Tag Archives: junk

Thought for Food

Several months ago I wrote an article extolling what an awesome grocery shopper I was. I boasted that my husband and I were rocking the $100.00 a week budget we set, even including toiletries, pet food, and alcohol. In that article, I wrote that “[t]he choices to substitute good, healthy choices with even better, healthier choices has to be deliberate and strategic.” What I meant was that while we were buying lots of whole grains, produce and meat at the grocery store, we were not at all concerned about organic, free-range, hormone-free, pasture-raised, etc. We were being good citizens, but not great ones. I wrote then that in order to stick to the budget we could not really put any organic, grass-fed, free-range, local items in the shopping cart since eco-friendly and organic usually meant wallet unfriendly. To have done so would have meant either buying, like, five things or blowing the $100.00 budget–or so I thought.

One night–I believe it was in late spring–my husband watched a documentary. These things happen when you cancel cable and get bored and start to flip through Hulu. You watch documentaries. That documentary happened to be Food Inc. and he was horrified. Rather precipitously, he decided we were done with buying food at the grocery store. He also caught a great TED talk by Vicki Robin that summed up many of the ironies and foibles of our current food industry. He then decided we were going to eat local. Local and organic–and all the other adjectives that really only serve to equal expensive?! I looked at him like he was nuts. He is nuts, actually. Not because he wanted to shop differently, but because he though we could do it still for $100 a week. I laughed. I mean, that was what had gotten us into the $800 a month grocery tabs–the increasing number of trips to Whole Foods and Trader Jo’s, dabbling in organics, and starting to care about hormones (Not mine–which are completely in balance, dear husband–but the ones they inject into all the animals we eat). He said, “Let’s just try it.” I rather smugly said fine, you go to the farmer’s market and see how much food you can buy for the week.

I forget what produce he came back with, but I do remember that he brought back a whole chicken. It cost about $16 and was frozen solid. I think this and a pound of ground turkey for $10 was the only meat he managed to get. So… almost $30 for about four pounds of meat. I think in total he spent about $50 between meat and produce. Sounds pretty good, right? Except, we still needed supplies and food for the cats, general toiletries, dairy, bread, pasta, and random “exotics” such as rice, olive oil, and bananas. And he really didn’t get that much food.

Back to this chicken. Previously, I would get a chicken for roasting when they were on sale for around $2-$3 from the grocery store. At that price, you don’t feel bad about roasting the whole thing and having it for one meal. However, at $16 for one smallish chicken, the damn thing has to stretch for 3-4 meals. My husband handed it over like I would automatically know what to do with it.

Well, of course I did. I was just annoyed that it meant a lot of work for me. It was the beginning of what I now call my Sunday “homesteading.” To work with this damn chicken, I had to partially defrost it enough for me to take apart the pieces. Luckily it was a “cut-up” whole chicken which meant that I didn’t have to hack it apart. Once it was defrosted enough to pull apart, I had the breast bone and ribs, two leg quarters, two wings and some on other bony part. I took the breasts off the bone and put them in the refrigerator for one meal, stuck the thighs and wings in the crock pot for another meal and got out my largest pot to make chicken stock/soup. I did manage to get 3-4 meals out of the little sucker, but it took hours to prepare!

After many, many months of undergoing this transition, we have done a pretty good job at staying around $100.00, though we are probably closer to an average of $110.00 per month. Not bad. Especially when you consider that our dairy alone is 20%-25% of the budget. We spend more on meat and eat less of it. And I get really creative with grains, beans and produce. Especially now in the lean Winter months. We have established certain rules that are still changing with the intent of finding local providers or better choices for those items that we still buy at the grocery store. Currently, we do not buy meat from the grocery store, though we continue to shop at the grocery store for some fruit that does not grow here, like bananas and avocados, and also for pet food and supplies, tea, coffee and natural peanut butter and jelly, etc. We even found that our local grocery store carries a few local, healthy products, like bread and honey. There are many things that we would prefer to buy local, but have not been able to find a reliable vendor, such as pasta and pasta sauce. I intended to have so many tomatoes this year that I would have a ton of freezer sauce on hand, but the weather and lack of experience in gardening conspired against me. I even tried making pasta once, and found that it was fairly easy, but time consuming. However, that is really the trick to eating really well on a budget–you spend a lot of time preparing and cooking. Like I mentioned above, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen on Sundays. Though I enjoy it, it takes up a lot of time. Did I mention it was time-consuming?

On the bright side, I am no longer daunted by making chicken soup from bones and I can make one 1 pound chicken breast stretch for three great meals. My husband, who previously refused to eat asparagus and squash, has gotten more adventurous in eating, which I very much appreciate. He even accepts that we will probably eat a completely vegetarian meal at least once, if not twice, a week, and that the remainder of our meals will have less meat in general. Best of all, on most days this past summer and fall, we can look at our dinner plate and know that almost everything we were eating was grown within 50 miles of our home–and more and more was grown by our own hands.

We’ll continue to get better at this as time goes on but we have made an excellent start and we have learned so much about where our food comes from. We have gotten to know local food growers and have started to pay attention to what is going on in the food industry. I am not a non-GMO, anti-Monsanto fanatic, but I do have a deep appreciation for farmers growing food to feed the local population and I feel that we need to support that. If you are not already supporting your local producers, start now!

The easiest first step (ala Vicki Robin–you really should watch that TED talk ,it is short and funny) is to go to your grocery store and figure out which local, small producers have made it to your grocer’s shelves. Even in places like Whole Foods and Food Co-ops, this is surprisingly small. I know that our grocery store carries local honey and bread. Your purchasing power carries a lot of weight and the more those items fly off the shelf, the more the grocery store will carry local items. You can even request that your grocery store carry a certain local product.

Second, visit your farmers market and/or check out your local CSA (community supported agriculture). You may have to do some basic research on which vendors actually grown their own food (just because it shows up at the farmer’s market, doesn’t mean that it was grown locally.) Support those farmers that had their hands in the dirt that morning to cut your fresh head of cabbage. To do this, you will probably have to understand what is in season. A vendor in Illinois that has cucumbers in March probably did not grown it himself/herself. Don’t forget checking out your local agri-tourism industries such as the places you can pick apples or strawberries.

Finally, grow or find your own food! Replace your useless ornamental bushes with bushes of herbs or fruits. Plant fruit trees. Start or expand the garden, or include vegetables interspersed with the flowers.

If you have started a shift from blindly buying items at the grocery store, I would love to hear some of your accumulated knowledge and experiences.

 

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Take Your Stuff and Shove It

This weekend I had a powerful lesson reinforced: No matter how good a deal something is, if you forget you have it or fail to use it, it’s just a waste of money.

This lesson was not relayed in a subtle manner.  Someone who shall remain nameless is contemplating moving, you see. So some of us helped her clear out the kitchen cabinets. We had to throw away a huge quantity of unopened and expired items. Don’t misunderstand, we’re not squeamish. We all seemed to agree that many items could be consumed past their expiration date. But when things expired almost a decade ago, we drew the line.

This unnamed person grew up dirt poor just after the depression. She didn’t gather and forage in the wild in order to have free fruit to add to her daily protein shakes.  She didn’t gather dandelion greens to try the trendy new superfood.  Rather, her family canned in order to have food in the winter.  I can acknowledge that the projects that I smugly post about “sewing”are style over substance. And that the latest, newest up-cycle I pretend to have invented are likely things that this person did out of necessity. If and when I ever get around to canning, it will probably be so I can try to create a gourmet fruit butter.  I get that I am not coming up with new ideas. I do things because of the luxury I have to choose to do them.  This person and her family did things because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t eat.

It is perhaps with this mentality–the one that feels compelled to gather for future stores–that would lead a person to have accumulated so much stuff, particularly food. When I joked with her that she should open up a convenience store on her block, well… it wasn’t a joke.  She had enough inventory. She had so many cans of beans and tomatoes that she could easily have made chili every day for a month without running out of either. Yet, I bet this poor soul still buys a couple cans of each when she finds them to be on sale. I mean, how else did she end up with over 50 cans of beans and tomatoes. And at least 40% of the cans had expiration dates of more than a year ago– many more than five years ago. And here it was–the height of irony and quite a bit of dismay–rather than being the frugal shopper on a fixed income that she thought she was, she was really just wasting money.

We made an interesting discovery this weekend, too.  Over the years, she kept filling up her kitchen with cabinets and refrigerators…saying she needed more storage.  It got to the point where every surface of every wall had a table, cabinet, refrigerator or shelf on it.  Her kitchen had two full sized single door refrigerators, plus the freezer in the garage.  There were two elderly people living in the house.  Two.  That’s all.  Just two.  What they had started doing when they ran out of room in the pantry and cabinets and shelves was store stuff in the fridges.  There were several boxes of pasta in the refrigerator and several boxes of Jiffy Cake mix and corn bread mix in the freezer.  I’m sure there were other things in there that should have been in the pantry, but I was a bit stunned.  Mostly by the eight packages of american cheese singles that were blocking my line of sight.  Meanwhile, dozens and dozens of cans of vegetables and chicken stock were shoved forgotten in other cabinets.  Along with jars and jars of tomatoes and venison that were canned.  She later admitted that it has been years since she has canned (yet she still held on to four different pressure canners, too!)

What this person had been doing was extreme, but it is something that so many of us are guilty of.  We buy these houses that have an extra bedroom, or a basement or an attic–or even all three– and then we proceed to get so much stuff that we fill up each space until it overflows and we create a new space until it overflows and we finally declare that we don’t have enough room.  The truth is that our houses are not too small.  They are just too full of stuff.

I’ve written about this before.   You are not a store. You should not have inventory.  Whatever your shopping obsession, the first thing you must to is just stop.  Stop buying more stuff.  See what you have and get it organized.  Many people buy double or triple an item–or if you’re the person above, nonuple the item–simply because they don’t realize they already have one, or several. The next step is to start using your stuff.  Once you use your stuff, you will be conscientious about what you have and what you need.  Then, if you realize you have no need of it anymore, sell it.  Your stuff is just money waiting to be made. Once you start to get rid of your stuff, not only will you realize how much money you wasted by buying it in the first place, but you will realize that you don’t want to keep wasting your money in that way.

I have picked on various family members–but, then again, I have the blog.  Perhaps, in way of reparation, I will admit to my guilty addiction–though I have received counseling and am in recovery.  It’s romance novels.  You know the kind, with the half-dressed lady in a gown on the front and a dark-haired stud with tanned, muscled forearms holding/capturing/abducting her (not Fabio, though, that’s, like, my mother’s romance novel).  They always have names like “Tough Rider, Tender Kisses.” Anyhow, I had hundreds of them.  I am a pretty avid reader and I read quickly, so I would simply devour these books.  I hid them all away in a cabinet and shut the door.  I wouldn’t admit to myself how many I had…or how much money I was spending on them.  Sometimes, I even bought the same book twice (even I can admit they all kinda look the same after a while). I even re-read them multiple times, but still didn’t stop buying one or two, or several, a month.

Then my husband and I agreed to purge our stuff and I made serious efforts to sell them.  Well, actually, he gave me a Nook for Christmas and strongly hinted that the books had to go.  In any case, I tried every trick in the book to make some money back on these.  For the thousands of dollars that I spent over the course of several years, I probably only made back around three hundred.  Maybe. I am, perhaps, being a little too kind to my folly. This taught me everything I talked about above. In the end,  I realized how much money I had spent in the past and I decided not to throw away that much money again.  I am now happily checking out eBooks from the library. They are free and don’t take up any space.  Plus, I don’t have to feel sheepish about reading a book with two half-naked people on the cover.

The Urge to Purge–Shake your Money Tree

In my last article I discussed how enriching it is to get rid of your stuff. I meant that not only in a feel-good-about-yourself kind of way, but also in the literal sense. Now, can you retire by selling your stuff? Maybe only if you’ve been hoarding a lost Rembrandt or French antiques. So…it’s not likely. However, you can make some serious cash–enough to pay for a vacation, that pricey electronic you’ve been eyeing, or new carpet, for example. Or, maybe just provide an extra boost to help you tackle your debt. If you set a goal for yourself, you will get motivated to start getting rid of stuff to meet that goal.

I previously stated that you are surrounded by money. Granted, it is only a fraction of the money you originally spent on the stuff, but if you know where to sell it, you can maximize how much you can get back.

eBay:

Most people these days are familiar with eBay, though many have never sold anything on the site. It can be intimidating, especially with all these articles about ranking, sales techniques, and customer service. However, posting your stuff on eBay is quite simple. Even if you are just getting started, you can have success. After all, everyone at eBay starts at Zero. And with smart phones, selling on eBay is easier than ever.

You can successfully sell a huge range of stuff on eBay, from socks to cds to kitchen appliances. The thing to remember about eBay is that buyers pay for shipping, too. So if something is disproportionately heavy to its value, then you probably shouldn’t bother selling it. Also, if the object is so large or unwieldy as to make finding a box nearly impossible, you may want to reconsider selling it on eBay.

Listing on eBay is not free. However, they offer enough promotions that you can most always list for free. Wait for these promotions. Do not cut into your bottom line by paying to list. EBay also charges a percentage fee of the shipping you charged. So keep in mind that if you price your shipping exactly, you are actually paying something from your own pocket to ship. It is okay to charge for packing materials and handling fees.

When you set up an eBay account, you should connect it to a PayPal account. That makes transactions a lot easier and makes keeping track of your money a piece of cake.

In my opinion the hardest thing about eBay is finding boxes and shipping supplies. You can make this easier on yourself if you have a designated place where you keep supplies and if you find a good resource for free boxes and shipping supplies like bubble wrap and air packs (such as an office or store).

You can do pick-up only on eBay for items such as furniture and large appliances, but this tends to be a frustrating process because a lot of buyers don’t catch that they are purchasing something for pick-up. This happens because eBay buyers are not only nation-wide but world-wide. However, you may get more money for your items since a bidding war might start.

eBay requires relatively little upfront effort. You can start small, too, so it’s not overwhelming. But once you see the the stuff you considered junk start to sell you will get addicted. You will then start to sift through all you appliances and question whether you really need a magic bullet, a blender, and a plunge blender. (The answer is yes to the blender and plunge blender, but no to the magic bullet, so off it goes). Your stuff will sell. You may have to list it a couple of times and adjust some prices, but it will eventually sell.

This method is like having a slow, manageable garage sale all year long. So instead of hoarding a pile that never goes away (sometimes in your garage left over from last year because it never got further than that) you are working through your stuff all the time and making money. If it really doesn’t sell on eBay, then set it aside for your garage sale.

Craigslist:

I recommend using Craigslist when you have an item that is too big or difficult to ship. People shop Craigslist based on their location, so they are local to you. Craigslist is great for furniture, appliances–big and small–, exercise equipment, and home improvement supplies. Craigslist is FREE to list, so it is very low commitment up front. You will likely get contacted pretty quickly and often in the first day of listing because your listing will be one of the first that pops up. You can direct people to contact you by phone or email or both.

There are a few annoying things about Craigslist. First, you might have to re-post several days in a row so that people actually look at your stuff. Unfortunately, Craigslist has a policy against this. You are not supposed to re-list the same thing over and over. But if you are in an area where searching for “dining room table” yields hundreds of results per day, then few people will scroll back a couple of days ago when you listed your dining room table.

The second thing to be cautious of with Craigslist is that people will come to your house. If you are not prepared or preferential to this, then this is not for you. I have never had a problem with Craigslist, but I suppose there is a reason that it is warned about.

Also, you either have to be very clear about having people bring someone to carry heavy items or make sure someone from your end can help. If you are having them move it, they will walk through your house and carry heavy stuff without much care and caution.

To combat those annoying Craigslist issues, have the item brought down on your end before-hand to your garage so that people are not coming into your house. Ask for cash only, or set up payment with PayPal before hand so you know they are legit. And have someone at home with you so that when four large men come by to cart away your old bedroom set, it’s not too terrifying.

Craigslist also has a pretty good smart phone app. It makes listing a piece of cake.

Half-Price Books:

Half-Price Books (“HPB”) is a chain of second-hand stores located in Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. They will give you cash for books, cds, magazines, games, puzzles, some kid’s toys, records, comic books, and stationary (among other things). Cash. In. Your. Hand. Granted, unless you are taking loads of best sellers from the last two years, it won’t be a ton of money, but it beats sitting at a garage sale for three days selling this stuff for 25 cents a pop and still having a ton of it left over. Rather than wasting your time doing that, just take it all to HPB and call it a productive day, then enjoy the rest of your weekend. You don’t need an appointment to bring your stuff by, it usually doesn’t take too long for them to tally up your winnings and you get to walk away with CASH. And if you think it’s way too little, then lug it all back home and save it for the garage sale.

Consignment

I have successfully sold clothes on eBay, though I have only found it to be successful with new or like new name-brand ladies’ clothing or accessories. In fact, if you have Guess Jeans that you finally acknowledge are too tight after your second uncomfortable wear, list them on eBay. They will sell for a surprising amount of money.

Unfortunately, in order to maximize your earnings on eBay, you list one item at a time, and it gets really tedious to list and re-list all that stuff. The point is to get rid of your clothes, not store it for another year until it finally sells on eBay. Plus, the great normal majority of us don’t go through our closets one name-brand item at a time. Rather, you probably have that one day when you are finally fed up with the mess, or that or that one day you feel ambitious enough to re-organize your closet. Either way, what you end up with is a huge mound of clothing. In the olden days, I would put these in a bag or bin and wait for THE Garage sale. But now, I do things differently because I am tired of selling the nice things I buy for 50 cents a piece.

So I finally decide on another route and searched for a consignment shop near my house. I took my pile of clean, mostly name-brand clothes and lugged a large box over to the store. I then found out that they are only taking summer clothes. Okay, that was a bit of an inconvenience but apparently they start taking fall clothing in July so it’s not too much of a delay. Basically, once I figure out this process a bit more, I will be better organized. Granted, I have to see if any of the stuff sells, but if it does, I will get a healthy percentage of their sale price and all I had to do was let someone else do the work. The consignment store I went to also handled home furnishings, home decor, and children’s clothes. So next i go in, i may take some more junk with me. Unfortunately they do not handle men’s clothes.

Garage Sale:

All this Garage Sale bashing aside, they do have their place. After all, you can’t sell random juice glasses and cheap candle holders and free t-shirts on eBay. ( If you can get it at the dollar store, it’s just not worth trying to list on-line.) However, it is worth putting it on all on a table and seeing if anyone else wants it. It is surprising how fast 50 Cent transactions add up to some real spending money. Yes, you’ll need some big ticket items to make the Garage sale really worth your time, but it is a perfect opportunity to get rid of your odds and ends.

What I have found myself doing recently is trying all of the above methods first and then leaving it for a Garage Sale when it doesn’t sell. My Garage sale pile is smaller and what is left is stuff I know I can’t get a good price for in other places.

Donations:

Why not just donate? Well..it’s tricky to figure out how much monetary value you are going to get. It may very well be Zero. So if you are donating to get the tax refund, you better make sure that you are actually going to get a tax refund. In order to make the donation affect your taxes, you must itemize your deductions rather than taking the standard deduction. If you take a standard deduction, all that nice stuff that you are giving to the Salvation Army is simply a donation and not a tax deduction. Even if you are itemizing, your tax benefit is worth only the rate of your tax bracket. So, if you are donating a book and you say its value is $1 and you are in the 15% tax bracket, then the tax savings/benefit is only 15 cents.

So let’s say that you are going to make $500 at a garage sale over a three day weekend. In order for a donation to be more valuable than that to you, you would need to value your items at the following amounts depending on your tax bracket:

Tax Bracket / Estimated Value of Donated Items

10% / $5000

15% / $3333

25% / $2000

28% / $1785

33% / $1515

35% / $1428

Sometimes a donation can put you into a lower tax bracket by reducing your taxable income, and that is something to consider. If you are considering donations, you should keep receipts in case of an audit, especially if the total annual donation amount is more than $500. Donations above $500 need to be reported on form 8283 and need to include information on the organization, as well as the date and articles donated. The tax professionals hat helped me sound like less of a moron in this paragraph also recommended that you seek the advice of a tax professional if you have any questions and that you should not take this article as a replacement for tax advice.

These are some of my methods, though I am sure there are plenty others out there. I have heard that Facebook is a good forum, but I have not explored it. Some people also have success with flea markets or those antique malls (which really aren’t just for antiques), especially with large quantities of one thing like books or tea cups. If you have a good source, let’s hear about it.

Less Binge, More Purge

I’ve recently converted. I am not talking about religion or politics…I am talking about stuff. I am a firm believer in less of it and I recently converted to the gospel of getting rid of it.

Seriously, I talk about this pretty often with my friends and family.  This conversion almost certainly drives my mother nuts. I was not a particularly orderly child. These days when I go to her house and start to organize drawers, she probably laments that I wasn’t like this as a teenager and now it’s just annoying to her.  We’ve reached a compromise, though, she will put up with me going through her stuff and telling her to stop buying so much of it, and I will put up with her cleaning my toilets. Should I tell her that I’m getting the better end of the bargain there?  Nah.

I will stop picking on my mom for a moment, because, truthfully, we all have too much stuff. You do, I do…we all do. A recent article I came across in Money Magazine stated that  “most Americans homes are stuffed with stuff–so much so, in fact, that about one in 10 households pays for extra storage space….” But even before we get to storage facilities, we first fill the inside of our homes–which often have spare rooms filled with unused stuff and basements and attics filled with long since forgotten and broken stuff. We have closets and garages, and cabinets and drawers filled to over-capacity with stuff.

A couple of funny things happen, though, when you finally commit to getting rid of all this excess baggage.  First, you realize how much money you wasted in buying this stuff, some of which is never even used, and some of which you kept buying because you thought you didn’t have any more of the thing. After attempting to begin to organize three bathroom drawers for my mother, we quickly came to the conclusion that she will not need to buy another nail file for at least a good decade.

The second thing that happens with you start to purge is you realize that all the stuff you have laying around is actually money.  So yes, you actually are made of money. You just have to mobilize and sell it.  But that’s a topic for a follow-up article.

Even though my husband and I started downsizing our stuff (not our house… we’re staying around until housing prices rebound a bit) a couple of years back, it’s a constant process.  I have to keep telling myself to REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE, and RECYCLE.  Your process does not have to be in this order, but this mantra helps you on your journey to financial freedom and eco-responsibility.

Refusing free stuff is hard because, well… it’s free.  But my rule is that I will only take stuff if I already use it regularly (like wrapping paper and tissue and fabric) and I will save  money by not purchasing it.  Another part of REFUSE is being disciplined about shopping.  A good sale, like chocolate mousse, is almost impossible to resist.  But I promise you that once you begin to get rid of your stuff and you see the amount of things that you didn’t use very often or at all, you will be more conscientious about your purchases.

The last thing I am encouraging you to do is embracing REDUCE by throwing everything you own in a the landfill.  Please don’t do that.  Think first about REUSE and RECYCLE.  I will be doing  a follow up article for where all your stuff can go, including some great ways to earn money.

In summary, clearing the clutter from your life has so many advantages.  It will make you feel less stressed.  You will enjoy living in your home more.  You can make money.  You can donate to someone super appreciative.  You can shut your drawers and doors as furniture gods intended.   You will be able to find things again.  And finally, you will value what you have even more! Start purging now!