When It Doesn’t Pay to be Cheap

There is a predictable progression many of us go through as we make a decision to stop living beyond our means. We get cheap. In fact, some even call us cheapskates—a label that personally I enjoy because it proves that I’m not the person I used to be—a credit-card junkie and a totally whacked out spendthrift. 

Some rights reserved by erix!

Some rights reserved by erix!

It didn’t take long for me to adopt a mindset that if cheap was good, then cheaper must be even better. As noble as that thought might see–and it pains me to admit it–that is not always true. Sometimes the cheapest option ends up costing the most. It’s a wise person who can see the big picture not just the cash outlay on the front end.

Case in point: Our house was in desperate need of paint. Spending thousands of dollars to have it painted made me queasy. So when one of the bids came in much lower than the others, I jumped on it. I figured paint is paint. We’d get the house painted and still have money in the bank. 

Time to Grill Some Grub!

Of all the joys of summer, nothing beats a great cookout. While meat, poultry and fish are the expected grilled fare, you can really stretch your dollars when you cut down on the meat and fill out the menu with fabulous grilled bread (yep, put it right on the barbecue grill), grilled vegetables–even homemade ice cream (but not on the grill, please, because it would fall through the cracks!).

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Grilled Italian Foccacia

  • 1 pkg. (16 oz.) Pillsbury Hot roll mix
  • 1 envelope dry Italian dressing mix
  • 1-1/4 cups hot water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1-1/2 cups Parmesan cheese (shredded or grated)
  • 2 plum tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  1. Mix roll mix, yeast packet and salad dressing mix. Add hot water and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Stir until soft dough forms and dough pulls away from side of bowl.
  2. Place dough on lightly floured surface; knead 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Shape dough into 2 10-inch rounds. Cover with plastic wrap or towel. Let rise in warm place 15 minutes.
  3. Place dough rounds on greased grill over medium-low coals. Grill four minutes; turn. Brush with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Top with cheese, tomatoes and basil. Grill an additional 4 minutes or until bottom crust is golden brown.

When the Ship is Sinking, Get Everyone in the Lifeboat

Dear Mary: My wife and I made a terrible mistake and bought a house that I don’t think we can afford. We dumped all of our money from the sale of our last home into it and now we have run out of money. It is not even close to being done. My wife is a stay-at-home mother of 3 and I work full time. I bring home about $5,500 per month with a house payment of $2,230. We have a $442 car payment and credit card minimum payments of about $250. My wife has student loans of around $26,000 with payments of $293 per month.

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We have moved my oldest son to six different homes in 8 years but he has remained in the same school. My wife says we cannot sell this house under any circumstance because of fear of damaging him.

Also, she is embarrassed and does not want anyone to know that we got in over our heads. She has always dreamed of having a big beautiful home and I want to give this to her because she deserves it. I need help. I have never been so scared. On one hand, I feel this is unsustainable and on the other, I am scared of losing my family if I tell them we can’t afford to live here. Jerry

Readers Weigh in on Bananas, Buttons and Brown Sugar

Not long ago, the produce manager at my supermarket noticed me putting a bunch of bananas in my cart and offered this bit of handy information: When you get home from the store separate the bananas from the bunch and they won’t ripen as fast. 

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Good to know! But will that make them last 7 to 10 days? I doubt it, which is why I’m glad I heard from reader Barb. Read on …

BANANA LONGEVITY. If you will not be able to use those bananas with a day or two, put them into the refrigerator. They will turn black and ugly on the outside, but inside–even after seven to ten days–they will be fresh, firm and delicious. Barb

BROWN SUGAR SUBSTITUTE. To make your own (and much better) brown sugar, mix  1 cup white granulated sugar with 1 to 2 tablespoons molasses, depending on if you want light or dark brown sugar. Mix thoroughly with a fork. This is so much better than commercial brown sugar, you’ll be tempted to make a permanent switch and never again have to deal with hard brown sugar. Melanie

WASHCLOTH ICEPACK. When I need an icepack for my face, I take a face cloth, wet it, fold it lengthwise into thirds and place it in a small plastic bag. Then I place it in the freezer. In just a short time, my freezer pack is ready and on my face. The small size of the facecloth is just right for your face, and when it is no longer needed, you have your facecloth back.  Pat

Everything is Negotiable

What I know about the art and science of negotiating I learned as a matter of survival. Driven to save myself and my family from financial ruin, I jumped into the deep end of the real estate industry. I knew nothing about negotiating. All I knew was that I had to find a way to bring interested parties together, get them to agree and see that everyone walked away a winner.

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While I no longer sell and lease industrial properties, I still rely heavily on the negotiating skills I learned. Every day I use them in one way or another. Sometimes it’s a complex issue, but most of the time it’s just a series of one-minute negotiations.

You are a negotiator, too. You negotiate with kids, spouse, boss, co-workers, employees, creditors, vendors, friends, clerks and salespeople. You negotiate with telemarketers, credit-card issuers, mobile-phone providers, repair people, teachers and neighbors. You negotiate using your words, your tone, your body language—even your silence. 

Negotiating is the way you get what you want, whether it’s a roof, a new car or your teenage son to put the seat down. 

Danger Signs You’re Headed for the Debt Trap

Debt. It’s a four-letter word and certainly not ideal under any circumstances. Being debt-free is always better than being in debt. But not all debt it created equal. Generally, debt comes in two flavors: Secured and unsecured.

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Secured debts are “collateralized”. That means the borrower pledges something of value to the lender that acts like a security deposit. If the borrower defaults, the lender gets ownership of that valuable asset. A home mortgage is probably the best example of reasonably safe, secured debt. In a mortgage the property becomes the collateral. The lender can take it if the borrower doesn’t perform as required.  

To-Die-For Gluten-Free Muffins

I thought this matter of gluten-free was pretty solid–that some people are truly allergic to gluten, others have celiac disease for whom gluten is a serious health issue, while others are simply gluten sensitive. Now I learn there is a growing school of thought that unless a person is diagnosed with celiac disease, it’s all a big hoax. 

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Here’s what I know for certain: My husband had an annoying cough for at least 20 years. He visited every kind of doctor and to no avail. His symptom was unexplainable and about drove me nuts. About six months ago we decided to remove gluten from his diet, and I agreed to go along as well. Within days, his cough began to wain. It’s completely gone, and my sanity has returned. 

A hoax? I say no and here’s my proving ground: Now and then Harold will fall off the wagon, either knowingly but often times not (gluten is in a lot of things these days). Sure enough, I start to hear that low-grade cough. He can’t help it, he can’t hide it. 

Insuring Youthful Drivers

Dear Mary: Our 15-year-old daughter recently got her learner’s permit. I called our auto insurance agent about how to handle this and she told us to add our daughter to our policy, which we did. Then we got a bill for an additional premium and paid the bill. 

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Later, we heard that a teen driver with a learner’s permit is already covered under a parent’s (or guardian’s) policy. 

Do you think we are being charged an additional premium for coverage we have already? I can’t seem to get a straight answer from the company.

Barbara, California

Dear Barbara: According to the Insurance Information Institute most insurers extend coverage for learners on the customer’s existing policy. However, this is not required by law, so it is difficult to say if your company does or not. However, if they are vague when you inquire, I’d be a little suspicious, myself.