savin' and smilin'

Archive for May, 2009|Monthly archive page

easy, breezy meals — for less (series)

In Uncategorized on May 30, 2009 at 10:47 pm

*I will be releasing more “easy, breezy meals — for less”  in subsequent blogs.

So let me start out by saying I’m an awful cook. But, I am pretty great at saving money, finding bargains and controlling my spending. These two skills (or lack thereof) have pushed me to search for cheap foods that are healthy and, most importantly, easy to make. Here is one super easy meal that I’ve adopted as staple of my diet; it’s never failed me:

NOODLES (SPAGHETTI, MAC N’ CHEESE, ETC.)

I didn't make this, but doesn't it look delish? © disneymike / flickr

I didn't make this, but it looks delish! © disneymike / Flickr

What You Need:

  • Noodles — $2 (I prefer whole grain or whole wheat, since these varieties are healthier)
  • Sauce — $3 (I like Ragu’s Sun-dried Tomato and Sweet Basil Sauce; usually red sauces are healthier than cream-based ones)
  • Salt — can’t be more than $1, right?
  • Cheese — $2 – $3 (I’m addicted to Kraft’s Parmesan, Romano and Asiago blend; it’s low in cholesterol, too)
  • Seasonings — $2 – $3 (I like garlic powder, and a few red pepper flakes for spice)

What You Do: If you can boil water, you can make a noodle dish. Simply fill a medium-large pot with water and place it on the burner. Top the pot and turn the burner to high heat. Gas burners heat differently than electric ones, but in about 6-8 minutes, your water should be boiling. You’ll be able to tell because large bubbles will be rising to the water’s surface. Once your water is boiling, add a pinch or two of salt (for taste) and add your pasta. When using long noodles, like spaghetti, I usually take a handful and break them in half over the pot; this makes the noodles shorter and easier to eat when cooked. Leave the pasta in the pot (with the top off) for about 5-7 minutes before checking on it. Once this time has passed, you may taste test the pasta, or try this little trick: Carefully lift a noodle out of the pot with a utensil and throw it against the wall; if it sticks, it’s done! The last things to do is strain the water from the noodles, using a metal strainer. Once that is completed, you can heat up your sauce of choice in a small sauce pan over a burner on medium heat. Add your sauce and seasonings to the pasta, and enjoy!

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find cheap restaurants and thrifty shops (in the college town of Athens, Ohio)

In Uncategorized on May 29, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Check out these locations for inexpensive eats and shopping! Don’t spend more when you can spend less, for the best around. Try an award-winning hot dog at O’Betty’s or pick up a vintage piece at ReUsed, all for much less than you would expect. If you fancy lovely things at low prices, make sure to check out at least one of these restaurants/shops.

(You may need to zoom in to view all 10 locations: Reuse Thrift Store, Goodwill, Killer Tomato, Peking Express, Dollar General, Athens Underground, Court Street Costumes, O’Betty’s Red Hot, Good Fellas Pizza and Pita Pit).

2 professors sound off on saving

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2009 at 4:30 pm

The stock market is crashing. The economy is tanking. People are losing their jobs. Money is tighter than ever. We have entered the recession, but what do we do now?

“The first thing to start with is a budget,” said David Payne, a professor in Ohio University’s finance department. Payne currently teaches personal financial planning courses, but he lived and breathed business for 30 years, working as a senior officer and senior vice president at PNC Bank in Pittsburgh, Pa.

He suggests a concept called “pay yourself first,” which entails the setting aside of funds for future financial goals before setting aside funds for everyday living expenses.

“What most students do when they come out of college is say, ‘I’m going to get the nice apartment in Dublin and I’m finally going to have a car that I like,’” Payne said.  “And then they decide, ‘Whatever I’m going to have left over, I’ll save part of it.’” But Payne suggests that his “pay yourself first” approach, though less popular with the general public, is much more effective. “Not many people do this,” he said. “But it’s a way to actually be successful and reach your financial goals.”

Yes, even you can save up stacks of money. © Shirley Two Feathers / Flickr

Yes, even you can save up stacks of money. © Shirley Two Feathers / Flickr

An associate professor at OU, Andrew Prevost, agrees that saving is crucial to financial success. And the earlier you start, the better. He currently teaches investments to graduate students and market institutions to undergraduates, but his extensive knowledge of finance once brought him overseas to New Zealand, where he worked as a senior lecturer.

“When you leave school and you get your first job, that’s probably the easiest it is to actually save up a lot of money, because you don’t have any dependents or major responsibilities,” Prevost said. “Take advantage of not having a lot of financial responsibility to actually build something up in saving.”

According to Payne, savings should also be directed to a 401 K retirement plan, even when retirement may be 40 years down the road.

“Don’t tell yourself, ‘Oh gee, I hardly have enough money. I’ll start that next year, the year after that.’ That is not the way to do it,” Payne said. Although 401 K funds are not immediately available, the money grows exponentially and can be extremely beneficial in the long run. “It really adds up,” Payne said. “That’s just the power of compound interest.”

Early saving and 401 K investing are certainly important, but what about the stock market? Is the potential payback worth the risk? According to Prevost, it is.

“History shows that you can only really have good investment returns if you expose your money to the markets,” Prevost said. “If you’re 22 years old, you have 40 years out to retirement, so in that case it’s okay to start exposing your money to markets because you have such a long time to ride on fluctuations [due to the recession].”

Because of the recession, however, many people have turned to credit cards — instant money. Use them now; pay them back later. Although plastic serves a purpose in building credit, it can be an addicting little rectangle of debt.

Use these colorful cards wisely. © pfreviews / Flickr

Use these colorful cards wisely. © pfreviews / Flickr

“People use credit cards like cash,” Prevost said. “You should only buy things that you can actually afford, with money you actually have. Then you are never affected by interest rates; it’s irrelevant to you.”

Payne agrees that credit cards can be dangerous, especially if they end up in the wrong hands, such as those of an out-of-work teenager with a shopping addiction.

“People shouldn’t have credit cards who don’t have incomes,” Payne said. “All the credit card is doing is postponing the payment … if you don’t have an income, then it’s not going to be any easier to pay the cash later as it is now.”

In support of this idea, the U.S. government just recently passed the Credit Card Holders’ Bill of Rights Act of 2009, stating that any individual under the age of 18 may not be issued a credit card, under any circumstances. A similar bill in the Senate suggests the idea that individuals under 21 may not receive credit cards, unless they complete a financial literacy course and have a co-signer. The latter bill is still in debate.

Payne definitely realizes that credit cards can cause problems, but he said that he is not anti-credit card, by any means.

“If you use credit cards as a convenience, in other words, you pay them off every month, that’s fine,” Payne said. “But to use them as a way to borrow is not-so-fine.”

Money management is key, especially during an economic downturn, but will we ever see the light at the end of the recessionary tunnel?

Prevost assumes that it will take about 9-12 months to see economic improvement, while Payne remains a little more optimistic, estimating noticeable improvement in a shorter period of time than most people think.

“My crystal ball is no better than anybody else’s,” Payne said. “But one thing that we know is happening is that the American consumer (who represents about 70% of the American economy) is busy reducing debt right now in what is called ‘deleveraging.’ As both consumers and businesses get more comfortable with lower debt levels, then I think we will have some base for incremental spending and that will help lead us out of the recessionary times.

“I definitely feel that later this year we will see the economy begin to improve.”

simple pleasures at simple prices

In Uncategorized on May 22, 2009 at 6:40 pm

Want to spoil yourself, but don’t have much cash? Check out these sweet products at affordable prices:

monkey-bay2Monkey Bay Wine (for those of-age folks): This divine beverage originated on the coast of New Zealand and continues to be produced there today. I’ve heard through the grapevine that it’s quite tasty but, more importantly, it’s super cheap — $10 a pop. This brand also makes other wine varieties including Sauvignon Blanc (white, with hints of grapefruit, kiwi and pineapple), Chardonnay (white, with hints of citrus and tropical fruit) and Rose (blush, with a hint of strawberry). For a couple fives, I’d say this one’s definitely worth it.

041756090068Dolci Frutta Hard Chocolate Shell: Love fondue, but don’t want to buy your own chocolate fountain? This stuff is the best alternative I’ve seen, for a great price — around $3 in any grocery store. You just microwave the chocolate bits right inside the container, and dip your fruits. Once the treats are placed in the refrigerator, the dip hardens like a shell. It makes for decadent chocolate-covered strawberries much cheaper than it would cost to buy them pre-made, and they taste just as delicious. For those of you that prefer white chocolate, Dolci Frutta offers a creamy white chocolate shell.

41jrdYRvHvL._SS400_Homemedics Hand-held Mini Massager: Relax those muscles with this cute, colorful massaging device for only $8.99 at Amazon.com! It may be small, but it packs some power. This particular version comes in 3 colors — green, blue and pink — and is equipped with gel-like pads for comfortable handling. The only problem with this massager is that you may need a partner to help reach trouble spots, but it works great for the price and offers a little on-the-go relief.

Smarty Pig: free, easy saving

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2009 at 6:33 pm

I am aware that I have been posting about pigs a lot lately, but this site deserves some recognition.

2368926366_ee82229e77 Smarty Pig acts as an online savings account, but is more goal-oriented. Say you want to save up for a really cool gadget, like an iPhone or a Wii, but there is no way that you can afford such a purchase right now. Or, say that you really want to save up some cash as a safety net, but you just can’t seem to stop spending it on fast food and pointless purchases.

Fear not, for Smarty Pig is here!

This site is original in that it allows users the option of making their accounts public or private. Public accounts are encouraged, because they allow your friends and family to donate to your online “piggy bank” to help you reach your goal.

In order for Smarty Pig to work, it suggests a monthly payment which is then deducted from your bank’s checking account. If you don’t agree with their suggested amount for the monthly payment, you can choose your own amount. But either way, you are not responsible for making the payments. It is an automated system that helps you reach your goal.

If this system makes you feel a little uneasy, take a breather. The site is protected by McAfee and is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. So if anything goes wrong, you’re safe. Plus, I’ve heard through the grapevine that Smarty Pig’s customer service is phenomenal, so I’m sure they could answer any inquiries relating to their service.

Along with being absolutely free and super easy to set up, Smarty Pig has an annual percentage yield of 3.09%. This is a pretty high savings rate — several times the national average from the majority of sources I’ve looked at. So, Smarty Pig saves your money and gives you money … I’d say it doesn’t get much better than that.

3 ways to save green going green

In Uncategorized on May 15, 2009 at 11:30 am

So I’m sure most of you have heard about “going green.” Maybe some of you want to; maybe some of you don’t. But there is one thing you should keep in mind: going green can save you money (as long as it’s not buying organic).

1. Bicycle — For the most part, gas prices have dwindled down past the $4 mark, but gas is still an expense that will never be free. People need cars and also need to fuel them. But, for those of you that drive your vehicle a little too much, a bike can be a fantastic investment. It will only set you back $100 – $200 and will save money in the long run. Plus, biking is a form of exercise! So, while you pedal to your destination you can tighten those glutes and firm up those gams.

This 26" Schwinn is only $119 at Walmart!

This 26" Schwinn is only $119 at Walmart!

2. Take baths — Showers may be quick and easy (I myself am a fan of them) but if you are a fan of the half-hour to hour long shower, you’re washing money down the drain. Baths are just as relaxing as showers, maybe even more so, and you can sit in there for as long as your little heart desires! So, go ahead — treat yourself to some scented candles and a bubble bath. It will lower your water bill and ease your nerves.

3. Turn off the light, turn off the light — Aside from being a sweet oldie from Nelly Furtado, turning off the lights saves money! Much of the savings depends upon the type of lighting being used, however. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, incandescent lights should be turned off as often as possible; only about 10-15 % of the energy used results in light and the rest is turned into heat. Flourescent lights should only be turned off if no one will be in the room for 15 minutes or more. The logic is this: floursecent light bulbs are fairly expensive, and turning the light on and off during short periods of time can cause the bulb to wear out faster, costing more money to replace the bulb in the long run.

Feed the Pig

In Uncategorized on May 9, 2009 at 10:29 pm

The Feed the Pig campaign is sweeping the nation with its neat commercials and interactive Web site. Haven’t heard of it? Feed the Pig is a public relations program of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, designed to promote successful saving. Their human-sized pig, Benjamin Bankes, dons a pink tuxedo and speaks of ways to stop overspending in everyday life. Below are a couple of Feed the Pig commercials:

Feed the Pig’s Web site is quite eye-catching, too. I have to warn you though — I found Benjamin a little creepy, as he is a computer-generated pig man, but he is very approachable and adds a facet of entertainment to the site.

Benjamin reminds you to feed your piggy bank with the catchphrase “Feed Me!” The site allows you to pick your inner spender, whether it’s the “chronic collector” or the “spendy socialite.” Each of the 7 personas is represented by a character, which the user can then select and learn about. Once the character is selected, the user is then prompted to choose a number of habits and see how much money is actually being spent on each habit. It is a great visual way to learn how to save.

Users can also enter their current household income and current debt into the site, in order to calculate how much money must be set aside per year to pay it off and/or collect savings. The site’s “Beat your Brain” quiz is designed to find the user’s inner spender and discover how to outsmart it. Feed the Pig even offers basic saving tips, resources, and a Facebook application for overspenders. Overall, the site is extremely interactive and I would recommend it to anyone looking to save and wanting to spend savvy!

currency through the ages

In Uncategorized on May 9, 2009 at 8:59 pm

Check out these coins and currency from as early as 6th century BC.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “currency through the ages“, posted with vodpod

review: Wallet Pop

In Uncategorized on May 2, 2009 at 11:21 pm

Searching for more financial advice on the Web? Check out Wallet Pop!

This site is simple, yet informative, and uses a bit of humor too. Most posts revolve around money — whether it’s about saving it, spending it wisely, or highlighting finance in the news — but the site also covers other topics, which are organized by tabs at the top of the page. A few include special calculators, insurance information, retirement facts and tax advice.  Wallet Pop reaches above and beyond the blogosphere by utilizing sponsors such as Lending Tree and E*Trade. But of course, sponsors never hurt a blog’s success 😉 The more interaction with other sites, the better!

One thing this blog does that a lot of developing blogs do not, including my own, is use feeds on their own site. Wallet Pop links to current interest rates, credit card rates, latest online deals, and even includes a scrolling question of the day. This aspect of the site really boosts user interaction — which is surely why this blog is so successful.

I’d have to say that my favorite post as of now is the entry titled “The 6 Grossest Ways to Save Money.” I don’t want to give away too much, but lets just say that DIY tampons and hair-spun shirts are involved.

My only criticism would be that there seems to be a lot going on on the page, and this element can sometimes be distracting. The RSS feeds are a great feature, but too much of a good thing can sometimes be a not-so-great thing. Aside from this, I enjoy the site and recommend it to other users looking to get on top of their finances. Wallet Pop uses Youtube videos, slideshows and other multimedia elements, so I doubt you would get bored too quickly on this site. I vote 4.5 stars!

keep a piggy bank, change adds up

In Uncategorized on May 1, 2009 at 10:26 pm

Think piggy banks are just ceramic collectibles? Think again.

Along with savings accounts, piggy banks can be a great source of extra cash. Keep your pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters in a piggy bank of sorts, and you may be pleasantly surprised by the result a month or so later. I have several small wooden boxes and containers on my desk in which I store my spare change — from jean pockets, the bottom of my purse, etc. Whenever I need a couple of dollars, I search through my change containers and find some quarters; however, change can be heavy and obnoxiously loud to carry around. So, here are a few solutions:

Wrap the coins and bring them to the bank — This is a kind of old-school method, but it still works just as well. It can also be a fun lazy Sunday activity. Simply sort your coins and wrap them in paper coin wrappers according to the dollar amount. Banks carry the wrappers for free, but you can also purchase some for cheap at stores like Office Max or Staples.

Bring the coins to a Coinstar machine — Coinstars are very helpful in that you can throw all of your coins into the machine and have them sorted automatically, but the downside is that Coinstar takes a percentage of your total to complete the service. However, if you don’t have the time or patience to wrap your coins, it can be a great alternative. Check out Coinstar to find a service near you.