Stinky’s Corner: Free and Cheap Finds

My sister loves to shop by driving around town looking to restore other people’s trash. They call it “stinky-ing”. They decorated  one friend’s entire house with stinky finds such as bed frames, dressers and chairs other people have put out at the road for the city to pick up. A little bit of paint or a nail or two and broken, used things become new to you for free. I want to feature some of these great stinky finds and thrift store finds in “Stinky’s Corner” posts so look for those in Sunday’s posts.

This weekend I visited my mom at the beach. We looked for some stinky-worthy pieces, but found none that were worth restoring so we visited the thrift store and found some great finds for less than $15.

My husband was the winner this weekend when he found a Callaway golf club worth $200 for $9.00. What great deals have you found at the thrift store?

Frugal Fridays: Thrift Stores and Antique Malls

Buying great finds at thrift stores and antique malls instead of expensive department stores can save you money. Have a plan when you go and know what you are looking for to help you save time and money.

Last month I needed a chest to store blankets in, I went to the local antique mall and searched for one. I knew there would be a jewel in the making somewhere in the store. I passed many chests that cost a fortune, but I found the greatest old tool chest, hand made, ornate and sturdy for only $60. I knew someone took time making it and I had no qualms spending that compared to the rest that were $250, there and at World Market or Hobby Lobby. It made a great addition to my home and was exactly what I wanted.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to take your time with a purchase. I once searched five different antique stores for sterling silver goblets for my wedding over a period of a few months. They were $9.00 for the set, $90 at the jewelry store and all mine needed was a little polish. Find something someone once loved and you love it too.

image
Look at the intricate detail on this chest. Whoever made it loved it and now I do too.

The Importance of a Buffer

age of money
YNAB ages your dollars, basically it is rate of spending vs. rate of deposit. Read more here.

Are you living paycheck to paycheck? I’d say many people do in an American society of debt overload and over indulgence do. We just weren’t raised to be savers. We look at our grandparents and great grandparents who still cut the bruised parts of fruit out and finish eating the rest and shake our heads. We think, “I will buy you a whole basket of peaches if you’ll just NOT EAT THAT!” We throw out vacuums when the belt breaks, think buying a brand new car on loan is cheaper than fixing the one that’s paid for and go pick up a burger at the local fast food joint when we just don’t want to cook. But saving is important, and over indulgence has entire generations in financial ruin. That’s why it’s important to create a buffer.

A buffer is a category you create in your budget; it’s rule four for my favorite budgeting software, YNAB. It’s different than saving for rainy day expenses, those expenses that only come up annually, or on an as-needed basis, like doctor visits and vet bills (which you should be planning for them as well!) It’s the one to six month’s salary you save so you are no longer living paycheck to paycheck, and you add to it each and every paycheck. It can be a small amount, or it can be large, It’s totally possible and most people can raise a one month’s salary buffer within 6-9 months of budgeting.

The question is, why is it so important? There are many reasons why you want to have a buffer, number one being a little thing called Murphy’s Law, which the financial guru Dave Ramsey suggests always happens where money is concerned. Murphy’s Law is an old adage, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”.  What if you get fired, hurt, sick, there’s a death in the family, you have to have hip replacement, your car catches fire, your house catches fire, you hit someone with your car, and so on and so on. There are so many reasons to have that extra money handy, just in case those paychecks stop rolling in.

How much do you want to save in your buffer? Start with one and keep adding to it, you can never have too much “just in case” money. When I started using YNAB, I usually had about $30 on payday, debt, no savings, no investments, nothing. Now, three years later, we are debt free (minus our mortgage), we have an ever-growing, fully funded buffer , a separate emergency fund of $1000 and still manage to save for our 52 week savings plan. We did remove all but about $200 of our investments from Lending Club and Betterment and just put it in to savings and CD ladders. We still have the $200 because they were notes that wouldn’t sell on Lending Club so they’ll just sit there til they pay out, (one of my issues with Lending Club).

Where do you want to keep your buffer? You can keep it right in your checking account, along with your rainy day funds and your every day expenses funds.You can also consider moving it to a savings account, simply to earn a higher interest rate off of it. Either way, you want to have it tangible if you need it. YNABers aren’t usually fans of lots of accounts, it can get messy and confusing, but I am also not a fan of putting all my eggs into one basket, especially in this day with identity theft and debit card thieves out there. Basically, it’s your money, put it where you want it.

BONUS THOUGHT: You know those people who say you shouldn’t save while you still have debt? Well, I think they are wrong, especially in this particular circumstance. You may have a problem come up way before you will be out of debt, and if you need to choose between adding an extra $10 to your credit card payment and adding an extra $10 to your buffer, until it’s funded with at least a month’s worth of wages, I would choose the buffer.

The True Cost of Eating Real Food

As you know, I’ve been eating more “real food” since I’ve started using Blue Apron. This weekend, my family and I visited the local farmers’ market for some fresh produce for the week and grabbed some nice rib-eyes for Mother’s Day at Earth Fare, our local whole foods store. Between both stores, we spent $81.00. We later picked all of our spring onions from the garden and decided to try this pickled green onion recipe and needed some mustard seed so we went to our local Winn Dixie. While we were there my men decided to take advantage of the low blood sugar attack I was having and load up on some snacks I normally only get in moderation and pick up a few extra things we needed like milk and bread. $160 later, I was floored! I started looking at the receipt at all the processed foods and how much they cost and was shocked. Yes, I said it! Processed foods cost more!

All I hear are people saying, “I try to eat healthy, but I just can’t afford it”.Well, I did some math, and quality and quantity are both higher with “real” food. I use to clip coupons to death, stock up on foods I didn’t really love because it was on sale. I still clip coupons, but I really only use coupons on meat, staples, and rare produce coupons. Now I find that I spend less at the store and I waste less food. I think it’s because before my brain didn’t recognize a box of something as food so at lot of it went to waste, but my brain definitely recognizes cucumbers and oranges and blocks of cheese and wants to eat them.

Here are some examples of how we wasted precious dollars buying junk at the store the other day and what we should have bought instead:

  • My son bought two packs of beef jerky, they were $7 each for about 6-8 pieces of jerky. You could get venison back-strap or top round and make your own with a much larger yield for that price. A round steak is about $6.00 per pound. You could get 1.5 lbs of meat, plus your marinade ingredients if you didn’t have them at home for the same price.
  • Next big thing we just HAD to have is ice cream which was close to $7 a quart. My husband’s favorite is banana split, so we will use this as an example. 1 bunch of bananas is around $1.31, give or take depending on how many pounds you get. Strawberries this week were 2 pints for $4 and I got a pineapple for $2.99 at the farmer’s market. Take 2 bananas, 1/4 the pineapple and 1/2 the pint of strawberries, freeze them. Put them in your Vitamix or your banana ice cream maker with a little frozen yogurt or some milk,$3.50 for 1 gallon this week, less than $3 if you drink almond or coconut milk. You can do it separate so you have 3 flavors, or all together like I do to get that nice swirly flavor effect. You’ve made homemade, healthier ice cream and you don’t even have to worry about the extra calories of the chocolate sauce you know you’re going to dump on there. If you freeze the entire bunch, berries and pineapple, you’ve doubled the amount of ice cream (about 2 qts.) for $3.80 more, if you don’t freeze them, you still have fruit left over for smoothies, pineapple whips or fresh toppings on your cereal.
  • My husband is addicted to Diet Coke. It cost him $7.99 for a 20 pack! If he drank water or tea we’d have saved tons! I only drink water with a squirt of lemon, lime, or oranges, whatever is in the fridge, it’s free almost everywhere, oh and I don’t buy bottled water at home, I just have a filtering pitcher.  When I want something fizzy I drink kombucha tea (my favorite is lemon ginger). You can make this yourself; but, eww it’s just not for me. One bottle is $3 for 2 servings, still a little high for my taste, but sometimes you just need some fizz and it’s worth it to not have to grow that THING in my kitchen; just google it, you’ll see what I’m talking about.
  • Chips! Chips are $5 a bag now – shame! Some of the best tasting chips you can make at home. Take you some flour tortillas, $2.79, cut them up into strips, toss in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and cracked black pepper and bake at 450 for about 10 minutes. So crispy! So tasty! Great with salsa, or hummus or even on top of soup. I also like to get red potatoes $2.99 and slice them very, very thin. Spritz them with olive oil spray, salt and pepper them and cook them the same way. These are very good. Lastly, cheese! Put down some parchment paper, put down finely shredded cheddar or Monterrey jack ($3.39 pre-shredded)in a little circle and cook in the oven til they are bubbly brown. When they cool, they will crisp like chips.

If I would have taken my own advice and looked at real food v. processed, I would have seen that I could have saved us $52 on JUNK in these four categories and a whole lot of calories and chemicals. It looks like it is really IS better to buy/eat real food after all.

 

CD Ladders, Do They Still Work?

CD ladders use to be a good way of saving funds and gaining more interest on those funds than you would with just a simple savings account. CD ladders combine the best of both long term earnings and more frequent access to a portion of your money. If you’ve never heard of a CD ladder, I’ll give you the basic run-down. Say your bank offers CD’s of up to five years and you have $20,000 total to invest. Instead of purchasing one CD for $20,000, you will split your money up.  $4,000 per each year. At the end of year one when your CD has matured, you can either use your money or renew into your longest term CD, or in this case a 5 year. Reinvesting into the longer term will give you a better return on your money and the next year you can still access the same amount.

This use to be a great way to get a higher rate of return on your money and still have access to it. Many people, otherwise, don’t usually choose the longer-term CD’s because they don’t want to tie up their money for so many years and if they do have to close them early suffer large penalty fees. But is it really worth it now with interest rates so low? Do CD’s ladders still offer a greater “best of both worlds” approach?

Let’s consider the highest rate banks of today. If we use Ally bank’s rates there are several options to choose from, let’s pretend you have $5,000 you won’t need for at least 5 years, maybe longer, You could make a ladder like this:

  • Rung 1: $1,000 in an 11 month No Penalty CD at .87% APR
  • Rung 2: $1,000 in a 2 year Raise your Rate CD (with 1 opportunities to raise the rate over the next 2 years if the APR changes) at 1.30% APR
  • Rung 3: $1,000 in a 3 year High Yield CD at 1.50%
  • Rung 4: $1,000 in a 4 year Raise your Rate CD (with 2 opportunities to raise the rate over the next 4 years if the APR changes) at 1.40%
  • Rung 5: $1,000 in a 5 year High Yield CD at 2.00%

With the ladder approach, your total earned interest after 5 years is $435

Now say you just took that $5000 and put it into a regular savings account for 5 years at the current 1.00%: total earned interest is $251.25.

However, the total earned interest putting $5,000 in a 5 year CD is $525.84, which is obviously more than making a CD ladder.  If you had to early access your money, you will pay a penalty of about 150 days of interest in a 5 year term.

So what is the answer? Are CD ladders worth the fuss of re-upping every year or should you just “Set it and forget it” as some say. If you are positive you won’t need that money for the next five years, I would suggest just putting all your eggs into one basket; but then on the other hand, who can ever be sure they won’t need money? Murphy is not anyone’s friend, you never know when your house catches fire and you need that money (or some other horrible scenario) so I guess it just comes down to situations and choices, you decide.

 

 

 

 

 

20 Pros and Cons for Blue Apron, a Meal Subscription Service

blue apron
Courtesy of Blue Apron

A few years ago, I was using E-mealz as an alternative way to keep my grocery costs down and to have tasty new recipes to add to my repertoires. I have gone back and forth, several different times with E-mealz, each time finding the recipes tasty and budget friendly, but I never could seem to stick with the program. There were many recipes that didn’t fit our style of cooking, or there were ingredients my family just wouldn’t be caught dead eating and so, for us, it just wasn’t a cost I could continue to pay, be it ever so affordable.

Recently, I have ordered a subscription to Blue Apron on a friend’s recommendation. My friend is a bachelor, and is also quite a financial guru himself. I wouldn’t call him cheap at all, (which worried me a little)  so I didn’t know if Blue Apron was right for my family or cost-efficient. However, he and I both have sophisticated pallets (we are foodies by heart) and he swore by their recipes so I thought I’d give it a shot, they charge by the week and you can cancel anytime so I order the 2 meals a week family plan.

How Blue Apron works is they ship you fresh ingredients and recipes for either 2 or 4 meals a week. I will say the prices are not NEARLY as friendly as E-Mealz, but you are of course paying a convenience fee of having the food shipped to you, plus you are getting a high quality product with organic produce, grass fed meats, etc.  I am not sure what their profit margin is, but it can’t be outrageous with the quality of products you are getting, so I definitely don’t feel like it’s a rip-off considering you are paying about $8.62 a person per meal, which includes your organic food, nice recipe cards printed on colored card-stock in sturdy boxes filled with several ice packs so your food stays fresh. I am not an affiliate to Blue Apron, this is just my opinion and my list of pros and cons of a Blue Apron subscription.

Here are 20 Pros and Cons of a Blue Apron subscription:

  1. Pro: The quality is fantastic and the recipes are out of this world good.
  2. Pro: It is convenient, it’s shipped to your house every week at the same time and same day.
  3. Con: If you choose a weekend ship date and out of town for the weekend, your box sits there all weekend. (Bonus Pro: I get mine on Saturday, when I get home on Sunday afternoon, it is still cold).
  4. My grocery bill has stayed at about $250 bi-weekly (every two weeks) including my Blue Apron and my other groceries. Pro: I am spending on average $3.00 less a meal than when I eat out and I have left-overs for lunch the next day. Con: I am spending about $3.00 more a meal than what I usually purchase at the grocery store.
  5. Pro: We are eating more produce and less processed foods, hence the difference in grocery prices.
  6. Pro: My 11 year old is actually eating vegetables now
  7. Pro: My 11 year old will actually try anything from Blue Apron, and with words like “kale” and “hominy” and “Bulgar wheat” on the ingredient list, that’s saying a lot. *hint, I don’t tell him what it is until he tries it.
  8. Pro: I haven’t found a single recipe we didn’t love (minus sweet potato salad; none of us like sweet potatoes).
  9. Pro: There is so much variety, I’ve yet to receive the same thing twice.
  10. Pro: They send each ingredient you’ll need, including the staples. Con: I now have ten heads of garlic sitting next to the stove. Pro: It has gotten to be a joke and I am sending them home with friends so we have fun with it.
  11. Pro: My husband and I enjoy cooking together, spending more time together and we are learning a more efficient way to cook.
  12. Con: I only get two meals a week and still have to go to the store for other groceries.
  13. Pro: I buy less at the store and I buy fresher ingredients and healthier recipes at the store simply based on the influence of Blue Apron meals.
  14. Pro: All their recipes are on their website for free, I print several off and buy the ingredients at the store to make them for the rest of the week.
  15. Pro for them, con for you: Not all their ingredients are available at your local store so you have to substitute.
  16. Pro for you, Con for them: If you buy all the ingredients to their recipes at the store it is a little cheaper than having it shipped to your house. *Don’t be a jerk and just use their recipes without subscribing, it’s a little like stealing.
  17. Pro: Both my husband and I have lost weight. I can download the recipes into My Fitness Pal app and it will calculate the macros and calories for me, I’ve yet to have a meal that didn’t fit into my daily health goals. This may not be the case for certain dietary needs, but with fresh sides and lean meats, it’s good for most people.
  18. Pro: You can mark dietary restrictions on the website, my husband and son will not eat fish, so they don’t send us any fish. Bonus Con: You can’t mark sweet potatoes, just thought I’d throw that in there!
  19. Pro: They will send you a return shipping label for recycling boxes if you so choose. They ask that you ship two boxes together and give you the instructions on how they would like them shipped.
  20. Pro: They have plans for families of four and for the single folks/couples. Con: If you have five kids to feed, it’s probably not worth your money.
Panko Crusted Chicken with Pea tips and Sugar Snap Beans with Pink Lemon Vinagrette
Panko Crusted Chicken with Pea tips and Sugar Snap Beans with Pink Lemon Vinaigrette

If you would like to try a free meal on Blue Apron, feel free to send me your email address and I’ll send you an invite. Right now I can give away five free meals, first come first serve. Also, I am attaching this link to the press page of Blue Apron if you’d like to read more about their company.

Discovering You’re Bad at Advice

Recently a family member of mine was struggling financially, she wanted to make a big purchase to the tune of 10 Grand. Because of the same money mistakes we all make, debt, consolidate debt, make more debt, try to consolidate again, keep trying to get more debt to cover the debt we’ve already gotten, etc. this family member was unable to get a loan for the purchase without a $400 a month payment, which who can afford with $300 a month minimum payments on already outstanding credit cards and a mortgage as big as an elephant and a measly job that only covers part of the ever growing debt monster. Then you have banks who literally try to talk you into a second mortgage to pay for a debt consolidation/big purchase loan. No! No! No! No!

Now my answer was simple, just don’t make this big purchase, it’s a want, sort of a need, but a need that could wait.   Well, that wasn’t the answer she wanted to hear. So I suggested she sell some things, cars, boats, golf carts, motorcycles, you know all those toys you just had to have; hell! Sell your house, pay off the mortgage monster, use any extra to pay for braces, pay off your credit cards, whatever. Rent something for a couple of months, then buy a new house later when you’ve learned your lesson. None of that made any sense to her.  I realized then I didn’t know anything about people or how to give them advice.

Remember “Little Shop of Horrors”? Remember how Seymour fed his little plant his blood until he had no more blood, then began to kill people to feed his plant. He would look at it and see a sweet little plant softly saying “Feed me Seymour”, then one day when that plant tried to eat his girlfriend, he realized he loved her more than that stupid monster of a plant and stopped feeding it. Well, everyone has a monster they feed money until they have to sacrifice themselves and eventually others to feed it and no matter how many times you beg them to stop feeding it and while they still love that little monster, you are wasting your breath giving them advice on how to feed their monster.

The real advice you should give them is the need to evaluate which relationship is more important, the “no more debt, spend less than you make” plant that needs watered twice a year and doesn’t cost you a thing, or the money monster plant that is debt, debt and more debt to get what you want right now and pay with blood, sweat and sacrifice later. Allow them to see the money monster for what it is, an unhealthy, selfish monster that will eventually force sacrifice of something on you like relationships, homes, and even big purchases for your kids. Because eventually you’ll run out of bodies to feed to it (in this case bankers, loan officers, friends, family will stop giving you money) and you’ll have nothing left to give it.

So now I hope I know a little bit of something about advice and I hope I can give it better. But for now, that family member is still feeding her money monster to the tune of an extra $300 a month, so I guess when she runs out of bodies, she will be forced to switch to the no more debt plant. I guess it’s a lesson we must all learn at some point.