!  So do acorn squash!  Cut, in half.  Scoop out the seeds and roast at 400 degrees on the same tray as your sweet and white potatoes.  Fill them with brown rice pilaf or wild rice.  Add a sprinkling of cinnamon for an autumn treat!

Your finished dish will look like this!  


This Week's Menu with Links and photos:

Soups:

1.   Garbanzo Bean Soup
2.  Everything Minstrone - I make a pot every week and put in whatever veggies I have in the fridge.  It's a great way to use up "bits and pieces". 


3.  Sweet Potato Black Bean Soup 

4.  Ginger Butternut squash soup 



Main Dishes:

1.  Sweet and smoky barbeque lentil sandwiches
 
2.  Cabbage Roll Casserole
3.  Black Bean and sweet potato quesidillas 
4.  Tuscon Spicy Lentil Tacos
5.  Mexican Chili burgers

6.  Hot stuffed baked potato bar


Side Dishes:

1.  Ginger-Lime Coleslaw


2.  Vegan Potato Salad:
          TIP:  Mix a generous squeeze of dijon mustard into some spicy garbanzo spread and then thin with a little plant-based milk.  It becomes the perfect base for vegan potato salad.  I give you my word!  Not a bit of cholesterol and it looks and tastes like traditional mustard-based potato salad!  You'll find the recipe for the spicy garbanzo spread here.

3.  Creole Green Beans

4.  Spicy garbanzo spread

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Bulk Cooking Tips and Techniques



Get ready for tips,  hacks, and techniques that will help make your bulk cooking session a success.  Last week I wrote on "Why Bulk Cooking Saves Money."  If you haven't read that post, you'll find it here.  


Let's get started!  

My planning and executing a weekly Saturday cooking session has been the result of trial and error over a long period of time.  Feel free to embrace ideas that work for you and your family and ignore those that do not fit your lifestyle or time restraints.  I freely admit that there is no one "right way" to bulk cook.  But, I trust that some of the things that I am about to share will be helpful to you in your quest to provide thrifty, tasty, nutritious food for your family.

We'll approach this post in the form of a timeline:   planning on Thursday, prepping on Friday, and cooking on Saturday.  

THURSDAY: (Planning) 

Make a List of What you Have

I don't cook according to "what sounds good" or "what I see on the internet".  I cook according to what I have on-hand and in the house.  I HATE wasting food!  My goal is to throw out no more than 3% of the food that comes into my house.  

So, begin by looking through your fridge, freezer, and pantry.   List all items that you plan to use or which NEED to be used before they go bad.  I use a simple piece of lined notebook paper and list each item and the quantity which I have on hand. While planning my menu, I make notations beside each item and check it off the list when I use it up. 


TIP:  I keep my pantry organized like a store.  Beans and rice, tomato products, baking supplies, gluten free products, pasta, canned veggies, and canned fruits each have their own section.  This makes it easy for me to track what I have on hand and what I need to buy.  


Choose your Recipes

There are numerous websites which allow you to type in ingredients that you have on hand and it will pull up a list of possible dishes for you to make with those ingredients.  it also helps to dig out your cookbooks.  I choose a couple of cookbooks each week and try to pull as many recipes from them as possible.  If I find that I consistently cannot find anything that I really want to make in a cookbook, then I donate it.  Clearly I am not using it and it should no longer be taking up space on my shelf.

TIPS: 

  • Conquer your fear of substitutions.  Really!  I do it all the time.  I view recipes as "suggestions", rather than dictates.  Does the recipe call for cauliflower, but you found broccoli on sale last week and you have three heads just waiting to be used?  As long as it makes sense in the recipe, do it! 

  • Every week I make "everything minestrone".  If I have a veggie in the fridge or freezer, it is likely to make an appearance in that week's minestrone.  

  • I make notations on my list, reminding me of the cookbook in which each dish is located.  If I have printed it from the internet, I jot down "printed".  This saves me immense frustration while trying to figure out where the recipe is located when I am hip deep in chopped ingredients on cooking day. 

  • Don't plan a lot of new recipes which contain time-consuming preparation or cooking or are overwhelming in any other way.  This is a time to get a boatload of food cooked .... fast!  If you want to try something exotic, then do it later in the week when you can give it your full time and attention.  That's not to say that  never try new recipes on bulk-cooking day.  But, the majority of the items on my list are tried-and-true family favorites and the new recipes are fairly straightforward with ingredients that I know my family likes. 


Organize your plan of attack! 

I designed an excel spreadsheet for listing dishes and ingredients.  Each week I make 4 soups, 4-5 entrees, and 3-4 side dishes.  I have a separate section for each of these categories on my form.

TIPS: 

  • Across the top of the form I list ingredients which I need to chop ahead of time.  For instance, if the soup, entree, or side dish needs onions, then I put a check mark in the "onion" column.  At the bottom I write the total number of onions that I need to chop.  I do this for each main ingredient.  I don't list every ingredient.  I simply find this too time consuming and frustrating.  If I know that I need to chop 6 stalks of celery, 3 bulbs of garlic, 4 onions, 6 carrots and juice 4 lemons, then this seems to take most of the hassle out of the cooking session and tremendously shorten the amount of time needed to prepare a week's worth of meals all in one day.   

  •  Plan the order in which you will execute your recipes.  Consider both the cooking and prep time and move from longest to shortest.  I leave 1 or 2 recipes to possibly move to another day if I run out of time.
Here is my list for this week.  
 

 You may download your own copy here:  


Make a list of Ingredients you need to purchase.   

   I find that once I have done my best to match recipes up to what I have in the house, my grocery list is surprisingly short.

TIPS: 

  • I check the weekly sales ads and stock up on real food.  I also shop local farmer's markets during the growing season and belong to a CSA.  I focus on stocking a variety of fruits, veggies, and whole foods.  I buy items that are on sale and that I know my family will eat.  If I buy too much cauliflower, no sweat.  Nearly every fresh food can be prepped and frozen for later use. 

  • As much as possible I eat seasonally, locally, and organically.  This does not mean spending a ton of money.  This does mean that I am getting the freshest food available, while supporting small farmers and the local economy.  I like to look the people who grow my food in the eye. 

FRIDAY: (Prepping)

Time for food prep. 



 TIPS:

  • Look over your recipes one last time to be sure that you haven't missed purchasing any ingredients.   You don't want to either run to the store on Saturday to get it or switch gears in the middle of your cooking session and need to find a substitute recipe that does not call for the missing ingredient.  

  • I cook beans ahead of time and have them ready for Saturday morning.  Yes, you can use canned beans.  But, the copious amount of sodium compels me to make my own. On Thursday evening, I soak my beans overnight in the crockpot.  As soon as I get up Friday morning, I  rinse the beans, fill the crockpot with water (leaving at least 1-2 inches of space the top), and put it on high for four hours or low for 8 hours.  

  • There are more beans in a six quart crockpot that I need for one soup recipe.  That's why after the beans have cooled, I remove extra beans with a slotted spoon and place them in a tupperware container in the fridge, leaving just enough beans in the crockpot for the soup recipe.  Then, I place the entire crockpot insert in the fridge.  On Saturday morning, I simply take the crockpot insert out of the fridge, add the rest of the ingredients for the soup, plug it in and in, place it on "high" four hours, and voila! I have soup!

  • What about the excess beans that I put in the tupperware container?!  I know ahead of time that I will have approximately 4 cups of extra black beans or garbanzo beans and I have incorporated those extra beans into my weekly cooking plan!  The extra black beans may become smoky black bean filling for enchilladas.  The garbanzo beans may be spicy garbanzo spread.  These two favorites make an appearance nearly every week at my house and both freeze beautifully.

  • If I don't plan to use the extra beans, they go into a freezer bag and are labelled and frozen flat for future week's cooking adventures.   I do exactly the same thing with rice.  These cooked, frozen beans  and rice have been a lifesaver for me when I am either sick or too tired to cook.  You can make an entire meal for six people out of rice, beans, and a few simple ingredients!

  • If you do use canned beans, drain and rinse them.  This reduces the sodium by more than 50%!  
  •  Make full use of your kitchen gadgets.  They save you time!  Here is a list of appliances that I regularly use for bulk cooking day:  a high speed blender, food processor, three crockpots, a rice cooker, a pressure cooker, a mini-chopper, and a food slicer.  

  •  If you have time and energy (I rarely do on Friday evenings.) you can chop your onions, carrots, celery, and garlic ahead of time.  If you can't, no sweat!  I still get one week's worth of cooking done in about 5 hours.  

SATURDAY: (Cooking)

On Cooking Day Follow these rules:  

1.  If you haven't pre-chopped the main ingredients (which are listed on your planning sheet), then do this immediately.  

2.  Get those little helpers engaged in the process. Have an older sibling read off ingredients from each recipe and send younger siblings on a quest to gather ingredients.  
  
3.  Begin with recipes that take the longest to cook. Get the crockpots plugged in and cooking.   

3.  Keep the oven full.  If you are heating up the oven for baked potatoes, then look ahead on your list and get that meatloaf ready to go into the oven too.  If it is too much to go into the oven all at one time, then make a note of when the potatoes and casserole will be done and have the muffins and bread ready to slip into the oven as soon as that space is vacated.  Use a timer for items that are in the oven.  Don't look at your watch and try to rely on your memory to time when they will be done. 

4.  Save 1 or 2 dishes for last that could be finished another day.  Don't pick something that has a critical ingredient that will wilt, go brown, or go "bad" if you wait until the next day to finish it.  This week, my pick for "another day" was a quadruple batch of dark chocolate pancakes, (my 13 year old's specialty.)  I can, literally hand him the recipe later in the week and he'll do the whole thing with no supervision.  

5.   Use your sous chefs to their fullest.  Chopping, washing, drying, assembling can all be done by helpful, little hands.  My kids all know that bulk cooking morning means "all hands on deck".  I have been both surprised and delighted by how much their help has cut down my cooking time.  It's also been fantastic to pass on cooking skills to them.

6.  Finally, after everything is cooked and cooled, place the soups, entrees, and side dishes in bags or containers for the freezer or refrigerator.  Label them with masking tape or erasable marker.  Believe me, otherwise, you'll forget what is in them!  I personally like tupperware for "sloppy" things like soup.  If you put soup in a freezer bag, double bagging it will cost little extra money and add an extra layer of protection against leaks.  If space is a consideration, freezer bags will always allow you to put more products in less space. Freeze all items flat and be sure that all the air is out of the bag. 

Next week, I'll share a weekly menu, tell you what we made, and include lots of photos!

Do all to the Glory of God,

Hope