Small Tips for Large Savings…

Photo credit – Pixels

I have so many things I want to do!  So many places I want to travel to!  In order to do these things, I’m going to need money.  I’m pretty frugal, so I have no doubt I’ll be able to pull off most of the things I want.  Even so, I’m always on the lookout for more ideas and different tips to help me out.  Sometimes a little goes a long way.

To keep yourself busy while saving for something you really want, do a google search of “free things to do in (insert your town here)” and see what comes up.  Looking at results of a search for things here in my hometown, I found several parks, museums and libraries that all have interesting and fun things to do – things I didn’t realize that these places even offered.  The list included activities that had minimal costs as well.  You really can have a good time without spending a whole lot.

Drink water – but don’t buy it.  Refilling your own containers is not only cost effective, it is good for the environment.  There is really no better liquid in the world for you to drink, and the fact that we all have access to it at no cost makes it all the better.

Stop using your dryer – especially for items that could be considered gentle or delicate.  It will save electricity and/or gas, and it will be better for your garments.  For t-shirts with screened prints, I have found that washing them inside out in cold water, and then hanging them to dry on a hanger really extends their lives.

Go through all of your subscriptions – all of the things you pay money for monthy.  Maybe these are things that are mindlessly deducted from your bank account.  Once you have a complete list in front of you, decide what you really want to keep spending money on – and cancel the rest.  Of course, research whether there will be a fee or not before deciding.

Regularly schedule no-spend days or no-spend weeks – this is a time when you spend NOTHING except what is absolutely essential.  Be honest with yourself during this challenge – only you know what is truly necessary.

Reevaluate your entertaining budget.  You don’t have to cut out entertaining entirely.  Maybe you should scale down how you entertain.  Instead of offering several snacks before hand, offer one or two.  Offer soda and beer, or soda, beer and wine – it is not necessary to put out a full bar set up complete with mixers.  Make your main meal (if this is a kind of event where you’ll have one) one main dish, and one side to go along (if needed).   For dessert, it’s the same way – simple is the way to go.  You can have one main dessert, and an additional tray of cookies.  The most important aspect of entertaining is being with people you want to be around – if they’re judging you on the things you serve, maybe they shouldn’t be coming over in the first place.

Travelling by car is without a doubt more cost effective than a bunch of people getting on a plane and paying those high flight fees.  But do the math – one person driving a long distance (which means only one person paying for gas) might not be cost effective.  In this situation, check out flights and do the math.

Unless you are absolutely and totally desperate, do not ever buy an item that is not on sale.

Tuesday.  Some say it is the most boring  day of the week.  And yet some others say it is the best day of the week to get special deals.  It has been said that you can book the best flight special on a Tuesday.  Many restaurants run specials on Tuesdays.  Movie theaters sometimes have special deals on a Tuesday.  It’s time to give Tuesday the respect it deserves, and a thank you for saving us some money as well.

If you like a particular product, go to the website for it – or to the website of their parent company.  You can frequently find discounts, deals and coupons there.  Why not save money on something you’re going to buy anyway?

What other money saving tips have you used recently?  Always on the lookout for good ones..

 

Not the last, but the first…

notebook
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

We were talking about driving the other day at work.  The topic turned to the last time we had all driven in really bad weather.  I remembered thinking as we spoke about the first time I drove in a bad snowstorm.  It was much more scary at first.  That got me thinking of a few more firsts that I’ve had.  It was fun remembering them.

I don’t remember who I had my first real crush on, as in a boy I knew – but I did have celebrity crushes when I was young.  I liked Don Adams who played Maxwell Smart on Get Smart – I even insisted on naming our cat Max.  I also had a crush on some host from the game show Supermarket Sweep.  He was appearing at a store near my Grandmother’s house, and I remember chickening out on going to see him.  I was nervous back then – I am very much NOT nervous around famous people anymore!

The first trip I ever went away alone to was on a plane to visit a high school friend who had moved to Florida.  I felt like a big shot – I was just about to turn seventeen, and while it wasn’t the first time I flew, it was the first time I remembered it.  I flew frequently with my mother when I was a toddler.  My grandparents lived in Florida at the time.

The first trip I ever took to another country was a summer vacation with my family to Niagara Falls.  We spent time there, and even drove to Toronto and saw the Hockey Hall of Fame.  It was a great time, a special trip that my sister and I remember with great fondness.

The first pet I ever remember owning was the one I spoke about above – Max.  Our landlord at the time had a cat who gave birth to a few kittens, and she said I could take one as a birthday gift.  My mother said there were three or four beautiful white ones but I insisted on the tabby in the back.  He was the absolute best choice.

My first sporting event was (of course) a hockey game.  I guess I didn’t ask my Dad – I just assumed there would be play by play announcers, giving us details.  Imagine my surprise as we sat there, watching the game – yet only listening to the other fans.  I remember feeling shocked.

I went to see David Cassidy in concert – it was the first one I ever attended.  I was young, maybe seven years old or so.  My mother said I seemed jealous that so many other girls loved him too.  It was as if I thought it was me and him alone forever.

My first job was as a Cashier at a Supermarket, and I can remember the first paycheck I ever received – $39.93.  As a sixteen year old, I thought I was rich!

The first car I ever owned was one my then-boyfriend (later ex-husband) and I bought.  We got it from an elderly neighbor of mine.  It was a 1976 Pontiac Ventura, and it was manila-folder yellow.  I think quite possibly it was the ugliest car of all time.  I believe this.

Growing up, I had a very happy life.  The first time though that I ever remember feeling  absolute joy was the afternoon of May 24, 1980.  This was the day that the New York Islanders won their first Stanley Cup.  They won it in dramatic fashion – they won in overtime, and it was simply amazing!  It is a feeling I am so glad I was able to experience.

In contrast, I remember feeling terribly sad when my Grandmother died.  It was 1975, and I was twelve.  We were very close, and her passing surprised a lot of people.  I missed her very much, but what made me the saddest was later on during that first night, with all the hustle and bustle of people being there – I looked over to see my father sitting in a chair, head in his hands.  Crying softly.  It was heartbreaking.

My first health scare was when I was pregnant with Michael.  Things were going very good, and then all of a sudden – I started bleeding.  I was only in my seventh month. The doctor didn’t know why this happened.  He said there was no real reason.  I was put on bed rest and told not to do much of anything.  I didn’t – I absolutely complied.  It worked, because Michael was born pretty much on time and was perfectly healthy.  It was frightening.

So, what other firsts come to your mind?  Please, share them – this is a good conversation starter…

Thoughts on the Corona Virus

ambulance architecture building business
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Corona Virus is all the rage.  If you’re not careful, you can get very carried away with all the hype and information that is being presented.  We would all be wise to be prepared and aware, but not crazed.  Here are a few guidelines to follow and recommendations to look into…

Be aware of where germs can grow.  They can be found on money, ATMs, touch screens, utensils at buffet type restaurants, gas pump handles, shopping carts, office phones, office keyboards.  Have supplies available to properly sanitize your hands after coming in contact with these surfaces. You can make your own hand sanitizer by mixing 2/3 cup of isopropyl alcohol with 1/3 cup of aloe vera gel, and to make it smell nicer feel free to add 8-10 drops of scented oil.

Do not hoard items. If you do want to prepare (though some people say “over prepare”) an appropriate time period would be to have supplies for about two weeks.  This simply means having in your possession the items to sustain you and your family for this time period.  Take advantage of freezing items.  Have a supply of canned goods that your loved ones enjoy.  Start bottling your own water – in reusable bottles and containers.  You will need an adequate amount of paper goods, not an excessive amount.  Be reasonable.

It is not time to be in large crowds unless you need to be.  Do not become a hermit, but do not take excessive risks.  When you are in a crowd, stay away (if you can) from people who are exhibiting obvious signs of being sick.  If you yourself feel the need to sneeze or cough, properly protect others from what you might (or might not) have.

As an employee, do not go to work if you are sick.  Also, do not take advantage, staying home and saying you are “sick.”  As an employer, do the responsible thing and tell employees who say they are ill to stay home – and do not have repercussions against employees who don’t show up for work.  Employers and employees need to be both responsible and honest.

Keep your hands off of your face.  The more your hands are where they don’t need to be and then are on your face, the more germs of any kind you’ll get on you – and not just those that can cause the Corona virus.

Do not be lulled into thinking you’re protected if you wear a mask.  You won’t be.  The proper mask to protect people against this Virus is the N95 mask.  This mask needs to be properly fitted to your face by a professional.  Regular citizens should not be ordering these, reducing supply.  These items need to be worn by the people on the front lines against this Virus – medical professionals.

Be diligent and careful when using chemicals, etc. to sanitize your home and items.  Improper ventilation with these cleaners can potentially damage the mucous membranes in your nose, making you more vulnerable to irritation and infection.

Most importantly, wash your hands often and properly.  We have been taught this for our entire lives; it seems kind of ridiculous that this advice needs to be in the forefront now.  Officials have said to wash your hands with soap and water while (maybe silently) singing “Happy Birthday” two times.  This small recommendation is our best defense against many illnesses – not just the Corona Virus.

 

Too Extreme Saving Money Tips?

banking business checklist commerce
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I have been doing a bit of computer surfing lately.  I don’t even know why.  I have found myself viewing videos and reading all sorts of things.  The other afternoon I stumbled upon episodes of Extreme Cheapskates.  This show used to be on (I think) the TLC Network.  I’m not sure if it is still on the air.  This program showcased people who went to extreme lengths to save money.  And extreme lengths they were!  There was a woman who no longer bought toilet paper, one woman who peed in a jar and put it on her lawn once a week (to use as a supposed fertilizer) and a woman who cooked an entire dinner for two friends entirely from items she scrounged from area dumpsters.  These people were very intense cheapskates.

I started thinking about the things I’ve done to save money.  I’ve stated before that I have purchased what could have been used underwear – even though it looked new, yet it didn’t have tags or come in a sealed package.  I’m proud of the things I have done, knowing I didn’t have to resort to measures taken by those extreme savers.

You should “shop” your neighborhood and other areas on their Trash Day.  I am not advocating going inside closed cans with lids or opening up garbage bags, but if you see something interesting that is obviously being put out to be taken away – there is no law against and no shame in taking what is there.  If I only needed children’s large toys – I frequently see things like this.  I’ve seen those little beds that look like kid race cars, play doll carriages, all sorts of items like this.  I’ve seen storage bins, storage units with drawers, mirrors, golf clubs, tracks for race car sets – you name it.  You may see a random chair or two.  Keep your eyes peeled, and if you spy something – take a chance, stop your car and walk over to the pile – you may be very glad you did.  What have you got to lose?

As a big fan of thrift stores, I say to always consider second hand furniture.  Unless you get very lucky with finding an entire set at once (my cousin had this happen in Florida), your guide to redoing your home and/or certain rooms is usually on a piece by piece basis.  We have a nice bedroom set (new) and a nice dining room set (table given free at the end of a yard sale) with thrifted chairs.  Last weekend we picked up the EXACT drop leaf table we had been looking for, and for the time being we will use two of the dining room chairs with this table.  What we really need to replace is furniture for our living room.  We do however go back and forth with this, because some of our cats are still young and tend to scratch.  I am not sure if we want to spend a lot of time yelling and scolding them to stop, yet I know the furniture we have is in bad shape – and we can’t keep it forever.  Even so, with cats in the house (in many ways it is like having small children) we will probably be buying used or second hand furniture.  We will need one couch and one love seat.  They can be bought at the same time, or at different times – we will take them whenever we find a deal that we just can’t pass up.  We have a coffee table and an end table that will look much better when we repaint them to match the television stand we have.  All of this furniture was given to us by my cousin’s boyfriend as we were leaving Florida – for a very nice price.  He didn’t charge us much at all.

I am not now nor will I ever suggest you eat road kill.  I will however give advice to step out of your comfort zone when it comes to different cuts of meat.  There are so many articles and tips online about how to tenderize a lesser expensive cut of beef.  Chicken is very good, and not just boneless breasts.  You can make a dinner that comes off very expensive looking by just baking chicken legs and split breasts.  You can season them and bake them, and when served with a green vegetable and a yellow vegetable and a starch (and of course some gravy) you have got a nice, deluxe meal to serve.  Open your mind to other kind of meats besides ground beef – buy what is on sale, what is on special – I have been able to tell the difference if we made burgers out of these different kinds of meat, but if you’re just going to brown it and add it to a kind of sauce, we have found that you really cannot tell the difference.  With any of these tips, it goes without saying that if you try them and don’t end up liking the results, the answer is simple – you just don’t have to ever have them again.  If you are lucky, you will end up with a few more meal choices for a good price.

These tips involve saving water.  Do your laundry whenever you think you need to, but really figure out what your load size should be.  You don’t want to over stuff your machine to the point that the clothes don’t move around freely, but there is no reason to have a small load washing on the large setting.  If you can get away with cold water, use that – it will cost you less in the long run.  And then there is this – to save water, flush your toilet less often.  I’m just going to leave this one right here for you to figure out if this is something you would like to do.

What about going meatless?  You can save money by going meatless once or twice a week.  Unless you’re a hard core carnivore, this shouldn’t be too hard for you.  You can eat healthy and nutritious meals without consuming meat.  A simple meal like this for me is a plate of spaghetti with pasta sauce, and a lump of ricotta cheese on the side.  I enjoy the taste of the cold cheese with the warm sauce, but I have also put the ricotta on top of the pasta and then whirled it around in the microwave.  Complete with a sprinkling of grated cheese, it is a satisfying and filling meal.  Sautéed spinach in your sauce, over pasta with some shredded cheese is also a good meatless meal.  You can make a nice meal of rice and beans – it can be any kind of beans, and you can use whatever kind of rice you’d like.  You can make the dish Mexican style, Chinese style or even Italian style – use your imagination, the possibilities are endless.  There’s also the old standby of Breakfast for Dinner – without the bacon, of course.  You can serve different kinds of eggs, you can include French Toast, waffles or pancakes and have some toast also.  This meal, paired with some milk, juice and fresh fruit would make a delicious choice, and a different alternative to dinner should you want to change things up a bit.

Speaking of eating, some of us do enjoy eating out from time to time.  And those of us who do enjoy this also know that it can cost money – sometimes more than we want to spend.  A way to get around this is to clip and search for every coupon you can get.  This way, when you do go out, you’ve got a bunch of places to choose from that you know you’re already going to be saving at least a little bit.  Take advantages of all the special clubs, etc. that certain restaurants offer.  From time to time, you may get a buy one entrée, get the second one half price.  Another good tip for eating out is to go for lunch – who’s to say a proper celebration or just a treat for yourself has to be dinner?  Lunch portions might be smaller, yet they might not be.  In general, it costs less to eat lunch out than to eat dinner out.  Get used to the idea that good food outings can happen before dark!

I’ve said it before and I will say it again – saving money really is for the most part a personal decision.  Some cannot and will not give up, say…cable – and others could give it up without a care in the world.  It comes down to what’s really important, what you can live with and what you can’t live without.

 

Some Things I’ve Learned On My Recent Cruise…

Carnival_Pride_in_Cabo_San_Lucas

(Photo – Carnival Pride – carnival.com)

This is the wonderful ship my family and I spent seven glorious days on recently – the Carnival Pride, docked in Baltimore, Maryland.  Last week’s cruise was the second I have taken, and my second time on this beautiful ship.

Though after only two cruises I cannot be considered a seasoned or veteran cruiser, I do feel as though I’ve learned a few things while on the high seas.  Some are common sense things, some are things you’ll only learn with time – and after making some mistakes.

The cruise line we took (Carnival) has food available virtually around the clock, and with that goes an endless supply of coffee, tea, lemonade, iced tea and water.  There are cups provided for your use – and while they are plentiful, they are small.  After my first cruise, I remembered to take a large plastic cup with a lid and straw.  This enabled me to have what I feel is enough to drink (and especially with my recent kidney issues, it was more important than ever for me to stay hydrated).  I was going to do the same with a reusable coffee cup – you know, one of those reusable ones.  I decided against that, but I saw quite a lot of people who had those with them.  I can’t speak for other cruise lines, but Carnival provided milk and half and half – but no flavored creamers.  If they’re essential for you, I’d suggest bringing a few of those little creamers you get from convenience stores – or getting a small bottle of the powdered kind.  I think they even sell boxes of the little liquid creamers.  I know they did a few years ago when I was hooked on a certain flavor and I had a trip planned.

As far as clothes go, don’t over pack.  Just don’t do it.  When we were waiting to disembark last year, I sat I made a list of what I’d needed on that cruise.  I looked at the list before packing for this year, and while I stuck to it for the most part – I went overboard again.  There are two elegant nights on the cruise when you need to dress up (if you don’t want to, that’s fine – these nights are just a little fancier than the other ones).  This time I brought two different dresses that each needed a different pair of shoes.  Next time I will bring two dresses that the same pair of shoes can be worn with.  We left out of Baltimore, so the first day and most of the second day it was still cool.  Coming back it would be the same thing – so for these days, one pair of jeans or pants on your body and one in your suitcase would be enough.  You can wear one long sleeve shirt and as long as you have a hoodie or sweater or sweatshirt, you’ll be fine.  Footwear – my recommendation is one pair of closed toe shoes (I wore flats), one pair of flip flops, one pair of nicer sandals and the heels to go with the dress.  That’s all you need.  As far as everything else goes, besides a bathing suit and cover up (they provide towels) you’ll need an outfit for each day – and no more than that.  Next time I am going to REALLY try to follow this advice.

Do not forget to bring extension cords.  The bathroom in our stateroom only had an outlet for a shaver, and there was only one electrical outlet by the desk/vanity area.  That clearly is not enough.  There were three of us in our room, so we plugged an extension cord in and then one into that – giving us access to five outlets.  That suited us just fine.  Check with your cruise line – Carnival prohibits using ones with surge protectors.  This meant that the plain, basic ones we had worked well.

If you want to attend the comedy shows, get there early.  The nightclub where the comedians appeared on our ship was sort of small – not tiny, but seating for the most part was limited.  Getting there early ensured we got a seat.  The comedians they bring in are usually hysterical, but after a long day of cruising we were tired – and just didn’t feel like standing.  You will probably have better luck with seating in the bigger theaters.  This is usually where the big shows take place.  Don’t miss them – they are fantastic!

Check out Facebook, and see if your specific cruise has a group dedicated to it.  Ours did, and all through the months planning and leading up to leaving we made great friends.  There were events that had been planned, different kinds of contests to enter – it was great fun.  One of our group members took it upon herself to order and sell (for a nominal cost) lanyards printed with our group name.  You know, the lanyards you carry your Sign and Sail card in.  It was a great bonding experience high fiving other “green lanyard people” even if you didn’t know who they were – you knew they were part of your group.

Get involved.  Step out of your comfort zone.  Dance with your waiters if they ask.  Sing (even just with a group) during trivia contests.  If you’re not brave enough to sing karaoke solo, sing along with whoever is on stage.  Smile at your fellow passengers, who undoubtedly will be smiling at you.  I swear, cruising is one of the few activities where EVERYONE seems happy.  And no matter what you do, even if you don’t participate in your ship’s version of the QUEST, by all means attend – you will be so happy you did.  The laughs are beyond compare!

Little things for your stateroom – bring magnets with hooks – they’ll stick to your walls, and will be convenient if you need to hang things.  Running a cord between two of them will give you an extra wash line of sorts.  There is not a lot of room for storage, though there is some.  I left most of my clothes in the suitcase under the bed (remember though we had three in the room).  Also, bring extra hangers.  The closet we had included a second bar we could put halfway up, to double the hanging space.  We never used it though.  A small pen flashlight might be a good idea for the middle of the night – those rooms get dark!  There are also no clocks on the wall, so if you need (or like) to see the time in the middle of the night, keep your phone close by – or bring a travel alarm clock.

Whatever you do, do it comfortably.  You will eat on the cruise – a LOT.  And eating a lot makes you feel bloated, big and uncomfortable.  Bring elastic waist garments – you’ll be glad you did.  One night after dinner we were planning to go to one of the comedy shows.  I knew I wouldn’t last through half of the first performance feeling the way I did.  So do you know what I did?  I went back to our Stateroom, and I put on my pajamas – well, just the pants.  I was so comfortable!  I had my nice blouse showing through the zippered sweatshirt I wore, and I had my black sparkly slippers on.  I can’t say that I noticed anyone else in pj’s, but I wasn’t really looking.  My pajama pants also didn’t scream out PAJAMAS – they kind of looked like sweat pants or jogging pants.  The funniest thing was that the comedian who came out first was a woman who had just turned 50.  Quite a bit of her act was saying how being 50 was great, because you’ve lived your life and you’re at the point when you don’t care what people think.  I thought to myself “wow, how true.  Here I sit in a nightclub, in pajama pants and slippers.  Guess I really don’t care what others are thinking!”

Food on a cruise – it should be an entire post by itself.  The amounts of food available and consumed on a cruise is unbelievable.  It is the perfect time for you to try something you’ve never had before, and to eat massive amounts of things you love.  You can have a buffet breakfast, or you can go to the restaurant for a sit down meal.  The buffets have made to order omelettes, and the restaurant has amazing offerings that are without a doubt very deluxe.  Everything is delicious.  There are plenty of buffets open from lunch until past dinner, offering sandwiches, salads, all different choices of different cuisine (Mexican, Chinese, etc.) and desserts to go along with it all.  There’s a great Burger Bar also that was really popular on our ship.  The fancy dinner at night is beyond compare – you can order whatever you want off of the menu, and however much you want of it.  You can get three appetizers and four portions of dinner – it’s ok. When dessert comes, you don’t have to decide on just one – you can have three if you just can’t choose.  The table you get is the same for all nights of the cruise – your wait staff gets to know you, and they make each meal fun – they make dining with them an experience you won’t ever forget.  A few of the nights they even do performances, and the guests get to participate.  The made to order Pizza station is open 24 hours a day, and so is the Ice Cream Station (though, besides bowls and cones we think they should include sprinkles).  Rest assured, you will never go hungry on a cruise.  And if you do, it’s no one’s fault but your own!  It’s not right to talk about food on a cruise without mentioning the drinks.  They are so good – they are fruity and strong and tropical and delicious!  The bartenders make sitting at their particular bar fun – they’ve usually got smiles on their faces – you can tell they enjoy being there.  You can have practically unlimited drinks if you purchase the CHEERS package, but if you do – everyone in your stateroom needs to get it as well.  That is the only drawback.  Of course, buying alcoholic drinks costs extra money.  If you decide to not drink alcohol and only have water, lemonade or iced tea, you don’t have to pay another cent for anything onboard (with the exception of small gratuities here and there – these workers really earn these tips).

Deciding to go on a cruise was one of the best travel decisions I have ever made.  The memories are wonderful, and the value – it can’t be beat.  In closing, I have a few more tidbits to help you enjoy the cruise I hope you take…

Stay in your departure city the night before you leave – there would be nothing worse than stressing out about if you’re going to miss the boat or not.  And while you’re at it, investigate and then stay at a hotel that offers parking and transportation to and from port.  Have a bunch of 1’s handy – you’ll want to (and you should) tip many of the wonderful workers who take care of you.  Put your phone on airplane mode as soon as you board – you want to avoid high charges.  Take Ziploc bags and Wal-Mart bags in your suitcase – you’ll never have enough of these, trust me.  If you like flavored water, bring a few of those packets for individual bottles along.  For your carry on, if you have one – use a backpack.  It will be especially helpful when you’re leaving to go home.  It’s sad enough when you leave, and everything will annoy you – best to be able to have your hands free if possible.  Be extra careful with your passport – losing that is not something you want to have happen.  Call your credit card company before you leave to inform them you’ll be away, and make sure your debit card is up to date.  Pack yourself a health kit – with anything you think you’ll need, like sea sickness tablets, bandages, cold pills, pain relief, especially something to treat potential sunburn.  Put your room key in a holder on a lanyard, around your neck.  If you’re a wine drinker, bring a corkscrew.  And last but not least, staterooms are not big – scents travel fast – bring room deodorizer spray (or poo-potpourri).  It will help, I promise you that.

Have a fun time on the high seas…

Thankful, and grateful…

light sign typography lighting
Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

I’ve been away awhile – I think some posts may have auto-posted, but for the most part – I have been out of commission for the last month or so.  I went in for kidney stone surgery, which went very well.  Fast forward a few days when I was then readmitted to the hospital for “gross hematuria” which, basically is…massive blood loss.  It was scary, and I am not a patient who gets frightened easily – but this, it spooked me.  And facing what-I-thought-could-be-my-own- mortality, I did a lot of thinking.  A lot.

I was hospitalized in the hospital that I work at, and/or in – it was wonderful.  The staff is beyond caring – I knew this.  They took care of me beautifully, almost like I was royalty.  I felt loved and cared for and knew I was in the absolute right place that I needed to be. I was released and then readmitted 4 1/2 days later.  This was something Jeff and I never thought would happen, mostly because I was healing good – with no problems.  My home health nurse guided me back to the hospital, and I stayed there for almost six more days.  But this time, when I left – I was done.  I was good, and healed.  And on my way to recovery.

All during this ordeal, the cruise we’d had planned for over a year was weighing on my mind.  At some point, I checked with the doctor and he said he didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t go on our cruise – but we needed to proceed with caution.  After staying for observation, antibiotics through an IV, a blood transfusion and an iron infusion – I was given the go ahead to go, to leave – we were going to be cruising!  My son and daughter in law drove over two hours to get me home and settle me in – they love me so much, and I love them.  A week later, we were all on our way – out of Baltimore, onto the Bahamas!

The cruise was wonderful – the perfect combination of rest, and fun.  We had a group of ten – it was me, Jeff and Ellie in our room – we had a Three’s Company theme!  My sister, John and my nephew Dan were across the hall, and Amanda and Kevin (my children) were down the hall.  My ex-husband and his girlfriend were a few floors up from us.  We all did our “thing” during the day for the most part, and we all met for dinner – we had the late session, at 8:15.  Once dinner was done, we all did activities together – whether it was a show, an interactive game, attending a comedy performance or just hanging out in the Night Club (which once it got a bit too “young” for us, we’d just leave!)  I am truly thankful and so very grateful I was able to be there.  I don’t get religious too much, but in this instance – God was good.

I am thankful that I have recovered from complications I never thought I would have.  I am grateful to all of the staff at Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton, PA for taking care of me, and making me well.  I am thankful that I have the family I do – that after the hurting of years ago, we’ve all gotten past it and we’re good – it’s not the family dynamic we thought we’d have, but it is what it is.  I’m proud that the Ex and I have handled things like adults and we’ve remained friendly – the kids are happy about that, they see it.  It’s the right thing to do, and the right way to be.

Life is good right now.  And judging from recent events, there’s no reason to think that things won’t continue right down this highway line!

Love my family, love my friends.  Without a doubt 🙂

 

Save $$$ on Food

(Photos credit – nbc news and midwestcommunity.org)

In line with my renewed commitment to saving money (for things that really matter), I have re-read and re-familiarized myself with different ideas and strategies for saving money on something that we have to spend money on – food.  Obviously food is not something you can go without, but it is something you can and should be smart about when you are shopping and making your choices.  In no certain order below are my thoughts about spending your hard earned money on something that is absolutely necessary.

First of all, food choices are just that – choices.  You have to determine where your dollars go.  Are you satisfied with cheap white bread, or do you like (or require) more of a specialty kind?  Either way, whatever you decide – you should be smart about it.  If you know you’ll need some fresh bread for sandwiches, but maybe not the whole loaf – freeze what you won’t need.  Bread frozen in the freezer can be defrosted slice by slice – it does not have to be defrosted by the whole or even half loaf.  You can extend the life of your loaves this way.  You can put two slices in a ziploc bag and they’ll be ready for toast at your office.  And at home, you can toast frozen bread slices.  It works.  I’ve done it.  A reasonable breakfast that even includes a bit of protein is toast with peanut butter, a cup of coffee (or whatever you drink in the morning) and a piece of fruit.  Not too bad for the supposed most important meal of the day.  Eggs are not too shabby either, and they are economical – they are protein, and aren’t as restricted as they were years ago.  Scramble or fry one or two, pair them with some toast and your drink, have some fruit – and there you go, another reasonably priced and reasonably healthy breakfast.  The same can be done with instant oatmeal – make it to your specifications, grab a piece of fruit and your drink and you’ve got another choice.  If you want more choices, make some pancakes and some French toast – freeze them in separate ziploc bags.  For work breakfasts, have small size containers that you can put syrup in for taking with you.  Having frozen “go to’s” are good for home too, on the weekends – when the lure of donuts and coffee at your local favorite place is calling you.  Have fresh fruit (or even canned, which in many ways is just fine) on hand to pair with these choices and your morning drinks will always ensure a good way to start your day.

Lunches can be costly too – if you spend in your cafeteria at work, it can add up to a high amount before you even realize it.  If you have a refrigerator and a microwave at your job, that means no excuses as to why you can’t bring lunch from home.  Even if you don’t have these things, you can get freezer cold packs, and pack items that don’t have to be heated up or take things that are good at room temperature.  An obvious choice for lunches would be leftovers – either what is actually left over, or leftovers that are purposely made for having extras for other meals.  You can make sandwiches with your bread (frozen as stated above) or you can get wraps (of course, watching for sales).  Sandwich fillings do not have to be costly lunch meat purchased from a deli.  You can make egg salad with the above-mentioned reasonably priced eggs, or you can make tuna salad (watching for sales, I have gotten tuna for 67 cents a can).  You can put refried beans and shredded cheese in the wraps for Mexican Bean Rollups, which travel very well. Pre-made grilled cheese sandwiches can be cut into strips and made into a fun lunch.  With all the cooking I do at home, in our freezer there are always a few portions of soup that can be a good lunch meal.  And the standard peanut butter and jelly sandwich plus an apple (and your drink) is the perfect lunch – I was told this by my kids’ pediatrician many years ago.

Dinner can be more of a challenge, a more costly one – mainly because the meal tends to be bigger.  I have always shopped and bought what is on sale.  It always made sense to me unless we were in dire need of something for whatever dire reason – what that could be, I don’t know really – that is why planning ahead is so important.  Given the way I shop, I usually always have a decent variety of meats in the freezer.  I plan dinners more than I plan the other two meals (or snacks).  I always (if possible) try to buy meat for less than $1.99 per pound.  I can usually accomplish this with chicken legs, drumsticks and thighs, certain kinds of pork and on the rare occasion, ground beef.  Walmart has great little frozen “chubs” of frozen turkey, frozen turkey sausage and frozen Mexican turkey for $1.50 a pound.  I have gotten frozen tilapia for $5 a bag, and making that for some reason always feels like a sort-of gourmet meal to me.  For a treat once, we bought a box of New York Strip Steaks at Walmart.  Now we didn’t have great expectations, because they were $9.97 for a box of five.  They were surprisingly good!  They will be our food splurge, and once in a while we splurge on a bag of frozen shrimp for $5.  I stock up on pasta and sauce when other stores have them on sale, but you really can’t beat the 82 cents for pasta and 88 cents for sauce at Walmart.  I always have them on hand, and shredded mozzarella cheese as well.  I’m a pasta type person.  I enjoy it very much.  Recently I have started adding canned spinach to my pasta – not a whole lot, just enough to boost up the iron and vitamins, and to give the meal a different taste.  You can further add to a pasta dinner by putting in a chunk of cream cheese as the sauce and spinach cooks.  The key is to be creative.  Be creative with the lesser priced ingredients.  When you do this, you can turn these meals into something kind of special.

The way to really save money on food is to eat it at home.  Not out in restaurants.  That being said, sometimes it IS nice to go out and splurge.  If you value this, do not let others make you feel wrong for enjoying it.  You can have a nice romantic dinner at home, but to me – once in a while, if you’re not drowning in debt, and it’s worth it to you – go out.  Go out but be smart about it.  Go to your favorite restaurant on an off night, where they might be having specials.  Find coupons to different restaurants – maybe ones you have been to, maybe ones you would like to try.  Go earlier in the day, say…for lunch maybe.  Have drinks and appetizers at the bar area of a restaurant.  Sometimes it is nice to go out with your significant other.  Dress up and show each other off.  If this is something you enjoy, do it.  Go for it.  This is the point of being frugal and being smart with your money.

Yes, you want to be free from debt but you also need to enjoy life.  And enjoying life means doing the things you like.  It’s just all about planning.  That’s really the key in all of this – you have to be smart, you have to plan – and if you do, and you’re really honest about it all – you should start seeing success.  Remember, this is your life, your money, your debt or lack thereof – and let no one dictate how you need to handle things.  Again, though, be honest with yourself.  As they say, get real.  Get real with yourself and with what matters.

 

Fast. Cheap. Desserts.

(Photos courtesy of pixels)

Below you will find easy dessert ideas that will pack a punch, but will not punch you in your wallet.  I have mentioned versions of these before, but with entertaining, etc. always a constant (at least in our home) they are worth mentioning again.

Melt some chocolate in a double boiler or microwave it – whatever your method is for melting chocolate.  Dip half of a chocolate chip cookie into melted chocolate. Before it completely hardens, dip this chocolate part into something of your choosing – sprinkles, crushed cookies, crushed nuts, crushed candy bars. Lay on wax or parchment paper to avoid “cookie ruination.”

Prepare instant pudding – in the flavors you would like. I usually choose chocolate and vanilla. Have these ready in their own serving bowls. On the side, put out individual serving bowls. Offer add ins and mix ins – be creative. You can use sprinkles, chocolate chips, crushed candy (of whatever kind you’d like), mini marshmallows,nuts, M&M’s or even gummy bears. Have whipped cream handy.

Depending on the season or the party you’re celebrating, make appropriate color (and therefore, flavors) jello.  You can choose to float fruit inside the jello before you even set up it up.  Serve the jello in large bowls, having smaller ones available. You can be as elaborate or as simple as you want – have whipped cream ready to go along with sprinkle shaker bottles in corresponding and alternating colors. Pretty.

This costs about $2, give or take.  In advance, bake up a batch of cake-mix cupcakes. Have them on a serving platter, and put things out in a “decorate your own cupcake” bar. You can put pre-made frosting (or whatever you normally use) in small serving bowls, have whipped cream available. Offer sprinkles, crushed nuts, crushed candies – you can even put out peanut butter and powdered sugar for an almost in-the-moment peanut butter frosting.

Bake or buy a pound cake. Serve it on a platter in slices. On the side, have fruits and jams. This is a simple dessert, so simple that other add ons are not needed. Maybe include a shaker with powdered sugar.

This takes no time at all, and is always a hit. Offer a few different kinds of ice cream, have cones, bowls, cone bowls – and syrup, whipped cream, nuts, cherries and sprinkles. It is the always popular “Make Your Own Ice Cream Sundae Bar.” It’s fun to use ice cream-themed dishes, but truthfully – people like ice cream so much that it really won’t matter.

I have also bought a few of those small, 50-cent pies from Walmart – in all different kinds of flavors. Arranging them on a platter, there will be a sample of each flavor for everyone – depending on how many guests you have. It’s a good idea that has gone over very well in the past.

Again, for about $2 you can’t really beat this. Buy a cake mix and a container of frosting.  You can make it in a layer cake form, or in a sheet cake – it can be sprinkled with sprinkles or powdered sugar. If you want to perk up the mix, bake with milk instead of water, use melted butter instead of oil and add an extra egg or two. Is this deluxe or fancy? No, but rest assured it will taste very good.

For full disclosure here, the parties and get-togethers we have usually involve A LOT of food.  If your gatherings tend to be the same way, you could get away with one of these options, or two at the most.  If you have mega sweet-tooth attendees, you could do a few options, just in smaller quantities.  You know your guests best…enjoy!

Planning for Valentine’s Day…

three red heart balloons
Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

Jeff and I are very lucky – this year, our Valentine’s Day is planned ahead for us – we will be on a cruise on that day.  And since we will be sharing a room with Ellie, plus a bunch of other family members will be there – it will be a nice holiday, yet it won’t be an intimate time.  That is more than ok – who in their right mind would complain about being on a cruise?  Certainly not us – that night is one of two elegant nights on the trip, so Jeff will dress up as will I – I will find something in Valentine’s red to wear.  It will be a nice night I am sure.

We will celebrate our own Valentine’s Day a week later.  We are going away on the night of February 21st – we will be seeing my favorite hockey player of all time (John Tonelli) have his jersey retired – finally!  Jeff will be going with me because he knows it will make me happy – and he always makes the best of things and has a fun time.  That’s what love is – doing what will make the other person happy, which ends up making you happy.  We will be attending the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony to see Derek Jeter inducted this summer – Jeff loves baseball and Jeter is one of his favorite players of all time.  I’m glad we will be able to be there – even though the only motel we could reserve is forty miles from Cooperstown!  That’s crazy, but it’s what is necessary if we want to be there.  That will also be a nice time away.

Yet as we are trying to save and get on a good, straight financial track – we still want to have fun, be silly and enjoy dates.  We’ve done a few things that haven’t cost much money but ended up being fun.  We made memories and took pictures, and looking back on these times – they were as nice as expensive dates, just in a different way.

One Saturday we took a walk around Scranton – around all the streets we drive past as we are going to work, running errands or whatever.   We got a cold slushy drink (they make good ones with alcohol at a market downtown) and walked around.  We went onto side streets with interesting looking buildings, and went into stores we really didn’t realize were there.  We walked all around Courthouse Square, and learned a lot about Scranton that we didn’t know before.  There was an interesting tribute wall/statue devoted to people who were reported missing in the city, yet never found.  Some of the sidewalk tiles around the County courthouse had quotes from and dates involving significant Lackawanna County residents.  Driving through the city, you never would know this stuff was there.  We learned a lot that day strolling through town.

It is a good idea to get a newspaper and check out events happening around town.  There are some High Schools who perform plays that are worthy of Broadway – really!  The bands from certain schools are amazing.  Of course, it is always more fun if you go to a play or a game from a school where you know some of the students.  But it is not always necessary.  These games, plays and concerts are minimal in cost, yet you get maximum entertainment for your dollars.

You can work out together – even if one of you doesn’t like it too much.  That would be Jeff and me – he loves it, and let’s just say I don’t.  But if we go together, it shows him that I am willing to do things with him that he likes.  And honestly, every time we do go to the gym, I am always glad I went – even if I didn’t want to go in the first place (and I never do).  It’s even nice to see others checking your significant other out – you can feel proud that he (or she) is yours!

A fun thing to do is an indoor picnic.  Have it complete with a blanket, and everything you’d take if you were outside.  Planning an indoor picnic is a good idea, because no matter what the weather, your plans won’t be affected.  A picnic, yet there won’t be any mosquitoes, flies or ants.  Yes!

What we’ve done and is always fun to do is to make some drinks, have some snacks and watch our favorite movie together.  We love Austin Powers Goldmember, and always laugh no matter how many times we’ve seen it.  Laughing is a good thing.  Yet if your favorite is suspense or horror, that’s ok too.  It is just important to watch something you will both enjoy.

Have a spa night together.  I did this with my sister and Christine when we had a girls weekend away.  It was a great success.  There is no reason why you can’t make a spa night a date night.  Currently, I have the world’s itchiest back – I carry a back scratcher in my purse, and I have one on each floor of our house.  Jeff and I plan on doing one of these nights soon – I need a back facial.  Yes, go online and look – there are instructions for this.

If you decide you do want to go out, try going for lunch or drinks and appetizers.  This in general will be more economical than dinner in most cases.  And coupons – always look for coupons, and use them whenever you can.  This doesn’t make you cheap, it makes you thrifty, it makes you smart – you’re getting more for your money.  And that is a really good thing.

Have a game night – if you’re into computer games, play them.  Or try playing board games.  You can even play cards.  The winner gets to choose the next game, the loser has to go along with that choice no matter what.  You can make up your own rules as you go along.  The main thing is to have fun.

Teach each other something, even if it is something minor. I frequently explain little things about wrestling to Jeff.  He appreciates knowing some of the moves and how the characters are related so that when he watches with me, he understands more of what’s going on.  He explains different things to me about baseball – about the players, who’s the current highest paid, why a certain player turned out to be a “bad deal” financial wise.  It is nice learning something you didn’t know before about something your significant other thinks is important.

Write little lists, little notes.  These notes don’t have to be very big or anything earth shattering.  It is just nice getting a note that says “five things you do that makes me feel special” or “five ways I know I’m lucky for having you.”  It’s a small little thing to do that can have a big impact.

Make a meal together, maybe a kind you’ve never cooked before – make it from appetizers to dessert.  Try an all Chinese meal or maybe something really outrageous, like Arabic food.  Christine’s son spent time in Korea with the Army.  After he came home, he cooked us an entire Korean dinner from beginning to end, and it was delicious.  It will be an experience you two can do together.  You won’t forget it, I promise.  Whether it was a success or a disaster.

Grab a drink and sit down – and make plans.  Make a plan for the weekend, make a monthly plan.  Make a 6 month plan, a one year plan and even make one for five years out.  It’s a great motivator to have things to look forward to.  Sometimes having things written down old school on paper gives you goals to aim for.  It’s not enough to say that “oh a year from now we want to take a trip to California.”  Make a plan and make it happen.  You know you’ll be planning together to be together.  And that can make you feel really excited for the future as well as feel really fortunate to have one another.

I feel like Michelle Duggar…almost.

ydza5raxsysih5idv9ds

(Photo credit TLC Network)

I admit, I’ve always had an odd fascination for the Duggar family – you know, the ones with 19 kids, who now have spouses and children of their own.  Though my interest in them has waned in recent years as more scandals of theirs have come to light, I have maintained a curiosity about the big brood.  I thought a lot about how each child could maintain their individuality in a family so large.  And, in a way I understand it now.  I am the “mom” to seven cats.  I never intended to have so many felines, it just kind of happened that way.

Beavis and Stan were my first two.  At twelve years old, they are still perfect.  We had JB for a time – a time that wasn’t long enough.  We lost him in June.  Between December of 2018 and May of last year, we acquired five more – Nik, Lexi, Malenky, Boris and Tasha.  They had a sister who I named Anastasia.  My ex-husband and his girlfriend took her in and renamed her Gilly.  I like to refer to our brood as the Magnificent Seven.

Enjoying each cat and appreciating them for who they are is not hard.  That’s why I’m understanding Michelle Duggar more.  I know children and cats are not the same, obviously – but their unique personalities makes it easy to love them each exactly as they come.  Like people, each one is different – they have different moods and different tendencies.

Beavis was given to me by my ex-husband and children after I was mugged, and they didn’t know what to surprise me with at Christmas to make me perk up and feel better.  They found him in a pet shop, and he was a sweetie from the very first time they picked him up.  He’s a gorgeous tabby, and recently lost a lot of weight after being chubby for the past several years.  I think he is the only one of our cats who has never, ever gotten in trouble or yelled at for anything.  He turned twelve years old on October 10.

Stanley was originally my sister’s cat.  Due to a change in living situation for my Mom, my sister and I had to play musical cats, and he became ours.  My kids liked Stan right away, it took the ex and I a little longer.  For some reason, Stan has always been in love with me.  When I lived with my sister (I had the cats with me there) Stan would sit by the door every afternoon about a half hour before I was due home and cry for me until I got there.  He is a character, a cat who is always around.   He is always under foot, helping with every project he can get his hands on.  He is a gorgeous long-haired gray cat who is also twelve years old.

JB was our Florida cat.  He hung around outside the house I shared with my cousin until I was leaving for Pennsylvania.  He came with us.  He adjusted to life with us as an inside cat very well.  He always had an odd way of breathing, like he was snoring.  Long story short, he was older than the vet in Florida had said, and what he had wasn’t a breathing problem, it was nasal cancer.  He lived with that from January until June 2nd when, as they say, he crossed over the Rainbow Bridge.  JB went over that bridge knowing he was loved.

Going to a shelter to drop off some food that our cats didn’t like led me to Nik and Lexi.  They were a foster fail on our (well, my) part.  We took them in on December 29th.  That’s their “Gotcha Day.”  They are both cows – white with black splots.  Nik is rough and tough, and is a big boy.  Lexi is the perfect female – she really is a Queen.  Nik tries very hard to be the dominant male cat in the house – Beavis doesn’t mind, but Stan resists Nik’s effort and they do tend to fight.  Lexi is the perfect sister in addition to her being royalty.

Malenky was a total surprise.  Sitting on the living room couch, I heard a meowing in the basement.  I went down there, and saw and heard nothing. Of course, as soon as I went back upstairs I heard it again.  I went back down again, and issued an ultimatum – come out come out wherever you are, that kind of thing.  And then, out from underneath a dresser walked the smallest kitten I have ever seen.  A tiny, beautiful black and white kitten.  I fell in love with him at first sight, for sure.  He was no more than three weeks old.  His ears weren’t even fully extended.  I had no idea how to care for a kitten so small – thank God for the internet.  I taught him how to do everything – how to eat, drink, how to pee and how to poop.  He is a gorgeous Tuxedo boy, and he is my success story!

People were right when they said that where there was one, there would be siblings.  How right they were!  Three weeks later, we found the three siblings – two girls and a boy.  We toyed with the idea of what to do with them, when I think we’d really known all along.  My ex-husband took one of the Tuxedo girls, the cute one with the black splatch on her nose.  He renamed her Gilly.  We have kept the all black boy, Boris.  What a nut he is!  He keeps us laughing every day with his antics.  He chases his tail in many ways, like it is his own built in toy.  His sister is Natasha, and she is the perfect Princess.  She is a quiet, dignified Tuxedo girl.  She also is Beavis-like in not really doing anything wrong, though she can stick up for herself for sure when her siblings try to strong arm her away from food she thinks is hers!

So that’s our brood- – all different, all perfect.  We love them all the same, yet love them for different reasons.  They are each their own individuals – which I’m guessing is even more relevant (if that is even the right word) with the Duggars – no matter how many of them there are.  As much as I would love to have more, I realize we are full up.  Inside.  I do however feed some of the outside ferals of our West Scranton neighborhood.  Ginger, Gloria and Olga are well taken care of on N. Bromley Avenue…

Below, in order are Beavis, Stan, Nikita Adam and Alexi Eve, Malenky Lewis, Boris Alexander and Natasha Jean.