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Blog: Living Cheap in Kansas

How to live on less, save on just about everything and be green too!


Showing 8 posts from January 2010 for this blog.
Giving Uncle Sam his Due - Painlessly
Friday, January 22, 2010

I love to do my taxes.  Yep, you heard me, in fact I usually start working on them before I have all the W2's.  And I do it all for free.  I always get money back and usually file by the end of January - or as soon as the W2's come in.

Being a Geek, I prefer doing anything I can online.  So when I heard about TurboTax.com's free web-based tax software, I had to try it out.  In previous years I had purchased the cheapest copy of Tax Cut and used it.  But free is better than cheap.

It was great.  In spite of nagging you to purchase at least the "Basic" version for $14.95, you can do your federal tax and e-file completely without charge.  If you want to purchase their state version, it's about $20.  I'm lucky though, my state has free filing on their website - many states do.

In less than thirty minutes I had filed my federal taxes and told them to deposit it to my credit union savings account (so I wouldn't fritter it away).  Then I took my Form 1040 and hopped on the state of Kansas website and entered the information for my state taxes and e-filed them.  Total time spent - about 45 minutes.

Five days later my state refund was in my account.  In another five days, the federal refund joined it.

My three daughters do their family's taxes too - the same way.  In fact, they enjoy it as much as I do.

 Everytime someone tells me they spent money on an accountant or a tax service for doing the very same thing, I get a little sick to my stomach.  If they only knew how easy (and fun!) it is.

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The Ants go Marching Two by Two...
Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sugar ants can be such pesky little buggers (pun intended).  It doesn't seem to matter how clean you keep the house, they always find their way in.  In fact, I used to get them in February in the upstairs bathroom!  I'm still not sure how they got there or where they came from.

By spring and summer they would be everywhere.  After picking up bug spray at the local recycling center (for free) and finding that it only worked temporarily, I actually (yikes!)purchased some and tried it.  Same results.  They went away for a few days and then returned.  Even spraying outside didn't help.  They always came back.  My neighbors had resorted to expensive exterminators, but since they had to come back every month or so, it probably wasn't working much better.

Then one day at work, I was complaining to my co-worker Tony about the ants.  "Well", he said, "You aren't using the right stuff.  There is an easy way to get rid of them cheap."

He proceeded to tell me about the Borax method.  One mixes borax with something sweet (jelly, syrup, honey) and put it outside where the ants are.  They take it back to all their friends (and the queen) and they have a really enjoyable last meal together.

I "googled" it and sure enough, it was all over the Internet.  That very day, I made a stop at the supermarket across the street and picked up a box of 20 Mule Team Borax.

I went home, mixed one part borax with two parts honey, mixed in a few drops of water and headed outside.  Everywhere I saw the ants marching along, I put a few drops.  I went around the whole yard but really didn't use more than a couple of tablespoons.

Then I waited.  By the next day, the ants were GONE.  There WERE a few left outside, stumbling rather than marching along.  So I gave them another treat.

By the weekend, my yard (and house) were completely clear of ants.  All last summer, they didn't come back.

Now Joe & Vanessa had a major ant problem in their front yard.  In fact, there were so many sugar ants that they had killed a small tree.  Their extermination methods (rather like mine) had not worked.  So I offered to come over and see if I could get rid of the ants.

I mixed up a new batch and we went over and I put it around the yard.  I didn't put any in the back yard since their dogs were out and I didn't want them getting into the borax.

A few days later we went back.  The ants were gone.  I gave Joe some borax so he could treat the back yard.  The ants haven't come back.

This is how I see it.  Commercial products and exterminators aren't going to actually get rid of the ants.  If they did, then they would be out of work...

For around $3 I got rid of the ants.  I still have plenty of borax left in case a new colony moves in this spring.  I guess I'll wait and see what happens in February...

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You Don't have to go Broke to get Married - Part 1
Sunday, January 17, 2010

As noted in previous posts, We have three daughters.  They are all married.  We put on three weddings.  We did them all on a tight budget.  In doing so, I've learned a few things about weddings.  The most important is that you can put on a lovely shindig without breaking the bank.  Here is how we did it.

The first - Vanessa:  Although it's been almost 15 years, Vanessa's wedding was the biggest and the most frugal of them all.  Since my Son-in-law Joe comes from a large family (youngest of seven) This was going to be a big wedding - between 200 & 250 guests.  We did it all for about $3,500.  This includes the invitations, church, the priest, the hall, the decorations, the flowers, the cake, the pictures, the DJ, the bartender (with wine and beer), the flowers, the clothing and the food.

V&J announced on Halloween that they were getting married on February 3rd.  Not a long time to plan such a big wedding.  But with a combination of planning and luck, it all came together.

They planned the wedding for a Friday night - it was the only time they could get the church and the priest.

Next, the dress.  At that time Penny's Outlet store sold wedding dresses.  It was the first place we went.  Now, Vanessa is short, so we knew that whatever we bought would have to be shortened.  We looked for something that had a fancy top and simple skirt. 

The first dress she tried on had a beautiful beaded top and a plain white satin skirt.  It fit perfectly and cost $199.  After trying on several others we decided to purchase it.  The store personnel assured us the it could be returned if it hadn't been worn.  We wanted to check out some other options.

We visited several other stores and she tried on numerous dresses.  Nothing even came close to the first dress.  Since her M-I-L and I both sew we took the dress and planned the remodel.  For about $50 (from a store that was going out of business and had everything 50% off) we purchased some heavy netting - the type used to make trains for gowns, some lace medallions, some lace edging and some beading.  We trimmed the satin skirt shorter in the front and curved in the back.  Then we added the netting, sewed the lace medallions down the back, covered the seam with lace and beading and trimmed the edges.  When we finished, the dress had a six foot train with beaded lace cut-outs.  It was absolutely gorgeous!

Since it was the dead of winter in Kansas, Vanessa decided to use silk flowers instead of fresh.  Once again, she, her bridesmaids, her M-I-L and I created the arrangements, corsages, boutonnieres, and other floral decorations.  Her M-I-L worked for Walmart at the time and found glass bowls to decorate the tables on clearance for 50¢ each. She also found white wired Christmas lights for about $1.00 per string.    I used Michael's sales & coupons to pick up ribbon and those flat glass things and candles to put in the bowls.  I think she rented the tablecloths from the hall. Her colors were dark green, burgundy and gold.  We picked up the rest of the decorations for at least 50% off around and after Christmas.  I believe the only thing we paid full price for was the big burgundy rose in the center of her bouquet - around $5!

As for the bridesmaids' dresses, she chose black velvet tops with burgundy and green plaid satin skirts - using a simple pattern.  We found the patterns for 99¢ each and the fabric at Joann's for 50% off.  There were four bridesmaids - we made the dresses for about $25 each.  Then she found coordinating shoes at an outlet store at the mall for $7 a pair - in just the right sizes for all the girls.

For the two flower girls we found similar dresses at Sears for $10 each with velvet tops but a different skirt.  We removed the skirts and replaced them with skirts made from the left-over bridesmaid dress fabric.

At the time, Vanessa worked for a photography studio.  So not only did she get their top of the line wedding photo package at cost, but by knowing the invitation people, cake lady, the DJ's, the bartenders and the people who rented the hall, she got everything else for about 30% off.  Her grandparents said they would pay for the cake - around $250.

Now the food.  How do you feed 200 people on a small budget?  Well, we did it.  Our plan was to have meat & cheese trays, vege  & fruit trays, rolls, baked beans, potato salad, pasta salad and coleslaw.

Near my work with one of those places that sold salvage food items.  I had purchased food for the family from there for years and knew that their quality was good.  Right after Christmas they marked all their deli meats (unsliced) down to $1.49 per pound.  I bought two each of the turkey and ham items and one of corned beef.  They also had ten pound cheese blocks for $1.99 per pound.  Bought two cheddar and one of Swiss.  We put the meat in her M-I-L's freezer and stored the cheese in the fridge at her house also.

We were able to order the small egg rolls from a company that only sold to other companies for $1.00 a dozen.  My son-in-law managed a soccer store and was able to purchase them and have them shipped to the store for a "party".  Planned those to come in the day before.  The rest of the items we bought at Sam's or Aldi's. We bought bowls, serving utensils and trays at the local party store - on sale after Christmas.

A friend of her in-laws owned a small pizza restaurant.  He said that we could come in and use his big slicer to slice the meats and cheeses. So that is what we did - just a couple of days before the wedding.

The whole family got together the day before the wedding to prepare the food.  We sliced the rolls and prepared the meat & cheese and vege and fruit trays.  They were wrapped in plastic wrap and tucked into her M-I-L's spare fridge.  We also made the pasta salad.

The best man's sister owned a catering business.  As a wedding gift to the couple, she and her two teenage children came in and setup and served the food.  Afterwards we did the clean-up.

It was quite an event.  Everything came off perfectly.   Even the weather cooperated - it was about 50 degrees and sunny (unusual for Kansas in February!!)

Luck? Planning?  Maybe a little of both. 

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Daughter # 1 - Vanessa
Sunday, January 10, 2010

Of our three daughters - only the oldest and youngest have followed in our "cheap" footsteps.  This is the story of Vanessa.  Being the oldest, she learned my philosophy early - live cheap, live good.  When she was thirteen, I worked for a local city in the clerk's office.  She got a summer job working in the snack bar of the swimming pool which was located behind the city hall.  She did that until she was old enough to take life guard training and become a life guard - at sixteen.  She pinched her pennies carefully.  She knew my policy on cars - she had to  save up half what she needed to pay for the car and have a part-time job so that she could support the car.  Then I would pay the other half.  After working and saving, she had found a 1962 Corvair that a fellow was selling for $300 - not a lot of money, but this was in the mid-eighties.  She had what she needed, except it was back-to-school time and the pool was closing so she wouldn't have a job.

She had applied at the Penney's Outlet store a few miles from our house and on this particular day, had an interview.  She knew that without the job, the car would be gone. So off she went. She went to the interview, got the job and returned to my work to tell me.  I took off early and we went to look at the car.  Now a fellow I worked with collected Corvair's.  He had put her in touch with a mechanic who specialized in Corvairs.  When we went to look at the car, she asked if she could take the car to the mechanic.  The owner agreed and she took it over.  The mechanic found about $80 worth of work that needed to be done. Returning with the car, she talked the owner into splitting the cost of repairs with her and bought the car for $260.

She drive that car for over a year - but a trip to Topeka and back (after I told her not to) blew the engine.  But it still ran and she sold it to one of the guys at her school for $200.

While working at Penney's, she met the young man who would eventually become her husband.  And years later, when they wanted to purchase a new Jeep, managed to play two salesmen at two Jeep dealerships off each other until they got the price they wanted.

Today, nearly fifteen years later, she still is a cheapskate.  They have three kids (two teenagers) and a lovely home - their second.  They doubled the money on their first house in five years and got a great bargain on the second house because the previous owners had been transferred and were desperate to sell.  As a well-paid programmer/analyst with a large financial company, she still shops for groceries at Aldi's, hands down clothes through the kids and uses Priceline for hotels and flights.  In fact she managed to get four free nights at a Disney World hotel and they all went this last fall.  Her husband manages a soccer store and they get athletic shoes for them and the kids at cost as well as the kid's  soccer uniforms.  Joe frequently gets free tickets to professional soccer games. They all went to the Monster Truck Rally last night using free tickets.

I taught her well.

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Shopping at the Curb...
Saturday, January 09, 2010

I always say that my favorite place to shop for furniture is at the curb.  Well, that and flea markets and thrift stores. In fact, I only have three pieces of furniture in my house that were purchased new - the sofa and recliner in the basement family room and the display case in my living room.  A couple of items did come from antique stores, but the rest arrived in pitiful condition with need of restoration.  Even the kitchen island came from Habitat Restore!  This is the story of my living room sofa and chairs which came from the Goodwill store.  

For many years I had wanted a Chippendale camel back sofa.  But they weren't available in stores and besides, that would have been too easy - and no doubt way out of my budget.  So I continued to look.

Then one Monday morning on my way to work, I stopped by the local Goodwill store to drop off some bags of clothing.  They weren't open yet, so I went to the back parking lot where they had a drop-off spot.  Sitting in the middle of the parking lot was my sofa!!!  Filthy and covered in blue fabric, it had no seat cushion.  I got out of the car and checked it for stability - it was solid.

I asked the two guys who worked there and were unloading a truck if they knew anything about it - when it would be available for sale.  One replied that it wouldn't - it would be thrown away because it had no cushion.  My eyes lit up - well, I asked "may I have it?"

"Sure" he replied, "but we have to have the lot cleared in 45 minutes so you'll have to get it out of here by then."  UhOh...

Now, I drive a Hyundai Elantra...wonderful car - love it - but it really wouldn't work to transport a sofa.  First I called my husband (who drives a van), but he couldn't leave work.  Then I called my co-worker Tony (who often rides a motorcycle to work) and asked (hopefully) "did you bring the truck today?"   Now Tony knows me pretty  well - after all, we had worked together for many years.  "Yeah, why?"  he asked.

"I need a really BIG favor." I said - and told him the story and (being a "junker" himself)  he agreed to come and pick up the sofa.  Then I spotted a couple of channelback chairs over to one side and asked about them.  The guy replied that I could have them for $10 (for the pair).  By then the store had opened and I went inside to pay for the chairs.

Tony arrived and we loaded the sofa and chairs into his truck and he delivered them to my house that afternoon.  Then they sat in the garage for a couple of years.

At that time, I still had one adult daughter and her dog and two cats living at home.  So I refused to do anything with the furniture until we were petless and childless...  So I waited.

It too another two years to track down the fabric I wanted for the couch (heavy cotton black and tan tavern check) and spend six months on a waiting list for the upholsterer but the day finally came. While I waited, I stripped and refinished the wooden legs (with supplies I got at the local recycling center for free).  Then  $600 later (including fabric and labor) it returned - just like I wanted.  I call it my free $600 couch.  The chairs took a while longer.  Determined to do them myself, I took a week-long upholstery workshop from the local extension office.  It was great fun, a lot of work and well worth the $75 and the week of vacation I took from work.  But I only got one of the chairs done.  My plans to complete the other chair on my own never happened, so the next year I took the workshop again.  Finally, they were all done!

It was all worth it.  If you do a search on images.google.com for Chippendale camel back sofa, one that looks just like mine (but is unupholstered) is over $2000!!!

Images:
 

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Blackberries!!!
Saturday, January 09, 2010

We love blackberries - in jam, in pies and cobblers and just to eat.  Well, four years ago this coming spring I decided to purchase some blackberry plants and put them along the north fence in our smallish backyard.  I selected a thornless variety called Triple Crown from Gurneys and ordered six plants.  Well, the day before we were to leave for California on vacation, they arrived.  I stuck them in the ground and left town for two weeks. 

Only one survived.  But it grew.  It shot up quickly to the fence, where I attached it with plastic ties screwed to the wooden fence.  Then it grew some more - this time along the ground where it took root...and took root, and took root.  So I cut the little plants free from the original and spread them along the fence.  By the end of the first summer I had eight plants - spread along the fence.  The plant had actually bloomed, but I pinched the blooms so the energy to go toward growing the plant.

By the end of the next summer it had spread to cover twenty-four feet of six foot tall fence.  I got enough blackberries to can four PINTS of jam. To keep the birds from eating the berries I purchased green nylon net from JoAnn's  to cover the vines and attached it with twisty-ties.

By last summer it had covered forty-eight feet of fence and was moving into the front yard as well as the neighbor's.  Once again we covered the vines with nylon netting.  As the berries ripened we picked them and put them in zip top bags and froze them.  By the time I made jam I had enough for 14 pints plus two gallon bags of berries left.  I used one bag to make a large cobbler when the (adult) kids came over and the other bag is still in the freezer.

I sure hope this nasty winter weather doesn't hurt the vines.  We've had over a foot of snow and it has been below 10 degrees for the last week.

 

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Free Stuff for Computers
Friday, January 08, 2010

Since I work with computers every day, I've found some really great free software available on the Internet for such things as virus protection, spyware and malware cleaners, word processing, spreadsheets, drawing software, browsers and e-mail.  You have to be REALLY careful on the Internet.  Just because something says "free" doesn't mean it actually is.  Many times it will say "free download".  You can download it for free, but if you actually want to use it, you'll have to pay.  All too often, once you have downloaded and installed something, it is next to impossible to get rid of it.   Sometimes they are actually malware that will install and then nag with popups until you purchase the software.  BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN DOWNLOADING ANYTHING!!

So here is a list of stuff that is actually free to download and use. 

Virus Protection:  My favorite is Avast.  Download from  http://www.avast.com .  This is free for home use.  Once you download and install it, you will need to register it at the website.  Then they e-mail a license number that you enter into the software.  You will need to re-register about once a year, but there is no charge.  It works great and does daily free updates. 

Spyware Prevention/Removal:  My favorite is still Spybot Search and Destroy.  It can be downloaded from http://www.safer-networking.org.  Do be very careful when downloading.  There are a lot of look-a-likes out there that are really malware.  This does take some configuring - you need to immunize your computer and set up frequent scans.  They have other good products as well.

Another one is SuperAntiSpyware.  Located at http://www.superantispyware.com, this product does a great job of cleaning off spyware and malware.

Check out www.ccleaner.com  for a product that can be used to really clean and speed up your computer.  Ccleaner (formerly known as Crap Cleaner) removed temporary and unused files and registry entries that are no longer being used.  You can also use it to remove software that Windows refuses to uninstall.  When you run the registry cleaner, you'll need to run it about three times to get all the junk.

Need to do a presentation, or have word processing or spreadsheet functionality that is compatible with Microsoft Office but don't have $$$ to spend?  Check out http://www.openoffice.org.  Free open source software that provides word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, graphics and database functionality.  Moreover, it can open and edit and save Microsoft Office (up to 2007) files. 

Firefox is a great browser alternative to Internet Explorer.  Available from http://www.mozilla.com/  it provides more functionality that IE has even considered.  It is much more secure and protected against malware and spyware invasions.   Their Thunderbird e-mail product provides a great local e-mail client as well.

More to come...

 

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What I do
Thursday, January 07, 2010

In real life I'm a computer tech at the local wastewater department.  I get paid to be a geek.  I work with two other self-professed geeks - worked with them for over 18 years.  We get along great  - most of the time.   We are part of the local county government and as such, money is tight.  However, a few years ago I figured out that since other county departments seemed to spend a lot of money on computer equipment and replace it rather quickly, I would acquire their castoffs  (for free) that were still in great shape and had a least a couple of years of life left.  They were delighted that we would come and pick them up - they didn't have to clean off the hard drives and take them to surplus. We took all they had and then used the best ones to replace older machines and saved spares in case we had to repair them.  We could always fix one faster with spare parts rather than waiting for a tech to come on a warranty repair.  Granted, then we had to take stuff to surplus, but it was worth it.  Over the past few years, I've acquired flat panel monitors and printers as well as computers.  Sometimes we would buy a few sticks of memory to add to the computers, but overall we saved (the county) a LOT of money.

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Author:
AnnieM (Contact)
Olathe, Kansas USA
About Me:

I've been a cheapskate just about all my life. In doing so I've learned to do just about everything. I can sew, paint, hang wallpaper, install tile and flooring, pull and replace toilets, sinks, garbage disposals and faucets. Remove and replace ceiling fixtures and fans, replace outlets and switches, I've installed windows (both on houses and on computers!), I can rehab almost anything from furniture (repair, reupholster and refinish) to computers (I built my husband a good laptop using three broken ones that I got for free)! I've taken cheap to a whole new level!

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