Friday, July 29, 2011

Saving Money--Your Health

Frugal Friday

These last few weeks, we concentrated on frugal tips for around the house. This week, we are going to talk about ways to save money in another area of your life--your health. Good health leads to a happy, fulfilling life. But it is also expensive for those without health insurance, or with little coverage. So wherever you can save money is helpful.

1. You can work out at home for free. But if you want to join a health club, look for one that has per-visit plans. Even with the best intentions, you don't always go as often as you'd like.
2. Just because you don't have a membership at a warehouse club, doesn't mean you can't get your prescriptions filled there at the lowest cost. Federal law mandates that consumers can buy prescriptions from any pharmacy.
3. Get a 30-day supply of a generic drug for $4 at participating pharmacies. Check with your local Walmart, Sam's Club, Kroger and Target.
4. Whitening strips are often too large for your teeth. Cut them in half for double the uses.
5. Those on Medicare or over 65 have additional savings--no copays on some wellness checks, low cost eye exams and discounts on prescription drugs through Part D.
6. Even a high-priced insurance plan costs less than a visit to the hospital.
7. Join a discount club for dental care if you don't have coverage through your employer.
8. Get regular check-ups. Discovering a problem early on will keep you healthier, and keep health costs down.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

File, Don't Pile

Senior Thursday

Papers can be daunting. They come into the home from many different sources--mail, doctor visits, work, etc.. There are papers for your house, your health, your finances and your family. But where to keep them all? Many times, out of frustration, we just drop them on the nearest pile.

What happens when you need that piece of paper, though? Where is it? What pile did you put it on?

If you set up a functional filing system, you'll be able to find what you need when you need it. Here are some tips for setting up a filing system.

• Store away what you don’t use--This is anything that you need to keep, but don't need to access. Old tax returns, supporting tax documents, old receipts, and memorabilia fall into this category
• Use labels that work for you. What words would you think of when looking for it again? Would your spouse use the same description? Use something you'll remember.
• Limit the description on the label. The fewer words you use, the easier it will be to remember and read. A noun, adjective and year is often sufficient.
• Color code your folders or labels. You can categorize them by person, subject , or year. Use what is comfortable for you.
• If you are intimidated by the task of setting up a system, use a pre-packaged system, such as Freedom Filer, that comes with stock labels and an index guide. These are easy to use, and the index helps you locate items easily.
• Schedule time for filing. In order for the filing system to work for you, you have to keep on top of it. Schedule time every day or week for doing your filing. Purge your files every six to twelve months to keep them from getting too big.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Organizing Your Files--Part Two

Writer Wednesday

The most important thing to remember when setting up a file system is being able to find what you filed. There are several guidelines to keep in mind to make your filing system work for you.

• Create an interior folder for every hanging file folder you have. Label them the same. This will make the files more portable, and easier to return to their proper place when you are done with them.
• Place a sticky note on any empty hanging file folder with the date and place of the file. For instance, if you are giving a workshop and want to bring some research files with you, write up a sticky note with the date and "Workshop". If you need those files before your workshop, you'll know where they are.
• Return all files to their folders/drawers immediately after using them. Don't let them pile up on the floor or desk. The higher the pile gets, the less likely you are to put them away.
• Purge your files on a regular basis. Every six to twelve months, look through your files to see if everything is still relevant.
• If a document can be recreated easily, you don't need to keep a hard copy. Keep only the electronic file.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Store Items Where You Use Them--Garage and Yard

Tips for Tuesday

Although this makes perfect sense, many people, for whatever reason, don't store items near where they use them. Maybe whoever helped them move in decided where things should go. Maybe the space is better designed elsewhere for what you want to store. Maybe you were pressed for time and just put things wherever they would fit. However, your life will run more smoothly if you follow this simple rule--store items near where you use them. Here are some tips for the garage and yard:

• Store children's toys near the front of the garage for easy access.
• Store paper goods and other household items near the adjoining door to the house.
• If you have a shed, keep all your gardening and lawn care equipment there.
• Keep pool toys and equipment in a closed container on the patio or deck.
• Keep tools on shelving and in storage containers near the tool bench.
• Store non-seasonal items (snowblower, shovels, picnic baskets) in the back of the garage, then rotate them forward as the seasons change.
• If you have room, keep bikes near the garage door. Otherwise, hang them from the garage ceiling.

There are no hard and fast rules here. If something is more functional in a different area, then by all means, store it there.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Selling Your Home--Curb Appeal

Moving on Monday

When buyers are looking for a home, they start their search with certain criteria, then look at photos of homes that fit that criteria. There are many houses on the market, so unless your house looks its best, you will not get many buyers to visit your home. Therefore, your home must look its best from the outside as well as the inside.

What impression does your house give to someone driving past?
• Is the lawn looking healthy?
• Are the bushes and trees trimmed?
• Are the gardens weeded and watered?
• Is the address readily visible from the street?
• Are lights working?
• Are the gutters and roof in good repair?
• Are the sidewalks and driveway in good condition?
• Are the shutters hanging straight?
• Is the paint peeling?
• Is the siding clean and in good condition?
• Does the mailbox need to be replaced or repaired?

Front door— Buyers will stand at your front door an average of 15 seconds while the realtor unlocks it.
• Is the paint chipped?
• Are windows clean?
• Is the stoop swept or shoveled?
• Is the welcome mat clean?
• Are lights working?
• Is the lock easy to open?
• Is the hardware clean and polished?

The Yard
• Are the garbage cans somewhere discreet?
• Are lawns clear of debris and construction material?
• Is the patio/deck in good condition?
• Is the patio furniture clean or rusty and broken?
• Is the yard cleaned up from pets?
• Is the fence straight, painted?
• Is the pool clean?
• Is the hot tub in working order?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Frugal Tips for the Kitchen--Stale Bread

Frugal Friday

With the rising prices of groceries, it's more important than ever to not waste any food that we buy. In addition to making smart purchases, try to find uses for old food that isn't spoiled. One of these staples is bread. If it doesn't mold, it dries out. We all know about making bread crumbs in the blender, but what other uses are there for stale bread?

• If it's not too stale, place it in a 300 degree oven for ten minutes to freshen it.
• Day-old bread makes better toast than fresh bread because there is less moisture in it.
• Cut the bread into small circles and freeze. When you need an appetizer, toast the rounds and use them as you would crackers.
• Make croutons for your salad. Cube them, sprinkle with olive oil, season to taste, then bake in 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. These are best used the same day.
• Make bread pudding.

Here are some uses for bread crumbs:
• Sprinkle over baked macaroni and cheese.
• Mix with ground beef for meatloaf or meatballs.
• Add seasonings for breading meat or eggplant.
• Make a crust for your quiche.

What do you do with your stale bread?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Limit What Comes Into Your Home

Senior Thursday

When you downsize, your space is limited. Even though you have pared down your belongings to fit into your new home, it is still important to control what comes into the home so it doesn't get over stuffed. There are steps you can take to ensure your house stays clean and uncluttered.

• For every new item that comes into your home, get rid of one. This may be a piece of clothing, a kitchen appliance or a book. Keeping to this habit will ensure that you will never have more books than your bookshelf can hold, more appliances than your pantry can handle, or more sweaters than can possibly fit into your closet.
• If you don't need it, don't buy it. Yes, there are many things that we want--pretty things to make us happy. Maybe it's a new pair of shoes, or a knick-knack for the bookshelf, or a picture for the wall. But before you buy it, ask yourself--do I WANT it, or do I NEED it? If you only want it, seriously ask yourself it there is space in your home for it. If you purchase it, make sure something else leaves the home.
• Repurpose what you already own. Before purchasing anything new, think if there is something in your home that will serve the same purpose. For example, you need a place to store beach towels and summer toys for the grandchildren. You are thinking of buying a small cabinet for the back hallway. But then you remember that old television stand in the garage that is waiting to go to charity. It has doors, and is still in good condition. So why not use it for the towels? Re-use what you already have, rather than buying something new.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Organizing Your Files--Part One

Writer Wednesday

The most important thing to remember when setting up a file system is being able to find what you filed. There are several guidelines to keep in mind to make your filing system work for you.

• Group your files by Major Subject headings. This might be "Professional Organizations," "Research" or "Editors and Agents."
• Divide each major subject into Primary Headings. For example, under "Professional Organizations," you will have a heading for "RWA Chapters."
• Divide your Primary Headings into Secondary Headings. For your "RWA Chapters," you would create a folder for each chapter in which you are a member.
• To easily identify your folders at a glance, color code your Major Subjects.
• Set your files up alphabetically within each Major Subject.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Store Items Where You Use Them--Bed and Bath

Tips for Tuesday

Although this makes perfect sense, many people, for whatever reason, don't store items near where they use them. Maybe whoever helped them move in decided where things should go. Maybe the space is better designed elsewhere for what you want to store. Maybe you were pressed for time and just put things wherever they would fit. However, your life will run more smoothly if you follow this simple rule--store items near where you use them. Here are some tips for the bedroom and bathroom:

• If you have several bathrooms, keep towels and toiletries for each bathroom in that space.
• Keep linens for each bedroom near that bedroom. Designate a space in your linen closet for each bedroom.
• Store hair care items in the bathroom where you style your hair.
• Store jewelry near your bedroom mirror.
• Shoes are the last thing you put on when dressing, and the first thing you take off when you come home. Store them near the front of your closet.
• Place clothes you wear less often near the back of your closet, or farthest in from the door.
• Keep accessories such as belts and scarves near the front of the closet.
• You will be accessing your underwear and sock drawers every day. Keep these items in drawers that are higher up and easily accessed. Keep pajamas and workout clothes in lower drawers since you don't need them every day.

Monday, July 18, 2011

What is Home Staging and Why Is It Important?

Moving on Monday

What is Staging?

Real estate staging or home staging, is the art of preparing a home for market to give the best possible first impression to potential buyers, resulting in a quicker sale and usually a higher profit.

It creates an inviting atmosphere for the buyers, which enables them to picture themselves living in that home. It is not interior decorating! It is thoughtfully playing up the features by rearranging furnishings, adding a few well placed accessories and condensing items to make the home more appealing to the prospective buyers.

Home Staging is more than just de-cluttering, it is merchandising a home's best features (much like a retail store), while downplaying the home's downfalls.

The good news is—most of what you need you already have in your home. It might just mean a better use of your items in different rooms.

Benefits of Staging

Staging helps your home stand out and presents it as move-in ready playing up the positive and playing down the less than perfect.

• Leaving your house “as is” will help sell the competition
• You will get more money from your home
• The longer your house is on the market, the lower the selling price
• It doesn’t cost anything (what you pay a stager is made up in increased value of home)

Typical homebuyers will make a decision about your house in the first 90 seconds and only spend 8 minutes on average looking at your home. MAKE EVERY SECOND COUNT.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Frugal Tips for the Kitchen--Dairy Products

Frugal Friday
Last week we showed how you can be frugal in the kitchen to combat those rising food prices.Today we are going to talk more specifically about dairy products.
• Check the freshness of eggs before tossing. Place them in water. Bad eggs float, good eggs sink.
• Don't toss the white or yolk of an egg if you only need one or the other for a recipe. Store egg yolks in cold water, and egg whites in a bag or bowl. Both should be refrigerated and covered.
• Don't throw away your butter wrappers. Keep them for greasing pans when necessary.
• Sugar cubes wrapped with your cheese will help prevent mold.
• Store cottage cheese and sour cream upsidedown in its original container. The vacuum helps prevent bacteria growth.
• Cheese can be frozen if you won't be able to use it before its expiration date. Defrost it in the fridge a day before you plan to use it again.
• Keep full water bottles in your freezer. You can move them to your fridge if the power goes out, or use them as cold packs in your cooler.
• If your cheese dries out, grate it over pasta, vegetables or soup--any food with high moisture content.
• Buy butter when it's on sale. Freeze it until ready to use. It lasts six months in the freezer. Write the day's date on the package so you use up the older butter first.
• Milk can also be frozen for up to three months. Thaw it in your refrigerator for 12 hours, then shake well to counteract separation.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Maximize Your Space--Think Vertical

Senior Thursday

Last week we talked about paring down your belongings. However, if you are downsizing from a four-bedroom house to a one-bedroom condo, drastic measures have to be taken. Even with paring down, you may still have a large quantity of items with which you don't want to part.

You can keep more if you maximize your space. You can easily turn two feet of floor space into ten feet of storage space. Here are some ways to do this.

• Use tall shelving units that go as far up the wall as possible. Keep safety in mind, as they can get top-heavy. You may have to anchor them to the wall. Use the lower shelves for heavy items and upper shelves for lighter items.
• Utilize the wall space over furniture--your beds, dressers, sofas, desks, tables, appliances, etc. For example, a nice framed photo flanked by decorative shelving over your sofa can add storage to your walls.
• If you can do remodeling on your new property, knock out the drywall between the studs and install horizontal boards in the nook. This can house cleaning products in the garage, magazines and toiletries in the bathroom, or knick-knacks in your living room.
• Go to the ceiling. Build shelving units that go to the ceiling--in your closet for clothes, in the den for books, and in the bedroom for collections.
• Use the perimeter of the room. Run a shelf around the entire room, over doors and windows, too. This will give you lots of linear feet for displaying your collections or holding books.
• Purchase multi-purpose items such as storage ottomans, chairs that convert to beds, or storage benches. That floor space these items are using will also become storage for you.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Organize Your Work Space--Part Two

Writer Wednesday

We started this topic last week, stressing the importance of an organized work space to make you more efficient and more proficient. Here are more tips for organizing your work space.

• Group like items and files together. Keep research together, keep submissions together, keep files for writer's groups together, keep banking info together, keep promo materials together, etc.
• Label all files and containers, even if they are see-through. This will save you a lot of time because you won't have to open up every box or file folder to see what's inside. Write in large, dark letters. Don't use blue ink on blue folders, or a pencil for large labels that will be up on a shelf. If you find yourself moving things around, use removable labels that can transfer with your creative whims
• Review your stock of office supplies every week to see what you are running low on. You don't want to run out of paper or printer ink the night before your deadline, or stamps before a promo mailing. Keep a list of things you need to buy where you will see it when it's time to order or go shopping. This could be a notebook or sticky note.
• Before discarding any financial files, or tax-related items, check with your accountant. He will tell you which supporting documents you need, and which can be destroyed.
• Check with your attorney before discarding any legal documents. Most have to be kept for as long as you are in business.
• Always shred any papers or files that contain personal information such as your social security number, credit card numbers and birth date.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Store Items Where You Use Them--Kitchen

Tips for Tuesday

Although this makes perfect sense, many people, for whatever reason, don't store items near where they use them. Maybe whoever helped them move in decided where things should go. Maybe the space is better designed elsewhere for what you want to store. Maybe you were pressed for time and just put things wherever they would fit.

Whatever the reason, your life will run more smoothly if you follow this simple rule--store items near where you use them. Here are some tips for the kitchen:

• Plates and flatware should be near the table. This will make it easier to set the table for meals.
• Glasses should be near the sink--your water source.
• Mugs should be near the coffee maker.
• Pots and pans should be near the stove.
• Bakeware should be near the oven.
• Utensils for cooking should be near the stove.
• Plastic bowls for storing food should be near the refrigerator.
• Appliances you use every day can be on the counter. Those you don't use on a regular basis should be in a pantry or cabinet.
• Spices should be near the stove, as should other cooking ingredients.
• Large serving pieces that are used often should be in lower cabinets near the table or stove.
• Serving pieces that are for holidays or special occasions should be stored up high or in the pantry.
• Vitamins and supplements should be near the sink.

If your cabinets aren't suitable for the items where they should be, consider converting some space with pull-out shelves or vertical dividers.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hazardous Waste and Electronics Collections

Moving On Monday

When you hire a professional mover to relocate you to your new home, they do not allow any hazardous chemicals or items on the truck. And you probably don't want to transport them in your car, especially in the heat of summer. And it's not the best housewarming gift to leave the new homeowner.

So what to do with all these chemicals?

In Illinois, many counties have hazardous waste collection sites and days. Some collections are local for the community, and are held one day during the summer. Other collection sites are open year-round for you to drop off your items.

In Lake county, the SWALCO web site ( lists all the collection dates and times, as well as what they accept for each collection. For example, they will accept old computers, cell phones, printers and radios in the electronics collections. But the flourescent bulbs, batteries, medications and oil-based paints should be taken to the hazardous waste collections.

The same goes for Cook County, and SWANCC. Check their web site ( for more information.

McHenry County in Illinois publishes a Green Guide ( every year for information on where to dispose of just about any kind of waste you can think of, from bubble wrap to aluminum cans.

You can do a search on the internet for "Hazardous Waste Collection in XXXX County, State" for collection information near you. Many local communities host their own collections. Check your village's web site.

NEVER, NEVER throw any of this in your garbage or down your drain/sewer. Not only can you be fined, but you are doing the environment a gross misjustice.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Frugal Tips for the Kitchen--Food

Frugal Friday

Not only is food getting more expensive, but the portions and boxes are getting smaller. It is more important than ever to spend wisely and not waste any food you purchase. Here are some tips for safe storage and use.

• Rotate items in your pantry and fridge as you put them away. Look at expiration dates, pulling the oldest items forward. If you keep putting new cans in front, eventually the ones in back will get too old to use.
• Keep a running list of items you need to buy posted somewhere in your kitchen. Take the list with you when you go grocery shopping. Don't rely on memory, as it often fails you. You won't buy what you don't need, thus using up what you have before it spoils.
• If you buy in bulk, package it into smaller portions immediately upon returning home. If you happen to need more than one portion, you can grab two packages. This is easier than defrosting the entire bulk package and trying to use it all at once.
• Some foods can be consumed past the expiration date. This is usually not applicable to dairy products or fresh foods. But canned and dried foods can often be safely consumed after the expiration date. The taste might not be as good as if it were fresh, however. Use your judgment--a product only 3 weeks past the expiraion date is much different than one three years after the date. And NEVER eat from any cans that are bent or damaged, or packages that are ripped. For more information on this, check out the Gourmet Sleuth web site.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Maximize Your Space--the 80/20 rule

Senior Thursday

When you are downsizing, space is limited. Therefore, you must be smart about how you use what space you have. Over the next few weeks, we will explore strategies to apply to any area of your home to maximize your space.

Rule One: Apply the 80/20 rule. We use 20% of what we own 80% of the time. So look at the 20% you use and that is what you want to keep.

• Closets—Review your clothes, shoes, purses, hats, and jackets. What do you find yourself wearing every week or two? What haven't you worn in over a year? What looks good on you? What doesn't? Keep the things you wear and love.
• Kitchen—Go through dishes, pots and pans, bakeware, pantry, glassware, flatware, and small appliances. Get rid of those things you haven't used in the last twelve months. Then put lesser used items in a box and pack it away. If you don't need to retrieve anything over the next six months, ask yourself if you really need it.
• Garage—Sort your tools, gardening equipment, and automotive supplies. Get rid of anything that isn't in good condition. For the rest, consider your new lifestyle and home situation. Will you need gardening tools, or will you be in a townhome with lawn service?
• Books/Magazines--Keep only your absolute favorites. Old magazines can be tossed. If you have a subscription, you can access the articles online.
• Bedroom—You only need two sets of bed linens for each bed per season. Choose your favorites.
• Bathrooms—This is an area most people can trim down. How many different shampoos, conditioners and lotions do you really need? What scents do you usually wear? Trim down on your toiletries, towels, and hair care.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Organizing Your Work Space--Part One

Writer Wednesday

Being organized has many benefits. Among them are being able to find things easily, which in turn makes you more productive. And who wouldn't want to be a more productive writer?

Here are some things you can do in your office to make it more efficient, and you more productive.

• Set aside space in your home that is dedicated to your writing. If you move from space to space, you will tend to drop notes, files, mail, etc, wherever you land next. Then when you need that note or file, you will have to search for it. If you dedicate a space to your writing, all writing-related material should land there. Thus, you will know where everything is when you need it and know what you have to do.
• Keep only those items you need on a daily basis on your work surface. Why use up precious real estate for items you aren't using?
• Create folders for the following--"TO DO", "PENDING", "TO READ", and "TO FILE". These should be on top of your desk so you can use them and reference them every day. Check these files every morning to plan your day, and every evening to anticipate the next day.
• Keep only those items you use on a regular basis in your work space. This is similar to the above, but is more about files and storage. If you have files you no longer reference regularly, pack them away and move them to a different room. Your files will begin to overflow if you keep everything in your immediate space. It will become cluttered, as will your mind and creativity.
• Set aside time each week to do your filing. This may be on Friday afternoon after putting in a week of writing, or Monday morning to clear your desk and start fresh. Write the time in your calendar so you don't forget. Keeping on top of filing will make it less painful than addressing stacks and stacks of paper every few months.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Keep Like Items Together--Garage

Tips for Tuesday

This is one of the basics of organizing--Keep like items together so you can easily find what you need when you need it. Here are some tips for the garage.

• Keep all gardening and lawn care items together. This includes gloves, shovels, snips, rake, hoses, plant food, weed killer, fertilizer, lawn mower, gas and oil for lawn mower, edger, weed whacker, and extra line. Hang what you can on the wall or pegboard. If you don't have drywall up, install horizontal 2x4s between the studs to use as shelves for cans and other small items. Keep anything that is hazardous up and away from children.
• Keep all sporting equipment together. Have a separate area for each sport--a rack for your golf clubs, a rack for softball and baseball mitts, bats and gloves, and a rack or basket for soccer balls and volley balls. If the children use it, then store it within their reach so they can put it away. Have hooks for uniforms or rain gear. Place a rubber mat on the ground for muddy shoes.
• Keep all car care items together--windshield washer, oil, soap, wax, rags, tire gauge, air hose, snow brushes, and flat tire fixer. Designate a shelf or cabinet for these items. Check air pressure on your tires on a regular basis for maximum mileage.
• Keep all tools together. This includes larger items like hand tools, power tools, ladders, and tarps, as well as small items like screws, nails and washers. Containerize all small items such as screwdrivers and hammers. Keep power tools in their cases with all the parts. Keep an extra battery plugged in for emergency use.
• Keep all house repair/decorating items together--paint brushes, pans and tarps, plumbing parts, wallpapering tools, extra grout and paint, etc. Further categorize by function--that is, keep all plumbing-related items together, all painting items together. Place smaller items in plastic bins and label clearly, then place bins on shelves.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Use Less to Save More in the Kitchen

Frugal Friday

The best part about being organized is that you will need less in your home. You will need to buy less because you will have learned to live with less.

Here are some ways you can save money by using less in your kitchen:

• Save plastic containers from food to use for storage or leftovers--no need to buy expensive brands.
• Turn your clean used plastic baggies inside out to use a second time.
• Aluminum foil can be reused after washing with hot, soapy water.
• Use an empty tissue box to hold plastic grocery bags.
• Clean styrofoam egg cartons make excellent ice-cube trays when you need extra for a party.
• Nail polish can be used to identify your keys.
• Roll your tablecloths, napkins and placemats around empty paper towel rolls for creaseless storage.
• An old vertical desk sorter holds cookie sheets upright in your cabinet.
• Line a pizza box with craft paper to use as an art portfolio for your children.