Monday, March 17, 2014

Rotate your Kitchen Stock Like a Business to Save Food, Money and Waste

Buckets of garden vegetables including squash, cucumbers and beans
Use Older Vegetables First
You've probably read about the quantity of food wasted in the U.S. each year in articles like this one from NPR. We waste enough food to feed us all.
The Natural Resources Defense Council suggests that 40 percent of all food is wasted in the United States each year.

Arriving home with the groceries may be the end of the shopping trip, but is just the beginning of the organization required to run an efficient kitchen. You need to rotate your stock so you don't have all the new purchases in the front or on top. Old cans can swell and burst, and the mess can be worse than you imagine, in addition to the loss and waste of food. Fresh fruits and vegetables lose flavor and spoil over time, creating more food loss and money spent needlessly.
An easy way to rotate your pantry stock is to pull all the old products to the front of the shelving and place the new items in the back.
Remove the fruits and vegetables from the crisper drawers and place the new items in the bottom. When you buy fresh vegetables and fruits, chop the old ones and place in the freezer, or cook something that uses the older produce. Chop older celery and bell peppers and freeze in plastic zipper bags for seasoning for soups and stews. Tomatoes can be chopped and frozen as well. Use apples and citrus fruits in a fruit salad.
Your frozen food can be handled the same way. Freeze your newest purchases, then place them on the bottom or behind similar items that are older. Your oldest products will be on top and easy to locate.
Make country fries or scalloped potatoes with the older potatoes. For country fries, wash the potatoes and slice lengthwise unpeeled. Place a single layer on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet with a tablespoon of oil. Season and bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.
Peel the potatoes for scalloped potatoes. Slice and season in a greased oven-safe baking dish. Add some milk and Velveeta or similar cheese to cover the potatoes. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour until the potatoes are tender. We have an ebook on Amazon with tips and recipes if you'd like more recipes and information about frugal living.
Efficiency and frugality in the kitchen starts when you come in from grocery shopping. In addition to rotation of stock, ignore most date codes and dates on food products. These codes are for manufacturers and retailers to identify recalls and rotate the shelf stock, not for you to discard the products after the "best by" date. The federal government regulates coding on some baby food, but all other codes are optional. Use your senses of smell and vision to determine if foods are still palatable. Most are good long after the "sell by" or "use by" dates.
Wasting food is wasting money and contributing to the landfills. You can save money, food and the environment when you return from grocery shopping. Your kitchen will be better organized and you may save yourself some cleanup.

See you soon!


Monday, February 3, 2014

Collecting Coins as a Hobby is Inexpensive, Educational and May Help You Save Money

Recent quarters and pennies from pocket change
New Quarters and Pennies are Collectible Coins
Collecting coins may sound like an expensive hobby, but it doesn't have to be, and is an educational adventure to pursue with or for children or grandchildren.
You don't have to buy coins to collect. New coins are collectible and cost only face value. Collecting last-years minted coins is a good place to start.  As a consumer, you can pay cash for small purchases and save the change. Dump your coins into a bowl and sort occasionally by denominations.
Children can learn to count and learn about mint marks and coinage at the same time. Most children can read the date and mint mark for Philadelphia or Denver without a magnifier -- while, at our age, we may have difficulty sorting quarters from nickels without glasses and a magnifier.
Here are some collecting ideas:
Collect states quarters and the new extra ones like Mariana Islands. Folders for collecting states quarters are available, and these are handy because they identify which coins were minted, and the mint locations. Folders aren't necessary, though, as you can get the information you need from the U.S. Mint here:
The "P" minted coins are more difficult to find than "D" and we have a few sets completed and others with just a few "P" coins missing. You may have the same luck, but sometimes it depends on the region. If you live close to the Philadelphia area, you may find "P" coins easily, and if you live near Denver, the "D" coins may show up in change. We live in Texas, and don't find as many "P" coins here.
Save all the new coins from the past few years. These aren't uncirculated coins, but over the years, the condition will be better and the value will be greater than coins that have been in the marketplace. Coins from 40 years ago or so that we collected when our daughter was young no longer show up in pocket change. She learned about American coinage, mint marks, how to count, how to save money, and the coins are still in great condition.
Save the presidential dollar coins, first released in 2007.  The U. S. Mint is producing $1 coins honoring presidents. The presidents for 2014 release are Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt, but the series started in 2007 with George Washington.
You can learn more about the presidential $1 coins here:
Collect the Native American $1 coins first released in 2009. Sacagawea is on the front and each release has a different reverse. Here's information about the 2014 coin:
Collect new pennies, dimes and nickels and any old coins you find in change. These coins are usually available about a year after minting. We find 2013 coins in change, and save them. They have little wear but won't stay in that condition unless we rescue them. Silver-based coins made prior to 1964 have greater silver content than coins after that date. Older half-dollars are valued higher than face value. You can read about the metal melt-down value here:
Collecting coins this way is not expensive. You're saving money, not spending money like so many hobbies -- scrapbooking, crafts, and other collecting ventures. Your coins will never go below face value, and can always be turned into dollars if you need. If you only pay face value for the coins by saving your change, you'll never lose money. Your family can learn about United States coins, and children can experience the anticipation of finding a coin needed for a collection.
Enjoy a hobby that doesn't cost money. That's a rare find.
See you soon!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Shop for Medications by Phone to Pay Less for Drugs

Squirrel investigates before he buries a nut
Explore the Cost of your Medications
Your health insurance is changing, and you can be better prepared if you learn from others who have already experienced some of the changes. If your medical insurance now has a high deductible, you may find that you'll pay for many of your prescription drugs before the insurance pays at all.
We've ordered our medications from an insurer-approved mail-order pharmacy, but they did not carry one drug we needed. That's when things got interesting. I asked the doctor to write a prescription for the medication so I could shop for the best price. I've never done that before, so I had no idea what to expect. Surprise, surprise!
When you shop for a drug, you have to ask for the cash price. Many pharmacies want to know your insurer and are reluctant to give you a cash price until you hand over the prescription. Make telephone calls to shop for the drug you need, but have the prescription in hand, since you'll need to give the exact dosage and quantity to the pharmacy tech. You may also get a better price with the generic drug, not a name brand -- if the drug is no longer under the original patent protection.
I started with Walgreen, since I expected this well-known pharmacy would carry the medication. Imagine my surprise that the cash price was $700. The local WalMart had the drug for $12.08, and a WalMart in the next town had the drug for $165. I finally found the medication at a local hospital pharmacy for $7 with some unknown portion charged to my insurance.
I was so curious about the different prices that I called the FDA -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration. A consumer contact person told me that the FDA does not regulate the prices of any drugs, and that they have no control over pricing.
If your medication is still high after shopping, you may inquire about the cost of a 90-day supply or even a prescription for a different dosage. Surprisingly, some medications are the same price if you buy 25mg or 50mg pills. You can get your physician to write the prescription for the larger dose and break the pills in half to get twice as much for the same cost.
If your health insurance has a large deductible this year and your prescription drugs are not covered until you meet the deductible, it's time to wise up and shop for your medications. You, too, may find that local prices range from $7 to $700 for 30 pills of the same drug. 
See you soon!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Read Your Health Insurance Policy Before You Visit Your Doctor

Coins representing money saved by reading your health insurance policy
Save Money on Health Insurance -- Read Your Policy
When we talked about health insurance last month, I told you I owed $325 on lab work on a well visit to the doctor. If I had been alert and done my homework before going to the doctor, I could have saved about $260 of that amount -- but I didn't realize that until I got the bill.
You probably know that the codes on your medical records give a diagnosis of your condition as well as the purpose for any tests. The ICD is the International Classification of Diseases and the HCPCS is the Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System. You can read more about coding on the National Institutes of Health website.
My health insurance covers 80 percent of preventive care lab work without applying the deductible, but doesn't cover diagnostic lab work until the deductible is met. My doctor coded the lab work as diagnostic, and I came out with a $325 charge because I hadn't met the deductible for the year ($1,000 in personal expenses).
If the lab had been coded as preventive, I would have paid 20 percent, or $65 instead of $325.
If I had known this from the outset, I could have mentioned to my doctor that this was a well visit and that the blood work was not diagnostic. Doctors usually think all blood work is diagnostic, since they use it to diagnose your medical condition. However, if you get bloodwork before you go to the doctor, he isn't diagnosing anything -- it's a checkup.
Insurance is ever evolving, and some big changes are ahead of us. However, this is one change that has already taken place. A few years back, if medical care was preventive, it wasn't likely to be covered by your insurance. Now, preventive care is usually covered by insurance. 
The Affordable Care Act requires health plans to cover specific injections and screening tests without consideration of your deductible. You don't pay a copayment or coinsurance for covered preventive services. A list of the covered services for adults are shown on the website.
Specific preventive services are free for women and children as well, as shown on the link on that page.
Lesson learned. If you go to the doctor for a checkup or well visit, tell the doctor you are there for a well visit for preventive care. The coding can matter to your financial health.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Health Insurance -- Maybe You Need It

We're all hearing about health insurance with the Affordable Care Act -- good news, bad news and all the politics, but if you're an American consumer, you're smart to listen to some of the chatter. 
Green anole on green leaf visible in Texas front yard
You're exposed if you don't have health insurance

If you don't have health insurance through your employer, you probably don't have health insurance. Even if you have health insurance through your employer, you may not feel like you have health insurance, as most employers are going to high deductible plans similar to major medical. Maybe you pay the first $2,000 or the first $3,500. That includes prescription drugs, office visits, medical diagnostic tests and everything that isn't preventive medicine.
That's the kind of medical insurance you need even if you aren't insured through your work, particularly if you're young and healthy. You need a major medical policy that pays only if you have an expense greater than a few thousand dollars. That's what you can get with the Affordable Care Act, at a lower price than you'd pay for an individual policy. Check out catastrophic medical coverage for high deductibles and low rates. ACA also has the Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze plans, all with more coverage and higher premiums.
Why do you need medical insurance? You're young, healthy, haven't been to the doctor in years, and have someone in the family who can give you medical advice -- or you can find it online.
You need medical insurance for your future. You have plans, dreams and future earnings. If you have a medical expense that you can't pay right away, it will follow you until it's paid. That may be the remainder of your life.
Having medical debt is a little like having a child, but even children make a contribution while costing money. You have the expense of children from before birth until at least age 18, but they give joy and pleasure along the way. You won't get that from a medical expense that isn't covered by health insurance. You'll get to pay every month with no visible result. It's a drain on your future.
You're smarter than that. It's better to pay for major medical insurance at a low cost than to risk your future without it.
I went for a well visit last month, and just got the bills. My doctor's charge was about $300 and the blood work was $560. I can't even afford to be well without insurance. With my insurance coverage, I'll only pay about $325 of the total charges. My cousin recently told me it cost $25,000 to LifeFlight her about 100 miles to a large hospital for treatment. Fortunately, she has Medicare and Medicare Supplement, with little of that cost coming out of her bank account. Can you afford to be without health insurance?
You can go to and shop for insurance, based on your state and county. Your shopping figures don't include credits you may get on your federal income taxes or subsidies from the federal government. A catastrophic insurance policy will probably cost under $200 a month, and protect your future if you have to be life flighted, or if you are hospitalized for a few days. You may get a credit or federal subsidy if your income is below about $45,000 as an individual or about $62,000 for two. The break in pricing seems to be at age 50, so if you're under 50, your insurance will be less than those over age 50. The insurers for each state are different, but you'll recognize names like Blue Cross Blue Shield and Aetna.
Health insurance may also protect your family, if you have assets. Generally, your debts get paid before your family gets any assets -- and this includes medical debts. You may be gone, but your failure to have health insurance lives on.
As a savvy consumer, keep an open mind and consider the risk of not having health insurance. Take a look at the website and see the cost of a catastrophic policy without any subsidy. Then, create an account and compare the cost with the subsidy. You may find it's  a deal you can't refuse -- when you consider your future without it.
See you soon!