Crackerjack Greenback Prudent Advice for a Prosperous Future

February 16, 2009

Cheap, Healthy Food: A Wholesome Meal for Under $1/Serving

Filed under: Budgeting,Frugal Recipes,Frugality,Saving Money — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 4:00 am

       Do you want to eat healthier but you’re afraid it will be too expensive? I have three easy recipes you can combine to make a wholesome meal for less than $1 per serving. And it doesn’t taste like cardboard, either!

       These recipes come from the More-With-Less Cookbook, a collection of Mennonite recipes with a focus on affordable but nutritious meals. It’s also focused on moving away from processed foods and wisely using the world’s resources. I highly recommend you buy a copy if you don’t already have one. It’s a very affordable cookbook ($11.55 on Amazon) and a great value!

Middle Eastern Lentil Soup

Combine in soup kettle:

1 cup lentils
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon cumin

Cook until the lentils are soft (about 30 minutes), adding water if needed to maintain a soup consistency.

Heat in skillet:

1 tablespoon olive oil

Add and sauté just until yellow:

1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced

Blend in:

1 tablespoon flour

Cook for a few minutes. Then add the sautéed ingredients to lentils and bring to a boil. After the soup boils, remove from the heat and stir in:

2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Tomato Chutney

Combine in a bowl:

2 cups chopped fresh or canned tomatoes (about two medium tomatoes)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Garnish with fresh cilantro, if available.

Rice

I hope you already know how to make steamed rice… 🙂

Fix up about 5-6 servings (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups dry rice).

The Meal

       Serve the Middle Eastern Lentil Soup over rice and top with the Tomato Chutney. This should make about 5-6 servings. Total cost per serving? $0.80! (Assuming you drink water, of course.) You could probably add a vegetable for an additional $0.20-0.30 per serving. You can easily prepare and cook this meal in about 40 minutes. (Rice is easy, and you can fix the chutney while the lentils are boiling.)

The Nutrition

       Lentils are one of the healthiest foods you can eat. They’re high in fiber, folate, molybdenum, manganese, iron, and vitamins B1 and B6. They’ve also been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. Serving lentils with rice ensures that you get the complementary proteins you need to match the complete proteins available in meats. The lack of meat, however, means that this meal is very low in cholesterol.

Eating Healthy for Less

       I plan to share additional recipes that will provide you with healthy meals at an affordable price. While this isn’t a cooking blog, it is about saving money. Saving money on your food bill shouldn’t come at the expense of your health. These types of recipes help you save money and eat healthier. In general, if you want to eat healthier and save money, follow these tips (from the More-With-Less Cookbook):

   Eat More:

  • Whole Grains- rice, wheat, barley, rye, oats, corn, and millet
  • Legumes – dried beans, soybeans, dried peas, lentils, peanuts
  • Vegetables and Fruits – inexpensive, locally grown, in season or homegrown and preserved
  • Nuts and Seeds – inexpensive, locally grown or homegrown

   Use Carefully:

  • Eggs
  • Milk, Cheese, Yogurt
  • Seafood
  • Poultry
  • Meats

   Avoid:

  • Processed and Convenience Foods
  • Foods Shipped Long Distances
  • Foods Heavy in Refined Sugars and Saturated Fats

February 10, 2009

A Guide to Wet Shaving (at Scordo.com)

Filed under: Frugality,Random Stuff — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 2:24 pm

Sharp! by John Griffiths on Flickr       Vince over at Scordo.com posted a great article today about wet shaving. I researched wet shaving over a year ago and started off with just a badger hair shaving brush and quality shaving cream. Boy, did it make a difference in my shaves! I highly recommend men consider wet shaving.

       The initial cost of the equipment is higher than buying some disposable razors and a can of shaving cream, but in the long run it’s more cost effective and gives you higher quality shaves. The tubs of shaving cream I get cost about $13, but they last about 3-4 months! Not to mention the cost of replacing razor blades is much cheaper (~$0.50/blade for high quality blades) than buying more Mach3 cartridges (~$2/cartridge?). Wet shaving can be a good frugal choice if you don’t skimp on equipment that will last and take the time to learn how to shave properly.

February 7, 2009

Frugal Tip: Beware When Buying in Bulk!

Filed under: Frugality,Saving Money,Spending — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 1:33 pm

Fresh tomato sauce by merci on Flickr       I stopped by the grocery store today while I was in town. I needed to pick up some milk and a few other things. I wanted to get some more tomato sauce to keep my supply well-stocked since I just used some in a recipe for Beef Curry a week ago.

       I generally go straight for the generic brand (Shurfine in this area), but there were a couple sales on the bigger cans of tomato sauce. The sale wasn’t on a well-known name brand, but it wasn’t a store or generic brand either. This 29 ounce can of tomato sauce was “on sale” for $1.50. The generic brand (Shurfine) 29 ounce can was $1.19. Not much of a sale if you ask me.

       I was about to grab the big can of generic brand tomato sauce when I saw the smaller cans on the shelf above. These cans were 15 ounces and they cost $0.59 each. Quick math tells you the small cans are a better deal. I can get two small cans (30 ounces) for a total of $1.18, or I can get one big can (29 ounces) for $1.19. So I can choose to pay 3.9¢/ounce or 4.1¢/ounce for the same product. Which size do you think I bought?

       Now, it might not seem like a big deal, and in this case it wasn’t really. But if you watch for this kind of thing over the course of your entire grocery trip, you can save quite a bit of money. Do it every time you shop for groceries and you can significantly reduce your food bill for the year.

       So don’t grab the bigger can, carton, bag, or box because you think it’s a better value. Check the numbers first. It really doesn’t take long if you have a calculator (and most of us do if we carry a cell phone). And don’t automatically grab the smaller size either. It can pay to buy in bulk and store what you don’t need. Just make sure it really is a good deal before you throw it in your cart.

Frugal Tip: Check the price per unit to decide between buying in bulk or buying a smaller size.

       To find the price per unit, divide the total price by the total number of units for the item you’re considering. In the case above, I divided 118¢ by 30 ounces to get 3.9¢/ounce on the smaller cans. Remember: total price / total units = price per unit

December 6, 2008

Guest Post about Emergency Funds on No Credit Needed

Filed under: Budgeting,Frugality,Random Stuff,Saving Money,The Basics — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 9:54 am

I have a guest post up today at No Credit Needed. Check it out!

The Emergency Fund To The Rescue!

December 5, 2008

Cable/Satellite TV Subscriptions Actually Cost Nearly $64,000!

Filed under: Budgeting,Consumerism,Contentment,Frugality,Saving Money,Spending,The Basics — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 4:00 am

       Think it sounds ridiculous? Bear with me and I’ll explain how I came up with that number. This obviously isn’t the exact cost for every single person, but it probably isn’t far off. I didn’t include the cost of electricity, purchasing and replacing your television, or the cost of lost opportunities due to the hours wasted watching television. I’m also basing the cost on the amount I pay for satellite TV. Your actual costs may be higher or lower.

The Assumptions

       I assumed a cost of $40/month for the subscription. This is the cost of my basic satellite TV subscription. There’s a good chance most people pay more than this, so my estimate is probably conservative.

       I assumed you started your subscription at age 22 (when most people are out on their own) and you keep it until you die at age 80.

       I assumed an inflation rate of 3.8% and an investment rate of return of 8% (very reasonable over a 59 year time period).

The Results

Television by dailyinvention on Flickr       If you decide to give up your cable or satellite TV subscription and instead invest the money, you’d have over $577,000 at age 80. If we adjust for inflation, that $577,000 would be about $63,900 in today’s dollars (e.g., what costs you $63,900 today will cost you $577,000 in 59 years because of inflation).

       By age 65, you’d have an extra $177,700 because you gave up that cable/satellite TV subscription. This is the same as $34,300 in today’s dollars. That could mean retiring a year earlier! (depending on your income needs in retirement)

What About the Cost of Purchasing a TV?

       If you’re 22 and you decide to save $100 instead of purchasing a TV set, you’ll have an extra $2,955 by age 65—or $570 in today’s dollars. (While the price tag says $100, it’s really costing you $570 because you could have invested that $100.)

       If you save $500, that’s an extra $14,780 by age 65—over $2,850 in today’s dollars.

       If you save $1,000, you’ll have an extra $29,550 by age 65—more than $5,725 in today’s dollars! (That $1,000 big screen TV is really costing you $5,725.)

       And we haven’t even figured in the cost of lost opportunities because you watched so many episodes of Lost…

The $64,000 Question

       If Dish Network, DirectTV, or Comcast told you that subscribing to their service would really cost you $64,000, would you do it? Even with the first month free, I just don’t see how it’s worth it. 😉

       Add in the cost of purchasing a TV (and replacement TVs), the higher medical bills because you sat on your butt so much, and the other reasons you should stop watching TV and you’ll soon find that it’s just not worth it.

TV;        If you’re struggling to get by, TV should be one of the first things you cut. It’s a drain on your finances (a $64,000 drain!), wastes your time, and can get in the way of quality family time. Your time is better spent finding ways to increase your income, cut your expenses, and enjoy your life the way you want (instead of the way the TV tells you to enjoy it).

Disclaimer and Other Stuff

       Even though I know how much television costs, I have not given it up completely. However, I do watch a lot less than I used to and I’m amazed at how much more I can accomplish! Now I tend to only watch a couple shows on Discovery Channel. (I’m a science geek at heart.) I’ll watch in social situations as well, but overall I probably watch less than a couple hours a week on average.

       Not all TV is bad. Like I said, I like to watch Discovery Channel. Educational shows can be a good way to get some entertainment while expanding your mind at the same time. But most TV shows are an absolute waste of time—end of story.

November 29, 2008

Do It Yourself: Why Your Time Is Not Worth As Much As You Think

Filed under: Earning,Frugality,Saving Money,Spending,The Basics — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 4:00 am

       J.D. Roth at Get Rich Slowly has some good articles on how to figure out your real hourly wage. The first one titled “How to Compute Your REAL Hourly Wage” is a good start to calculating this number, but it leaves out taxes. The second article titled “Beyond “Real Hourly Wage”: How Much Time Does Stuff Actually Cost?” gets closer to a more accurate number, but I personally think you should do it a little differently.

We Still Work by furryscaly on Flickr       J.D. talks about deducting your fixed expenses to calculate your real hourly wage to figure out how many hours things cost in terms of your disposable income. I think this is a good number to keep in mind, but you should also consider your hourly wage in terms of net income as well (income minus work related expenses and taxes). This net income hourly wage can help you see how much of your time is spent paying for your necessities and put those costs in perspective. This is mostly just an interesting experiment, but it can help you realize that your time is worth something and spending money means giving up your time.

       However, what I really want to talk about is the discussion that came up following J.D.’s article about Things It’s Cheaper to Do Yourself. Some commenters contend that if a task would cost less per hour to outsource than you can earn in an hour then you’re better off paying someone else to do it for you. However, this logic is often flawed once you consider reality. This is a topic that’s been on my mind for a while, but J.D.’s article and the discussion prompted me to go ahead with my post.

What Are You Doing Instead?

       When I pay someone to change my oil, what do I do while I wait? I’m usually stuck sitting in a waiting room or browsing through the store (if I’m at Pep Boys or Walmart). I don’t earn any money while I’m waiting, so I can’t say I’m saving money or time by paying someone else to change my oil for me. If I can drop my car off and go do some income-producing activity, then it might be better for me to outsource the oil change. Even then, I need to make sure that my net after-tax hourly rate is going to be large enough to offset the cost of paying someone else to change my oil. If it’s not, then I’m better off changing the oil myself.

       The same can be said of many other activities we outsource. It’s easy to say, “Yeah, I’ll pay Jim $30 to mow my yard because it would take me 3 hours and I can earn $10/hour.” But this logic only works out if we take the time we would have spent mowing the yard and use it to earn money or provide ourselves with some other sort of value. This could mean enjoying a leisure activity or spending time with family. If mowing the yard would have prevented us from those (non-income producing) activities, then paying someone else to mow our yard might make sense depending on how much we value that time.

Sometimes It’s Better to Hire a Professional

Beautiful Tools by geishaboy500 on Flickr       Another exception would be projects that are better completed by a professional. If you do not have the ability to complete a project, then it’s probably best to pay a professional. You’ll save more money by having someone do it right the first time than having to go back and fix the mistakes you made trying to do it yourself. This can also be true if a project requires very specialized tools that we may never use again. This is the same logic we apply when we realize it’s better to rent a bulldozer to dig a hole than to buy it if we’re probably not going to use it again.

       However, it’s sometimes better to do a job yourself because you’ll know the quality of your work. When you hire someone else, you can get unlucky and end up with a “professional” who does shoddy work. With careful research and good referrals, you can usually avoid such misfortune. But if you know how to do a project and can do it well, you’re likely to get better results by doing it yourself than by hiring a “professional”.

What’s It Worth to You?

DoItYourself.com       My point is that most of the time it makes sense to do it yourself. There are a few exceptions where this is not true, but simply valuing our time based on our gross hourly wage is flawed. We have to look at the value of our time spent in the replacement activity (the thing we’re doing instead of the DIY project). If the value of our replacement activity outweighs the cost of outsourcing, then we can safely say it’s better to outsource. This still neglects the benefits of learning new skills and the satisfaction that many people experience when they do something themselves, but that’s a very subjective benefit.

       Just as every other personal finance decision needs to be considered in light of your personal situation, so does weighing the option of doing something yourself or paying someone else to do it. Depending on the value of your time, the activity you’ll do instead of doing it yourself, your skill set, and your desire to do it yourself, it may or may not make sense to outsource a project. Be sure you consider these factors before you say you’re saving yourself money or time by outsourcing.

November 26, 2008

Personal Finance in the Bible: Proverbs 21:20

Filed under: Budgeting,Frugality,Investing,Personal Finance in the Bible,Retirement Planning,Saving Money — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 4:00 am

Bible with Cross Shadow by knowhimonline on Flickr       This week’s Personal Finance Bible Scripture comes from Proverbs 21:20.

   20 In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil,
       but a foolish man devours all he has.

Proverbs 21:20 (NIV)

       Same verse but in the New Living Translation:

   20 The wise have wealth and luxury,
       but fools spend whatever they get.

Proverbs 21:20 (NLT)

       I chose two translations this time because I think together they clearly tell us what this verse is saying. The wise save up some of their earnings, but fools spend everything they get.

       When talking about contentment and giving in the Bible, I’ve had people ask me if Christians should even save up money for emergencies or retirement. If we save, aren’t we relying on ourselves or our money instead of God? I think, as with many things, it really depends on the motives in our hearts.

       If we’re saving up because we don’t think God can provide or we don’t trust in God’s provision, then we’re obviously serving money and not God. But God clearly tells us several times in the Bible that the wise save up some of their money. The wise do not spend everything they get, and the wise prepare for trouble they see coming ahead.

       God can take care of us in any situation, but He teaches us that it is wise to save up when we see that we’ll have a need in the future. This is why I don’t think God is against us having emergency funds or saving for a time in our lives when we won’t be able to work for pay. I’m not sure God wants us saving for things that don’t glorify Him, like a retirement where we golf every day or travel around the world purely for pleasure. It’s the same with anything really. If it doesn’t glorify God, there’s probably a good chance we should rethink it.

       The next time you want to spend all of your paycheck or when the money in your pocket catches fire, remember that the wise person saves but the foolish person spends everything.

November 24, 2008

A Meaningful Christmas

Filed under: Consumerism,Contentment,Frugality,Giving,Saving Money,Spending,Values — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 4:00 am

       What if Christmas meant more than shopping in packed malls?

       What if you spent more time with your family than you spent trying to pick out gifts?

       What if you could wake up on December 26th with no debts from the day before?

       What if you could throw out all the stress, traffic, and shopping and just focus on worshiping Jesus, giving to the needy, and loving all people?

       What if we gave up Consumermas and went back to Christmas?

       The folks at Advent Conspiracy have a great little video (2 minutes and 39 seconds) about a meaningful Christmas.

       So why not make Christmas meaningful again? Why not do it this year? If you want to change how you celebrate Christmas, here are some good resources:

              Buy Nothing Christmas
              Alternative Christmas Gifts
              A Do-It-Yourself Christmas

       Finally, here’s “O, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” as sung by the David Crowder Band. I hope it reminds us why we’re celebrating Christmas in the first place.

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