Got Five Minutes? Bake Bread!

 

It’s been seven years since I became a bread maker. I read a book, gave it a try and found immediate success. A year later, I wrote this follow-up I can’t really take much credit for this thing I love so much–turning out amazing loaves of bread on a whim. I owe any success I have achieved to Jeff and Zoe–creators and authors of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

Here’s the routine: Once every other week I dump basic ingredients into a big square plastic container that has a lid, and fits nicely into my refrigerator. I stir it up, set the lid in place and walk away. That takes 15 minutes at the most. Two hours later (or when I remember), I set the container in the refrigerator. Done.

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Whenever I want a loaf of bread (like every morning), I reach into the container, pull off a wad of dough, shape it, let it rest while I take a shower, then pop it into a hot oven. In about 25 minutes, there it is: a beautiful, rustic, amazing loaf of bread–the kind I would expect to see in the finest French bakery. Truly, I spend no more than five minutes per day, overall, doing this. And the cost? Less than 50 cents a loaf. Have you priced good bread in the supermarket lately? I’m seeing $4 and more per loaf!

Turn Your Junk to Cash in a Weekend

 

The Wall Street Journal has estimated the annual yield from garage sales to be around $2 billion. Isn’t it about time for you to claim your share of that jackpot?

It’s spring and I can’t think of a better time to clean out the drawers, closets and disaster areas that your family members are always complaining about. You need to turn that clutter into cash.

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The first thing you need to do is choose the dates. Check all kinds of calendars to make sure your sale won’t hit the same weekend as a community event, holiday weekend or Aunt Ethel’s 80th birthday party. Assume that no matter what time of day you select to open your sale, people will show up at 6:00am. That’s just the way it is, so be prepared. Those early birds are the pros, so be ready.

Next, choose the location and remember that a tidy sales area will be key to your success. And don’t forget to check local ordinances. Some cities require a permit to hold a garage sale. Police officers in your driveway probably won’t attract the kind of customers you’re looking for. Find out the rules ahead of time.

Should We Lease or Purchase a New Car?

 

Dear Cheapskate: My wife and I are having a disagreement. I want to lease a new car now because ours is old and paying for repairs is like flushing money down the drain. She wants to keep it until we can afford to buy a better car. I hate car trouble and think peace of mind is something to be considered. I’m sure we can afford the payment but she’s not. What should we do? James R., Alabama

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Dear James: I’d rather shove toothpicks under by fingernails than ever lease a new car again, which is a story for another time but enough about me. Here’s my advice to you: Do whatever you must to keep the old car running for now. But  for the next 12 months live as though you are making $300 monthly lease payments–but make those payments to yourselves. Don’t even think about being late, just as if you were under a stern leasing contract. At the end of a year will have two things: A good idea of your comfort zone for big lease payments and $3,600 cash. Now you’ve got options. You can sell the clunker and together with the cash buy a better used car or you can make a down payment on a newer car. To me buying a car is far better than jumping into a lease where you will spend a fortune and have nothing, not even a car, to show for it at the end of the lease period.

Thanks for writing and for calling me “Cheapskate.” I love that because, as you may know, I used to be a world-class spendthrift and that nearly ruined my life. Learning to live frugally turned my life around so I wear that cheapskate moniker with pride and joy. 

Debt Consolidation Can Be Deceiving

 

To the person drowning in debt, a debt-consolidation loan looks a lot like a lifesaver. But reaching for it without knowing exactly what it’s made of could be a serious mistake.

The way it’s supposed to work: You pay off all your small high-interest consumer debts with the proceeds of a new low-interest loan whose payment is less than the total of the smaller payments.

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In theory, consolidation is a terrific solution for a burdensome debt situation. In reality, it can force you into even more treacherous waters.

The 7-Day All Cash Challenge

 

This morning while waiting for my car to fill up I put the time to good use. I read all the hazard warnings.

I couldn’t help but think how much better off we might be if there were similar warning signs posted in stores, restaurants and malls warning of the hazards of plastic. ATM, debit, and credit cards can be every bit as hazardous to our financial health as fumes and improper handling of gasoline fuel can be to one’s physical health.

The vicious cycle of plastic-induced debt begins subtly. Before you know it, you’re knee deep in the accumulation of things, all the while losing something precious called financial freedom.

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There is a cure for the plastic disease. Put yourself on a cash diet. Here’s my challenge: No plastic whatsoever for the next seven days. Of course you shouldn’t send cash through the mail, but I’m talking about day to day living. 

How to Prepare Perfect Salad Greens

 

I was way off base when I guessed “egg-gathering basket.” Leslie Hindman, host of the TV show,  Appraisal Fair, held up this round cage-contraption with folding sides and asked us to guess “What the Heck Is It?” Salad spinner was the right choice, but who knew people were wasting their money on needless pieces of kitchen equipment back in the 1880s?

I used to have a salad spinner. It worked OK, but not as well as the currently popular Oxo model ($30). Even it does not remove all of the water from a load of salad greens. And it takes up a lot of storage space.

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This does not mean I’ve abandoned my pet peeve for wet, soggy, limp salad greens. I’ve just discovered a better way to dry my salad greens for a lot less money and a fraction of the storage space required for a big bulky salad spinner.

Self-spinner. You need a clean cotton pillowcase. Wash your greens well, shake off the excess water and stuff them into the pillowcase. Gather the open end into your hand so that it is completely closed and step outdoors. With great gusto, swing it around in circles for a minute or two, windmill style. The water will be thrown to the edges of the pillowcase due to centrifugal force, then absorbed by the fabric. Your greens will be crisp and dry, you’ll get a little exercise and entertain the neighbors at the same time. (If stepping outdoors is not convenient just pin or tie the pillow case closed and toss it in the washing machine on spin cycle for a minute or two. Seriously!) 

Can Heirs Inherit Frequent Flyer Miles?

 

Dear Mary: I traveled for a living for many years and racked up quite a few frequent flyer miles with several different airlines. Altogether, I have close to a million miles sitting in various accounts. I watch these accounts closely and take the necessary steps to make sure the miles don’t expire, however it occurs to me that I will not live long enough to use them. Do you know if there is a method by which I can leave these miles to my heirs as part of my estate planning? They would be quite valuable, I imagine. Thanks for any help. Ben C.

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Dear Ben: You are right. Your miles are a type of currency and as such hold a great deal of value. Despite the fact that many airlines’ websites state clearly that accrued miles are not the property of the member to whose account those miles have been posted and that they cannot be transferred under any circumstance, most customer service agents when contacted and asked directly, respond that there is process that it can be done, and of course there are fees involved to do so. American Airlines will transfer up to 100,000 miles for $20 per 1,000 miles plus a $35 transaction fee. Ouch! 

Load up on Free eBooks for Your Digital Reader

 

If you’re confused by the world of digital books and eReaders, here’s a quick tutorial to get you up to speed: An “eBook reader,” also called an eBook device or eReader, is an electronic device that is designed primarily for the purpose of reading books and periodicals in a digital format, rather than flipping the paper pages of a book, newspaper or magazine. The most popular eReaders are Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s NOOK. Some smart phones like the iPhone and Droid can also function as an eReader, as can your computer, whether that’s a PC or a Mac.

Once you have the device, the software you need to read eBooks is free. You can go to Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com for free downloads of these companies’ particular eReaders. Once you are set with the proper software, you’re ready to download digital books, which are priced typically around $10 per book.

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But Before you start running up a big tab buying eBooks, check out free eBooks now available for your digital reader:

Project Gutenberg. This organization has been busily digitizing books with expired copyrights, making them free to the public. Currently more than 36,000 titles are available as free eBooks, just sitting there waiting for you to download them at Gutenberg.org.