December 31, 2008

Free Shipping and Clearance Sales from Overstock.Com

I love a bargain, and I routinely stop by HalfPrice Books and the Ross Dress for Less next door to check out their clearance shelves. It's amazing some of the great stuff I've found this way ....

Well, shopping online has some great bargains, too -- but there's that shipping cost problem. (And, yes, the inability to physically check out the product -- I find it hard to buy shoes, for example, online if I haven't already tried on the same pair in a local store.)

Overstock.Com is addressing that problem, here's what is on its site today:

$1 shipping offer applies to U.S. orders with standard shipping only. For expedited shipping, additional charges apply. This offer applies to the lower U.S. 48 states and APO/FPO destinations only. This offer excludes orders comprised solely of products from the "Books, Music, Movies & Games", "Gift Cards", and "Auctions" categories. Offer ends January 5, 2009 @ 11:59 PM MST.

Looks like there are some good finds at the clearance section of the site, too, in case you're interested in buying anything. (That, of course, is an entirely different question ....)

December 29, 2008

Expatriates: Are You Considering Moving Overseas Because of the Economy?

There's more and more talk about Americans relocating to other countries as the American economy continues its downslide -- there's a lower cost of living, there's less stress, there are already established expatriate communities to consider.

If you're one of those Americans considering a move to another country, there's lots to ponder. First, there is a lot of information about cost of living, jobs, and culture for a variety of destinations over at the ExpatForum -- here you can read about living in Australia or Malaysia or elsewhere, and there are lots of forums set up so you can communicate directly with expatriates who are already living in your target location. Other informative sites are Expat Exchange and Expat Essentials.

It's fun and exciting to surf through these sites, and ponder your new, simple life in a beautiful, tranquil, and inexpensive location. However, there's a lot of investigation to be done.

You're considering a new daily life, not an extended vacation. For instance:

1. Consider Taxation - How Much Will You Have to Pay Now and in the Near Future?

There's some reporting that expats will be facing increasing taxation in the future. The National reports (12/29/08):

The United States is not most countries, however. Citizens living abroad must continue to file returns and pay tax on their worldwide income, although the first US$82,400 (Dh302,655) in foreign employment or business earnings is excluded, plus a bit more, sometimes, for housing expenses.

With one hand in their wallet already, are Americans more at risk of a tax hike than other expats? Could they be asked to pay more?

“It would be a fairly easy to thing to do,” said Patrick Stevens, a tax partner in London for Ernst & Young. “All they would have to do is reduce or wipe out the excluded amount.”

He is not betting on it, but something that produced the same result occurred just two years ago. While the earned-income exclusion was raised from $80,000, tinkering in the formula for the housing allowance led to sharp increases in tax liability for some overseas Americans.

J.D. Foster, a researcher in tax and entitlement policy at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, does not expect any similar move – yet. His somewhat paradoxical reasoning is that the US treasury needs too much revenue.

“I don’t think it’s all that probable simply because deficits will be so large for the next couple of years and the amounts raised would be so small that it’s not worth it,” he explained. He warned, though, that it may become worth it later.

“There’s a legitimate concern for two or three years from now,” Mr. Foster said, “as Obama will have to demonstrate to the markets that after these unprecedented deficits he’s concerned about fiscal discipline.”


2. Consider Crime - Kidnapping of Americans Is a Risk in Some Areas
Kidnapping Americans for ransom is considered a business enterprise in some parts of the world, and while this may be more of a risk for the overseas American businessman and his family, it's a risk to be considered by retirees and other "rich Americans" in many regions.

December 28, 2008

Books on Simplicity Rising in Popularity (Though They're Calling it Frugality): Here's a Reading List

Over at the Salt Lake City Tribune, they're sharing an article written by Susan Carpenter of the Los Angeles Times, "Books: Concept of frugality makes comeback - Salt Lake Tribune". And guess what? It's all about that classic simplicity tome, Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin.

Yep, the one written about 40 years ago ... although it has been revised and updated for today's market. Of course, they're confusing frugality and simplicity: leading a simple life is a lifestyle that is far from lack (which the term "frugality" might suggest). Simplify your lifestyle and enrich your life - simplicity isn't about loss, it's about gain.

If you're interested in reading more about living a simple life, here are some Simplicity books worth your time:

Finding Happiness by Christopher Jamison

100 Ways to Simplify Your Life by Joyce Meyer

Choosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World by Linda Breen Pierce

Living the Simple life: A Guide to Scaling Down and Enjoying More by Elaine St. James

Voluntary Simplicity, Revised Edition: Toward a Life that is Inwardly Simple, Outwardly Rich by Duane Elgin

The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Simple Living

Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic by John de Graaf, David Wann, Thomas H. Naylor

Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Approval Addiction: Overcoming Your Need to Please Everyone by Joyce Meyer

For more, check out Books to Read at Everyday Simplicity.

December 27, 2008

Blog to Read: Jack Quits $300K Job for Simple Living

Here's a nice blog that gives lots of details on the actual, day to day process of changing one's lifestyle to one of simple living. Over at Adventures in Voluntary Simplicity, Jack shares his personal story of quiting a $300K job as an attorney to follow a life of voluntary simplicity.

Yes, this is the guy who burned his Harvard Law diploma and put the video on YouTube. I don't see that video posted on the blog, however.

December 26, 2008

Cheap Eats and Frugal Recipes: Chicken Tortilla Soup

Okay, another recipe. Because it's cold out and this tastes great. Really, really great. Soup for breakfast great.

Rebecca's Chicken Tortilla Soup

3-4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 cans Rotel tomatoes with green chiles
2 poblano peppers, chopped
1 large sweet onion, chopped
5 medium plum tomatoes, quartered
3 T garlic (I like garlic)
2 cans chicken broth
1 can tomato paste
1 T comino
1 T chili powder
salt and pepper to taste
water
2 bunches fresh cilantro, chopped
shredded Mexican 4-cheese blend (Kraft)
corn tortilla chips

In a Dutch oven (mine is a 5.5 qt Le Creuset, woo), combine all the ingredients except 1 bunch of the cilantro, the cheese, and the chips. (I know many say never add fresh herbs till the end, but I like to put fresh cilantro in this soup while it's cooking.) Add water as needed to cover the ingredients, you want a good amount of liquid. It'll boil down.

Simmer for 1-2 hours, till done. Remove the chicken breasts, take fork and shred them. Return the shreds into the soup. Add the remaining chopped cilantro.

Serve in bowls with crushed tortilla chips and shredded cheese on top. Some folk add sliced avocado and/or globs of sour cream. You choose - I didn't miss them.

December 24, 2008

Cheap Eats and Frugal Recipes: The Grilled Cheese Sandwich

We've all have them, we all love them, and there's lots of memories we all share about the All American Grilled Cheese Sandwich.

Here's what I recommend as your jumping-off board for a Great Grilled Cheese:

1. It's GRILLED. None of this throwing the bread into a toaster and then slapping the cheese between the toasted slices and nuking it in the microwave. That's just sad. Don't try the toaster oven, either. Suck it up and get your frying pan out. You've got to use the stove top for this one.

2. Get your butter. Not fake butter - no Country Crock here. The real stuff. Throw a tablespoon into your frying pan, or onto your griddle, and let it melt.

3. Take two thick slices of bread and throw them onto the hot, buttery panface. Here, you can play with flavors and textures as time goes by: a pumpernickel grilled cheese can be decadent, a rye can be nice, and a traditional white bread can be scrumpious. Around here, it's usually a 12-grain baked by the local grocer.

4. Slap some mustard and some mayo onto those slices as they are toasting up. I suppose you could do this before they hit the heat, but it can be messier that way. And, yes -- one of the big secrets here is a little bit of both: mustard and mayo.

5. Now, carefully place your cheese slices on the bread. A little on each toasting slice. Once again, play with the flavors. Swiss with the rye and some German mustard versus american on whole wheat with dijon - you get the idea.

6. Using a spatula, take one of your slices and carefully place it atop the other. Voila! A magnificent, tasty, and cheap meal for you!

For more information:

Alton Brown's Big Cheese Squeeze (he grates his cheese, and opts for olive oil instead of butter)

Emeril's Baby Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (he uses cream cheese combined with mascapone, and adds chives to the mix)

Sandra Lee's Grilled Cheese and Crab Sandwiches (yep, she adds canned crab to shredded Gruyere)

Julia Child's Grilled Cheese and Onion Sandwich () she uses English Muffins, thinly sliced raw onions, and Parmesan cheese).

December 23, 2008

Still More Free Movies: Fancast

Fancast is creating quite a nice menu of movies and TV show episodes that you can watch for free. As an example of what you can see, right now, for free, check out some of their listings under M and N:

The Madness of King George
The Magic Sword
The Magnificent Seven
The Man Who Never Was
Man Without a Gun
The Man from Planet X
Man of La Mancha
Master and Commander

The Milagro Beanfield War
Moby Dick
Moonstruck
More Dead Than Alive
Mrs. Pollifax - Spy
Murders in the Rue Morgue
Muscle Beach Party
My Name Is Joe


Naked Lunch
Ned Kelly
Niagara, Niagara
Nicholas Nickleby
The Night of the Hunter
Night of the Living Dead
Nine Lives
Nobody's Fool
North Shore

December 21, 2008

Planning for 2009 : Free Calendars, Planners, List Makers, and More

Get ready to hit the ground running in 2009 with these free and very useful planning tools:

1. Grocery List Maker

You do have to join the CommonSenseCommunity here, but this is a nice tool to have. You can create your grocery list from any computer (think work and home) - adding an item here and there as you think of it - and then once it's done, have the complete grocery list emailed to you in time for the weekly store run.

2. Family Budget Planner

Microsoft Office has lots of free templates to choose from -- this Family Budget Planner is one that ranks 4.5 stars and has been downloaded over 2,000,000 times at the time of this posting. Looks like it's well received, right?

3. My Yahoo! Calendar and Life Planner

Along with millions of others, I've stuck with my Yahoo! online calendar over the years because it's served me well, and I really like the timers, alarms, and other things (sync, share) that come with this package (more than I've seen elsewhere). It's more than just a calendar -- other than defining goals for you, the Yahoo! Calendar really acts as more of a planner than just an online calendar.

For example, this calendar allows you to list Events and Tasks - and there's not a time frame here. Plus, it's online - reach it from anywhere, anytime and you don't lose it should your computer crash. Over time, it's built my life quite nicely: until I change things, Yahoo! will remind me about annual events (birthdays, anniversarys, etc.) as well as deadlines (two weeks till publisher's deadline, etc.) in perpetuity.

I can set goals in the Task Lists, then set little deadlines for myself to accomplish each step needed to reach that goal in the Events List. I'll start getting email reminders, etc. according to the schedule I've chosen ... I find this to be really helpful.

4. Fitness Tracker/Weight Loss Planner

FitDay is something that I've used for years. It's just got everything you'd need or want to track your physical needs, as well as your fitness goals and diet progress. The free online account gives you too much information to list here ... it's one of those examples of how great the Web can be.

5. Inspiration to Keep Going

Have a motivational quote delivered to your inbox each morning over at GoalSettingGuide. There's another one over at NightingaleConant, in case you want to pick between the two - or if you want to get two cheerleading emails each day.

December 9, 2008

Predicting 2009: Faith Popcorn's BrainReserve Gives Insights: Simple Living Is the New Black

Faith Popcorn? Do I jest?

Nope. Faith Popcorn has spent the past 30 years successfully mapping out what the future holds, primarily for marketing purposes. She's a real person, and her company is a thinktank called the Brain Reserve.

And, here's what Faith Popcorn predicts for 2009 in her latest press release (emphasis added on the portion discussing simplicity or simple living):

NEW YORK, Dec 03, 2008 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- Leading future-focused Trend consultancy Faith Popcorn's BrainReserve sees 2009 as a year marked by unprecedented fear, anxiety, and uncertainty.

A year in which we'll see a range of consumer reactions to a nation that has seen itself moving in the wrong direction.

Faith Popcorn notes: "This is not a momentary correction, nor a down cycle -- it's the end of the world as we know it. What we'll be deciding in 2009 is whether we'll simply succumb, or whether through a new set of Rules of Engagement, we'll find a new way to set our priorities."
As has been their practice for over three decades, FPBR is applying their TrendBank, 17 insights that are predictive of consumer habits, practices, preferences and behaviors to the ever accelerating changes that drive our Culture.

The four New Rules of Engagement are: Reclaim, Retrench, Reset and Reinvent.

1. RECLAIM:
Reframing our power relationship with Companies.

Driven by Icon Toppling -- A new socioquake transforms mainstream America and the world as the pillars of society are questioned and rejected.

Look for: The death of the Consumer, long live the Citizen. With the mutuality of responsibility, Citizenship suggests -- shared values, shared interests, democratic decision making, full disclosure and a free ranging, ongoing dialogue.

2. RETRENCH: Hunkering down and praying for survival.


Driven by Cocooning: Retreating to home to protect oneself from the harsh, unpredictable realities of the outside world.

We'll see that: Cuddles Trump Coupons. A premium based on brands that demonstrate "empathy"; an understanding of the consumer plight -- it's going to be a combination of messaging, price, and purchase continuity programs that offer progressive refunds, as just a few examples. The strategy is simple -- be with them when they're down; they'll remember you when they're up.

3. RESET: Voluntary cutback to find a new equilibrium.


Driven by Cashing Out: Questioning personal/career satisfaction and goals, people opt for simpler living.

It means: We're Scrooged: If you're looking for immediate proof, watch Christmas '08 sales. The worst downside estimate I've seen is -5%, it will be double digit. Black Friday's top-line sales growth is a false metric. Retailers can ignite a consumption spark via discounting, but will the operation survive at zero margin contribution? How many will resist the temptations of store visits and turn to online shopping? Will they ever come back?

4. REINVENT: A rediscovery and reaffirmation of American Ingenuity.

Driven by Fantasy Adventure: The modern age whets our appetite for roads untaken.

Watch the development of A Wampum Economy. A shadow economy will emerge; driven by a culture of haggling, swapping, bartering, hacking, and re-using. It all hearkens back to a time where a direct Citizen to Citizen relationship drove the economy, rather than being disintermediated by channel and manufacturing.

Ms. Popcorn is available to discuss The New Rules of Engagement, including additional predictions that are tangible manifestations of these New Rules.


Please call Kathleen Cantwell on 212-792-6333 to arrange an interview, or submit queries to kcantwell@faithpopcorn.com.

SOURCE Faith Popcorn's BrainReserve

December 2, 2008

Movies to See: You Can't Take It With You

Here's a great movie that shows Simple Living is far from a new and trendy concept: this is a 1938 film based upon a Pulitzer-Prize winning play written by Kaufman and Hart dealing with materialism, greed, and voluntarily simplicity as a viable lifestyle option.

It's just great. Directed by Frank Capra, it's got an all-star cast including Lionel Barrymore, Jimmy Stewart, and Jean Arthur. The supporting roles are filled with familiar faces, too -- you find Ann Miller, who dances quite a lot (though she's so good that she can't quite fool you into believing that her character is really a bad, bad dancer) and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson is a nice surprise - both he and Jimmy Stewart are lots younger here than how we tend to remember them now.


It's a witty film without being weighty. The whole family can watch this one and get something out of it. And, the play's even got an online study guide (learn such things as this movie being created as one of the origins of today's TV sitcoms).

I couldn't find it available for free on the web -- yet. But that's just a matter of time, right?

November 30, 2008

Fr. Christopher Jamison's New Book On Simpliciity Gets Media Play By Taking On Disney as Promoting Materialism and Greed - Is He Right?

Over in England, Christopher Jamison is a Benedictine monk known as the Abbot of Worth in West Sussex, and he's a prominent figure in Catholic circles -- touted by many as the next Archbishop of Westminister. (You know, that Westminister.)

Jamison starred in a hit TV series on the BBC (The Monastery) and he's just come out with a new book that encourages people to live simply. The title? Finding Happiness.

In his book, Jamison offers advice in changing your lifestyle to one of simplicity by changing the way you think and upping your self-discipline. In fact, he argues that there are 8 thoughts that must be controlled to find happiness; they are:

anger
pride
gluttony
lust
greed
sloth or spiritual apathy
sadness
vanity.

Father Jamison isn't timid. He's boldly taken on the celebrity news media as helping people to become dissatisfied with their personal circumstances, encouraging envy. And, he's not stopped there.

Jamison is also getting a lot of news coverage for taking on Walt Disney's legacy. He argues that the current Disney conglomerate offers product that does have value (an example: Sleeping Beauty does give a lesson on good vs. evil) but Jamison decries the corporation for tying so many secondary products and services to its films - thereby encouraging the indoctrination of children into materialism and cultural greed.

For more on Jamison's position, check out the Telegraph's article, Disney accused by Catholic cleric of corrupting children's minds, and the quotes from one of his interviews in the Church Times, which includes this statement, where he is discussing Advent:

“We see Advent as a very seriously charged moment, in which we . . . refuse to behave as though the way to salvation is to spend more and to get into debt more, because that is what has got us into this trouble in the first place,” he said at the launch.

“The antidote to greed is waiting. It is not never shop,but shop less; not stand still, but go slower; but that is not what the politicians are going to tell us. The Chancellor is going to say ‘Spend like before.’ But that is what has got us into trouble in the first place.

“The economy is going through a readjustment, whether we like it or not. If we behave like we have in the last ten years, then we will just see another crisis. We have to work for an economy with a more solid foundation in order to skip the boom and bust. But the politicians have not done that.”

November 29, 2008

Have You Ever Shopped an Estate Sale?

Estate sales have their own section in the classifieds, and usually there are little signs posted on streetcorners in the area on sale days that are fancier and more professional than any garage sale notice.

While they can be sales of the belongings of someone who has passed, estate sales are also moving sales -- either way, there's a lot of personal property and household goods up for sale.

Sometimes it's an auction format; sometimes, it's not. Estate sales are run by professionals, and they're in the business to make a profit off the sale by taking a percentage of the proceeds.

You may think that means less of a bargain -- but these pros know how to mark the merchandise so it will move, and the last day or afternoon may see real markdowns on the pricing. Ask them when they'll be discounting the stuff - they'll tell you.

The best stuff will be gone quick - these estate sale pros will have notified their "regulars" (antique dealers, E-bay sellers, and the like) of their upcoming sale and those folk will be at the door right when it opens ... but you can find a lot of good things, cheap.

Is it better than a garage sale?

For someone who's moving, you betcha. If you're downsizing, let these pros handle your moving sale -- they'll do a much better job than you can on pricing and displaying the stuff, they'll find things you didn't know had such value because they know their markets, and they already have a solid customer base.

For someone who's buying, probably. You might find a rare first edition for two bits at a garage sale (the estate sales pro will know to check the books before they're offered) but prices aren't going to be that different at an estate sale, and you'll have lots more to choose from there.

November 28, 2008

Surviving the Depression - 1: 100 Tips and Tools from E-Justice

I'm not the first to use that skeery word "depression" these days -- just surf around and you'll see lots of debate going on about how bad it's going to get and whether or not our next few years will be as stressful and cutting as those of the 1930's Great Depression.

It's both direct and indirect. There's blatant discussion of when or if we're in a second full-blown Great Depression (in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan calls it "GDII") and then there's the subtle references, when pundits compare our current economic situation to those of Herbert Hoover or FDR.

Simplicity as a Lifestyle - Great Rewards No Matter Why You've Chosen It

Once again, many of us chose a simple lifestyle long ago - consciously and proactively - for many reasons other than holding on during a major economic downturn. Living a simple life has such great rewards. (Really!)

However, I recognize that there are many, many folk out there that may come to investigate a simple lifestyle for no other reason than they've got no other choice. To them, I say "welcome."

I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with how much more life has to offer when you live simply. It's really great fun, and there's a peace and joy in it that's quite comforting.

Great Tip List Available for Surviving the Upcoming Economic Storm

I've written lots and lots (and will continue to do so) on how to simplify your lifestyle. However, one of the best overviews on dealing with making concrete lifestyle changes that I've seen in a long time was sent to me today by Kelly Senora at the Criminal Justice USA blog ... it's written by Alisa Miller over there, and it's a great index to info on the web about how to get ready for the Big Bad Storm we're facing:

How to Prepare for a Financial Apocalypse: 100 Tips and Tools to Secure What’s Yours.

Go read this. Even if you're an experienced simplifier, you'll find something of interest here.

And thanks, Kelly, for sharing. This list should really help a lot of people in what's becoming a fearful time.

November 24, 2008

Have You Ever Thought about Shopping at a Pawn Shop?

Yeah, I know. Pawn shops always sound a little shady -- and there's always some sinister fact that reveals itself in a pawn shop everytime they pop up in any Law & Order episode I've ever seen.

Still, I've just learned that pawn shops not only sell used merchandise that is in perfectly good condition (they test it), but that they are a great place to buy jewelry (it's usually about 40% of what you'd pay at the swanky store) and they also offer new merchandise, too.

Plus, they've got things you might not think they have. Lawnmowers. Bicycles. Jigsaws.

So, while you're out and about this holiday season trying to think of ways to save on your shopping budget -- stroll through a pawn shop in your area. You might be tickled pink at what you find.

(Plus, reusing things that other people don't want is not only good for our throw-away environment, it's all part of that whole simplicity concept. So, wander over to that pawn shop feeling like the wise and savvy shopper that you are!)

November 20, 2008

Online Retailers Offering Big Markdowns Already

Any trepidation you may have about shopping online might fall by the wayside when you start investigating the markdowns and discounts that are already being offered online -- over a month before Christmas arrives.

You might want to check out:

K-Mart -- which started taking 40-50% off its electronics prices as of November 2nd with free shipping when the purchase is $49 or more;

Wal-Mart -- always low prices are getting lower, and there's a lot being offered online that is not in the stores, with a "ship to store" option at the website - their clearance page offers 3312 items as of this posting, with free shipping site to your local store for pickup;

JC Penney -- their online "outlet store" even has a section for "$9.99 or less," with lots of nice things in all departments; and

Toys-R-Us -- which has a nice selection of clearance items that ship free (for example, Up! Up! Elmo sells for $9.98 with no shipping costs) and otherwise offers free shipping on any purchase totalling $50 or more.

November 19, 2008

Even Joyce Meyer is Simplifying Her Life: She Has a New Tips Books Out

100 Ways to Simplify Your Life is Joyce Meyer's latest book release, and here's the plug from Amazon.com:
"Joyce Meyer is one busy lady. Apart from the normal demands of life, she teaches daily on TV and radio, writes books, holds conferences in dozens of cities every year and ministers around the world...and she runs JoyceMeyerMinistries. So she's had to learn how to make the most of every minute of the day! In 100 Ways to Simplify Your Life, Joyce shares the most effective secrets she's learned over the years for making the most of each minute of the day. In less than two pages per entry, Joyce gives us eminently 'doable' tips that are clearcut and ...well, SIMPLE. But they can change your whole outlook, not to mention your schedule."
Tips include (1) do one thing at a time; (2) be satisfied with what you have; and (3) keep God first. Each tip includes a reference to scripture, a quotation, and a brief teaching discussion by Joyce herself.

Who's Joyce Meyer? Here's her Wikipedia bio and here's the link to her ministry website.

November 18, 2008

More and More Free Movies Online

You can watch a nice assortment of free movies over at IMDb .com, like Witness for the Prosecution (one of my favorites) - along with TV shows, trailers, and the like. And, their collection seems to be growing with great regularity.

Even better news: it's in the news today that YouTube and MGM have entered into a pact where YouTube is going to provide free MGM movies at its site (why? to generate advertising dollars, of course).

More Free TV Shows, Too

YouTube will also be offering lots of TV shows (Walker, Texas Ranger was mentioned in the press release). They've already started showing other TV series like Star Trek and The Young and The Restless thru a deal they made with CBS last month.

And, for those of you interested in the behind-the-scenes story: who's really getting a boost here? Google. Yep, Google bought YouTube in 2006.

Sources:
Daily Tech
http://www.dailytech.com/YouTube+to+Feature+MGM+Films+TV+Shows/article13401.htm
Information Week
http://www.informationweek.com/news/personal_tech/TV_theater/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=212001566

November 2, 2008

Nissan Offers New Versa for Under $10,000 and 0% Financing

Nissan has cut back on the cloth seats and the chrome along with making its 4 cylinder engine a tad smaller, and put its new 2009 Versa into the marketplace this month for a price tag of $9990.00.

This makes Versa the lowest priced new car in the American market today, well below the 2009 Hyundai Accent ($11,070) and the 2008 Kia Rio ($12,145)-- the two models previously vying for lowest-cost new car.

The 2009 Nissan Versa claims to give you 34 mpg on the highway, and when it debuts on November 19th, you can pick one up at the dealer for zero percent (0%) interest.

Free financing ... they're almost paying you to buy their car.

October 23, 2008

Cheap Eats and Frugal Recipes: Rice


Rice is great for a food budget. First, rice is cheap. Once cooked, it feeds a lot - you get a lot of bang for your buck.

Plus, rice is easy to prepare and to store. You can also freeze rice by itself, along with most rice recipes (depends on the other ingredients). It can be savory or sweet; a side dish or an entree or a dessert.

Brown rice, or whole-grain or wild rice is very nutritious - much more so than the more familar white rice versions. Put rice with beans, and you create a complete protein, too.

Basic Rice Recipe -- How to Cook Rice

1. Rinse your rice 2-3 times before it goes into the pot. This gets rid of excess starch on the kernels, helping to prevent sticky rice as well as rice stuck and burned on the bottom of the pan.

2. If you have time, soak your rice in some water. Makes it plumper on the plate. This is really a must for whole grain (brown) rice -- soak it for a couple of hours, makes a big difference.

3. Don't use that Minute Rice or Precooked stuff. You don't need it, it doesn't taste as good, has less nutrition, and costs more.

4. Use a pot that has a tight fitting lid (steam is crucial to cooking rice) and a nice heavy construction. Me, I like my ceramic-covered cast iron pot ....

5. Some say not to salt or butter the rice while it's cooking. I ignore them. I salt the boiling water, and I add a couple of tablespoons of butter, or olive oil, for taste. I might throw in a garlic clove on a whim. You get the idea. Depends on what I'm using the rice for -- olive oil, for example, isn't really good if I'm going for a dessert if you know what I mean.

6. Older rice takes longer to cook than fresh rice. It's doable, though, just needs more time in the pot. Best if you've stored your rice in a tight jar in the pantry (air tight).

7. How much water? Put in 1.5 cups of water (one and a half cups) for each cup of white rice, 2.5 cups for wild rice. Yes, you can substitute stock for this - chicken, pork, whatever.

8. Put the rice and water on the stove and bring it to a boil over medium heat. (Some folk put whole grain rice into a hot, dry skillet and let it "fry" for a bit before combining it with the water - I might do this if I have time, and I always do this if I'm making Spanish Rice because it adds a little crunch to the dish.)

9. Add the butter and salt.

10. Turn the heat down to low and put the lid on tight.

11. After about 15 minutes, check the white rice. If it looks done, there's no liquid in the pot, and there are little holes that have popped up on the surface, you're done. Whole grain, or wild rice, takes a lot longer because it hasn't had its outer covering stripped away. It's going to take about 45 minutes to cook.

12. Remember, it's not criminal to pop up that lid and check on things - particularly when you're just getting started here. Sure, steam will escape but that's not going to be the end of the world. Stir the rice around, check your liquid levels -- if it's even hinting at burning on the bottom, you've got the heat too high.

13. Key to rice: low heat and patience.

14. Cheap, frugal rice dishes? Chicken and Rice, Broccoli Rice Casserole, Chicken Fried Rice, Spanish Rice, Rice Pudding, Rice-Stuffed Bell Peppers, Rice and Bean Cakes, and any sort of Chinese Stir Fry with veggies on hand come to mind ... rice is used a lot around here.

15. For more rice recipes, surf around these sites and see what tickles your fancy:

Recipes.LovetoKnow.Com - Rice

All Recipes.Com - Rice

16. Don't forget the chop sticks!!! Rice is the great excuse to use them - makes for a fun meal.

October 22, 2008

Sweet Drinks With Stevia


In an earlier post (link shown below), I reported on the new beverages that will be hitting our grocery shelves, sweetened with stevia. Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, and other companies are on the bandwagon. (This, after they've been selling their products using stevia in Japan for years. Arggg!!! But I digress....)

In the meantime, I thought I'd share several beverages that are pretty popular around here on the homefront, made with all-natural, no calorie Stevia (I use the KAL brand):

1. sweet tea (I brew tea, then add ten "shakes" of the KAL powdered stevia, or about ten eyedroppers of the liquid KAL version, then fill the gallon pitcher with filtered water);

2. Kool-Aid (yep, just use the unsweetened packages)(same amount of stevia as above);

3. limeade (I juice around 5 large limes, 7 smaller ones)(same amount of stevia as above, also for the gallon pitcher);

4. pink lemonade (for one gallon, I use around 4 lemons, 1 package of KoolAid unsweetened strawberry mix, and the same amount of stevia as above);

5. iced coffee (for one serving, mix fat free half-and-half - or soy milk - and good coffee till the color is right, then add two shakes of the powdered stevia - or more, sweeten to your taste -- I find that powdered stevia works better than liquid here, for some reason; pour over ice)(sometimes I add some real vanilla extract or a touch of cinnamon before the ice goes in).

Yep, I've started using liquid stevia as well as the powdered version. Why? Got a great deal for liquid KAL brand on sale at Sun Harvest, of course. Just scooped them up and figured I'd learn to like the liquid, too.

For More Information:

Stevia Goes Mainstream

October 13, 2008

Is the American Economy a Giant Ponzi Scheme?

MIT Professor F. Kriesel thought so, back in 1998, and reading his copyrighted article, "American "New Economy- a giant Ponzi pyramid," is eerie.

Go read it in its entirety over at the MIT site, HERE.

Some highlights:

Greenspan is describing a process where a huge percentage of the American public (70% of all households according to one account) have in the past few years put their savings into stocks, bonds, CDs and other financial instruments. The average savings rate in the US dropped to a historic low of 3% of income, but it is now possible to borrow money in many more ways than ever before. Mortgage companies will lend you 125% of the value of your house. -- Yes, that is correct, the banks will lend you more than your house is worth! -- Mortgage loans, personal loans, credit card debt, revolving loans, car loans have provided the funds for the American worker to buy more and more of this ever increasing mountain of capital....

When we bear in mind that most of today's investors put their life's savings into this scheme in the expectation of being provided with income out of it upon retiring, we begin to realize what human tragedy lies in store for them. If we now consider that the Gross Domestic Product of the United States was only $7.61 trillion in 1996 (the last year for which we have data) and compare it with the $12 trillion of the "miracle money" accumulated just since 1994, we can see the scale of the disaster looming over the American and world economy. ....


October 2, 2008

Should You Be Saving Dollars?

When I was very young, and he was very old, my Great Uncle Billy told me a story about how part of my family got to Texas. I can still see him, setting in the shade on my cousin MaryBeth's huge porch, me on the concrete steps with Texas Stars on each column that bookended the wide front stairs and Billy, in his favorite wooden Adirondack chair.

Uncle Billy, rolling his own cigarettes in trembling leathered, liverspotted hands, would spin tales of robbers and indians and wild beasts, beautiful women and brave gentlemen, and I would be spellbound for hours. And, one thing I remember very clearly: our ancestors had lost everything in Tennessee during the Civil War, and came to the Texas Hill Country to make a fresh start. For this trek, our great-grand-something, Tom, had lined his boots with layers of old Confederate Dollars to keep his feet warm and dry. That's all those dollars were good for anymore.

There's a similar lesson in Gone With the Wind, if you'll remember -- there are taxes to be paid on Tara, and Scarlett's father has put all his savings in now-worthless Confederate paper. Remember? That's when she sews up the green dress and goes to Atlanta....

Of course, we're not facing the devestation of war in this economic crisis - people are looking back in history to the Great Depression not the War Between the States - but the question of how much our dollar will lose value is still one of merit.

How Many Dollars Will You Need Next September to Buy What You Bought This September?

We all know that today's dollar doesn't buy as much as it used to purchase. Your grocery bills over the past few months provide that information. But how weak will the dollar get -- how many dollars will you need next September, to buy the exact same necessities that you bought this September?

1. Krista Das over at the Australian version of the Daily Reckoning interviewed Bill Bodner last December, and here is part of what Bill Bodner had to say (emphasis added):

"In looking at the dollar from a long-term standpoint, it's almost sure that the dollar is going to decline, and someday, go where all paper currency goes, which is to money heaven. That is to say it's going to die. ...

"But the U.S. dollar forecast for 2008 is very, very hard to predict. It depends on what you think is going to happen in the world at large. What I think is that there is going to be a continuation of the credit crunch. I think that we've reached the top, and in fact, that we are past the top of the credit expansion that began more than 25 years ago.

"So we're looking at a major, major top and a major, major turning point in which, now, you could expect asset prices to start down. And if that's true, you're going to see a lot of people who are going to need dollars. They're going to need currency to pay their bills. The credit expansion pushed up the level of debt all throughout the system, not just in the U.S. but worldwide.

"A lot of those debts, most of those debts, are calibrated in dollars so that when people go to pay off the debts, they have to come up with real money. And so I think what we're going to see in 2008 is the first stage of a credit decline, and that's going to mean that people are going to need dollars. They're going to want dollars, and the price of the dollar is probably not going to go down too much. But again, I'm purely speculating on this."


2. Budget Travel reports that right now, the US Dollar buys "about half as much" in 13 western European countries (Spain, France, etc.) than it did only 7 years ago.

3. In November 2007, one "trends researcher" at Information Liberation predicted a Panic in 2008 with the US Dollar "free falling"as much as 90% and gold reaching $2000/ounce. He predicts "the Panic of 2008 will lead to a lower U.S. standard of living."

What Does This Mean to You? Should You Be Saving Dollars?

1. If you are already simplifying your life, then lots of folk that used to think you were crazy, strange, or just plain cheap (have you been called bohemian or a hippie-wannabe yet?) may start looking at you in a whole different light. Heck, they may even ask you how they can simplify too, wouldn't that be nice?

If you're an active simplifier, good for you! Attaboy! Feels good, doesn't it?

2. If you've got excess cash right now, I think I'd be thinking about buying gold with my dollars. I'd save gold not sawbucks. All the folks at Daily Reckoning have been recommending this for years - and history (whether you're looking at the Civil War or the Great Depression) proves it true, gold is a good asset to hold in troubled times.

3. Of course, this assumes that you SAVE. According to the statistics I've been reading on the Web, odds are high that if you are an American - you are not saving, and haven't been in quite awhile. Here's an idea: START.

For more information:

Gold

Very Skeery Stuff

The NestEgg Index and 12 Tips on Saving

October 1, 2008

Freebie Dangers: ActiveX Controls on Printing Online Coupons

A variety of online sites offer coupons that can be printed and used at your local grocery store (or elsewhere). However, many of these sites require special software downloaded to your hard drive in order to accomplish printing the coupons -- and some of these downloads include placing ActiveX controls on your machine. (If you have security software in place, it will stop this from occuring automatically and ask you to decide whether or not to allow the ActiveX control to proceed.)

What is an ActiveX control? Should you allow this, or should you forego the coupon offers?

1. ActiveX controls only work with Windows - if you have a Mac, just skip the rest of this post.

2. An ActiveX control has full access to your Windows operating system. This comes with a risk that there may be some damage to software you've already installed on your PC, or that it may harm data you've stored on your computer. Your safest route, when offered something with an ActiveX control, is to decline the download. But, what if you're chomping at the bit for those coupons you've discovered online?

3. If you want the coupon printing function, then you need minimize this risk. First, Microsoft has set up a registration system so that some browsers (ie., Internet Explorer, etc.) can identify and authenticate an ActiveX control before downloading it. Make sure your browser is doing this (for example, will the latest version of Firefox or Safari check the Microsoft registration?) Second, check around the web for those that have been using the coupon site without a problem. The really popular, time-tested coupon sites will probably offer a safer avenue to their coupon offerings than some lesser-known websites.

4. One last thing: don't print what you don't think you'll use. Each coupon is going to use up printer ink - and those color coupons can really eat into your printer budget.

September 30, 2008

Personal Post 23: Using Coupons to Save Big Money

I've used a coupon or two, and I've also got the blessing of living near HEB, where there are lots and lots of in-store coupons and special offers that save me lots of cash.

However, it's not enough and I've decided to get serious about shopping with coupons. I want to be one of those people that walks away with $100s of dollars saved in the food budget -- you know those stories.

It's been a problem for me on organizing the coupons -- developing a system that's easy to use, in the store itself -- as well as scheduling the time to go and find the deals online, and in the paper.

So, today I signed up at The Coupon Mom and I'll be reported back to you on how it goes. (As you know from my previous posts, one of my problems with coupon shopping is not being tempted to buy products that wouldn't otherwise be on my list, as well as not having enough coupons that are for organic products ... I don't like to shop the middle aisles, where all those cardboard boxes are ....)

September 29, 2008

Easy Gardening: Plant In a Kiddie Pool

It may sound crazy -- or tacky to some (that's fixable), but planting a little garden in a kiddie pool is apparently a great thing. I'm going to try it.

What are the advantages?

1. No big digging efforts
2. You can scoot the thing into the garage if the weather's getting bad
3. It's easy and cheap to water
4. It's a manageable size for the newbie gardener, or for the kids
5. It will give you lots of produce if you plan right

Helpful hints I've discovered: drill some holes in the sides of the pool to allow excess water to drain away, and consider painting the rim a neutral shade and piling rocks around the sides if you want to be more, well, subtle, in your landscaping.

Sources:

History of Wading Pool Gardens
HelpfulGardener
IVillage Container Gardening Forums
Gardener'sNet

September 28, 2008

The FDIC Watch List: Should You Pull Your Money Out of Your Bank?

Yesterday, I was buying groceries at the local HEB and as usual, I whisked my debit card through the little black box, inputed my passcode, and waited for my receipt ... only to have the cashier ask me to run the card again - it hadn't gone through.

Now, I always know the balance in my checking account and my first thought was Identity Theft! But with today's economic mess, right on its heels was my second thought, My Bank's Gone Under!

Turned out that the cashier hadn't pressed a button, and my second attempt worked just fine ... but I got to wondering about the security of my bank deposits and went surfing on the web to investigate.

Here's what I learned:

1. On August 26, 2008, FDIC chairwoman Sheila Barr had a press conference where she announced that 117 banks were now on the FDIC "watch list," up from 90 banks at the beginning of the year. So, they've added 27 banks to the list in the past 8 months. It's the highest number in the past 5 years.

2. At this press conference, the head of the FDIC didn't release the actual list. The feds don't want to give out that actual information, because they are afraid that depositors will read the list, and run to take their money out of those banks on the list. The FDIC Watch List is as big a secret as the recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken, it seems.

Of course, there's not enough cash in these banks to cover a run - banks loan money, that's how they make a profit (think Jimmy Stewart in It's A Wonderful Life) ... and the FDIC would have to step up and provide cash to cover the depositors' demands - and that's true for the healthiest of banks. The problem these days, apparently, is that loan business hasn't been profitable.

3. So far this year, 13 banks have failed in the US (WaMu was number 13). Only three (3) banks failed in 2007. A banking analyst interviewed by ABCNews opines that we'll see over 100 bank failures by the end of 2009, although most will be "small institutions."

4. LACE Financial (a company that monitors the banking industry) reports that for commercial and savings banks, net income was 74% lower in the 2nd quarter of 2008 (April, May, June) than it was for the first quarter (Jan, Feb, March) -- and that the 2nd quarter of 2008 was 87% lower than it was last year, in 2007. This is industry-wide: sounds like banks are not making any money, huh?

The FDIC Watch List -- and Other Bank Ranking or Watch Lists

5. There are companies or groups that rank the safety of banks, independently of the FDIC. These include:
  • Bauer Financial (go to their site, find your state or your bank)
  • LACE Financial (LACE doesn't offer up its "Watch List" online for free; however, it does report that in the second quarter of 2008, its D List (next to the lowest ranking) rose by 40% and its E list (lowest ranking) rose by 64%. Right now, LACE has 684 banks on its D List, and 490 institutions on its E list. And, LACE also finds its List to be more accurate than the FDIC Watch List, because the FDIC List has to await the bank examination process and the CAMEL ratings - the LACE list is simply faster to finalize. )
  • VeriBanc (you're invited to call and chat with them -- but there's a fee)
  • The Implode-O-Meter (a non-industry participant that has created its own ranking system and website list -- "implode," defined as "the "imploded" status is somewhat subjective and does not necessarily mean operations are ceased permanently: it can mean bankruptcy filing, temporary but open-ended halting of major operations, or a "firesale" acquisition. The Companies include all types (prime, subprime, or a mix of both; retail or wholesale; subsidiaries and entire companies). Note: Companies listed here may still be operating in some capacity; check with them before making assumptions." According to this Watch Group, 286 major financial institutions have "imploded" in the US over the past year and a half (since 2006). )

So, with this scary news, what do you do? Do you pull your money?

6. If you've got money in a bank, the first thing you should know is whether or not your money is deposited at an institution that is protected by the FDIC. Go check the FDIC online list to find out. Whether or not the FDIC is strong enough to handle the hits it may be facing is one issue (watch for an upcoming post on that concern)but not having your money in an account that's even offered FDIC protection is another. If you're banking, then you want FDIC protection.

7. Next, remember that the FDIC doesn't cover everything -- the contents of your safety deposit box aren't covered; any amounts over $100,000 in your checking account and $250,000 in your IRAs aren't covered; money market funds, etc. are not covered. Move your funds around, as needed, to make sure you are within the guidelines -- and if you've got cashed stashed in those safety deposit boxes, think about whether that's the best place for it to be.

8. If your bank fails, and it's protected by the FDIC, then you may face a couple of days where access to your account might be hampered. Keep some cash on hand, if you can, to cover the necessities -- diapers, gas, things like that.

9. If you choose to take your money out of a bank, then you're faced with difficulties. First, how to protect it. That's one reason for a bank, right? Fire, burglary - these are real threats to your nest egg. Also, you're going to face a difficult time paying your bills if you've been accustomed to writing a check, or paying online. You can pay by money order, but it's a hassle. Maybe you stash cash and keep an account open at an institution you consider safe, just to pay bills - keeping as little cash there as possible, depositing right before you pay the monthly invoices?

What does all this mean?

10. Here's LACE Financial's outlook:

The financial condition of the U.S. banking system is rapidly deteriorating as the increased number of banks on the LACE Watch List reflects. It appears to us that nineteen of these banks should have already been closed and thirty-two other banks require capital infusions or regulatory assistance. A major cause of failure for several of these banks will be due to high concentrations in real estate construction lending. Given the likely resource constraints of Federal regulators, we would expect a measured closure rate of approximately ten banks by the end of 2008 with failure rates accelerating after the first of the year. As such, LACE Financial maintains a negative outlook for the U.S. banking system.



11. For me, this means that this Fall will be bad, but next year will be worse -- unless some major events transpire. In my surfing around, I've started to see the phrase "slow depression," mentioned quite a bit. I'm going to pray and study a lot, take it a day at a time, and a step at a time, and I'm going to read those folk over at the Daily Reckoning, among others. They've been warning about this crisis for a long time now.

Fear is Your Enemy

Fear can hurt you, even destroy you. This is no time to panic, it's time to be smart. You will get through this. Everything is going to be alright -- maybe not the same, but you and yours will be okay. And, if you're already in the process of living a simplicity lifestyle, you're ahead of the game.

For more information:

What is Simplifying? Should You Do It?
Starting to Simplify - Step 1
Starting to Simplify - Step 3
Are You Brave Enough to Read Empire of Debt?

September 22, 2008

Procrastination Is An Enemy to Simplifying Your Life

Simplifying your life means changing your lifestyle. Changing your methods of living life can be very difficult, even when you are proactively wanting to alter things.

When you are involuntarily simplifying because of a lost job or unexpected expenses, it gets even harder. It's easy to procrastinate. Especially when things seem overwhelming. When you're afraid, it's easy to be a deer in the headlights - thinking that if you do nothing, maybe it will all go away.

Procrastination is Your Enemy

Procrastination, however, is your enemy. Don't put off things that will ultimately benefit you and your family. Nothing good can come from it.

Hara Marano's Great Article

There's a great article by Hara Marano over at Psychology Today discussing the evils of procrastination, and I encourage you to jump right over there and read it. It contains such jewels as:

  • Procrastination is a "profound problem of self-regulation." I never thought of procrastination this way before, and it makes good sense.
  • Procrastination "is one response to an authoritarian parenting style ...," where controlling parents prevent the kids from "developing the ability to regulate themselves, from internalizing their own intentions and then learning to act on them." Without judging anyone's childhood, I like the idea that identifying your own intentions and learning to act on them is a kind of self-awareness and I especially appreciate the phrase "self-regulation." Regulation of one's self, instead of having advertising agencies regulating one's behavior by set society standards, is a key component to successfully simplifying your life.
  • "Procrastinators "actively look for distractions, particularly ones that don't take a lot of commitment on their part." The example that was given was reading (or checking) e-mail, but I'm thinking video games and watching mindless television also count. Why do this? "They distract themselves as a way of regulating their emotions such as fear of failure."
  • Procrastinators aren't all the same. There are the "thrill-seekers, who wait to the last minute for the euphoric rush;" the "avoiders, who may be avoiding fear of failure or even fear of success, but in either case are very concerned with what others think of them; they would rather have others think they lack effort than ability;" and "decisional procrastinators, who cannot make a decision ... [which]absolves procrastinators of responsibility for the outcome of events."
How to Change?

How to change? The Marano article suggests "highly structured cognitive behavioral therapy," whatever that is. Personally, I think that the power of prayer is of great use here, too. It's been my experience that faith can conquer procrastination:

  • “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.” -- Ecclesiastes 11:4 (The Living Bible)
  • "For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of self-control." -- 2 Timothy 1:7 (CET)

September 18, 2008

Freebie Dangers: Getting Your Yahoo Email Hacked

Yesterday and today, the news is filled with Gov. Sarah Palin's Yahoo E-Mail account being hacked, and the contents spread over the web. Last night on TV, I heard that even her teenaged daughter's cellphone number was revealed - and that she was getting calls from strangers.

Look, I don't care how you're voting -- there are mentally ill people out there, surfing the web, who don't need to have personal contact information for the minor children of politicians, celebrities, and the like. That's just dangerous and children should be protected no matter how famous their parents are.

Okay, enough of the soapbox.

Freebies are great, but ....

Freebies are great. Simplifying life means taking advantage of freebies whereever you find them.

And one of the great free services that's out there is Yahoo Mail. I use it everyday -- along with Yahoo Calendar, and I'm very happy with the service.

But is it safe? Can my Yahoo E-Mail Be Easily Hacked? Just how private is my Yahoo mail?

Well, I went and found a blog with a detailed explanation of how Sarah Palin's email was hacked (go here for details) and discovered that you're only as safe as the hacker's access to your personal information.

In Palin's case, he (or she) had the opportunity to surf the web for all sorts of personal information (where Sarah Palin went to high school, her residence's zip code, etc.) which he/she then used to start playing around with the secret questions that Yahoo asks when you report to Yahoo that you've forgotten your password.

So, once the hacker had her username -- not sure how he/she got that -- he/she started playing around with the Secret Questions until he got to change the password himself. And then, the hacker took over the mailbox after changing the password to "popcorn" -- reading it, disseminating it.

What Can You Do to Protect Your Freebie Email Account?

Yahoo has some security suggestions -- they seem inadequate here. As of this posting, I did not find any clear, easy-to-follow article or post that provided clear guidance on how to protect your Yahoo E-Mail account from being hacked just like Sarah Palin's.

I did find these suggestions:

1. Use a long, strange password and change it often. Nothing connected to your personal information. Letters and numbers.

2. Use different emails for different things. Have disposal emails. (I do this -- I have an email address for newsletters and the like, not only a separate account but on a separate service. No personal information goes thru here.)

3. Protect your computer with firewalls and a good anti-virus software (me, I use AVG - it's free and it's good).

Two things I would add:

(1) have your own set, bizarre answer to any secret question - your mother's maiden name? Manufacturer or Llama ... name of your first pet? Lawn or Expense. Why? Even if they can get your username, no amount of personal information is going to give them your zany answer to the secret question; and

(2) change your IP address via your ISP periodically -just call and ask, they can do this remotely.

Maybe we'll get some good techie advice soon - and maybe Yahoo will even go public with some more advice on this issue. If I see/hear anything more, I'll post it here in the Comments.

September 16, 2008

Examples of Excess-7: "Excessive Leverage and Greed"

Eric Fry over at the Rude Awakening offers the following quote today in his post:

Looking back, what was the cause of this credit crisis?” CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo asked Bank of America’s CEO, Ken Lewis, during an interview yesterday morning. “What caused this whole mess?”

“Excessive leverage and greed,” Lewis responded.

Wow. At least they know who they are -- I've always thought Richard III was less evil than Iago, when comparing those two great Shakespearean villians, because at least Richard III was honest about what he was doing.

Today's News - Lehman, AIG, and Merrill Lynch

In today's news, banks are pack-ratting their cash in a way that would make Ebenezer Scrooge proud -- Bloomberg is reporting that the cost of borrowing money doubled overnight -- to the highest rate since the fears right after 9/11 - and there's rumors it's not just Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and American International Group Inc. that are in serious trouble. (AIG stock has lost 94% of its value over the past year, and Lehman just filed bankruptcy.)

In response, the Federal Reserve added $70 billion to reserves - and news is still breaking by the hour on what's happening with the Dow and when the other shoe is going to drop (or if it's going to drop, or if there is another shoe ...).

The Big Kahuna Meeting

The Scotsman has a good read on the Lehman story -- the Big Kahuna meeting on Sunday where Lehman wasn't saved by Fed Reserve Chairman Bernanke (the stuff of movies, who will George Clooney play?), how Lehman began as a small little business in Alabama to become the "biggest overseas bank in America," ....

That was a big meeting on Sunday, by the way -- as The Scotman describes, not only was Lehman's fate decided, but so was AIG's and Merrill Lynch ... who had a happier ending to the day: Bank of America (remember that quote at the start of this post?) rode in like the cavalry and tookover the stockbrokerage firm for $50,000,000,000.00.

And it was just last week that we were reeling from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Long ago, in a time far away, I studied finance - and I remember my professor being almost in despair at the continued deregulation of the banking industry. He foresaw doom, he valued frugality, and he bought gold. To give you an idea, back then the market hadn't hit 1000. That's right: 1000. That wasn't so very long ago, you know.

Today, I see his face clearly and I remember his concerns: money is a temptation best left in different pots, and we're so far from being out of the woods. Letting a major national bank takeover a stock market firm is troubling to me. Should banks own brokerage firms?

"Excessive leverage and greed. " Indeed.

September 7, 2008

My Favorite Simplicity Posts of the Week

Here are some great reads for you:

1. Simplicity for the Novice over at HappyToBeAtHome -- Joy writes a great post on what simplicity means to her and her family, and how her Christian faith is the Cornerstone of this lifestyle (mine,too).

2. Realizing How Much You Already Have published by ChoosingVoluntarySimplicity. Pretty, inspiring.

3. The Weekend Round Up over at A Satisfying Journey Towards Simplicity -- Nikki's post is a fun, smooth read, and personally, I like the image of the chickens running around ....

4. Adele over at Simplicity has a wonderful post discussing the Theology of Work which is made even more inticing because she's writing from her home in Kenya, heading over to Capetown.

5. Nikki Painter's recipe for her Easy Tuna Mac Casserole, along with her description of being sick this past week, the family going out for Taco Bell, and a friend helping out made me smile - I don't like to think that simplicity is starting to sound trendy and even snooty, and it's great to read about other people who think it's hunky dorey to "break out of the box" and go to the Bell every once in a while (for me it's cheap, and it reminds me of high school). (I'm also gonna try that casserole.)

August 28, 2008

CELL PHONE SPIES - 5 SINISTER USES FOR YOUR CELLPHONE

Cellphones may be an underestimated target of spies and hackers, something of which you and your family may want to be aware:
1. First, there's an excellent article at GeeksAreSexy, which gives details on how cellphones are being used to monitor not only all your conversations (they listen in) but also ...
2. your location and your usual routines. Great for burglars and other evildoers, right? (GeeksAreSexy also has a great article on how to use your cellphone to set up a house-monitoring system for your home or office).
3. Cornell gives information on how hackers can take your information by intercepting its signal, and essentially bill your account for whatever use they choose. This is called "cloning," and it's against federal law. Call your phone company if you think you've been a victim of cloning.
4. Prime targets are cellphones with access to corporate networks, where all sorts of malware can be installed, according to USA Today.
5. Other juicy targets are folk who use their phones to shop online, or to do online banking. (Think of that nice commercial, where the financial institution is promoting online banking services by showing customers hiking, rockclimbing, etc., and stopping for a minute to do a little banking.) All that private information is much easier to access on a cellphone than through a computer these days, due to the security software that's readily available for computers but not, as yet, for cellphones.
Right now, you're at risk.

This new crime frontier is spawning all sorts of security entrepreneurs who are focusing specifically upon the cellphone market. So far, there have not been any major disasters involving cellphone or PDA breaches, but expect to hear about one soon. You know the criminals are on the job.
The NIST is working on it.
If you have some concerns or suggestions, then you have an opportunity right now to provide input into the National Institute of Standards and Technology on this topic. Just send an email to 800-124comments@nist.gov with "comments sp 800-124" in the subject line, or write NISTmedia contact Michael Baum at michael.baum@nist.gov.

(According to CNET, they were looking for public commentary earlier this month, but you should still be able to get something in, right?)

August 27, 2008

5 GOOD CHEAP RECIPE COLLECTIONS

There are some sites that discuss eating healthy, eating organic, eating frugally -- but what about some recipe collections where the food is good and the cost is almost pennies?

Here are five online recipe collections with really good and CHEAP recipes:

Miserly Moms' Frugal Recipes
Cheap Eats - $3 or Less
Budget 101's Dirt Cheap Ramen Noodle Recipes
Recession Recipes
Cheap Recipes at Gather.Com

Granted, some of the ingredients may include processed food (for example, canned biscuits in the Miserly Moms' Cheesy Pull-Apart Biscuits, Recipe No. 184) and they may include food with debatable nutrients (e.g., the iceberg lettuce in Recession Recipes' Iceberg Lettuce Soup), but you can always play around with these recipes -- one of the fun things about cooking anyway -- to suit yourself.

For example, cabbage is cheap and very nutrious. Maybe you substitute that for the iceberg lettuce in the soup recipe. Or you take the time to make biscuits from scratch - anything processed costs more, so you'd theoretically be saving even more money if you circumvented the canned biscuit dough....

These collections give you more than just the recipes themselves. If you go surfing through them, you'll discover themes and patterns that will help you a better shopper and a better cook. Study them, and you'll learn more than just a new dish for the family menu.

For more information:

How to Cook 4: Beans Are Easy, Cheap, and Good
Menu Planning 102
Menu Planning 101

August 26, 2008

CHECK OUT THE EATING GREEN CALCULATOR

Here's something fun, free, and educational to do online: check out how your diet is impacting not only your health, but also your environment online.

It's over at the Eating Green Calculator.

You're asked how much you eat in a week, according to categories (How many eggs? How much yogurt? etc.). Then, press a button and voila -- you learn:

  • the environmental burden of the animal products you eat in a year (number of pounds of manure in a year is interesting to know); and
  • the estimated daily nutrient intake from the animal products you consume (calories, fiber, saturated fat, cholesterol).

It's fast. Check it out.

August 25, 2008

ARE CLOTHESLINES ILLEGAL IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD?

When I was a newlywed, we lived in an old duplex and I remember hanging the sheets out on the ancient clothesline out back ... I think back to how sweet and soft those cotton sheets were, and how homey it made things. I have fond memories of that clothesline.

Today, I might be breaking the law for using it.

Apparently, all over the U.S. and elsewhere (Canada, for example) legislation as well as homeowner's association regulations, etc., have been implemented to purportedly protect property values. The Kansas City Star quotes one Baltimore, Maryland, resident complaining that a neighbor's use of a backyard clothesline "makes our community look like Dundalk."

Apparently, having to see your neighbor's clean laundry on the line quietly became unacceptable in modern society. Until now.

Slowly, communities are taking back their right to dry their clothes on a line in the back yard. Just last week, the New York Times reported on Southampton Town Board member Anne Throne-Holst, who successfully spearheaded a campaign to rescind the "anti-clothesline" legislation that had been on the books for six years.

In Colorado, the state legislature passed a new law that allows backyard clotheslines, effective this month (August 2008), as long as they meet homeowner associations' aesthetic guidelines.

Meanwhile, up north, those crazy Canadians are actually risking it -- it's being reported that they are just blatantly breaking the law, using their backyard clotheslines with pride.

Apparently, clotheslines are extremely controversial. So much so that an actual movement has been growing -- the 'Right to Dry' movement, where neighborhood by neighborhood, folks are standing up for their right to have and use clotheslines in their backyard in lieu of their electric or gas dryers.

So, are clotheslines okay in your neighborhood? Check with your homeowner's association, as well as your local representatives. Maybe you're forbidden to have one right now.

August 22, 2008

COOL GADGET FOR FUEL EFFICIENCY THAT MIGHT REALLY WORK: the Moment-O-Meter

It's called the Moment-O-Meter. It's not that big, and this device looks nice enough. It's a small plastic rectangular box that attaches to your windshield, and tells you to coast (green light) or hit the gas (red light) in order to maximize fuel efficiency thorough "sensible" driving.

Its website suggests savings of up to 50% in fuel used. The device is currently sold out over at Amazon.Com, but you can see a photo of the gadget there.

What's different about the Moment-O-Meter from the majority of fuel-saving gadgets that are so often ridiculed as being hoaxes by hucksters, is that the Moment-O-Meter isn't impacting the car, or the fuel, or the road -- it's impacting the DRIVER. (It was developed and patented by a retired aeronautical engineer, who created the machine to help his schoolteacher daughter with her gas budget.)

Bottom line, the Moment-O-Meter is encouraging behavior modification, because coasting, driving at lower speeds, as well as refraining from stop-and-start driving, really does save fuel. Sounds smart.

August 21, 2008

5 SITES TO CHECK BEFORE BUYING A CAR

Buying a car is a major life decision - after all, you'll be dealing with this machine daily for years to come - and it deserves some serious thought and research.

Whether you are considering buying used or new, there are several websites that provide lots of information to help you in your car buying process - and aren't trying to sell you their car in the process:

1. Intellichoice -- provides reviews and lots of pointers for choosing a car, including its own value rating (e.g., a 2008 Honda Civic is "excellent," while a 2008 Mercury Milan is "average") along with a target price and an estimated cost of ownership of the car over time. Awards are given each year according to type of vehicle (compact, luxury, etc.) that are worth investigating.

2. JD Power -- a true blessing to the car-shopper, this site has all sorts of great data: car buying guides (what questions to ask, what to look for) as well as studies on environmental impact as well as performance and design). Gives its own ratings for cars in many categories, and allows you to compare vehicles with each other in a table on the screen.

3. Consumer Guide -- part of the HowStuffWorks.Com group, this site gives lots of information, akin to JD Power - but with its own view on what's best. Nice to have different perspectives on a particular model.

4. MSN.Autos -- gives lots of information about new and used cars, including lots of reviews by actual car owners/users; articles on the cars; search help for finding deals near your zip code; etc. Nice first stop in your research process.

5. Kelly Blue Book -- a must-read if you're looking to trade in your old car, or if you're considering buying a used car. The site gives the "blue book value" of your car, and Kelly Blue Book is an industry standard. Lots of other information here, as well -- more reviews, dealer contact info, classifieds, etc.

August 20, 2008

OWNMYSITE.COM - Get Real Cash Each Month for Searching and Buying Online

There's a new service that just launched, OwnMySite.Com, which pays you money each month for using its site to surf the web (via Google) as well as buy products (jump from the site to Amazon, Borders, etc.).

How does it work?

First, you go to http://www.ownmysite.com/, and register - this makes you a "stakeholder" in the site.

Then, you use the OwnMySite.Com site for surfing the web - I imagine lots of registered users will make it their home page. At the end of each month, the stakeholder's share is transferred to his or her PayPal account.


Where's the money?

Fifty percent of the the net revenue (note that's net, not gross) generated by OwnMySite.com through its affiliate links (Google, Amazon, etc.) is distributed to its registered users, or "stakeholders," in cash on a monthly basis "no matter how big or small the purchase."

Also, according to the site's FAQs, "[s]takeholders also own a stake in 50% of the potential sale value of the business. This will entitle you to your share of any proceeds from the eventual sale or acquisition of ownMySite.com."

How much cash can you get?

After being up and running for three weeks, it's reported that registered users have generated £1500 between them, 50% of which will be returned to members at the end of August. The company is estimating that the most passive users in August will receive a minimum payout in August of over £2 and the most active "stakeholders" will get over £30.

Remember, this is a British site, so the company reports in pounds; translating to American dollars at today's rate of 1 British pound = 0.538 American dollars, their first month out of the gate, they're estimating $1.076 to $32.38 for stakeholders.

Who's responsible?

A British man named Daniel Harrison, according to the company's recent press release, " ... set up ownmysite.com after becoming frustrated with the way many popular websites generate huge profits from the everyday online activities of users without rewarding them for what is a very valuable activity."

Harrison said, "[t]he sky's the limit but in the short term I'm really looking forward to paying members at the end of August to reward them for their faith in the site and to show them that their time spent surfing the web with ownmysite.com is genuinely worth something. I think members will be pleasantly surprised by how much they can earn."

How can they do this?

OwnMySite.com is charging merchants each time someone accesses the seller through its site (up to 40& of your purchase price) - which is what lots and lots of sites do, they just keep their profits. OwnMySite.com is keeping half of its revenue, and it's taking half of this commission revenue (net, not gross) and sharing it with its "stakeholders." The more that people use OwnMySite.com, the higher its traffic volume stats will be -- and the more it can charge those merchants for having a spot on the site.

August 13, 2008

Freebie: Amazon.Com Is Offering Amazon PRIME Free for 30 Days

Amazon.com is offering Amazon PRIME for a free 30-day trial, which can be a really, really good deal if you are a book-buyer. Before you scoff and point to your library, your Half-Price Books, or your garage sales, consider this:

  • unlimited two-day shipping
  • upgrade to one-day shipping for 3.99 (that's cheap!)
  • NO minimum order size
  • cancel before the end of the 30-day trial period, and you won't be charged for PRIME membership ($79/yr - not so cheap)
  • this includes products besides books, and there are some very good deals to be had in Amazon's new GoldBox New Deals.

Today, on the GoldBox New Deals page, I saw a brand new Scotts push-reel lawn mower for half-price ($99); a $200 Mother of Pearl butterfly pendant for $37.81; and a $59.98 cordless hammer drill by Denali for $14.38.

Maybe these aren't the best deals to be had, but I didn't surf around to try and beat them - and mark downs of 50-75% with free shipping and handling are worth checking out, right?

August 12, 2008

Angel Food Ministeries - Quality Food for Low Cost

Angel Food Ministeries is a national organization that is growing by leaps and bounds, coordinated by churches across the country to distribute high quality food in once-a-month deliveries, based upon orders received in the prior month.

From their site, "[w]ith a heart to help others and a generous spirit, Joe and Linda Wingo founded Angel Food Ministries in 1994 to provide food for friends and neighbors who were struggling financially. Today, they are still doing the same thing. The Angel Food program now is helping provide food relief to more than 500,000 families each month."


Here's how it works:

You order based upon a menu. First, there's the menu's basic package which varies from month to month, and provides a variety of special, additional offerings, too.

This basic package costs around $30.00 - and you can buy more than one if you choose to do so. The specials cost about $20, and you have to buy a basic to buy any of the specials. (Holidays are dealt with in the specials, you'll see turkeys and ham for the December menu, etc.)

You place your order online, or in person at your closest distribution site. Then, on the delivery date, you bring your own containers (boxes, bags, laundry baskets, coolers) to the distribution spot and take home your goodies. Angel Food's home office says that the basic package should fit into a medium-sized box.

You can buy as many basic packages, and as many specials, as you want.

Is this a Welfare Program?

Nope. It's for anyone who has enough savvy to take advantage of this offering. Pride doesn't stretch a dollar, and in this economy, AngelTree can make a big difference in a monthly budget.

You pay and you buy.

No one is going to ask for any personal information from you, and you can buy for yourself; for family members or friends; for a senior citizen or single mom you know could use the help; or you can just buy a package and leave it to the distribution center to give it to someone they know would be well-served by the gift.

Who is Buying AngelTree packages?

I know of several schoolteachers that buy AngelFood packages, as well as social workers, single moms, retired folk, and seniors. Last week, my cashier at Sam's Club was telling me all about the chicken nuggets she got in her Angel Food package - apparently, my nuggets purchase paled in comparison in both quality and price.

What Do You Get?

You get restaurant-quality food; no seconds, nothing skimpy. The packages vary by month. For example, in August 2008, the basic package contains:

1.5 lb. of Ribeye Steaks (4 x 6 oz.)
5 lb.of Chicken Leg Quarters
28 oz. of Chicken Breast Nuggets
28 oz. of Salisbury Steak Dinner Entrées
32 oz. of Breaded Chicken Breast Filets
16 oz. of Smoked Sausage
16 oz. of California Blend Frozen Vegetables
16 oz. of Frozen Carrots
16 oz. of Frozen Chopped Spinach
10 ct. of Frozen Waffles
16 oz. of Bean Soup Mix
1 lb. of Rice
9 oz. of Instant Potatoes (14 servings)
15 oz. of Sliced Peaches
32 oz. of Borden Shelf Stable Milk
One Dozen Eggs
One Dessert Item

Each month's menu also offers specials. The August menu offered:

AUGUST SPECIAL #1 is the "7 lb. Family Assorted Grill Box - $20.00"
(1.5 lb Baseball Cut Sirloin Filet (4 x 6 oz.) (Thick-Cut)2 lbs Juicy Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast2 lbs St. Louis-Style Ribs1.5 lb Hamburger Patties (4 x 6 oz.))

AUGUST SPECIAL #2 is the "4.5 lb. Steak and Meat Combo - $20.00"
(1.5 lb. New York Strips (2 x 12 oz.)1.5 lb. Bacon-Wrapped Beef Filet (4 x 6 oz.)1.5 lb. Bacon-Wrapped Pork Filet (4 x 6 oz.))

AUGUST SPECIAL #3 is the "4.5 lb. Stuffed Chicken Breast Combo - $18.00"
(1.5 lb. Cordon Bleu (4 x 6 oz.)1.5 lb. Broccoli Cheese (4 x 6 oz.)1.5 lb. Chicken Breast Kiev (4 x 6 oz.))

AUGUST SPECIAL #4 is the "Fresh Fruit and Veggie Box - $18.00" (4 Red Delicious Apples; 4 lb Bag of Oranges; 1 Cello-wrapped Lettuce; 1 Large Cabbage; 6 Russet Potatoes; 2 Cucumbers; 1 Cantaloupe; 1 Honeydew Melon)


What Do You Pay?

You choose your items from the menu, and pay when you turn in your selection to your distribution point (the website has a long list of places - usually churches - that serve as distribution points).

The website also accepts online credit card payments. The distribution sites accept cash, check, Credit/Debit Cards or food stamps. You bring your receipt (or your friend's) on the delivery date to show proof of purchase.

How Much Do You Save?

As for savings, the basic package is priced at $30 per unit, and while the menus change each month, Angel Food estimates that you receive restaurant-quality items that would otherwise cost you (retail value) around $60-$70. So, the food is about HALF the price of retail.

How Long Will It Last?

Angel Food estimates that one basic package will feed a family of four for about 1 week, and for a single senior, about 1 month. (You'll have to add some perishables to that food budget, of course - Angel Food doesn't offer much in the way of fresh dairy products and produce.)

What About Feeling Ashamed?
Living a simple life means letting go of the idea that the approval of others should control your happiness and peace. Approval isn't love, and it isn't acceptance.

If AngelFood can help your family's budget (think about cutting that food bill in half, if you plan your menus right), then why not? It's a tough economy, and being smart is never, ever shameful.