Five steps to financial security

Financial independence

It’s a fact that being in financial difficulty adversely affects how happy you are with everything else in life. Staying afloat financially can be tough. While feeling good about your finances may seem impossible, it is not that difficult if you just do it.

The strategy is simple: instead of one large savings account, you need to have at least three pools of financial resources to draw upon. Therefore, you will need to save money in three different ways. Remember, you are not trying to save a fortune, just enough to give you peace of mind.

  1. Jar in a closet: This is the oldest and yet the most effective method of saving money. Get one of those plastic 5 gallon water cooler jars and put it in your closet, out of sight but easy to reach. The small opening at the top of the jar makes it a little more difficult to raid every time you need a few bucks.  Whenever you get change in your pocket, put it in the jar. Take every opportunity to collect change during the day. When a clerk asks if you have correct change, say no. You can even go out of your way to ask for change for an extra dollar or so whenever you make a purchase, then put the change in the jar as soon as possible. The idea is to let the coins collect as long as possible. As the jar gets fuller your feeling of comfort and security will become greater every time you even think about it.
  2. Open an additional savings account: When you open the account make arrangements to have an affordable amount of money, whether its $10, $20 or more, automatically routed from your checking account to your additional account on the first of each month. Be sure to make note that the money will come out of your checking account on this date so you don’t have a bounced check. Don’t accept a checkbook or debit card for this account since you want to make it less tempting for you to dip into it for any little thing that crops up. Be aware that when you open the account the bank may require you to make an initial deposit of anywhere from $20 to $100. Also, don’t route more than you can afford into this additional account since that will be self defeating. Forget about this account and it will always be a source of comfort whenever you are thinking of the pools of resources that you can dip into should things suddenly go south.
  3. “Hidey hole” cash reserve: Everyone has something they can sell that would generate at least $100, or you can hold a garage or apartment sale. Convert the proceeds into $100 bills since this will make it less tempting to draw from every time you need few bucks. Put the bills in an envelope and hide it so well that only you can find it. Don’t weasel out on coming up with this money, everyone has something that will generate at least $100 in cash. Do it immediately, it’s a one-time event and the pain will be over quickly. This is your emergency stash that you can grab and run whenever absolutely necessary.
  4. Sacrifice a little: Now comes the time for a little pain, but only a little. Everyone has treats that they indulge in on a regular basis. For some, it’s a $5.00 beverage each morning from their favorite coffee house. For others, it may be a couple of nights out at a bar or dining at restaurants throughout the week. Most of us regularly spend money on more than one of these activities without giving it a thought. You don’t need a huge sacrifice here, just pick out one treat a week that you can live without. Calculate how much you spend on each week on this one treat. For example: a $5.00 beverage would add up to $25 per five-day workweek. Each morning place $5.00 in a special envelope and don’t buy that beverage for that day. If you choose to do without two or three soft drinks each day, add up the savings and put that in the envelope. Each Friday, for a very rewarding feeling, make a special trip through the drive through lane at the bank and deposit the money in your additional account. Continue to enjoy the other treats that you normally indulge in, just cut out this one. You can even sacrifice a different treat from week to week if you prefer.
  5. Stop wasting money: Any program to improve your financial situation must involve saving money. Review your checking account check register. Look hard at the checks you have written in the last three months. You will find items where you can save money. It may be magazine subscriptions, charges for checking or other unneeded services at your bank or paying for extra channels for cable television. Discontinue your landline telephone and rely on your cell phone. Check out books or magazines at the library instead of constantly buying them. Go through your bills for the last three months to see if there are other things you can live without. You may be paying too much for housing or computer games and software you could have done without. Every penny you save will add up so you can live better while adding to your resource pools.

When you have resource pools that you can dip into if necessary, you will have not only peace of mind, but a definite feeling of confidence and security!

A productive habit and trick

Look in your pantry and save some money this week.

One of the things that I do to help save on the grocery bill is to periodically use up some of the things I have. It can be very easy to go shopping each week and buy all new food. The problem is that there is food already in my house that I fail to use. If I don’t use it up, it will eventually spoil.

This is something that should be done at least once a month. I try to do this for the last week of each month. Before the last week, I look through my refrigerator, freezer and pantry. I look for things in there that I could use for my meals for the week. In some cases I find that I barely need to buy anything for that week when it comes to groceries. I have enough food items to make great meals and this is something that is beneficial in more than one way.

The first benefit is that I waste less. If I use the food I have, it will not spoil and I will not have to throw it away. The second benefit is that I save money. It is nice to go grocery shopping and spend less than half of what I normally spend on groceries for the week.

You would be surprised by how many meals you can make with the food you already have. You may have to buy one or two things for each meal, but this beats having to buy every ingredient for the meal.

Shopping with kids

To use those small carts or not?

If you shop at a grocery store that has those little shopping carts for kids, you might agree that they are more trouble than good.

The minute a child sees a shopping cart that is the perfect size for them the child will run to it and grab it. This is something that kids are drawn to and they feel very grown up by pushing a cart around the store. The only problem I have ever noticed with this is that those carts do not work very well.

The other problem is that the child tends to fail to pay attention to where he is going. I have had so many small children run into me while pushing these carts when I am shopping. It does not bother me because I have kids and I am used to those kinds of things. It may bother other people though.

When my daughter was younger, she often wanted to push one of those carts. If I was only running into the store for a few items I would let her get one. We would place all of our items in her little cart and she would feel very important. If I need to purchase a whole cart load of groceries, this is not something that I would let her do.

While this is a great feature offered at many stores, it is always a problem for us parents. It can be hard to shop with a little cart, but it can also be hard to explain this to your children.

Grocery specialty holiday dinner

Dinners then and now.

Supermarkets have sold ready-to-eat holiday dinners for many years. However, there is little resemblance, other than the menu which remains traditional, between the dinners sold then and those that are sold these days. There are advantages and disadvantages to the way it was done then and is done now.

Supermarket holiday dinners sold in years past had three major advantages over those sold today.

  1. The delicatessen was the department in the store that prepared and sold the dinners. They had the advantage of more employee hours than today’s supermarkets. Competition has increased dramatically and the profit margin for a well-run supermarket—approximately 1 ½ to 2 percent of gross sales—has become much more difficult to attain. As a result, labor hours are always the first line item on the budget to be reduced. The additional labor hours allowed the employees enough time to sell the dinners to the customers. The customers could taste-test the different dishes served in the dinner right off of the cafeteria line where hot foods were sold for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The holiday dinner dishes were sold every day in December leading up to Christmas so the customer could be convinced of their quality.
  2. The dinners were prepared from scratch with ingredients bought at wholesale from the meat, grocery, produce and bakery departments. This gave the delicatessen the very best cost possible on the components that went into the holiday dinner. Turkeys and hams from the meat department, cranberry sauce and spices from grocery, celery and onions from produce and rolls and pies from the bakery. Since the ingredients in the dinners were bought at inexpensive costs and prepared in-store they could be advertised and sold at inexpensive retails. The customer literally could not make it from scratch for the price charged by the supermarket.
  3. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, pies and rolls were prepared and sold fresh. The products that went into the dinners were grade A quality and as fresh as they could possibly be. It is true that when you begin preparing dishes with fresh top quality foods they have to turn out to be good. The customer even had the option of picking up the dinners on Thanksgiving morning already hot and ready to serve. The delicatessen employees cooked the various dishes on giant rotating ovens located in the bakery department. The dinners were customized to fit the customer’s preference regarding the type and amount of any item in the dinner. They were then labeled with the customer’s name and the date and time they would be picked up.

Today, supermarkets buy dinners produced half-way across the country, packaged in plastic and have a 30-day shelf life—hardly freshly prepared. The employees will take your order but you have to get their attention. The supermarket delicatessens have lost the advantage of offering the customer an inexpensive dinner because the supermarket buys it manufactured and no longer prepares it themselves.

Oftentimes, the old ways are best.

Fresh produce for Thanksgiving dinner

Grocery shopping tips for your Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and many Americans will start to look at fresh produce in their local grocery stores. To help people get the best looking produce though, they need to have some information on what they should be looking for in the produce to ensure they are selecting the proper varieties. Once people know what to look for, it is simple to select the highest quality produce around.

The first thing people need to look for is if the store even carries what they are looking for. Some people will think all stores will carry the same items. However, they may be shocked when they find out they are not carrying the same items and some of the stores will not carry anything they need to have for Thanksgiving dinner.
The second thing people should look at is the cost of the produce. Typically when people are looking at fresh produce, each store will have different prices. Since they can all have different prices, a person should check out the stores and find the ones that are offering the best price on the produce which they need to have.
The third thing people need to look at while shopping for Thanksgiving dinner produce is the quality of the produce. Normally the stores will start to ship in extra produce to prepare for this holiday. However, a person needs to evaluate the quality of these to guarantee they are the freshest varieties available. 
Shopping for Thanksgiving dinner can be a fun time, but with the stores not always providing the best quality produce, people need to know what to look for when grocery shopping. Then people can finally have the dinner they have dreamed of having and know the food is top quality. 

Avoid impulse buying when grocery shopping

Simple tips to avoid this common problem.

Impulse buying is something we all fall victim to sometimes. This is one of the causes for overspending at the grocery store and it can be hard to avoid. There are plenty of ideas to avoid this from happening, and you can try some of these tips.

Rule 1: Never shop while you are hungry. While this may seem like the simplest tip in the world, many of us do this anyhow. We end up at the grocery store right before dinner or at other points during the day when we are completely famished. This will result in impulse buying unless you are very strong willed.

Rule 2: Ask yourself if it is really necessary. For example, imagine if you picked up a package of cookies at the deli because they look really good. You could ask yourself this question and probably determine that the answer is no – you really don’t need them.

Rule 3: This is not really a rule, but it is an awesome suggestion and it will stop you from impulse shopping every time. Swap your grocery list with a friend’s list. In other words, you will do her grocery shopping and she will do yours.

Rule 4: Don’t shop when you are upset. It seems like people tend to make extra purchase when they are upset about something. They may be thinking that these purchases will help them feel better, or they may simply be in the mindset that they do not care about their life at that particular moment in time.

Sampling Thanksgiving dinner

Trying something different

The holidays begin in less than four weeks. It has always been a major hassle for my wife and me to prepare, serve and clean up. My daughters and their families are there to help but it still requires a tremendous amount of time and effort. This year we made a decision to buy prepared dinners from our local grocery store. We settled on a turkey dinner and ham dinner for Thanksgiving and two of the prime rib dinners for Christmas.

My daughters and their husbands volunteered to split the cost of the four dinners which served to move it from the idea stage to the definite stage. The cost of the dinners is reasonable—especially with all of us sharing it equally—so that brought it down to the issue of quality. After all, you don’t want substandard food on the biggest feasting holidays of the year.

I decided to find out just how good the dinners were. I waited until mid-afternoon when the business in the delicatessen had slowed down considerably and then walked up to the counter and asked for the manager. I wanted my wife to come with me but she had the idea that we shouldn’t put the store staff through a taste test of the dinners—which is what I wanted.

Both daughters were working so I was on my own. I certainly was not reticent about what I was going to ask for; after all, we were going to spend approximately $300 on this venture. The manager walked out from the kitchen and I explained that I wanted to sample as much of the dinners as possible.

The guy was very agreeable and immediately set about rounding up samples of the various foods. The dinners are purchased from the manufacturer by the grocer already cooked and packaged. The grocer then organizes them into the respective dinner combination.  The customer then picks up the refrigerated dinner and heats it at home.

For samples, the manager took out a plate and sliced off prime rib onto it from a piece he was selling as one of the dinner entrées on the hot foods counter. He placed stuffing, gravy and a combination of carrots and sweet potatoes on the plate from the foods on the side-dish section of the counter. He had to open some packages of turkey and ham but assured me he would sell them out the next day on the hot counter as a lunch or dinner.

Everything looked very attractive and tasted extremely good. I even asked him to make up a sample plate to take home to my wife so she could try it and not worry about the quality all the way up to Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Shop at local farmers' markets

Support local businesses and find fresh produce at farmers' markets.

Farmers' markets are a great way to shop for all of your produce and meats. However, you may not really think about why you should shop at these and still believe the store bought food is better for you. Here are some reasons why you should shop at the farmers' markets, instead of any place else for your produce. 

A great reason to shop at the farmers' markets is they typically have the freshest produce possible. For example, many studies have found the corn you eat off of the cob, when it sits overnight, turns mainly into sugary starches. This means the store bought corn is mainly a sugar, but the corn you purchase from the farmers markets are typically picked the same day guaranteeing you the freshest possible corn. 

Farmers' markets are typically ran by small businesses and people who rely on local buyers. When you shop at the farmers' markets, you are supporting these local businesses. So you do not have to be concerned about your customers being a major store or large corporation who is raking in millions of dollars in profits each year. 
Buying at farmers' markets helps provide you with a unique taste to your vegetables and even meats. The reason you have the unique taste is the different variety of plants grown or meat products raised. You do not have the same tasting produce that the factory farms raise because they grow fast or are able to mass produce. 
Shopping for produce or meats is exciting for a variety of reasons. However, you should make sure you know why farmers markets are a great connection for your shopping experience. Once you know about this, it is easy to see why farmers' markets should be the location for buying most of your produce or meats. 

Oasis in the desert

Supermarket savior

I was comparing notes with some friends of mine the other morning. Someone made the comment that they spent more time in the grocery store than they did at home. That wasn’t true of course, but after talking it over and comparing notes we determined that each and every one of us spent a great deal of time—more than we were aware of—in the grocery store.

I mean, every morning, I get up at 6:00 a.m. and go to the delicatessen at the grocery store. They have a full breakfast of two eggs, bacon-ham-or sausage, hash browns and toast for $2.99. Since coffee is only .49 cents for an endless cup, it is easily the best deal in town; especially since they don’t allow tipping. I almost always eat with at least one or two friends.

I then shop around at the pharmacy for my latest script or just to say hello to the pharmacists who have become friends that I depend on to keep me healthy. After the pharmacy, I stop by and pick up a few personal items on the non-foods side of the store before heading over to the grocery side for some staples before checking out and heading home.

I return to the delicatessen at midmorning to join the coffee klatch of friends and we sit there drinking coffee and discussing anything and everything or just socializing. Sometimes I stick around for lunch and sometimes not, but regardless I am there at mid-afternoon to fill my car with gas before I meet up at our table in the delicatessen with my buddies for coffee or a soft drink.

I always buy my holiday dinners at the delicatessen and have sent flowers for different occasions through the floral shop. The bakery has been the source of my donuts, pies and birthday cakes for the grandkids' birthdays. I am in the store so much that the employees and management know me by sight and always tip their hat as I walk by. I am a person of interest to them because I help pay their check by giving them my business every day.

They, on the other hand, get my respect because after thinking about it, they work 24 hours a day –literally—to operate a one-stop destination for just about everything I need in life, no matter what the time of day or night I may need it.

Catering to a soldier

Kindness reaps rewards

Several years ago I was involved as a consultant with a regional grocery market chain. My charge was to start up and fully develop a catering company to operate as part of the grocery chain. This proved to be very challenging in terms of recruiting, hiring and training associates, cooks and management.

Obviously, we needed to have a facility to cater out of along with coolers, freezers, prep areas, stoves and kitchen equipment. Perhaps the hardest project of all was to market the business from ground zero and secure business. It was necessary to achieve a profit from the first day of operation in order to justify the start up expenses to upper management.My biggest success story in obtaining catering jobs that achieved budget centered around a National Guard base. I had bid very low to win the contract to supply three meals daily for a week of training exercises at the base.

We devoted all our efforts and resources to the project and as a result it went extremely well. We transported hot meals in the dead of winter for 80 soldiers and received rave reviews. On the last day of the contract we were to deliver a hot evening meal after the soldiers returned from a day in the field.

We showed up at the gate with two catering vans filled with food, tables and chairs. As usual, we were directed to the building on the base where we had delivered meals for the last week. I jumped out of the truck and went into the offices to find the staff sergeant with whom I had been working. I was shown in to see him and realized immediately that something was wrong. The sergeant’s face dropped and the color drained from his face.

He then told me that he was supposed to cancel the meal because the soldiers had finished up early and moved out. He simply got busy and forgot to call me.

At that moment, a captain walked into the office and asked what the catering trucks were doing out back. Seeing the stricken expression on the sergeant’s face, I spoke up and apologized to both soldiers, telling the captain that I had delivered to the wrong building. Satisfied, he walked back to his office.

The staff sergeant looked at me and asked what I was doing. I responded that we appreciated his business of the last week and since it appeared as though he might be in hot water with the captain, we would simply drive away without charging a penny.

To say he was appreciative was to understate his reaction. I simply asked him to remember us for his future needs. Man, did I take flak for the missed sales and the food we brought back to the facility.

It was about a week or so later that I received a call. The supply sergeant advised me that a huge job was coming up and I should go online and make a public bid for it. I did so, and wonder of wonders, I won the job; feeding 320 soldiers three times a day for 14 days. The contract was worth over $100,000 and served as the kick-off for the catering business.

It’s amazing how the decision to take the hit when the sergeant failed to cancel the earlier order—for which I took flak—turned into a brilliant decision all of a sudden when we landed the big order. Customer service pays off!