Just as I was knee-deep in researching, testing and learning all I could about electric space heaters, this letter washed up on my desk.
DEAR MARY: I need your help to figure out how we can reduce our home heating bill. It’s killing us to pay so much to keep our house warm in the winter.
We have a gas furnace and where I live the cost of gas has gone up more than 10 percent, while at the same time the cost of electricity has gone down slightly. Our home is two story with a basement. Our kids are grown so it’s just the two of us. My husband travels for his work, so I’m the only one here most of the time. Thanks in advance for your help! Jeanine
DEAR JEANINE: The most efficient and easiest way to reduce your home heating cost is to heat only the rooms that are occupied, while keeping your furnace set very low to say 55 or 60 F. Then use space heaters to make occupied rooms comfortable, while they are occupied. You can rely on this method during the day as well as at night.
You could easily see your heating bill drop 35 percent or more by simply keeping the main source of heat set very low, supplementing with electric space heaters. It’s such a simple way to make a huge difference in your home heating costs.
I love to travel, which is my favorite unintended consequence of founding Debt-Proof Living. And, I’ve learned, travel always involves challenges. That’s why I have adopted an attitude that no matter how well I’ve planned, if something can go wrong it probably will. And if it doesn’t? That’s my travel bonus.
Over the years I’ve collected a bunch of really great travel tips—some fun, some crazy but all of them very useful if only to avoid a headache or two. Here are 10 of my favorites:
1. Before you leave, scan the front and back of every item in your wallet including your passport. Email the images to yourself. Now you’ll always have a digital copy handy in case you lose something. This will not substitute for your passport, ID or credit card, but you’ll have all of the pertinent information you need to keep going.
2. Instead of folding your clothes, roll them tightly. They’ll take up less space in your luggage and that can save having to pay extra baggage fees.
Are your storage areas overflowing? Do your children outgrow their clothes at the speed of light? Have you “outgrown” (or just grown tired of) some of your clothes and household items? Wouldn’t it be nice to receive some cash for those unwanted but perfectly usable items that overwhelm your storage space?
It’s a typical scene. You’ve cleaned out a closet or your garage and have a box full of items you no longer want. Maybe they’re left over from a garage sale. You’d rather give it to charity than send it to a landfill or maybe you just don’t want to have a garage sale.
You know you can deduct the value of the items on your tax return. (By the way your return for 2015 is due April 18, 2016 with thanks to Wash., D.C. for the gift of a 3-day extension. Washington will celebrate Emancipation Day on April 15 and the IRS will be closed. The next business day is Monday, April 18, 2016.) But the question is how are you we supposed to know the values of items in good condition that we donate to qualified charities?
The problem: If we overstate the values we risk an IRS audit, penalties and interest. If we underestimate, we could end up paying more taxes than required.
For many years the hubs and I have relied on William Lewis, CPA, who compiles one of the most valuable resources I know of for ordinary folks like us. “Money for Your Used Clothing” is an amazing resource that lists more than 1,300 values for commonly donated household and clothing items based on current prices of these items on the secondary market.
Encouragement. For me it is a basic need or perhaps a character flaw, I’m not quite sure. All I know is that I need encouragement, and I need it often. I have a feeling that you do, too. This matter of getting out of debt, living below our means and learning how to manage our money can be a very discouraging proposition at times.
I want to become one of the encouragers in your life—someone you can count on to cheer you on in the good times and help dust you off so you can get up and back on track during the bad times.
I want to be the one you can always count on to help you see the big picture, to point out the glimmers of joy in seasons of sorrow. I want to be there to help pull you up to the top of the mountain so you can see all the beauty below.
Over the years I have built up my own collection of “encouragers.” Some are people, but some are books, websites and activities like exercise and prayer. I know the people, places and things that are a source of encouragement for me. I count on them. They help me to focus and give me the confidence I need to keep going. I try to concentrate more on them than on those people and situations that tend to be discouragers.
Whether you have five or 50 teachers, students, neighbors, co-workers, family friends, kids’ friends, classmates, cousins, uncles, aunts, employees or service providers on your gift list this year—don’t panic! You do not have to be crafty or know how to cook to assemble fabulous gifts in your kitchen.
You’ll never go wrong giving a consumable (read: edible) gift. It does the job without contributing to your recipients’ stuff-factor.
You will need containers for these gifts and the possibilities are endless. Our favorite: Clear cellophane bags online for about 6 cents each (you’ll pay a bit more for bags like these that are printed with holiday motifs). Or find similar at craft stores like Michaels, Jo-Ann Stores and Hobby Lobby, and at cake and candy supply stores.
Think assembly line and you can turn out dozens of gifts in a single day. So gather your supplies, set up your production line and let the fun begin!
It is the late humorist and master of salesmanship, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, who said one of my favorite quotes of all time: You are the same today that you are going to be in five years from now except for two things: the people with whom you associate and the books you read.
While he didn’t specify, I’m nearly certain Mr. Jones was talking about cookbooks. Reading cookbooks has changed me. No only have they made me a better cook, learning how to do it and falling in love with the activity has impacted our household finances, tremendously.
Little by little, as I have become a better cook, we naturally eat at home ore. The more I read, the more I cook; the more I cook the better cook I become and the more often we eat at home. It’s a beautiful thing!
The hubs and I have reached the point that eating out has become more of a “Do we have to?!” than a “We get to.” We’ve reached the point that we eat at home, gladly, at least 99 percent of the time.
Today, I want to tell you about my current four favorite cookbooks (the lineup does change from time to time) and suggest a way that you could use any one of these fabulous cookbooks as the central item in a gift basket that you create for an aspiring home cook on your holiday gift list.
I guarantee that one of these cookbooks plus several items that match the theme of that particular book will delight any home cook—novice to advanced. What makes me so sure? Because I know how happy I’d be to receive any one of these gift baskets:
For years, I’d endured a love-hate relationship with baking bread. It’s a domestic skill I could never master, and that bothered me.
When I tried, four out of five loaves flopped. Then, in an act of mercy from the yeast gods, I’d turn out a specimen fit for judging at the Iowa State Fair. Eventually, the outrageous price of store-bought bread led me to a method and book with the same title: The NEW Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (now updated to include gluten-free recipes).
Sure. Like anyone in her right mind would believe that. Five minutes a day? If this book were touting some prepackaged mix or pricey piece of equipment, I wouldn’t be interested.
But in no time at all, the verdict was in. It’s true. Authors Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois have taken the home baking world by storm, having created a method that takes away all of the variables of baking yeast breads: the time, the hassle, the waiting and the worrying.
Long-time readers of this column may remember the reader who wanted to know where she could donate her fabric scraps. I offered details on a small organization in Texas that turns new fabric scraps into quilts for shelters, churches and other charities.
Apparently reader G.W. was not the only reader with fabric scraps too good to throw away. Everyday Cheapskate readers sent so many donations, this group is set for years. Now they’re waving a white flag begging us to stop! Still the requests pour into my mail box from readers with an apparent case of Fabric Scrap Overload Syndrome. So far, I am unable to come up with any alternative groups or individuals in need of fabric scraps.
But not to worry. You may rethink your plans to give away your fabric stash when you discover all the ways to turn your scraps into fabric assets.
CUT QUILT SQUARES. Cut your like-content fabrics into 5- or 6-inch squares, put them in color coordinated sets and sell them on eBay. You’ll need to do a little research to see what other sellers are offering and what people are buying, but this is an excellent way to turn scraps to cash.