Sometimes You Just Gotta’ Be Sneaky

They don’t call me the Queen of Costco for nothing. Truth be told, I love the place. And I buy large quantities of many items, but only because I’m also quite sneaky. I bring stuff home but then hide all but the minimal amount we need to get through the week, to create an atmosphere of scarcity.

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Human nature is such that in the face of an abundance of anything, we use it up quickly and with abandon.

Do you know that feeling of dread when you’re halfway through the laundry and discover you have about 3 ounces of detergent left? You kinda’ go easy, right? Same goes for anything that appears to be getting down to the end.

My favorite place to stash non-perishables is under the beds. Out of sight, out of mind. Even my mind! That’s why I’ve learned the value of keeping a secret inventory list, too.

Get Paid to Donate Your Stuff

If you itemize your tax return, you probably know that you are allowed to deduct the fair market value of items you donate to charity. But what’s the fair market value of say a pair of shoes or a lamp? More than you might think.

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The law does not allow the charity to determine the value of an item you donate. The charitable organization gives you a receipt saying that you made the donation. You, the donor, must determine its value. And that’s the problem.

If you overstate the value you risk an audit, penalties and interest. If you underestimate you’ll pay more taxes than you should.

In the process of paring down and purging in anticipation of our big move to Colorado in the spring, my husband and I donated an antique pump organ to a church where it will be used in services and enjoyed by many.

The organ is more than a hundred years old so looking up the new price and depreciating it appropriately was not possible. Our accountant suggested we locate similar antiques that have sold in say the past year and then adjust accordingly for our specific situation. Right. Like there’s a brisk market for antique reed organs down at the mall.

But then I got to thinking …. hmmm … eBay! Sure enough, several pump organs have sold in the past year. I printed the documentation and will attach that to our next tax return to back up the deductible value we assigned to the donation.

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.