Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Buying it Used, Even Under Duress!

I said before that I try to find things used if I absolutely need to buy something. . .

Last year in June, I fell off a 4 ft ladder while trying to remove a light fixture in our bathroom and broke two bones in my foot.  The human body/brain instinctivly tries to protect the head (which was my only thought in that split second before I landed), so my foot ended up in an unnatural position under my body, I think.  I quickly realized that I was going to have a hard time trying to get around on crutches, because they make you hurt pretty bad under the arms from the pressure, as well as being unsafe when you are getting tired from trying to stay standing on one good leg.  What to do?

My husband suggested getting a wheelchair, but should I? A new one was running at a minimum of $200. You could rent one for about $2.00 a day, which comes to $60.00 a month for God knows how long.  Oh yeah, let's check Craigslist!  A quick search while laying in bed turned up a model that looked brand new for $30.00!  A quick call to the seller lined up an appointment for my husband to go pick it up on the way home from work.  It had belonged to a young man who had wrecked his motor cycle but quickly recovered from his injuries. 

I used it for about a month, so that's a savings of $30.00 over the rental fees.  It still looks barely used, and I'm sure we could sell it for the exact same price as we had paid, which will make it free to us.  We are holding on to it for the time being in case my father-in-law who's had knee replacement surgery may need it later as he is getting along in his years.  It is amazing what is out there if you take a little time to look!

Monday, November 29, 2010


Spam went on for sale at Kroger for $1.50 a can, so it's time to stock up. It normally hovers around $2.00 - $2.30 at any grocery store, so this is a good buy.  The timing was perfect as I was down to our last 7 cans from the previous time they went on sale.  Last time, I believe it was around $1.25, so that's inflation for you!  I try to buy as much as I think I will use in a year's time (though the expiration date on the can is for about 3 years into the future).  I think I purchased around 30 cans last time, so I'll probably purchase the same amount again.

I know Spam has a bad reputation as it is highly salted and processed, so you don't want to make a habit of eating it everyday, but it has its' place in a good food storage pantry. You can eat it right out of the can if you absolutely must, and it is quite good in small quantities or as a flavor enhancer in other dishes.  Due to my Japanese upbringing, I think it is quite comparable to the salted salmon fillets I used to eat with rice when growing up.  I normally use it diced in fried rice for my sons who love Spam prepared that way. Other than that, it is usually a trusty standby for times when I have no bacon in the fridge and I have to get breakfast on the table on the weekends.  Did you know the State of Hawaii consumes the most Spam per capita of any other place in the U.S.? Weird, but true.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Locking in the Interest Rate

I went to our bank yesterday to lock in a new interest rate for our preexisting home equity loans that we had taken out two years ago when we were renovating our home. We had two outstanding loans out, one fixed and one adjustable.  My husband was getting nervous that the rates might be going up soon and wanted the assurance of predictability.  After an hour, I walked out of the bank with the security knowing we locked in a lower interest rate and a lower monthly payment. That means that we will be able to knock out that loan sooner because we will be making extra payments over the minimum amount due. 

Our ultimate goal is to be completely debt-free.  In hindsight, we should have saved the money needed for projects in advance before we started it.  We now know better.  The additional work we have done since then have been on a cash basis.  That's the reason we still have unfinished projects, but it does not worry me in the least.  It will get done. . .eventually.  We went to visit Biltmore Estate in North Carolina this past summer, and were told during the tour that even that "house" had an unfinished room that was boarded up and never used when the Vanderbilts lived there!  I don't plan on not getting our projects done, but we can wait a while longer.  No big hurry.  For the time being, we have security in knowing that we will not be hit with an unexpected rate hike on the loan.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pasta Update

Remember the 128 pounds of pasta I purchased for my food storage last weekend? I purchased 170 packages of the pasta in 12 oz packs for 38 cents each. That cost me $64.60 for the lot.  I was at the store today and noticed they were still "on sale" for $1.00 a pack (I think the regular price is about $1.30). If I purchased the same amount today, it would cost me $170.  That is a savings of $105.40 off of today's "sale" price! 

Goes to show, just because something is on sale does not make it the best deal.  One needs to know the price of the items you use on a regular basis to know if the "sale" is really a good deal!  Generally, grocery stores will have "loss leaders" most weeks to entice shoppers to come in and hopefully purchase other items at the regular price (in case you don't know, a loss leader is an item the store will have on sale at cost or at a price lower than what it costs them to purchase it from the distributor). 

If you do your homework, you will realize savings over time as you build up a stockpile of staples you purchased at rock bottom prices!  The object is to buy enough so you don't have to purchase that item again until it goes on sale the next time.  I'm still learning, but it is fun to notice the inflated prices of items already in my pantry I purchased at prices much lower than what they are sold for today!

The Case For Food Storage

Regarding the 100+ pounds of pasta I purchased the other day. . .  Before you think I went waaaaay overboard with my purchase, let me explain why I did what I did.

Just in the last few days, it was reported in the news that buyers for Walmart, Gap and JC Penny are forecasting the price of clothing will be up by at least 30% by next spring because the price of cotton futures are going up at an alarming rate.  It was leaked to the press that according to Walmart's "secret" study, inflation is already here and the price of everything is going to go up.

When my husband and I started to stock up on storable food around the summer of last year, we did not tell anyone about it for fear that people would think we were a bit wacky.  But we could see the writing on the wall and read the tea leaves, so to speak.  Though I want to keep politics out of this forum, we felt that everything our President was proposing to do was not doing Jack for the economy, and if it continued, we were in for some dire straits.  We know from studying history that if and when things deteriorate, it will happen quickly, before you realize what is going on.

So we started to squirrel away extra food in our "food storage pantry" (an unused walk-in closet).  I started purchasing extras of spices, pasta, rice, canned goods, etc. when  they were on sale.  Though we are nowhere near the point where I feel comfortable, I am confident that we already have enough to weather several months without ever having to purchase anything and still be able to feed my family fairly well if it came to that.

When we started on this journey, we thought we were the only ones feeling this way.  I certainly have not heard of it growing up.  But I had the misfortune or luck perhaps, to weather Hurricane Ike two years ago.  Our house was not damaged, but we lost power for 6 days.  Many of my sons' classmates did not regain power in their homes for close to a month.  But the power situation was really not that big of a deal compared with wondering if we had enough food.

A quick trip to our Walmart Supercenter the morning after the hurricane hit changed our perspective FAST.  The rows and rows of shelves in the grocery aisles normally stocked full of food were picked clean.  You could not buy ANYTHING.  It was really surreal to see people wandering around those empty aisles trying to find some food.  We had food in our house to tide us over; I was there to try to buy more food "just in case."  Since then, I've learned that grocery stores only carry enough food on their shelves to last 72 hours under normal circumstances. So naturally in times of crisis, the shelves get stripped clean. Because the stores had no food, there were lines of people trying to get free MREs at PODs (points of delivery) set up around the city and county by the local governments.  It was an eye opening experience and my husband and I came to the conclusion that we never wanted to be in a situation where we had to rely on our government for our next meal.

After I started researching about storing food, I realized we were not unique.  I learned that the Mormon Church teaches it as part of their religion to store a year's worth of food in their homes.  We are not Mormons, but it made sense.  I also started noticing ads on the radio for commercially packaged "food storage." We weren't so wacky after all. . . In fact, it appears that there are more and more people out there experiencing the same worries and the desire to be prepared.  Most of us have insurance policies on our home, car, life, disability, so why not for the ability to eat our next meal?  Having extra food stored in your home does not have to cost a fortune, and it will give you a peace of mind.  Wouldn't you rather be prepared and not have to use it, than not having it and then having to beg, steal, borrow, or even kill another for the next meal because you were unprepared?

It does seem like a daunting task when you begin, but if you focus on reaching a goal in increments, it is not so hard.  Aim to get enough to feed your family for two weeks, then a month, then 3 months, and so on.  Staples like pasta, rice, cereal, wheat and beans will keep indefinitely if kept dry and away from extreme heat, and not that expensive to purchase.  There are resources online to help you reach your goal.  So before you think I was crazy to buy that much pasta, think it over and get your food storage started.  I promise you will not regret it!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Case For Buying it Used

When you are faced with having to buy something out of need or want, do you go to your local retail establishment or go to thrift stores or try searching for the item online on Craigslist and similar outlets?  Back in the day, I never thought twice and went to the nearest store to make the purchase, end of story. But for quite some time, years actually, my first option is to try to find it used.

For one thing, it is waaaaaay easier on one's wallet and balance sheet. For another, it is more eco-friendly.  I'm not one of those big time environmentalist type, but I would rather buy it used so I tread a little bit more softly on the environment. If I buy it used, that's one less thing going into landfills.  Besides, "used" in many instances only means someone else has previously owned it. I have purchased many items over the years with absolute certainty that no one has EVER used that item.  I know this because many of the items sold in thrift stores still have the original store price tags or are still sealed in the original package.

In the case of Craigslist or even your church bulletin boards, where you deal directly with the previous owner of the item you are wanting to purchase, the added bonus is that you don't have to pay sales tax.  This is a biggie for big ticket items when you are paying more than a couple of hundred bucks.  Where I live, that's a savings of 8.25% in addition to the savings you are already realizing by buying it used at a reduced cost. 

When you purchase an item at thrift stores, I do get charged the sales tax, but that is not that big of a deal when most purchases are less than $20.  With thrift stores, you get the additional satisfaction of knowing that the proceeds from the sale stay in your community doing charitable works, as is the case with Salvation Army, Goodwill, and other similar thrifts.

People who do not consider shopping at thrift stores or even garage sales might think it's a bit yucky and gross to purchase something used, especially shoes or clothes.  What I would say to that is, you almost never get to buy an item of clothing in retail that has not been previously worn by someone else, because you don't know who has tried it on already before you purchase it.  You have the added bonus of not having to worry about shrinkage. If it fits, it's going to stay that way, unless, of course, you pack on a few pounds later. 

So, before you make that next purchase, do yourself a favor and ask, "can I buy it used?"


Monday, November 15, 2010

Don't Throw Away That Turkey Carcass!

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, most of us will be roasting/frying/smoking turkeys. When you are done with your family meal, don't throw away the bones but make soup stock with it.  If you do not have the time right away, do what I do and put all of the bones in a Ziplock bag and throw it in the freezer.  You will thank yourself, I promise!

When you have a free couple of hours, throw in the bones in a stock pot and cover with water.  You can throw in some carrots, celery, garlic and parsley for more flavor, but I usually do without.  Some die hard chefs might frown, but I feel that when the time comes to use it, you will more likely than not use those same vegetables anyways, why waste it to throw away?

After you have simmered it for a couple of hours, let it cool to room temperature and then strain the bones and other gunk in there from the golden liquid. Put the liquid in the fridge overnight and skim off the fat that rises to the top if you are health conscious as I am.  What I do at this point is to ladle the now cooled and gelatinous liquid into Ziplock sandwich bags and lay them on its side on a cookie sheet in the freezer until frozen. This amount is approximately 1 cup, and you can then pull them out when preparing recipes that call for stock, or you can replace it for water to add additional flavor to a recipe that calls for water.  It is amazing how much flavor comes out of the bones! The best thing is that it was free!

I do the same with chicken bones, but you need the bones from 5-6 chickens to make it worth your while, so definitely keep that Ziplock bag in the freezer and keep adding to it until you have enough!

Why I started this blog

I've been putting this off, but it must be done. Lay it down in cyber ink why I started this inner dialogue.  Remember the saying, "Be careful what you wish for, because it might come true"? Well, that has something to do with it.

About 4 years ago, I had this wild notion that we ought to sell our house and use the equity we had built up over 11 years and buy another house for cash.  At the time, we owed about $70,000 on a house that was then worth about $250,000.  We didn't sell it for that much, but we did purchase another house for cash.  The catch was that it was a foreclosure that stood empty for 2 years, and it was a major fixer-upper. 

Well, long story short, we commenced a down-to-the-studs renovation.  We blew in foam insulation so we would not have a huge electric bill to heat and cool the house. We got new siding, roof, drywall, etc., etc. You get the idea. the job got bigger as the days went by.  It is not done yet, and it is still a work in progress, though the major jobs are done  In the process, however, we are back to where we were, owing $70,000 in a home equity loan, and that does not even factor in additional money we spent on the house.

Don't get me wrong, I love our house even in its unfinished state, and do not regret selling our old house.  We have more property, and I have a vegetable garden I always dreamed of, and looking forward to having some chickens and rabbits, perhaps next year, but financially, we are not where we hoped to be.  I feel bad for my husband, who always humors my crazy ideas.  I'm hoping that if I have a blog and forced to really reflect on how we, or rather, I am spending our money, I will do so wisely and hopefully will be able to retire those debts faster. 

As I stated in my very first post, we live well compared to most, and my husband brings home a very generous salary.  But it seems like we are being nickle and dimed to death.  The minor hemorrhaging here and there seems to always make finances tight. The rising prices of everything makes things even more difficult.  I think my situation is not unique.  Bottom line is that I want to do well by my husband and be a good custodian of salary he brings home.

$199 -v- $10 Rice Cooker(s)

Last year about this time, my rice cooker died a sudden death.  One day it was working, the next day, not. I've heard Alton Brown on the Food Network repeat his mantra over and over that a "single purpose appliance is not a good investment."  Well, I beg to differ.  You have to understand where I'm coming from, literally.  I grew up in Japan and rice is my manna. If I don't have at least one serving a day, my inner peace gets out of whack. So this "single purpose appliance" is an absolute necessity for me.  Yes, I know you can do it the old school way and cook it in a pot on top of the stove, but it is a hit or miss proposition because you have to hover over the stove so you don't burn it. A rice cooker is like a coffee maker. . .you put in the water and coffee (or rice), and voila! It is done to perfection! Besides, I never heard Alton ever suggesting that a coffee maker is a "single purpose appliance" and therefore one should not own one! What gives, Alton?? But I digress. . .

What to do?  I went to Walmart, and was not impressed with my choices. The offerings were too small or too chintzy.  I scoured the thrift stores, but I did not see any.  Out of sheer desperation, I went by a Williams Sonoma to see what they had.  Oh, they had one all right, for $199! Um, I don't think so. It looked like this:

Months went by without finding one in thrift stores.  But I was determined not to pay retail. I figured it will eventually turn up somewhere, donated by someone not impressed by the "single purpose appliance." When I had all but given up, I went to a local thrift store I usually don't frequent, because it is too disorganized and "junky" even for a thrift store aficionado like me.  I wasn't looking for anything in particular, and was about to leave the establishment, when, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something that didn't quite belong. . . My rice cooker! Its pink flowered exterior was not my style, but hey, all I care about is whether it will cook rice.  I went up to the counter to ask if I could plug it in to see if it worked. It did! $4.00 later, it was mine.  It now resides in my kitchen. 

Shortly thereafter, I came across another rice cooker in a different store for $6.00.  Although I thought it was excessive, I purchased that too.  It is wrapped in plastic and is quietly awaiting its turn in case the other one dies. I don't ever want to be without a rice cooker again. . . So, for a total outlay of $10.00, I'm set for a long, long time.  Sure beats spending $199!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

To Coupon or Not?

As a general rule, I don't use coupons. For one thing, we do not get the paper delivered, and therefore have limited access to Sunday coupons. There was a time, long ago, when I conscientiously clipped coupons and tried to use as many as possible when I went grocery shopping.  After a while, I realized that I was often making purchases for the sole reason of using that coupon, and buying items I did not need or use.  The end result being that the "almost free" items sat, and sat, and sat in the pantry until they were past the expiration date, and then I had to throw them out.  You often hear about "Coupon Queens" who purchase cartloads of grocery for minimal outlays, but it makes me wonder if they really need all that "stuff"?

Another reason I don't use coupons is because I rarely use or need items that manufacturers print the coupons for.  I don't buy frozen dinners or convenience foods at all. I use canned vegetables and fruits, and keep a supply of canned chili, but that's about it.  Have you noticed that you never see coupons for staples like dried beans, rice, dried pasta or fresh vegetables?  You save money by buying unprocessed items. 

I once waited in line at our local Walmart behind a family of three: Mom, Dad and a boy who was about 8 or 9.  Everything they had in their cart were in boxes.  Boxes and boxes of frozen dinners, pizza and hot pockets. cookies, crackers, and bread.  I think the only fresh thing they had were some bananas.  I really felt sorry for that boy who, I suspect, hardly ever ate a true home cooked meal.  But more importantly, think of how much money was being wasted by his parents who don't want to spend a little time preparing nutritious meals?  They were literally throwing money away!  Even if they were using coupons, they were not saving any money!

I think the better approach is to buy things you actually use when they go on sale as loss leaders at the grocery store, and try to stock up so you have enough of that item until it goes on sale again.  I have been using this method for staples in my pantry.  As long as you have the room, this is the surest way to get the lowest price.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

My New (Old) Freezer

I love my Fridgidaire freezer. First, we bought it used off of Craigslist.  The previous owners purchased it from a Sears outlet store for $369.99. The original MSRP was $489.99. We purchased it slightly used and missing one interior shelf for $80.

Second, it allows us to stock up on meat when it is on sale.  The reason we purchased this freezer in the first place was because ribeyes went on sale this past summer for an unheard of price in recent memory of $2.44 per pound at a local grocery store.  We love ribeyes, but we are too cheap to pay close to $8 to $10 per pound which seems to be the norm these days.  They used to go on sale for $2.99 a pound after Labor Day, but the last time we saw  it at that price was at least 10 years ago!  We have not purchased ribeyes in a decade!  This was a no brainer. It was too good of a deal to pass up!  A quick search on Craigslist turned up this baby and my husband picked it up on the way home from work.  The owners were a British expat leaving the US in need to unload it quick.  Their loss, our gain. Major score! 

As you can see, it now resides in our utility room next to the dryer.  Don't worry, the dryer is well insulated, there is no heat transfer that will make the freezer run harder than it needs to!  In addition to the ribeyes, it is currently chock full of turkeys and ice cream, as well as tubs of imitation butter purchased on sale for $1 each.  Stocking up when prices are good allows one to eat well without spending a king's ransom.  Did I mention that I love my freezer?? Oh yes, we also have another freezer in the kitchen as well for more mundane things like ice and leftovers!

Thrift Store Score!

I LOVE thrift stores. I've been shopping them for about 18 years now.  I hate paying retail and I love to find deals.  One person's trash is another's treasure. How true! I went to my local store today and hit jackpot! (Well, at least I think so.) I've been on the hunt for a pair of cowboy-ish boots, and there it was. A black, almost mint pair.  I tried it on and it was just ever-so-slightly large, which was exactly perfect for my purposes, because the reason I was looking for a pair was due to the fact that I could wear the pair I currently own only if I wore nylons.  Who wants to wear nylons?  I wanted to wear socks in my boots.  The price: $14.99.  Hello, beautiful! You're mine. I then looked inside just out of curiosity to see who made it.  It said "Cole Haan."  As far as I could discern, a new pair would set you back upwards of $250.  Woo hoo!

Stocking Up

Major stock up day today. Our local grocery store had a "today only" sale on whole broiler chickens at 49 cents per pound. I purchased 10 chickens averaging $2.50 each. I also purchased 5 more frozen turkeys at 39 cents per pound.  I now have 12 turkeys in the freezer to be eaten throughout the coming year.  We will get at least 2-3 meals out of each 11-12 pound turkey I chose.  To most people, volume buying may seem extreme, but we have room in our freezer, and freezers run better when they are full anyway.  I also purchased 5 gallons of ice cream for $2.99 a gallon, half its regular price. I believe in stocking up when prices are at its absolute rock bottom.

Which leads me to tell you, in addition to the above, I also purchased 128 pounds of spaghetti/linguini/angel hair pasta today! They were 38 cents for each 12 oz pack. VERY extreme, I know. But the price was right, and this is part of our planned purchase of "emergency food storage."  In these extreme times, with hyper-inflation being talked of as a very real possibility, with terrorist attacks, pandemics and natural disasters also always a possibility, it was time to stock up.  This is something we have been slowly building up to for the past year. Pasta, legumes, rice and wheat keep indefinitely if kept under optimal conditions, at least 30+ years.  Even if we do not use it all up in a few years, we will then be eating well tomorrow at yesterday's prices!  Peace of mind is priceless.

The total cost for today's expenditures: $128.34. Not bad.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Stocking up on Thanksgiving turkey

Turkeys go on sale every year at this time of the year. For the last few years, I have been stocking up on them to use throughout the rest of the year.  So far, I have purchased 5 ( ! ) turkeys at 39 cents per pound. I purchase the smaller ones that weigh in around 11-12 pounds at most (big enough for 2-3 meals for our family of 4). I usually cook one up about every other month, and used up the last one about a month ago. Pound for pound, turkeys are a better value than chicken, and if you have room in your freezer, are definitely worth stocking up on.  Since I still have plenty of room in our new (used) freezer, I may purchase a couple more. . .

Same principle applies to other grocery items.  I stock up on pantry items when they go on sale as loss leaders at the grocery stores, and try to buy as much as I think I will use up in a year.  You pay rock bottom prices and save big bucks. BUT, only buy items you actually use.  I just stocked up on hot chocolate for my sons at 50 cents per box of 10 drinks. That comes out to a nickle a drink for some tasty winter treats that I know they will appreciate.