Lifelong Learning: You Can’t Escape It

Laptop computer

Life is about learning. Sometimes it may be difficult, sometimes it’s a pleasure but, either way, it’s always about the changing circumstances of life and the education that is associated with that change. If we have to learn anyway, why not do it purposely? The Internet has made that so easy, it’s a shame not to pursue some online learning. I truly believe that discovering new things helps me to develop new skills and enhances my life in ways that might not be evident right away.

Are there benefits to learning? Of course there  is:

Provides an escape and is a good pastime
Reduces stress by giving your mind a mini vacation
Increases confidence
Provides knowledge which is powerful
Improves your mental outlook by helping in goal setting and achievement
Allows for some ‘me time’
Is an opportunity to rediscover past interests
It can be fun to pursue

Some of the best news about learning online is that so much is free to use.

Open Culture: Boasts 1300 free courses offered online.

Open Education Database: This site claims that they have 10,000 free courses to choose from.

Universal Class: My Library card allows me to take classes from this site for free. Check with your local library about this benefit.

Study.com: A long list of universities that offer free courses.

This is just a sampling of sites that offer online courses. There are many more waiting for us to sign up and start learning.

Have you taken an online course? Be sure to leave a comment.

If It’s Expensive It Must Be Better

If It's Expensive, It Must Be Better

Check out any frugal living website and you’ll see that buying generic is the end-all way to go to save money. But is it? What if it’s awful and it gets tossed? How much have you saved buying that product? This doesn’t mean that buying more expensive products is the answer either. A name-brand product is not necessarily better. It might be but it might not.

According to the Private Label Manufacturers Association, you can save about 30% per week on the average shopping trip buying generic or store brand products. That’s a significant savings and why wouldn’t everyone do this simple thing to save money?

Sometimes we justify buying more expensive products by telling ourselves that we get what we pay for. With enough thought on it, I’m sure we can convince ourselves of almost anything that will justify our actions. I read an article recently (without the foresight to bookmark it for reference) that stated that buying over the counter medications on sale reduces the effectiveness of the drug. Somehow, paying less translates in our head to lower quality even on identical items. I don’t agree. I feel fortunate when I find something I need on sale when I need it.

Probably the most dangerous position to our budget is telling ourselves that price equals quality to justify a purchase we can’t afford. Then, after spending more than we should have, we adopt a smug attitude and pat ourselves on the back for our shopping savvy. What a trap that thinking is!

If price does equal quality, then when something is in short supply, and the price is higher, it should be of higher quality. How could it? It’s the same item that is suffering some hiccup in supply and demand has increased the price. Yesterday, when the price was lower, it wasn’t a different product. Today, it’s the same product with a different price.

There are some products that you can be assured are as good as national brands because they are regulated. The Food and Drug Administration regulates things like medications, baby formula, and sunscreen. It is assured that these products are identical to the more expensive items next to them on the shelves. No one needs to question the quality and effectiveness of these products because it’s been done for us. Sometimes government intervention is a good thing.

So, what’s the answer about generics? Try them. Try them from different stores. Not all generics are equal. I learned decades ago not to buy the bargain canned tuna. It may be much better now, but it was so bad then (can you say inedible?) that I never bought it again. It’s not worth the savings for me to try it. I’m going to be stubborn on this.

There are some things that I just prefer the national brand. It’s not that the generic is so awful, like the canned tuna. It’s just that I prefer the taste of some products to the generic brands. Peanut butter is one of those products and, surprisingly, oatmeal and oat O’s cereal. Neither of those generic products taste as good to me as the national brand. If I was feeding a family, my attitude might be different and the savings would outweigh my personal tastes.

Where I find little difference is most canned items. Things like canned fruit, tomatoes, beans, and vegetables are close enough to their more expensive counterparts that I buy them almost exclusively. (OK, I have to admit that I rarely buy canned vegetables. I prefer frozen but there are some in my pantry.) I look for the low-salt or low-sugar varieties, and if the generic meets that qualification, it makes its way into the cart.

So, you might ask if there’s a point to all of this? Well, yes. In our pursuit to live well and still save money, generic products can help us along. They can also stop us short. Frugality is a lifestyle and, sometimes, it takes a bit of effort to find the frugal way that works for us. If it doesn’t work, we don’t do it and where are we then? Back to square one? Back to overspending?

Do you buy generics? Be sure to leave a comment.

5 Frugal Things I’ve Done This Month

5 Frugal Things I've Done This MonthLiving frugal is a lifestyle and I have been doing this a very long time. When I look back at things that I’ve done, it’s sometimes hard to remember frugal activities because they are so much a part of my everyday living. Here are just 5 of the things I’ve done this month.

1. New mixes for the pantry

Three mixing spoons

Mixing spoons

I love mixes. I love homemade mixes even more.

The first mix was for ranch dressing. Yum! It’s really good and so easy to do. I found this same recipe on several websites, so I can’t say for sure where I first located it.

Ranch Dressing Mix

Ingredients

1/2 cup dry buttermilk powder
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried dill weed
1 teaspoon dried chives
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Directions

In a medium bowl, whisk all dry ingredients together until well combined. Store mix in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

To use: Mix together 1/4 cup ranch dressing mix, 1 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup sour cream, and 1/2 cup milk. Blend thoroughly.

The second mix I found Cooperative Extension Department at Utah State University. (This link will open a pdf file) I have used the SOS mix several times instead of canned soup and the recipes have come out very well. The cool thing is all the recipes that come with the basic mix. It really shows you how to use this mix.

Soup or Sauce Mix

Ingredients

2 cups powdered, non-fat milk
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup instant chicken bouillon
2 tsp Italian seasoning (optional)

Directions

Combine 1/3 cup of dry mx with 1 1/4 cup of cold water. Whisk until thoroughly blended.
Cook and stir until thickened. (Stovetop or microwave)
Add to recipes as you would a can of cream soup.

2. Remembered the dollar store

I started giving my daughter a Valentine card when she was a little girl. She’s well into her thirties now, and I still get her a Valentine. We all know how expensive greeting cards can be but not at the dollar store. The savings is worth the trip. Plus, there’s a lot of other cool things at that store worth investigation.

3. Made broth

Bowl of homemade broth

Homemade Broth

I’ve made chicken broth many times but not with any regularity. A few months ago, I bought and Instant Pot. Of course, I read all kinds of things online about using my new gadget and one of the things I found was making broth. Now, I purposely make broth. I buy whole chickens, roast them, pull the meat from the bones and make broth from the carcasses. The leftover rotisserie chicken can also be used for broth. Of course, beef, pork, or turkey all make excellent broth.

Also, I’ve started saving vegetables in a freezer bag for vegetable broth. I’ve made one batch so far, and I’m pleased with the results. I put leftover vegetables, peels from carrots and potatoes, and little bits and pieces that result from preparing vegetables for a meal. It all goes in the pot and comes out wonderful broth. I bought 2 cup freezer containers (at the dollar store) to store my broth. The Instant Pot makes it easy to use frozen. Just thaw enough to remove from the container.

How to Make Instant Pot Broth

Put chicken or turkey carcass, beef or pork bones, or 4 to 6 cups of vegetable scraps into the Instant Pot. Fill with water to the 2/3 line. Set time for 1 hour at low pressure. Use natural release. Refrigerate broth overnight and then skim off any fat before storing.

4. Started my garden seeds

Seed Starting in Newspaper pots

Starting seeds for spring

Garden plants have become expensive. Spending $3 or more on a plant for the garden makes it more difficult to save money by gardening. I will still buy a few, but some are so easily started that it doesn’t make sense not to do it.
I first posted about starting seeds in Fearless Gardening. Make these useful seed-starter pots with these instructions here and here.

5. Shared a no-cost solution

I’m including this even though I didn’t save money by doing it. Someone close to me was paying a subscription site for audio books to listen to while she was jogging. I pointed her to her local library which has audio books available to borrow. This is about a $10 per month saving for her and a warm and fuzzy feeling about helping someone for me.

How did you live frugally this month? Be sure to leave a comment.

Driving Towards Goals

snowyroad

January is flying by and any resolutions that were promised at the beginning are becoming distant objects in the rear view mirror. Every year I promise myself that I’m not going to let that happen, but it still does. Again, I’m making the promise to get those things done that I want and to do it in this new year.

Something needs to change this time and I went looking for the solution. Other than a strong resolve, there isn’t a lot of innovative thinking when it comes to achieving goals.

Nearly everyone who pontificates about goal setting tells us to write them down. OK. Done that. Now, where did I put that list?

For me, it isn’t enough to just write the goal down. I need more help.

Of course, goals must be achievable. That hasn’t been my problem either. I think we all know that there are some things we can never achieve no matter how often we write it down. We can’t find talent we don’t have in the pages of a loose-leaf binder.

My problem is not thinking things through in detail. For instance, I want to do some redecorating in my home. What am I going to do to achieve “redecorating?” In the past, I would have some ideas in my head but they flitted in and out and, often, never made it into the real world.

The goal for goals this year is to write details. I found I need some detailed guidelines to stay on track, so that’s what I’m working on. I know I want to recover the throw pillows in the living room and repaint the front door. My redecorating goal is becoming itemized. I’ve already bought the perfect fabric for the pillows and I know what color paint to buy. (I had to convince my spouse that the color I wanted to use would look good. Thank goodness for pictures on the web.)

I will add things to my “redecorating” goal and I will get specific on all the other goals, too. Some will need just a list, like my decorating projects. Others will need a complete road map with the first step clearly spelled out. The amount of detail depends on the goal, of course. Think of how tedious it would be to do a step-by-step about recovering my throw pillows.

Step 1: Decide to recover
Step 2: Decide on a color or theme
Step 3: Decide to go to the fabric store
Etc, etc, etc…

This is my answer to keeping up with all those New Year’s goals. Yours may be different. The key concept is to find something that works for you. I’ll get back to you with a progress report later this year.

Here are a few more ideas to ponder. You can use one, two, all or none:

Rewrite your goals daily
Tell your goals to someone else
Align your goals with your dreams
Visualize
Use affirmations
Have only a few goals at a time
Take daily action
Track your progress
Celebrate milestones

Throw Out the Bucket List

Do we need to call a list of goals a bucket list? That has a desperate connotation to it and goals shouldn’t be pursued just because the end is near. Any list should be positive as well as useful.

Many years ago, I wrote out a list of 100 goals. My list of 100 was random, at best. I did it as part of a challenge from someone’s website, the name of which is lost to history. The point made in an article on that website was: Why stop at 1 goal or 5 goals? Why not create 100 goals to follow? I bit. Why not? I didn’t date it, but my earliest notation of reaching a goal was in 2002. I’ve completed about 40% of the list without really working at it.

Some of the remaining things on the list pertained to household projects that I wanted to do, such as landscaping and remodeling. We sold that house in early 2009 and our new house didn’t need those upgrades. Do I count those things in the undone column or the completed column? I was able to sell that house without everything that I had hoped to do, so does that count as anything?

Some things I will never complete because they are too vague. I was running out of ideas and put down “Be Happy” as one of my goals. There is no way to achieve that unless I define it. I guess it’s like pornography: I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.

It’s possible to have 100 goals but it was clear that I did not. In my frenzy to reach 100 entries, I wrote down “be happy” and “find meaningful work.” No wonder I still have so many outstanding goals because those goals would never really be achieved without a clearer definition.

I’m ready to create a new list of goals but I’m going to tame the chaos of my original list. What I should have done at that time was to separate my goals by category. Some I categories I could have used are:

Goals
Work/Career
Finances
Education
Relationships/Family
Artistic
Experiences
Health/Fitness
Pleasure
Community
Personal
Physical items
Spiritual

Rather than my shotgun approach, I will now take each category and determine if there is something I want to work towards in that area. Some of the categories won’t have anything to pursue while others may have many goals. It’s not permanent, either. As a human, I have the ability to change my mind and change directions.

I know that fluidity is sometimes detrimental to my success. It’s that ability to change my mind that forces me to write things down or I start to wander. I’ll admit that shiny objects distract me from my path but the written task keeps me focused. I explained one of the lists that I keep for myself here. It has always worked for me as long as I work the list. Writing my goals down keeps me on track, too, if I remember to look at the paper occasionally. That is really the secret to success with lists and written goals. Never put the paper away and forget about it. If it’s in front of my face, I remember. If it isn’t, that shiny object holds my eye.

A quick search online for the benefits of written goals brings up many, many sites referring to a 1953 study of the Yale graduating class. It’s bunk. Not the written goals part but the existence of the study part. It didn’t happen, yet even well-known gurus cite it as gospel. A study done at Dominican University does support concept that those who write down goals achieve more than those who don’t write them down. (This study actually exists.)

Personally, I find that my written list serves several purposes:

  1. It forces me to clarify what I truly want to achieve
  2. It provides motivation to take the action I need to achieve the goal
  3. It helps me resist the shiny objects by keeping my focus on my goal
  4. It allows the great satisfaction of crossing something off that I have completed

There are still plenty of things I want to accomplish in life. A bucket list screams that death is nigh. It might very well be just around the corner, but I want to focus on living instead. No bucket list for me. I’m calling it a life list.

Together Again

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I can’t tell you I’ve been on an extended vacation. I wasn’t.

I can’t tell you that I’ve been unable to contribute to this blog. I was able, but didn’t.

I can’t tell you that any other external reason kept me from posting. What I can say is that I didn’t know where I was going with this blog, or with life. There are too many choices and, with more years behind me than ahead, some tough choices had to be made.

Living frugally my entire life has helped us get to this point. We always lived within our means. We avoided debt. We have been happy with older cars. It all adds up to being financially secure in retirement.

It took some time for our income to stabilize now that the regular paychecks are gone. Being frugal eased our way through that time and I focused on those topics here. While I will always practice frugality, I don’t want to make it the centerpiece.

My goal from this point is to chronicle my journey to the best retirement years I can imagine. I have to learn some new skills. I have to leave my comfort zone. I have to be bold and grab what I want or the years will simply pass by and I’ll be in the same place as I am now. Nothing would be more disappointing.

This blog will continue to be my outlet for things learned, for celebrating successes, and for the teachable moments that only come from failure

Where Did I Put That List?

Not interested in lists? I understand. I really do.

I like lists. I use lists. They keep me on track.

to-do-list-749304_1280

One list I make every year is my holiday gift list. I have everyone that I plan on giving a gift listed and then I list what the gift will be. It’s not written in stone but, when I think of something good for someone, I jot it down on my list. I’m never stuck at the last-minute with the “What do I get so-and-so?” question. It also prevents good ideas from slipping away. They do that more often now.

I make many of the gifts I give and I’ve done that for decades. This takes time and I start early. My list helps me shop for supplies that I will need to complete projects efficiently and economically. I know what I’ll need so I wait for sales, I use discount coupons, and I shop carefully. Using my list faithfully helps me gather everything together so, when I start to make the item, I don’t have to stop because I’m short on one supply or another. I keep projects in zip storage bags. Everything I need is in the bag including any patterns or instructions, notions, fabrics, etc. As I acquire a needed component, I add it to the bag.

Because of my list, I’m nearly done with shopping for this year. I’ll pick up a few things along the way, but the big purchases are mostly done.

Making my list and getting started on holiday shopping early is key to a smooth season. Having my list saves my money and my sanity.