Lower Your Power Bills in Winter (and a Productivity Tip)

In our house, we’ve spent upwards of $250 a month to keep the house warm during the winter months. The central heating and air system is working overtime to make sure that our toes stay toasty. What we realized was that it wasn’t so much the rooms which needed to stay warm, it was us. It turns out that heating a body costs MUCH less than heating a room. We’ve dropped our power bills down to around $150 a month with some simple changes.

Lowering the Power Bill

1. Drop a few degrees
This has been the primary way that we’ve saved on the heating bills. The thermostat in our house was dropped to 60 degrees, and we’ve saved $20 for each degree that the thermostat was dropped. The heating bills have gone from $250 a month to around $150 a month with this simple change.

2. Cooking More
I cook more when the kitchen is clean, so TUM has been cleaning up the kitchen, and I’ll prepare all types of things for our eating pleasure. I love baking the one pot meals, since frying is generally thought of as being unhealthy. When cooking, you not only receive monetary benefits, you can get really warm.

3. Use the fireplace
This will also help you get to know your neighbors. Everyone’s got trees that are downed in their yard. Why not volunteer to take those bits of wood off of their hands so that you can use it in the fireplace? You can often get great deals on the wood, and it heats homes up by many degrees.

4. Space Heaters
Space heaters are great for when you’ve turned off the central heating. It heats only a room, but it can get you quite warm in a small period of time. The expense in electricity is quite astounding, since you’re not using as much power. You’re also doing the most important thing for yourself: keeping YOU warm.

Focusing on Yourself

1. Invest in jackets
I have an old work jacket that I’ve been extensively using for the winter months. It’s a windbreaker which I wear over a sweatshirt. It has pockets, so I can always be prepared with a little cash and my keys. A jacket bought at Goodwill costs around $10, and the benefits received can stave off the temptation to raise the thermostat.

2. Wear Socks
Your body loses heat through the feet. Keeping that heat from escaping with a $2 pair of socks will not only make you more productive, but it will lower your likelihood of getting foreign objects in your feet. I normally wear a couple pairs of socks to get that extra insulation.

3. Gloves
Your body expends its energy through your hands, too. The colder that your hads are, the less likely you are to be really happy about any situation which comes your way. Get a pair of fingerless gloves if you’re prone to doing lots of typing and other computer-oriented tasks. The money that you’ll save from lowering the thermostat will more than cover the cost of a pair of gloves.

4. Move Around
It’s a fact. Your body will get hotter when the blood gets flowing. You will start to sweat, but if you keep a jacket or a sweatshirt on over the sweat, the heat will be returned to you and keep you warm. You might feel the flush on your cheeks, but you’ll be staying warm and beating the frozen weather.

5. Take a Hot Shower
Hot showers are wonderful. I cannot say enough good things about taking hot showers. Stay under the water for a good 20 minutes, and your body heats up to the point that it can maintain that warmth for a good couple of hours. Water costs less than power, so the cost hit isn’t as much.

I do not think that I’m unique in saying that when I’m warm, I’m a lot more productive. When my feet are cold, all I particularly want to do is curl up in bed underneath a blanket, and I can’t afford that (this is not to say that I don’t do that anyway). I’ve noticed that wearing socks has made me more productive than any of the other tips here.

Lowering your power bills and staying warm do not have to be mutually opposed. It can definitely be done, if you’re willing to be in a colder house and invest in blankets and firewood.

One Pot Meals

Recently, TUM and I have decided to go Paleo (a diet which focuses on meats and leafy greens) and ditch a lot of the carbs in our diet. I was asked how I can feed the both of us and save money. The answer? One pot meals!

One pot meals are not only tasty, but they give the best bang for the buck. It’s easy to get 12 servings from a soup and break the cost down to under a dollar per serving. My goal has always been to get my meals under $5 a serving, but I believe that that particular goal is too easy to reach. Consistently getting under a dollar per serving is amazing.

Chili PeppersChili
Let’s look at your average beanless chili recipe:

2 pounds ground beef @ 2.98 per pound = $5.96
4 cans diced tomatoes @ .69 per can = $2.76
paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, hot sauce to taste.

Total Expenditure: $8.72 for staples, spices bring it up to around $9.50.

With this recipe, you can easily get between 4 and 8 servings. That’s without adding the beans or any other filler material.

With most of the meals that I prepare, I can get at least four servings out of the deal. I am a believer in the one pot meal that has the fewest ingredients possible.




Chicken Soup with NoodlesChicken Soup
One of my favorites is chicken soup:
4 pounds chicken @ $1.20 per pound = $4.80
2 bags baby carrots @ $.99 = $1.98
4 stalks celery @ $.25 = $1.00
1 container mushrooms @ $1.98 = $1.98
garlic, salt, pepper

Total Expenditure: $9.76 for staples, spices bring it up to around $10.50

Break it down and you can get around 8 servings from this. Chances are, depending on how much water you add, you can get up to 10 servings.

Last week, we had a one pan meal of chicken and greens. Essentially, we paid for around 12 drumsticks, and a bag of collard greens to put underneath.





A single pot Chicken One Pot
We make this one quite often, because it gets our greens in, as well as our protein. I know that I’m not including a bread product with this, but we’re working under the assumption that the carbs will happen with the leafy greens.

2 pounds chicken @ $1.20 per pound = $2.40
1 bag collards @ $2.50 each = $2.50
garlic, salt, pepper

Total Expenditure: $4.90 for staples, spices bring it to $5.40

You can get four servings from this one, making the price just a little over a dollar per serving.

Anything can be used in one pot meals. The key is to have as few ingredients as possible. The more ingredients that you add into the mix, the more expensive the meal becomes. If you’re opening a can of this or a can of that, the sodium not only gets you, but the price of the cans starts to become unwieldy (have you noticed the 20% jump in canned goods, too?). Simplicity is always the way to go.

Of the one pot meals that I’ve had, the consistent thing about them is that the total cost runs around (or less than) $10 for all of the ingredients. I usually get between 4 and 6 servings, which brings my total cost per serving below $2.50 each per meal. In many cases, as you can see, I usually get more than 4 servings.

Simple one pot meals always make the day at our house. We’ve stayed away from seafood and paid more attention to chicken, and eaten some great meals.

What are some of your family’s cheap go-to meals? The cheaper, the better.

Resolutions Suck

New Year’s Resolutions suck. Yeah, they’re a nice ‘feel good’ measure that people can take to avoid the rush of actually making a change, but they suck in general. Lose weight, stop smoking, become a better person… all goals which have no substantive basis in the real world. And yet, people are content to make these resolutions without worries and with an eye turned toward following a well trodden path.

The new year does offer great things as far as goals are concerned. It’s a lot more easy to remember than, say, April 12 or November 4 as a starting date. But, as far as establishing goals and making lasting changes within one’s life, it’s just another day.

I used to make resolutions all the time, but they had about as much substance as cotton candy. I’d scream to the heavens, “I’m going to lose weight!” or “I’m going to have a better money situation!” and come February I’d be in the same position, eating an entire tub of Ben n Jerry’s while buying useless stuff online.

You want to know the secret to real change in your life? You want the magic bullet? You want something that will absolutely, completely, totally, and irrevocably change your world? Try putting a plan behind the goal. Try putting a little bit more WHY into it, rather than a how or a what.

Let’s try a sample goal. This one’s one of my personal goals regarding this blog.

I want to make money from this blog.

This doesn’t say WHY I want to make money, it just says WHAT I want to do. It’s a perfectly reasonable ‘middle stance’ for my intentions, though the goal on its face doesn’t say a damned thing. I still have other questions that I need to ask. The first of which is WHY do I want to make money from this blog?

There are many reasons WHY I want to make money from this blog.

Money is a resource which helps the mundanes think about value. Most of the things that I want and need have a money value attached, and I don’t enjoy the way that I feel when I am not able to afford them. Do I necessarily WANT the money? No, I want the experiences and the things that come along WITH the money. The money is just a medium. I realize that it’s a necessity to have in order to keep a roof over my head.

Money making blogs tend to have a lot of readers. Having a large readership for this blog would be awesome, not because of the money making that can be done, but because of the connections and the interactions that I can have. I value friendship and respect quite a lot, because the friendships and the respect that I receive make me feel good inside – far better than just the money would. Remember, money is just a tool.

Having more money in my pocket will allow me to pursue other goals. I would love to do a ‘convention tour’ around the country, visiting as many science fiction/fantasy conventions and filk conventions that I can. I want to do these cons right, not in a half-assed moocher way of sleeping on couches and in cars. I’m talking rooms at each one, and a regular method of eating. I want to take my around the country friends out on the town and not privately wonder whether I can afford it.

I want to show that it’s possible that hard work and doing the right thing can yield results. I want to prove to myself that it can be done, even though I know from other people’s accounts that it’s quite within the reach of anyone who’s willing to pursue it. I have a history of backing down from challenges because I deem them to be too hard or not worth my time. And you know what? It’s time to buck up and prove it to myself.

After answering the WHY to the question of ‘I want to make money from this blog,’ I can then turn to the HOW can I make money from this blog.

This is the part which requires some research. Through observation, I’ve seen people make money from their own blogs through advertising, writing more stuff, offering seminars, selling products on their mailing lists, and more. Essentially, the people who make money from their blogs are offering some VALUE to their readers. Their blogs are a great source for coupon news or money saving tips or they offer a smile to start the day. The question then becomes ‘how can I add VALUE to my readers? That question can be answered several ways.

The HOW part of the question is what gets broken up into little tiny chunks. What can I DO RIGHT NOW to make this blog more valuable to my readers? HOW can I make my information more readable? WHAT content can I add that will make you come back for more? I generally ask those questions of myself in a different manner. ‘What would make this blog more awesome?’ and I look at it with an objective eye.

But, I digress.

Many resolutions are made without one of the three factors (WHY, HOW, and WHAT) in place, and some without all three of them. They are simple pie in the sky statements which land in the bucket of ‘would be nice’ and never get done. Despite the title of this post, this is not a condemnation of ALL resolutions, because there are some people who make a viable PLAN to get their goals accomplished and just so happen to do that at the beginning of the new year. Remember, the more details that you have at the beginning, the easier it is to follow through on the goal.

What’s in store for you in 2012? How are you going to make it happen? I’d love to know.

The Many Uses of Popcorn

I was working on the list of Crazy (and sometimes Douche’y) ways to save, and realized that popcorn is an amazingly cheap and versatile resource for anybody who’s wanting to save a buck. There are plenty of ways that you can repurpose popcorn for your own needs.

Bird Feeder Food

Birds are everywhere. Some of them are rather attractive and rare, but there’s also a lot of pigeons and crows where we are. If you’ve got a bird feeder, convenient yard, or lake nearby, you can use that excess popcorn to feed them and attract even more of them.

If you’re fond of roadkill delights, and have some skills, you can attract the birds with your delicious, irresistible popcorn, then shoot them with buckshot to have a meal that night. It not only saves money, but feeds you for a day or two in the process.

Beanbag Chairs

Lots of day old popcorn on your hands is never a problem when you need to furnish your place. All it takes is a couple of trash bags (always double bag for maximum effectiveness) and a whole boatload of popcorn at your disposal. Fill those trash bags with the popcorn and seal them up for a few comfortable places to sit.

Christmas Garlands

Wait a few days after popping (or acquiring) the popcorn, take a needle and thread, and go to to town. With a bucket of popcorn, you can make a very long string of garland which can be used to trim your tree. For a little added flavor and color, drop in a bit of dried fruit (without the sugar) and you’ll have something that your friends will be talking about for years to come.

Projectiles

Are you tired of your friends constantly making really bad puns whenever you talk about cows? How about the cat who’s been driving you nuts with the constant clawing in the middle of the night? Already popped popcorn makes an exciting and entertaining bag to throw at the offensive party. Take a little bit of plastic wrap and capture the popcorn, keep a few by your favorite chair, and wait for opportunities to make it fly.

Packaging

There’s a reason that those white puffs of air are called popcorn. Popcorn (the real stuff) makes excellent packing material for the packages that you’re wanting to ship. Take enough of it, and you’ll be able to fool your friends with the ‘huge box’ and ‘little present’ scheme. This works especially well if you’re sending out things which are already encased in shrink wrap (there’s sometimes a little oil on the popcorn).

Jewelry

With very little skill, you can make some wonderful popcorn jewelry. This is, of course, using the same techiques that you used making the Christmas garlands, but on a smaller scale. Within a few minutes, you can have a popcorn necklace that will be the envy of all of your friends (especially the ornithologists out there!).

Building Material

With enough popcorn at your disposal and a little bit of paste, you can create some building material for your latest project. Popcorn can be ground up and used for walls and floors of your dollhouse projects. If you so choose, you can also grind that used popcorn into a powder and construct small textural paintings.

Landscaping for Miniatures Wars

With enough popcorn and paste (and talent!!) you can make small trees and other parts of the landscape for your train sets, miniatures wars, and more. There’s no need to spend tons of cash on the styrofoam and spray paint, you can find all you need within a big bag of popcorn. (Well, you might need a little bit of paint.)

Fake Dirty Snow

Grind up that popcorn and make some snow that can be used for the movie sets that you’re establishing within the basement. If you need some, just pop a little more and save a lot on the real special effects and other, more reputable services. You’re doing it yourself, and there’s no stopping you!

Acquiring Your Materials

Popcorn is an easy resource to get, if you know where to look. The most obvious choice which comes to mind is theaters. Now, I haven’t done this since the days before regulations on unused food, but I used to ask the workers for their popped popcorn at the end of the night. They would happily give it to me, all bagged up, sparing them the trip outside to the dumpster. They’ve always got their share of spare popped popcorn laying around.

These days, you might have to be a little bit more sneaky, though a little dumpster diving never hurt anyone. Outside of those same theaters, there are some dumpsters which carry all of the trash for the night. Before the trash person picks it up, go to the movie theater dumpster and search for the lightest (and probably smoothest) bag that you can find. Feel it before you open it to find out what’s inside, but you’ve more than likely hit the popcorn motherlode. This is a great way to boost your collection of popcorn for any projects that you’re wanting to start.

Since the workers at the theaters are usually pros at popping popcorn and they might not have much overage, search out places within your area that serve popcorn. One of the local grocery stores has a little popper which they use to give out corn to the kids. The tub always seems to be full, no matter when I go in there. Another place to look would be passing carnivals – they have popcorn, though they will probably try to sell it to you.

You could always just do it yourself and spend a day popping popcorn. The kind of quantity that you’ll need for some of these projects might make it not as cost effective as searching for it in other venues. You don’t want to be stuck in front of a stove all day, going through your own oil, and popping lots and lots of the stuff. There’s only so much that you can eat. Remember, too, if you’re grinding the popcorn, you’re going to end up with a lot less volume than what you started with.

I hope that you enjoyed my small guide on uses for popcorn. There is lots of popcorn out there which needs to be liberated from its confines and repurposed to save the world.

Suffering, Financial Independence, and Passion

There comes a point in your life where you have to put up or shut up. We all have ideas about personal improvement, and there are a boatload of books out there on this subject, but there are a far rarer number of people who will follow through on their own personal development. Essentially, they know HOW to do it, and they know WHY they should do it, but they don’t take the time to DO it. This is extremely frustrating for everyone involved.

This quote is from the Matrix: Agent Smith: Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization.

In some instances, I believe that is exactly true. We define our reality through suffering and misery. We wonder what life would be like in that perfect world without the suffering and misery, but we create situations for ourselves which are totally antithetical to happiness and bliss. Moreover, we don’t even pursue that happiness and bliss because we believe that it’s out of reach or meant for other people or something else entirely. We do not pursue our personal happiness, whether it be in the form of financial independence, having our dream jobs, and more.

There are, however, a rare few who believe that there is something different. They believe that happiness can be achieved, and that it can come in the form of financial independence, doing their dream jobs, going to the Bahamas on a yearly basis, what have you. Those who do exactly these things WORK for it. They have a shining goal and pursue it like their life depended on it. Because it does. You can find bloggers who have achieved their personal financial freedom, and those who are actively pursuing it. You can also find lifestyle designers who have found the knack, that one thing, and are doing it over and over again in the white hot pursuit of their own dreams.

But these individuals are rarities.

Occasionally, you’ll find people who are ignorant about the ways to pursue happiness and personal financial freedom. These people are rare, as well. Mostly, what you’ll find is folks who KNOW the ways and are not taking matters into their own hands. That is sad. Absolutely sad. No matter what religion you embrace, we still have THIS life that we’re aware of, and it should be filled with happiness, dream fulfillment and a whole to of other things. And yet, there is a retiscence to embrace the inevitability of the unknown.

The true magic, the REAL magic within this world is made by people who DO. I have a great respect for those who DO and fail than those who don’t DO in the first place. We, as humans, create our own realities. As adults, we choose to be where we are and we choose to go where we go. There is very little stopping us, other than our own fears.

I was once asked what I will do once I achieve financial independence. I don’t know, I will figure that out WHEN I get there. I want to be considered among those rare few who DO, and I want you to join me.

How to Think Like a Kitten

My mate and I received a kitten a couple of weeks ago, and it’s been quite a ride. She loves to pounce everything, scampers everywhere she goes, and wakes us both up in the middle of the night. The lessons that I’ve learned from her have been priceless.

How to Think Like a Kitten

1. Scamper Everywhere

Kittens don’t walk anywhere, they scamper. They rush toward the laser pointer. They rush toward your feet when they’re under the covers. They have no hesitation in going for your mouth or your hair.

When it comes to any goal like financial freedom, weight loss, getting the great job, or finding love, it pays to scamper toward the goal. Kittens don’t know or understand the obstacles that stand in their way. They just RUSH toward the goal without hesitation.

2. Commit Yourself

There’s a piece of string over there, and it’s called me names! I need to pounce it! Every single fiber of a kitten’s being is devoted to pursuing the goal of catching the string, your feet, or your shoes. There are no other thoughts within the kitten’s head other than attacking or eating.

Wrangling your finances require the same amount of focus. There is no room for the half assed commitments or the ‘well, I need to hold something back’ mentality. You either do it with all of your heart or you don’t.

3. Do What You Need to Do

Kittens spend very little time eating and taking care of their own biology. They’re committed to romping around the house, playing, and otherwise enjoying themselves. They get the job done, then are done with it and back to the original goal of living fully as a feline.

There is very little to do after making the plan. All you have to do is stick with it, but there’s a LOT of time leftover for doing the things that you enjoy. In fact, most of your spending decisions come down to split second decisions – after they’re made, there’s no need to question yourself.

4. Live for right NOW

Kittens don’t sit and think about the mistakes that they’ve made in their feline lives. They live in the moment, playing and being cute and otherwise enjoying their kittenish lives.

You can’t change the past. You can affect the future, but you live in the NOW. Sure, you might have made some horrible financial mistakes, but the solutions comem to one question. What can you do about it right NOW to fix it? If you have an immediate answer to that question, do it.

5. Be Honest With Yourself

Kittens don’t think about being kittens. They just are. They thrive in their worlds, and wrestle the extension cords down to the ground, chase bugs, and enjoy themselves. They are in no way concerned with being something else.

We deceive ourselves in our financial lives. We tell ourselves that it wasn’t that big or that there’s not much of an impact. Be objective with your finances, good or bad.

Kittenish life is sometimes difficult. There’s plenty of things to explore, and it’s often difficult to explore them one at a time. Your finances are probably difficult to unravel, too, but if you approach it like a kitten, you’ll find that more fun has entered your life.

Are there REALLY a million ways to save money? That's the Experiment!