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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Frugal Living - December Part 2

Here is an update on our past month adventures in side hustles and savings!

Health Insurance:  

This is my 3rd year of working as an independent contractor and paying my own health insurance.  I could write a much longer post on my thoughts on the Affordable Care Act and how it has impacted us in both positive and negative ways and I will write this post, but for now I simply want to say we got a bill from Evergreen Health that was set to increase our premium by $300!  I had no intentions of pay this steep increase and immediately started looking for alternatives.  A friend at church suggested Samaritan Ministries.  For $440 per month, my husband and I could pay into a system where Christians pay each other's medical expenses. It's not insurance, but it's legally accepted on tax returns to act in place of insurance.  

$440 is about $200 lower than our 2016 monthly premium and the additional savings can be put aside for medical needs not covered by Samaritan Ministries such as regular office check ups and some prescriptions.  I did the math and in theory we should have more money in our pockets by end of year.  

To be honest, it's a huge leap of faith and it feels weird to not be covered by traditional insurance!  I don't know if it's a safety blanket or what but it was a tough decision to make.  I did a ton of research and couldn't find a compelling reason to NOT give this a try so we are on board.

I kept the kids on the Maryland plan because for $66 per month, it covers all their doctor visits, vision, dental, etc.  I'm so happy with this plan.  If and when it goes away in the upcoming years, I'll have to more carefully budget for their needs but for now, we will enjoy this plan for as long as it lasts.  

Consignment Sale:

Despite my disappointment in the last sale, I found another one that was doing a Christmas sale at the beginning of December.  I thought it might be nice to gain some extra money for the holiday's so I put in my due diligence and updated all my winter items that didn't sell at the last sale to the pricing tags for the new one.  I have to say this one was even more of a disappointment.

I sold 84 items and made $136.74.  The process to find all remaining items that didn't sell took me over 3 hours!  The shoes were such a mess that I found one boot of a pair, the clothing was a bit disorganized so it was very hard to find my items and I must have checked the toy section half a dozen times and couldn't find certain items.  When I was leaving, I made copies of my paperwork and highlighted all my missing items.  They promised to call me back once they found my items but I never heard back from them.  They were also late in sending the check or didn't send it at all.  I finally managed to get it on the 30th right before leaving for Asia.  

The space was an entire ballroom and it was just massive.  Maybe I had tried to hit too many categories?  I don't know but it was an exhausting experience.  I much prefer the other sale that I had done twice in the year.  It's a much smaller room and I've never had such trouble finding my things or getting a check in the end.

The Penny Hoarder and Money Saving Mom:

Both websites have given me some very interesting things to do with my spare time but they can be extreme time sucks.  I think they are wonderful websites with lots of great advise but some of these apps and websites are time consuming with very little return.  I have to be more careful in the future to not go overboard in things that are not adding enough value.

Here are a few examples:

  • Swag Bucks - I know some people swear by this site but for me it's a big time suck.  The inbox suggestions lead to online gambling, medical things, watch movie trailers for a few points, etc.  You can also buy things through SB like Ebates and it will add reward points.  I've tried cross comparing between the two and I think it's like airline miles.  You need to find one and stick with it to get the biggest balance of points on one account.  I think I'm going to stick with Ebates because it's easy and I don't have time to click on a hundred websites to earn points.  I just want to get a small discount when I do online shopping and Ebates meets this need.  
    • The Swag Bucks app has survey's but I've found that 100% of the survey's I've tried to do say they will give you big points but as soon as I try to take them I get a notice saying they've exceeded the number of people who can do the survey or I don't qualify.  Well update your system to not show the survey if you've got enough applicants!  That's just irritating so I've stopped even trying to do these survey's.
  • Free stuff comes with a price of extra emails in your inbox and quite a few tricks to achieve the free result.  Case in point - I got a free Play Doh set from Toys R Us through Money Saving Mom but I had to pay full price and was supposed to get reimbursed.  I don't think the reimbursement came through.  I don't know who to chase for that and I don't have time.  So stuff like that is too time consuming to get something for free.  I will budget for what I need.  I'm not going out of my way to get a free item.  Time is more important to me than free stuff.
  • MySurvey - last month I contemplated ending my relationship with this company and after a month of ignoring them the emails piled up to over 60!  I tried doing a few more survey's and I'd only get a few points per survey.  After two months I'd not even accumulated enough for one gift card!  I'm out! 
  • Shop Tracker - my phone hated this app.  I had to turn on an exception to get it to work and it caused other problems.  Then I realized that Pinecone Research (which I love) already uses the same bot to track my spending on Amazon so I couldn't use both.  I deleted Shop Tracker.   
In summary, there are some great ways to save and earn money but the trade off is time!  Is my time more valuable in spending it with family?  Cleaning my basement of clutter?  Studying our eating habits and finding healthier ways to live on our food budget?  There are so many distractions in this world.  To me the biggest budget impacts have been big decisions like switching our health insurance to Samaritan Ministries, that $200 savings will have a far greater impact with less monthly time investment in earning that!  So I'm at a point where if I find a great app or website like Pinecone Research, I'll work it into my routine but the other stuff has to go.  My time is more valuable spent elsewhere.  

Friday, December 30, 2016

Frugal Living ~ December Part 1

December is a two part series.  The first is dealing with Christmas and all it's associated expenses and the second will be about how our extra money saving and earning adventures are going.

Christmas Gifts:
Last year, in an attempt to combat the sheer volume of excess toys in our house and to curb over-spending, I talked to my entire family about getting the kids family gifts and less individual presents.  Somehow, we've ended up with the only children on both sides of the family so they are doted on by all!  My husband is an only child and my two brothers do not have kids.  My kids are so lucky!

I also find that when they get too many individual gifts in one day, they fight!  And that drives me crazy.  So I thought more family gifts and less individual gifts would solve that particular issue.

I settled on one really great toy for each child, one lego, one book, clothing needs and a full stocking.  In addition, we did one big box of family gifts that included a Fiesty Pet, Rock and Sock Em Robots, Play Doh, movies, snacks and more lego's.  This list was shared with family.

Many of the family box gifts were bought throughout the year when I got a good deal.  I got cousin and family gifts this way as well so it wasn't so hard on the budget in December.  It was actually kinda fun to open the box of saved presents and wrap everything in one day!

My mom got the kids a big play house from Cracker Barrel to share; my older brother didn't get the memo and got them individual toys and my younger brother brought games and movies for all to share.  My cousin got them small arts and crafts which they enjoyed.

I was very pleased with the end result.  The kids were told well in advance to not expect a massive pile of presents but to be honest it still felt like we were blessed with so much.  I'm very thankful for my loving and giving family, they really love and treat us so well.

Having a set formula of toy, lego, book, clothing, family gifts and stocking helped me organize the search of items for 4 children and not go overboard on additional items.  Many many things that they asked for were set aside for future birthday's.  I try to take them to the store one time in the Christmas season to get their reaction to toys and determine what will be the best toy and then I try to avoid the stores with the kids at all costs!

We didn't travel anywhere this month.  I really wanted to go back to Texas but we were asked to do a play at church and then there were several other church events that we supported.  I think it can't be a spontaneous decision, next year it will have to be pre-planned and announced well in advance so we don't end up with commitments that conflict with possible travel dates.  I'm going to set aside a budget in 2017 for summer and Christmas travel because it's been 3 years since we've had Christmas in Texas and I'd really like to do this again in 2017.  I think that by starting a discipline of less toys in 2016 it will be easier to afford a trip next year.

I think every December my food bill goes over budget.  We eat out more, host small gatherings, buy more expensive foods for Christmas and New Years.  This year we went over our normal food budget by $242.50.  I think that's to be expected but next year I'll try to plan for this.

We have a rule to buy one family ornament per year,  We did not buy any new decorations this year other than this one ornament.  I wanted to get one of those outdoor lighting systems that shines a pattern on the house but we were so busy this month with the play and work commitments that we did the bare minimum on house decorating with stored supplies.

Stocking Stuffers:
I think I went a bit overboard in this area.  I spent $25 at Toys R Us and $10-15 at Dollar Stores plus about 3-4 hours in both places trying to find interesting things that weren't even played with because they had so many other gifts.  Maybe next year I'll bake a special cookie or treat for each stocking.

Overall, December is a month that will test even the most resolved budget.  It's the ultimate test of discipline because it is so easy go go overboard with everything.  I find that if I write it out in detail, I will read this next year and refine my approach further.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Evie's 2nd Birthday - Tears and Joy! Exactly what you would expect of a two year old!

Evie's day started with me running out the door to get a mammogram.  It was my last chance to get it for free before ending my relationship with an actual health insurance company.  I arrived home to find her happy and playful.  It was almost 11am and everyone seemed hungry so I suggested Chick Fil A for lunch.

I failed to realize that Evie's birthday falls on a holiday week (between Christmas and New Years) meaning lots of kids out of school and available to eat at CFA.  It was so crowded we couldn't find seats!  There were so many kids that Evie and Vi huddled close to mom and dad.  We took our food and ate at home, no big deal.

After lunch I went downstairs to blow up balloons and wrap presents while dad made the cake.

We decided on a unicorn cake because Evie was born year of the horse.  It was spectacular!  Family arrived and she shrieked over every person.  It was a shriek that continued throughout the day!

Presents piled up in a corner and food was presented on a pink table cloth.  Evie was positioned at the front of the table with the cake and candles.  As the entire family launched into the Happy Birthday song Evie screamed "NOOOOOOOO" and emphatically demanded we all stop singing.  It's all on camera for her to enjoy when she gets older.

I have to say, this is the first child who has screamed "NOOOOO" during his/her birthday song.  Other than hating her birthday song, she seemed to enjoy the remainder of her day, although she continued to scream "NO" every time she caught me taking a photo (sorry for the blurry shots, it's about all I have to represent the day)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Frugal Living ~ November

Two months ago I started a series on saving money after finding out that our house repairs were going to be significantly more than what we had budgeted for.  Here is an update on our past month adventures in saving!

Part 1 - things that have worked
1.  Winter Consignment - I worked many evening hours to get $1,445 in clothing ready for sell and I only sold $324, which was 26% of my stock.  The lady who runs the event apologized and said no one did well and it might have been because the sale was a month later than normal.  From what I could see, the event wasn't as well advertised as the spring event.  It was way less than what I'd hoped to make back but it did allow us to buy all of Sam's winter clothes with $200 left over to put towards the home expenses so I consider this a success.

2.  Donations - I have a number of items that are not quite good enough for consignment sales but I don't want to send them to a landfill.  I've itemized my taxes for years and after researching it again, I found the itemized price for most items was very close to what I was selling the used clothing for.  Light bulb moment!  It's less work to make a list of donated items and itemize them than it is to consign clothing!  The only differences is potential money now VS money later back through taxes.

This is a very significant point for me because I agonize over our stuff, not wanting to throw things into the garbage, needless filling a landfill and I want to get something back if possible!  Donations worked out to be a great solution for anything that's not in mint condition.  I'll write a much longer blog post on this later as we get closer to tax season.

3.  Pinecone Research - I've enjoyed the survey's I've done for this company.  I did 5 survey's in October and earned 1100 points so I have enough to get a $10 gift card.  I do these in the evening while watching Hulu after the kids go to bed.  They haven't sent more than 5 per month and I find that each one is well thought out and interesting to fill out.  They take about 20 minutes each.

4. Ebates - I've heard wonderful things about this online company but I guess I don't buy enough online to get much in return until I realized that they include Ebay and Hotels.com.  For my recent trip to Florida, I went to Ebates first, selected Hotels.com and then ordered a 4 night stay and got back $34.47.  Awesome Sauce!  Should you feel compelled to set up an account, please use this link so I can get referral credit.  Ebates will even give a $10 credit just for signing up!

6.  Amazon - I made $6.42 profit from book sales.  It's not significant but it's very easy and I like doing it.

7.  Ebay - I posted 4 items and sold 1 for $15.00.  Ebay's a tough market, but I'd say the effort to sell something is minimal if you can easily take good photos which I have a photo stand for so it's only about 5 minutes max per item set up.  It's not something I can do every month but when it does work out it's a nice little boost.

Part 2 - things that have not worked:
1.  MySurvey - they are great at sending tons of survey's but after completing more than 10, I don't see my points going up, in fact, I'm at 250 and you need over 1000 to buy the smallest gift card.  I'm not sure I see the value in putting time into these survey's.

2.  Advertising on my blog - I've signed up for blogger and Amazon affiliate advertising and haven't gotten back a single penny.  I attribute this to my lack of time and ability to promote my blog.  It's okay, these things work well for some bloggers.  I'm glad I at least tried.

3.  Yard Sale - we did ours very late in the season, October 22nd and made $36.00.  I was very happy to get rid of some large objects that had been gathering dust in my basement but after doing the donation research, I think our time can be better spent elsewhere.  The majority of people who came to our yard sale were re-sellers who were looking for that cheap item to resell elsewhere.  They were asking for things that we already know have value like Pokemon and Lego.  We've been in the toy industry for 15 years, we aren't selling those for cheap!

Maryland House 2016 Update

We bought a house for 40K that had a leaky roof and to our knowledge, we probably needed to do some rebuilding of the water damaged parts and put a new roof on the house.  We had budgeted 20K for this work.

We started calling contractors in May and went the entire summer trying to solicit quotes.  We'd get people to come out for assessment and then they wouldn't call us back.  Finally in September we got a contractor to come out who told us we'd need to do major demo work before he could quote the new roof.  The quote for demo work was 20K, our entire budget for the new roof!

We decided to proceed with the demo work because it was needed and we had hopes to get the roof done before winter sets in, and the company promised they could seal the house if we cannot get to the roof before winter.  The demo work was extensive, removing interior plaster walls and taking everything down to the studs.  This part was needed because we knew we needed to rewire and we'd been told by State Farm that plaster walls were so outdated that they couldn't insure because there was no one in the area who even did plaster walls anymore!  The stuff we've learned since buying this home has been interesting.

So two months ago, realizing this demo work would take our entire savings, we decided to look at our budget and squeeze as tight as possible along with looking for more earnings with other streams of income.

I can honestly say that living on a tight budget hasn't affected our quality of living, we still have fun with the kids but we're very careful about eating out and pack meals for all days when we will be away from our home for a lengthy period of time.  It's worked out well because the kids tend to like what I pack better than any restaurant or fast food place.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Random Tuesday Thoughts

This week's Random Tuesday is coming to you from South Florida!  I'm currently on a business trip back to my previous home town of 14 years.  It sure is nice to come back here for a week.  It's more about the nostalgia of visiting an office of people who I've worked with for 15 years and driving to all the places I'm familiar with.  I haven't even been to the beach yet or seen a lizard!

I flew in on Sunday and my family brought me to the airport with the caveat that they get to run around the airport and play Pokemon Go.  I quite nearly missed my flight because we were having so much fun!  I had 40 minutes before departure when I stepped into security, good thing I'm Pre-TSA approved!!!

I was hoping to find some unique Pokemon here but nothing has turned up yet.

When I checked into my hotel, which was paid for through Hotels.com, I asked if my room was quiet (I'm sure they get tired of hearing that) and the lady assured me it's quiet.  She put me right smack in front of the elevators so it's anything but quiet!  I'm in a suite so the front room catches all the noise and I don't hear anything at night.  Still I think it's kinda funny that she would deadpan that it's a quiet room knowing I'm right in front of the elevators.  I thought about changing rooms but I'm kinda lazy about repacking at this point.  Maybe if I get one more fighting couple outside my door I'll reconsider.  Note to self, next hotel you actually have to tell them to please put you far far away from the elevators (second note, Hotels.com do not ensure priority room placement).

Next on my agenda is visiting the Boca Mall, I'm not big on malls but this one has a few things I need and I know exactly where to go to get them.

Hope y'all have a great Random Tuesday!

Stacy Uncorked

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Frugal Living ~ October 2016

Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship. -Benjamin Franklin

One month ago, I wrote a post about finding ways to save money.  It involved consigning, returning things, closing Netflix streaming and cutting back on energy use.

Here are the results of our cutbacks:

1.  Netflix streaming - kids are sad, it's Halloween season and they can't stream their favorites.  I found another deal where I can get Hulu.com for $5.99 per month and I'll get $25 back through my AMEX card by 2/4/17.  I'd post the deal but it expired yesterday.  So parents are happy because we can stream our favorite shows after the kids go to bed.  Kids are sad but they now have Hulu and Amazon Prime, I think they will live.

2.  Energy usage - well, I've gone around the house turning off lights but I don't know if we've saved anything yet.  It's more of a good long-term habit to have.  I've also moved my office to the basement where it's cooler, so I don't notice the lack of air conditioning upstairs.

3.  Returns - I ended up keeping the trashcan I was going to return last month, because it has a lid and the original intention was to keep our 21 month old out of the trash.

4.  Consigning - the show starts this coming weekend and I'm up to $1,445.00!  This has basically taken over my evenings Monday - Friday for the past month in tagging, boxing and sorting clothes but I figure all I'm normally doing is watching TV during those hours so might as well be productive!

This past month has made us more intentional and careful about what we spend and our food spending came down $100.00.  It's still not down to the target I set, but I'll take $100 for progress!

Here are a few other ways where we've discovered savings:

1.  Costco Diapers VS Amazon Diapers
We usually buy our diapers from Costco but this month husband forgot, our Costco is 30 minutes away so we don't want to spend the gas to run back but thankfully Costco offers free shipping on diapers so I offered to go online and buy them – but wait – let’s cross check what Amazon offers for diapers first!  

It turns out Amazon Pamper diapers are significantly cheaper with the Amazon Family plan, which is already part of Amazon Prime and the only hitch is a monthly subscription which can be canceled any time.  Well, baby is only 21 months old so we’ll probably need diapers for the next year so this works out well for us.  

Here is the savings:
  • Costco Size 3 Diapers $38.99 per month, $0.19 per diaper (this month with coupon $34.99, $0.17 per diaper)
  • Amazon Family with 20% savings $26.18, $0.15 per diaper (I also got a first time buyer coupon of $2 that brought the final price down to 25.64 with tax.
2.  Lowe's Returns
I've heard Lowe's will take back dead plants for up to a year!  I'm not willing to wait that long.  Every time I have a plant from Lowe's die, I take it back!  Recent return was $10.60!

3.  Coffee downgrade
I was buying Starbucks Espresso to make my Pioneer Women Iced Coffee because I tried Cafe Bustelo once and it was kinda harsh.  I decided to give it one more try and it was much better, maybe I didn't filter it well enough before, anyway it turned out awesome and lasted an entire month.  Starbucks Espresso costs $12.95 for a 1lb bag at Target Starbucks.  Cafe Bustelo at Shop 'N Save cost $3.99!  That's almost $9 in savings per month!

4.  Ebates!
Ebates is a website that helps you earn a small percentage for online purchases.   You have to create an account on Ebates first, then select the online company you want to buy from, after clicking on the company it will open that company's page and Ebates will pay you a small percentage that varies per company.  I find it really hard to remember to do this, but recently I've been more careful and have actually earned a few dollars.  If you click on my link and create an account I'll earn $25.

5.  Target Flu Shot
Target is giving $5.00 for all flu shots given.  I don't think they will accept children because they are supposed to go to their primary pediatrician but we could get $10 with two adults and I'm pretty sure our insurance covers this for free.

I'm writing these posts as a way to encourage myself and others to keep looking for ways to save money.  In our home, we've been following a tight budget for 8 years and we are still finding small ways to compromise and save money.

Note: The Amazon link in this post is an affiliate link.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Review of Pinecone Research

I've been hearing about Pinecone Research for quite some time - Money Saving Mom has recommended them along with The Penny Hoarder.  Is it worth the effort?  I had to find out!

For some reason it was very challenging to set up an account, every time I followed the first email's instructions, I'd get a page saying I my log-in details were invalid.  I wrote to the person who sends the survey's twice before finally getting a request for my birth date.  One day later I got an email telling me to try again and at this point I was able to reset the log-in information and do 2 survey's.

The first survey asked me to download a program that would scan my Amazon purchases for the past year and upload the information for researchers to analyze.  This process took about 20 minutes and I was surprised to see that I've spent $1000 in one year's time.  I was also emailed an excel sheet with the information.  Part of these purchases are for work and reimbursed.  For the survey I was paid $3.00.

I did a 2nd survey for 200 points that took less than 5 minutes.  The points can be used for gift cards.  I've got my eye on a Starbucks gift card that is 500 points for $5.00.

I guess for a few minutes of time and willingness to share information I could earn enough for one cup of Starbucks coffee per month!  You can also get $3.00 Visa cards with 300 points.  Most survey's seem to be around 300 points so that's basically like getting $3.00 per survey.

My summary is that it took some effort to get started but seems like it might pay off nicely with just a few minutes of effort.  If I can do this while watching a TV show in the evening then I'm happy.

Giant Homegrown Sweet Poatoes

Who knew these giant sweet potatoes were growing in the ground all summer?  I love the mystery of gardening earth vegetables, you never know what you're going to get until it's dug up.  The biggest is 3lbs 5.6oz, can't find these in stores!

Total weight 20lbs 10oz

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Random Tuesday Thoughts

Today on Random Tuesday, I want to talk about my favorite fall things!

1.  Orange Mushrooms - they come up every October in our front yard.  They are just so cute and seasonally orange.  I love them.

2.  Speaking of orange, I love this little orange ghost.  It's from TY, and can also be found on Amazon.

3.  Pumpkins of course!  I celebrated October 1st by baking 2 pumpkins the night before, draining them overnight and then making pumpkin pie, pumpkin sheet cake and pumpkin muffins!  I love baking with fresh pumpkin!!

4.  Check out this little cutie in orange!

5.  Sweet Potatoes!  We've got a bumper crop this year and these things are the biggest I've ever seen!  I can't wait to update my "Garden to Table" link with favorite sweet potato recipes!!

6.  Cider - because Fall is more than orange things!  My husband lamented the overuse of Pumpkin spice this season so I'm on a mission to put apples on our menu!

Stacy Uncorked

Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday Walk to the Park

My kids do not have school on Friday's.  Somehow the school worked out a schedule where they go slightly longer M-Th and they've reached the requisite number of school days so Friday they get a few hours of home-school work and the rest is play time!

Since I work from home, I like to take an hour off to play with them. Today they convinced me to run to the park at 10am and while there explore cat tails.

They've gotten really good at lining up for photos.  The baby gets front and center and gives me a big ol' grin.  I'm loving it!!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Random Tuesday Thoughts

Also known as Taco Tuesday since the Lego movie came out and yes, we actually do eat Taco's every Tuesday.  It makes meal planning easy when there are several set days, I learned that from my mom.

For this week of Random Tuesday I have this lovely sign to present from Sonic in Tennessee, where we broke down this past summer for 3 days while waiting for our van to be fixed.

Stacy Uncorked

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sculpting With Kids 20mo - 8 years old

My husband and I are both artists but we both did art by ourselves as kids with whatever we could get our hands on.

As parents of 4 small children, we feel responsible to teach art and encourage them in a wide range of artistic endeavors.  I have no doubt that they will figure it out for themselves if they are so inclined, but I'd like to think that an early start will give them more confidence in trying new artistic mediums.  When I was younger I just assumed each art style was a singular pursuit, like if you were a painter then you only painted and so forth.

We can see that some of our kids are more artistically inclined but they all take an interest so we end up doing an art project and adjusting them for everyone's needs and age.

20 month old toddler through 4 year old's use Play Doh:

Older kid, 6 - 8, are starting to use adult clay's like Sculpey and Premo which get finer detail and require them to use more tools and techniques.

The Sculpey clay came with reference that the kids used to create these sculptures and I think once they gain confidence they will create their own characters.

I'm feeling a little rusty but the best way to teach is to sculpt along with them so here is my little aardvark:

Note: The links in this post are affiliate links.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How to sell books on Amazon and make money!

I went through a phase in my 20's where I lived in Florida, had no kids, and bought a new book almost every week to read on the beach.  This was pre-internet streaming and we didn't have cable so reading was my primary source of entertainment.  Now I have a massive glut of book inventory - mostly chick lit from 2001 - 2008 that I will never read again because I only read books once.  There are some GREAT books in this collection but I don't have room to store these books.  

Today I posted 14 books on Amazon, you can find my store front HERE, the link takes you to feedback, select Products to see the books. Some of these are from conferences I've attended.  Big hug from me if you buy one of my books!!  They are priced competitively and all proceeds go to the refurbishment of our house.  

I've been selling my used books on Amazon for 4 years and I've found I can actually earn more per book than through used book sellers with the right books.  Here's how it works:

  1. Set up an Amazon Seller Account - the link is right here, or you can just scroll to the bottom of your Amazon page and click on "Sell on Amazon", then set up a Seller Account.
  2. Plug in the ISBN numbers for all books you want to sell.  Amazon will give you a suggested price that compares to other vendor prices after you put in the condition of the book.  

Here are the fees involved, this is important because if your book is priced too low, you could actually lose money:

  • Amazon Referral Fee – 15% of sell price (this seems to go away when you’ve posted more than 40 books) 
  • Amazon Variable Closing Fee $1.35
  • Amazon Per Item Fee $0.99
  • USPS Media Rate $2.60 on average for paperback (hint - the post office does not post their media rate but you must use it because it's almost $1.00 cheaper then paying by weight)

My benchmark is to earn close to $1.00 per book, if I can’t get this then it’s not worth the effort in my opinion.  To reach my target, I need to price my book at $2.25.  Here is a breakdown of the fees on a book I’ve posted recently:

  • Amazon Total Fees $2.68
  • USPS Media Rate $2.60
  • Total fees = $5.28
  • Sell Price is $2.25 + 3.99 shipping = $6.24
  • Profit $0.96
Amazon is great about showing you the lowest rate that other vendors are offering so if you see a low price like $0.01, don't bother posting the book because you would lose money after paying Amazon and shipping fees.  Once you've set your benchmark, like mine at $2.25, then you can reject posting any book that other vendors sell for lower than this price.  

I’ve got 14 books that are priced at $2.25 and above which will make an expected profit of $49.51 if all sell.  This is well worth the effort in my opinion.  The rest of my inventory that is worth $0.01 on Amazon will go to a yard sale or flea market sale.  

About those $0.01 books, have you ever wondered why someone would even bother selling a book for $0.01?  It's because the book has fallen in value and there are so many re-sellers that the book is only worth $0.01 + shipping.  If you advance to paying for a monthly $39.99 professional account, that takes away some of Amazon's fees but you'd need to be sure you can sell at least 40 books a month to break even on a $0.01 book. 

Note: The links in this post are affiliate links.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Random Tuesday Thoughts

Stacy Uncorked

Over the past 2 months I've been mulling over my favorite blogging moments in 10 years and it brought me to internet meme's, of which I've participated in many but one comes to mind as the funniest and friendliest group and that is Random Tuesday Thoughts!  So I thought I'd tip toe back into the group and offer my two cents :)

Let's see - what randomness can I offer this week:

In the saving money category, we've decided to cancel our Apple Valley Trash Service, saving $50.85 quarterly.  Hubs is going to get a $130 annual dump permit and haul our trash to the dump.  It sounds nice, in theory!  

Monday was "Talk Like A Pirate Day", which we have celebrated for 7 years!  I was a little surprised at the lack of news, last year Disney jumped on board and there was other news coverage.  This year I don't recall seeing anything in the news but that just makes it more niche and special.  Our kids are so enthusiastic about this day that they actually thought we were going to let them stay home from school to celebrate all day.  Actually they first thought it was like a national holiday.  Sorry sweeties!

I noticed Stacy wrote about coffee on her post, which reminds me, we're really low!  I guess we best be planning our trip to the local coffee shop this week!  Yeah!!!

That's all I got for now!  XO to the Random community!!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Talk Like A Pirate Day - 2016

We've been celebrating Talk Like a Pirate Day for 7 years now and it's become so epic that this year our kids actually assumed it was a national holiday and they were surprised when they had to go to school.  For the last few year's I've seen quite a few businesses jump into the fray, like Krispy Kream gives one dozen free donuts to anyone who talks and dresses like a pirate and Disney was getting in on the action but this year I didn't see anything in the news or on Facebook so I guess we're back to be a niche group.  

It was kinda nice to have this as a school day because we like to create a treasure map and put clues all over our yard and we can do this while they are in school.

Here's tiny tot looking for a clue.

  Over here Evie!

In the past, we've had more than one in tears throughout the treasure hunt and this was resolved by making them take turns to read the map.  We put little treasures at every stop which kept it interesting.  In prior years we had put the entire treasure at the end. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Libby's Pumpkin is not what it seems, or so Joe Sevier would like us to believe

Y'all, I'm a self professed expert in pumpkins and I base this on my experience in growing them and using them exclusively for all pumpkin related baking since 2012.  So today, when I read this article saying that Libby's is not using 100% pumpkin, I started out feeling a little smug, but by the end I was just plain annoyed with the author because the article is peppered with inaccuracies.

The article starts by saying your Starbucks Pumpkin Latte is in fact a Squash Spice Latte because you've been conditioned by Libby's pumpkin cans to actually eat squash.  Hang on a second, isn't pumpkin actually a squash?  Also, the bulk of pumpkin flavor in ANY pumpkin recipe comes from a combination of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger - or sometimes a combination of all in what is called a pumpkin pie spice - at most you might say Starbucks drink is a Spice Latte but it's called marketing to add pumpkin in the name!    

The next point this author tries to make is that when we think of pumpkins, we think of Jack-O-Lanterns at Halloween, he then says "which, while edible, isn't good for cooking".  Now this is simply not true!  In 2012, when I first started cooking with pumpkins, I cooked a big ol' pumpkin before I even knew about those small darling sugar pumpkins.  The taste was fine!  Once you add all those spices, it taste like the pumpkin I used to buy for years from Libby's!  I've since bought many sugar pumpkins and I've found some have a brighter orange flesh which is closer to what I see in the Libby's brand and probably have been conditioned to believe is more authentically pumpkin.  I recently cooked a big pumpkin from my mom's garden that had pale yellow flesh but I think it hadn't quite finished ripening because the flesh was more textured, less dense.  I can tell you the resulting pumpkin muffins turned out awesome and were gone in 24 hours!

Next the author tells us Libby's is using Dickson Squash:

"Libby's Pure Pumpkin—the quintessential American canned pumpkin brand—is responsible for 85% of canned pumpkin sold in the world. When we think of a pumpkin, we usually imagine either the rotund, bright orange specimen that we buy up at Halloween to carve into a jack-o-lantern—which, while edible, isn't good for cooking—or its smaller, tastier cousin, the sugar pumpkin. But instead of those pumpkin varieties, Libby's grows a proprietary strain of tan-skinned Dickinson squash. "
Again, pumpkin is in the squash family, eye roll,  and I believe that this version is in fact considered a pumpkin!  Check out this page that calls the Dickson Pumpkin incredible!  So does this mean the author's only claim lies in what he believes to be the consumer's assumed belief that Libby's is using Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins when in fact they are using a Dickson Pumpkin?  This is just ridiculous.  

I personally love working with real pumpkins and I will always advocate for working with whole foods when it's a dietary staple to save money but if you're not big into pumpkin and it's a once a fall thing to make a pie then buy the dang Libby's can! 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Tomato, Mozzarella & Sausage Baked Pasta Recipe

This recipe is adapted from a Fine Cooking recipe - I tend to find their recipes have too many steps for quick evening meal and I like my baked pasta's broken down into bowl steps like a lasagna.  It's just easier for me to do one bowl/pot, walk away and come back in an hour - such is the life with small ones and a work from home job, I have to work in spurts.  I've changed the ingredients to make it easier to work with items I'm more likely to have in my kitchen liked dried herbs - I just can't seem to make good use of fresh herbs in time, I'd say if you want fresh herbs, check out the FC link above.

  • 35oz whole tomatoes with juice (or one quart of canned tomatoes)
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 t oregano dried spice
  • 1 t parsley dried spice
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t pepper
Place peeled garlic and onion into food process and dice small, then place them into a skillet with a little olive oil and cook at low temperature for 10 minutes.

Place onion and garlic mixture into medium sauce pan with the tomatoes and spices.  Cook on low temperature for 1-2 hours.

  • 12oz Italian Sausage
The sausage should be removed from casings (it can be bought without casings) and cooked at medium temperature until browned.  It should be drained of all grease and it can be then cooked in the tomato sauce or simply added to the pasta right before baking.

  • 1 bag Egg Noodles or 1 box Ziti
About 45 minutes before you are ready to eat, start a pot of water for the noodles and cook per directions on the packaging.

  • 1 cup Ricotta 
  • 1 cup Parmesan Cheese (I use the grated can version)
  • 1 egg
While noodles are cooking, stir all cheese ingredients in a small bowl.

  • Mozzarella Cheese 8oz grated
Set oven temperature to 375.  Once noodles are finished cooking, drain the water and place noodles into a large pot for oven baking.  Add sauce and stir evenly throughout noodles.  Add the meat and mix evenly.  Then add the cheese sauce in large lump segments and stir into the noodles.  Add half the mozzarella cheese and stir evenly, then add remaining mozzarella cheese to the top.  

Bake in oven for 30 minutes.  

In summary, my brain just works better for recipes that are broken down into steps.  I do love the original Fine Cooking recipe, but I find it's harder to work on a recipe from beginning to end without a break and to make sure I've got the more specialty ingredients on hand.  So this is my quick version and I hope you will enjoy it as much as we do!  

Friday, September 09, 2016

Black Bean and Corn Salsa Recipe

I have a friend who sells Tastefully Simple and one product that I love is Black Bean and Corn Salsa but at $8.00 per jar, it's expensive so after a summer of canning salsa, I decided to make my own!  It is surprisingly easy and absolutely delicious!

This recipe makes enough for canning 4-5 pints, if that's too much then you could easily cut this in half or quarter the recipe.

If you are planning to can, make sure you have 5 clean pints!  I recently ran out and the cheapest place I've found pints is Family Dollar, 12 pints for $8.00.  Walmart has them for just under $10 and Amazon has them for $14.98 with free shipping.  If you are buying jars out of season, Amazon might be your best option.

  • 7-8lbs Fresh Tomatoes, roasted
  • 1 Red bell pepper, roasted and chopped
  • 2 Jalapeno's, roasted (seeds removed) and chopped
  • 1 Jalapeno with seeds chopped
  • 1 Small Red Onion
  • 1 T Cilantro dried spice
  • 1 T Cumin
  • 1 t Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 t Salt
  • 1 Ear of Corn, cooked and removed from cob
  • 1 cup Black Beans
Start by soaking all tomatoes in a bin with a vinegar water wash that should be 3 part water and 1 part vinegar.  Based on research, only water is needed but I like how a good soak can loosen any dirt or bugs still on the tomatoes as ours are freshly grown in our backyard garden.   After soaking, rinse the tomatoes and remove green tops along with any bad spots or areas that are still green.

Roast tomatoes, red pepper and jalapeno's on a cookie sheet under Broil for 10 minutes then immediately place tomatoes into 4 quart stock pot, reserve jalapeno and red pepper for chopping.

I use a food processor to chop up the red pepper (remove seeds & pulp), onion (remove outer skin) and jalapeno's (removing stem and top first).  I don't like to touch jalapeno's with my hands and I hate wearing gloves so I strictly use tongs.  I wear contact lenses and have found that despite repeated washing my hands retain some small residue and it can hurt badly.  If I'm planning to use the jalapeno with seeds, I'll just throw the entire thing (minus top) into the food processor.  I've found that even huge slices will cook down in 5 hours.

After veggies are chopped, place on top of the roasted tomatoes in stock pot.  Next add all spices and cook the tomato sauce for 4-5 hours until it has reached a desired thickness.  Add black beans and corn for the final 15-30 minutes of cooking time.  Beans will get a tough skin if cooked too long with tomatoes so this is why they are put in at the end.

See this post for instructions on canning the salsa.

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Frugal Living ~ September 2016

We just found out our house repairs are going to cost more than we budgeted for so it's time to go into extreme overdrive with savings and cut back spending.

Day 1 Actions:
1.  Sign up for Pinecone Research - get paid to do 15 minute surveys
2.  Close Netflix streaming account - savings $8.47 per month
3.  Husband turned up the AC and turned off my office light (not sure what to think about that last one - it kinda makes me feel sleepy).
4.  Return stuff we don't need or spent too much on

  • Husband bought all spices listed on the grocery list at Food Lion this week - total cost $17.86
  • Bought same spices at local farm market for $9.21, it's an extra stop but worth it to buy in bulk and get more quantity for less $$
  • Husband bought 4 butternut squash at Aldi for $1.99 each, then at Food Lion bought them for $1.29 lb (thinking it was also per piece), it ended up being $9.96 for 2 so I returned them
  • Big Lots - planning to return a trash can with lid.  I haven't had a trash can with a lid in a long time so I thought it would look nice.  I think I'd rather have the $22.00 in our account so I'm returning it.
  • Total returned:  $49.82
I've been working on consignment items for an upcoming fall/winter sale where they let you set your own price and the only requirement is that all items must be in really excellent condition.  It's time consuming but I need to get rid of our baby stuff anyway so might as well make something back.  So far I'm up to $804.00.  The host gets 30% so that leaves $562.80 - $10 entrance fee so if all sells I'll make $552.80.  

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Chili with Dried Beans Recipe

Canned Beans VS Dried

I've spent years eating canned beans out of convenience and taste.  My few experiences with dried beans usually resulted in a harder bean than what comes in a can.  Recently, I discovered cooking dried beans in a crock pot produces the softer bean taste I prefer and I have no plans to return to canned beans. 

Dried beans use less packaging then canned and that makes me feel better then sending tons of cans to the recycling plant.  Reduce is the first step in the 3 R's (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle).  

Dried beans take a day of prep work in soaking and cooking but it can be done around a work schedule or on a weekend.  I prefer the weekend so I can check in on the beans after 6 hours of cooking.  

Let's start with the recipe so you can get a clear understanding of what is needed:

4 Quart Recipe
  • 3 quarts of crushed tomatoes (96 ounces)
  • Red beans or Kidney (60 ounces or 7.5 cups)
  • Black beans (60 ounces or 7.5 cups)
  • 2lbs ground meat (Beef or Turkey)
  • 3/4 cup chili powder
  • 4 Bullion Cups (Beef or Poultry)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt

You will need a 6 quart stock pot and 2 crock pots (if you only have one crock pot, you can do one set of beans a day in advance).

Soaking Beans:

Some recipes recommend soaking beans all night but I find that it's not necessary with the crock pot cooking method.  

Place your beans, a few at a time, into a colander and remove all cracked, shriveled beans, and rocks, then place into a pot of room temperature water to soak for an hour.  I put black and red beans in separate pots because I'm usually doing them in bulk and want to separate what is not needed for this recipe to freeze for later.

Cooking Beans:

If possible, use two different crock pots, one for red and one for black as they may need different cooking lengths depending on the size of the bean.  Cover beans with 2 inches of water and cook for 6-8 hours on low.  If using larger red beans like Kidney's, check around 6 hours because they have a tendency to split open when cooked too long.  I've found small red beans to be rather hardy and can deal with an 8 hour cooking process.  Black beans sometimes need slightly less, around 7 hours.  Most recipes suggest to start checking on the bean around 6 hours and then every hour after until you get the right degree of softness.  
Tomato/Meat Base:
If beans are cooked in tomato's for too long, it will make the bean skin tough.  I've heard this before and found it verified on this webpage.  Therefore we've started putting our beans in for the last 30 minutes of cooking.  This works rather well considering the beans are cooking in crock pots.  I suggest to start the tomato/meat base about 2 hours before you are planning to eat dinner.  

Start by putting 3 quarts of tomatoes into a stock pot then adding all spices, bullion cubes and ground meat after it has been browned (drain fat before adding meat to sauce).  Cook sauce at a low temperature for 1-2 hours.  The tomato base really only needs to simmer for 1-2 hours depending on how much liquid you like in your Chili.  I've seen some who like a lot of liquid and others who prefer a dense Chili so I suggest to base this cooking time on your personal preference for liquid content.  Longer cooking time will equal less liquid.

Adding Spice:
If you prefer to add a little kick to your Chili, I suggest to put a chopped jalapeno into the tomato sauce, keep or discard seeds depending on how spicy you want the sauce to be (adding seeds makes it hotter).  I use a food processor to make the jalapeno really small and I only use tongs to handle the jalapeno so as to not get the oils on my hands.  They can burn hours later when removing contacts.

Final 30 minutes - add beans to the tomato/meat sauce and simmer at a low temperature.  serve with your favorite toppings.  We like grated Cheddar Cheese but I've seen it also served with finely chopped onions and sour cream.  

For more details on cooking dried beans, I suggest this blog as they have done a great job with illustrations.  

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