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#881 Halloween Savings: How To Save 50% On Halloween Candy

22 Oct

This money saving tip takes planning and patience. And a secret stash hideout that no one can find.

Step 1: Hit the post-Halloween 50% off sales on candy on November 1. (The earlier you hit them the better the choices.)
50% off halloween candy discount

Step 2: Check the expiration date to make sure the candy will be good NEXT Halloween. Check… (I did indeed buy this candy and plan this post a year ago…)
halloween candy expiration date

Step 3: Sample a few… just to make sure they’re good.
halloween candy lemonheads

Step 4: Stash the candy in a cool, dry place where NO ONE will find the secret cache.

Step 5: Hand out candy when next year’s Halloween rolls around. Sample a few just to make sure they’re still good (they are!). No one is the wiser as you hand out the candy. Repeat yearly.
halloween candy in hand

 

Bonus: You don’t have to shop for candy last minute.

It has to be Halloween candy because many candies that are not usually individually wrapped are individually wrapped for handing out. Other holidays have themed candy that makes it obvious that you are handing out the wrong holiday’s candy.

Alternatives to handing out candy to massive amounts of ungrateful children:

Keep your house dark and hope no one comes by.

Hide in the bushes with a really scary costume and jump out to scare people away.

Personally, being cheap on this one is easier than the previous two. You can still enjoy the holiday and it eliminates my pet peeve that holiday candy is always 50% off after the fact. Well, I just solved that problem for you. You’re welcome. You can use this tip for any holiday. Just don’t let anyone know that it’s your game plan. They probably will tell others to avoid your treats on the holidays. Come on people, sugar never goes bad!

#882 Halloween Savings: Don’t Let That Pumpkin Go To Waste

21 Oct

jack o lanternAfter carving up your Halloween jack o’ lantern, do you:

A. Let it rot on your lawn or doorstep until it is a disgusting heap of orange and black moldy goo.

B. Throw it away.

C. Compost it.

D. Roast it for pumpkin puree.

I pick D.

So this money-saving idea may be bordering on cheap, but I like to think of it as Native American resourceful. As in nothing goes to waste. I thought my mom was seriously cheap and weird when she did this, but then I moved to Europe where they don’t have pumpkin puree in a can. But they do sell pumpkin slices in the grocery store. That’s when I started to roast my own pumpkin, and my mom’s crazy ways seemed a little less crazy.

Please note: Pumpkins go moldy very quickly so this has to be done within 24 hours of carving to be safe. This means, don’t carve the Halloween pumpkin until the day of or day before Halloween. Who really uses a jack o’ lantern for more than Halloween night anyways?

Step 1: Discard the top with the stem and cut the pumpkin in half.
halloween pumpkin and top

halloween pumpkin cut in half

Step 2: Cut the pumpkin into even-sized cubes and trim the dried-out layer. Don’t worry about trimming the rind off, leave it during roasting.

halloween pumpkin cubes
Step 3: Place the cubes on a cookie tray, rind side down, and brush or spray with canola oil. Roast at 350 degrees until a skewer inserts easily into the cubes, about 40 minutes.

halloween pumpkin roasted
Step 4: Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then trim off the rind with a butter knife and place soft cubes in a bowl. Mash to desired consistency. Or place in food processor for a smoother finish.

mashed halloween pumpkin
Alternatives: Steam on the stove top or cook in a pressure cooker (the rind should be removed for these methods). The end result will be more watery. I like the drier finish of roasting, plus it adds a nice flavor.

Step 5: Measure into 1 or 2 cup servings and freeze what is not used right away.

halloween pumkpin puree

How this Halloween money-saving tip actually saves you money: From one average-priced $6 pumpkin, you can get roasted pumpkin seeds (isn’t that the best part of carving a pumpkin), a Halloween decoration and pumpkin puree. A small pumpkin (that in my case was actually $4.50)  yielded exactly 7 cups of pumpkin puree. libby's pumpkin pureeOne can of premium brand puree is $1.98. Generic brands are $0.99 – $1.20 per can. One can of pumpkin puree is 2 cups. That means my 7 cups is equal to 3 1/2 cans of store-bought puree or $6.93 worth of premium brand or $3.37 – $4.20 worth of generic brand puree. The premium brand canned pumpkin puree cost is more than the original cost of the pumpkin. The generic brand cost is slightly less than the original cost of the pumpkin. And that’s not factoring in that this would be the third use of the single purchase of a pumpkin.

Additional benefits of turning your jack o’ lantern into pumpkin puree:

  • No concerns about BPA in canned goods
  • Pumpkins are packed with nutrients namely beta-carotene just like orange carrots. The fresher the pumpkin, the better the nutrients so making your own means it’s fresh and hasn’t been sitting around, exposed to extreme temps to kill bacteria during manufacture and other practices that kills food nutrients.

Your regular jack o’ lanterns might not be the best flavor choice, but there are a huge variety of pumpkins. If you get one from a farm stand or farmer’s market, the grower may be able to tell you more about the richer-flavored pumpkins to choose from.

What to do with all this roasted pumpkin?
If you’re Euro, you’ll go savory with pumpkin soup, pumpkin ravioli or pumpkin risotto.
If you’re American, you’ll go sweet with pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread or pumpkin muffins. I once made killer pumpkin cheese cake and pumpkin creme brulee.

The best part is that Thanksgiving is just around the corner and you’ll be able to wow the guests with tales of home-roasted pumpkin pie.

#886 Pet Savings: Adopt A Pet

28 May

adopted kitten

Caution: Cuteness ahead. Photo via flickr by Pargon.

Your first expense when you decide to get a pet will be purchasing said pet. If you’re looking at getting a goldfish and a bowl then the expenses aren’t going to be great, but when it comes to cats and dogs, pedigreed pets can run anywhere from $500 to $1,000. While adopting a pet is not free, it will be significantly less than buying from a breeder. And many pets for adoption are pure breed and pedigreed.

Adoption costs run from $100 to $350 depending on the cat or dog, which is a fraction of the breeder price. Adoption costs cover spaying and neutering, shots, a clean bill of health from the vet and any foster care expenses. So the fee is a fair estimate of what it cost the shelter or adoption service to bring the pet into your home.

Whether you are a cat or dog person will determine what you get, but here are some thoughts on both cats and dogs. And thoughts on other pets.

Cats and kittens:

  • Cheaper than dogs to adopt, cats and kittens are plentiful in shelters. Spring and summer is high kitten season. Other times of the year it might be harder to find a kitten to adopt. Lots of older cats from are also available for adoption. Either option is great as kittens and cats come already housebroken. They somehow just know how to use the litter box or go outside. All they need is a little love for a lot of reward. My family and I have adopted  many cats over the years with no issues.
  • Pedigree doesn’t matter. While pedigree does determine the relative personality of a dog, all cats pretty much act like cats… With slight variances in friendliness or leave-me-aloneness, which is usually affected by upbringing from the kitten stage. A well-loved and handled kitten will be a friendlier cat than one that was left alone. After 8-12 weeks of age, the more a cat is left alone, the less it will like people or be cuddly. This is based on personal upbringing and observation of many cats not scientific study, but I think it’s pretty accurate. A pedigreed cat makes no sense to me when all cats and kittens look cute and cuddly no matter what. There are pedigreed, older cats available for adoption, who may very well have been well loved for a long time.
  • You can get a cat or kitten for free if you find an abandoned cat or kittens. This however is a tough situation because they have not been vetted for health like in a shelter and are not spayed or neutered. Both vet bills and spaying or neutering would add up. You’re better off taking a stray to the closet shelter. Or the vet. Both can check for microchips to find the owner, and let you know about its health. Abandoned cats and dogs can have serious issues with worms, mites and fleas. If you want to adopt the cat, you can arrange it with the shelter.
  • You should always spay or neuter. Unless you are a breeder, you should spay or neuter your cat or kitten before you have a litter of surprises on your hands. Male cats are territorial if they are not fixed.
puppies for adoption

Looking at puppies to adopt is hazardous to your heart. Photo via flickr by jeffreyw.

Dogs and puppies:

  • Puppies might be harder to find for adoption in certain areas. There are some areas of the world that are overflowing with stray puppies, and some areas where you can’t find a stray animal anywhere. In the US, Southern states like Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas have large overflows of strays. In places like the Northeast, where there are fewer strays, adoption agencies will bring puppies up from the southern states for adoption. In Europe, places like Italy, Spain and Romania have large volumes of strays and agencies in less stray-prone countries work to bring in puppies for adoption. If you are adopting by bringing a puppy from a high stray area to a low stray area, then the costs will be greater because of transport and care. But if you are set on getting a puppy versus an older dog, this may be the only way to get a puppy age dog.
  • Pedigreed dogs are plentiful. The benefit of adopting an older dog is not only that they’ll most likely already be trained, house broken and socialized, but many are pedigreed with papers from families who bought the dog only to give it up later. If you are set on a certain breed there are breed specific rescue agencies that place pure breed dogs with adoptive families. You can Google the breed’s name along with the word rescue to find breed-specific rescue agencies and opportunities. Most dogs will be from 6 months old to several years old. Pedigrees in dogs will guarantee a certain trajectory of behavior, energy level and other traits.
  • Dogs require a lot more work than cats. Cats mostly get put up for adoption because an older person dies and leaves a cat behind or a move requires the cat to be placed somewhere else. Dogs however are given up for adoption because the family or individual who originally bought the dog did not realized how much work a dog is. Or how rambunctious they are. Or they don’t like their kids get knocked over by the dog. This is all because a dog requires way more hands on training, exercise and attention than a cat. Make sure you’re ready for the dog commitment before adopting a dog.

Both dogs and cats:

  • Mutts are healthier. Usually mixed breeds for cats and dogs are healthier because pedigrees have been interbred, resulting in the desired trait as well as a host of potential health problems. Mixed breeds often avoid these pure bred problems because their gene pool is more varied.
  • Pets are always a commitment. Financially, cats and dogs are a commitment that has to be consciously made. Make sure you have the resources to care for and feed your pet. They don’t need a lot but it is an expense. In terms of lifestyle, getting a pet means you’re committing for their life span. Changing apartments or houses if you are a renter should be considered carefully as many places do not accept pets. If behavior problems arise, it is your responsibility to address the issue constructively, not by just getting rid of the animal.

Other types of pets:

  • Guinea pigs, parrots and other pets besides cats and dogs are available to adopt. It might be a bit more rare to find a non-dog or cat to adopt, but it does happen. If you are looking for a pet that is not a dog or cat, it is worth seeing if a shelter has what you’re looking for.
  • Exotic pets are not a good idea. Pets that have been bred for domesticity are fine. Exotic pets are quite a challenge and should not be considered. They are wild animals with special needs. Many are nocturnal, unfriendly and invasive if released in the wild. The Everglades in Florida are being devastated by pythons that were released by owners who didn’t want them after they grew too big or escaped from exotic pet providers. Steer clear of exotic pets.

#890 Think About Your Money Like A Kid

21 May

baby playing

Mom and Dad couldn’t resist this toddler’s request for money.

She said it clearly with an expectant look on her face – “Money.” She had never said the word before. I thought maybe I had misheard. But she repeated it – “money” – with the same expectant look on her face.

Yikes! The kid’s not yet two, and she’s asking me for money. Clearly this toddler expected to receive some money. While I was scraping my jaw off the floor in shock after my child’s first request for money, my husband was dancing around with her. He was ecstatic at her growing vocabulary, impressed with her demand and handing her $1 from his wallet.

“Money, money, money,” my daughter repeated, clutching her dollar bill.

“We’ll have to save it, and you can buy something with your money when you go shopping with Mommy,” I said.

She and Daddy found an acceptable stash spot for safekeeping until the weekend. Come Saturday, which is shopping day, she requested her dollar and retrieved it from her piggy bank.

Now that she was requesting money and receiving some. I’d have to show her how to use her money responsibly.

one dollar bill

What can you get for $1?

“You have one dollar,” I told her. “Whatever you can find for your dollar, you can buy. Something you want. But it has to be a dollar because that’s all you have.”

I dreaded trying to find something for $1 (what about tax?). So we made a stop at Goodwill. I knew they had lots of $0.99 kid items. With my 10% discount card, it would take care of the tax question.

My daughter found a pack of Crayola washable markers and immediately said, “uh huh, uh huh, uh huh,” and clutched the package tightly to indicate that this was it. No need to look further. And it was the on sale color of the week, meaning it was 50% off of the marked $0.99 price. This girl could already spot a deal. I was proud. With my discount card, the markers were $0.47.

I had her get her dollar from her pocket and hand it to the cashier. She parted with the money in exchange for the markers with no protest, much to my relief. I told her the change was hers to keep.

As we progressed through grocery shopping, I had promised to get her a dog coloring book to go with her markers. “Wouldn’t it be nice if she could get it on her own instead,” I thought. We shuffled through the whole coloring book display to find the coloring book with only dogs. The last one left had a box cutter slash through the cover from when the stock clerk had opened the box. It was $1. I saw how this could work.

“Here’s the coloring book. Mommy will bargain so you can buy it with your money,” I told her.

At the register, I used my usual friendly and casual mention (with a hint of concern) to point out the box cut cover.

“I’ll mark it down to $0.50,” said the cashier.

Score! At $0.53 for the coloring book and $0.47 for the markers, it was exactly $1 for my daughter’s first purchase. No extra money from Mommy, just a little bargaining help to compensate for her limited vocabulary. I’ll never be so lucky again. But the whole process got me to thinking about how I thought about money when I was a kid, and how I want to teach my daughter responsible money habits.

Here are kid thoughts on money that would help anyone:

  •  The money you have is it. There is a $1 in your hand. There are lots of items out there that you want but only the items that are $1 are available to you to buy. No credit, no extra indulgences. Pick an item that matches up with the money in your pocket, and you’re done. This is perfect for daily purchases and everyday necessities.
  • Put the money away for safekeeping. You don’t spend your money right away. You put it in a safe place and retrieve it when you’re ready to buy what you want. You wait patiently. Occasionally you can take a peek at the money to make sure it’s still there. But no touching it until it’s time to spend it.
  • You can spend or save. You have money. You can choose to spend it, or save it. If you spend it, you don’t have any money left. If you save it, you can get something bigger once your money accumulates. Or you can keep saving like a squirrel storing nuts, planning for the long winter.
  • You have to earn your own. Even if parents give you money, it has to be earned. For chores, for working a “real” job or, when you’re not quite two, for impressing your parents with your vocabulary.

I can see a whole thesis being born based on this philosophy. All I needed to know about money, I learned in preschool…

#901 Know What Fruits And Vegetables To Buy Organic

30 Apr

organic strawberries and grapesOrganic fruits and vegetables can cost twice as much or more than conventional fruits and vegetables. Buying organic can throw your grocery budget off every month if you don’t organize your shopping to focus on the most important produce to buy organic. There are lots of fruits and vegetables that you can skip buying organic, and some that are no-brainers to buy organic. The best way to organize your organic shopping is to use the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists. The lists take the data from pesticide tests run by the US Department of Agriculture and the federal Food and Drug Administration to rank fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residues from high to low. High pesticide residue equals “dirty,” and low pesticide residue equals “clean.” Focus your organic shopping on the “dirty” fruits and vegetables to reduce your chemical exposure and live a healthier life. I do most of my shopping at a regular grocery store, where organic selections are often limited but getting better. At health food stores or places like Whole Foods, organic is easier to find, but more expensive. Look into buying bulk to save money through a local coop or health food store for the dirtiest fruits and vegetables.

Here are the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen, which change every year based on yearly pesticide data, and some tips and alternatives. The EWG’s ratings are based on how people would normally eat the fruits or vegetables, so washing doesn’t make a difference. Not washing before eating actually means there are more chemicals than the ratings suggest.

These are the 2013 “dirty” fruits and vegetables you should make an effort to buy organic when available and the budget allows:

organic apples

Organic apples aren’t as big or pretty but they’re much safer to eat to reduce pesticide exposure.

#1 Apples. Number one on the list – EEK! I don’t find many organic apples available for purchase in the grocery store. You’re better off buying organic apples locally when apples are in season. My mom used to buy organic apples in bulk from the health food store to save money and get organic. Apples, if stored properly, can be kept fresh for a long time. The best thing for non-organic apples is to wash, peel and core as the pesticides reside in the peel and in the stem/core area in the highest concentrations. I usually only use apples for purposes that require peeling and coring. If you can’t find organic apples, go with another, lower pesticide fruit for snacking or use apples for pies where peeling and coring is a given. Apples are on the “dirty” list year after year.

#2 Celery. Organic celery really doesn’t cost much more than conventional celery so it’s worth the extra $1 for the organic version as it’s number 2 on the “dirty” list. It’s easy to find an organic celery option in the grocery store.

organic tomatoes #3 Cherry tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes are separate from tomatoes, which are an in-between fruit (neither dirty or clean). You can make your own judgement call on the in-between fruits. Organic tomatoes are easy to find and don’t cost much more than conventional tomatoes. Tomatoes are also incredibly easy to grow yourself. I like to get plants that are already started by the green house for you. Tomatoes don’t need much space, just a lot of sun, so any apartment with a sunny, outdoor spot has potential for tomato growing. If you take good care of them, they’ll produce like crazy August through September. Tomatoes are best in season anyways, so avoid out-of-season tomatoes. Tomatoes from hot houses are likely to have fewer pesticides because the environment is better controlled.

#4 Cucumbers. Another super easy crop to grow yourself, although they need more space than tomatoes. If you’ve ever known anyone who’s grown cucumbers, you know they’re always trying to foist their bountiful harvest on anyone who will accept a bag of cucumbers. You don’t need more than a few plants for lots of yield. Alternatively, organic cucumbers are a grocery store staple and not hugely more expensive than conventional cucumbers.

#5 Grapes. Grapes are always too hard and sour or one their way out when I test them in the store. Buying in season is best, as it’s the imported varieties for year-round consumption that are the worst pesticide offenders. Local grapes are safer. It’s hard to find organic grapes in stores.

#6 Hot peppers. If you’re growing some tomatoes, why not have a hot pepper plant too? They take up little space and are just as easy to grow yourself as tomatoes. They can be dried for out-of-season use. I don’t see too many organic hot pepper varieties in the grocery store.

#7 Nectarines (imported). Imported varieties of nectarines, like imported varieties of grapes, have higher pesticide concentrations. Buy local or organic. Sweet fruits are not only loved by humans, but also ants and other insects, so pesticides ensure the fruit is blemish-free, bug-free and perfect, but the thin-skinned fruit absorbs the chemicals easily into the flesh. I’ve never seen organic nectarines available where I live for purchase in the grocery store.

#8 Peaches. Another sweet fruit beloved by bugs, peaches are not much better than nectarines. If you can’t find organic, only buy in-season and limit your intake. Like nectarines, organic peaches for sale in the grocery store are scarce.

potatoes#9 Potatoes. What passes for a potatoes these days is sad. There are so many varieties, colors, tastes and textures to potatoes that reducing the plant to a bland, white version should be a crime. Potatoes have such variety that Peruvians can have a complete diet covering all needed nutrients from potatoes alone. It’s something like close to 4,000 varieties of potatoes grow in Peru. Potatoes also get a lot of pesticides and fungicides doused on them. If you have outdoor space, growing your own potatoes is satisfying and can open a whole world of varieties. I like to buy local for organic potatoes. The taste difference is mind blowing. I live in a state that is a proud producer of potatoes, so organic options are easy to come by and worth the little extra money. The mealy, white non-organic potatoes aren’t worth buying anyways. It’s a pity to peel a potato to try to reduce pesticide exposure as most of the nutrients are in the peel.

#10 Spinach. Spinach is quick-growing and packed with nutrients. Get organic greens when you can, or grow your own in a window box or garden if you have space.

organic strawberries

Organic strawberries taste a lot better.

#11 Strawberries. I’ve got to admit, organic strawberries are one of the most expensive organic produce items to buy relative to the conventional price. Organic strawberries are often twice as expensive. But don’t let the price stop you. I find non-organic strawberries to taste chemically, not like strawberries at all or worse, tasteless. Unlike conventional strawberries, organic strawberries are tasty. The huge difference in taste is enough to make me buy organic. The fact that strawberries are a “dirty” fruit is more convincing evidence to buy organic. Make strawberries a luxury, in-season purchase for minimal impact on the budget.

#12 Sweet bell peppers. I’ve got to say there is a taste difference in organic sweet bell peppers as well. Organic versions of sweet bell peppers taste better to me than conventional versions. I’ve made it a habit to buy organic sweet bell peppers, which are easily available in the grocery store.

#13 Kale/collard greens. So there are so many contaminated fruits and vegetables the EWG decided to add two bonus “dirty” vegetables. Greens in general should be bought organic or grown yourself.

#14 Summer squash. The second “bonus” vegetable on the dirty list is another bumper crop plant that has gardeners’ everywhere looking for willing takers for end-of-summer bounty. Eat them in-season from your neighbor’s garden if he didn’t use pesticides or chemical fertilizers. If you have enough space, the plants are huge, but generally yield a lot of produce.

Now for the “clean” fruits and vegetables as advised by the EWG. You can skip buying these organic if you want to save money on your grocery bill.

asparagus

Photo via flickr by chidorian.

#1 Asparagus. Asparagus is in season right now, so it’s great to be able to buy conventional asparagus with little worry. Asparagus tends to be more expensive than other vegetables so any savings in cost is welcome.

#2 Avocados. Pretty much anything that grows high in a tree with a thick peel is pretty safe and has low pesticide use. I go organic if the conventional ones are rock hard, and the organic ones are nicely ripe at purchase. But there’s no need to spend the extra money on organic avocados.

#3 Cabbage. Cabbage seems to have a generational and cultural divide. It’s most often thought of as poor people’s food. It’s cheap and packed with nutrients, so if you’re not eating cabbage, you should. And best of all, it’s clean, so non-organic will be even friendlier on the budget. I feel weird being a young person who buys cabbage, but it’s delicious with pork and can be a great leftover item to have at breakfast or lunch.

#4 Cantaloupe. As a fruit with a thick rind, cantaloupe passes the test for low pesticide residue. Cantaloupe is best during the summer months.

#5 Sweet corn. Corn makes the “clean” list, so add it into summer barbecues at bargain prices.

eggplants

Photo via flickr by graibeard.

#6 Eggplant. I used to hate eggplant. If you know how to cook it, it’s amazing. Even if it’s not on your regular grocery list, conventional eggplants are relatively free of pesticides.

#7 Grapefruit. Thick rind, grows high in a tree. Clean. Check.

#8 Kiwi. This fuzzy fruit native to New Zealand is also a clean fruit. Nice.

#9 Mango. Holy crap, mangoes are good when they’re ripe. They apply to the thick peel, high tree rule of clean fruits.

#10 Mushrooms. This one is good to keep in mind because I’m always tempted to get the more expensive, organic mushrooms. Mushrooms are in fact quite free of pesticides.

#11 Onions. The biggest challenge with onions are finding ones that aren’t too old when you buy them. The stinkier the onion smell when you chop, the older the onion. Softness and the middle growing a green shoot are also indications of a well-aged onion, which is not ideal for cooking. All those problems aside, you don’t have to worry about buying organic.

#12 Papaya. I hardly ever eat papaya, maybe I should. The whole tree/rind rule is also applicable to papayas.

pineapple

Photo via flickr by ECohen.

#13 Pineapple. I love pineapples. They’re best to buy on sale when they’re the cheapest and ripest. No need to go organic with pineapples.

#14 Sweet peas (frozen). What about fresh? Fresh are an “in-between” vegetable. The season for fresh peas is so short, frozen is the way to go most of the year anyways.

#15 Sweet potatoes. There has been a huge rise in sweet potatoes consumption over the past few years. It’s nice to know that unlike potatoes, sweet potatoes are clean.

What about all the in-between fruits and vegetables? The EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen are only for the “dirtiest” and “cleanest” fruits and vegetables. The full list is 51 fruits and vegetables long with differentiations for imported and domestic.

You can make your own judgement call on other fruits and vegetables. If you go with a rule that thin-skinned fruits like pears, cherries and berries tend to have more pesticide residue and ones with thicker rinds are cleaner, than you can start to sort out what you’ll buy organic and what you’ll buy conventional. Vegetables are a bit more all over the place. If it’s not much more to buy organic, and it fits in the grocery budget, I’ll get the organic kind. Things like carrots and beans are some of the quickest easiest crops to grow yourself. You can view the full list of the dirty to clean fruits and vegetables here.

If you’re panicked about actually remembering all this, there is an app that you can download for a quick reminder or a wallet size card to print out to take with you. During your grocery list organization, you can check back with the list.

Don’t forget about organic versions of processed fruit like raisins, apple sauce or frozen fruits and vegetables. If the fruit or vegetable is “dirty” try to get any version of it organic, if the fruit or vegetable is “clean, you can get the conventional, processed version.

Besides growing your own, foraging is a great way to get organic fruits for free.

 

 

 

#948 Calculate Six Months To Adjust to New Financial Circumstances

4 Jan

Cutting expenses takes a bit of habit adjustment in practice. All photo via flickr by Images_of_Money.

Cutting expenses takes a bit of habit adjustment in practice. All photo via flickr by Images_of_Money.

Forget three months of emergency savings…you need six months. Not only does it give you a bigger cushion, but I’ve found it takes about six months to adjust to a new financial reality. You might know your finances have changed. You might have reconfigured your budget. You might of spent hours with your sweaty fingers clutched to a calculator. But even then, what you know and what your brain and body want to do are two different things. Your behavior doesn’t usually do an about face overnight. Ingrained habits and the myriad of daily tasks that you do almost unconsciously don’t adjust as quickly as the cash flow stopped. Whether it was planned or unplanned.

Don’t you hate it when you switch the silverware drawer, and you spend the next few weeks opening the old drawer expecting to find spoons when instead you find dishtowels? Even months later, you may occasionally open that drawer expecting to find the pie server. It’s the same thing with spending and money habits. At first you still expect to do the same things, when things aren’t the same anymore. And slowly, you adjust. Month by month, your financial habits and brain become reconfigured to the new way of doing things. That’s of course, if your conscious of what a new financial reality means. If you’re in denial and never change, then you’re one of those people written up in the news who used to have six-figure salaries and still have a maid, a nanny and a lawn guy even though they’ve been unemployed for a year. So don’t be those people.

Put money in the bank for six months of living expenses.

Put money in the bank for six months of living expenses.

If something in your life happens that affects your income like losing your job, moving to a single income from a double income or long-term illness, be prepared with six months reserve cash to cover your expenses while you recover. Six months will give you time to find another job or launch a new career. You’ll barely get a job interview in three months. Six months will allow you to embrace your new financial outlook. Three months will leave you in a panic that you didn’t cancel the cable bill as soon as you lost your job.

Six months will allow you to enjoy your switch to being a stay-at-home mom or dad while learning what one income instead of two really means in practice. Three months will barely have your kid sleeping through the night while you’re up anyways worried about money.

Six months will allow you to get answers about your illness and a treatment plan so you can return to work or make other plans. Three months will leave you stressed, which is not good for healing.

Bottom line: six months reserve cash for life events that affect your income. And six months for your brain to reconfigure habits to fit into the new financial circumstances. By the end of six months, you’ll have gotten so good at the new financial model, that even if you do go back to work or get a new job, you can save more money and use your cash more wisely because you’ve gotten used to the adjustments. You probably won’t even notice them anymore, but your bank account will.

Having a planned income change is easier to plan for ahead of time. Start earlier than you need to.

Having a planned income change is easier to plan for ahead of time. Start earlier than you need to.

If the new financial reality is planned, like staying at home after the birth of your child or launching a business, then you can plan even more precisely and practice the money saving measures ahead of time. Why wait for your baby to be born or for your business to be launched to reconfigure your budget? Start living like you’re on one income once you’ve passed the 12-week mark of pregnancy. Start living like you are all-in on your business (a.k.a. a poor entrepreneur) six months to a year before you quit your 9-5 job. That way when the baby comes or the paychecks stop being regular, your confident instead of in a panic.

Saving for six-months of expenses is a big chunk of money. You should have a line item in your budget for it. Take the bare minimum of what you will have to pay: rent or mortgage, utility bills, outstanding debt (pay at least the interest), food, transportation, insurance and childcare (if needed). This will provide you with the basic needs of food and shelter and the ability to continue working or to find work. It will cut out all “superfluous” expenses, which would greatly increase how much you need to save. Add it up and save for that amount while working on alternatives to save money so that you may even spend less than your six months of savings in six months.

Calculate expenses to cover basic needs like food and shelter.

Calculate expenses to cover basic needs like food and shelter.

Six month estimate for a couple with a child living in a house (changes based on geographic location):
Rent/mortgage: $1,300
Utility bills: $350 (electric, gas, phone, heat)
Outstanding debt: $100
Food: $400
Transportation: $200 (gas, maintenance, bus/subway passes)
Insurance: $100
Childcare: $800
Total per month: $3,250
Total for six months: $19,500
Save $500 per month ($250 per working adult): 39 months of savings for six months of emergency cash or just over three years.

Not bad…better than going $19,500 into debt if you are caught unawares. You should keep the money in an account that earns some interest to keep up with inflation and is low risk, while still having it available at a moment’s notice. Your local credit union would probably have some good options or speak to a financial adviser.