Thursday, April 17, 2014

Don't Waste Your Left Over Brewed Coffee

Every Friday morning, it is my routine to clean up the coffee pots that I used for the Bible Study that is held in my house on Thursday nights. I usually get 10 to 15 women so I make sure that there is enough coffee for everybody. It is better to have more than less.

While I was pouring the left over coffee last week, it occurred to me that maybe I could use it to fertilize my plants instead of wasting it. I have been using used ground coffee for years, so why not the left over brewed coffee? I stopped what I was doing and started searching the internet. Voila! I found three helpful articles about it.

No more wasted leftover coffee from now on. I only need to dilute it then sprinkle my vegetable garden and flower garden with it. You can find the information on this link.

Monday, April 7, 2014

BIG HOUSE, Small House

I always enjoy talking with my neighbors, who are mostly retired, and listen to their stories growing up. Some of them grew up in our neighborhood and knew each other since they were little. One of them used to swim in our swimming pool (now covered with a redwood deck) in the summer when he was about seven or eight.

Back then people would buy a house and they would stay in it until it is paid off. Neighbors had time to know or befriend each other. Their children grew up or grew old together. Retirement was easier then because there were no mortgages to worry about.

It is very common these days that after building up a little equity, people would sell their house to acquire a bigger and fancier one. There is nothing wrong with doing that, IF you can afford it. If it will put your finances in jeopardy, DO NOT DO IT. 

There are so many things to consider before deciding whether buying a bigger house is the right thing to do. You have to ask yourself the following questions:  

  1. Do you have enough time and money to pay your mortgage off before you retire? 
  2. Can you afford to pay higher monthly mortgage?
  3. Are you prepared to pay higher property tax and home insurance?
  4. Can you afford the upkeep of a bigger house?

By staying in the same house they bought long time ago, my neighbors are still paying the property tax based on the original price of the house. The value of their house is also way up compare to the original price they paid. 

The same thing helped us kept upfloat after losing some of our investment income. Having no mortgage to worry about and having a very low property tax made it easier for us to adjust to our new budget. We would really be in trouble right now if we had a mortgage to pay.

If you ask my neighbors for tips on how to retire comfortably, they only have one thing to say; plan on paying off everything while you are still working. When you retire, the only bills you should have are the utility bills. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Are You Prepared?

The past few weeks, some areas in California were shaken by small earthquakes. They were not strong enough to create significant damage, but enough to touch our nerves. 

If a devastating earthquake hit your area today, are you prepared?

When preparing, the usual things that comes to mind are food, water, blanket, flashlight, photo albums, and first aid kit.

There are other things that we need to keep handy should we need them. Important documents such as birth certificate, marriage certificate, passport, home insurance, earthquake insurance, mortgage information, Social Security Card or even tax returns needs to be in a safe and accessible place. We may need some of these if we have to file damage claims or ask for assistance. 

I am aware that almost every document now can be accessed online, but remember, if we get hit so bad, we may lose electricity. Internet access will be impossible. Not having hard copies in hand will delay everything. 

This Red Cross list provides helpful information on what we need to prepare in case of emegency.  

Monday, March 31, 2014

Avoid Surprises

During tax season, we always wish that we could claim our dog as our dependent. We could not so we have to pay our dues.

To make it easy for us, we set aside “tax money” in the beginning of the year. We put it in the savings account and pretend that the money does not exist. I always cringe everytime I see how much money we have to give to the government, but it is what it is. 

We do the same thing with other bigger expenses such as car, house and earthquake insurance. Every month, we set aside certain amount. When the bill comes, we have saved enough to pay it off.

My husband and I work well together on this area. He is the bookeeper and I am the moneykeeper. He schedules the payment and I do the paying. In that way, we both have full knowledge of our financial status. There is no surprises. 

How about you? What kind of system do you use? 

Friday, March 28, 2014

My Water Friendly Backyard

To save on water, we converted most of our backyard into a rock garden. It was a back-breaking project but we did it and survived.

Then on the farthest back, there was an old swimming pool that was too damaged and would cost too much money to repair. It was an eyesore for a long time, not to mention dangerous. To make it useful, we put a wood deck on top of it and converted it into our "mini resort".

On the side, we planted drought tolerant plants. It only needed to be watered occasionally.

The only part that needs regular watering is the narrow strip where I grow my vegetables.

After doing all these, our water bill dropped significantly.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Easy and Low Cost Gardening

I was talking to a friend about home gardening and she was very frustrated that she spent so much money on soil, fertilizer, pesticide and pots last year but she only was able to harvest 6 tomatoes. 

Gardening does not need to be expensive. I compost all year long and use it to amend soil in my vegetable garden. I do not even have a real compost bin. I use the big trash can that has been sitting inside our garage for years. I poked holes around it and I roll it on the ground once a week.

My improvised compost bin.

I also save used ground coffee and eggshells. I crush the eggshells into small pieces and mix it with ground coffee. I then put it around the base of the vegetables. It protects my vegetables from the slugs and provides the nutrients that they need.

Ground coffee and eggshells are good for your garden.

Lastly, I practice companion planting. I personally do not like using pesticide in my garden. I strategically place my vegetables where each kind can benefit from the other. An example, I plant tomatoes with garlic, marigold, and nusturtium. Garlic repels spider mites, marigold repels nematodes, and nasturtium deters aphids, whiteflies and squash bugs. I let my vegetables help and protect each other.

I never had to buy fertilizer or use pesticide. All I do is water my plants regularly and wait for the harvest. 

My husband said I give to much caffeine to my plants and that is why they are hyperactive that they could not stop producing. 

Too much caffeine? This is a photo from last year when my kabocha squash took over the backyard.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What's In Your Diet?

Our daily dose of vitamins
Having a ‘health nut” primary physician can really have an impact to people like us who have “eat, drink, and be merry” attitude. While my husband and I are not planning to be a pure vegetarian, the change in our diet is benefiting us significantly.

The last time my husband went for his routine checkup, his doctor made a comment that if all his patients will do what my husband does, he will be out of work. He was so happy that all the tests came normal, including my husband’s blood sugar level. He has a type 2 diabetes.

How did we do it? We never tried to starve ourselves nor take away the foods we love. For some reason, when we try restricting ourselves, we meet all kinds of resistance from within. It feels like punishment! 

Instead of taking away, we added more. We incorporated vegetables in everything we eat. We also started eating fish more.

For breakfast, we eat vegetable smoothie. I talked about it in my previous post. The doctor did not advise fruit juicing because of my husband’s diabetes. It would be like injecting sugar directly into his viens. 

For lunch, we usually eat light snacks. We go back to our heavy meat diet for dinner.

As we eat more vegetables and fish, we noticed that it changed our appetite. Our cravings for meat became less and less. We realized it when my husband grilled hamburgers for dinner one afternoon. When we started eating, we could not swallow it. We lost our appetite for it. We ate salad instead.

Our meat consumption now is very minimal. We do not buy expensive steaks and pork chops anymore which in turn, saves us money. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

From carnivores to...wait, what?

Kale became a vital part of our everyday diet.
During the flu season in 2012, my husband and I caught the virus. We got hit so bad I thought we were going to die. Even when we recovered from it, it took us a few months before we totally gained our strength back.

That experience made us reconsider our eating habits. We both love meat. We can eat steak everyday. When we were newlyweds, we ate steak almost everyday until we got so sick of it.

My husband hardly ate vegetables. I do like vegetables but I like meat better. We were a family of carnivores until my husband's primary doctor persuaded him to eat more vegetables and less meat if not at all.

It was hard in the beginning. My husband does not like cooked vegetables and munching on carrots and celery can get boring. 

One morning, my husband suggested, maybe if we would make a smoothie out of different vegetables, we will be able to eat it.

It took a few experiments before we finally perfected the right combination. It is a mixture of banana, blueberries, tomatoes, carrots, celery, kale, spinach, cucumber, chia seeds and flax seeds. I know, it does not sound appetizing but believe me, it is good and it works. We eat it everyday for breakfast.

Another flu season had passed and thougn we were always surrounded by sick people, we did not get sick at all. We even stopped buying and taking vitamins and other supplements. We get all the nutrients we need from fresh vegetables and fruits.

Eating healthy can save you money in the long run. You will not be spending it on doctors, medications and hospitals. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Turn It Off!

When we received our gas bill last month, my first reaction was to turn the thermostat off. 

During winter, our usual bill ranges from $90 to $130 a month depending on how cold it gets. To get a bill for $195 is way too high for us.

We have centralized heating and airconditioning unit and we thought maintaining a constant temperature in the house would save us money. We never bother to turn the thermostat off even when we leave the house for a whole day. 

Getting that particular bill prompted us to diligently check if the thermostat is off everytime we leave the house. 

I was so happy when I received our next bill. It went down to $95. 

Turn it off. Save energy and money.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Live Within Your Means

A page from my old journal.
Living within your means is one of the most used phrases around. Doing it successfully is another story. I talked about how I was able to survive and save with a thousand dollars monthly salary in my other post

One thing that helped me most was focusing on what I have, not what other people have. If I spend my time being envious about my neighbors’ or friends’ abundant lifestyle, then I will start to feel sorry for myself. I would be tempted to live like them even when I could not afford it. 

My roommate was driving a brand new Nissan. My car was a 1988 Dodge. It was given to me by my boss. My friends shopped at Macy's, I shopped at thrift store. I did not care at all. I learned to rejoice with them and be content with what I have. 

Don’t get me wrong. It was my dream to be able to live a good life, travel, and do things that I enjoy most. Until then, I just work hard and strive to improve the quality of my life.

I still keep the journal that I used to monitor my budget. Every cent that I spent was recorded in it. It helped me set my limit prioritize my spending. 

My husband wonders why I would not toss it even after we got married. For me, it is a great reminder that I can be happy and content even when I did not have much.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Got Refund?

I was working for a small nonprofit agency when my husband and I got married. The day after we said our vows, my husband decided to consolidate our bank accounts and credit cards. 

When we went to my bank to close my account, my husband was very surprised to see that I had $3,500 in my savings account. You might think it was nothing but with my $1,000 monthly salary as a caseworker, it was almost impossible to have any saving.

How did I do it? When I opened my bank account, I set up an automatic $25 monthly savings. Everytime I get my paycheck, that amount would be automatically withdrawn from my checking and be deposited to my savings account. I did not wait until I get a bigger income before I started saving. Small savings is better than nothing at all.

The bigger part of my savings came from my tax refund. Every year, tax refunds goes to my savings account. While most people were thinking where to spend theirs, I was more concern of saving for the rainy days.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 is on SALE!

We have all done it. We saw an item and it was on sale. We do not need it at the moment but we tell ourselves we could keep it for a future use. A year later, we still have not found a use for it. We realized the item is just occupying space that we could use for more important things. We either give it away or toss it.

I am glad I was able to give away things that I do not need but for some, a habit of buying things they do not need can lead to a more serious problem; hoarding. 

Keep in mind, we do not have to buy things just because it is on sale. I know the promise of big savings if you buy their products is very tempting. Once you bought it, you spent, not saved. The only real saving is when the money stayed in your wallet.

Always do a balance check between wants and needs. It will help you eliminate wasteful spending.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Watch Your Score

In my previous article, I mentioned how maintaining good credit standing benefited us. It takes discipline and determination before anyone would be able to establish good credit history. I cannot speak for other people but I can share how we did it. 

First, we only maintain three credit cards from major financial institutions. We have one Visa, one Mastercard, and one American Express. We turned down hundreds of credit card offers. Applying to every credit card offer would lower your credit score.

Second, we do not use our credit cards at the same time. We also make sure that when we do use them, the whole amount will be paid off when the bill comes. In that way, we will not worry about late payment. It is another factor that affects credit standing.

Third, we designated one card to use for our regular shopping. It makes it easy for us to monitor our spending. This is the card that gives us cash back for every purchase we make. It is tied up with Costco so we do not have to pay the credit card's annual fee. 

Every year, we receive two cash back checks; one from the credit card company and one from Costco. The amount in those checks covers our Costco membership fee. 

Fourth, we use the other two credit cards just enough to keep them active and in good standing. Two to three times a year would be enough.

Fifth, we only use 10 to 20 percent of our credit limit. It sends a bad signal to the creditor when your balance is more than 50 percent of your credit limit.

The last point is a bonus point. My husband and I competes on who gets the highest credit score. Our finances are consolidated so it is always a tie. 

Yes, it is important that you and your spouse are in the same page. A family that creates good credit together saves together.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Go For Quality, Not Quantity

I was walking in a mall one time when I saw this big sign: Closing Out Sale! Everything Must Go! My eyes gravitated to the pile of T-shirts that says 3 for $10.

I was planning to buy a few T-shirts to replace the ones I have. I thought, why not? It is cheap. As I go through the pile, I got carried away. I bought nine different colors. 

Good deal! I got nine T-shirts for $30 and so I thought. 

When I got home, I washed them right away. You probably already guessed what happened next. All of them shrunk. I could not even put them past my head.

We always hear the phrase, you get what you pay for. In my case, I did not even get what I paid for. I could have used my $30 to buy one piece of a trusted brand that would have last for a long time.

Lesson learned. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?

My cute dog Lilly
Our dog is the cutest and the smartest dog in the whole wide world. After we got her from a local shelter, it only took  a week before she started running our household. She is very loving and playful dog. When she wants something, she only has to stand in front of us, wag her tail and with those big brown eyes looking at us, we would do anything for her.

We do have the tendency to spoil our dog rotten. She even has her own couch. We take her to the groomer once a month where we spend $45 for every visit. I, on the other hand, visit my hairdresser three times a year and my husband cuts his own hair. 

We buy her so many toys. She has to have the best foods and treats. The only thing that we do not do for her is dress her up. My husband believes that dogs are hairy enough to keep themselves warm and comfortable. 

On food alone, we spend $118 a month. We give her a mixture of dry and wet.  

Veterinarian visit is always expensive. Good thing we only have to take her once a year.

We love our dog but we realized she is becoming too expensive for us. We started to bathe her ourselves. It is quite an enjoyable task and she loves it, too! We saved $45 every month.

Costco became our place to buy dog foods and treats. For a 40-pound bag of dry food, we pay $27.79. For a box of wet food, we pay $18.79. The box contains 24 cans of 13.2 ounce of wet food. A 15-pound dog biscuits only cost us $11.79. The dry food lasts for six months and the wet food for a month and a half. That is a huge savings! 

As far as her toys are concerned, it turned out that her favorite is the one that was a free give away from a pet store. We did not have to buy every cute toy that we see in the store. If she does not want to play with it, it is just a waste of money. What she likes most is for me to chase her around the house and the backyard. Priceless.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sew It If You Can

Our dining room.
When our drapes became so embarrassing that we did not even want to invite friends over, we realized it was time to replace it. 

Our house was built in 1928 and almost every thing in the house is from its original state including the curtain rods. It is designed for pinch pleat drapes.

Our original plan was to buy the ready made ones. We visited every store that sells curtains and drapes and we did not find ones that we wanted. Those we like were too expensive and the inexpensive ones had poor quality. Buying online was not an option. We like to inspect it first before we decide to buy it.

We thought the only remaining option was to have it custom made. I loved the idea! We can choose the materials we want. 

We were excited until we learned how much would it cost us. For the dining room, living room and two bedrooms, it would cost us between $4,000 and $5,000 depending on the materials we choose.

I told my husband, I was just going to make it myself. I can sew but I never made drapes before. I would rather try doing it myself than spend that kind of money. 

We went to the nearby fabric store and discovered that the materials were not cheap either. The cheapest we could find was $20 per yard. We needed 50 yards so just for the fabric, we would have to spend $1,000! On top of that, we wanted the drapes lined. That was another $600 for the $12 per yard lining. Whew! 

We drove to downtown Los Angeles garment district the next day hoping to find a better deal. That was an excellent move!  We found the same material for only $6 per yard and the same lining for $3 per yard. We were also able to buy curtain materials for the family room. The whole thing cost us $500.

It took me a month to finish the drapes and curtains but it was worth it.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Savory Saving

We love herbs. Every time we cook, it will not be complete until we put some fresh herbs on it. Our favorites are basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and lemon grass. If you buy those, a small pack would cost $3 to $4 each. We try to save the leftovers but most of the times, they end up in the trash can.

I always feel bad everytime I throw away the wilted or dried herbs. It is like throwing money in the trash can. 

Since we only like using fresh herbs, I decided to plant my own to eliminate waste. I bought two large pots and planted basil and parsley on one, and oregano and thyme on the other. I planted the rosemary and lemon grass on the ground. 

The ones that I planted on the pots are the ones that cannot stand very cold temperature. During winter, I move them to a protected area or inside the house. I even transfer some in a smaller pot and place it on the kitchen counter. In that way, I would have an endless supply of herbs. 

If you live in an apartment and do not have a yard, you can always plant your favorite herbs on small pots and have a little herb garden in your kitchen.

I let the herbs flowers and produce seeds, then let the seeds fall in the pot and grow. They reproduce themselves pretty well. It has been three years since I planted my herbs and I have not yet had to buy any new seeds.

Not only the herb adds beauty to the landscape, it also provides soothing aroma. What a way to save! 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Compare Prices

When it comes to grocery shopping, convenience was on top of our list. We liked the idea of getting everything we need from one place. My husband is retired so we have the privilege of doing all the shopping on weekdays. We do not have to fight for a parking spot.

A rude awakening happened when one time, we were looking for an after shave cream and our favorite grocery store did not have it. We had to drive to another store to get it. That was when we discovered that all this time, we have been overpaying at our favorite store for the same brand. We saved two dollars by buying it from another store!

I started walking back and forth on each aisle checking prices. My suspicion was confirmed. They have better deals! We did not stop there. We made it our mission to check different stores and compare prices.

We also realized we were not taking advantage of our Costco membership. We have been a Costco members for a long time but we only use the card to buy gas, paper towels and bathroom tissues. After our experience from the other store, we decided to check what else does Costco sells.

We discovered they carry almost everything we need and they are cheaper and bigger. We never went back to our former favorite store. Our shopping schedule also changed from weekly to monthly because we were buying things in bulk. 

Convenience is good but saving is better.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Cook That Meal

Give me no jewelries nor flowers. Give me food, lots of it!

My husband was ecstatic when he learned that he married an unusual woman. I am not into jewelries. I could careless if my clothes are old as long as it is still wearable. I am content with a few pairs of shoes I have. I believe that flowers belong to the garden. 

What my husband did not expect was, I have a bottomless stomach. Being a wonderful man as he is, he introduced me to every good steak house and sushi place around. We used to eat out at least three times a week. We were spending so much on food my husband was probably thinking buying me jewelries were much cheaper.

It was not intentional that we stopped eating out so much. We just got tired of it. One night, my husband offered to cook dinner for us. He was raised by a Sicilian mother and one thing he learned from her was to make a spicy Sicilian spaghetti. It was our first home cooked meal. It was GOOD!

Next thing we knew, we were planning our next dinner at home. We discovered it was more fun cooking our own food. Even better, the money that we used to spend on restaurants stayed in our wallet. We kept it that way. We now only eat out for special occasions.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Costco Membership + Good Credit = Huge Savings

When our twelve-year-old car started to give us so much problems, we knew it was time to buy a new one. We started checking prices online, then we visited different dealerships. We knew what car we wanted and we were just finding ways on how to get good deal. 

Now, we are Costco Executive members and every month we receive their magazine in the mail. We have been wondering about their car buying program. We do not know anybody who used it but we thought we would give it a try.

We were surprised how easy the process was. Costco connected us to the dealer. There are sales agents that are assigned to help Costco members. We were able to meet with him the same day, BUT, before we went to see him, we went online and printed the price of the car that we wanted to buy. In that way, we will see if we were really getting a Costco member discount or not.

To our surprise, we did. We got over a thousand dollars discount! Then, after checking our credit report, the agent said we are qualified for 0% APR financing! How cool is that! The agent was even surprised that we put a down payment on it. He made a comment we could have just used the money for other things. We could but we wanted our monthly payment as low as possible.

Our payment ended up just over a hundred dollars a month. Included in that payment is a seven-year extended warranty. We were more than satisfied when we drove our new car home. It pays to maintain good credit standing. It came handy when we needed it.

Oh, and did I say we love Costco?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

We Are Now Smarter Than Our Phones!

Free at last! We finally cut our association with the giant wireless phone provider. It was such a relief.

After our success in getting out of the cable contract, we found another wasteful expense. This time, it is our cell phones. 

No, we did not get rid of them. We did not go back to dumb phones either. We still have our smart phones. What we do not have this time is a contract. We have total control of what services we want to subscribe. We have the flexibility to change our plan anytime depending on what we need at the moment. 

Yes, there is such a thing! 

For the past seven years, we had a family plan with rollover minutes and unlimited texting. When we bought our iPhones we were also required by our provider to buy data for both phones.

Again, God graciously showed how wasteful we were. We never text so the unlimited texting was totally useless. Most of the time, we only use our cell phones to call each other. The minutes we use do not count. At the end of every year, we always have more than 8,000 unused minutes. The average consumption of our data was not even a tenth of what we were paying for. What a waste!

When our contract ended, we were determined not to be tied up again for another two years. I started checking other wireless providers. We do not like the hassle of prepaid phones so that was out of the list. 

For a few days all I did was search and compare. I also took time to read reviews for each provider. In the end, we were convinced that the best no-contract phone for us was Consumer Cellular. We have been seeing their ads but we thought it was too good to be true. We also thought we will have to go back to dumb phones.  

By the time I wrote this post, it’s been a couple of months since we have made the transfer. We were able to use our iPhones. There was no activation fee. We did not have to change our phone numbers and the money that we are saving every month is awesome. We used to pay $150 every month with our old plan. Now, we are only paying $25 a month and that covers both of us!

Not bad, eh?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Bye, Bye, Cable!

I remember the time when my husband and I could not imagine a life without cable television. We hardly watch movies but we love shows like Bones, Rizzoli and Isles, White Collar, CSI, Castle, NCIS, Criminal Minds and the likes.

Life was good. We did not mind paying almost $200 a month to our cable company. They deserve it, right? They make our life exciting! 

There were times when we felt that television is taking so much of our time but in most cases, we just dismissed the little voice. 

There was only one problem, we are Christians and we knew that we were not being a good steward of our time and money. We knew we had to do something about it. It was a good intention.

Until, of course, God put us in a position where we do not have a choice but to act on our good intention. Our expenses skyrocketed and we lost some of our investment income.

Suddenly, we were in a situation where we had no choice but to reduce our monthly expenses to balance our budget. My husband and I sat down and began identifying things that we do not need.

Guess which made it to the top of the list; cable! Do we really need to spend that much money to be entertained? The answer, a big NO.

My husband called the cable company and tried to negotiate the rate. First, they reduced about $30 dollars from our monthly bill. In return, we will only get basic channels. 

When my husband started surfing the channels, we realized that our wonderful cable company only gave us local channels. Oh, I take that back, there were many other channels. The only problem was, they are broadcasting in languages we do not understand! What a rip-off!

I started searching the internet for antennas. I heard about people using antennas and get the local channels for free. After comparing many kinds of antennas, we decided to try the Ultimate Mohu Leaf indoor antenna. Thanks to You Tube for giving me instructions on how to reprogram our television from cable to Air. 

You will not believe how clear the reception is! The best thing, it is FREE!

From almost $200 a month we now only pay $70 for our internet and home phone. We do need those services.

One important thing that came out of this, we have more time to spend with each other. We now only watch television when we want to see some news.