Get Financially Confident Starting Now

For a good deal of my life, I lived under a dark cloud of fear that I would end up financially destitute—a bag lady. Studies reveal that I’m not the only one. Most of us have felt that way, not because we’re broke, but because we lack confidence. That makes us timid, worried and financially insecure.

Look, we don’t have to accept financial insecurity as some kind of life sentence. And that constant and gnawing fear of becoming destitute? Forget it! We can do something about this.

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Become a saver. Saving money is like magic because it changes your attitude and calms your fears. I saved my way out of a six-figure pile of debt. Knowing I had cash tucked away in a safe place quieted my insatiable desires. That is where I found my determination to stick with repaying the debt. You must start now, today—no matter your situation. Even if you are in debt and struggling to catch up and even if you are already contributing to a 401(k) plan at work. This is different. You need money in the bank to boost your financial confidence. 

Trick Yourself Into Saving Money

Buying things when they’re on sale is a great way to avoid overspending. But unless you are diligent to take the difference between the regular price and the sale price and actually deposit that into a savings account, are you really saving money?

Nope. You’re just spending less. And you can “spend less” right through your entire paycheck. 

us currency rolled in jar

While being careful to keep spending under control is admirable, it’s easy to fool yourself into believing that you’re a money-saving genius, when in truth you’re just spending all that you earn, wishing you made enough money to save some of it.

Getting started with actual savings—and by that, I mean money that is put away in a safe place—can be difficult if you have a spending habit, a small budget or some of each. The way to remove the pain is to trick yourself into thinking you’re not really saving that much. Check out these tricks and get started today.

Call it a bill. This may sound silly but just go with me here. Create a new monthly bill that you are obligated to pay and call it “Paying Myself First.” Make it look like an invoice of $5, billed to you. I don’t care how little money you earn or how poor you believe that you are. Anyone who really wants to start saving has $5 they can devote to the effort. Put this tiny bill at the top—ahead of the rent, food or phone bill. Your smallest bill will soon become your favorite.

Incredible Edible Gifts

Even if you still have 5 or 50 teachers, students, neighbors, co-workers, family friends, kids’ friends, classmates, cousins, uncles, aunts, employees or service providers on your gift list—don’t panic! You still have time. And don’t worry: You do not need a lot of money nor must you the gift of craftiness to assemble fabulous gifts in your kitchen. Yes, even at this late date.

You’ll never go wrong giving a gift that is meant to be eaten or used up. That kind of gift does its job to convey your love and best wishes without increasing the recipients’ stuff-factor.

 Photo Credit: TasteofHome.com 

You will need containers for these gifts and the possibilities are endless. My favorite: Clear cellophane bags for 10 to 15 cents each (some are printed with holiday motifs). Find these at craft stores like Michaels, JoAnn’s and Hobby Lobby; 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!

Santa Claus Cookies

  • 1 package Nutter Butter (or Vienna Fingers) sandwich cookies
  • 12-oz. white chocolate wafers or chips*
  • Red sprinkles or red-colored sugar
  • 32 vanilla or white chips, not melted
  • 64 mini chocolate baking chips
  • 32 red-hot candies

Melt the white chocolate. Dip one end of each cookie into melted chocolate. Place on wire racks. Quickly sprinkle red sugar on top part of chocolate. Press one vanilla chip off-center on hat for pom-pom; let stand until set.

Dip other end of each cookie into chocolate for beard, leaving center of cookie uncovered. Place on wire racks. With a dab of melted chocolate, attach semisweet chips for eyes and a red-hot for nose in the uncovered area. Place on waxed paper to set. Yield: 32 cookies.

Keeping Holiday Party Costs Under Control

Most of us, when we think of the cost of Christmas, think gifts. But there are so many other expenses like travel, entertainment, decorations and mailing costs. And parties!

How can we be warm and generous hosts without breaking the bank? That the question today’s first reader asks.

Beautiful buffet set for Christmas

Dear Mary: This year it’s my turn to throw the family Christmas party. Last Christmas, my sister-in-law created a tough act to follow by having her party catered with expensive hors-d’oeuvres and top-shelf champagne. I can’t afford catering, but I want to put on a spread that’s as impressive as hers. How do I accomplish that without going into debt in the process? Natasha

Dear Natasha: Trying to upstage your sister-in-law puts you in a no-win situation. Turn your thoughts instead to making this your party—a special gift of your love to your family, not a competition to see who spent the most money.

Once you determine how much cash you have to spend, go online. Check out websites like FoodNetwork.com, RecipeTinEats.com, Epicurious.com, AllRecipes.com, and BarefootContessa.com. Do a Google search, typing in Top Recipe Websites or Top Recipe Blogs in the search bar. You will be amazed at the results. Pay particular attention to websites and recipes devoted to holiday fare, particularly hors-d’oeuvres.

A Lavish Gift Exchange

When our boys were only toddlers, we and our best friends, who have three children just about the same ages as our boys, decided that we would have a Family Christmas Party early in December. We called it that even though the two families were not technically related. We invited two sets of grandparents and one other older couple as well.

large family handing gifts to each other during a christmas dinner

Our common bond? Five adorable kids and all the grown-ups who love them. Everyone dressed up and the children performed their current talent. We had such a great time that we decided to make this Family Christmas Party an annual event.

That first year there were a few gifts—mostly small things for the children. But somehow over the years, the gifts grew in both quantity and quality. By the time this event passed the thirty-five-year mark, four of the five babies were married with babies of their own. Lots of kids!  Two grandparents had died causing the family dynamic to change tremendously. But still the Family Christmas Party went on. And every year the problem would arise: What to do about gifts?

I give you this background so you can fully appreciate what happened that one year.

How to Store Raw, Roasted, and Ground Coffee to Keep it Fresh

Having reached the level of coffee snob some years ago, I don’t think I’m quite to the level of coffee geek yet, but I continue to work on it. That’s how much I love really good coffee!

As you may recall from previous posts (here and here for example), I’ve been a home roaster for many years now. While my family and I seriously enjoy a good cup of coffee, the real reason I took up this hobby in the first place was not to achieve quality. It was to save money. Excellent quality, gourmet-level coffee is not inexpensive.

The day I spent $19.95 for 12 ounces of Costa Rican, La Minita Tarrazu roasted coffee beans was the day I said this is crazy. There has to be a better way.

It started with 10 pounds of raw green coffee beans purchased from an online coffee dealer and an old hot air popcorn popper. The learning curve was fairly steep, but I caught on quickly.

Within weeks, I was hooked because not only was it fun (in a challenging way), the resulting coffee was to-die-for.

From there, I increased our too-frequent orders to 25 pounds at a time to get a quantity discount. The first time I ordered 50 pounds, I said it again: this is nuts! Why am I not buying directly from the grower? And with that, my husband and I became coffee importers.

Every year or so, we buy a full bag from the La Minita plantation. We’re talking 150 pounds of raw, green coffee at a time. We’ve had to learn the proper way to store coffee—raw beans, roasted beans as well as ground coffee. The goal is to make sure those 150 pounds of beans remain fresh and amazing right to the very last drop.

While there are plenty of myths out there when it comes to storing coffee, here is the simple truth:

RAW GREEN BEANS. Green coffee beans remain fresh indefinitely provided they are kept at room temperature in a dark location. Raw beans need to breathe, so a brown paper bag or burlap bag is ideal. Raw beans should not be vacuum-sealed.

ROASTED COFFEE BEANS. Small-batch roasting is ideal, which means I rarely have more than a pound of roasted coffee beans on hand at any time. Store roasted coffee beans in any container with a tightly fitting lid then keep it in a cupboard or pantry.

Roasted coffee beans are at their peak of flavor within two weeks of roasting. At three weeks, roasted coffee beans become semi-fresh. At four weeks, just OK. Older than a month, roasted coffee beans deteriorate to the point of becoming bitter.

Vacuum sealing roasted coffee beans in a Mason jar extends their useful life considerably—up to several months.

GROUND COFFEE. Ground coffee is the staple in many homes. Just add a few scoops to your coffee maker, and you’re all set, right? That depends on what you consider a good coffee!

As convenient as it is to purchase coffee already ground, it will never taste as fresh as when you grind your own and then brew immediately. Once ground, coffee should be consumed within two hours. If you must pre-grind, store small batches in tightly sealed containers or packets then keep them in a dark place. Remember the clock is ticking. Ground coffee will decline in flavor as time goes by. Air is the enemy, so keep those small containers closed tightly. Once you open a container of ground coffee and expose it to air, use it immediately.

REFRIGERATE OR FREEZE? Never refrigerate coffee—raw, roasted or ground. That creates moisture, which is coffee’s worst enemy, turning it bitter and awful.

Each time you open a refrigerated container you expose it to warm air. When you close it up and put it back in the refrigerator, you’ve created more moisture, which makes for horrible coffee.

I do not recommend freezing coffee, but if you have so much you believe you have no other choice, freeze in small batches in tightly lidded or vacuum-sealed containers. Once you remove a small container from the freezer, just set it on a shelf to thaw. Never refreeze.

Interested in learning the ins and outs of home-roasting coffee? Keep watching as I’ll be sharing my secrets and resources in an upcoming post and very soon!

Best Inexpensive™ Heated Mattress Pads

Until a couple of years ago, I didn’t know something called a heated mattress pad even existed. Makes sense since I’d lived in Southern California for most of my life where it is mostly warm all year round.

Relocating to Colorado where the seasons are more pronounced, I had a lot to learn about heating a house without going broke. That first winter our heating bills shot to the moon because we were heating the entire house to a comfortable temperature day and night. It was shocking.

We saw a semi-dramatic reduction in the heating bill when we decided to lower the thermostat to 60 F. at night and use a Bionaire micathermic space heater in our bedroom, but that wasn’t altogether successful. My husband and I have different internal thermostats. He would be cold while I’d be turning the space heater down a notch or two.

That’s when I set out to find a way we could both enjoy a warm and cozy sleeping environment without paying a fortune to achieve it. We tried going the electric blanket route. We got this Biddeford model with dual controls. That sounded like a great idea until we used it for a few nights. While the cords and wires are advertised to be flexible, we could still feel them and they felt stiff and bulky. Another problem is the dual controls require separate outlets. But worse—even at the lowest setting, it felt to me that I was trapped under a layer of heat and it didn’t feel good.

How I Spent Forty Bucks to Avoid Surgery

It was a total self-inflicted injury. I did a really stupid thing. Early on a Saturday morning, I heard the doorbell chime, which reminded me I’d set up an early appointment with a landscape company.

Not wanting a second ring to wake my husband, I flew like a flash from one end of the house to the other—and down the hardwood staircase. Wearing socks.

When I hit that top step, my legs shot out from under me like a rocket and down I bounced. On my bum. Hitting the landing halfway down didn’t stop anything. Instead, it propelled me for a second shot all the way to the bottom where I landed hard and in full view of one bewildered gardener.

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