What Do You Need to Be Happy?

When a University of Michigan survey asked people what they believed would improve their quality of life the answer given most often was, “More money.”

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In their book The Day America Told the Truth, James Patterson and Peter Kim asked, “If you could change one thing about your life what would it be?” The number one response at 64 percent was, “Greater wealth.”

A University of Southern California study found that greater wealth didn’t translate into greater happiness for many of the 1,500 people surveyed annually over three decades. USC economist Richard Easterlin said, “Many people are under the illusion that the more money we make, the happier we’ll be,” but, according to the study, that isn’t true.

We know from other well-respected studies that fewer Americans are “very happy” today than in the 1950s despite having far more money, bigger homes and more stuff. In 1950 there were 3,000 shopping malls in this country, by 2000 there were 45,025. We have more money, we have more stuff but clearly, greater affluence has not translated to greater happiness.

Survey Says: Eating Out is Our #1 Financial Temptation

What is your greatest financial temptation? That’s one of the question I asked in a poll at DPL Central. Answer choices: accepting more credit, vacation, clothes, new car, stuff for house, eating out or none-of-the-above.

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I enjoy predicting how my reader polls will turn out, but I was way off on this one. I thought “stuff for the house” or “clothes” would win. The runaway winner at 41 percent was “eating out.”

Whether eating out is your top temptation or it comes in second or third, you can deal with it more effectively if you make eating at home more convenient and more delicious than going out.

You know by now that I am a big fan of the slow cooker. Just throw the ingredients in before the demands of the day wear you down, turn it on and forget it. You’ll come home to the aroma of a home cooked meal. You’ll have it on the table and ready to eat in less time than it takes to drive-thru.

A Dozen Dandy Uses for White Vinegar

It costs hardly anything ($2 a gallon on sale), it’s available in every grocery store in the universe and so useful around your home you are going to have a hard time believing it. That’s the power of vinegar. Yep, plain, cheap, 5 percent acidity, white vinegar.

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1. Instead of fabric softener or dry sheets, add 1/2 to 1 cup vinegar to last rinse in your washing machine (as you would liquid softener). Your clothes will come out soft because the vinegar helps to remove every trace of laundry detergent, which cause fabrics to stiffen.

2. Add 1/4 cup white vinegar to a quart of very warm water to make a good window cleaner. Wipe with crumpled newspaper or a coffee filter and your windows will sparkle.

3. Vinegar will dissolve hard-water marks like those on shower doors, faucets and in vases. If the vinegar is hot (heat in the microwave) it works even faster.

4. Instead of pricey commercial rinse agents, fill that little reservoir in your dishwasher with white vinegar. Your dishes will sparkle. Refill often. If your dishwasher does not have this feature, simple add 1/2 to 1 cup (depending on the hardness of your water) to the last rinse.

Turns Out it IS Easy Being Green

Have I got a story for you about the Hubs and me. I don’t like to think that we cave easily to peer pressure, but apparently that is the case.

We have these friends who are way into healthy lifestyle—clean eating and extreme exercise. I call anything with the words running, jogging and cycling in it, extreme. They’re so into these things, they don’t even think about taking a short hiatus when we visit. Oh, no. We’re talking green smoothies all around, every morning. No question, no excuse.

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Let me just say right here that my husband has never met a vegetable he enjoys. He’s just not into them. Never has been. But he’s kinder than he is finicky, and so in the interest of friendship, he (OK, me too) would put on a happy face and down the green whenever we visited our friends Carol and Steve. And Harold would kind of shudder in a way that only I was aware—the way kids do when they have to eat something they think is really gross. This always made me laugh but I tried really hard not to show it.

I cannot fully explain this, but after several of these occasions, something went off inside of both of us suggesting that perhaps, just maybe we might think about doing this ourselves. At home.

One thing led to another—and by that I mean we started with bananas, apples and one teeny tiny leaf of baby spinach—until without quite knowing what hit us, we were actually making smoothies every morning that turned out the color of wet concrete.

Who Else Wants to Slash Their Phone Bill?

I just read about a woman in Philadelphia who decided to go over her parents’ phone bill only to discover they were paying $21 a month for three leased telephones—one of which they’d tossed out years ago.

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The daughter figured they’d been paying this monthly amount since the mid 1980s—more than $6,000 to rent phones.

It gets worse.

In order to cancel the lease, they had to pay an additional fee for not returning the phone they’d thrown away.

Up until 1982, AT&T had a monopoly on telephones. They wouldn’t sell them—only lease them to customers for a few dollars a month. Then the government stepped in and AT&T was broken up into regional companies. Suddenly, phones were cheap and available for purchase. Thirty years later, not everyone has taken advantage of the option to buy their phones rather than rent them. This company says they still service 300,000 leasing customers.

Failure to keep up with technology cost this family $6,000. What’s it costing you? I’m not talking only about phones either. What is your monthly phone service and long-distance calling plan costing?

Enough With the Excuses, Already!

Are flimsy contrivances keeping you stuck in a big-debt, small-savings situation? It’s easy to find excuses that let you off the hook but it’s only a temporary reprieve. One excuse just leads to another and another and eventually to a way of life. Perhaps it’s time to explode your excuses.

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Excuse: I don’t have time to learn to manage my money.

The truth is we all have time to do what matters most to us. It makes no sense for you to work as hard as you do only to end up with no solid assets to show for it.

Excuse: I can’t stick with a budget.

Perhaps you’ve been trying to cram yourself into a budget that doesn’t fit. Here’s the way to create a plan that will fit you perfectly: For the next 30 days, keep a written record of every dime you spend. At the end of a month categorize your spending including a total for each. Now multiply each by 12 to see what you will spend in a year if you keep this up. No one will have to point out the problems once you have the truth right there in black and white. You’ll see immediately where you need to make adjustments. Now look for ways to reduce every area of spending by a little bit. Continue tracking your spending, adjusting where necessary to get it below your income. It takes time to get a spending plan just right, so be patient and don’t give up.

Solving the Breakfast Dilemma

Mom was right. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Medical research says we cannot afford to miss it for many reasons:

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1. People who lose weight and keep it off are breakfast eaters.

2. People who eat breakfast are better equipped to fight off colds and flu.

3. Breakfast boosts metabolism all day and fires up your brain cells for faster, clearer thinking.

Breakfast guidelines:

Eat when you can but within two hours of waking.

Eat what you enjoy. You are more likely to create a lifelong habit if it’s something you enjoy.

Have “grab and go” breakfast items available that are healthy, tasty and affordable.

Clean Up the Cloudy Headlight Covers

Well, you’ve done it again! You clever readers have come up with another batch of fabulous ways that you save time and money every day.

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AUTO CLEANER. Use plain old baking soda on a damp rag to remove bugs, tar and anything else from your vehicle. Works great, even on the grill and chrome work. Leaves no residue or odor and won’t harm the paint. I just make a paste with baking soda and water, clean away and just rinse off. Works better than any commercial product I’ve tried. This method even cleans away the cloudy film on headlight covers. Bud

CUSTOM FLOOR MATS. I wanted floor mats for our mini-van so I stopped by our local car dealership. Boy, was I floored (pardon the pun). I checked a discount department store and while their mats were priced more reasonably, they didn’t fit well. I found a perfect solution by buying clear plastic runner material that is available by the yard at the home improvement center. With a utility knife I customized the fit around the seat hardware. This saved a lot of money and works beautifully. Judith

FRIDGE DEODORIZER. Used coffee grinds can eliminate even the worst refrigerator odors. I store kimchee (Korean pickled cabbage with a distinct odor) in my refrigerator regularly and I don’t smell it anymore! Simply take out the used coffee filter with the coffee grinds in it and place it in your refrigerator in an open container. It works better than baking soda or any other commercial remedy. I’ve tried them all. Just replace the coffee grinds when they dry up. Jay