Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Parenting: Why "I Dare Ya" Is NEVER a Good Idea

Kids are scary.  They get plenty of bumps and bruises just from their normal activities, but then they start in on the daredevil stuff.  It's a wonder any of them survive their childhoods without major injuries or worse!  

Considering we have 3 sons, we've been really lucky as far as injuries go, but when my youngest son was about ten, he did something really dumb.  He took a dare from a kid at a pool party.  The kid dared him to stick his arm in the pool filter, and of course, he did.  Those things have tremendous suction and there have been some serious injuries with them, but fortunately, there were some alert adults watching the kids and they were able to get him out of there before he seriously messed up his arm or got sucked under the water.  I shudder to think what could have happened otherwise.  

As you can see though, his arm was one solid bruise from wrist to elbow.  He had to go to the ER for Xrays and a course of antibiotics for the nasty germs contained in those filters.  And his arm was pretty sore for about a week.  After that, we had a serious talk about dares.  

When you think about it psychologically, dares are really interesting.  Kid A (or even Adult A) comes up with something so astoundingly stupid they know that no one in their right mind would do it.  But it would be entertaining to see someone try it, so they "dare" Kid B to do it.  Most of the time, Kid B rightfully tells him to stuff it, but if Kid B has low self-esteem or has a naturally daring or clownish personality, he is likely to take the dare just for the attention factor.  This could end in serious injury or major property damage.  

I think we need to really talk to our kids about situations like this and help them understand why someone they consider a friend would do something that could cause them to get hurt.  The phrase I used with my son is that nothing good is ever going to come after "I dare you".  I think that made an impression on him because as far as I know, he never took another dare again.  

You might even want to role play it with them to help them come up with several good responses to a dare situation.  It doesn't mean that they will always come out of it without taking the dare, but it certainly makes it less likely.  I figure if it keeps them out of the ER even once, that is definitely time well spent!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Clutterbugs: How to do a Job You HATE!

I'm at work today and it's kind of a slow day, so I am catching up on my most hated task - FILING! I don't know why I dislike filing so much, but I always have and that isn't likely to change soon.

So the question is, how do you approach a task you really dislike doing?

Here are some ideas that work for me:  

- Put it off and hope it chokes and dies! (Appealing, but not likely)

- Pay someone to do it for you (outsource it to India, your kids, or a maid??)

- Foist it off on someone who doesn't mind doing it, or trade a job someone else hates that you don't mind doing. I do this one a lot around the house. Everyone has different jobs that they like or dislike. I will take dishes over mopping every time, for example.

- Do a little every day so it doesn't pile up to a big ugly job.  This is the procrastinator's special trick.  

- Simplify the task so you can get it out of the way quickly.

- Offer yourself a reward for doing it (hey, this works on my kids!).  Even if it's just a gold star on a chart, it can work perfectly.  

- Get a friend to help so you can at least have some company while doing it.  It's much more fun to clean someone else's house than it is yours.  

For filing, I take an approach that hits several of these points. First of all, I put it off for as long as I can get away with it. It's not a critical part of my job, so I can do that without too much guilt.  For me, that's better for me than having to face it every week. It's more like once a month thing or every other month before it gets to be an issue.

I'm rarely able to foist it off on someone, but I have managed to a couple of times. There's been a few times when my kids were in the office and I was able to bribe them into doing it for me. Also, my co-worker doesn't mind filing - so sometimes I can trade a job with her or at least get her to help me with it so I've got someone to talk to.

I've also have simplified the job to make it easier and faster.  I figured I rarely ever look at the files, so I only sort them into 6-10 folders rather than 20 or more, so it takes less time.  

What job do you hate that you end up putting off all the time? What can you do to make it easier?

Photo credit: courtesy of dollface-1

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Smart Money: Stealth Savings

Sometimes I think the saving habit is one of the hardest habits to develop.  But that savings account has saved my butt so many times, I just don't understand how people function without one.  

I think the trap people fall into is thinking that they don't have "enough" money to develop a regular savings habit.  That's kind of delusional thinking because the emergencies aren't going to stop coming just because you don't have the money on hand to deal with them.  

So when the car breaks or the water heater floods the basement, you are going to reach for the credit card, borrow from relatives, or heaven forbid, resort to the dreaded payday loan.  Those are all strategies that just dig you deeper in the hole. 

So, how to deal with that pesky problem with finding the money to fund your savings account.  The answer is you need to learn to fly under the radar with stealth savings - lots of tiny changes to generate extra money to save.  Here are some ideas for you:

Illegal Tender:  This was my Mom's favorite strategy.  She would declare certain denominations of money as "Illegal Tender" - usually quarters, but sometimes just nickels or dimes.  Then she would sort the extra change out of her wallet every night and put it in a special jar.  It added up a lot faster than you would think and she would usually be able to deposit an extra $30-$50 per month to have savings account.  

There are some banks that will do this for you automatically now. Every time you use your debit card, it rounds the transaction up to the nearest dollar amount and moves the change off to your savings account - sweet!

Couponing - Extreme or Otherwise:  It takes extra time and dedication, but you can save a ton of money with coupons.  The trick is to figure out how much money you actually saved and bank it.  Otherwise, it just slips off into the wild blue yonder and you never seem to benefit from it.  

Pay Cash:  This one is bigger than you might think.  Paying with cash hurts a lot more than just whipping out a debit (or credit) card.  Knowing that the cash will be gone once you spend it, is a great way to get your daily spending under control and generate some extra savings.  

Brown Bagging: If you aren't already doing it, you can save money through brown bagging your lunches, or other types of cutbacks.  For instance, meatless Mondays, breakfast for dinner, or cutting back on eating out.  This was a big help for me - I switched from eating in the company cafeteria at $5-$7 a day to bringing Lean Cuisines for $2-$3 a day. I saved money and lost 20 pounds in the bargain.  Again, the important part is to track your savings and funnel that money into the bank.  

Garage Sales/Ebay/Craigslist:  If you are not having luck with any of these methods, its time to get more intense.  Start digging around your house for stuff you can sell for extra money.  I've done this for years and I've made thousands and cleared a lot of unwanted stuff out of my house.  It definitely is a lot of work, but it can be worth it.  

Extra work:  There's a ton of ways you can fund your savings account by doing extra work.  It doesn't always have to mean commiting yourself to a second job.  You can occasionally babysit or tutor kids, give piano/guitar lessons, do hair, or clean houses, whatever floats your boat.  I do decluttering work for people when I have an extra evening and my husband does odd jobs and lawn mowing for people in the neighborhood. 

Direct Sales (party plan businesses):  This one comes with a warning.  Do NOT get into this if you have a shopping problem.  Voice of experience here!  It takes a lot of discipline to make this work properly and not be a liability to your budget.  However, if you're smart and disciplined about it, you can make quite a bit of money in these businesses.  In the past, I've sold both Stampin' Up! and Pampered Chef.  I didn't make a fortune, but it's a nice trickle of extra money, and I get a lot of stuff for free that I would have bought anyway.  

The important thing is to get that money into the bank anyway you can and once it's there - forget about it and let it grow.  

What are your best ideas for stealth savings?

If you'd like to see past posts on the subject, click the label at the bottom of this post for a complete list of my Smart Money series.

Photo credit:  Image courtesy of Janoon028 /

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Four "Stupid Easy" Ideas for Small Businesses

I've been just bubbling over with ideas lately. I keep thinking about all the poor people who are out of work and struggling these days. Obviously this is a very tough job market and will be for quite a long time, so people need to get very creative and think outside the box when it comes to earning money.

I have a couple of ideas that I've stumbled across that are so easy, almost anyone could do them with very little money, talent, or connections.  So being the wonderful, giving person that I am, I am going to share them with you absolutely for FREE.

Stock image by

The Daycare Solution

When Blake was about 4 years old, we had him in a fabulous daycare. It was really small and friendly and we really liked it. One of the things we really enjoyed were the dance classes. This lady would come in once a week and teach a half hour dance class for the kids. I forget how much we paid, but let's say it was $20 a month for four classes a month. There were maybe 10 kids in the class, so let's say she was making $200 a month for a half-hour investment of her time. She also had 3 or 4 other daycares that she was doing this at, so that is an income of about $600 to $800, probably tax free. All for a one day a week investment of her time. I call that BRILLIANT! The kids were happy, the parents were happy, and the daycare was happy to have the kids entertained for a half hour a week.

Then to make it even more fun (and profitable), she would do quarterly recitals at all her daycares. She and her Mom would get together and make some simple costumes that could be worn over a leotard and some props and they would invite the parents in for these little performances to see the kids dance. She would charge a $10 "costume rental fee" per kid. That's another couple of hundred dollars of income and she would re-use the costumes at each daycare and recycle some of them from recital to recital.

You could adapt this idea for art classes, karate, academic tutoring, or whatever else you could think of. Even when times are tough, parents will pay to have their kids learn something.

Mini Golf Idea

Here's another great idea that I really liked. This guy rented an unused space at the mall and he set up a little miniature golf course on it. He made the course himself out of individual plywood modules covered in that indoor/outdoor carpet stuff. The smart thing about having them set up as separate modules was that he could easily move them to another store in less than an hour.

A lot of the malls in our area have vacant store fronts. What if you were to approach the management and ask them to let you rent the place temporarily at a discount until they can find a permanent tenant for it? Then when they rent that place out, you just pack up everything and move to another space, or another mall. Most landlords would rather get a partial rent than have the place sit totally vacant. And this business model is very efficient. 

Other than the rent and a few basic materials, your only cost is labor and you could likely staff it yourself most of the time. Especially in areas where it rains or snows a lot, you'd have a pretty good clientele of bored teens and families with little kids. And all you have to do is sit back, collect the money and hand out golf clubs. Pretty cushy job, I say.

Help People Sell Things

I used to be an Ebay seller and I have sold stuff on Craiglist, Amazon, and just about every other similar on-line site. You know, it's not a scheme where you are going to get rich in most cases, but if you've got a house full of interesting crap, it's a great way to make a few extra bucks.  

However, if you run out of your own stuff, there are a lot of people out there who don't know how to use a computer, especially older folks. What if you were to put some flyers around to help people unload their stuff? You just charge them a flat fee to come and take the pictures and post the ads and then people just contact them to complete the sale. This is also a great idea for garage sales and estate sales. When we were cleaning out my in-law's house after they passed away, I posted dozens of Craigslist ads and we sold most of their furniture that way. We didn't get a lot for it, but we had a very limited time frame and it was better than giving it away.

Computer Lessons

This is another business I used to run. I'm pretty good with computers and I would go around to people's houses and show them how to use their computers. Nothing fancy, just some basic Word and Excel stuff and a little basic Internet and they would pay me $20 an hour to do it. I also used to teach private classes to teach people how to sell stuff on Ebay at $60 a class and people were happy to pay it. When you know stuff, find a way to teach it and get people to give you money for it - duh!  

Options might include:  Cooking classes, DIY/Craft classes, blogging classes, financial planning, etc.  

The problem is that I stink at marketing and once you've taught someone what they want to know, you have to go and find another client, but if someone is good at that part of it, you could do pretty well at it.

Bonus Tip:  I just thought of another great idea.  There used to be a show called the Fairy Job Mother.  This lady would take out-of-work people and coach them on various aspects of their job search - clothes to wear, resume updates, interview skills.  If you had a bit of experience in HR, running a business, or even fashion, this would be a great business to get into.  I'd love to do something like this!  It would be very rewarding to see the people succeed in their job hunts.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Clever Solutions to Pesky Problems

There's a joke that's been stuck in my mind for days now and I think there's a good reason.  An elementary school was having some difficulty with their teen girls.  Some of them had recently started using lipstick and they liked to show off by leaving kiss prints on the bathroom mirror.

This caught on and pretty soon the mirror was covered with lip prints every day.  The principal made several efforts to make them stop, but nothing she did helped.  The janitor told her he had an idea and to bring a dozen popular girls into the bathroom.  They get in there and of course the mirror is all covered with lip prints.

The principal says "Girls, I just want you to see how much extra work you are creating for Mr. Johnson, the janitor.  This is what he has to do to clean all this mess off the mirror."  Then the janitor takes a long handled brush, calmly dips it in the nearest toilet and begins scrubbing the mirror.  They never had a single lip print on the mirror again.

This story, in it's own yucky way is a very elegant solution to a problem.  It creates a permanent solution to a pesky problem with a minimum of effort.  I call it the "Disneyland Solution".  At Disneyland, they don't post signs saying "don't walk on the grass" or "don't sit on the railings" - instead they simply make it inconvenient or uncomfortable by cleverly engineering the way things are laid out.  

I'll share with you a couple of clever solutions I have come up with in in my own life.  When our middle son, Matt was a baby, he had a pacifier in his mouth ALL the time and it was driving my husband crazy, so we came up with our own "Disneyland Solution".  We gradually narrowed it down to just one pacifier.  Then we took that last pacifier and used a little piece of yarn to fasten it around the neck of the biggest, bulkiest stuffed animal we could find.  Then we just waited for him to get tired of lugging it around.  No drama, no tears.  We just waited for his arms to get tired.  In less than a three days - problem solved!

Then, a few years later, we were worried about this same kid because he was having problems with his reading. The Disneyland Solution: I went to the library, picked up a bunch of books I thought he would like and then casually dumped them in the backseat of the car with the following pronouncement "Don't touch them, they're your brother's". Problem solved!  He nearly ripped the covers off in his haste to see what they were all about.

Think about all the pesky little problems we have in our lives.  How can we come up with some "Disneyland Solutions" to solve some of these problems?  As Earl Nightingale says, "Ideas are our most valuable resource. They're free, everyone has them and some of them are excellent."

One of my pesky problems is being late to work, mainly because I like to get into the shower and zone out, or waste time on the computer in the mornings.  So I came up with a clever solution.  A couple of them actually.  

To shorten my showers, I set a timer for 15 minutes (yes, that's a SHORT shower for me!), then I set out a load of laundry. When the time goes off, my son Blake gleefully puts the laundry in the washer.  If I'm not out of the shower by then, I get a nasty surprise in the form of freezing cold water.  I've been on time for work every day for about two weeks and I have a LOT of clean laundry!  (The dishwasher works too in case you run out of laundry)

The other thing I do is tell Blake I'll pay him a dollar if he catches me on the computer in the morning.  I got that idea from our pastor.  He was tired of always yelling at his four kids, so he told them that every time he yelled at them, they got to fine him a dollar.  With four kids on a pastor's salary, that can really add up.  It's silly, but it really works.  It's just a trigger to make you more aware of your daily behavior.

So I modified it to fit my problem.  I couldn't get my kids to remember to make their beds, so I told them if they didn't make their beds by a certain time, their brother would be happy to make it for them, but they have to pay him a dollar!  Suddenly the beds started getting made just like magic....

Let's hear some of your Disneyland Solutions!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Six Sisters Stuff Cookbook GIVEAWAY

Ever since I attended the Build Your Blog conference, I have been a big fan of the Six Sisters.  Even more surprisingly, I am a big fan of their cookbooks.  I say surprisingly because I don't cook (yes, you heard that - I am a woman living in Utah and I DON'T COOK!), at least not much.  I don't ski either, so they may kick me out of the state one of these days!  

In fact, I am a 3rd generation non-cooking woman (or as little cooking as I can get away with and still keep my family alive!), but when I got the first cookbook, as a special bonus from the conference, a surprising thing happened.  I started leafing through the cookbook and looking at the recipes, and I thought - "I could do this".  The recipes were SO simple, and even more, they sounded like things my picky family would enjoy eating.

Disclaimer stuff:  I received a copy of A Year with the Six Sisters cookbook as a benefit for doing this review, but you know that my opinions are always my own!  And I always have plenty of them - opinions, I mean!  

So, I picked out about half a dozen recipes and I marched straight off to the grocery store to get the ingredients to make them and I surprised my family with a different recipe every night for about a week.  

- Breakfast Casserole with sausage and egg
- Easy Chicken spaghetti
- Andes mint cookies
- Creamy slow cooker ranch pork and potatoes
- Slow cooker chicken cordon bleu - my favorite!  

Was my family surprised?  Yes, they were shocked, but very pleased.  And they ate it up - literally.  No leftovers here! They were even more pleased when I received a copy of the second cookbook.  I even caught my husband using it a few times (he does most of the cooking for us, but it usually isn't anything you would call a "recipe" - just basic pork chops or spaghetti, etc.).  We've also used it several times for dishes to bring to parties and we were very pleased at the results.  

These were a big hit at a Mardi Gras party

In addition to the great recipes, each cookbook has tons of easy DIY projects and other fun surprises.  Especially if you DO like to cook, I think you'll love some of these simple but delicious recipes.  

I'll bet you'd like to have one of your very own, wouldn't you?  Wouldn't it be even better if it was FREE?  I might be able to arrange that.  Here is a link to a Rafflecopter where you can enter to win your own copy of this gorgeous cookbook with 52 weeks of complete menu plans.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you want to find out more about the FABULOUS Six Sisters, you can stop by their Pinterest page, their website, or the Build Your Blog Conference page (I'm already signed up for the 2015 Conference - jealous much?).  All of them have a ton of great information and exciting things to get involved with.  You could even BUY one of their cookbooks on the off chance you don't win the Rafflecopter.  They will even autograph it for you!  Can't beat that.

Leave me a comment and let me know which one is your favorite recipe from the Six Sister's site.  Maybe I'll get inspired to cook it (and my family would love you!).

Photo credit:  All photos are property of the Six Sisters Stuff blog and were lovingly borrowed for this review, because I can photograph just about as well as I can cook!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Smart Money: Saving Money on a Car Purchase

Next to buying a house, buying a vehicle is one of the most expensive purchases we make.  However, it is also one of the most confusing and bewildering.  

It is one of the few times you are going to be pitted against professionals who are specially trained to separate you from as much of your money as they possibly can.  

The good news is that if you go into this process prepared with the correct strategy, you have a good chance of coming out of with a good deal.  For example - when my son Matt went in to get his last car - a Ford Escape, I went with him and we ended up saving him $3,000.  How do I know that?  We found an invoice in the glove box from the previous owner.  A girl had bought the car 2 months earlier and had to return it because she couldn't make the payments.  Her price tag - exactly $3,000 more than we paid.

Here is one big tip that will save you some money - go in at the END of the month.  That is when the the window is closing for the big sales prizes and your salesman will be at maximum motivation to make a sale.  

Step 1 - Do your research first.  This is at least 50% of the job and with all the resources available on the Internet, there is no excuse for not being fully prepared.  

First you need to look at your situation and determine what model of car your family needs.  Think about what is most important to you.  Is it price, seating, style, safety?  Usually a combination of all these things.  

Some sites you can use to do your research are -,, consumer reports.  Try to focus on "meaty" options like airbags, durability, and reliability rather than "soft" options like color, type of seats (although I do LOVE a seat heater), and fancy trims.  I will drive the ugliest color in the world if it's a good deal and a reliable car.

Ideally, before you ever set foot on a dealer lot, you should have the following information in your back pocket:

-  The model and features you want (roughly)
-  The range of prices for the vehicle - look at both dealers and private parties.  You may even do some test drives through the Auto Trader just to see what models may suit you.  
-  Roughly how many of this model are available in your area - if you want something very specific or unusual, that is going to limit your bargaining power, but if it is a very popular car that every dealer in town carries, you are in the "sweet spot" for bargaining.

Step 2 - Now it is time to figure out how much you can accord to spend.  Obviously cash is your BEST option, but few people can pay cash for a car - although I have done it four different times - due to inheritances and other windfalls.  Your second-best option is usually a credit union or a bank.  Check the papers or the websites to compare rates.  Using the dealer's financing is almost always a bad deal - avoid if at all possible unless it is a phenomenal deal.  

If you go into a credit union before a purchase, they will be happy to review your credit and circumstances and pre-approve you for whatever amount of credit you can qualify for.  Keep in mind that this is a MAXIMUM number, not necessarily a number you can easily afford.  Use your common sense, pick a high number and DO NOT budge from it - well, you can go DOWN, but don't go UP from there, even if you think it is the deal of the century on the most wonderful car in the world.  

Step 3 - Playing the Game.  Realize from the moment you step on a car lot, you are playing a game, even if you don't think you are.  It's sort of like a very polite tug-of-war with the dealer trying to get information out of you and trying to drive the transaction in his (her) favor and you trying to turn the tide in your favor.  Be pleasant, but resist the temptation to be chatty - you are a CLAM.  You are not there to be his buddy, you are there to complete a business transaction.  Keep the emotion out of it.  

Above all, do not reveal any financial information to them whatsoever.  If he asks how much you are looking to spend - say you aren't sure, if he asks to run a credit report - politely decline and mutter something about the dealership next door, if he tries to get you to go talk to the finance guy - again politely decline and mention you will discuss financial arrangements later on.

One cardinal rule of negotiations - the first person who mentions a number usually loses.   

Once you have settled on the vehicle you want (and have checked it over thoroughly for any problems - given it a test-drive, etc.)  Now the game starts in earnest.  He is going to bring you a series of offers that are supposedly approved by his sales manager (actually, they are discussing football scores).  You are going to choose a number that is significantly lower than his offer and stick to it like glue.  This number is based on your research and it is going to be slightly lower than anyone else is offering this vehicle for.  

At appropriate intervals, you can employ your own game strategies - tell him you wish to have you own pow-wow with your husband.  One of you needs to look very dubious and shake your head a lot.  Go out and take another look at the vehicle, giving the impression that you might change your mind, or mention that you have kids to pick up from school soon.  If negotiations seem really stuck - mention that you have been talking to another guy from a rival  dealership and you may get a better deal.  Remember that every dealership in town carries similar cars and has similar deals.  

After about the 3rd round of offers, up your offer slightly to give him a little encouragement.  If it seems like he is starting to get within range of a final number (something that seems somewhat fair and affordable based on your research) consider offering him 10% less than that figure.  If you are truly stuck and he won't come down at all - go ahead and go home.  I guarantee you will get a call from him later that night offering you something that is probably the best deal you are going to get.  Sign the deal and enjoy your new car.  

Final note - regarding add-on items, be cautious.  Undercoatings and stuff like that - you probably don't need and they have a huge mark-up.  Warranties are usually a pretty good deal, but you have a week or so to do a little research before you sign on the dotted line for them.  I get my electronics warranties from Square Trade and they are about a 40% discount over the retailers.  They may offer car warranties or there may be other sites that offer reduced pricing, but be sure they are convenient to use and seem like a legit company.  

Photo credit:  Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane /

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