Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Save money -- keep clean

We are so used to using commercially sold chemical cleaners, we often forget that common household substances can do the job equally as well at a small percentage of the cost. These common substances are powerful cleaning agents and should not be used without the same caution you would use with so-called powerful cleaning solutions. As an added bonus, these agents are all biodegradable and environmentally safe. There are hundreds of thousands of Websites with lists of the types of products. Here is one example.

As you can see lemon juice, baking soda, castile soap, Borax or Boric acid, white vinegar, washing soda, and cornstarch make up the majority of the ingredients.

White vinegar is the most amazing. We have been trying it lately, and it works as well or sometimes better than most of the commercial products and at about $3 a gallon it is a real bargain.

This is a situation where new isn't necessarily better. It may not seem much of savings to buy natural cleaning products over commercial brands, but once you begin the process of realizing that there are alternatives to expensive products your whole world may reorient itself into significant savings.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Always salable skills

It is sad to see so many people losing their jobs. One person I know was commenting that several managers over his particular department had disappeared lately. My friend's comment, we never could figure out what they did in the company. To quote the Current Employment Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Nonfarm payroll employment fell sharply in January (-598,000) and the unemployment rate rose from 7.2 to 7.6 percent. Payroll employment has declined by 3.6 million since December 2007; about one-half of this decline occurred in the past 3 months."

A look at the statistics for employees on nonfarm payrolls by major industry sector, 1959 to date gives some good general guidelines for those work areas that are in the decline and those that are increasing. For example, construction is way down as is manufacturing. Transportation is up or steady, while education and health services are dramatically higher. Government employment is at an all time high. Information services are on the decline, contrary to the ads you see on TV.

Despite these statistics, there are those who will always be employed. They are those who learned to work and work hard at whatever job they have or can find, who give an honest day's work for their pay. Even though Mesa, Arizona is one of the hardest hit areas for construction, there are still contractors and crews out there working hard on jobs because they are sought after for their honesty, dependability and skill. Although a good contractor may lose a job, one that knows how to work and do a job well will always be in demand. This is the same everywhere in every profession, honesty, dependability and skill are always salable.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Count the beans

Do you care that the house brand of some foods contain significantly fewer food items than the "name" brand? Have you ever compared cans of beans, for example, by dumping out the cans and counting the beans? Maybe if you have enough time to do this, you should get a life. But, if you do, and I know people who have done this, you might find that the house brand contains significant amounts of filler and/or water over some more "expensive" brands. Fortunately, the food labels give you a lot of information, if you know how to read them.

Here are some of the key Websites:

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. You need to look at the Heart and Vascular Information, The Low-Down on Food Label Claims

Reading Food Labels

U.S.D.A. How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label

Don't pay for filler or water. Use your head and think about the food you are buying. Does it do what I want it to do? Is it a good price based on content, cost per volume or weight and quality?

Do I really need the calories?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Amazing Shrinking Twinkie

There is sometimes little difference between the perception and the reality. It is my perception that many of the products I used to buy in a certain size or quantity are shrinking precipitously. Take for example ice cream. It is very disturbing to me that a half gallon (64 oz) ice cream container is now only 1.75 quarts. Not only is the price going up, the size is going down. Candy bars and other items have begun their collapse into singularity.

Now, what does this have to do with survival in the modern age? It really does have a lot to do with survival. If you are one of those people that buy things based on price, you may forget that the ice cream you bought last week was so much a half gallon and the apparent good price of the new container is based on the fact that it is 25% smaller.

I don't think that Twinkies have actually shrunk, but they do seem a lot smaller than they used to be when I was young. There doesn't seem to be a lot written about the historic size of Twinkies but I don't remember them being quite so dinky.

The moral of this story is to watch carefully the cost/weight or quantity rather than the total price. The differences in price may actually reflect size differences. Also, larger isn't always cheaper. I am always looking at some huge container at Costco and saying maybe we should buy that, when the comment from my wife is always that the price is cheaper at some other store, even though the package is smaller. This knowledge ends up with us having a variety of container sizes. This week milk is cheaper in quarts and next in gallons etc. Look to the real cost, not the package cost.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Watch the prices rise

Even the cost of living very frugally is going up. We discovered that a regular round box of oatmeal at just under 3 lbs. has gone up to $5.50. That works out to about $1.83 a pound. It may be higher in your area or lower, but the price has increased considerably in the last month or so. I did find prices at less on line, about $1.71 a pound but with shipping the cost is more.

Recent estimates state that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all food is forecast to increase 5.0 to 6.0 percent in 2008, as retailers continue to pass on higher commodity and energy costs to consumers in the form of higher retail prices. The CPI for food increased 4.0 percent in 2007, the highest annual increase since 1990. Food-at-home prices, led by eggs, dairy, and poultry prices, increased 4.2 percent, while food-away-from-home prices were up 3.6 percent in 2007.

Many of the basic foods store well, like wheat, oats, rice and other grains. Food storage is one way to ameliorate the rate of the price increase. By buying foods when the price is lower, seasonally or based on supply, you can reduce the overall impact of the price increase. Also buying in bulk can dramatically reduce the unit price. For example, bulk food suppliers still have rolled oats for about $1 to $1.25 a pound.

You may respond that you don't need fifty pounds of rolled oats, but maybe you can find two or three or more people who do want them and purchase cooperatively. There are strategies for reducing food costs dramatically.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

$3 each, 6 for $20

Going by a display in Safeway, the pricing on fire logs caught my eye. Not that I am in the market for a fire log, but the idea that they could sell 6 for $2 more than the cumulative individual price said either that they couldn't add (or multiply) or they expected that their customers can't either add or multiply. There are any number of these kinds of pricing strategies in supermarkets across the U.S. Buy one, get one free and actually pay more than the unit price for the same product. Get a $2 off coupon for a product that cost $10 more than the generic brand. Regular price $15, today's special $4 (when was the last time the item sold for $15?).

One of the most useful aspects of food sales is the availability of unit pricing. Most supermarkets mark their product shelves with small labels that tell the cost of the item and and some breakdown of the cost per weight or volume. The range of prices can be considerable, with "house" brands usually costing the least. Wise shoppers learn how to interpret the information provided in the stores to get the best bargains.

By having at least three months of food storage, the buyer is not forced to purchase items at a high seasonal or scarce price. The existence of stored foods, liberates the buyer from the vagaries of day to day price changes and opens up the concept of planned purchases of food. You buy products during the season when the price is low and live off of the stored food when prices are high. You can also adjust the way you purchase food to avoid price spikes.

Food storage becomes a strategy to save money on food over the long term, rather than simply starving when either money or food are scarce.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Having a disaster plan

In our super connected world of cell phones and computers, it may seem difficult to visualize yourself and your family in a situation where none of the normal methods of communication are available. But these situations arise every day. Power outages are almost an every day occurrence somewhere in the world. Recently, bad weather and an ice storm left tens of thousands of people without power. The same power outage can disrupt cell phone service and even land line telephones.

In a warning on the Provident Living Website, in addition to a natural disaster, an emergency may occur anywhere and without warning. Examples include hazardous material spills, fires, power failure, and terrorist attacks. Consider which emergencies are possible in your location and identify specific ways to communicate in these types of emergencies.

If the disaster is confined to your home, such as a fire or other emergency, it is a good idea to have an evacuation plan and a place to meet. You may wish to practice, just like the fire drills they have in schools across the country. Boy Scouts have an Emergency Preparedness Merit Badge and the pamphlet for the merit badge is a good guide for any such emergency. The Merit Badge requirements include a sample home safety checklist.

There are a number of companies that specialize in home emergency equipment. One common recommendation is a 72 hour emergency kit. A Google search on "72 hour emergency kit" returned 11,200 results. There are a number of checklists on line advising what to put in the kit.

When we had a lot of children attending schools across the U.S. our family had its own 800 number, so that in the event of an emergency, any of the children could call home without incurring a charge. We still have an 800 number available, but with cell phones the need has diminished.

From experience, one of the most useful items to have in any emergency is a flashlight. But you should also consider food, water, bedding, clothing, fuel, and some basic equipment like knives and a shovel. Don't forget toilet paper.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sewing-- a lost art?

There a some fundamental skills that should not be lost. One of those is the skill and art of sewing. Statistics show that the number of sewing, needlework and piece goods stores in the United States has remained stable for the past ten years or so, but many schools have dropped the teaching of sewing and other home economics type skills. Except for historical dramas, the portrayal of people involved in sewing has completely disappeared from the American media. When was the last time you saw someone in a movie or television show sewing clothes for their family?

The real fact is that the woman who sews at home, says the trade organization Sewing Fashion Council, is college-educated, is 25 to 45 years old, often has a child ; her household income is $35,000 to $40,000. "There is a very high correlation between highly advanced education and women who sew," said Caryl Svendsen, a spokeswoman for the Sewing Fashion Council, a consumer-information resource in Manhattan. The Sewing Fashion Council says that the average cost of a contemporary sewing machine is $1,125. And while 29 percent of machine owners surveyed in 1988 had incomes under $20,000, another 29 percent had incomes over $50,000

Sewing, like many other activities, has become high tech. The number of electronic and computer operated machines for sale has increased dramatically. Even if you are not into the newest electronics, sewing is skill that can enhance your ability to weather the storms of modern life.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Homemade Bread

One of life simple pleasures is coming into a house where bread had been recently baked. Anyone who has never had this experience is missing out on real life. There is no comparison between the white, almost tasteless air bread sold in stores, and a substantial piece of homemade bread made with your own cracked and milled wheat.

By storing wheat you already have the prime ingredient for making bread. There are endless bread recipes, here is one that is current in our larger family circle:

Dissolve and let bubble:
7 cups warm water [3-1/2]
5 Tb. yeast [2]
4 Tb. brown sugar [2]
Add the rest and beat until smooth:
1 cup oil [1/2]
4 Tb. salt [2]
1 cup honey [1/2]
7 cups white flour [3-1/2]
11 cups whole wheat flour [5-1/2]
Knead. Let raise until double, pan the bread, let raise. Bake
for 40 minutes at 350°. [Half recipe.]

Of these ingredients, all can be purchased at greatly reduced prices in bulk from suppliers. Yeast last for long periods if kept refrigerated or frozen. Brown sugar will last for a long time also but gets really hard over time. Oil will not store well. At most, it is good for a year. Salt stores forever, it is a mineral and will not deteriorate if kept dry. Honey will store for a year or so. Wheat stores for years if kept dry and cool. Fortunately, the ingredients that are most needed in quantity for long periods of time.

Another benefit of making your own bread, is the control over the ingredients. Many commercial breads contain a pharmacy of chemicals, preservatives and other ingredients. Fresh home baked bread is a treat not a treatment.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Simplify to Survive

In our longing to find relief from the demands and stresses of our lives, the key to preparation and survival is often, simplification. One of the most visible symptoms of the intrusion of the world into our lives is the large flat screen TV. This obsession with huge displays was recently parodied in an episode of Monk. Police Lieutenant Randy Disher purchased a huge TV display to watch a major football game, in the course of trying to get the TV up to his apartment, the display became wedged in the staircase and Randy ends up watching the game upside down while lying on his back. He is joined in the hallway by Natalie Teeger, Monk's assistant who, at the end of the episode, possibly sarcastically comments, that watching the game upside down really is better than being there. (For all you fans, this summer is the final 8th Season of Monk).

The giant TV wedged in a hallway is a metaphor for how our desires to have the ultimate in possessions will often rule our lives. If we think that we will be that much happier or that much more important if we own a huge TV, then we need to reflect on the real values in our lives and start eliminating things that do not contribute to real security and happiness.

In a talk given at the October Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles commented on the basic needs of life and the spiritual (and economic) benefits of a simplified life style. He listed food, clothing, shelter and fuel, borrowing the list from Henry David Thoreau. As a summary of the concept, he quoted Elder William R. Bradford, “In righteousness there is great simplicity. In every case that confronts us in life there is either a right way or a wrong way to proceed. If we choose the right way, we are sustained in our actions by the principles of righteousness, in the which there is power from the heavens. If we choose the wrong way and act on that choice, there is no such heavenly promise or power, and we are alone and are destined to fail” (“Righteousness,Liahona, Jan. 2000, 103; Ensign, Nov. 1999, 85).

He concluded with these thoughts, which might be a good thing to remember as we think about buying another huge TV, "In our search to obtain relief from the stresses of life, may we earnestly seek ways to simplify our lives. May we comply with the inspired counsel and direction the Lord has given us in the great plan of happiness. May we be worthy to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost and follow the guidance of the Spirit as we navigate this mortal journey. May we prepare ourselves to accomplish the ultimate purpose of this mortal test—to return and live with our Heavenly Father"