YES YOU CAN!

Home canning isn’t that difficult!

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Back during WWII, the government encouraged average citizens to grow ‘Victory Gardens’ providing their own fruits and vegetables. Home canning was also encouraged as a way of preserving produce, and ensuring that the populace would not go hungry should supply shortages occur.  

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In our fast paced, modern society we no longer grow or can our groceries, opting just to grab our food in the local supermarket.  Home canning is a wonderful life skill to learn and is an economical to stretch your grocery budget, saving you up to half the cost of buying commercially canned food.

There are a few important things to consider first.

Canning is a process, it takes both labor and time.

Last week, I picked nearly 10lbs of peppers in a field near a local pepper festival I attended with friends. I figure I was in that field for about an hour harvesting the perfect peppers I needed. Once I got home, it took me two and a half hours to slice all those peppers, and another half hour to can them using an easy fridge pickling method that only requires salt, vinegar, and spring water. I yielded nine quarts of the hottest pickled peppers known to man.  If you discount my labor, and the canning jars I paid for, these awesome pickled peppers cost about $1.50 a jar, and will last me about a year. If you factor in all my hours of labor, and the cost of the jars, add about $10 a jar and that’d be a more accurate assessment.

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If you are an extremely busy person with a tight schedule, canning will not be a good fit for you. I usually can my vegetables two to three times a year now, the annual September Bowers Chili Pepper Festival and one or two other occasions when I try a new recipe. When I can, I can en mass. I devote the entire day to can as much as I can.  I don’t get paid on my days off, (unless I’m using PTO days from my job) so using my time productively and being economical are important to me.

Canning requires certain equipment and supplies.

There will be an initial upfront expense you will have to invest to obtain the necessary supplies essential for  canning. The good news is, one you’ve purchased them, you’ll have them for a very long time. The only items you’ll need to replace are the jars and lids. The glass jars and the bands are reusable, the flat lids are not. And if you give away jars as gifts to family and friends, you’ll need to buy more periodically.  The lid and jars are not that expensive, and come in various sizes and shapes. Wide mouth and regular mouth jars each require their appropriate size lid and band. You cannot fit a wide mouth lid on a standard size jar, and vice versa.  All standard canning jars sold in the U.S. are made by a company called Jarden Home Brands. They own Ball, Kerr, and Bernardin.

You will need the following:

  • A good home canning book
  • Canning jars and lids
  • A cooker or canner
  • A plastic or stainless steel canning funnel
  • A stainless steel ladle
  • A canning jar lifter with rubber grips
  • A good pair of kitchen tongs
  • Magnetic lid lifter and bubble remover
  • A food processor, or hand blender
  • A food strainer
  •  A good set of cutting knives and a cutting board
  • A vegetable peeler

 There are two ways to can

There are 2 ways to can- boiled water bath and pressure canning. Fruits and vegetables that are of low acidic content and are not being pickled, MUST be pressure canned to prevent the risk of botulism. Canned items are best to be used within 8-12 months. The USDA only recommends pressure canning. A ‘third’ way to can is fridge pickling, which really isn’t exactly canning, but will preserve your food for up to a month assuming you keep it refrigerated.

When canning, be sure to follow all of the USDA food safety instructions for home canning. You can download a PDF of it from this link:

https://www.healthycanning.com/wp-content/uploads/USDA-Complete-Guide-to-Home-Canning-2015-revision.pdf

Your canned foods should have a good overall appearance. Free of imperfections, good proportion of solid to liquid with proper headspace and free of air bubbles and sediment. You do not want any foreign contaminants that could lead to botulism or food poisoning of any kind. ALWAYS check the seals on the jars to make sure that they are intact and do not leak.

The advantages of canning extend beyond the savings you will reap after your initial investment in the canning equipment.  

No added chemicals or preservatives.

When you can foods at home, you eliminate the need for many of the artificial colors, fillers, chemical additives, and preservatives found in store brought food. Home canning is a healthier alternative  For me, the very best part of home canning is I determine the  ingredients, and I make it MY way. As I’ve mentioned previously, I like very hot and spicy food. If I wanted to buy Texas Pete, Tabasco, or Cholula, I could walk into any supermarket in the USA. But if I wanted a super-hot XXXX+ hot sauce made from Carolina Reapers, Trinidad Scorpions and Ghost Peppers, I’m out of luck unless I make it myself.  Right now, I’ve been playing with a homemade sugar-free ketchup recipe. The new batch I concocted tastes great! I hope you have as much luck with home canning as I have. As always, I wish you success and happiness!

At Face Value!

Even a penny is a treasure!

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One of my earliest memories of my father involved him giving me a small metal treasure chest filled with old coins. In actuality, this was a just a metal coin bank, but unlike the usually piggy bank shape, this one was shaped like a stereotypical pirate chest one might see in an old movie, or in an illustration from a book on pirates. Although I was quite young at the time, I do remember three things about the incident.

The first thing was that my father originally told me a tall tale about finding the treasure chest buried in the yard by pirates. Not quite the right thing to say to a young impressionable boy with a vivid imagination. My first impulse was to grab a shovel and start trying to dig up the yard in search of more buried pirate booty. Upon realizing his mistake, retrieving the shovel and re-filling the holes in the back yard, my father confessed to making up the whimsical pirate story in jest to have a bit of fun at my expense. A kid will believe anything, they’re too young to know any better.

After a long explanation that pirates like Long John Silver and Blackbeard were not part of the modern world,  the second thing I remember was being delighted that the coins all looked different from contemporary money. I was old enough to know the difference between pennies, nickels, dimes, dimes, quarters, half-dollar, and dollar coins. A lot of the coins were from the 1800’s. This was my father’s coin collection, and he wanted me to have it to encourage an interest in both saving and collecting money. This is something which has stuck with me my whole life. A year or so later, my father died suddenly as a result of kidney failure.

The third thing I remember about the treasure chest of coins was that sometime after the death of first my father, and then my step father, my mother sold the coins to a dealer without my knowledge. It’s not like I looked at them every day, and we had to move quite a bit after she sold the house. Things ‘out of sight’ were always said to be ‘packed away in storage’ until I forgot about them. My mother only understood two things about money, she could spend it, and she never had as much as she’d like.

Bringing home the bacon.   

The origin of the piggy bank is disputed by different sources. Some say  that early coin jars in the middle ages were made of a type of clay called pygg. This word sounded like pig, and an English potter mistakenly created a pig-shaped bank when someone asked for a pygg money jar. There is little evidence to support this widely believed myth.  What is known is that sometime about 1900, the first modern Piggy Banks were sold in the USA, and they cost 25¢. Billed as a new novelty, these early clay banks didn’t have the removable stopper on the bottom of the bank. If you wanted to remove the coins, you had to smash the bank, or kill the pig, so to speak. Even to this day, whenever I empty my coin jar and take a bunch of wrapped coins to the bank, I say to the back teller that I killed the piggy bank.

I never quite understood the charm of a piggy bank, or of giving them to children to teach about saving. A coin jar works much better. It’s my humble opinion that parents who encouraged children to save money in piggy banks did so because young children have a nasty habit of putting everything they can grab into their mouth.  By making a game of putting the penny in the piggy bank, it helped keep the coins out of the mouths of babes. Of course, I may be mistaken, but that’s the nature of opinions.

The next time I became excited about coins and money was 1976, the USA bicentennial.  There was a lot of hoopla concerning our great nation reaching its second century. Tall ships sailed into NYC, there were extra fireworks around the 4th of July, a lot of patriotic symbols on all kinds of novelties could be had. And the money changed.  The  quarters, half-dollars, and dollar coins all had a special bicentennial obverse and a double date. Likewise, after a ten year absence, $2 bills were reintroduced with a bicentennial themed back depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I had never seen a $2 bill. My mother was very excited. That was when I suddenly remembered about the long-unseen treasure chest of coins, which I then asked for, only to be told that that was ‘lost in the move’. As a consolation, I was given several specimens of all the new bicentennial money, including several $2 bills. I’ve had a love of $2 bills ever since.  I even have some Canadian $2 bills, both the obsolete paper money and the two loonie or toonie coin. Canada stopped printing $1 and $2 paper money back in 1986. Canadian dollar coins have a loon (a common Canadian waterfowl) on the obverse. They were nicknamed loonies. Some Canadians even started referring to piggy banks as loonie bins. In the late 1980’s Playtoy Industries of Toronto Canada manufactured a Giant Loonie Bank. Sadly, according to a recent news article, Canada says that currency which is no longer being printed will cease to be legal tender in the near future, and will become worthless paper.

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This takes us back to collecting coins and money in general. For the most part, money is the one collectible item that always retains its face value.  The USA considers all US currency to be legal tender. If you take a 1937 ‘Mercury Dime’ to your bank, you can deposit it into your account as 10¢. Once a bank gets a hold of old money, it takes it out of circulation never to be seen again. If you took it to a coin collector instead, you’d get more than face value. The silver content alone is worth more than a dime.  To collectors, the condition of the money and its rarity give added value beyond that of the face value. I save all kinds of old money. Some of it is for sentimental reasons, like my $2 bills. Others like my Indian Head pennies are rare. Some coins I have paid slightly above face value to get an entire set in ‘uncirculated’ condition. To collectors, uncirculated coins and collector proof sets command high value. The US Mint sells these collector proof sets for way above face value. The 2018 proof set has ten coins all bearing the ‘S’ mint mark from San Francisco with a frosted, sculptured foreground set against a mirror-like field. You get the five America the Beautiful Quarters, the Native American $1 coin, Kennedy Half-dollar, Roosevelt dime, Jefferson nickel, and Lincoln penny.  Face value, it adds up to $2.91. The US Mint sells it for $27.95 +S/h.   To me, it’s not worth the extra $25.04 for super-shiny, uncirculated coins. Some people buy these  proof sets every year for their children and grandchildren.  I’m not saying that they won’t increase in value among collectors, just that they only are worth face value if you spend them.  I can’t tell you the exact number of times some teenager came in to the convenience store I worked at back in the day with a horde of old coins. In my mind, I just knew that someone had raided grandpa’s coin collection, but the money was legal tender, and I was simply speculating on how it was obtained.  I would buy out the rare monies once they left, replacing the antiquities with contemporary counterparts from my wallet.   

I’m probably never going to cash in my coin and paper money collection, but it is a comfort to know that if something terrible were to happen, I could at least spend it for face value even if I couldn’t locate another interested collector willing to obtain the collection for a premium.     

“Loose Change” AKA “Penny Song”

Lyrics by Andrew Peterson

I’d give you all of me to know what you were thinking

And if I had one wish I’d wish I wasn’t sinking here

Drowning in this well, oh can’t you tell?

I can’t pick myself up off the ground,

Well I’ve been face down and pushed aside.

Well you know I’d rather just turn tail and run

than lie here in the sun and watch you pass me by

Cause I ain’t worth a dime.

(yeah yeah, oh yeah) Yeah, yeah (yeah yeah)

But If only I could stand up straight, I wouldn’t have to lie and wait,

I could up and roll away, never be ignored

I’ve got a feeling that I’m something more

than just a piece of copper ore, turning green and looking for

The reason I was born.

I’ve been around since 1964, in banks and bottom drawers

And on railroad ties. I’ve been passed around and cast aside

Skipped and flipped and flattened wide, Spun around

And thrown away and left alone to lie

But If only I could stand up straight, I wouldn’t have to lie and wait,

I could up and roll away, never be ignored

I’ve got a feeling that I’m something more

than just a piece of copper ore, turning green and looking for

The reason I was born.

(yeah yeah, oh yeah) Yeah, yeah (yeah yeah) na na na na na

But I heard about a penny found, lying underneath the couch

By a woman who was kneeling down, looking for some change.

Then the woman danced around and called her friends all over town

Told them what was lost is found, it’s another penny saved.

And so I find that all this time beneath the surface I could shine

Like all the gold a king and queen could measure

You see even a penny is a treasure

(yeah yeah, oh yeah) Yeah, yeah (yeah yeah) na na na na na

The 1987 movie Throw Mama From The Train stars Danny DeVito  and Billy Chrystal as Owen and Larry. Middle-aged Owen lives at home with his overbearing mother. He seems like he might be a little slow.  Larry is his writing teacher at the adult continuing education program he attends. There’s a scene that is genuinely emotionally touching  when Owen wants to show Larry his coin collection. Larry doesn’t want to see the coins, but Owen makes him feel bad when he says he’s never shown them to anyone before.  Owen slowly pulls out coins saying “This one is a nickel. And this is one is also a nickel. And here’s a quarter, and another quarter, and a penny.” Larry is annoyed at this, as the coins are all seemingly contemporary currency, and not worth anything more than face value. Owen then proceeds to explain how each coin is special to him because they were the change his Dad gave him during various father-son trips.  It’s a collection of coins from change his dad gave him, and that’s where their value lies.

Although the original coin collection my father gave to me is long gone, the special memory of the gift remains. Like any successful person who faces a setback, I started over, and in time I slowly began to amass a new collection of coins.  As my financial situation improved, I started adding things like old paper money, silver certificates, foreign coins, uncirculated coins, you name it. At face value, my collection is worth thousands. To a collector, it’s worth even more. As far as I’m concerned, it’s priceless, and not for sale. Someday, I too hope to pass my collection to my son, when I finally have a  son. Hopefully he will be able to keep it longer than I did my father’s. In either case, you can’t take it with you when you go, and a good man provides for his children, and his children’s children. Money is nice to have, but the memories we make with our loved ones are worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox. As always, I wish you success and happiness!   

Free to a Good Home!

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

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When my aunt Arleen was still alive, she used to collect salt and pepper shakers. She would often ask friends or relatives going away on trips to bring her back a souvenir salt and pepper shaker from their vacations. Because my aunt was always so nice, and the requested ‘memento’ was rather small and inexpensive, most people would happily oblige. Aunt Arleen would dream of going away on vacations, but traveling to such exotic locales was financially beyond her means. So each piece of kitsch she received was a sad little attempt at living vicariously though the treasured knickknacks. When Aunt Arleen passed away in 1994, she had over two thousand dusty salt and pepper shakers on display in her small dining room. Almost every one of them ended up in the trash, discarded like so many shattered dreams.

It is amazing the things that people collect over the course of their lives. Sometimes, there is a theme, like items that feature cherished Cartoon characters, or a favorite brand like Coca Cola, or sports teams, you name it. Sometimes, it is because the item makes them happy because just it’s cute or silly. In very extreme cases when individuals lose all self control and become hoarders, it can be a sign of deep psychological issues. Hoarders are the exception, not the rule, so just because someone has a huge collection of something doesn’t make them crazy.

The first thing about ‘things’.

Things are just things. No matter how much importance we place upon a thing, that thing is still just a thing, and it is important only to us. People are important, not things.

The second thing about ‘things’.

Unless we find them discarded, or are given them as a gift, things cost money. If you’re wasting your money on things, you’re wasting your money.

The most important thing about ‘things’.

We can’t take them with us when we’re gone. Someday, each and every one of us will die, and someone else will have to have to sort out our estate.

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal …” (Matthew 6:19-20)

At one point or another every single one of us will accumulate a collection of something or another. These items may or may not have value. In the vast number of cases, these collections will be meaningless to those we leave behind, and like my late Aunt’s cherished salt and pepper shakers, they will be tossed unceremoniously into the dumpster. The more things we own, the more our things own us.  We have to take care of the items in question. Storage, cleaning, protecting, polishing etc. A place for everything and everything in its place,  until we run out of places to store our stuff, and everything becomes lost in the clutter. At which point, we really should make an effort to ‘de-junk’ our lives. This will probably take as long to eliminate the clutter as it did to accumulate it. The fastest way to get rid of it is to throw it out. Just get rid of it. And many people do just that. I live in a rental community, and it is amazing the things I’ve found discarded in the dumpster. Some of these things still have monetary value or use.  I do not recommend scavenging things from the dumpster. I have friends who have gone ‘dumpster diving’ and even I have removed an item or two (sitting right on top and in reach) that had value. Just last Sunday, I found this brand-new watering can with store label and price intact, right on top in the bin. I kid you not! Someone threw this out. Boggles my mind.

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Because people in a hurry to de-junk their lives are sometimes pressed for time, throwing things away (new or not) is the fastest possible to rid one’s self of unwanted  items, but there are better ways to get rid of the ‘good stuff’.

If the item has monetary value, and you can wait a little while for potential buyers.

  • Have a yard sale. You might be able to turn your trash into cash.
  • List it on Craigslist.org, the Facebook market place, or even eBay.com  . You might be able to get some money for the thing in question, but this is labor intensive, and will probably require you to photograph the item, write an ad, and possibly send e-mails to or meet with potential buyers.

If you just want it gone ASAP.

  • Ask friends if they want it. I once gave away a dorm-sized mini-fridge I no longer needed to a down-on-his-luck friend renting a room at a boarding house.
  • Put it on the lawn with a sign that reads FREE STUFF.  People will haul it away. Just make sure the stuff is far away from anything that is NOT being discarded so that a confused person doesn’t ‘accidentally’ abscond with your lawn furniture or your kid’s bikes.   If it’s not gone in three days or so, you may have to throw it out anyway.
  • Donate it to Goodwill or a similar thrift shop. They have ways of disseminating your discards.

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Re-purpose it

Use the unwanted item as material for an art project. I cut a useless wood frame from a broken mirror and turned it into a box frame for my plastic planter. 

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I also see these plastic flower pots in the trash all the time. If you have small glass jars, use them to grow plants from cuttings, then plant the cuttings into the old discarded plastic flower pots and give them as gifts to friends.

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Recycle it

Almost every major town or city in the USA has a recycling program now-a-days.  Don’t just throw it out if it can be recycled.  

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If the item has some worth, like a nice vacuum or something that can be easily repaired, put it BESIDE the dumpster, not in it. People are more apt to notice and remove a useful lamp or piece of furniture that’s sitting on a clean space beside the dumpster. A word of caution with discarded furniture. NEVER, EVER, EVER take home padded furniture,  discarded cushions, mattresses, or boxes of discarded clothing. Bed bugs are on the rise in the USA, and you don’t want to unknowingly take along nasty hidden pests or bring disease into your home.  

Also, never climb into or actively scavenge through dumpsters looking for ‘treasures’. Dumpsters are for the use of the tenants, and there could be hazardous items that could cause serious injury or infections. There are always reasons why something was thrown away to begin with.

Avoid the mess

The best way to deal with clutter is to prevent it altogether in the first place. Always ask yourself if you really need something before you buy it in the first place. Things are just things and there’s only so much stuff one person can fill their home with before it starts to take over and ruin your life. Instead of wasting your money on stuff, spend time with your family and friends and actually travel to the places that you are dreaming of visiting. The memories you make with the people, and the places you see, will be worth more than the cheap plastic trinkets from the souvenir shop.  Trust me, you’ll be much  happier when you cure your ‘stuff-itis’.   As always I wish you happiness and success. 

What’s a Bargain for You???

How much time are you willing to invest searching for deals?

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When I was a still a young boy living back in my hometown of Woodhaven NY,  Woolworth’s was the king of ‘five and dime’ department stores. We didn’t have the internet or World Wide Web in the 1970’s, it didn’t exist.  Walmart was not the powerhouse it is today, and was unknown. I think the first time I ever heard of it was when I was in college and the late Paul Harvey raved about Walmart on his radio program.

The nearest Woolworth department store from Woodhaven was in Jamaica NY, about 5 miles away, and a twenty-minute bus ride on the Q-56 bus. You could also take the J Train and get off at Sutphin Boulevard. Either way, you had to wait for the train or bus, each way, and pay carfare.

In Woodhaven, there was a small town, two-store department store chain called Lewis’ of Woodhaven. It was started in 1933 by Louis Lewis. When he died, he left his two stores to his two sons Larry and Julius.  They in turn passed the stores onto their sons Jeff and his cousin Robert . Sadly the chain finally closed its doors shortly after Christmas of 2003. For me, it was another tragic loss of my childhood as the wonderful hometown I remembered slowly died one location at time.

When my aunt Arleen was still alive, she would often say, “Woolworth’s will have it on sale a little cheaper, but Lewis’ has it too, and we save time and carfare.” The point I’m trying to make is, we brought stuff locally.  If you had to invest time and money hunting down bargains, often you were penny wise and dollar foolish. It was always better to buy local, and support small business.

Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star
In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind we’ve gone too far – Lyics from the song Video Killed the Radio Star by the Buggles    

The Internet is killing brick and mortar stores.

With the rise of e-commerce, traditional brick-and-mortar stores are finding it harder and harder to stay in business. Each year, more and more of the stores and chains we remember from our youth disappear, replaced by just a wisp of memory in the mists of our minds.  There are many problems that arise from the convenience of online shopping. As stores vanish, you lose the natural competition for sales, the variety of goods and services, and the proximity of locations of these stores to your home.  So you go back to the internet, pay shipping, wait a few days and maybe get the item as you thought you understood from its description, and a picture or two.  Had there been a local store you could have shopped at, you might have had it that very day, and supported a local business for about the same amount of money when you consider the cost of shipping.

Caveat emptor! –Latin for Let the Buyer Beware

I’m not going to tell you that there aren’t great deals online, there are. But you really can’t judge quality from a picture and a few words of description.  I read a story about a poor soul who lived in a foreign country. He read a 5-star review of a book on Amazon called Why Socialism Works by Harrison Lievesley. Rave review after rave review. The book costs about ten bucks. So this guy in Turkey though this must be a very  interesting book, and paid very high foreign shipping for a book that is just a gag. Every page is printed with “It doesn’t”.  

It is really not a good joke to have a book with emty pages just saying “it doesnt”. Price of book may be 8 dollars but it costed almost to 25 dollars to get it in Turkey. I am very frustirated with this cold joke –Kahraman Gürcanon February 22, 2018

I feel very badly for Mr.  Kahraman Gürcanon, I feel his frustration. If there had been a local store he could have picked up this book, held it in his hands and saw what it really was, he probably would have laughed at the joke and put it back on the shelf.  He got stung by too-good-to-be-true advertising. It happens. Occasionally, you get something really shoddy, BUT if you know what to look for, you can find amazing deals.

But all the best deals are online!

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Recently, I rediscovered the joy of cooking. As a result, I ordered new cookware, and a new set of chief knives.  The best knife in my kitchen was a used, like-new Chicago Cutlery 10″ chef knife. This blade is razor sharp, and finding it discarded at an apartment complex cost me nothing. I picked it up and put it in my truck, because I was afraid some child would come across it. Although I usually dispose of such things, this was a really good knife and throwing it in the dumpster seemed like such a waste. Seeing and feeling the quality of the knife really was instrumental in choosing to purchase a set of the knives.  Sadly, they are made in China, but they are really great quality knives for the price and eventually I did find a fantastic deal online at Amazon,  (but I wasn’t really actively searching for it). I did do a quick price check, saw that it was indeed a steal, and had free shipping to boot, so that cinched the decision.  I have the 30 day free trial for Prime, so I’m getting free shipping right now. But paying for ‘free-shipping’ is only a deal if you buy often which I do not! Impulse buying is a great way to go broke fast.  There is a difference between needing and wanting, and just because you want something doesn’t always mean you need it, or can even  afford it. In such cases of wants, I save the item to my ‘wish list’ and check periodically for a price reduction or sale. Delayed gratification is the best way to hang on to your hard-earned cash.  As Ben Franklin supposedly said, “The best way to double your money is to fold it in two and put it back in your wallet!”

Consider three things when purchasing an item:

  • Cost– The price of the item is never the full cost. Are you supporting local commerce, or foreign? Is it a quality item, or a cheap knock-off? Was it made by well paid workers, or in a sweatshop? Are you going to use it just ONCE, or are you going to use it very often? Will it last? Does it have to be brand new, or will used be acceptable? 
  • Shipping – Does the price of the item justify the shipping fee? If you’re paying an annual fee to get ‘free-shipping’ is it really ‘free-shipping’?
  • Time– Is it worth the wait, or do you need it right now? How much time are you spending hunting for that bargain?  

“After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but is often true.” – Mr. Spock from Star Trek, season 2, episode 1 (“Amok Time,” 1968)

Comparison is the enemy of contentment.

Do you really need something just because your friend or neighbor owns one?  I’ve only ever brought one TV in my entire life thus far. When I got my first apartment, I furnished it with EVERYTHING I needed or wanted. A TV was a MUST for a twenty-year-old.  I threw that old set out years ago, but I never brought another.  First off, I don’t nearly waste as much time in from of the ‘boob-tube’ as I used to. Anything I ‘need’ to see, I can always watch online somewhere using my laptop. The image is good enough for me. Yet I have friends who are on their 5th or 6th set, because TVs keep changing. The flat screens are getting bigger and bigger, HD is switching to 4D, curved screens, more hook-ups, better sound and resolution. Lower prices! Big sales! Act now!! I guess that’s great if you want to spend your entire life sitting in front of a screen living vicariously, but there is a whole wide world outside your window, and maybe it’s time to cut the cord. As always, I wish you happiness and success!    

Will You Outlive Your Money?

Exactly how much money will you really need by retirement? The Million Dollar Answer!

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There are two inescapable facts of life: death, and taxes.

When I was a young boy, it seemed like the number of people who lived to the century mark was so small, the average person only heard about someone achieving about it in the news. If you were lucky you might reach the 80’s but living past that was extremely rare.  In most cases, you were going to die sometime in your late 60’s to mid 70’s, and that was that. No one lives forever. We may not like it, but we do have to accept it. None of us are making it out of this world alive.

No one in my family has ever reached 80 , although my aunt has outlived everyone in the family thus far, and will be 77 in November 2018. That’s eleven years longer than my mother, her oldest sister who died at 66, and two decades longer than my father who died at 57, less than 2 months shy of his 58th birthday.   

I’m no fool, no siree I want to live to be 103

Unlike my late father who never lived long enough to retire, I do NOT plan to work until the day I die. Accidents do happen, but failing that I’m in far better health than my late parents due to changes in diet and medical advances that keep extending life expectancy in the USA.

Growing up, one of the things I remember is Jiminy Cricket singing the song  I’m No Fool for a series of educational safety cartoons on the Mickey Mouse Club TV show. He sings the chorus four times, staring with “I’m no fool, no siree I want to live to be 23, I play safe for you and me ’cause I’m no fool!” The age changes as the song goes on, changing to 33, then 53, and ultimately, 103! I always remember thinking to myself that no one lives THAT long.   Now, I’m encountering many people in my day job who are well into their 80’s and 90’s and more and more people are closing in on that mythical 103 from that song. With advances in health science, medicine, and technology progressing at its current rate, I could possibly even live to be 123! Who knows?

That being said, will you have enough money saved for retirement to cover you and your spouse and bridge the span from your last day at the job to your last day on Earth? For most people in the USA, the answer seems to be no. A deafeningly loud, resounding, emphatic NO! According to a report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the  average retirement savings of all working-age families, which the EPI defines as those between 32 and 61 years old, is $95,776. So that’s about less than 2 years salary for the average American worker.

A fool and his money are soon parted.

If you’re not saving for retirement in a combination of 401k type plans or IRAs, you’re a fool who’s depending on a government ‘safety  net’ which will not allow you enough money to live on comfortably, and probably won’t even exist several decades from now. This past Friday April 6th 2018, I got into an argument at work with a social justice warrior who basically said moving away from Social Security into the stock market was ‘madness’ because the Dow closed down almost 600 points and he was citing everything from the 1929 Stock Market Crash to a total economic hypothetical meltdown where the market hit ZERO and starving people are wandering the countryside to find blades of grass to eat.  There was no reaching the poor fool. Every explanation I offered was met with another wacko hypothetical theory. He even brought up concentration camps!  It is NOT my job to give history, economic, or civics lessons to people who have the sum total of human knowledge at their fingertips, yet prefer the mindless indoctrination that they have willingly subscribed too. All I can do is worry about myself and watch the tragedy unfold around me by all those fools living in a Utopian dream world.  

 I am the RICHEST man in my family. I attained my WEALTH not by theft, or deception. I EARNED MY MONEY. I did not inherit it, win it in a lottery, or receive it through a fictitious privilege. I worked for DECADES and invested 10% of my income from DAY ONE! No one held a gun to my head and forced me to do this, I did it. ME, MYSELF, I! Just as I took responsibility for MY choices, you must be accountable for your own decisions. Sitting around waiting for someday and spouting what-if scenarios are what fools do.

Social security is NOT the answer. Everyone in my family who depended on social security, (or still does as is the case of my last living aunt) has lived and ultimately died in poverty.  According to Social security, based on my current contributions at my full retirement age (67 years), my payment would be about $ 2,342 a month. If I wait until 70 I’ll get about $ 2,906 a month, but if I jump the gun and snag early retirement at age 62, it would ONLY be $ 1,641 a month. But here’s the real kicker: My estimated benefits are based on current law. Congress has made changes to the law in the past and can do so at any time. The law governing benefit amounts may change because, by 2034, the payroll taxes collected will be enough to pay only about 79 percent of scheduled benefits.  79% of $1,641 is about $1300 rounded up.  I’m certain my rent will be more than that in 2034. If I rely on social security I’ll be the starving man roaming the countryside eating grass.

The Millionaire at large.

The Millionaire Next Door is a 1996 book by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko. It details the financial habits of wealth Americans. These are people who did their ‘homework’ and don’t have money troubles. Although it is over two decades old at this point, the basic wisdom has not changed. Live within your means, don’t spend all your income, don’t waste your money, and invest! Fascinating as the Millionaire next door may be, he or she does not interest me. I’m concerned with the Millionaire under my roof. The Millionaire at large, A.K.A.  Michael James Oetting. At current projections, my 401k type retirement account balance should exceed a million dollars by the time I retire. I plan to retire LONG BEFORE 62, so I’m not even considering Social Security. I’m also probably going to retire before 59½ the minimum age you can make withdrawals from a 401k or regular IRA without incurring a 10% early withdrawal penalty. Now with a million dollars, if I maintain an average annual interest rate of 5% or greater, while making withdrawals of 4% annually, that would come to $40,000 per year without diminishing the million dollar balance which would still be increasing at 1%. This could continue up until the year I turn 70½ at which point I would be required by law to take the RMD or face the 50% penalty imposed by the IRS  on what I fail to take. That’s because, upon reaching this age, the IRS requires you to withdraw at least a minimum amount each year from all your IRAs and retirement plans—except Roth IRAs—and pay ordinary income taxes on the taxable portion of your withdrawal. If you don’t take withdrawals, or you take less than you should, you’ll owe a 50% federal penalty tax on the difference between the amount you withdrew and the amount you should have withdrawn. And you’ll still have to withdraw the required amount and pay any income tax due on the taxable amount. IF you ‘forget’ to do this, you can extend it to the following April 1 of the year after your turn 70½ as a ONE TIME late disbursement, but you’ll have to take out double that year, and pay double taxes should you do that because you would have to account for both the prior (late) year and the current year RMD. Failing that if you STILL missed your RMD, the IRS can waive the 50% penalty for good cause. To have the 50% penalty waived by the IRS you must correct your error. You must take the RMD amount that was not taken and file the IRS Form 5329, Additional Taxes on Qualified Plans (Including IRAs) and Other Tax-Favored Accounts. When you file this form, you do not have to prepay the penalty, but if the form is filed without payment of the 50% penalty and IRS determines that the penalty is owed, you could owe interest on the penalty payment. Form 5329 must be filed to start the statute of limitations clock. Attach a letter of explanation to Form 5329. The letter should include why the RMD was missed, the fact that it has now been taken, and that you have taken steps to be sure that future RMDs will be taken as required. This is also a onetime thing.  Do not make a habit of accidentally ‘forgetting’ either on purpose or by accident, because the IRS does not play games, and you will get financially burnt if you play with fire.

Just because you have to take the RMD doesn’t mean you have to spend it, you just can’t keep it in your retirement account. You can buy investment properties, put it in bonds or stocks in a brokerage account, donate it to charity for a tax-write-off, etc. Just don’t let the IRS take half of it away because you ‘forgot’. You can set up most plans to automatically issue the RMD and I would encourage you to also have them withhold the taxes on each disbursement so you don’t  end up owing the government taxes you don’t have the cash to cover. If you follow all these suggestions, your money should last as long as you do!    As always, I wish you happiness and success!

The yolk is on ewe!

More than colored eggs and chocolate bunnies, the economics of Easter.

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I find it very appropriate that in 2018, Easter falls on April 1st, which is National Atheists Day. The last time this occurred was 1956, and it won’t happen again until 2029. If you’re wondering why April 1st is National Atheists Day, The Bible makes this clear. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good” (Psalm 14:1). The Bible says that anyone who denies God is a fool! So Happy Easter and April Fool’s Day!

Easter is the third-largest celebration right after Christmas and Thanksgiving, especially in Christian countries – like the US. Although the origins of Easter are religious, and are supposed to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it has become more commercialized and now seems to concentrate on the candy aspect. Although candy is dandy, and not to mention  a very big business, God is awesome! ALL THE TIME.

Easter: Good For Business

Easter spending is expected to total $18.2 billion this year, the second-highest level on record, according to the annual survey conducted for the National Retail Federation by Prosper Insights & Analytics. A total of 81 percent of Americans will celebrate the holiday and spend an average of $150 per person. Last year was slightly higher $18.4 billion in 2017, which is approximately $152 dollar a person. The NRF survey has been tracking consumer spending since 2003.

This money will be spent mainly on food and candy, but other categories include clothes, gifts, flowers, decorations, greeting cards, and travel.

In the USA popular candies include my three favorites: Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs, Cadbury Creme Eggs, and the ubiquitous chocolate bunnies in various sizes and shapes. (I prefer a solid white chocolate bunny.) Jelly beans are still around but not as popular with the current generation. Marshmallow Peeps are another very popular candy, but I can’t eat them because they contain gelatin.  Plus all this sugar is really bad for my diet.

One Cadbury Creme Egg packs about 20 grams of sugar, and four pieces of the mini version has around 21 grams.

Sugar-coated marshmallows like Peeps, however, have 34 grams of sugar in the suggested serving size of five traditional chick-shaped candies. So perhaps it’s best that the aforementioned gelatin prevents me from eating Peeps.   

What candies or Easter foods are popular in your country? I’d love to read about them in the comments.

Easter Themed Seasonal Treats

As you may recall, I have been in the process of trying to start a coffee shop for some time now, with little success and a lot of lost funds. I haven’t given up, it’s still on the back burner while I regroup and try to rebuild my cafe investment egg. Seasonal holidays can present exciting opportunities for small business specializing in food and drink . Tailoring special menu items can generate new sales. Peanut Butter Mocha! Coconut Cream French Soda. Maybe a bunny shaped cookie, or one frosted like a Easter egg.  Maybe make a special chocolate peanut butter sandwich cookie. Be creative!

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Placement of impulse items on counter tops near the register can bring increased revenue. Chocolate covered coffee beans anyone?  Use your imagination! One cleaver local cafe owner had a basket filled with plastic eggs on the counter in an Easter Basket. Patrons were encouraged to ‘try their luck’ and choose a plastic egg which contained a coupon for either a free item or a discount. A wonderful idea! If you have a cafe or food business, I’d love to hear some of your Easter-themed seasonal items and suggestions! Happy Easter, and as always, I wish you happiness and success!    

Very Interesting…

Earn interest while keeping your emergency fund fluid.

As you work your way towards financial freedom, it is imperative to have liquid assets. The most liquid of all assets of course is always cash. Having stocks in a brokerage account is dandy, but the turnaround time to sell them can be days until the funds are transferred into your bank account.  This is no good if you have a situation arise which requires immediate funds.

Because life happens, having an emergency cash supply is essential.  The ideal emergency fund is to have two years worth  of living expenses stashed away. It sounds like an excessive amount, but believe me it is achievable. It just takes time to reach that level.

Two years worth of living expenses for most people is measured in tens of thousands of dollars. So for argument’s sake, let’s assume the amount we are discussing is between $25,000 and $50,000. Keeping that amount of money liquid can be a tricky matter, but you should not sacrifice the chance to earn interest on as much of your emergency fund as possible. There are ways of earning varying amounts of interest while still keeping your assets accessible.    

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The first and most important thing I recommend is always having $1000 physically on hand in your home. Keep it hidden of course, but have it! You’ll never earn interest on this smallest part of your emergency fund, but it is worth the small sacrifice to be able to reach out and touch your money if you need it in seconds.  It is better to have a $1000 in cash on hand you don’t need, than to need $1000 you don’t have.  Again, this is EMERGENCY MONEY, not fun money.  If it’s not a matter of life and death, DON’T TOUCH IT! DON’T EVEN LOOK AT IT!

Next, keep between $2000 and $5000 in your savings account. There are still some banks that will offer a minimal amount of interest with no fees. Often times credit unions will offer better interest than banks. Usually keeping $5000 in either a saving or money market account will earn you a higher interest rate for your cash. You can shop for the best interest rates offered at www.bankrate.com

Laddering CDs

Certificates of Deposit or CDs offer better interest rates but they tie up your funds until the maturity date. The longer the term, the higher the interest rate. Typically the terms run from as little as 3 months to as long as 5 years. To take advantage of the best interest rates while still keeping the cash fluid, I would recommend using a CD laddering strategy. Distribute your next $5000 to $10000  into a varying number of CDs each having different terms and end dates. You can create a ladder of CDs as long as you like with each CD being a rung. As each rung matures you can access it without penalty, or roll it over and wait for the next rung in the ladder to mature.

EX: Using $10,000, divvy it up into:  

  • 5 year CD $5000
  • 2 year CD $2000
  • 1 year CD $1000
  • 6 month CD $1000
  • 3 month $1000

With the CD ladder in this example, you will have a minimum of $1000 available to you every 3 months, and a minimum of $2000 every 6 months which you can cash in without penalty should you need it. Or let it roll over and continue to accrue interest.

Brokerage Account

Any part of your remaining cash assets beyond the above suggested $16,000 of allocated funds should be kept in a brokerage account such as MerrillEdge or TD Ameritrade to be used for the purchase of dividend stocks.  By investing in a diversified portfolio of various dividend paying stocks, you will be able to hedge your bets while maintaining a return on your investments. You’ll have to do your own homework on which stocks to buy, as past performance does not guarantee future earnings.

Experimental Investing

When you have two years worth of living expenses under your belt, you can afford to use any additional ‘mad money’ you may have for more risky financial ventures.  Some suggestions could include:

  • Collectibles / art
  • Real estate
  • Starting a business
  • Financing peer-to-peer loans through Prosper.com

 

Again, these are just suggestions and not recommendations. Ultimately you have to decide your financial future, but if you fail to plan for your future, you won’t have one.  As always I wish you happiness and success.