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Sep. 8th, 2014

Living on Minimum Wage

Shopping for Produce

019I think the most important thing to know when shopping for produce (fresh fruits and vegetables) is that the prices are always in flux. That can make it harder to plan your shopping trip in advance. But unless you have a recipe that calls for specific ingredients, you might consider writing some vague categories like "$5 of fresh fruit" or "vegetables". Root vegetables like carrots and potatoes tend to have steadier price points, but many others go in and out of season.

In addition to that, stores will have frequent sales on fresh products because their short shelf life means they need to be sold faster.

Second most important thing to understand is that produce is usually sold by weight rather than by piece but not always...which can get confusing. When I was young, the signs for produce really confused me, often making me think they were more expensive than they actually were.

For instance, apples priced at $1.49 are usually a per lb price. Apples vary in weight, but often range between 1/3 and 1/2 a pound (lb is short for "pound"'s a British thing.). So the actual price per apple would be fall in the range of 49 to 75 cents.

But then some some fruits and vegetables are marked "ea" rather than "lb". "ea" is short for "each". Our local store usually prices Avacados and Watermelons this way.

Third it's important to learn to check produce for quality. There are a number of tests from smell to texture to visual examination depending on the fruit or vegetable. Some blemishes are purely surface and don't mean the food is unfit for eating. Others are signs of rot. Some of the best produce deals are for produce with surface blemishes or just odd shapes, which don't change their taste or health value.

Fourth, know that the bulk price isn't always better. I stopped by Publix the other day and noticed they had the 2 lb bags of pears pictured above priced at $3.49, while loose pears of the same type were priced $1.49 per lb. Even without a calculator, it was clear that the loose pears were a better buy. ($1.49 x 2 = $2.98)

Often there are some savings to buying in bulk, but not everyone is going to want to eat through a 5 lb bag of anything before it spoils. Freezing, drying, or baking are sometimes options, but not always worth the extra effort.
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Aug. 25th, 2014

Living on Minimum Wage

Free Reading and Reading Critically

First the positive. Open Culture has links to over 600 free ebooks:

Many are public domain, but some are more recent: samples from Neil Gaiman for example. They also have links to some more extensive sites like project Gutenberg, and I found this link through another article about the entire Harvard Classics collection now being available for free as downloads.

There are a number of studies that relate reading to all sorts of positive mental, social, and financial benefits and certainly it helps expand vocabulary. But what you read can be as important as how much you read. And whether you are reading a book or watching TV it's important to exercise critical thinking skills.

We're going to pick on 50 Shades of Grey for a moment. The book has already received a lot of criticism for portraying abusive behaviors as romantic, and a new study from the University of Michican has found:

"Young adult women who read “Fifty Shades of Grey” are more likely than nonreaders to exhibit signs of eating disorders and have a verbally abusive partner," - from the Summary Article on the University of Michigan website (or read the Full Study Report from the Journal of Women's Health).

From the article: " and young adults should be taught to consume fiction, television, movies, magazines and other mass media with a critical eye... We recognize that the depiction of violence against women in and of itself is not problematic, especially if the depiction attempts to shed serious light on the problem....The problem comes when the depiction reinforces the acceptance of the status quo, rather than challenging it.”

This is true of 50 Shades of Grey. It's also true of Plato, Nietzsche, and the local news article that ran this morning. We should be hesitant to accept anything we read, hear, or view purely at face value. Fiction and news articles in particular tend to thrive on conflict and drama and often portray people doing the most dramatic things rather than the best or smartest thing.

And in this critical reading effort, I hope you include anything that my co-author and I say. While we write in the hopes of sharing useful tips and information, there are few pieces of advice that work equally for every situation. Take what is useful to you and feel free to reject what is not.

Jul. 15th, 2014

Living on Minimum Wage

Kindle Edition of Living Single on Minimum Wage is now free until Saturday

Living Single on Minimum Wage is free to download today July 15th through Saturday, July 19th.  (Correction from yesterday's post).  We hope you'll check it out and give us your feedback.

The first day seems to be going well. You can see from the screenshot below that we're #2 in free personal finance books. Hopefully that means we'll get a lot of good feedback as we prep for the second edition. Also hoping people are getting useful advice from the book.


Jul. 14th, 2014

Living on Minimum Wage

Kindle Files Have (Finally) Been Updated

The Kindle edition of Living Single on Minimum Wage has been updated to include tables, fix a technical issue with the table of contents, and correct a few lingering typos. This took much longer than it should have, so we're not raising the price on the first edition. It will remain 99 cents. If you've previously purchased a Kindle copy, (first off, Thank you! and second) you should be able to now download the updates without any additional charge.

To celebrate and help us prep for the second edition, we will be offering free download starting tomorrow through Saturday, so July 14th-19th.

Jul. 7th, 2014

Living on Minimum Wage

Free Things to do in L.A. and a few thrifty travel tips

Early this summer, I was able to go to L.A. and Disneyland in a sort of nanny situation. There's nothing particularly thrifty about a trip to Disneyland (aside from it being a working trip that covered flight and hotel), but there are some ways to bring the costs down. While doing research for the trip, I found this list of 100 "free" things to do in L.A.:

100 Free Things to Do in Los Angeles

Not all of these are truly free as they require gas, parking, etc. But it's still a list worth checking out if you're visiting or living in L.A.

To cut down on meal expenses, I packed a lot of dry snacks and meal bars. The hotel provided breakfast, so with the meal bars, I only needed to buy one meal each day. The best purchase we made was a pack of water bottles (after arriving), which saved us a lot of money over the week. I think it was about $3.50 for a pack of 24 bottles, which we split between 4 people. Yes, reusable bottles would be better, but I did recycle most of the empties at Disneyland (they have bottle recycling all over the park). L.A. is hot and bottled waters at Disneyland and the zoo were about $4 each. So for less than one bottle at the park, we covered the whole week.

We also saved $15 each on tickets to Pirates Dinner Adventure by taking advantage of a coupon printed on a brochure we found at the hotel. It was a lot of fun and generous portion sizes on the meal.  The thrifty tip in that is it's not uncommon for attractions to include coupons in brochures (like you might find at a hotel or rest stop or tourism center).

Book Update: With luck the Kindle files will finally be fixed tomorrow, once the update is ready, we'll announce some free download days of the digital version.

May. 19th, 2014

Living on Minimum Wage

Moving from Retroactive to Proactive

Some random person sent me this quote from Goodreads today as an "aww" moment, but it made me cringe. Here's the quote (And yes, this will come back to finances.):

"If she had loved him, he would have opened windows, allowed all of that precious light of hers in she wanted! If she could tolerate him, he would have donated to every stinking animal shelter in her name, quit his drinking habits completely, and played music for her anytime she wanted! He would have gone out, faced the cruel public, and embraced their scorn just to be close to her, continued to hide in the shadows of her life until she needed him... If she had loved him, he would have done anything."

― Amanda Lance, Natural Selection

I haven't read the book and have no idea of the context, so take this as no comment upon the book or author. But there's something in this quote by itself that touches on a theme which has reoccurred multiple places this past week: essentially, a lack of willingness to put in the work to reap the reward.

In the quote you have a guy who wants to be loved.

Goal: Love (from a particular female)

You can not force someone to like or love you. It's not the sort of simple tangible goal with an easy formula to achieve. But you can take steps to make yourself more likeable and attractive. This translates most directly to finances in the area of job hunting. You can't force a company to hire you, but you can make yourself more attractive to those hiring.

No mistake, everyone needs help at some point, and there are many goals we can not achieve on our own. But waiting for a goal to magically happen by promising to retroactively put effort into it, rarely achieves the goal.

In nearly every line of this quote, the man is blaming the lack of achieving his goal for his own inaction. Instead of making choices to be kinder, philanthropic, supportive, entertaining, more open, brave, or taking steps to deal with his drinking problem, he's bemoaning that she hasn't rescued him from being a drunken self-absorbed shut in. He's also created an unrealistic tunnel vision for accepting assistance. There's quite likely other people out there who could make a better support system for him to stop drinking and enjoy life more, but he's disproportionately placed this burden on a single person, a scapegoat.

The reason I'm bringing this up on a financial blog is we sometimes take this same approach to job hunting and financial goals.

If only they'd give me the promotion I want, I'd show up on time, dress properly, and work hard.

If only I had the house I wanted, I'd be responsible with my money.

If only I was physically fit, I'd exercise more.

It's true nothing in life is guaranteed, even when you do put in the effort. But you dramatically improve your odds of achieving goals if you take active steps towards them. Conversely, sitting on your duff is likely to reduce your chance of success to zero, regardless of how much ability or potential you have.

May. 5th, 2014

Living on Minimum Wage

Leftover Couscous Recombinations

It's often more time and energy efficient to cook in larger batches than a single person will eat in one meal. Leftovers are great as far as easy preparation goes, but sometimes eating the same thing eight days in a row gets a little boring. A little creative recombination can help vary the diet and relieve boredom.

I'm currently living with family, but they often don't share my food tastes. I made up a 2 lb box of couscous the other day, and since no one but me is eating it, I've been trying to use some as part of a meal each day and as a means to eat through other leftovers. I won't bore you with every variation, but here's a few that proved edible and are fairly healthy.

Couscous & baked beans - just mix and microwave, couscous is rather bland by itself but the sauce from the beans flavors it. .... You could probably do this with most soup varieties as well, creamy or thick sauces would work best.

Couscous with Turkey Burger, Mushrooms, Spinach & cheese - This was more prep heavy. My mom had bought a box of 6 frozen butterball turkey burger patties and used 4. I cooked one of the remaining patties in the skillet following package directions, minced some fresh spinach and three whole white mushrooms hitting the end of their useful life, cut the cooked patty into cubes, added some water (maybe 1/3 cup) and butter (roughly 2 tbsp.) to a pan, and cooked the meat, veggies, and about a cup of the couscous on medium for a few minutes. While they were cooking I added some additional spices: onion powder, pepper, ginger, and garlic. I probably could have added the cheese while cooking on the stove top, but I ended up adding it afterward. I had about 1/4 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese left, so I dumped that over the rest on a plate and then microwaved until melty.

The turkey burgers had a veal like texture that worked really well with the couscous. I liked it better this way than on a hamburger bun.

Couscous & Hummus with Leftover veggies - Hummus sort of glues the loose couscous grains together. I've done several variations on this one and have added onions, spinach, tomatoes, and mushrooms in different combinations as well as different spices. One fun way I ate it was to mince and mix in the onion, tomato, and mushrooms, microwave for a few second to warm, and spoon some of the mix onto a large spinach leaf and wrap the leaf around to eat. But you could just chop up the spinach and toss it in.

Since these were meals made from leftovers, I didn't bother with exact measurements, but thought I'd share in hope of idea sparking.
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Apr. 16th, 2014

Living on Minimum Wage

Fostering a Dog vs. Adopting One

In our book, we suggest that plants are a better option than pets for people in financially tight situations. Not because we don't like pets, but they generally take a lot more money and time to care for properly and should not be used as a food source.

This article had some interesting points:
(From Daily Finance) Fostering a Dog: It's Good for Your Heart and Your Wallet

They estimate that you could easily spend $20,000 over the life of your dog. While there are many ways to bring that number down, pets often come with more expenses than owners initially realize.

If you're not in a position to own an animal but want one in your life, you might look into pet sitting or volunteering at a shelter or consider a fostering program like the one available through Angels Among Us Pet Rescue (this particular one is Atlanta based) or the ASPCA (NYC based). Before you sign up, realize that different programs offer different levels of foster assistance. The NYC program covers food and supplies, while the Atlanta program only covers vet bills (which are often where the biggest expenses come from).

Fostering does tend to be a more short term situation than adoption, which is something to keep in mind, but if you're at a stage in life where you're not quite settled yourself, agreeing to keep a dog for a few weeks or few months might be better than agreeing to a permanent situation and then discovering your next apartment doesn't allow pets.

Apr. 7th, 2014

Living on Minimum Wage

Income Tax Reminder... the Ides of April Approaches

Hopefully this is unnecessary. You filed or at least figured your tax back in February and are already making good use of your refund or taken care of any debt to the government. But in case you haven't, this is a reminder that April 15th is fast approaching, and you need to file your taxes by next Tuesday.

While my business taxes can be a bit of pain, my personal taxes are fairly simple, and I have a great love of Free File. Just be aware that while filing your federal taxes may be free, these are mostly run by private companies that will try to sell you upgrades or may charge for state income tax forms.

So click carefully or opt for old fashioned snail mail, but get it done this week.

P.S. Make sure you hold onto any medical or medical insurance statements in 2014 and keep them in an easy to find place. I suspect we'll see some greater impact from medical bills and particularly insurance premium bills on next year's tax form.
Living on Minimum Wage

How Sharing Bills May Effect Nontraditional Credit

This blog is geared toward those making the equivalent of full time minimum wage or close. Most people at that pay grade are not in a good position to buy a house, nor would I advise them to do so. However there are exceptions. In the current economy, if you make a few thousand over minimum wage and have managed to beef up your savings to cover a down payment and still have some cushion for repairs, it may be a better option than renting.

About a year and half ago, I started helping my brother look into home buying as an option. He decided to wait, but now he's ready to look in earnest. The upside of his waiting is that he has managed to save up significantly more for a down payment. The downside is that mortgage rates, while still low on a historical scale, are significantly higher than they were a year and a half ago.

Also the rules for FHA loans changed during that time and added additional fees. A couple articles from Bankrate and a link to the government site if you'd like additional reading:

7 crucial facts about FHA loans
Should homebuyers get FHA loans?
FHA (Federal Housing Administration) loans

My brother lives a credit free lifestyle and over all does so very well, but the downside to avoiding credit is that you won't build a credit history, which is an obstacle when home buying. With FHA loans, you may qualify to use a nontraditional credit history which will look at things like your rent, phone, and utility bills. And those nontraditional histories are gaining more attention from lenders and the credit score companies (after all, if your credit can take a hit from missing a rent payment, shouldn't it also get positive points when you pay responsibly?) But the system has not yet figured out quite how to integrate them.

A year and a half ago, my bro had the minimum requirement of bills needed to show for nontraditional credit, but in the meantime, his roommate took over the cable bill. This was helpful for keeping his costs down and saving money, just like being part of our dad's family cellphone plan means he's paying significantly less for his phone number. Unfortunately, this thriftiness can backfire when trying to establish a payment history.

Frankly, home loans and certain educational loans are of the very few that make any sort of practical sense where the object of the loan is likely to improve your overall financial position, but these tend to be bigger loans and bigger risks for the lender. If you have some hope that home buying will be in your three to five year future, then you should consider taking care to establish a traditional or nontraditional credit history.

Nontraditional credit histories are things like your rental history, phone bill, electric bill, gas bill, water, etc. Traditional sources are things like credit cards and small loans. There are a lot of reasons to avoid credit while improving your finances; however, if you are avoiding credit now but hope to use it in the future, be mindful of your other bills and weigh the benefits of having things in your name.

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