The World According to Me

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Heading back to Disney World

May 14th, 2008 · 2 Comments

I’ve made all my co-workers jealous. I am once again heading out on a wonderful vacation, this time to Walt Disney World. Since I just got back from Europe everyone is stunned that I am able to go again so soon.

I am able to go on this trip because I purchased a timeshare at Disney recently. I was able to afford that by buying through a reseller and planning the purchase so that I didn’t need to finance. In the end it means that I can spend more than a week at the World every year. Since this is one of my favorite places to visit I am incredibly happy with my purchase. This trip will be my first visit “home” and I’m really looking forward to it!

Of course the other component to my trip is the airfare. I was able to use my airline miles to get a cheaper flight! I just needed to be a little flexible in the times I could fly and off I go!

The bonus is that much of my food costs will be covered by gift cards that I cashed out for from Sunshine Rewards!

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→ 2 CommentsTags: Travel

Save Money: Grow Your Own Food

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

Now is the time of year to think about planting your garden. While flowers are beautiful, you can save yourself money by using your garden space to grow your own food. As a bonus you will be eating healthier and helping the environment. Turn your deck, balcony or garden into a personal salad bar.

It doesn’t take a very big garden plot to feed a family well throughout the summer. If you have a bit more space you can even eat great tasting vegetables (and fruit) throughout the winter. My favorite way of preserving any excess is to freeze it, but you can also can and pickle some vegetables. And of course root vegetables like potatoes and carrots will keep most of the winter in a cool, dark place.

Plan what you will grow based on what you like to eat. Zucchini is easy to grow, but really how much can one family eat? When I have a larger garden space, I like to plant corn, potatoes, peas, carrots, beets, squash, broccoli, lettuce, radish and cabbage.

Also, talk to your neighbors. You may be able to arrange to share the produce so that you are not all growing the same thing. One can grow the squash and another the tomatoes for instance.

Think you don’t have the space for planting? Try growing your fruit and veggies in containers. I’ve managed to grow tomatoes, onions, peppers, carrots, beets, radish and lettuce very successfully in containers. Think of the yummy salads and side dishes you could make. You can also grow delicious strawberries. I’ve know people who grew runner beans and peas in containers as well, though I’ve never tried it myself. If you are planning on root vegetables, make sure your pot or container is deeper than the listed growth of the variety you choose.

Another way to grow your own produce is to check into community gardens in your area. They can be a great way for people with no balcony or garden space to have their own garden. I know there are several in my city, although some of them do have waiting lists for space.

And don’t forget about herbs; many of these can be easily grown on a windowsill or in a window box.

You won’t find fresher flavor for your food than if you grow your own. Happy planting!

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→ No CommentsTags: Finance

Debt Nation: Middle Class Squeeze

April 21st, 2008 · 7 Comments

Ever feel like you are working harder and yet still falling further behind? You may be right. Average salaries haven’t increased in 30 years and the cost of living has increased 200 – 300 percent. For the average person this means they are paying more for their housing, food and transportation costs on less money than their parents had.

The credit industry counts on this to lure people into getting credit to sustain a lifestyle they can’t afford. They get college students into credit card debt and young workers into mortgage debt that neither group can really afford. Remember credit card companies don’t make money off of you if you pay your balance off each month. They actively look for people who can only make the minimum payments. Resist borrowing at the amount a lender tell you that you can afford and instead look at what you feel comfortable borrowing. A good rule of thumb on a major purchase, like a house, is could you afford to pay it off in 15 years, and could you still manage with reduced income.

Payday loan companies are even worse. They prey on people who are desperate. A person may need to cover a month’s rent with a short term loan, but because of the huge interest charged they can’t pay the loan off at the end of the term. They go to another payday loan company to get a loan to cover the first loan and soon the $300 they borrowed has ballooned to $3000.

We are told that we need. So we get into the debt trap hoping that we can afford it. No longer do people save money for things before they buy, they get credit to cover immediate wants and worry about the payments later.

Fewer and fewer of us can afford all the things we are told we need to be successful: a computer, cell phone, big house and a car. Debt in the industrialized world is out of control. In the end we either need to change the way we define success or fight for living wages for the average person.

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→ 7 CommentsTags: Finance

Signed up for Sunshine Rewards…

April 9th, 2008 · No Comments

…and wondering what you do now?

The first thing you should do after signing up for Sunshine Rewards
is check out the forum. You will find all kinds of people who are ready to answer your questions (and posts that may already have those answers). You can find information about new contests, quick crediting offers and more. Not to mention meeting a great group of supportive people!

Once you’ve signed up for the forum, you should try and do the daily survey. In the offers section there are also OTX surveys that you can do once a day. This is the best way to build your account up on a regular basis.

Then check through the offers and sign up for a few each day. Don’t try and sign up for them all at once as you need to track what is crediting for you and what isn’t. When things aren’t crediting, it may be because you are already a member of the site, your computer settings aren’t allowing cookies, or you somehow didn’t meet all the criteria of the offer.

Buying gifts? Need office supplies? Taking a trip? Make sure you check out the shopping section first. When my boss needs a book or flowers delivered I go through Sunshine and get credit. Put a reminder on your computer to look at SR before you buy.

Then there are often daily clicks and the scratch off game to check.

Have fun and think of ways to spend your rewards!

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→ No CommentsTags: Finance

Tulip Mania

April 8th, 2008 · 2 Comments

I have been doing a lot of reading in advance of my trip to the Netherlands and Belgium. I’ve been finding the history, particularly of Amsterdam, fascinating. From being part of the Holy Roman Empire to fighting for independence from Spain, only to be occupied by France before becoming a monarchy and growing into a parliamentary democracy. Not to mention the brief occupation by Nazi Germany.

The Dutch were among the first to pioneer international trade with the Dutch East and West India Companies, trading in spices, produce and unfortunately, slaves. They were one of the world’s first sea-faring superpowers.

But to me, one of the most interesting bits of their history has to be an economic anomaly often called tulip mania. The tulip was introduced to Europe in the mid 15th century from the Ottoman Empire and became very popular with wealthy merchants, who made them a status symbol. They competed for the rarest tulips until the prices were sky high. The funny part is the most coveted bulbs were for tulips that had lines and fluted petals that were caused by a disease.

When the average income was 150 florins, a single rare bulb might cost as much as 1000 florins. They were exchanged for land, livestock and houses. They were even traded on the stock exchange, which encouraged all members of Dutch society to speculate in tulip bulbs, many selling their other possessions to do so. Some made a lot of money, but others lost everything. Starting in about 1623, by 1627 traders could no longer get inflated prices for their bulbs. As you may guess the bubble began to burst. This led to a widespread economic decline (depression) for years.

And here you thought the Beanie Baby craze was bad.

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→ 2 CommentsTags: Travel

How can you afford to do that?

April 4th, 2008 · 3 Comments

In about a week I will be leaving for a trip to the Netherlands and Belgium. I cannot even count the number of times in the last few days that I have been asked how I can afford to travel on my salary. So I thought I would share some of the ways I make traveling fit in my budget.

I can afford it because I am smart about when I go. I don’t travel to Europe in August. I go in what are called the shoulder seasons, which usually are April, May, September and October. This makes flights and accommodations cheaper. Some attractions may also have reduced rates.

I can afford it because I’m smart about how I go. I look at all the options for where I want to go. I’m not the type to stay in a hostel or do the backpacker thing so I look at decent hotels. Sometime looking at packaged tours will allow you to do all that you want to do for much less cost. Being on a bus tour does not mean you need to stay with the group all the time. Just tell the director you are going off on your own and ask when you need to meet the bus (or boat).

I can afford it because I save for it. I know I want to travel so I put money in my budget for it each year. I save a good chunk of my disposable income for travel. I participate in programs that help me earn money for activities and shopping I do online, like Sunshine Rewards. (Check out the banner on the side panel for a link to the site.) Any found money I get also goes to my travel savings account. Bottles returned to the depot, birthday money from a friend or family member, money I’ve found on the street etc.

I can afford it because I use a travel agent to find me the best deals. I tell her what I want and let her play with the dates and times of travel to get me the best bang for my dollar. Others prefer to do it themselves but may miss out on some of the last minute bargains to be had. It doesn’t cost me anything to use their services and I find I save time and money by going through them.

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→ 3 CommentsTags: Finance · Travel

Gossip Girls (and Guys)

April 2nd, 2008 · 1 Comment

My radio station has 90 seconds of news at the top of each hour in the morning. For some reason they believe I want to hear about the latest exploits of Brittney, Brad and Angelina. I don’t care which celebraties have adopted another child, or have been caught in self-destructive behaviour. I want to hear things that are relevant as I start my morning. In other words, local, national or international news that may impact my day.

It isn’t limited to people wanting to know about celebrities either. My coworkers seem to spend hours discussing the private lives of other people we work with. Why is it so important to them who Betty is dating or what kind of car John bought. And it isn’t only the women; the men are just as bad.

What is it about people that they feel the need to know the personal details of people they don’t even know? I just don’t understand it.

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→ 1 CommentTags: General

Opening Day

March 31st, 2008 · 2 Comments

Okay, it is officially here. The day I wait all winter for, Opening Day for the MLB. We got a brief taste last week as the Red Sox and Athletics played in Japan, but now the rest of the league is up and running. On a side note I think it was unfair to designate Oakland as the home team at the Tokyo Dome when everyone knew the crowd would be cheering for Boston.

So today is the day I traditionally make predictions about who is going to make it to the post season. My own team is a given (no point in cheering if you don’t) and the AL East is pretty easy to figure out. It is the National League that is giving me some trouble. Will the Braves live up to their potential? Can the Rockies sustain their late 2007 greatness?

So what are my picks?

AL East – Red Sox
AL Central – Tigers
AL West – Angels

NL East – Braves
NL Central – Cubs
NL West – Rockies

There are a handful of teams in each league that have the potential to be the wild card. I’m predicting the Yankees in the AL and the Padres in the NL. My heart wants an Angels/Rockies World Series, but thinks it’s more likely to be Red Sox/Braves.

Will any of my picks be right? Only 162 games to go before we find out!

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→ 2 CommentsTags: General

Earth Hour

March 29th, 2008 · 1 Comment

So tonight at 8:00 pm we’re all supposed to turn out the lights. It is something they started in Australia last year as some kind of statement about climate change. This year it has become a worldwide movement. I’m not sure why. It is about as logical as calling for a gas boycott to bring down the price of gas. Australian officials reported a less than 10% drop in consumption for that time period last year. I don’t think the worldwide shutdown will lead to much more of a drop. Or do anything to change the climate.

But hey if you want to sit in the dark for an hour tonight go ahead. I myself will likely be watching a hockey game since there is still a playoff race going on.

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Saving on your Grocery Bill

March 27th, 2008 · 4 Comments

I sat down today and figured out how much I’ve been saving in the food part of my budget. It added up to over 2000 dollars! How did I do it? Well not by surviving on ramen noodles and water. I used some simple strategies that ended up saving me time as well as money.

The biggest money saver was switching from buying my lunch at work to bringing my lunch. This was costing me over 1600 dollars a year and was not very good for my health. I like a hot lunch, so I bring leftovers or previously frozen items so I can avoid the dreaded yet another sandwich feeling. Bringing my lunch means I need to have a plan, which brings me to my second change.

I make a plan for the week before I go grocery shopping. This means I buy what I need for the meals I need that week and nothing that is not on the list makes it into my cart unless it is an extremely good deal that I can swap for something else on my list. This means I spend a little time up front in planning and less time standing in front of the fridge or cupboard wondering what I’m going to make to eat. I make very poor decisions when I’m tired and hungry, which led to way to many times where I had popcorn and ice cream for dinner!

By making a list and sticking too it, I have saved money on all those impulse items that tend to get us when we are in a store and hungry. No more bags of chips and bottles of pop except when I have a reason to buy them. No more opening a cupboard to put groceries away to find I already have 6 cans of that soup.

Think finding time to make a plan, write a list and stick to it is too hard? Think about it as banking your energy when you have it to use when you don’t. Only have one free day a week? Make that the day you cook and freeze meals for later in the week. Use the commercial breaks between your favorite tv shows or the intermission of your child’s soccer game to choose recipes and write your lists. Have older kids? Get them to help you with the prep work like chopping vegetables. Another tip is to make your meals so that you use the main ingredient two (or more) different ways to maximize your time. Dice and chop chicken for a stir fry and save some of the cooked meat to put in wraps for lunch. Brown ground beef for chili and save some for a casserole. Once you start planning you will be amazed at how much time and money you can save!

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→ 4 CommentsTags: Finance