Smaller, Thinner, Faster, Cheaper!

The first computer was unveiled in 1946. Weighing in at 27 tons, it took up 1,800 square feet of floor space. And the cost? Nearly $500,000! That ENIAC was revolutionary but its functionality was, at best, limited.

Our first fax machine was unveiled at the Hunt Properties Real Estate office in 1989. It was so heavy it took three men to carry it in. It took up 9 square feet of floor space and cost $2,400. That Panasonic wonder revolutionized our real estate business. We could move documents from coast to coast in a matter of minutes rather than waiting days or weeks for the mail to show up.

We’ve come a long way since the days of monster computers the size of a house and gigantic fax machines. Cameras, computers, smartphones and tablets—oh my!

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I love technology. And just when I think things can’t get any faster, cooler or cheaper, here comes something new that just takes my breath away.

Trick Yourself into Saving Money

Buying things when they’re on sale is a great way to avoid overspending. But unless you are diligent to take the difference between the regular price and the sale price and actually deposit that into a savings account, are you really saving money? Nope. You’re just spending less. And you can “spend less” right through your entire paycheck. 

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While being careful to keep spending under control is admirable, it’s easy to fool yourself into believing that you’re a money-saving genius, when in truth you’re just spending all that you earn, wishing you made enough money to save some of it.

Getting started with actual savings—and by that I mean money that is put away into a safe place—can be difficult if you have a spending habit, a small budget or some of each. The way to remove the pain is to trick yourself into thinking you’re not really saving that much. Check out these tricks and get started today.

Call it a bill. This may sound silly, but just go with me here. Create a new monthly bill that you are obligated to pay and call it “Paying Myself First.” Make it look like an invoice of $5, billed to you. I don’t care how little money you earn or how poor you believe that you are. Anyone who really wants to start saving has $5 they can devote to the effort. Put this tiny bill at the top—ahead of the rent, food or phone bill. Your smallest bill will soon become your favorite.

You Need an Insurance Check-up

From regular oil changes to changing furnace filters and annual trips to the dentist, smart consumers know that preventive maintenance can avoid costly repairs down the road. Insurance is another item that needs to go on your routine maintenance list.

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No one wants to think about insurance unless forced to. But at least once a year, it’s important that you do a quick review to make sure you have the right amount of coverage at the best price.

Some of us have to learn these things the hard way. I really don’t know how many years we paid for a special rider to cover my husband’s photography equipment on our homeowner’s policy. Sure, it was a good idea when he was actually a photographer. But that rider rode on for many years after he’d sold the equipment.

And then there’s my friend Lucy who got tired of me nagging her and agreed to shop her car insurance. Within 15 minutes after calling an insurance broker, she had a quote for identical coverage at $500 less per year. Her problem was the loyalty she felt for the agent she’d been with for 13 years. But $500 is a lot of money so she called him to break the news that she would be moving on to cheaper pastures. “Wait,” the agent pleaded. “Give me one day to try to beat that quote.” He did, and rewrote her policy for $600 less per year with no changes in coverage.

As your policies come up for renewal, take a little time to shop around.

When It Comes to Food Products, What’s In a Date?

Perhaps you have noticed that some food products come with dates printed on them—”sell by Aug 01 14″ for example. Does that mean it has to be used by that date or just sold by that date? Or what about canned or packaged goods that show only a date like “2.01.14.” Does that mean you could end up in the E.R. if you consume it after that date?  

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Other food products don’t seem to have any date at all. Confusing, isn’t it. That’s why I thought today would be a good time to bone-up on food dating.

While most food processors date and code their products, the Food and Drug Administration mandates dating only on infant formula and baby food. Everything else is voluntary. Still, the food industry generally follows certain guidelines suggested by the FDA.

Phrases like “Best Before,” “Better if Used Before,” or “Best if Used By” tell you how long the product will retain its best flavor and highest quality. You will find these phrases on products like baked goods, cereals, snacks and some canned foods. The food is still safe to eat after this date, but may have changed somewhat in taste or texture.

Rotisserie Chickens to the Rescue

If you are like me—time-starved but too stubborn to give up home-cooked meals just because life can be chaotic—you need to embrace these two words: Rotisserie chickens.

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photo credit: anotherpintplease

Not exactly take out, not completely home cooked, think of a rotisserie chicken as your ace in the hole; a kitchen assistant with an extra pair of hands to help you get delicious, home-cooked meals on the table in a flash.

These days nearly every grocery store, supermarket–even warehouse clubs–offer fully roasted, hot and ready-to-go rotisserie chickens for around $5. In fact, rotisserie chickens are so readily available, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued safety guidelines for selecting and storing them.

Today I want to give you basic guidelines for what to do with a rotisserie chicken as soon as you get home. Then next week I will have several mouth-watering recipes using rotisserie chicken meat that you absolutely do not want to miss.

Reader Mail Both Unpredictable and Enjoyable

For anyone wishing to study human nature, my mailbag would make an interesting research center. I get tons of mail. But rather than arriving in a steady flow it comes in waves. I’ve given up trying to predict which subjects will prompt responses from my readers.

photo credit: Matt McGee

photo credit: matt mcgee

Take the recent column on the inherent dangers associated with debit cards because of a relatively weak law that regulates them, as opposed to the much stronger law that protects users of credit cards. It was, in my humble opinion, empowering information worthy of some measure of positive response. Or at least a few angry challenges from loyal debit-card users. Surprisingly, responses to that column were nearly non-existent.

In Search of High-Quality Individual Bed Sheets

Hi Mary: You mentioned in a recent column there are times it is advisable to buy sheets separately rather than in a set that includes fitted and top sheets plus pillowcases. I need a king-size flat sheet and two extra long twin fitted sheets for our Tempur-Pedic king-size bed. Could you provide a resource for where you bought single sheets? I have been a faithful follower of  your column since 1998 and I really do appreciate your good advice, recipes, helping hints, etc. Thank you for any help you can provide. Dee C.

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Dear Dee: I have had excellent results ordering Utopia bedding online. These sheets are 200 thread count 100% cotton. This Utopia King flat sheet is currently $17.99. I found the sheets to be lovely and soft once laundered as that removes the sizing, added as part of the manufacturing process.  They launder up beautifully and hold a nice, crisp crease. Ironing is not necessary, unless of course you just happen to love to iron, as I do.

These XL Twin fitted sheets from Atlas with generous 12-inch pockets and 180-thread count are $19.83 each currently, and should fit the bed well. They are 55% cotton and 45% polyester, with great reviews.

Reduce your Taxes to Keep More of Your Hard-Earned Money

More than 15 years ago, I met William Lewis, CPA. I’d come across a book he’d written and it piqued my interest.  I gave him a call.

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Bill told me that for years he’d found himself frustrated that his clients who itemize and for whom he prepares their tax returns, were paying more in income taxes than required because they were not keeping track of what they donated to recognized charities like Goodwill and The Salvation Army.

Many clients would donate loads of stuff throughout the year, but then fail to deduct the fair market value of those times, as allowed by the IRS because they were uncertain of what their stuff was worth or how to determine those items’ market value.