Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Be Charitable -- Buy American this Christmas Season

If you haven't done all of your Christmas shopping yet, maybe you can help your neighbor and your country when you shop.

ABC News published a blog by Ben Forer recently, entitled "Made in America: Creating Jobs For Christmas" about creating jobs by buying American products. The calculations show that if we purchase $64 in American-made products, we would create 200,000 jobs here and now. Why aren't we doing this? Maybe we don't understand the economy, or maybe we have difficulty locating items made in America. Sales are up 6 percent over last year, and this is an opportunity for consumers to make a difference.

When we felt the recession of the 1980s, even WalMart encouraged us to buy American goods, and had a little logo to distinguish those items. I've looked for items in the dollar stores and big box stores and have concluded that there is very little available for the consumer there that is made in America. Maybe some of the grocery store fruits and vegetables and food products are produced in the U.S. Some of the discount stores here in Texas don't even have many items printed in the English language. These are items made for export or maybe for stores catering to Spanish-speaking consumers.

You can locate American-made items online, but you have to make the effort. If it saves jobs for your family or creates a job for you, would you buy American?

If you can't buy American, consider purchasing used items. Purchasing used items is a form of recycling, good for the environment and the economy. Some items available on the Internet aren't really used but are NOS or new old stock. These items may come from a warehouse or store overstock from years ago, or may come from an individual who purchased several and didn't use them. For example, we sell unused sewing and crafts patterns that are new old stock, and the price is much less than a new pattern. The older patterns were made in the U.S., but more recent patterns are made in Mexico.

ABC News reports that the average American spends $700 on Christmas gifts. When you make your final purchases, look for $64 in American-made items or buy more if you can. Support your neighbor and the economy. We can make a difference.

Have a wonderful holiday season!


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Winter Utilities and Frugal Living -- Reduce Heating Bills

For most of the country, winter means an increase in utility bills. Heating in most areas of the United States is more expensive than cooling, although in Texas, cooling usually wins out. Your electric company may have an average billing, allowing you to pay the same amount each month. This can work to your advantage if you don't have the discipline to do this on your own.

If you can average your own electric bill, you can earn a little interest on the money before the electric company takes it. Here's how it works: If your electric bill is $150 in the summer and $250 in the winter, your average bill works out to about $200 a month. Every month that your bill is less than $200, pay yourself the difference in a savings account. If you can't make the total payment when the bill goes over $200, draw the money you need from the savings account. If you do this all year, you are averaging your own electric bill. The advantage is that you do not pay amounts early and you have that money earning interest until you need it.

Save money on your heating bill this year by turning the temperature down two degrees. If you keep the heat on 70 degrees, leave it on 68 degrees this year and save about 10 percent on your utility bill. Wear warmer clothing in the house and use a microwaveable bag to keep your feet warm. These bags are available at the drug store, and are sometimes on sale. One goes by the name of Bed Buddy and looks like a sock with sealed rice inside.

You can make your own microwaveable pal with rice in a bag. You don't even need to know how to sew. Use a fine weave fabric for the inside bag so the fine broken rice can't escape. A cup or two of rice is all you need. Pour it into the bag and tie or sew the bag closed. Place this bag in a cotton sock and sew or tie it closed.

Place this bag in the microwave for a minute to heat the rice and use it whenever you need to get warm. It works well to take to bed on a cold night or to set your feet on it while watching television. You can make one for everyone in the family much cheaper than you can raise the temperature in the house by two degrees. This microwave bag stays warm for an hour or so and can be heated over and over.

Your cat or dog may appreciate the microwaveable bag, too. If your pets stay outside in cold weather, you can cozy up the doghouse or cat bed with a warmer. The whole family gets one!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Make Money Work For You -- Rethink, Reduce Expenses and Save

Watch Your Money Like a Hawk. This is a Red Shouldered Hawk we photographed in our back yard in Texas today.

Learn to save money the same way you spend it -- with pleasure. If you can learn to appreciate money in the bank as much as you enjoy material objects, you can save money with a new attitude.

What money? Many of us are struggling to pay the bills, but it is a rare individual who doesn’t spend a little money on eating out, purchasing items you think you need but really can do without, or buying new when you could buy used items. Frugal doesn’t have to be a necessity; you can be frugal with lots of money on hand. Frugal is a way of living, and many people with money live modestly. Enjoy what you have and appreciate it without the constant thought of what life would be like if you had more.

Studies have shown that materialism does not make a happy marriage, reports ABC news and a survey published by Brigham Young University. Lower relationship satisfaction and less stability in a marriage are tied to a desire for money or material objects.

Rethink your needs. You need automobile insurance. Check to see if you can get a better rate. Consider increasing the deductible if you have comprehensive and collision. Consider dropping the comprehensive and collision if you have no lien on your vehicle. Comprehensive and collision cover only your car and only if you are at fault. If your car is older, your insurer uses Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com) or Edmunds.com figures for payment. If you park under a large tree with dead limbs or have another high-risk issue, you may decide you need to keep comprehensive and collision.

You need homeowner’s or renter’s insurance in case of vandalism, theft or fire. You can increase the deductible on this insurance as well. Your objective is to have coverage for a major loss. Reporting small claims only increases the premium cost of homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.

Save a little money here and there. Establish a savings account that is for windfalls. If you receive a refund or any unexpected income such as overtime pay, add to your windfall savings account. Have another savings account for bills you pay once a year, such as life insurance or homeowner’s insurance. Add one-tenth of the amount you need to this account every month. If you need $1,000 for life insurance, $1,000 for homeowner’s insurance and $1,000 for property taxes, add $100 each month to this savings account for each. That’s $300 a month for the immediate future. This keeps the money out of your checking account, and you’ll be glad to have it at tax time or when insurance is due.

Buy with profit considerations. When you make purchases, consider resale value. When you are purchasing kitchen plastics, you can guess they will be worthless as used products at a garage sale in just a couple of years. Buy items on sale that will increase in value or improve your life. Intangibles such as education at a state university or certification in a specialized field meet that goal. Clothing does not. Gold or silver may increase in value if you purchase it at a bargain price. If you need a book, consider an autographed copy. Autographed copies often increase in value, even in the author’s lifetime, and nearly always upon death of the author. Save flyers, advertising or photographs of the signing to show that the autograph is genuine.

Take little steps to make a better future for yourself. You can't wait until the economy improves, your kids are grown, you no longer have a car payment or whatever excuse you have. Today is the day.

See you soon with more help with the economy. You can do better for yourself, but it takes some work on your part.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Selling Your Gold Jewelry -- Calculate the Value Before You Sell

Scrap gold or old jewelry may help you make it through "back to school." You only have one chance to sell your gold items, so make sure you have the knowledge to make a wise sale.

Do not sell to the companies that take a large advertisement in the local paper and set up in the motel. They won't be there next week when you realize you didn't get a good deal. Don't sell to companies that ask you to mail your gold to them without payment. In fact, don't sell to anyone until you have done your research.

Go to Kitco.com to check the price of gold for the day. The price you see is for a Troy ounce. A Troy ounce is 31.1 grams of gold, and you probably won't have a Troy ounce. A small piece of jewelry usually weighs about 3 grams.

Determine the karat or percentage of your gold. Look on the inside of rings or bracelets with a strong magnifier or a loupe to see the gold marks or markings. Pure gold is 24k, but is too soft for jewelry. 18k gold is .750 and 14k gold is .583. 10k gold is .417. Group your gold items by karat.

If you do not have an accurate gram scale, take your jewelry to a pawn shop and ask them how much they will give you for it. The first thing they do is weigh the items. Write down the weight in grams, and the offer. Try another pawn shop if you want, but do not sell your gold yet.

Calculate the actual value of your items. If you have 3.2 grams of gold that is 24k, and gold is $1,820 an ounce, the actual value is $187.26.

Consider this: 31.1 grams equal an ounce of gold, so at $1,820 an ounce a gram of 24k gold is $58.52, but

58.52 x .583 = 34.12 x 3.2 = 109.17.

If you have 3.2 grams of 14k gold, with the value of gold at $1,820 an ounce, your gold is valued at $109.17.

$58.52 a gram x .417 or 10k = $24.40 x 3.2 grams = $78.08

3.2 grams of 10k gold is $78.08 when gold is $1,820 an ounce.

You will not receive full price for your gold, but you can expect to receive 75 percent of actual value. Multiply the price by .75 to determine what you can expect to receive. $78.08 x .75 is $58.56.

Calculate 3.2 grams of 18k gold at $1,820 an ounce. At this price, a gram of gold is still the same or $58.52 a gram. 18k gold is .750 or $43.89 a gram x 3.2 or $140.45. You should receive about 75 percent of full price or $105.34.

Once you know the value of your gold, shop around and sell it locally if you can. Do not give in to sales tactics, and sell to the shop that pays cash on the spot. If you have jewelry with stones, make certain to find out if the stones are valuable before you sell the jewelry for scrap gold value.

Be a smart consumer by educating yourself about your gold jewelry before you sell it.

Our "Retirement Living Guide for Senior Citizens" can help you handle your money and be a wise consumer. You can read part of it for free at this website:


See you again soon!


Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Smart Meter May Make Us Smarter Consumers for Washing Clothes

The smart meter is taking over the laundry at our house. We live in Texas, and the electric company has been installing smart meters at every home. Our smart meter replaced the old dial meter November a year ago. Our electric bill was $400 in December that year, and I complained bitterly, to no avail. We have never had an electric bill that high before or since.

The smart meter companies produce a report defining your usage by day, and even with a graph that reports your hourly usage. You can see peak usage hours. We have used electricity on Saturday and Sunday for years -- usually doing the laundry, running the dishwasher, and using lots of hot water. Since our smart meter report shows high electricity use on Saturday and Sunday, starting today we are not going to do any laundry on the weekends to see if it makes a significant difference in the weekend electricity use. If peak hours increase the cost per kwh, maybe adjusting the usage to non-peak hours and non-peak days will decrease our electric bill. We are experimenting, and will let you know what we find.

** See below for the results.

Laundry is one of the places you can save money as a consumer. Some of the new energy-efficient washers have no option for rinse water temperature -- it's cold or cold, or cold, on any wash setting. The high-efficiency washers adjust the water level according to the size of the load, so there is no water-level adjustment. These washers require high-efficiency laundry detergent that works like dishwasher detergent. It is low-suds, but effective.

Take a lesson from the high-efficiency washer and use cold for all your rinse cycles. Hot water will not rinse your clothes any better than cold water, and you save water-heating money by using cold water rinse for every load. Use the water-level adjustment if your washer has one, limiting your high water-level adjustment to full loads.

Use natural products for your laundry and save money. Borax or hydrogen peroxide are germicides that you can use in the wash cycle. Hydrogen peroxide is a mild bleach, so use about half a cup of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide instead of bleach or the same amount of borax in the wash cycle. Adding 1/4 cup of baking soda to the final rinse removes odors and eliminates the need for fabric softener. These natural products are better for you and the environment and are inexpensive alternatives to expensive bleaches, detergents and fabric softeners.

Looks like we were able to drop our Saturday and Sunday usage by 9 kWh each day. We were using about 42 kWh, but September 3 and 4 show 32 and 33 kWh. We did not have the oven on on Saturday, but cooked rolls on Sunday. August 27 and 28 registered 41 and 42 kWh, but the temperature was about 4 degrees higher as well. The total usage for the week is registering 249 kWh for a total of about $30. Projected cost for the month is shown at $141 to $174. That's good enough in this Texas heat.

Thanks for following!

The lantana is still blooming, although we've had no rain for a couple of months. We water twice a week, but some of the plants are struggling.


Energy Savers: Reduce Hot Water Use for Energy Savings

See you soon with a smart meter report and more consumer tips you can use for green living and for saving money.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Texas brown is a stark comparison to the lush green of West Virginia this summer. We left the brown scorched earth and 111 degrees in Dallas and looked down on the fields, anxious to see some greenery. It didn't take long to travel to another climate. The green was everywhere in W. Va.; so was the rain and cooler temperatures.

After not flying for several years, we experienced consumerism and the changes first-hand in airport security and passenger controls. We shed our shoes and set out our bottles in the quart Ziploc bag for all to see. The alarm sounded and I got escorted to the side of the line with a call for "female assist." My necklace would not pass screening without removal. They placed it in a dish that looked like it had watered the dog, ran it through the x-ray and left it just out of reach for me to retrieve.

The reassurance of the captain that they were tightening the last few bolts at the rear of the plane was not comforting in Detroit. The flight out of Charleston, W. Va. was delayed 45 minutes for a flat tire that the captain reported as "worn." That made us wonder the status of other tires and parts, but the airline has your money and your soul once you board the plane.

We had 15 minutes to make a connection in Atlanta because of the flight delay, and no one was there to pick us up. Years ago, the airline would have had a shuttle there to take the delayed passengers to the next flight. We got a workout but made the connecting flight.

Airline fares depend on where you purchase your tickets, how far in advance you buy and what services you need. If word-of-mouth is a good indicator, Southwest Airlines has good deals, including no charge for a checked bag or two. Delta currently charges $25 for checked baggage, and that is $25 each way for a round-trip. You can have a purse or laptop and a carry-on, along with a jacket or shirt, but all checked luggage costs a fee. You still receive a complimentary cold drink and nuts or cookie on Delta flights, and the flight attendants still smile.

You can find ticket prices online at several discount websites, but buying from the airline is usually a good idea. You can get a low fare with the airline directly and know who to contact if you have issues. Your flight may be cheaper if you fly during the week and stay over a weekend. You may qualify for discounts by charging your flight on a specific credit card, so check before you buy the tickets.

If you belong to AAA or AARP, use discounts for motels and a rental car for significant savings. Shop online and by telephone for the best rate. Stay at motels slightly out of town and away from the airport for a better bargain. The Sleep Inn in Mink Shoals was the best bargain in the Charleston Area; the Best Western Plus in Irving was a great deal in the Dallas area.

We're glad to be back in sunny Texas, greeted by thirsty birds, squirrels and flowers, water restrictions and brown earth. Our yard and many others have remained a green oasis for animal shelter in the city.

See you again soon!  In the meantime, read some retirement information written just for you.

Our Retirement Living Guide for Senior Citizens is now in eBook format for your e-reader. You can also read it on your computer, with a generous portion available for free. Learn to enjoy retirement and make your money last your lifetime. You don't have to buy the eBook to read some for free and decide if you want to purchase the whole book at $2.99. 


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Summer Heat and Cool Consumers Look for Economy in Utilities and Beef

Consumers across the nation are feeling the summer heat and drought. Utility bills for cooling the house are increasing, but so are water and feed bills for animals. If you have animals, this may be your first summer to have to feed hay in areas that have had no rain. Farmers throughout the South expect a hay shortage this winter because of feeding hay this summer. Some farmers are selling livestock to save the expense of feeding this summer, and predictions are that the price of beef will increase as early as this winter.

If you make your meat purchases based on the economy and the weather, you can save money. Beef on sale between now and the end of the year may be a result of the increased sales of livestock because of the drought. It may be a good time to buy. There will be less livestock to sell when winter comes. If farmers sell off livestock this summer, it may take years to rebuild the stock, keeping the price of beef high.

If your utility bills are maxed out, use ceiling fans if you have them and area fans to circulate the air where you are. Fans are less expensive to operate than lowering the air conditioning temperature. Don't use your oven, but use the microwave or cook on top of the stove. Alternatively, eat cold vegetables and meals that require no cooking. When you operate the oven and the air conditioning, you incur double the expense. The oven heats and the air conditioning has to cool the same air the oven just heated. Keep the doors closed as much as possible and wear lightweight clothing.

Frugal living can be your friend and help with the bills as well.

See you soon with more consumer information to share!


Friday, July 15, 2011

Credit Scores, Credit Reports and Consumer Issues

Your credit score is important for borrowing money, but it is also important for pricing insurance policies. Insurers refer to your credit score when giving you a quote for automobile and homeowner's insurance. You can get a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies -- TransUnion, Experian and Equifax -- by using annualcreditreport.com website ONLY. This website is operated by the three credit reporting companies in compliance with federal regulations. You can get a credit report from each of the three reporting companies. If you are interested and want to keep track of your credit report, apply every four months for a report from a different company -- TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. This gives you a report every four months without cost to you.

If you use any of the other credit reporting websites, you will sign up for a monitoring service and pay an unnecessary charge. You can monitor your own credit and will receive better information with your own review of your credit reports. Why pay someone to monitor your credit? Do not be intimidated by scare tactics and fear of identity theft.

If you are interested in your FICO score, you can obtain the actual score for a fee from myfico.com. The current cost is $14.95 for one credit score. Your FICO score calculations come from Fair Isaac Corporation that first developed the FICO score formula. About 35 percent of the score comes from your payment history and another 30 percent is based on what you owe. Fifteen percent of the FICO calculation arises from the longevity of your credit history. FICO divides the other 20 percent between new credit and other factors, with 10 percent for each. A search for several new credit lines can lower your score, but a mix of different types of credit may increase your score. You can read more about your credit score at the FCIC website operated by the federal government for consumers.

It's survival of the fittest in Texas in the summer. The critters are all around the house. Today I went out to fertilize the flowers and the anoles are everywhere. Many are only an inch or so long. You may recognize these as chameleons, as they change color from green to brown, and puff a large red throat at times. This little guy is not a gecko -- we have those, too. They are brown speckled.

See you soon!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Federal Citizen Information Center Can Help

The Federal Citizen Information Center provides information from the federal government that you can use, including online tips and guides for savvy consumers. When you locate an area of interest, you can sign up for a newsletter or weekly email with new information relating to the consumer issue. There are summertime gas saving tips and tips for saving energy.

You can get the consumer information catalog sent to your home or view it online. This catalog shows the publications available from the federal government, and many are free.

The smart consumer online tips and guides section has suggestions for employment, re-entering the work force and careers. There is also a section on money with excellent advice for taxes, scams and credit cards.

If you haven't looked over these free materials from the federal government printing office, you are missing an excellent consumer source.

We live in Central Texas, with dry weather and high heat most of the summer. Learning some ways to save on cooling and water are essential. We use ceiling fans and portable fans to keep the house as cool as we can without constant running of the air conditioner. Keeping the doors closed and not operating the oven, washer and dryer all seem to help some. We try to use these appliances late in the evening or early in the morning. Turning off unnecessary lights and using CFL lighting is helpful as well.

We're glad to share what we've learned with a lifetime interest in consumer issues and frugal living. We all need any tips we can get, and the Federal Citizen Information Center has excellent free publications and tips.


The Texas Spiny Lizard is busy catching whatever he can find in this weather. We love the Texas critters.