Category Archives: Money

Happily Framed

On our cruise last June, my husband and I purchased several pieces of art for investment purposes, and we also won a free piece of art. All together, we ended up with 10 prints to frame. If you have not had anything professionally framed lately, it can be very expensive. Park West, the art vendor, offered to frame each piece for $349 each, but we hoped to find more affordable options that would also give us more control over the choice of materials.

We began getting our worked framed at the beginning of this year. Using three vouchers from a discount site similar to Groupon, we took our first three pieces to a business in Franklin. The work was well done, and I can’t say we were truly disappointed in the price for framing each piece; it was acceptable based on our expectations.

Then, I purchased a Groupon for $100 worth of framing for $40 good at the Plaza Artist Materials on Middleton in Downtown Nashville. In early March, I took our “free” print there for framing, and I was extremely impressed with the work and the price. The piece, which was about the same size as the three framed in Franklin, was framed just as well for half the price of any one of the others.

Feeling comfortable with the work, my husband and I took three pieces of art to be framed.  The work was completed in half the time estimated, and the quality of the framing was as good as before.  All three pieces were framed for $368 using acid free backing and UV protected glass! Below is a picture of my husband and the three pieces as we picked them up.

Photo by Angela Johnson

Photo by Angela Johnson

Quality, Value, and Friendly Staff: I highly recommend Plaza Artist Materials for framing and other art needs.

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Re-think Meat Choices

Read about it here; meat prices are up due to several factors. Many people are cutting back on meat consumption due to the increase in the cost of meat. Why not take this opportunity to choose to cut your meat consumption as a lifestyle change that will be better for your budget, health, environment, and farm animals?

I’m not a vegetarian, although I spent about two years eating vegetarian.  I grew up on a family farm where we raised most of what we ate; we raised our own animals to provide beef, pork, and for a time, poultry. Why, then, you may wonder, do I suggest that you consider reducing meat consumption.

First is the obvious; meat is more expensive than most other foods for which one might shop to feed his or her family. It costs more to produce meat and get it to supermarkets.  Next, there is a reasonable amount of evidence to show that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and grains is needed for health, and meat is needed in small amounts, if at all. Additionally, raising large amounts of animals for human consumption is more detrimental to the environment than raising plant-based foods for human consumption. You can read about this here. Finally, current-day farming is not what it was on our family farm. Animals are abused and mistreated in factory farms. This is something about which I did not know for a long time. I ignorantly assumed that all the meat and poultry in the supermarkets came from farms like the one on which I grew up but were run on a larger scale.  It is nothing like that.  If you want to learn more about factory farms, click here. Please be aware photos may be graphic.

Use the current rise in meat prices to guide you and your family into eating less meat; you will save money while doing good for your health and the environment. When you do eat meat, support local farmers, like Tennessee Grass Fed Farm here in Middle Tennessee, who raise their animals humanely and do not inject them with growth hormones or needless antibiotics.  A dietician told me recently that this meat is better for us – better for our health.  Mr. Baggett’s prices, which include taxes, make his ground beef more affordable that the stuff sold in grocery stores and labeled organic that are still most likely from a factory beef farm much farther away than Tennessee Grass Fed Farm. When you do, not only will you know more about where your food comes from when you buy from local farmers, but you also help farm animals have quality of life and ensure that small farmers are able to earn a living.

Think about it. Research it for yourself. Make the change.

 

 

 

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Filed under Environment, Food, Health, Money

“Shopping” in Our Closet

After moving last May, even though I had purged my closet twice (or was it three times) before moving, there was still too much stuff.  I made a mental promise to myself that things not worn within a year would be eradicated from the walk-in closet the HH and I share. Today, I kept that promise to myself, but I had added benefits beyond having more room in the closet.

Today, as I pulled out everything of mine from our closet to sort through those things to keep and those things to go, I found a few surprises. I was able to “shop” without spending a penny.

Even though I’ve only lost about 6 pounds over the last three or so months, I’ve lost inches – enough inches to begin making a difference.

My first surprise was that a pair of brand new pants still with tags on them purchased  last fall on clearance in hopes that soon I would be able to fit into them now fit!  Yay!  All I have to do is hem them since they were not petites, but what is one to do when there’s a chance to get a $3 pair of pants? It just so happens that I have the perfect top, purchased last summer, to wear with my closet “shopping” discovery.

Next, I found three pair of pants, enjoyed in the past but had been outgrown, that once again fit.  A few other pairs of pants once worn and enjoyed were, to my pleasure, too big for me now. 🙂

Finally, I discovered that a pair of khakis purchased a few years ago in hopes of losing enough weight to wear them, also still with tags on, now zips. It will not take too many more inches for the pants to truly fit, and then I can wear them with pride. You see, this was probably my most excited find of the day because the pants are three (3) sizes smaller than the largest size I got up to before beginning to lose weight and inches.

I may have fewer clothes in the closet, but after today’s “shopping” adventure, I actually have more to wear than I did before. An additional added benefit of purging the closet today is that I now feel inspired to continue on my slow but sure path toward better health since the improvements are literally seen in my clothes.

Have you ever gone “shopping” in your closet? Did you have some happy surprises when you did?

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Uber and Lyft “Ride-Share” Programs

Recently, I’ve tried to learn more about the ride programs of Uber and Lyft, both of which are new to the Nashville area. When I first heard about Lyft, I contemplated checking into being a driver, but I did not follow up on that. Then, I discovered that my cousin by marriage is a Lyft driver locally, so I picked his brain last night.

Buddy confirmed what I had been able to learn about Lyft; it is more relaxed and social in nature. Evidently, he stays busy driving.  I think he said that he spent 10 hours driving people around Nashville one day last week, and he also enjoys using the service himself. From what I can learn online, as does Uber, the company provides additional liability insurance to cover those who ride with Lyft drivers.  I read somewhere else that drivers get 80% of the “donations” for the lift.  To avoid regulatory issues, it is called a donation rather than a fee or charge.  Since all requests for rides and payment of “donations” for rides are handled electronically, there is no paper work to keep or cash to handle, but it does make me wonder if everyone who accepts a lift honestly pays the suggested “donation.”  I’ll have to ask Buddy more about that next time we chat.

Uber seems to be the higher scale of the two, and it even employs professional drivers as well as individuals who just want to earn a little cash in their spare time.  When I visited the web site where individuals may apply to drive for Uber, I felt that my 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid might not be acceptable, but I felt that it would be a perfectly good transportation option should I care to drive for Lyft.

One huge difference that I felt important is that the Uber app apparently gives individuals an estimate of the “donation” expected for the service while Lyft does not.  Yet, both programs provide first-time users with promo codes, and it seems that I missed the band wagon when Uber arrived in Nashville because I could have been signed up for 100 free rides had I known to do so.

I think I will give each program a try as a rider, and I may even give Lyft a try as a driver.

I’d love feedback from anyone who has used either program.

UPDATE April 2, 2014:

In today’s email, I received the following information, which gives rates and service area for Lyft rides in Nashville, Tennessee.

Pricing

The price of your ride is calculated based on a combination of time & distance:

Cost per mile: $1.25
Cost per minute: $0.20
Pickup: $1.25
Trust & Safety fee (?): $1.00
Minimum: $5.00
Cancellation fee: $5.00

Hours

Lyft is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Map

This coverage map shows where Lyft passengers can request rides. Hot Zones are our busiest neighborhoods.

Nashville Coverage Map

 

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Providing Affordable Food While Fighting Food Waste in the U. S.

Do you ever buy and/or use food that is past its “best by” or “use by” date?  I have and I do because I know that those dates are suggestions and have nothing to do with safety.  If the food looks good, smells good, and tastes good, then it is almost always good if it has been stored properly. For example, this morning I ate some perfectly good yogurt with granola that had a “best by” date of December 30, 2013.  If I were going to get sick, I’d be sick by now.

Most stores toss food that has passed its “best by” date into the trash while we have so many people hungry in this country.  According to several sources, about 40% of the food produced in the United States is thrown away each year! Often, stores are afraid to donate the food they are going to toss for fear of a law suit if someone should get sick (over use of law suits is a topic for another day). Harrison Jacobs of Business Insider writes about these issues in his article Boston’s Store for Expired Food Is Looking Like A Better And Better Idea.

One man is standing up to contemporary thinking and has opened a grocery store to sell food that is still good and safe to eat but has passed these non-mandated dates. Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s, is opening the Daily Table to sell edible food only tossed because of dates attached to the food items.  In addition, food will be cooked and served in these stores also.

I think this is a pretty awesome idea myself. What do you think?

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Keeping Food Costs Down

Food costs continue to rise. It is winter time, and Farmers’ Markets will not open again until May. Extreme weather has damaged crops in warmer climates in the U. S., yet I still strive to purchase products grown in America. The HH has worked from home for three months (normally he is only home 2 1/2 days a week), and we are eating in a more healthy way.  All of these factors have caused our food spending to rise dramatically lately.

In the past, I have prided myself on my ability to keep food costs at a level well below the average for households of a similar size, despite the fact that we do not have the ability to have a garden at present.  As I’ve reviewed our recent food spending, it is apparent that I must knuckle down and watch spending. If not, I may blow our food budget in 2014, which would be the first time since the hubby and I have been married.

While saving money, especially on food expenditures, is a common topic, here are some of the strategies I use.

  • Digital coupons, clipped, coupons, or printed coupons (I use the different types of coupons in the order listed)
  • Watching weekly sale adds
  • Using mobile apps to find deals
  • Using Ibotta to get cash back when purchases are made in brick and mortar stores
  • Using ebates when ordering items online
  • Looking for restaurant deals on sites such as Groupon or Living Social
  • Purchase an annual Entertainment book (on sale and with free shipping ONLY)
  • Purchase gift cards at stores that offer points to give as gifts or use for yourself when it is money you would spend anyway at the stores or restaurants
  • Earning cash back from our credit card company if we use our card to pay for food
  • Earning air miles when paying for food when dining out on cards associated with dining rewards accounts
  • Earn points to reduce fuel cost

Using any of these strategies to save money will help, but it is when one is able to combine several of these tools in a single transaction that one will get the most bank for his or her buck.

Ibotta Showing Some of My Rebates Earned

Ibotta App Showing Some of My Rebates Earned

Today, I went to Kroger to pick up a few things I’d left off my list yesterday.  New sales went into effect today, so I had opportunities I did not have yesterday that worked in my favor. One of the things I failed to put on yesterday’s list was toilet tissue. Cottonelle, which is normally $7.49 for a 12-roll pack at Kroger, was on sale for $5.49.  On the package was a manufacturer’s coupon for $1.50 off two packages of Cottonelle. In addition, Kroger had a promotion where items marked and bought in mix or match groups of six received another 50 cents off each item. As I went through the store, it seemed that almost everything on my list was one of the items included in the extra discount offer.  More than that, four of the items I needed were included in Ibotta rebate offers.

How did I come out? (all prices are before sales tax)

  • Each 12-roll package of Cottonelle (regularly $7.49) was purchased for $4.24.
  • Jamba Juice smoothie mix (regularly $3.49) was purchased for $2.49, and I got a $1.00 rebate from Ibotta, so the net cost was $1.49.
  • Bag of Ore Ida Simply Fries (regularly $3.99) was purchased for $2.49, and I got a $.75 rebate from Ibotta, so the net cost was $1.74.
  • Two cans of Simple Truth beans (regularly $1.00 each) were purchased for $1.00 with an e-coupon of a $1.00 when purchasing two cans.

I could continue, but there is no need; you get the idea.

Now, consider that using my cash-back credit card, when the credit card balance is paid in full each month, I am being paid to shop and use our credit card.

Finally, Kroger gives me fuel points – 1 point for every dollar spent, and these points are used to reduce the price of gasoline in 10 cent increments.  The most I have ever used when filling my car is 1,000 points for $1.00 off each gallon of gas I pumped, but I had that many points because Kroger was offering 4x the usual fuel points when purchasing gift cards. At the moment, I could fill my car with gas and pay 30 cents less per gallon than the going rate.

How do you save money on food costs?  Hopefully, I’ve given you some ideas you have not read or heard before.

Bon Appetit!

Angela

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Should Folks Over 50 Keep Investments in the Stock Market?

Photo Credit

Photo Credit

WOW! As is my usual routine since switching to Quicken 2104 for our financial record keeping, I did an electronic morning update, and my eyes about bugged out of my head!  Surely I accidentally clicked on something by mistake and caused an error.  How could our net worth decrease over $5,000 overnight?  Yes, the DOW was down a bit at close yesterday, but it was not down that much.  Why was one of our most steady investment accounts showing such a huge loss?

I don’t know what happened, but the value of this one particular stock, which I have already noted has been steady for us in the past, appeared to have dipped by 67%. While it is still unclear if the information sharing error was due to something in Quicken or the investment firm, we did not “lose” any money.  Hopefully, our accounts are back in order. 🙂

Yes, for the long haul, the stock market has proven good for investments if one is willing to ride out the good with the bad.  It took us a good long while to recover from the losses incurred in 2008.  Luckily, today’s plunge was only significant in one of our investment accounts, but man, that is still a huge hit when we got a late start on saving for retirement and are about 12 to 14 years out from when we hope to retire.

This brings me to my question: Should those of us who are over 50 keep the bulk of our investments in the volatile stock market?  If not, what are better options?  If so, when and how do we decide whether or not the time is right to move our funds out of the market and into safer investment opportunities?

I truly don’t know the answer to these questions, and it may be time for the HH and me to search for an honest and knowledgeable investment counselor.

Do you have any wisdom to share on this subject?

Have a happy and blessed day with plentiful returns on your investments!

Angela

 

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Your Spending Can Bring Radical Changes For Good or Bad

Many of us have issues that are extremely important to us.  For some, it is the desire to bring jobs back to the U. S. that have been moved to other countries, and for others, it is to remove genetically modified organisms from the food we consume. I could spend pages listing possible issues, yet the venues often used to advocate for or against certain actions are the same: using words, spoken or written, or donating to like-minded groups. There is a much stronger weapon at the disposal of those who wish to impact the direction of our society.  It is the way we spend our money.  Thoughtful spending can and will bring about change.

Made_In_USA_Flag_Logo_Printable-1mdYou may have read about my effort to buy American made products when possible.  When it comes to manufactured goods, this is a preference, and when it comes to food products, it is not only a preference but a health necessity from my point of view.

made in China

Recently, our youngest son and his wife were visiting with us, and the three of us went to a local store.  While looking at dog treats, I was showing them how many of the dog treats are made in China. They, as many of you, are well aware of the deaths of pets attributed to tainted treats imported from China. As a part of our conversation I said something to the effect that since those things were manufactured in China, there is no way I am going to buy them.  I try not to buy anything made in China if I can avoid it. A man in a nearby aisle looked at me as if I had two heads.  I thought it was funny.  I don’t know if he thought I was crazy or if he was shocked that I would state my opinion as I did, but it does not matter.  I vote with every dollar I spend, and I think my votes are being counted.

Over the last few months I have read several articles about the trend (and hope) that manufacturing jobs relocated to other countries are finally making a slow return to the U. S.  In Black Enterprise there is an article titled “Will Manufacturing Jobs Return to the US?” It states, “The outsourcing trend that has cost millions of manufacturing jobs in the US is expected to end, according to a global management consulting firm.”  The article goes on to identify reasons why this may be true;  other articles I have read over the past few months also support my belief that businesses are impacted by spending.

Businesses are in business to make money.  If the product being produced is not a making profit (or sufficient profit), then the business is going to seek to find out what changes need to be made in order to make a profit (or greater profit).  If Americans refuse to buy a product, in this example products made in China, then eventually businesses will come to understand that if they wish to make a product that will sell, then something must change.  In this case, people want quality products made in America.

While visiting with our oldest daughter and her family, we did a bit of shopping.  Her comment was that as a military family their finances are too tight to worry about the source of a product; they just have to buy the most economical option.  What is my response to this?  First, our military should be paid more.  (Don’t even get me started on the cuts just passed for our retired veterans.) Second, this is America, and we should be able to create quality products made in this country that are also affordable.  In the past, our American ancestors have shown that almost anything is possible in this country when we put our minds to it and unite.  It can be done, and this change, as well as other changes, can begin with the way you thoughtfully spend each dollar.

For me, I buy American made products when possible.  There are many wonderful products made or grown in other countries that we just can’t get here, and I have no qualms about making those purchases.  My issues are with products outside of the U. S. that lack quality and safety and could (and should) still be manufactured or grown and processed in the U. S.  Why should I purchase a chicken that was grown and killed in the U. S. and then shipped to China for processing before being returned to the U. S. to enter our food chain?  That is ridiculous! When I am aware of other issues such as genetically modified foods or animal cruelty issues, I avoid buying from such companies.  As I become a better educated consumer, I tell companies what I think about the products and their manufacturing process and their priorities by voting with the money I spend, or don’t spend, on their products.  I challenge you to do the same.

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Filed under Money, Political Issues/Statements

Getting Your Financial House in Order

Keeping up with finances is always important, but as the HH and I get closer and closer to the retirement years, it is even more important to us.  This past fall we decided to choose a new software program to work for us. Quicken 2014, which is much different than when I used it in the late 1990s and early 2000s, was the program of choice. A learning curve had to be navigated, but now that we are feeling more comfortable with it, we really like it.

Most of our checking, savings, retirement, and credit card accounts allow a link between each of them and our Quicken program, so we are able to update Quicken daily to keep track of income, expenses, and investment returns. The program allows us to incorporate our budget and savings goals into the mix, so we get a very accurate and timely picture on a daily basis of our current financial situation, including our net worth and our tax situation.

This tool can be beneficial to anyone of any age. If the new year has inspired you to become more orderly and/or disciplined with your money, I highly recommend that you consider this, or a similar program, to get your financial house in order.

Have a happy and blessed day,

Angela

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Affordable Last-Minute Getaway Without Using Points? Yep!

Happy New Year and Happy Travels!

The HH and I decided pretty much last minute to take a getaway to warmer weather. Affordable last minute flights were not available, but we didn’t want to drive a long time to reach our destination.  We decided to head due south to Pensacola, Florida.  Since we had not made arrangements to kennel the dog, we needed a dog friendly hotel, and IHG properties did not provide opportunities for this in the area, so we would have to pay for a hotel. What! We are traveling without using air miles, frequent flyer parking rewards, or hotel points? Yep, that is what we did, and it has still be an affordable trip.

A little research online located a very pet-friendly hotel that allowed larger dogs without any fees beyond the cost of the room.  The La Quinta in Pensacola met our needs, and after pulling out the AAA membership card, we were able to book a very nice room with a King bed for about $60 per night plus taxes, which meant our lodging cost would be about $200.

Three small suitcases packed (one for the HH, one for me, and one for the pup) and loaded into the car, we were ready to roll in our Ford Fusion Hybrid. Having filled the car after having it serviced two days earlier, we got a decent price on fuel.  The cost for the tank of gas was less than $40.  Have I mentioned that I love my Fusion? We drove all the way to Pensacola from the Nashville area on 3/4 of a tank, which left us running around gas.  Gas was more expensive in Florida, but the tank of gas to finish our “touristy” driving and get us home was about $45, leaving us under $100 for fuel costs for the trip.

Food can be a big expense when traveling, but we did well thanks to breakfast each morning being included with the cost of our room and some very timely Christmas gifts that were restaurant gift cards with locations along our travel route.  On the way down, we used the Applebee’s gift card for lunch.  Dinner was at the Denny’s near the hotel; we got a discount because of where we were staying.  Lunch the second day was at a local joint, but it only set us back about $25 including tip.  The big expenditure for food was a special dinner at a nationally known spot, McGuire’s Irish Pub.  We had to wait an hour to be seated, but boy, oh, boy was it worth it!  The place is huge, yet we lucked into being seated in the original pub area with live music and entertainment. The food, the atmosphere, the service, and the entertainment was worth the wait and the price.  There are no regrets here. Today, New Year’s day, we used a Red Robin gift card, on which we still have about $10 since my meal was free for my upcoming birthday.  Dinner was at O’Charley’s, where we used another gift card.  We have one final gift card to use for our lunch on the way home tomorrow, and dinner will be with my dad and step-mom’s house that is  two hours out from our home as we go back north.

Entertainment at McGuire's Irish Pub

Entertainment at McGuire’s Irish Pub

2014 Pelican Drop, Pensacola, FL

2014 Pelican Drop, Pensacola, FL

Chewie on the beach, Gulf of Mexico

Chewie on the beach, Gulf of Mexico

We explored the beach, the city, and attended the festivities on New Year’s Eve, watching the Pelican drop.  It was a blast, and our activities did not cost us anything except for the $1 toll fee we had to pay to reach the Gulf Islands National Sea Shore.  Probably the thing out of which we got the biggest kick was watching the dog take his first plunge into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Doing just what we wanted to do; eating what we wanted to eat, and in no way trying to be excessively careful in expenditures, this is what our unplanned trip cost us:

  • Travel: $95 in fuel costs
  • Lodging: $205 pet-friendly hotel
  • Food, snacks, drinks, and tips beyond gift cards: $145
  • Attractions: $1

Total Expenditure for the 4-day getaway: $446

Using your head and making use of resources available to you, inexpensive trips can be taken, even during prime travel times like the week of New Year’s.  Travel well; travel often, and travel inexpensively.

Angela

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