Saving Time AND money!

Like everyone else in the world, I do not have enough time to do everything I want to right now. Add to that the fact that I am not able to go out much at the moment – bad back again! Sigh…and that money is tight and I start to feel deprived. Deprived is dangerous to living on a budget, it sneaks up on you and whispers in your ear, “You’ve got so much going on right now, why not have a cookie or ten?” To combat this and being unable and unwilling to pay for a $5 frappachino – seriously how do you spell that, am I close? – I decided to make up a batch of iced coffee. The inspiration came from Ree Drummond’s Pioneer Woman show but I have changed it up somewhat, I like my iced coffee sweetened so I add it to the pitcher. Saves me adding it later. If you are opposed to sugar just leave it out, if you like it stronger add more coffee, do what you want, it’s your coffee and this is America, damn it!

In a pitcher add half a packet (6 oz) of good quality coffee. This makes a big difference, don’t cheap out on coffee, not ever. I’d rather have no coffee than weak or tasteless coffee.

Top up the pitcher to the top with cold water – I use a 1 gallon pitcher. Actually I use two you’ll see why later. These pitchers cost $2 each from Walmart.

Then give the coffee a stir and leave it to steep for a good few hours, I usually leave it overnight.

In the morning – or 8 hours later or how ever long you can wait, start straining. Now this does take a while but just go about your day and let it do its thing.

At this point I make a simple syrup of one cup sugar and one cup water, put them in a saucepan and warm until the sugar dissolves completely, then put it in the pitcher.

When it’s all drained stick it in the fridge and let it chill down. This pitcher lasts my family a week or two and it’s never gone bad on me. I find that it feels super decadent but it’s not too bad for calories, especially if I avoid the extras which I usually do, using almond milk helps. You could omit the syrup and use a sweetener like Stevia if you wanted to. Like I said, it’s your coffee.

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Here’s my serving suggestion – ice cubes, almond milk and some whipped cream. I don’t always add the whipped cream, because I don’t always have it in the fridge. I have also blended it to make a frappachino and it’s ok but it does separate pretty quickly. I have also added caramel sauce or chocolate sauce or Toffee syrup which was delish but my teenager found it and the expensive bottle of syrup is now in the recycling having been drained in a couple of days! Kids, sometimes only the thought that one day my son will be a parent and all his stuff will be appropriated is all that keeps me going.

I’m going to have one right now.

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Saving Money in the Kitchen

I have never been much of a one for boxed or convenience food. I also don’t own a microwave, not because I have anything against them, I’m sure they have their uses, it’s just I never really got the hang of them. Food either came out desiccated and rubbery or desiccated and still frozen in the middle. Plus I have very limited counter space. I used to have a microwave until one weekend I put it on top of the fridge to make more room, and there it stayed totally unused for about two years until someone else needed a microwave and I gave it away. That was about ten years ago and only once or twice since have I thought it would be useful.

Going back to basics in the kitchen can be really useful. The first few times I tried to make mayonnaise it was a complete failure. I could not get the eggs and oil to emulsify, I tried a food processor, a blender and an immersion blender. After wasting so many eggs I was practically crying with frustration and as a last resort got out a balloon whisk and had one more try. It worked, I am now the queen of mayonnaise – but it struck me as interesting that the manual tool is where I had to begin. I can now make blender mayonnaise, I figured out what I was doing wrong while I was standing at the counter whisking a drop of oil into an egg yolk for twenty minutes, but I don’t think I would have figured it out without my trusty balloon whisk.

So I decided to go back to basics with something else – sugar. I use quite a bit of sugar, I bake every week and I usually have granulated, sometimes superfine, confectioners and light brown and brown sugars in my cupboards.

I have seen elsewhere tutorials on how to make brown sugar and I will go into that another day, but then I wondered if I could save money making my own sugars.

The first thing I realized is that buying superfine sugar (we call it castor sugar in the UK) is a complete waste of money. If you really feel you need it just plop the required amount of granulated sugar in the food processor and pulse a few times and hey presto! Superfine sugar. It doesn’t even require a recipe. Now, never buy that overpriced sugar again! Next up – confectioners/icing/powdered sugar. It is almost as easy except for each cup of granulated sugar you put in the food processor add a tablespoon of cornstarch. Then zap for a few minutes until you have confectioners/icing sugar. Ta-dah! You just saved some money. Again it’s not really a recipe but here are some pics:

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Yes, a tip – let it all settle after a few mins before you take the top off the food processor or you get confectioners sugar on the ceiling, walls, dogs, your own eager face, and the inside of your lungs. I speak from experience.

Here are the numbers:

On sale granulated sugar was $2.79 for 4lb. If you use a quarter of that bag to make a pound of powdered sugar it would cost you $0.70. Powdered sugar was $1.99 per one pound bag on the same day. Add on a few cents for cornstarch and I’d estimate I’m saving $1.24 per bag.

This is assuming that one pound of granulated sugar makes one pound of powdered sugar – the mushroom cloud will have thrown off my figures a little! I’m never buying powdered sugar again.

It’s even more for superfine sugar. Dominos sugar is listed at $2.17 a pound. Use the granulated that’s been processed in your food processor and you’d save $1.47 a pound.

Money in the bank!

As to quality I’d say it is not as fine as bought powdered sugar – I tried using my blender instead of food processor and it was much finer, less of a cloud too. I’ll be using the blender from now on!

Still saving money over here!

Recently I have been investigating earning/saving cash in the home. In previous posts I mentioned saving money by bundling home phone, internet and TV and also by changing our mobile phone plan. Well, after an hour long phone call with AT&T (no I didn’t get paid to write this review!) I managed to save $1,428 a year on everything. Plus I will get $150 in a rebate card. I get more TV channels too, even though all I really care about is BBC America, don’t judge me I’m a Doctor Who fanatic, I’m British remember? I grew up watching Doctor Who and I will never give it up, ever, not even for a jammy dodger. If you know what a jammy dodger is you are either a Brit too or a Whovian. Which ever you are, welcome. One tip I can offer you, call and speak to a representative. Don’t order from them right away, but take their number, then call another representative a few days later. Tell them what the other person said and then go back to that first person. I didn’t plan on doing this but it is how it worked out and we saved another $8.00 a month. Small potatoes I know but, and say this with me, every penny counts. $8 a month is almost $100 a year, it can be in your bank account or theirs, you choose.

I have also looked at a gift card saving site, called Raise.com (also not paid to review this site, honestly!). It is really a simple idea, if you know you are going to have an expenditure in say Lowe’s, go online and take a look at their offers. Today there is a Lowe’s gift card with a value of $74.84 for sale for $67.66. That’s 9.6% savings. Quantities are, of course, limited as are the stores they offer but most of the major chains seem to be represented, as of today – Starbucks 18% off, Target 5% off, Aaron Brothers 20%, Marshals 16% off. These are not coupons, they are gift cards so you can use them as cash in the store and with a coupon. You might even be able to pay off a balance on a store credit card with them. Most of them are in-store only, check if you want them for online purchases. There are no other fees for you to pay and no postage. I ordered a PepBoys card for my husband’s oil change, well his car’s oil change really, and everything went fine. No problems at all, the card arrived in a few days and you can see on the picture we paid $27.61 for a card worth $31.27. It just takes a bit of advance thinking. Keep looking for great deals and save up for the holidays. You can sell unused gift cards to them too, I haven’t done that so I don’t know how it works exactly but their website says you choose the amount you want for the card, mail it off when it sells and get paid once you confirm postage. They take 15% of the selling price. If you have unused gift cards you will never use, it’s better to get something for them than nothing.

 

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I must say that I am loving the money saving. It is getting a bit addictive, to be honest. I have found that I do have my deal breakers – iPhone, BBC America, heinz ketchup looking at you all here – but being mindful of what the cash is going on makes me appreciate those things even more.

As always, I am happy to answer any questions if I can, I love to hear from people! Makes me feel loved.

 

 

Finances Part Three – Still Saving Pennies

The next installment of saving cash or earning at home really focuses on a few reviews of what I call micro earning. You’re not going to pay the mortgage with any of these but as every penny counts, these small amounts add up over time to something worth having. I often save these up for certain times of the year, you’ll see what I mean as we go.

 

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Viggle is an app for smart phones where you can check in to T.V. programs and music you are listening to and earn points for every minute you’re checked in. For example that morning TV show, or Ellen or pretty much any program you watch you can get points for. You also get points for music you might be listening to. The app does have some bugs, sometimes it just wont ‘hear’ the T.V. show at all and you have to put it in manually. Once you have some points you can redeem them for gift cards (my preferred option) or discounts for some stores, even save them for ever for a cruise! Now, I am not much of a numbers person but I did a bit of math – and if you just check in to regular shows you have to be logged in for 50 hours to earn $1 on a gift card. This is an approximate number, some gift cards are more or less and I’m not good at dealing with numbers that run to 8 decimal places! But, there are ways to ‘super charge’ those check ins. Some programs are promoted by Viggle and you can get double or triple points, or if you watch say six out of eight episodes you could get 1,000 points in a ‘streak bonus’. There are ads to watch too for a few points here and there and games like MyGuy where you choose which basketball player (for example) is going to do something good next and compete with other live players who are logged into the game. Sort of like fantasy football I think? Yes OK I never really figured out MyGuy, not being into sports but if you are you might enjoy it. Like I said, you won’t be paying the mortgage with Viggle but I save up and either use it to get a redbox movie rental free every now and then or turn it into Christmas gift cards like iTunes, Best Buy or Barnes and Noble. I have had no problem redeeming the points.

Checkout 51 is a coupon rebate website, I wrote about it briefly last post but I have actually used it for a little while now. The new offers come out each Thursday on a smartphone app and include a bunch of stuff I never buy like Arizona Iced Tea for example, and then after you scan your receipt they credit you with (in this case) $0.25. Earn $20 and they promise to send you a check. I will be waiting a long time for my check I think, but if I can get $20 by Thanksgiving I’ll be happy. Each week they do have a few basics that most people buy, this week for example it was $0.50 off a gallon of milk, which I don’t buy, $0.50 off eggs which I always buy, and $0.25 of tomatoes which I also usually buy. So $0.75 for me this week. Most people would probably be $1.25 at least a week. $65 a year for scanning a receipt. There are also pretty cool recipes and a chance to win $500 if you upload a receipt over $60. The funny thing is I suspect they may use mTurk to deal with these receipts as I have on occasion transcribed receipts much like this! I might come across my own receipt and get paid twice! You can also use a regular coupon for the items in question. This would be great for serious couponers . . . couponeers?

Gigwalk – using a smart phone app you become a secret shopper and log in to assignments for shops/businesses near you. It’s pretty cool, the map shows you jobs that need doing, you select one and off you go and do what they want. For example, I have seen assignments that ask for a photograph of the inside of a restaurant, or asking a customer service rep a question. You then have to compile a short report/upload receipts etc and then get paid.  I have tried this twice over the last three years and both times I have found that there are no assignments in my area – I tried it the second time because I had moved and I thought there might be more. Thing is it’s just not worth driving 20 miles to earn $5.00. I never earned a penny from this.

 

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Influenster – this is a review website for people who like to rate things. It is pretty time consuming and there is no cash involved, just the vague promise that you might get some free products to review if you do enough and have enough social media contacts. You link up your facebook/linkedin/pinterest/blog accounts etc. and start reviewing products or services. I have so far given it a couple of hours and will keep up for a while to see if I get any free products to review. It’s quite fun as there are many badges to collect but unless I get something out of it, I won’t continue.

Slice The Pie is a music review website where you listen to songs and then review them. You listen for 90 seconds or longer and then give a thoughtful review. It is mostly new songs and you can choose the genres of music you like, but you still may get a thrash metal song and have to review that. This is great if you actually have an interest in music. I do so I quite enjoy reviewing these songs, some of them are terrible and some are fantastic. You will earn between $0.02 and, my highest so far, $0.12 per review. The longer or more articulate the review the more you get paid. Once you earn $10 they promise to mail you a check. I haven’t gotten that far yet but I will give it a serious go and see what happens.

So there are my five micro earning reviews. I have more to come but I need to actually do them first! CafePress update – still no sales!

Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments, I will do my best to help!

 

 

CafePress Update

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Have you ever thought it might be you?

I’m still plodding on with the CafePress store. I try and work it into my day so I don’t spend all day doing it, but it is seriously addictive. I have spent hours at a time noodling away, it’s like a crack habit! I look up from my computer and realize it’s dark outside, my kid has gone to bed, the dogs are even in their beds and the husband has a pair of noise canceling head phones on while he is reading, to block out my tip tapping on the keyboard. Okay, a bit of an exaggeration but I have taken a break and realized that I am thirsty, hungry, need to go the the toilet etc. I am officially in the zone.
  • Time spent so far? Exorbitant!
  • Sales so far? Non-existant!
  • Fun had? Enormous!

I’ll keep on, keeping on.

 

 

Drought Tolerant Garden Update

A few weeks ago my family and I finished off our water wise back yard. It cost a lot of cash, both in terms of the plants/gravel/hospital bills after I realized I am nearer 50 than 40 and can no longer do the work of a 20 year old! It also took a big chunk of time too, which is free, but was totally worth it.

Being a keen gardener I especially enjoyed the planting aspect of the make over and I distinctly remember telling my husband who is a gardening novice, “Now, don’t panic but some of these plants might die on us, OK?” Well that time is here. We are in mourning for 6 out of our 8 woolly grevilleas, and one and a half sweet pea shrubs. I was very careful about buying only drought tolerant plants, we live in a desert after all but still I think I underestimated how often I would have to water to establish these plants. Hey, I’m from England, we have no shortage of rain our ground is soggy much of the year. But being philosophical about it helps. Learn and move on.

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Some of the sad looking plants I gave a hard prune and I can see some growth happening, others were christmas tree in January dry and got put in the green waste.

We have also had a near death experience:

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I caught this ceanothus just in time. I had read that they didn’t like to be watered, well they don’t but they have to get a good root system in place first. This was the only plant my husband planted himself and when all the leaves turned brown and started to fall off he thought he had killed it. In reality I think it was just super thirsty so I upped the frequency of watering from twice a week to three times a week and it breathed a sigh of relief and got to growing some new green leaves. It’s been a roller coaster of emotion for Alan!

Of course we have also had some wonderful successes:

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These salvias have been in bloom for about three weeks now and are growing well.

We have a six foot wall all around our garden and even so our neighbor dog, Molly likes to say hello to me every morning.

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This pic doesn’t really convey the full bounce of her jump!

In our food production area of the garden we have lots happening, here is my favorite this week:

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Meyer lemons, first time they have ever set fruit (in over 3 years!).

So the garden is looking lovely, and even with watering more to avoid the die off we are still using less water than we would trying to keep a lawn alive and we will soon be eating produce from the garden too. I love my garden!

Cafepress Store

My recent aim to increase the amount of cash that comes into our collective family money bucket (or teacup really in our case) has pushed me to try a new thing. I like new things. I have mulled over designing t-shirts for a while. I see myself as an ideas person primarily so I thought it would be time to actually take an idea and do something with it, hopefully it will result in a few dollars. So I sat down with a pen and pad and started to design a t-shirt. Then I realized that I have absolutely no talent at all for drawing, which was a bit of a surprise because I am a pretty creative person. But no, I can’t draw a straight line or a black cat in a coal mine at midnight. So, (business buzzword alert) I leveraged my resources and got my husband to draw it for me. He’s a graphic designer. He’s pictures I’m words. I had read a brief write up somewhere once for cafepress and have ordered products from them in the past but got serious and went and read up as much as I could. There wasn’t much actually and here are the distilled, cliff-notes version:

  • create a design
  • upload design to cafepress
  • choose what product to apply design to
  • watch the cash come rolling in

Nice, I thought. So, I got a few designs together via my design team/husband and got to work. There are two ways to sell on cafepress, the first is via a store front which is a template website you set up and have control over. It is free to set up a store if you choose the no up-front option, which I did because let’s face it people I pick up pennies on the street so I’m not likely to pay for anything unproven am I? The second is in their marketplace, which I’ll cover in another post because there is quite a lot to say about the marketplace. After you set up your account you have an option to create a new store. I then spent ages trying to get back to this page before I realized that up in the far right hand corner of the members page is an amorphous blob that is supposed to be a person. Click on this and the drop down menu has a shops option. This is the page you are looking for (sorry but it was just May 4th and the force is strong in me). Anyway, this page is where it’s all happening. This isn’t a tutorial so you’ll have to figure it all out on your own from here – or ask me a question, I’ll answer if I can. The store option is pretty cool though, you get to choose products to apply your designs to, apply them and then choose a mark up. I liked fantasizing how much money I could make. Would anyone pay $169.99 for a king sized duvet cover with my design on? It seems a lot to me, but I am cheap! Maybe it’s not high to others. The base price for that item on cafepress is $159.99 by the way so I would only actually be getting $10 of that $169.99, I’m not gouging or anything. Other items seemed more realistic to me and as I have ordered some of these items in the past I know that the quality and customer service is excellent. I uploaded a few designs and chose products, added write ups and generally noodled around for a day. It was fun. Now I have my own store my husband came up with the name Cursory Rhymes because we take nursery rhymes and monkey with them. I like the tag line “Messing with your childhood for financial gain.” he’s not so sure! Go have a look:   www.cafepress.com/CursoryRhymes. Of course I want some samples to show off, but until someone else buys something I’m going to resist. The next thing to do is get people to visit my store and hopefully buy stuff. Hmmmm. Marketing. Not my strong suit but I am reasonably smart, I’ll have a go. Here is my first design, I love it! Feel free to comment.

 

Money money money

I have been quiet for the last few weeks. Not in my life, just in my blog. I decided to have a bit of a break and focus on just doing stuff. Well, stuff has been done, a lot of stuff.

I decided that my next topic of focus would be financial. With a ton of medical bills arriving we need laser focus for the next few months. Laser, I say. As I am a stay at home parent – and will be for the next four years or so – I feel bad that I don’t bring any money into our lives. There are two ways of attacking this, first save money and them earn some! Simple, right? Right!

I already earn a bit of cash here and there on Amazon’s mTurk. But it can be an enormous time suck for relatively little. For those who don’t know, it is a portal where small jobs or parts of jobs (called hits) are listed for workers to complete. I have completed hits for one penny and hits for $20. I’ve been doing it for over a year now (but not consistently). I usually do this for a thing I want, then transfer the money to my bank account, then stop until I want another thing. It’s reliable and I’ve never had any trouble with it, but it can get incredibly dull and if you don’t choose your hits wisely the hourly wage can be pitiful. Mind you I earned enough to fix our roof so that made me very happy. And I didn’t even have to put office shoes on. I decided to give mTurking another
go being a bit more choosy about what hits I complete. As I can type faster than I can talk I decided to concentrate on transcription tasks and stop after a certain dollar amount each day. It’s a start and as I get a bit more practice in I expect to get faster. It can be interesting too, I have transcribed presentations on investing, blogging (very useful), interviews about football draft picks (less interesting to a UK native who has no clue at all what is going on on the field) and crafting. As I am a keen knitter and recovering crafter I have actually enjoyed these hits. I aim to earn $10 a day but usually get a bit carried away and do a bit more. So $20 a day is good for me, this usually takes me three hours or so. Yes, it’s less than minimum wage but it’s better than nothing. I’m that person who picks up pennies on the ground. Hey, that’s MONEY you are walking by people! Cash money!

To illustrate my point, I put all the money I find on the street and all those dimes that I find in the washing machine in a mason jar in my laundry area. I just needed to buy some laundry detergent ingredients (I make my own more about that another time) and I got it for free (well free to me). That makes me smile!

So for next week, more on earning some cash and more on saving it.

Ps I didn’t get paid or anything to review mTurk, although I probably could somehow! I just thought a real person’s experiences might be useful. I’m happy to answer questions if anyone has any, just leave a comment.

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The Rain Comes

This week we have had rain. Ok I know that it’s not news for most people but I live in the low desert area of Southern California so even a cloud can lead to ‘Live Team Coverage’ on the news. I love living where I do, I love the cold fall weather and winters and the red hot summers. I love getting the misters out in the summer and watching the leaves change color in the fall. I love being able to see the stars at night and that I can grow apples here (just!). But most of all I love when it rains. I am English after all! Spring here is a wonder, the dry dusty areas get flooded with water and suddenly what was ashy brown and barren becomes green and lush. The birds sing harder, the bees fly faster and I start drinking my morning coffee outside, looking at my garden and making plans.

Spring is hope in a rainstorm. And after a pretty awful March (hospital, pain, bills, sickness, calls from the school) hope is all I’ve got!

So, my goal this week is get outside. Every day, in some way and really notice and be grateful for the season. I am not a religious person so sometimes it is hard to know where to aim my thanks, perhaps it is enough to acknowledge it and enjoy it.

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My damson tree getting a little over excited.

Advance to Go

The task I set myself this week was continue with the Egoscue method of pain relief. I’m well into my third week of the routine and as now my pain has significantly reduced – by about 80% – I moved into the extra innings exercises. I have found almost immediate relief using this method and was wondering what would happen when I ‘Level Up’ to the additional ones. Would I be totally pain free? Would I be improved Bionic Woman style? Would I now be able to hoist a fallen tree off railroad tracks? As unlikely as that scenario might sound to you, it could happen. It could, I live in a very windy place. Only today a large branch broke off the tree in my back yard. It’s just lucky that there isn’t a metro line running through my back yard or I’d have been in big trouble! So, I got ready to complete a full set of e-cises and…..nothing. No magical improvement at all! I was somewhat disappointed and still not a superhero. I’ve been doing the deluxe version for five days and honestly I think the extra ones are redundant. I’m sure they aren’t really but they take sooo much longer than the first set. (Like 30 minutes more) and worst of all? They are dull! Three of the four are lying down with various legs supported by a chair. Lying down for 25 minutes – at the start of the day when I should be doing other stuff. I’m not much of a lying down kind of person and I suppose it shows how much I’ve improved if I’m itching to get up to do the ironing! There were whole weeks where the ironing never entered my head. Apparently it never entered anyone else’s either because when I finally got around to it yesterday the pile was around three feet tall and I am not exaggerating. It has taken me two mornings of hard labor to get it under control. And as anyone who has had a painful back knows, Ironing is tough on a spine. Oh, I see. Perhaps the ironing marathon has taken it’s toll? I had no idea we had so many clothes. And I don’t iron everything, only collared shirts, pants and the stuff that had been left in the dryer for a week. But perhaps if I continue the e-cises and don’t do four straight hours of twisting at waist level, two days in a row, I might get some better results. Ok. Let’s try that.

Also in the category of probably should have known better, my husband and I finally finished our drought tolerant back yard. Lots of digging (for him) lots of planting (for me) and lots of mulch later (both of us) we are done! This is a project we have been working on since late last year and it feels great to finally have it complete.

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My attempt at Native American art in our now completed drought tolerant back yard.

My next post will show the plants we chose.