Channel Your Inner Second Grader

So, how is your investing for the future coming along? What, you’re confused? I understand. Most of us are total novices. Unfortunately, what do we do? We let others make our decisions for us, thinking they are so much smarter because they are “professionals” or TV commentators.

Recently, I was drawn to a book that was simple to read, easy to understand and quite charming. In How a Second Grader Beats Wall Street: Golden Rules Any Investor Can Learn by Allan S. Roth, we follow the story of Kevin Roth, the author’s 8-year-old son, and discover exactly how simple it can be to become a successful investor.

By second grade, Roth contends, we’ve learned simple and truthful lessons about the world around us. As life goes along, however, what we continue to learn is less about making us smarter and more about making us outsmart ourselves.

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Simple Tips to Stretch the Food Budget

My grandmother always used to say, “If we didn’t need food, we’d all be rich!” This may be true. But then a life without food would be a little less pleasurable. Still, there are ample ways to make great food cheap, make perishable food last, and make the grocery budget stretch like nobody’s business.

The tips in today’s post are filled with practiced wisdom for practical solutions novel ideas and inspiring concepts that make cooking fun and rewarding for you and your family.

GRATE SAVINGS. You pay a lot to have someone else grate your cheese for you—at least two bucks a pound more than if you buy it by the block. You’ll also save by cutting up whole chickens, slicing your own pickles, slicing meat for cold cuts, and using a blender or rolling pin to make your own bread crumbs.

FOUND FOOD. You know that last slice of bread? Often it’s dry, past its prime and not enough to make a sandwich, so into the garbage it goes. Well, not so fast! Making your own breadcrumbs is as simple as whirring a few slices in a food processor blender until the bread becomes fine textured crumbs. Bake the crumbs on a baking sheet; 350 F stirring every 10 minutes. Depending on how much moisture you’re dealing with and the depth of the crumbs, it should take about 20 to 30 mins. Make Italian-style seasoned bread crumbs by adding 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning blend to every 2 cups to crumbs before baking. Cool completely then store in an airtight container.

VEGGIE BOUQUET. Store asparagus in the fridge in a glass of water (like cut flowers in a vase). It will stay fresh for a couple of weeks. Works with celery, too.

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How to Protect Your Medicare Card Plus What’s So Great About Home Chef?

What do a U.S. Social Security card and a Medicare card have in common? Both have the cardholder’s Social Security number emblazoned on the front in all its 9-digit glory!

The SSA warns, “Do not carry your Social Security card with you! Keep it in a safe place with your other important papers.” At the same time Medicare instructs seniors, “Be sure to carry your card with you when you’re away from home.” Say, what?

Dear Mary: You’ve encouraged me to write with my question, so here it is: On the back of my Medicare card it says, “Carry your card with you when you are away from home.” I am uneasy with that because it has my Social Security number printed right on it.

Doesn’t this expose me to identity theft if my wallet or purse is lost or stolen? But on the other hand, wouldn’t I need it in my possession in the event that I need emergency medical treatment or to check in for a doctor appointment? Boe

Dear Boe: You’re right! Medicare advises seniors to carry their cards at all times, but doing so makes them more vulnerable to identity theft if a wallet or purse is lost or stolen. A new Medicare card is coming, one that will no longer display a cardholder’s SSN. The agency has been working on this since 2015 (seriously) but as of this writing no date has been announced for when new cards will be issued. The wheels of government grind slowly.

In the meantime, AARP suggests that Medicare beneficiaries ignore the carry directive and instead carry a photocopy of the card with the first 5-digits of the SSN completely blocked out—leaving only the last 4 digits visible.

While emergency personnel can’t refuse to provide care until you show an insurance card, it is true that you’d need to come up with billing information before leaving a hospital or treatment facility. 

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Stop Throwing Away the Citrus!

I have a confession. For years I would toss the beautiful bright flavor of lemons into the garbage. This sad situation is the result of cutting a lemon in half, quickly juicing it for some immediate need then tossing what’s left. Or, when facing a need for lemon zest, taking off what I need in the moment and giving these rest a toss. Ouch!

I’ve reformed, having learned a few tricks for using up all of the useful parts of a lemon (or other citrus) and preserving what I don’t need now to have it just as “fresh” and beautiful when I will need it later.

ZEST IT

My new routine is to always zest a lemon first, even if all I need at the time is juice or a twist of peel. The easiest way is to place the citrus over a piece of parchment paper, plate or bowl then run all over it with using a fine zester, scrape off only the yellow part of the peel, not the white pith beneath.

Once done, I take what I need, if any, then scoop all of the fluffy zest into an airtight container (or bag) I keep in the freezer, using a bench scraper to make sure I get every precious, flavorful bit. The zest is so fine, defrosting for use is never necessary. I just reach into my container of lemon zest and take what I need when I need it. It’s handy and just as fresh as if I’d started with a new lemon.

Add a pinch of lemon zest to just about anything to brighten it up—salad dressing, cookie dough, meringue ice cream her butter, meat marinade—even pancake batter! 

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Trucs in the Kitchen

Fast food runs, deli detours and a grocery carts loaded with pre-prepared food can drain a food budget faster than a houseful of hungry teenagers. The secret for slashing your family’s food bill is to cook at home. And the way to become confident in the kitchen is to learn a few strategic “trucs” of the trade.

Truc (rhymes with “fluke”) is a French word that means a “trick,” not as in a magic trick or illusion, but rather a shortcut, gimmick, secret or way to do something better, cheaper, easier and faster.

PERFECT RICE.  Sauté 1 cup rice in two tablespoons oil in a sauce pan over medium heat until the kernels are well coated and begin to turn bright white. Add 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, stir and reduce to simmer. Cover and cook for 10 minutes undisturbed. Remove from the heat (do not peek) and wait for 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve. Multiplies well, use equal amounts of rice and water.

PERFECT BOILED POTATOES. Say goodby to mushy boiled potatoes that fall apart: Fill a pot with two parts water and one part vinegar. Add a dash of kosher salt and bring to a boil. Drop in the peeled potatoes and gently boil until desired doneness.

PERFECT CUPCAKES. To make rich, moist “gourmet” cupcakes skip the muffin tins and paper liners. Grease and flour heavy ovenproof porcelain coffee cups. Fill with your favorite cake or muffin batter to 2/3 full. Bake in preheated oven at 325 degrees F for 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes then invert the cups to pop out the cakes.

PERFECT OMELET PAN. Any skillet can become your perfect omelet pan. The secret is making sure the omelet will not stick. Pour some kosher salt into the skillet and rub vigorously the bottom and sides of the pan with a kitchen towel. The salt acts like an abrasive to put a fine polish on the skillet. Discard the salt and proceed.

TENDER MOIST CHICKEN. When cooking a whole chicken, chicken parts or boneless skinless breasts in liquid (braising, boiling or stewing) make sure it never comes to a full boil, not even for a few moments. Once you see that liquid starting to move, turn the heat down so it remains just below the boiling point. This is the secret to moist and tender chicken every time.

FRESH BASIL. To enjoy “fresh” basil all year long, wash, pat dry between towels and then pick off the unbruised leaves from the stems. Pack them in a jar and cover completely with olive oil. Close the lid tightly and refrigerate. Use the “fresh” basil as needed throughout the year, also the wonderful basil-flavored oil.

QUICK CHILL. Champagne, beer and whites wines are best served very cold, around 43 degrees F. That takes at least an hour in the refrigerator. But you can cut that time to 20 minutes or less: Fill an ice bucket half full with ice cubes. Pour in several cups of cold water and add 4 tablespoons of salt. Plunge the beverage bottle into the ice bucket, adding additional water and ice so the bucket is full. In 10-12 minutes the beverage will be cold, let stand for 20 minutes to reach the ideal 43 degrees. Cheers!

Do you have a great kitchen trick? Share it with us in the comments below.

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Plant an Edible Garden No Matter Where You Are or What You Have

Planting an edible garden is now trendy—not that being part of a trend is a good reason to start or learn something new. But if it helps you move forward by being part of the “in” crowd, then you really need to plant your own edible garden this year.

photo credit: OliveandCocoa.com

Provided you remain frugal (it is possible to spend a fortune on a garden, thereby nullifying most of the reasons to do it), you’ll save money, for certain. More than that you’ll know exactly what you’re eating and where it came from.

There are myriad ways to get started. You can grow a garden in a black plastic trash bag, on a deck, in a pot or even on a windowsill. You don’t need acreage and “perfect” conditions to get started. You can do it now with what you have, where you are.

Once you get going, here are a collection of great tips to further your success and enjoyment. There’s something soothing and satisfying about getting your hands dirty and watching stuff grow! Speaking of  dirty hands … 

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How Much is a Second Income Worth, Really?

Most families these days assume it takes two incomes to survive. And many would be shocked if they just took the time to figure out the real hourly wage in that second paycheck.

Dear Mary: With two little boys, my husband and I are paying through the roof for daycare. It seems like almost all the money I earn goes to childcare, so I’ve been thinking of quitting my job and staying home with the kids. I’m excited at the thought of spending more time with them, but I also want to be sure my family will be okay financially. Is there an easy way to make sure the decision is right for us? Bethany

Dear Bethany: I think you’re on to something. But before you make any rash decisions, do this: Write down a figure that represents your monthly take-home (net) pay. Now deduct from that all of your work-related costs including daycare, transportation, clothes, lunches, gifts and office pools and anything else you can come up with that would go away if you stay at home. Divide that result by the number of hours you’re away from home to see what your real hourly wage. But wait, there’s more.

Consider all of the hidden expenses you have because you work, like more fast food, take-out and restaurant meals because you’re too tired to cook. Do you hire help for the yard work or housecleaning? If you are home there’s a good chance you can do those jobs and reduce your expenses even further.

You may be shocked to discover it’s actually costing you to hold down a job because you’re paying out more than you earn, while this job is putting you into a higher tax bracket.

Unless you make a whopping big salary, you may be better off financially by being at home with your kids where you can also cook, clean and garden, too.

Dear Mary: My son Jake graduated from college about a year ago. He has a job, but with student loans and a bit of credit-card debt, he is struggling a bit financially. I know with smarter choices he could pull himself out of this; however, Jake just asked his father and me for help. We want to be good parents and provide for him. At the same time, we also think that since he’s an adult, he needs to start taking care of himself. Is there any compromise? Suzanne

Dear Suzanne:  Since he has asked for help, this might be the perfect time to teach as well. Don’t just give him a handout. Help him set up a budget. It’s possible he like so many people has never learned how to manage money.

Because he has come to you asking for help it’s possible he’s open to receiving your guidance as well. He needs to be accountable, but not in a child/parent way. Think of this as more of a client/counselor relationship.

In the same way he would have to create and submit a business plan to get a business loan, have him create a personal finance plan for how he intends to use the money you lend to him, how he intends to manage his income each month and how he plans to pay you back.

It’s time for Jake to get real about his money, and this could be the perfect opportunity you need to teach him valuable lessons. Not sure how or where to start? Pick up a copy of my book, Debt-Proof Living (most libraries have it). I’ll teach you everything Jake needs to know!

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Suddenly, It’s Spring!

Without a doubt, the best thing about living in Colorado is the change of seasons. The folks here live for one spectacular season after another.

In the summer we can’t wait for the cooler weather and colors of autumn. In the fall, we’re just dying for winter so we can pull out the winter wear, skis and snowboards. Once Christmas is packed up for another year, it’s all about the promise of new life as the days grow longer and the weather warms.

Suddenly it’s Spring! My garden is bursting with color. I’m cleaning like a crazy woman and I’m not talking about the house. Around here, winter takes its toll on our cars. It’s nearly impossible to keep a car clean during a Colorado winter.

For months while the days are short, the garage is cold and the driveway unpredictable, I remind myself that when it warms up—when Spring get here—that’s when I’ll clean and spit-shine this car back to showroom elegance.

CLEANING PRODUCTS. I consider the care and maintenance of our vehicles to be an investment in their long and enjoyable lives (we drive a car for 20 years, minimum). That’s why I use products that the professionals use: KevianClean Interior Defense, KevianClean Leather Cleaner and Conditioner, a good professional carpet stain remover, window cleaner and microfiber cloths.  

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