Quick and Easy Tips to Keep Spending in Check

Sometimes it is the simplest things that bring the most joy. Like knowing how to chill a can of soda, a bottle of beer or wine—from room temperature to icy cold in just a couple of minutes! Seriously, I love this.

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Quick chill. Need to chill wine, beer or soda in a hurry? Get a bowl or other vessel that will accommodate the item either as it stands or lies on its side.

First, place the item to be cooled into the bowl or pan. Next add a good amount of ice plus one or two tablespoons of table salt (or rock salt if you have it). Fill with enough water so the item is covered. Stir to distribute the salt. This will thoroughly chill a can of soda or beer in just two minutes, or up to five minutes for a bottle of wine.

Zero-sum game.  Deposit your paycheck in your checking account and immediately start telling every dollar where to go. If you give every dollar a job to do, you’ll be less likely to experience money drains ….

The Gift of a Crisis

It was the worst day of my life. Not one of the worst days. Not a day where not one thing seems to go right. Worse than that.

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Worse than any day I’d ever experienced before that day, worse than any day since. And I would say that like most people, I’ve had some real doozies.

I was in crisis, the kind that took my breath away and made me believe I had no hope. My world crashed. 

We were four months behind on our mortgage. All of the credit accounts were maxed to the hilt, and beyond. We had bills on top of bills, collections up the wazoo. We had no money and worse, no jobs. Not one between us. Nothing coming in. I hate to tell you even how much credit-card debt I’d run up and the size of our mortgage and automobile leases. It was really, really bad.

This was not a crisis that developed overnight. It started gradually, of course.

Not many people start out in financial trouble. Neither did I. It happened quite innocently, really.

Over the years, one thing led to another, and the whole thing began to speed up. I always told myself everything would work out. Somehow it would.

Gifts to Thrill and Delight Coffee Snobs

Even if you aren’t one, chances are pretty good you know someone who is a bona fide coffee snob. That’s because unmitigated devotion to coffee has reached epic proportions in the past few years.

For these folks nothing says “I care” more than a gift that affirms said snobbery and love for truly great coffee. I can pretty much guarantee that any one of these coffee-related gifts will rack up some major love and respect in return.

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By way of full disclosure, I will admit to being a home roaster, which does earn me a certain level of coffee snobbery. I purchase green coffee beans directly from the La Minita Plantation in Costa Rica and roast them one pound at a time.

My original intention was to cut the high cost of good coffee by roasting it myself. In the process I discovered the joys of properly roasted, gourmet-quality coffee. And getting the price down below $4 a pound appealed to my cheapskate self. Becoming a semi-bona fide snob was inevitable.

BEANS. Coffee snobs grind their beans on demand, which being interpreted means never offer coffee grinds in bag or can. While roasted coffee beans might not be the most flashy gift out there, your favorite snob will perk up at the sight of beans from a high-quality roaster like Ritual, Toby’s Estate, Gimme Coffee or Kicking Horse. About $15 – $20 per pound.

Good for the Budget, Better than Botox

A few days ago I read about this guy in New York City, Marco Canora. He’s a chef and says that the first 20 years of his career were fueled by caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. He has quite a story and an amazing life turnaround. He says that he owes his change of habits, health and lifestyle to something called brodo, Italian for “broth.”

Just last month, Canora opened Brodo, a take-out window on 1st Avenue in NYC. He sells broth in coffee cups with sip lids. And it’s pricey at $4.50 for a small 8 oz. cup. Granted, it is nothing close to that broth-like stuff that comes in a box at the supermarket. This is the real deal made from scratch and simmered for many hours until it is rich, dark and flavorful. This is “bone broth,” which some are now calling the new coffee.

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It’s not new. Our grandmothers knew about bone broth, that there is something awesome in good, rich soup made from animal bones. Bone broth has tremendous health and healing powers. My grandmother made it all the time.

How to Protect the Kids From Identity Theft

Dear Mary: I have been following your column for years. My husband and I recently signed up for LifeLock based on your recommendations and I thank you for that.  

Just this past week, he has had numerous credit-card offers taken out in his name and the alerts have been coming through. Orders were also placed for several thousands of dollars for computers in his name.

I believe at one time you recommended LifeLock protection year for children in case someone steals their information and tries to open accounts in their names because you might not know their identity has been stolen for a while since they are not applying for loans or credit cards yet.  

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photo credit: Madmezza

We have 6 children and at $5 per month per child, that adds up to $360 annually just for the kids. I value your opinion and would like to know what you think. Robyn

Dear Robin: You recall correctly. Protecting your children’s identities is vital, and for the reason you state. I’ve read case studies of young people applying for their first credit card or home mortgage, being shocked to learn that someone has been using their SS number to open lines of credit for many years—accounts that have gone to collection, been written off and any number of horrific black marks. Before they even get started in life, their credit is ruined.

Sure it is illegal, sure you can fight to get all of that off one’s credit report. But can you even imagine the hassle? The stress, headaches and total nightmare such a thing would be? It kinda’ boggles my mind to even think about it. It can take up to seven years for negative items to finally clear.

They’re Paid Off and Debt-Free!

Dear Readers: Every day, as you can probably imagine, I get a ton of mail. These days, most arrive via email which is convenient and inexpensive. But I still get plenty of cards and letters in envelopes with postmarks and stamps. Your messages are all so encouraging, I wish I could personally respond to each and every one. Imagine my excitement to get the following report from this couple in New Jersey:

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Dear Mary: We just want to say thank you. Your columns, advice, thoughts and ideas helped our family out of debt. On Nov. 1, 2014 we became debt-free and paid off $232,793.59. Your newsletters were encouraging and helpful and we are grateful for your gift. Continue your work and again, Thank You. Judy and Dwayne.

Dear Judy and Dwayne: I get some fabulous mail but I have to admit that after  reading your note (handwritten on a beautiful greeting card, I might add) I had to pick myself up off the floor. Wow. Nearly a quarter of a million dollars in repaid debt. That is remarkable. I am so proud of you. I’d love to know more. In fact I would love to write your story one day. That would be so encouraging to others on their journeys to getting debt-free, and would affirm and validate this amazing thing that you’ve done in your own lives.

What Teachers Really Want for Christmas

I’ve never been a school teacher, but I’ve been a parent. I wish I’d known years ago what I know now about what teachers really want for Christmas. I would have skipped the “Teachers Have Class!” coffee mugs and gone more for the classroom supplies.

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Recently, I contacted teachers I know, asking them how they really feel about gift of thanks from parents and students—at Christmas and other times of the year, too. Each one of them hesitated. I could tell they didn’t want to come across as ungrateful.

Make no mistake—teachers are very grateful for the thoughts behind all of the stuff they get during the year, but particularly at Christmas. But the stuff itself? Not so much. In fact, most gifts become a problem for that teacher. What would you do with 27 random coffee mugs or 16 bottles of cologne or aftershave of dubious origin? 

This year you can make sure that the gifts you give to teachers will be exactly what they really want. So listen up and take notes. There may be a quiz.

General guidelines

Don’t spend a lot on a teacher gift. Keep it reasonable. Parents who go overboard make teachers feel uneasy and awkward.

If you can’t afford a gift, don’t worry. Show your appreciation by volunteering in the classroom. Teachers don’t generally keep score. But they do remember and appreciate classroom volunteers.

Traditions, Like Anchors in Our Lives

It seems like I’ve unpacked and hung this decor, these lights and holiday baubles a thousand times.

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I’m glad the people in my family don’t enjoy the process because I love taking this annual trip through years of memories alone. Besides, I know how everything should be. It must be the same as last year and the year before and the year before that. Any other way just wouldn’t be right. If I tried to pull a fast one, I’d hear about it.

There is not one thing in all of these boxes that doesn’t symbolize an event, a season of life or a small boy’s best work.

As each ornament finds its place on the tree, I relive the years through the memories of past holiday seasons. There’s something about chubby faces framed by Mason jar lids and macaroni angels that bring tears to wash my soul.

I am immersed in the wonder that I’ve been given another year to know my boys and husband. I recall the seasons through which we’ve traveled. Clearly now, I see how things did work together. Those situations we questioned did happen for a reason, trials did bring triumphs and little boys did become good men.