Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Daily Finance Lessons are Starting to Pay Off

As a finance blogger and a Scout leader, I am passionate about teaching young people about money.  To me, it isn't just a one-shot deal, it is a daily string of opportunities to both teach them and show them some how to manage their money.  Not just being thrifty, though that's part of it, but teaching them to use credit wisely, pay bills on time, make good choices, etc.  

I am starting to get those tiny glimmers that my boys are finally "getting it".  The other day, I got a text from my 16 year old son, during the school day.  Naturally, my first thought was what does he want NOW?  Permission slip signed, money for something, a ride to some school activity?  No.  He was texting me to tell me that his school bus had gone past a gas station and he had noticed an unusually low price on gas.  Now, this is a kid who doesn't even drive yet and doesn't have to buy gas, but he is paying attention to the price of gas.  That is flat out AWESOME!  

My older sons are in on it too and even my newest daughter-in-law.  They frequently share great bargains they've found or talk about raises they have gotten or promotions they are angling for.  I praise them to the skies for it and give them any tips I can share with them.  I am genuinely more impressed with someone who gets a good deal and is smart about their money than I about about someone who has a very expensive designer watch, shoes, purse, or whatever, and I think that comes in through in every conversation with my kids.  I can honestly admire that quality in them and encourage it (OK, it's mainly because I don't want them sleeping on my couch, eating potato chips when they are 40) but still I do get really impressed with them.  

And not just with my own kids.  We were in the car with one of my son's friends the other day and he was talking about some fancy gaming laptop he wanted to buy, and I was like - honey, why would you even want to do that, when you could buy TWO regular laptops for that same price and have money left over to buy more games.  I mentioned that he could do some price comparing on Amazon or Ebay or look at a model that is like a year older. And he was really thoughful.  I don't know if anyone had ever had a conversation like that with him before.  

Same thing with my Scouts.  I teach the Family Life and Personal Management merit badges, which both have a big financial component and I give these boys a real grilling about their choices.  I also share a lot of stories with them about things I've done with my own finances - both good and bad.  I think kids really need to have people like that in their lives and so many kids just don't have that example.  

Our pastor has an interesting theory - he says to preach the gospel to everyone you meet and to even use words if you must.  That's how I approach finances.  My kids are learning by example every single day.  I use them as my human calculators in the grocery store or at the Mall - quick, what's 25% off that price?  Which one of these cereals is a better deal?  

And they know better than to ASK me for money.  I see other Moms handing out $5 and $10 bills like a human Pez dispenser.  That doesn't fly around here.  If you want something that isn't just food, shelter, or other basic necessity, you'd better have a plan in your pocket for how you are going to work for it, save for it, or share the cost on it.  That's just a no-brainer for us.  Even the Scout Jamboree last year - I think he was the only boy who had to earn $500 of his nearly $3,000 fee for it.  He hated doing all that work, but he knew that I wouldn't hesitate to pull the plug if he didn't hold up his end of the deal.  

I think most parents do the same basic things - save/spend/charity, work for your allowance, save for college, etc.  But are we all doing enough?  What else can we do?  Even if it requires using words....

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

How I FLUNKED Contact Lenses!

Sometimes, the simplest things can be the most aggravating.  A few months back, I had some extra money in my insurance account that I had to use or lose by a certain date.  I'd had about all the dental work I could stand (a pretty nasty root canal and several fillings) and we were all up to date on glasses and stuff, so I decided I would give contact lenses a try.  After all, my granddaughter has had them since she was about 8 or 9 years old, so I figured how hard could they be?  Boy was I wrong!

Look at this lady - doesn't she just look all SMUG
about putting in her contact lenses?  

Part of the problem is my one vanity - my long fingernails.  Long fingernails run in my family and I'm not only very proud of mine, I take great delight in doing all sorts of crazy designs with them - like these cute Minion nails!  One of these days, I'm going to do a great post with all sorts of nail designs I've done.

Anyway, cutting my nails for the contact lenses was out of the question.  Plus, I've got kind of weird eye configuration, so they decided to try that mono-vision thing where they put a distance one in one eye and a close-up one in the other and hope for the best.  I guess it works well on some people, but I don't think I was one of them.

So I went in and had my little fitting and stuff, and even though I was really nervous, I managed to get them in and out without too much trouble.  I did agree to cut my nails back to start with, just until I got used to the whole idea.  They showed me several different techniques for insertion and removal of the lenses and I thought I'd probably be fine, although I was a little squeamish about putting my fingers directly in my eyes.  It always seemed like it would hurt, so I was really a big chicken about it.  

When I got home, I did what I always did and turned to Doctor Google to see if there were any other techniques that would help.  And joy of joys, I found a video on YouTube that showed exactly how to remove lenses with long fingernails.  This is a great video and I must've watched it like 20 times trying to get the hang of this.  I also searched and searched on Amazon to try and find different tools and how to use them, so I didn't have to stick my fingers in my eyes.  I just never became a fan of that.  

The first time I put in my own lenses, it took me at least 20 minutes.  I had to sit at the kitchen table and have a set-up exactly like the doctor's office and I would just yell at anyone who came near me or distracted me in any way because I was trying so hard to get it right.  After like 10 tries, I got it in my right eye and it took about another 15 tries to get the other eye, but finally I got it done right and we went to breakfast with my son and his girlfriend.  

Thank heavens we did because after we came home, the lenses started bothering me and I went to go and take them out and I could NOT get them out.  I tried the method the doctor showed me, I tried the YouTube method, I tried the little tool they had given me, nothing would work and my eyes were all red and sore.  Finally, my son's girlfriend (now his wife) took pity on me and took them out for me.  Fortunately, she works in a vet's office, so I guess she's used to having to do gross stuff like take your future mother-in-law's contact lenses right off of her eyeballs.  I'm SURE I couldn't have done it for her, it gives me shivers just thinking about it.    

After that, I tried faithfully for about a month.  I would always have to have my special little set-up - sitting at the kitchen table with a special magnifying mirror held up on top of a little box to get it at just the right height, solution and paper towels laid out just so.  I was terrified to wear them to work because I wouldn't have my special set-up to get them out.  

If I got them in or out in less than a dozen tries it was a great day, but usually it was more like 15 tries.  And the whole time all my friends are telling me how EASY it is for them.  Why, you just POP them in and out - eesy peesy!  I was about to kick them for being so smug!  

I managed to tear one and lose another, scratched my cornea and I still couldn't see for squat.  We tried three different prescriptions and I either couldn't see well at a distance, couldn't see well enough to read, or both.  And after a month, my nails had grown back to the point where it was making it even harder to get them in or out.  

Then my husband made the fatal mistake.  Along with loud complaints about me hogging up the kitchen table and yelling at anyone who dared to interrupt my special routine, he happened to mention that I looked kind of "squinty" with them on.  It was the last straw!  Can't get them in, can't get them out, and can't see well the whole time, and then you don't even LOOK good with them on - sheesh!  I gave it up - packed up my mirror and all my other goodies - gave the left-over solution to my daughter-in-law, and went back to my lovely, comfortable, non-squinty glasses.  Ahhhh.  So much easier!  You just put them on your face, and voila, you can see.  

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Photo credit:  Image courtesy of Marin at

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Kid's Craft Tutorial: Popsicle Stick Catapults

Isn't it funny how sometimes the simplest of things can be the most fun?  One of our Scout leaders came up with these little catapults and we've used them several times since then.  The kids just love them.  They would be perfect for birthday parties, Sunday school classes, Scout activities (obviously!), or even Homeschooling Physics lessons.  

The big Scouts loved them on our camping trip

Our Cub Scouts loved them at our recent Campfire activity:

Even my little nephews and niece loved them

Surprisingly Courtlyn, my lone niece (out of a dozen boys!) was the most accurate of the group.  She got pennies right in these water glasses two shots in a row.  She also took great delight in building the catapults and taking them apart.  7 or 8 year olds seemed to be able to figure them out with a little direction, but the kids younger than 6 like our little guy Wyatt seemed to need a bit more help.  But I figure if they can work a Transformer, they can figure out these babies with a little coaching.  

Even the darn cat liked them - the nosy little bugger.  Just once I'd like to be able to take a picture around here without a cat in it!  

Here's the finished version - as you can see, it's ridiculously simple and makes use of items you likely have around the house.  

Here are the supplies you'll need for each catapult - 7 tongue depressor-sized sticks, 1 popsicle-sized stick, a bottle cap, and four rubber bands - not too thick, not too long, just medium-sized ones.  You'll want to hot glue the bottle caps ahead of time to keep them away from little fingers.   

Step 1:  Build the wings - rubber band 5 sticks together for the wings using 2 of the rubber bands.  

Step 2: - Attach the body of the plane with a third rubber band.  You'll want to add an extra "flip" on one side to hold the "pilot" in.  Just twist the rubber band and flip it back over the stick.  

Step 3:  The last stick is for a spacer bar.  It just rests on top of the wings to give a little extra bounce. 

Step 4:  The last step is to attach the "pilot".  Wind a rubber band around the end and tuck the stick under the loop you made earlier as well as tucking it under the rubber band loop at the end.  You may need to scooch things around a bit to get the right set-up on it.  

Aaand voila!  If you give them a handful of sunflower seeds, that will give them some biodegradable ammo and give the birds something to eat.  It might also keep them from chucking pebbles or other items that are likely to cause breakage.  Plus, they fold up nicely to fit in your purse or glove box if you need a spur of the moment distraction.  

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

3 Ways to Create Authentic Communications

I was listening to a speaker at a blogger event I was doing at the Utah Food Bank tonight and he said something that reasonated with me.  He said "Everything Communicates" and then he went on to explain exactly what that meant.  His name is Spencer Taggart and he is a social media professor at LDS Business College.  You can find him on Twitter at @SpencerTaggart.

What Spencer meant by "Everything Communicates" is that while we spend so much time thinking about our words and the way we think we are presenting ourselves to people, there are dozens of other things about you that are either confirming that impression or denying it.  

Everything from the kind of car you drive, the way you are dressed, your energy level, your body language, the people you choose to surround yourself, just EVERYTHING speaks to what kind of person you are, what your values are, and what your deepest self is all about, regardless of what message you think you are trying to put across.  

So, does that mean you go out and buy a Rolex and a Cadillac, and a diamond pinkie ring so people will like you?  Absolutely not.  We are talking about authentic communication here and people are incredibly adept at spotting a phony.  

But if you want to be seen as a professional person, dress like a professional and speak like a professional.  Surround yourself with like-minded friends and advisors. Show good customer service to your clients.  If you want your family to show respect and listen to you, you have to lay a little groundwork by showing them respect and listening to them as well.  Otherwise you lose your credibility and they aren't likely to pay attention to you.  

He gave an example of a business man who decided to entertain a potential client at a restaurant he worked with.  They visited and the restaurant was dirty and disorganized.  The client's enthusiasm started to fade as he looked around the messy restaurant and he started to wonder what kind of a business man he was dealing with that would bring him to this place.  At that point, the man could have made the best presentation on earth, but the surroundings would have drowned out his message.   

This is kind of a good news/bad news message.  The bad news is that factors you may not be aware of might be sabotaging the good impression you are trying to make.  The good news is that a few simple changes might boost a so-so impression into a great one.  

For instance, look at the front steps of your house.  What does it say about your family?  Are there weeds?  Toys strewn all over?  Hose not rolled up or porch not swept in weeks?  In 5 seconds, that tells a visitor a lot about what they are going to find on the inside of the house and it is probably 100% accurate.   

At this point, I would post a photo of my front porch, but it's too depressing.  Weeds - check, hose - check, welcome mat all crooked, dead plant sitting in a pot right in front of the door.  These items are communicating the world that here is a busy family who doesn't take the time to take good care of their house, which to be honest, is right on the money.  But now that I'm aware of that, I can turn that impression right around by taking 15 or 20 minutes tomorrow night and doing a quick tidy up.  Straighten the doormat, pull a few weeds, sweep off the porch, and dump out the dead plant.  Now when I welcome a guest into my home, they won't be expecting to see something out of the Munsters!  

So, how do you create authentic communication in your life?  I think it's not that hard.  It's mostly a matter of awareness.  

Step 1:  Put some thought into it.  Whether you are having a conversation with someone, completing a project for work, or putting something out on Facebook, just take a second and think about the impression you want to create.  I call this setting your intention.  What is your goal in this interaction?  Maybe it's just to entertain, or show someone you care about them.  That's fine - you are just taking a quick moment to clarify your thought rather than just throwing any old thing out there.  

Step 2:  Now that you've set your intention - get your ducks in a row.  Take a second to proofread the project and make sure your numbers all add up.  Brainstorm any questions the boss might ask about the project and be sure you have answers.  Think about the Facebook post - is it really funny or might it injure or offend someone?  Today one of my friends posted a Halloween costume that showed a headless horseman.  Typical Halloween fare, but with all the terrorism activities going on right now, some people took it the wrong way and she received a negative backlash for something she had not given a second thought over.  She handled the situation extremely well and created a positive impression out of a negative one, but I'm sure it caused a lot of unnecessary distress for her because she didn't think through this step.  

Step 3:  Can you take it to the next level?  In other words, is there anything additional you can do to help enhance your effort?  If your conversation with your friend is meant to show them you care about them during a rough time - ask if you can follow-up with them in a week to make sure they are OK.  Give them a hug or offer to do something thoughtful for them.  Can you add a chart to your presentation to clarify your point?  Think about what the A+ student does rather than the B- student - they go the extra mile.    

I was lucky this week.  I had a couple of conversations that I felt were really authentic.  It was one of those rare moments where I was able to express my feelings in exactly the manner I wanted to and where I felt the other person understood exactly what I wanted to convey to them.  

Does that mean blue skies and everything is hunky dory?  Not necessarily, but it means I was HEARD and I let people really know my heart.  That is definitely a great first step.  Having those authentic conversations gave me a terrific feeling and it just doesn't happen often enough.  I'm going to work harder at speaking more from the heart and less from my head and see if I can continue making these types of conversations an on-going trend.  

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Photo credit: courtesy of Photostock.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Three GENIUS Products for Cats

OK, in my last post about cats, I promised you a couple of products for your own feline friends.  As I mentioned, I have owned a whole passel of kitties, so I have tried just about every product out there and these are the ones that have worked out well for me.

If you will click on the link, it will take you right to the Amazon page where you can find out more about these products and buy them if you wish.  Disclaimer:  Yes, I will get a tiny kickback from Amazon, but sponsoring these products was entirely my own idea and these are my honest opinions about them.  

First, I give you the FATTY CATTY FEEDER:

OK, it's not really called the "Fatty Catty feeder", but that's what we call it.  It's really called the SmartCat Tiger Diner Portion Control Feeder by Pioneer, but that's a mouthful and I think think the Fatty Catty Feeder is so much more poetic!  

And if you have an overweight cat who loves to eat, this is the bowl for you.  I wish they made it it color so you could see it better.  But all you have to do is pour the dry food (any kind) in the center compartment and put the lid on firmly.  Then, when they want to eat, they have to scoop the kibbles out a few at a time through the bottom holes with their paw.  It stops them from gobbling up their food so quickly (and barfing it up again - ew! - we've had that happen too many times) and after a while, they get full or get bored and wander away from the buffet line.

I will warn you that this is not for cats who are too smart, or too dumb.  Our Russian Blue - Shamus O'Sullivan - too dang smart!  Even if it took him an hour, he would keep at it until he knocked the lid off it, which is pretty firmly seated.  Then he would thoroughly enjoy his victory dinner - the little stinker.  This is the same cat who would get up on the counter, nudge open the door with a sneaky paw, grab the foil packet of cat treats out of the cupboard and then carry them off to enjoy at his leisure under the couch!  I finally had to resort to putting them in Tupperware!  Like I said - sneaky...  But he was also fairly skinny, so we let him get away with it.  If he had been one of our fatty cattys, I would have brought out the duct tape.  Take THAT, smarty cat!

On the other hand, you have the too-dumb ones, like our little cow-colored Moo Moo (pictured above).  She is definitely a chunky monkey, but she could not get the hang of eating out of this feeder.  She didn't seem to understand how to fish out the food with her paw and would just look at it and cry piteously.  She probably would have figured it out eventually, but we finally took pity on her and just went back to a regular food pan with just small daily portions.  But for our not-too-smart and not-too-dumb cats, it works brilliantly and they did lose weight from it.  

Second, I give you the ROLLING CAT BOX

Over the years, I have "scooped the poop" probably thousands of times, but now I literally don't have to any more.  This thing is brilliant!  All you do is fill it with litter and let nature take it's course.  Then you take and roll it all the way over on it's top and tap on the bottom.  Then you roll it back and voila!  All the nastiness is in that nice, neat little drawer on the side.  You just dump it in a little bag and DONE!  So much easier and nicer to clean.  The only downside is that I did see a lot of reviews about the clips that hold the two parts together, so I am very gentle with it.  About every month or two, we carefully disassemble it and give it a good rinse out with the hose because sometimes the little screen in it gets clogged.  But I highly recommend it.  

My second favorite litter box - a plain old Rubbermaid storage bin.  It has nice tall sides, so they don't fling the stuff all over the place.  And if you're squeamish, you can just cut a cat-sized hole in the top and it hides away the yucky stuff, but my kitties were a bit too tall for a lid idea.  

Sadly, over the years, we have had numerous problems with catbox habits.  I wish I could figure it out because some cats go their whole lives without ever having an "accident" while others just seem to forget the habit altogether.  It doesn't matter if you clean the box every five minutes, once they get out of the habit, it is near-impossible to get them back on track again.  

If there's one thing that I absolutely can't stand, it is a cat that does not use a litterbox.  We recently had to remove every scrap of carpet from our basement, and then they started peeing on the brand new tile.  I wish I could say that this was a miracle product that saved the day and brought them back on the path of righteousness, but I think it did help quite a bit to reduce the frequency of unpleasant incidents.  If anyone does have a sure-fire way to solve the litterbox issue, please SHARE in the comments. 

I do recommend this so much more highly than the store brands and especially the kitten version.  I plan to start using it as a starter litter for each new cat we get, just to cement their litter box training from the start.  The kitten version has a very soft feel so they like the feel of it on their paws.  It doesn't have offensive smells, and in fact, has some herb or chemical that does seem to encourage their use.  It is a bit expensive, so I would probably only use the kitten litter for those critical first months.  After that, they have an herbal powder you add to regular litter and that seems to help also.  

I hope these little tips will help you and the kitties that live in your house to live longer, happier and more harmonious lives.  Cats can be such wonderful pets - we need to do what we can to keep the little buggers happy!  

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