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. 

Staycation Getaways!

Adventures in your own backyard.

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Now that summer has arrived and the weather is warm and sunny, it’s getting harder and harder to be at my day job working, because I spend a lot of time day dreaming about being off anywhere else and enjoying myself. Most people usually take just one summer vacation between Memorial Day and Labor Day which mark the unofficial beginning and end of the summer vacation season in the USA.  I used to go away every Memorial Day weekend, but I gave that activity up years ago for two reasons: One–trim the budget, and Two–It was no longer ‘fun’ doing what I was going that weekend each year.

I still go away EVERY Labor Day Weekend to Ocean City MD, for a grand 5 day vacation at a great hotel located right on the beach.  It’s my most expensive trip of the year, and I budget for it and save up using the 52 Week Challenge savings method.  Aside from that, my summer activities are confined to day trips on weekends,  like renting a kayak on the lake at nearby French Creek State Park.

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I live in Lancaster county, located in south central Pennsylvania.  For size comparison, Pennsylvania is roughly the same square miles in area as the entire country of England. Not the biggest state, but a sizable land.  Fortunately for me, I own my own car, and where I live places me within 160 miles of five different states. In roughly three hours or less (depending on traffic) I can reach parts of Delaware, Maryland,  New Jersey, New York, and of course a sizable chunk of Pennsylvania.  My only barriers are any toll roads, and the cost of a tank of gas. My Hyundai can get between 350 and 400 miles on a full tank depending on travel conditions.  In my circumstance, this location affords me a plethora of nearby State Parks, lakes, mountains, rivers, forests, and beaches that can be explored in three hours drive or less in almost any direction I choose, many less than 100 miles from my home.   

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100 miles is about 161 kilometers. It’s been joked that the difference between Europeans and Americans is that Americans think 100 years is a long time, and Europeans think 100 miles is a long distance.

Everyone knows the word vacation, and it means different things to different individuals. In the UK and parts of Europe, I’ve often heard them use the term holiday instead of vacation, but in the USA holidays refer to specific days like Memorial Day, Labor Day, Independence Day, Christmas, etc. It is fitting to call a vacation a holiday in a way, as a holiday is a day for celebration when many people are allowed to stay away from work or school, and often a vacation serves the same function. A trip to get away from all the stress, drama, and toil of day-to-day life. A few years ago, some brilliant mind in an advertising office somewhere coined the catchy portmanteau  ‘staycation’ by combining the words STAY and VACATION. It sounds much better than saying ‘taking time off’, ‘getting me-time’ or ‘day-tripping’. I have embraced the staycation as a legitimate excuse to getaway without really going away.

One of the perks of my day job is that my Sunday off plus a rotating day-off schedule means that every seven weeks I automatically get a three day weekend as our work week schedules begin on Saturday and end on Friday. Two of these always fall during the summer. I also have the maximum number of vacation days and sick days you can attain in my position due to my seniority, though I reserve  my vacation days for specific events, and sick days are really meant to be used for serious illness and are frowned upon by upper management when used for mental health days, blue Mondays, or any form of sickness because they really don’t want you to use sick days at all, as if that makes any sense.

So yes, I am fortunate and can take time off to enjoy summer.  I hope that everyone who reads my blog on a regular basis understands that with careful budgeting, prior proper planning, and a minimum amount of travel expense, they too can enjoy both summer vacations and staycations.

What’s in your ‘backyard’?

Assuming you have your own car, or can carpool with a friend:

  • A simple Google search for beaches, or state parks nearby can give you several ideas for low cost or even free places near you to swim, hike, camp, or picnic. All you have to do is be able to get there, which means having a car and the money for gas and tolls.
  • If you are stuck for ideas on what to do with your free time, you can check out value deals for day trips and activities at LivingSocial.Com LivingSocial is an online marketplace that allows its registered users to buy and share things to do in their geographic area.
  • If you enjoy meeting new people, you can always find new groups and clubs to join at MeetUp.com 
  • If you’re into tours,  museums, historic places or various other ideas for day trips, you can check out TripAdvisor.com  for nearby attractions.

If you don’t own a car, or can’t drive:

A lack of personal transportation will significantly limit your ability to explore many of the aforementioned activities, but it doesn’t make them altogether impossible. Always remember, when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains however improbable must be true. If there’s a will, there’s a way. In New York City for example, it IS possible to go to the beach, botanical gardens, museums etc.,  all by bus or subway. That was how I got to go to the beach at Coney Island growing up. 

There are Bus Tour companies that offer many inexpensive  day and even weekend trips to many locations that leave from the Bus Stations in most major metropolitan areas.  It costs me less to take a bus round trip from nearby Reading PA to Queens NY then it does for me to drive the 169 miles to my Aunt’s home due to the cost of gas and tolls, BUT I’m then limited to the quirks of the NYC bus and subway system to get around, or taxis and Ubers/Lyfts so it’s quite restricting.

I’ve taken enjoyable bus trips to Washington D.C many times to see the monuments and museums in my Nation’s Capital. Come to think of it, I should do that again, it’s been a while. The last time I went to D.C. was for a Pro Life March in 2006. That particular trip was free and charted by local churches, but it was a cold January day, and I was very limited in what I was able to do because of the weather, time, and activity constraints. But FREE is FREE, and I got to show support for my beliefs with like-minded Christians.   

  • Pro– You don’t have to drive to and from  your destination, that’s the Bus Drivers job.
  • Pro– You can sleep on the bus if you’re tired, just don’t miss your stop.
  • Con–You are limited to what you do by the arrival and departure times of the tour bus, and if you see an interesting detour on the way to your destination, you can’t pull over and explore it. (I once discovered an Elephant Museum driving on 30W instead of taking my usual PA Turnpike on the way to Ohio two years ago.)     

 

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And of course there’s always biking or waking, or even picnicking in local parks or your own back yard.

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The point is summer only lasts so long, and everyone can find something enjoyable to fit their budget IF they stop making excuses and truly apply themselves.   As always, I wish you happiness and success!          

Sorry, Not a Winner!

Don’t fall victim to ‘Get-Rich-Quick Schemes’.

Back when I was in college, I used to work late nights and weekends at a convenience store. You know the type, a small retail business that stocks a range of everyday items such as groceries, snack foods, coffee, soft drinks, tobacco products, newspapers, and magazines. I’d start at 10 pm and would usually be ending my shifts around 7am. Like most c-stores, we also sold lottery tickets, both the ‘instant win’ scratch-off tickets and the computerized state and national mega-million number games.  Time and again, I would see the same people on their way to and from their places of employment. These regular customers would stop by daily to grab a cup of coffee, a pack of cigs, and usually lottery tickets. This was an everyday occurrence.  Often, they would scratch off the instant lottery tickets at side of the counter while sipping their coffee, and if they won a free ticket, they would redeem it for another chance to win.  I can’t tell you how many of the same people day in and day out spend upwards of $5.00 a day on lottery tickets. It was worse when the mega-million jackpots started growing and lotto-fever hit these would-be millionaires. I never once in all the years I worked there, sold someone a million-dollar winning ticket.        

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The one dollar trap.

Part of the allure of lottery tickets is how inexpensive they are. For only a buck you could be a winner! After all, what could you possibly do with that measly dollar? Because of this, it’s very easy to get caught up in the lottery trap.  My mother, and all of my aunts spent tens of thousands of dollars over their lifetimes chasing the elusive ‘big win’. Not only did they play the lottery, they also played bingo, went to casinos, and gambled. My late grandmother was a book-maker, taking in illegal spots bets. One of my cousins lost $600 at a casino in a single evening last month. My last surviving aunt, who lives in near poverty,  frequently wastes her precious few dollars on lottery tickets, and betting on horse races.  Not a single member of my family ever became wealthy by gambling, and all died penniless.

But the Apostles cast lots in the Bible, so gambling is ok, right?

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD,” (Prov. 16:33)

In the Bible, the casting of lots is mentioned several times.

  • The eleven apostles cast lots to determine who would replace Judas (Acts 1:26).
  • The Roman soldiers casting lots for Jesus’ garments (Matthew 27:35).    
  • God instructed the Israelites to cast lots on several times in the book of Numbers (Numbers 26:55; 33:54; 34:13; 36:2)  
  • The practice of casting lots occurs most often in connection with the division of the land under Joshua (Joshua chapters 14-21)
  • The sailors on Jonah’s ship (Jonah 1:7) also cast lots to determine who had brought God’s wrath upon their ship.

This is NOT the same as gambling. The casting of lots was the ancient equivalent of flipping a coin to make an arbitrary decision.  Another thing you may notice in all of the above references, is that there was no initial up-front investment by the participants to be included.  When you gamble, you have to wager a personal stake of some sort which becomes forfeit if the outcome is not in your favor. I’ve also heard people try to justify gambling by saying that bingo is played in Catholic churches, so it’s okay.  Actually there have been several times over the past seventy years when bingo was banned in churches, and even today it’s rare to see bingo played  outside of a bingo hall or at a private club. It’s not illegal, but that doesn’t make it ‘good’.  Anything which becomes an addiction is bad, and as God has given us free will, we have to decide for ourselves through studying his Word if we are becoming addicted to a particular bad habit.  

All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.   1 Corinthians 6:12 King James Version (KJV)

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.  1 Timothy 6:10 King James Version (KJV)

The easy way

Buying a lottery ticket is not against the law. On very rare occasions even I have been caught up in ‘lotto fever’ when the mega-million jackpot hits record highs, and I feel compelled to contribute to the office lotto pool because I don’t want to be the one guy that got left behind should my co-workers win and split the jackpot.  It’s not wrong to want to have a better life. But if you feel that there only way to improve your lot in life is by gambling, then there is something seriously wrong with your way of thinking. Let’s go back to the guys I mentioned who brought daily lottery tickets on their way to work back when I worked at the c-store.  Let’s say they spent $5 a day, five days a week on lottery tickets on average.  I sold some of these guys tickets for years, and they never hit any big jackpot. So let’s assume that instead of wasting $25 a week on lottery tickets, they just put that money in a jar every week for a year. At the end of the year they would have $1300.00.  Now let’s assume they did this every year for twenty five years, never toughing the money, just putting it in the jar, $25 a week, every week for twenty five years. They would have stashed away $32,500! Now suppose instead of just hiding the money away in a jar, they had placed in a brokerage account and invested it in a index fund tracking the S&P 500, (assuming about a 12% interest rate APR ) that investment would have grown to over $100,000!   

The easy way to became rich is not by gambling. The easy way to achieve wealth is to do it slowly over time, cutting all unnecessary expenses, and by making wise investments.  As always, I wish you happiness and success!  

 

What’s for Dinner?

The importance of cooking at home and meal planning.

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You may have taken notice that obesity and diabetes have been on the rise in the USA over the past few decades. One of the principal reasons for this is due to overly processed foods laden with high-fructose-corn-syrup, salt, fillers,  transfats, and preservatives. Traditional home cooking started moving to the ‘back burner’ in 1954 when Swanson Foods began promoting it’s ‘T.V. Dinners’ to tired housewives as an easy alternative. Just pop it in the oven and 30-45 minutes later dinner is served right on a disposable aluminum dinner tray. No fuss, no mess.  Decades later with the introduction of the home microwave, these ready prepped pre-packaged dinners  were re-designed with plastic containers for microwave use.

Add to this, changing gender roles during the 1960’s (a side effect of  its so-called Sexual Revolution), kids cereals with secret toy surprises, fast-food restaurants, and cheap junk food and we’ve created a generation that knows zero about home cooking. I remember an incident within the past five years when a friend was making a omelet for her boyfriend and  ‘googled’ instructions which were totally off base. Fortunately I was around to save the day. It just blew my mind that a thirty-something had never made an omelet. She was equally surprised that I, a GUY, knew how to cook. She does make an awesome baked mac-and-cheese however, so I’ll let her slide.   

My mother was a ‘talented’ cook. I say that because she was the only person I knew who could burn water.  Imagine my surprise the first time I discovered that scrambled eggs were NOT supposed to be black and crunchy. Once when I was driving cross-country with a friend, he asked if we could stop at the next restaurant. I agreed. When I drove right past the next diner without stopping, he said “Why didn’t we stop?” I asked him if he noticed the sign that read “FOOD JUST LIKE MOM USED TO MAKE” and told him I was doing him a favor.

Knowledge is power!

There is NOTHING un-manly about cooking. The finest restaurant chefs around the world are predominantly men. My favorite celebrity chef is Gordon Ramsey. I don’t tend to watch many cooking shows because I don’t eat animals, and many of the cooking shows demonstrate recipes that are not vegetarian friendly.    

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So yes, there was a great need for me to learn how to cook at an early age.  My first cook book was the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. I was in college, and furnishing my first apartment, so I made sure to have everything I needed for the kitchen, including a how-to book. Real men READ the instructions before they attempt the project, and cooking is no different. It’s just knowledge, technique, and mastering the skills.  The internet was still in its infancy,  so googling anything was not an option. Add to the fact that that I became a vegetarian in college, and suddenly I had to learn stuff about cooking that was NOT in Better Homes.  I remember the first time I make my own soy milk. What a mess.  

You get what you pay for!

As you probably know, eating out is expensive. Cooking at home is cheaper, and can be healthier for you IF you learn to cook healthy meals.  You can also save money by planning menus for the week, and eliminating waste from spoilage.  You may be tempted to save money by buying cheap groceries. Avoid this mistake, or you are risking your health. So what if you can purchase packages of Raman noodles for  only 13 cents each ,  and you figure you could eat three square meals a day of Raman noodles for an entire year for just $142.65. Do you want  to eat the same thing every meal for a year? I sure as hell don’t.  Such monotony is not only unhealthy, it’s a little bit insane. And have you ever read the ingredients on a bag of Raman noodles? They contain a food additive called Tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ), a preservative that is a petroleum industry byproduct. They’re also incredibly high in sodium, calories and saturated fat.  If this is the only thing you can afford to eat, I feel sorry for you. You may have saved money, but you’re ruining your health in the process.

Try to plan meals using fresh healthy ingredients. Have a supply of non-perishable kitchen supplies like olive oil, flour, spices, baking soda, etc. Just as long as it’s stuff you need and use. Honey lasts forever! And only use 100% pure maple syrup, throw away that Log Cabin pancake syrup it’s bad for you. Buy whole spices and grind them as you need them, they will keep longer. You can even set up a window box of herb plants to harvest your own basil, thyme, parsley, cilantro, or rosemary to add fresh herbs to your cooking.  Canned foods can be healthy IF they are organic, and contain a few preservatives as possible. Alternately you can learn home canning and can your own healthier foods.  I have canned my own jars of the hottest hot peppers known to man because the store brought hot peppers were not hot enough for me. Plus because they only use vinegar and kosher salt as the preservatives, they are much better than what you buy in the store. I have also made my own ketchup, with NO corn syrup or chemicals, just a  couple of healthy ingredients.

Although some ‘doomsday preppers’ may recommend having a year’s supply of food in your larder, I think this is excessive. I recommend no more than three months supply of most non-perishables, unless it’s something hard to come by, like the hot peppers I pick in the field myself once a year for my home-canned jars of super-hot peppers, or the awesome handmade Pepper Jam I buy from  Jacky’s Jams and Jellies at the Annual Bowers Chilie Pepper Festival

Next, based on your family size, look up healthy meal recipes that suit your tastes on the internet.  Plan out the recipes for the week based on how long the fresh ingredients will keep.  Remember, organic fruits and vegetables have shorter shelf-lives because they are free from pesticides and chemicals.  After you’ve arranged the meals for the week, create a shopping list of all the ingredients necessary. Double check the recipes to ensure that you have everything you need on the list. You don’t want to find yourself in the middle of cooking a meal and suddenly realizing you’re all out of Pride Of Szeged Hungarian Sweet Paprika Seasoning Spice! By having a rotation of meals, you will never be bored eating the ‘same-old, same-old’. Remember to include special meals for birthdays and holidays in your planning. For example, for Christmas each year I make a vegetarian version of the traditional Christmas Lasagna that my late aunt Arleen always made each Christmas when I was a young boy. There was also another special baked pasta dish that she made me on my birthday, a baked spaghetti pie which I loved growing up, which I have likewise adapted to my vegetarian lifestyle.     

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Take your shopping list with you to the grocery store, and avoid impulse buying. Stores routinely place items they are  promoting in the entryway, on isle end-caps, and near checkout lanes to encourage you to buy sale items you really don’t need. These will destroy your budget. Stick to your list. If-and-only-if you see an incredible buy on something that you regularly use and need, and you can justify the purchase, or even double-down with a money-saving coupon, then grab that extra item. Beyond that ‘shopping emergency’, STICK TO YOUR LIST! If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. You do not want to be the person who went into a store for one quick item, yet departed an hour later with a filled cart.     

No good at planning meals, try a meal kit service!

Two months ago, I decided to try Hello Fresh. It’s a meal kit delivery service. They have no contract, you can cancel the service any time prior to the weekly ship cut-off time. I had a coupon and figured I would try it for a month. They had a vegetarian plan, (not vegan) that offered three weekly meals designed for two persons. I live alone, but this just meant that I could cook three times a week, and save half for leftovers so I was able to stretch my dinners to almost the entire week. The greatest thing about the meals are that everything is provided (except salt, pepper, cooking oil, or butter, things which should be in stock in every kitchen all the time, so no worries there).  All the meals come with color photo recipe cards and step-by-step instructions. They are pretty easy for anyone with basic cooking skills and a modest kitchen.  Each meal takes about a half-hour or so to make, typically runs from 500-700 calories per serving, and most (but not all) of the ingredients are organic, non-GMO.  Let me tell you, I have been cooking things like asparagus, artichoke hearts, farro, couscous, avocado,  arugula, zucchini, etc. These are items I would never have freely purchased at a store. And yet, because I know I can eat them, they have been shipped to me and I am committed to trying new foods.  Let me tell you, my meals have never been as varied and flavorful. There has been nothing I have received which I have tried and did not love.  Although Hello Fresh is not marketed as a weight loss plan, because the servings are always less than 800 calories at the most, and all healthy ingredients, I have been losing weight.   Some of my friends have claimed that $59.95 a week is expensive, but as I’ve said I did have a $30 off coupon that first week. I’ve also managed to win an online Hello Fresh photo contest  which got me a discount on two weeks of meals.

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I have a promo code which gives each new  user  $40 off their first week, while at the same time  gets me a discount as well for referring them.  Plus, by not needing to shop for all the ingredients, I’m saving time  so it’s so worth it. I’ve loved cooking these meals so much that I’ve been buying professional cookware, knives, and chef tools for my kitchen.  Plus I feel great, and feeling good about yourself is a cornerstone of happiness.  If you would  like to try Hello Fresh and live in the USA, you can get $40 off  your first purchase by using my exclusive promo code EXPRESSOM . If you live in Canada or the UK, I’m not sure if it works for Hello Fresh CA or UK, but if it does work, please let me know so that I may pass that information on.  If you’re committed to cooking and eating new foods, as well as feeling great, I urge you to give Hello Fresh a try. 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!

knives

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!    

Time is money!

The importance of proper time management.

Every second is precious.

With the two exceptions of the day you are born and the day you die, you and every person who has ever lived has the same amount of time allotted to them daily, twenty four hours. No more, no less. Yet despite having the same amount of time, some people are wealthy while others are poor. In some situations circumstances beyond your control may rob you of your economic opportunities, but how you spend your time is largely up to  you.  All successful people share two traits with regards to proper time management. They have learned to maximize their daily schedule to the height of efficiency, and they have a sense of urgency, never delaying for tomorrow what they can do today.

“Time is your most precious gift because you only have a set amount of it. You can make more money, but you can’t make more time. When you give someone your time, you are giving them a portion of your life that you’ll never get back. Your time is your life. That is why the greatest gift you can give someone is your time.” – Rick Warren

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The 40-40-40 Trap

Your greatest source of wealth comes from the income generated from your job.  When you retire, you usually have to depend on a combination of your savings (if any), a pension fund (rare or non-existent), your investments or contributions to a 401K plan (if any), and government social security (which may become insolvent by 2034 due to the National Debt crisis). For the average American, this is known as the 40-40-40 Trap. Because of procrastination or indifference during their youth, they never made the proper choices to ensure a worry-free retirement. As a result, they spend their entire working life employed at a job, working FORTY hours a week, for about FORTY years, then retire and discover they only have about FORTY percent of the cash they had while employed, to pay their monthly bills. You can always go back to work part-time to generate more income, but you can never replace the lost time. If a person fails to plan for their future, they have no future!

No time like the present!

If you have no 401k available at your job, it’s time to seek employment elsewhere. The longer you delay investing for the future, the less likely you actually will. Excuses do not pay the bills. Do not allow yourself to become trapped in a dead-end job. I have known many individuals who stay at a low-paying job for a couple of years, only to move on to another low-paying job. Every time I changed jobs with one, or two rare exceptions, I went on to a higher-paying job, with better benefits.  At my previous full-time job, I was about to become an assistant manager, when the opportunity opened up at my present career. My prior company really wanted me to stay, but they could not offer me a matching salary or benefits program. Leaving for greener pastures was in my best interest. Today, I earn far more than they pay their current managers.    

If you take a position that offers a set salary:

  • Do not work more than the hours required for that salaried position. Generally, there is little or no additional pay for the extra hours. You are wasting your time. Doing it once or twice in an emergency situation is one thing, but doing it all the time just makes you a fool.

If you take a job where you swipe or punch a time-clock:

  • Always work on the clock. If you aren’t logged in, you’re not getting paid. If you are scheduled to start and end at a pre-determined time, start and end at those times. Playing ‘The Time Clock Game’ where you clock in a wee bit early, and clock out a tad late each day to earn a few extra minutes of pay is not only a bad idea, it’s like stealing from the company and could cost you your job.
  • Always show up when you are scheduled to work.
  • If overtime is available at your job, it will generally be paid at your normal rate, plus half. Working overtime is an excellent way to generate extra income, while at the same time impressing your supervisor by your diligence. Diligent behavior is indicative of a work ethic and can open doors for advancement to a higher paying position.
  • Do not become dependent on the overtime income. Overtime is never a guarantee, and should always be considered extra money. Your base salary should be enough to cover your monthly spending needs and still allow you to save for your future.
  • Do not become obsessed by the overtime. The love of money is the root of all evil. I know many individuals who work sixty hours a week or more chasing every overtime-penny they can get.  I’m amazed at their end-of-the-year totals. When the work level reaches that point, it causes home and social problems. It’s one thing if you live alone, but if you have a family, family comes first! The time you spend with your loved ones can never be measured or replaced. It’s priceless. Don’t waste it. Nobody ever had an  epigraph on their tombstone expressing their desire to have spent more time at their job.

Take time to play!

A balanced schedule should always allow ‘breather room’, ‘personal time’ and still allow for work and play. If you over-schedule, you run the risk of causing a cascade of lateness and cancellations. It also causes stress as you race from one meeting or destination to your next scheduled appointment or location. Keeping a tight schedule can be done as long as everything goes according to plan, but if things start to unexpectedly go south, you may not have the wiggle-room needed to stick to the items on your list.

Always be productive

I try to get as much done on my day off as humanly possible. With my work schedule, I don’t have a lot of extra time during the work week. I find as many time saving tricks as I can to avoid wasting any down-time I may find myself with.  I’ve been working overtime this quarter, and I need all the sleep I can get to recover from the physical and mental stress of the added work load.  I always eat a PB&J sandwich for lunch. It’s filling without making me feel bloated or sluggish after lunch, and it satisfies my hunger. The beauty of the PB&J is that all of the ingredients freeze well. Now my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are healthier because I use the best peanut butter, the best jelly, and use sprouted grain Ezekiel bread. So I Sundays I’ll make a half-dozen PB&J’s, bag each one in a ziploc bag and put them in the freezer.  In the morning packing my lunch takes seconds.   

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Another change I’ve made is having my dinners shipped to my home  from a meal-kit service. I use Hello Fresh. The meals are quick to cook, and it saves me time stopping for groceries or takeout food. Also, as the three meals they send are meant for two people, I only have to cook three nights a week, and just heat up the leftover portions the other three nights.

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When I run errands, I try to make a large circle of destinations to save travel time from point -to-point.

Keep life balanced!

When was the last time you spent time with your friends?  When was the last time you spoke to distant relations or acquaintances on the phone? No man is an island. We are all social beings interconnected by a network of friends and family. When a spider builds a web, it is building a net to catch food to keep itself alive. If one strand of the web brakes, it immediately repairs it. Neglecting to repair the broken strand can weaken the entire structure and cause it to collapse. As we get older and older, we need to strengthen our social network. No I’m not talking about Facebook or Twitter, I’m talking about real life. Go where the people are, out in the real world and spend time with the people you care about. As Always, I wish you happiness and success!

Healthy Wealthy and Wise

Your most valuable possession is your health

“The race is long, but in the end it’s only with yourself.” – Line from the song Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) by Baz Luhrmann  

Twenty years ago, Baz Luhrmann released his pop song Everybody’s Free, which was a 7-minute spoken word poem set to instrumental music, offering advice on health and happiness, which stressed above all else, wear sunscreen. The ultimate point of the song is that you’ll be much happier if you take care of your physical and mental well-being. Good heath is a wonderful thing to have, but it’s not a given. You still need to do the right things to care for your body if you wish to live a long life.  

There are no certainties in life except death and taxes. I can’t explain why some people live to a hundred while others die at fifty. My father was a few weeks short of his 58th birthday when he passed away. He was overweight, smoked, drank, and didn’t exercise or eat the healthiest of foods. Clean living and exercise won’t guaranty that you live a long life, but they will drastically improve your odds. Because of advancements in health, medicine, and nutrition, people are living longer. Now I wasn’t even born fifty years ago, BUT by living a healthy, active lifestyle, there is a chance that I may yet still be alive fifty years from now.

This is 2018, fifty years ago it was 1968.

In 1968 these were some of the prices:

Average annual income–$7,844
New house–$14,975
New car–$2,822
Gallon of gas–$0.33
Gallon of milk–$1.21
Loaf of bread–$0.22

Now compare those with today’s prices.  Imagine how expansive everything will be fifty years from now.  I often hear people complaining about how expensive their prescription medication is. Imagine the cost of these medications fifty years from now. And now imagine if you required them because you failed to take preventative steps today to improve all aspects of your total lifestyle.   This is why you have to not only take care of your finances, but your health as well.  

As you know, in two prior blog posts, I covered the both the  possibilities that your money might not last as long as you do, and the opposite where sudden death robs you of a well-deserved retirement. The  THIRD item which you should be concerned about is your health. The most valuable possession you have is your health, and in many cases once it’s gone all the money in the world can’t replace it. This is why along with improving your financial situation, and increasing your knowledge base, you should be taking every step you can to achieve your healthiest physical potential. Just as living to a ripe old age with no money is a miserable existence, so is being so unhealthy that you can’t partake or enjoy activities that require you to be physically fit. Being the best you should encompass EVERY aspect of your life.  

But health food and exercise equipment  are expensive.                                   

If you think health food and exercise equipment cost too much to fit into your budget, consider how expensive it is to be unhealthy and sickly. According to a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) There are more obese US adults than those who are just overweight. Almost half the population of the US is overweight, BUT nearly one third of adults are obese. If a person’s body weight is at least 20% higher than it should be, he or she is considered obese. If your Body Mass Index (BMI) is between 25 and 29.9 you are considered overweight. If your BMI is 30 or over you are considered obese.

Being overweight is expensive. Clothes cost more for one. When traveling on a plane, you may be required to pay for a second seat. You may require a certain model of car because you can’t fit into a compact model.  Limited mobility from extreme obesity may require a person  to need a motorized power chair for even short trips. You may need a handicap accessible house with special facilities and ramps.  Have you noticed how many grocery stores and department stores like Wal-Mart have increased the number of handicapped parking spaces and have started providing motorized shopping carts? Next consider the secondary illnesses triggered from living an unhealthy lifestyle. Everything from high blood pressure and heart  disease  to adult onset diabetes. All of these require treatment with medications, which can be each have side-effects requiring additional medications to correct.  Taking all of this into account, what’s REALLY more expensive? How much more expensive will it be fifty years from now?

First off, I don’t smoke or drink alcohol. These are expensive and bad habits that only deprive you of your health and wealth.  If you are doing these unhealthy things, for God’s sake please quit doing them today. Then apply the money you same towards your new healthier lifestyle. You can always find ways to fit healthier alternatives into your budget.  Secondly I’ve been a vegetarian since college. Ovo-lacto, NOT VEGAN. And no, I have no intention of going vegan either. I like my milk products, eggs and honey far too much.  Going vegetarian will cut your grocery bill while improving your health. Meat is expensive and not really good for you either.

 

“Ninety per cent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs. You are what you eat.”– nutritionist Victor Lindlahr

The shorter the ingredients list is, the better off you are.

Many of today’s groceries  are filled with preservatives, chemicals, fillers, and dyes. Also they are overly processed and sweetened with high fructose corn syrup or sugar. Some still even have trans-fats.  No wonder diabetes and obesity are rampant in our country. We’ve become a nation of junk-food junkies.    

goodfood 

I’m not going to tell you that healthier food doesn’t cost more than junk food, but good health is PRICELESS!  The extra money you are spending for organic, non-GMO, ‘health’ foods, and supplements may seem pricey at first, but imagine how much better off you’re going to be in your golden years when you aren’t wasting all your money on dozens of medications to combat all the future health issues you prevented by living a healthy style today.  Not all of the food-swaps you will be more expensive. Bottled spring water is cheaper than soda. V8 vegetable juice is good for you and has less calories per serving than soda or fruit juice.  An orange or a banana are cheaper than most candy bars. Better for you too. Ditch white bread altogether! It’s one of the worst foods out there.  Switch to wraps such as Flatout flatbreads, or sprouted grain breads like  Food for Life’s Ezekiel 4:9 Bread, or   Dave’s Killer Bread, the #1 best-selling organic, whole grain, Non-GMO Project Verified bread available.  They even have bagels!

I usually like eating a PB&J sandwich for lunch, and when I do I ONLY use the BEST peanut butter Crazy Richard’s  (which has ONE ingredient: PEANUTS), and my favorite pepper jam from Jacky’s Jams and Jellies.   Jacky’s Jams are handmade, all natural, fat free and no gluten added. Also no preservatives or food coloring added. Just a few simple ingredients.

Here’s some other suggestions you can do to improve your health:

Keep track of where you are in your journey to better health

Most successful fitness enthusiasts keep a fitness journal. This can list everything from the days you exercise to your weight or what you eat. I’ve been recording my weight weekly for years. Having something to chart my progress really helps to keep track of where I am, where I was, and where I want to be. 

Add supplements to your diet  

A multi-vitamin can help supplement some of the vitamins and  minerals necessary for good health. You decide what’s right for you. Just be mindful of the dosages. Some discount vitamins may not pack as much punch, or lack potency due to inferior contents. Do your research and always remember that you get what you pay for.

Look into Chiropractic care

I’ve been seeing a chiropractor regularly for years. I feel they are essential to good health, a credit them for my lack of back and neck pain. Again you decide if this route is good for you.

Therapeutic Massage

Treat yourself to a massage to release toxins and improve circulation. I go monthly for a 90-minute full body massage. It’s worth the expense and I feel wonderful. 

 “You can do it.”– Fitness guru Tony Little

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Join a gym.

The average monthly cost of a gym membership in the US is about $40 a month. Look around, there are some discount gyms out there.  Planet Fitness  offers memberships for as little as $10 a month. I have the Black Level membership which has a few extra perks and just cost $21.99 a month. I like the fact that they are open ’24/5′ M-F,  7am to 7pm Sat & Sun. It fits my busy schedule. The advantage of joining a gym is that you’re not buying expensive exercise equipment that you’re only going to use a few times and then hid in the basement. 

Of course you can always do sit-ups, push-ups and jog for free.

No matter what you do, the only way to effectively lose weight is to eat right, eat less, and exercise.

Look what’s for dinner!

Skip eating out, fast foods, or frozen microwave dinners. Cook fresh healthy meals at home. Subscribe to a meal-kit delivery service. They deliver the meals to your door in kit form. You just follow the recipe and do the cooking yourself, all the ingredients are provided (excluding butter, cooking oil, salt and pepper).    There are four major meal-kit delivery services that I know of in the USA. FULL DISCLOSURE: The ONLY one I have used is Hello Fresh.  Some of my friends and co-workers have tried the others.  I am one-thousand per cent satisfied with the vegetarian menu  from Hello Fresh. I had a discount code to try it, (most do) and I decided to give Hello Fresh a try for one month to see if I liked it. I didn’t need a month. ONE BOX was all it took. I have cooked some of the most  amazing, healthy, flavorful  meals I have ever eaten.  I URGE you to try a meal-kit delivery service, and I will let you chose which is right for you. They all appear to have similar offerings, websites, and prices. Most run about $60 a week for three two-person meals. As I am single, I usually cook the meal, eat one serving and have the second  serving the next day as leftovers. Because you’re dealing with fresh foods, you MUST cook the entire three meals within five days max.  If you decide to try Hello Fresh, use my promo code EXPRESSOM to get $40 off your first box.

Four Popular Meal Kit Services Listed In Alphabetical Order.  

I have been using Hello Fresh now for three weeks. I have cooked some amazing meals.

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This is in the Hello Fresh box. Three recipe cards, some promotional offers, and a big insulated cold bag with an ice pack containing, three 2-person meals, each meal separated in a smaller paper bag.

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This is the contents of one bag, the Yellow Squash Flatbreads meal.

hellofresh3Here’s the finished meal. Delicious! IMG_0070

Who needs to go to a restaurant when you can cook fine meals like this at home? Fresh herbs, fresh ingredients, few if any preservatives. If you have basic cooking skills and a basic assortment of kitchen utensils,  pots and pans, you can cook these meals easily in about 30-50 minuets, prep time included. Discover what great food tastes like.

Another benefit of the meal kit is that it helps teach you portion control. The caloric information per serving is listed on the recipe cards. As each meal makes exactly two servings, you become accustomed to what is a healthy amount of food. Binge eating is disastrous to your health. Like I said, I cook the two person meal and eat the second serving  the next day for dinner as left overs. So my three meal Hello Fresh box is providing me almost a full week of healthy dinners.

Again, all of these suggestions are just that, suggestions. Only you can decide what’s right for you. Fitting all of the above into your budget may be tricky and take time depending on your financial situation, but neglecting your health all together will prove to be far more expensive in medical costs decades from now. An ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure. As always, I wish you happiness and success!