8 Things New Parents Don’t Need

Children don't need much

Being a parent of two means playing the part of occasional mentor to my soon-to-be-a-parent friends.  In fact, no less than 5 of my friends will have welcomed their first child into the world this year and each of them has come to me at some time with questions about how to prepare.

Most often, I’m asked a general question such as, “What’s it like?” or “Were you scared?”  Sometimes I’ll be asked something more useful like, “What brand of diapers do you prefer?”  But no one has asked me the most important question, “How can I make preparing for baby less expensive?” If one of them were finally ask me this, here’s what I’d tell them to avoid:

Burp Cloths

I was amazed at the things one of my friends put on her baby registry, but the one thing that really caught my eye was a set of 2 “designer” burp cloths for $14.  Seriously?  $7 for a 27 square inch piece of colored material on which your child will be depositing various bodily fluids?  That’s a big waste of money.

Instead of spending that much (or asking other people to by putting it on your registry), consider buying cloth diapers.  For $11, you can buy a pack of 12 cotton cloth diapers that will literally last you for years and serve a number of purposes. We bought 36 diapers before our first daughter was born and they’ve seen way more than $30 worth of use.  They’ve served as burp cloths, backup diapers, mild day nap blankets, bibs for messy meals, and so much more.  Just avoid single-purpose burp cloths altogether and save your money.

Diaper Genie

Diapers stink, but they’re not that bad.  You honestly get used to many of the smelly, messy substances your child creates very quickly because you have to.  Paying $40 for a glorified garbage pail and then $6 per “refill” of trash bags is quite literally throwing your money away.  Before the birth of our first child, we got a second-hand Diaper Champ at a garage sale for $5 and that uses regular kitchen-size trash bags. It doesn’t smell, it locks the diapers away safely, and it’s simple enough to use that my 2-year-old can throw her own diapers away.  And since the birth of our second child, we’ve been content to throw (non-stinky) diapers in the covered kitchen trash can rather than take up space in the diaper pail.  You just don’t need an expensive setup to dispose of your child’s disposables.

Baby Wipe Warmers

Baby wipe warmers are one of those things that clever marketers came up with to make parents think they’re doing something good for their child.  All it does is sit there and waste electricity keeping disposable wet wipes slightly warmer than room temperature until you whip one out to clean up your messy child. This one gets double negative points for wasting your money up-front and wasting electricity (and money) over time.  That wet wipe you’re holding is going to be in contact with your child’s skin on average no more than 5 seconds before it is thrown away in favor of a fresh, clean wipe.  Do you think it’s going to make a huge difference to your child if it’s 72 degrees or 95?

Name Brand Clothes

Have you ever heard of one infant commenting that her playmate’s clothes are “so last year” and “definitely not designer”?  Your kid won’t know the difference between a $2 white onesie and one that costs three times as much because of its “name brand” label – and neither will his playmates. There’s nothing wrong with looking good, but if you’re spending more on your child’s wardrobe than on their future education, you need to get your vanity in check.

Along that same line, you would also be smart to avoid buying new clothes whenever possible.  Most children will outgrow their clothes long before they wear them out and money that’s spent on an outfit that will get worn maybe 10 times should be spent wisely.  Goodwill and other thrift and consignment stores are a great place to find quality children’s clothes.  Your child is going to soil its clothes in every imaginable way – would you rather get a shopping bag full of good clothes for $10 or two brand new shirts for that same price?

Baby Shoes

They may look cute, but baby shoes are a waste.  At home, shoes aren’t needed (and should be avoided to aid in baby’s motor skills and development) and when going out, the baby won’t be walking anyway.  With the tremendous growth spurts your child will have over its first year, you’ll be lucky if they even scuff their shoes before they outgrow them.

As long as your child is still traveling by a carry-along car seat, they really don’t need shoes anyway.  Socks and a blanket should be sufficient for most situations.  If you must have shoes for an occasion, I recommend picking up some slip-on booties for under $10.  They come in many stylish designs, they are easy to get on the baby’s squirmy feet, and you won’t be broken-hearted (or broken-walleted) when your child invariably loses a shoe or outgrows them.

New Furniture

Your first instinct when setting up your child’s nursery might be to head to your nearest baby-centric store and scope out all the great baby furniture they have.  You could easily drop over $1,000 on a crib, changing table, and matching wardrobe or dresser if you were to buy there on the spot.  Instead of rushing out and gathering up all the newest and best furniture you can find, take your time and scour garage sales first. We got just about everything we needed to outfit our daughter’s nursery for $150 at a neighbor’s yard sale.  You’ll want to have a good eye for safety and double-check for recalled items, but you can easily get everything you need for a fraction of the baby store’s retail price.

That $40 Mobile

Just because a mobile is expensive and looks good to you doesn’t mean your child will like it.  We made that mistake with our first daughter.  We loved the musical animal mobile we bought her but she wasn’t interested in it.  Trying to learn from past mistakes, my wife purchased an new mobile for our second daughter using points she earned through a survey program, but we believe even it wouldn’t have been worth the $20 at retail.

If you’re feeling creative, you can save money and do something loving for your child by building your own baby mobile. That way you can easily and cheaply change it if your child becomes disinterested in the scenes you picked out.

Electronic Toys

Not only do your kids not need some flashy gizmo that talks to them as they play with it, you’ll quickly be searching for its off button to save yourself from its annoying chatter.  As soon as your child is able to grasp things, they’ll be more interested in making noises themselves by talking or shaking a rattle.  Your child needs to learn how to self-stimulate and not be dependent on artificial, electronic baby sitters. When they’re little, a rattle or two and a pacifier will be sufficient to entertain them.  As they grow, blocks, books, and your pots and pans will be their new toys.

Save Your Money for What Matters

There’s no denying that children are expensive, but many new and to-be parents make it way more expensive than it needs to be.  Keep things simple and look for bargains where you can.  Your children won’t suffer for lack of the “newest and best”.

What else do you think is a waste of money?  Do you think I missed something?  Am I wrong calling something a waste?  Tell me in the comments!

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Teach a Child, Save a Generation – Blog Action Day 2008

Poverty's Child

Across the world, children are suffering from the pains of a prison called poverty. Children are crying out in hunger and desperation because they happened to be born into an unfortunate situation.

On their own, they have no hope of escaping the cycle of poverty. They cannot get the nutrition they hunger for; they cannot get the water they thirst for; they cannot get the education they long for.  And orphans fare even worse since they are completely at the mercy of the people that surround them.

Here in the modernized Western world, we’ve insulated ourselves fairly well from poverty. We haven’t stamped it out, but we have eliminated all but the smallest pockets of poverty.  The plight of hundreds of millions of people in another continent can seem so small and far away.  But the impact of widespread poverty still affects us.

Imagine for a moment if everyone had easy and open access to at least a decent grade school education. Knowledge of basic math and science would give people a footing by which to understand how the world works; health education would teach how to prevent many common, but debilitating diseases and afflictions like AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and the Guinea worm disease; and language education would erase illiteracy and enable communication on a much larger scale.

By educating just one child, he now has the chance to rise above the pack and be more than another hungry beggar. That child grows up and is able to be more productive than his parents.  He may have picked up a skill such as agriculture and now he’s not only able to feed himself, but his family and some of his neighbors as well.  Now, when that child eventually has children of his own, he will pass his knowledge on to them and immediately they will have a better start than he did.

By educating one child, you set off a chain reaction that begins to change everything around him for the better. Soon, poverty is being stamped out from within.  And all it took was a relatively small investment in education. It all boils down to the proverbial phrase,

“Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”

How To Help

  • Ask a church – My church has partnered with a number of ministries to help feed and educate children in Honduras, the Philippines, and Liberia.  For less than 50 cents a day, a child can go to school for a year.   I’m sure a church in your area is working to sponsor children in third-world countries.
  • Go and Teach – By joining up with the Peace Corps, you can go into the heart of the poverty-stricken area and effect change yourself.  While this isn’t for everyone, it’s a great way to ensure that your efforts go directly to the children who need you the most.
  • You Tell Me – What other reputable ministries and organizations are out there that strive to teach children so they can lift themselves out of poverty?  Please tell me in the comments and hopefully we can get a huge list together that everyone can use!
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9 Cheap and Easy Ways To Prepare Your Home For Winter

Now that Autumn has arrived, it’s time to start preparing your home for winter. The news has been noting since summer that this winter’s heating bills are going to be anywhere from 10% to 50% higher than last year’s due to changes in the price of oil, natural gas, and electricity. Outside factors such as these can’t be controlled, but how you respond to them can. By preparing your home for winter now, you’ll enjoy lower heating bills as a reward for your efforts.

1. Install a Door Sweep

Any gap in your home that allows the cold winter air to filter in is going to cost you money, but the space under your door is often overlooked when preparing for winter. If you haven’t gotten down on the floor lately to check for a gap, it’s likely that there’s on there. A door sweep attaches to the bottom of the door and fills the space under it to stop the energy loss. For an added bonus, throw a door cozy down by your outside doors that don’t get opened very often – more insulation never hurts.

2. Install Electric Outlet Sealers

Last winter as I walked around the house, I was amazed at the cold air pouring in through the electrical outlets on the exterior walls. Perusing through the latest Lowe’s ad lists a 6-pack of outlet sealers for $1.98. If you have any outlets on exterior walls, it would be a good idea to add a bit of weather protection and install outlet sealers. For 30 minutes worth of work and less than $20 worth of materials, you can gain some significant savings.

3. Caulk Around Doors, Windows, and Baseboards

Just because you don’t see a leak, doesn’t mean there isn’t one. You can test for leaks around your house using the “candle method” – turn on all your exhaust fans to decrease the air pressure within your house, then carefully move a lit candle around the edges of all your windows, doors, and exterior floor boards. If the flame on the candle flickers, it signals there’s an air leak costing you money. For less than $10 worth of caulk, you can seal the interior leaks that are costing you dearly.

4. Fill Cracks and Holes With Spray Foam

Even though your house looks like a solid block, there are numerous holes cut in your exterior walls to allow for your utilities to enter your home. Many of these holes were simply cut through the wall and manually filled with a little packing material and insulation. Since then, this poor seal may have come loose and has left an open gap in your exterior. A $5 can of spray foam can patch up all these holes and give you some bonus insulation.

5. Install Weather Stripping

Not only do the outside of your windows leak, but the inner frame can as well. For just a few dollars, you can buy and install weather stripping on all your windows and start saving money right away. By sealing gaps, filling cracks and holes, and installing weather stripping, you can save up to 20% on heating and cooling costs.

6. Change Your Furnace Filter

It can’t be emphasized enough – a dirty furnace filter is stealing your money. By blocking air flow, an old, dirty furnace filter forces the blower to work that much harder to pull air to move the heat throughout your home. A fresh, clean furnace filter, on the other hand, allows the air to move through freely. You should check your filter at least once a month and change it at least once every 90 days. If you hold it up to the light and can’t see much light passing through, it’s well past its effective lifespan.

7. Have Your Furnace Serviced

Every year, you should have your furnace serviced before you turn it on to ensure there it is in top operating condition. Not only will having it serviced keep it operating, regular service can also take care of efficiency and safety problems before they get out of hand. Corrosion and dust buildup can weaken your furnace’s heating power and improper installation and ventilation can allow carbon monoxide to build up in your home and silently suffocate you.

8. Install a Programmable Thermostat

A programmable thermostat can save you money year-round. Program it to keep your home in a comfortable temperature range while you’re at home and awake and set it to drop the temperature by a few degrees while you’re out of the house or asleep. The more aggressively you reduce your set temperature, the larger savings you’ll realize.

9. Insulate Your Water Heater

If your water heater is more than 10 years old, it likely doesn’t have enough insulation. By wrapping it in a $20 water heater insulating blanket, it will lose less heat and not have to work as hard to keep your water hot. A small investment in a blanket can pay for itself in energy savings in a few short months.

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Carnival of Personal Finance #168 – Fire Up the Grill, It’s Labor Day

Welcome to the 168th edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance! If this is your first visit to One Caveman’s Financial Journey, welcome to my humble cave.

For those who are not in the United States, today most of our nation is grilling, watching football, or shopping for home improvement supplies as we take a day off of work to remember the achievements of the labor movement some 114 years ago. With autumn soon approaching, we yearn to take one last gasp of summer before we’re pushed back indoors by early dusk and brisk northern winds. As many of us are off of work today, take this opportunity to read through what the personal finance blogosphere has say and make sure to share some love with the authors and articles you like!

Who Is That One Caveman?

I started this blog eight months ago to share my experiences – failures, successes, and all – with whoever cared to listen with the hopes that just one person reading might find some help in a similar situation. In that time, I’ve heard from countless people who have shared many common steps along our financial journey. As a proud father of one (plus one on the way) supporting my entire family as sole breadwinner, my wife and I have had to get creative to find various ways to save money and get ahead on our debts. As an adventurous experimenter, I’m always discovering and sharing gems from my discoveries.  I hope you’ll stick around, subscribe to my feed or receive updates by email, and join in the community… Because this journey we’re all on is best traveled as a group!

Now, onto the Carnival!

The Choice Steak (Editor’s Picks)

Steak...on the Grill

Photo credit: Another Pint Please…

Seared to perfection, nothing beats the taste of a home-grilled steak. Labor Day is a great time to fire up the grill, throw on a few favorite meats (or veggies) and have yourself a wonderful dinner! Like that choice cut of meat, these articles are the tastiest of the week:

  • Squawkfox explains beautifully that we have a better chance to succeed when we surround ourselves with excellence. Mentors, friends, family, and others all directly or indirectly influence our lives, so be mindful of the impact an individual can have on you and spend most of your time with the people you most want to be like.
  • The Personal Financier wonders if we overvalue our spare time. While it could be said that free, personal time borders on invaluable, it is curious the lengths to which we go and the costs we incur to gather as much as spare time as we can.
  • Debit versus Credit encourages us to behave like smart businesses and cash in on the economy’s problems. Leaving the market at a time like this prevents you from locking in great deals before the markets inevitably turn up again.
  • Bible Money Matters asks the loaded question, “Who is to blame for your money problems?” While it’s easy to say that all your problems are caused by external issues, that’s often overlooking your biggest problem: you!
  • Liberta – Freedom shows us how to become financially free. Nearly everyone can become financially free if you follow Francois’ six simple steps.

The Hot Dogs (Budgeting)

Photo credit: Joits

Cheap, but still tasty – hot dogs are a great grilling treat that everyone loves. These authors know how to barbeque on a budget and aren’t afraid to share!

  • Mighty Bargain Hunter – Evaluate your kids’ enrichment activities
  • Free From Broke – What Is Raising A Child Worth – We’re Going To One Income
  • Happiness is Better – Getting Closer to Being Debt Free
  • Harvesting Dollars – Set Budget Priorities With Net Spendable Income
  • One Million and Beyond – Planning Ahead
  • Single Guy Money – The Small Amounts Really Do Add Up

The Hamburgers (Career)

Grilled Hamburger Propaganda: Long Live the Grill

Photo credit: gordasm

Any grillmaster worth his sauce knows that you can’t hold a proper barbeque without an ample supply of hamburgers. It’s the most valuable entree at a grill party, just as your career is your most valuable asset. Add some heat to your career with these great articles.

  • Value For Your Life – How I Deal With Difficult People
  • Fabulously Broke in the City – Does money really affect the way you think about work?
  • Money and Such – Career Insight: Patience Pays

The Plastic Utensils (Credit)

spork

Photo credit: betsymartian

Regardless of their environmental impact, good luck hosting a barbeque without utensils. These plastic utensils of your financial barbeque are tools that will help you succeed, as long as you don’t go overboard.

  • Master Your Card – I’m a Stoozer, are you?
  • Money Smart Life – Secured Credit Cards & Secured Loans Can Help Build Your Credit History
  • Ask Mr. Credit Card’s Blog – Should I Open Up Multiple Credit Card Accounts for a Balance Transfer?
  • Bad Credit Advisor – Credit scores and what they mean
  • Bridging The Gaap – Analysis of 7 Canadian Cashback Credit Cards…and BTG’s Free Excel Model!
  • Discover Debt Freedom – Increasing Your Credit Limit Can Improve Your Financial Future
  • Money Under 30 – Q&A: How Can I Close Credit Card Accounts Without Hurting My Credit Score?
  • Taking Charge – ABC News producer uses corporate credit card to escape Denver jail

The Flies (Debt)

Swarm.

Photo credit: romeo66

Nobody likes them, but every grill attracts them. Face it, if you’re cooking outside, flies are going to find you. Nobody likes debt, but all of us have some and it has to be dealt with. These authors know to keep a fly swatter handy when heading out to the grill.

  • The Budgeting Babe – Trouble Consolidating Student Loans
  • Budgets are Sexy. – If you’ve got $13,000 in bad credit card debt, ask for help!
  • www.BrokeFamily.com – Performing a Plasectomy in honor of willitblend.com

The Plates (Economy & Finance)

Photo credit: jima

You can serve up all the food you want, but nobody’s eating anything without a decent plate to hold their meal. A quality plate is a solid foundation for a barbequed dinner. These authors want to make sure your personal finance has just as solid of a foundation.

  • Amateur Asset Allocator – Which Candidate Is Better For The Economy?
  • saving to invest – Six sure fire ways for students to ruin their financial future
  • Canadian Personal Finance Opinions – Financial Planners An Opinion
  • Personal Finance Analyst – Tonight, Say A Prayer For Countrywide Mortgage. They Need It!
  • The Money Saving Blog – The Most Stupid Financial Decisions of All Time

The Homemade Sides (Frugality)

Baked Beans, Scrambled Eggs, Sausages and Bacon

Photo credit: Premshree Pillai

I love baked beans and macaroni salad at barbeques. They just don’t feel complete without these tasty, but frugal side dishes. Serve up a bit of frugality of your own with these articles.

  • FruGal – Fast FruGal Wisdom
  • The Smarter Wallet – How To Save Money On Generic Drugs
  • Sound Money Matters – 8 Frugal Labor Day Activities
  • the Financial Wellness Project – ways for young students to �find� money
  • American Consumer News – Gently Used Could Save You Bucks Big Time
  • Frugal in the Fruitlands – Gender and Finance: How Much Do You Spend on Hygiene?
  • Greener Pastures – Eyeglasses Mania
  • I Can Has Moneys? – Spending Money to Make Money – Selling a Car
  • Living Well on Less – I’m an herb killer
  • Momma’s Blog – Winning The Grocery Game
  • Not Made Of Money – Cash In With End Of Summer Bargains

The Pork Chops (Investing)

Tonight's Dinner: Pork Chops

Photo credit: ctaloi

The market may be squealing like a stuck pig, but if you keep feeding that hog, it will feed you someday. These authors know that even if the market is wallowing in the mud, you’ll get nothing if you’re not in there, too!

  • Blueprint for Financial Prosperity – Don’t Invest In What You Know
  • Dividend Growth Investor – International Dividend Achievers for diversification
  • Fix My Personal Finance – The Ways To Lower Your Life Insurance Costs
  • My Simple Trading system – How Markets React to Fundamentals
  • The Dividend Guy – Updated My Pension Allocation for Diversification
  • Tough Money Love – Will Your Retirement Nest Egg Be “Puny?”

The Sauces (Money Management)

Sticky Fingers at Wal-Mart

Photo credit: micah.d

A hunk of seared animal flesh may be tasty, but without proper grill management and sauce application, they’ll quickly dry out and become worthless chunks of char. Manage your own money grill with tips from these authors.

  • Everyday Finance – 10 Tips for College Freshmen: Financial Advice to Live By
  • Retired At 47 – Should You Carry a Credit Card?
  • Student Scrooge – Is that sketchy ATM safe?
  • Accumulating Money – Umbrella Insurance: Must-Have Protection
  • Beyond Paycheck to Paycheck – Five ways to be (or not to be) fiscally responsible
  • Destroy Debt – Preparing for the 2008 Holiday Season- Make it debt Free
  • Fiscal Zen – Clipping Coupons and Baking Bread: Is It Worth Your Time?
  • Funny about Money – Social Security as Investment Account?
  • InsureBlog – Profiles
  • Money Answer Guy – Why Don’t We Save More Than We Do?
  • PennyJobs.com – The Best Financial Advise I Received and How I Use it Practically
  • Savings Toolbox – Why the Sub Prime Mortgage Melt Down is Great for Savers
  • See My Money – Real World 101
  • The Family Wallet – Insurance Needs When You Have A Family
  • The Financial Blogger – 5 Reasons Why You Should Consolidate Your Assets With One Institution
  • The Wisdom Journal – The X-Files and Your Money: Strange Similarities?

The Whole Chicken (Real Estate)

2008_07_08

Photo credit: sporkist

Nothing takes more careful preparation and grilling than a full bird. It takes great timing, a persistent and patient grillmaster, and a touch of luck. Take a peek at what these personal finance bloggers are cooking up.

  • HelloMoney – The State of Homeowner’s Insurance
  • Searchlight Crusade – What If You Cannot Refinance Later?
  • The Digerati Life – When Big Houses Enter Foreclosure: Extreme Makeover Home Edition Goes Sour

The Frozen Meat (Saving)

IMG_0191

Photo credit: Khamis Hammoudeh

A good grillmaster will never let himself run out of meat. You never know how many extra mouths will show up when a barbeque is held, so you need to keep an ample supply of meat at the ready. Take a peek in the freezers of these smart-saving authors.

  • Getting Rich in Grad School – Four myths or five reasons why I do not need universal life insurance
  • Green Panda Treehouse – Put Tuition Refund in a High Yield Savings Account as an Emergency Fund
  • My Two Dollars – 13 Ways To Save Money And Go Green.
  • Online Savings Blog – The Secret Catch to Bank of America’s “Keep the Change” Program
  • Tight Fisted Miser – Keep Savings Aside from Retirement Accounts

The Dog’s Share (Taxes)

Takeoff imminent

Photo credit: dconley

A smart grillmaster keeps a portion of meat aside as a sacrificial offering to the resident dog. The way the dog sees it, either you give him some of that delicious meat voluntarily or he’ll knock over your grill to get what he wants. These authors know that taxes are a painful reality, but not as painful as losing your whole meat store.

  • Don’t Mess With Taxes – Legit business expense? Deduction?
  • Free Money Finance – When to Hire a Tax Professional
  • My Dollar Plan – IRS Loses Lawsuit: Refunds for 30 Million Policyholders Possible

The Kebabs (Other)

Kebab me - 175/365

Photo credit: JustABigGeek

Sometimes you have only a little bit of everything, but there’s still a party to host. You can send the whole crowd home happy with a few skewered kebabs on the grill. Finish your barbeque with a few of these random assortment articles.

  • Christian Financial Help – A step-by-step guide to starting an Ebay business
  • Financial Ramblings – Surplus Calories Cost Much More Than You Think (But How Much More?)
  • FiveCentNickel – Risk-Free Banking
  • LivingAlmostLarge – Is $250k/year rich?
  • Personal Finance Blog by MoneyNing – How Our Perception Keep Us Poor
  • Save and Conquer – Hoaxes
  • Saving Advice – Talking About Money Is Inappropriate
  • Smart Money Daily – Celebrity Charity: Is that an Oxymoron?
  • So Cal Savvy – Gifting Rules
  • The Copyeditor’s Desk – Multitasking: How Writers and Editors Never Get Anything Done
  • Uncommon Cents – Why do Some eBay Sellers (and Other Vendors) Refuse to Ship to Hawaii, at Least Cheaply?

Next week, BankerGirl will host the next installment of the Carnival of Personal Finance. Be sure to submit your best work from this week for her to review!

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What Michael Phelps and the US 4×100 Freestyle Relay Team Taught Me About Debt

What the relay can teach us about debt

After “suffering” through a couple of hours of Olympic gymnastics with my wife, we finally got down to the good stuff: Swimming. After a night of close races and upsets, it looked like the favored French 4×100 freestyle relay team would take the gold in world record-crushing fashion. With the third leg complete and the USA team nearly a full body length behind, it looked like the race was already won. And that’s where I was dead wrong.

Jason Lezak, the 31-year old relay anchor, posted a mind-blowing, fastest-ever 46.06 second leg and snatched the gold away from the French by 0.08 seconds and just a shade below 4 seconds under the previous world record. As I sat there in amazement at what might be the best relay in the history of the world, I realized the team’s individual and collective performances are a good metaphor for dealing with debt.

Phelps: It Helps To Have a Strong Start

  • Michael Phelps, whose (now 14) gold medals may be worth $100 million to him in sponsorships over his lifetime, led off for the American men and pushed hard though his leg of the relay. Although he came in 2nd behind the Australians, he set an American record with his effort.

The best way to stay out of debt is to never get into it in the first place. If you keep your mind focused in your early years, you can avoid or minimize your debt load. Yes, there are some debts you may not be able to avoid, like student loans, a car loan, or a mortgage, but by navigating around “stupid debt” such as credit cards, you set yourself up for success later.

A strong start is very important, but notice I didn’t say you have to have a perfect start. Heck, most of us won’t. But as long as you don’t make any huge mistakes, you’re at least going to be in the running and lead your way into later victories.

Weber-Gale: Never Coast; Never Look Back

  • Starting in a good position, Garret Weber-Gale responded by pushing even harder. By the time he was finished with his leg, the Americans were in the lead by nearly a half-second.

Once you see yourself going well, it’s easy to let up on the intensity and chew up some of your gains by relaxing. To be genuinely successful, you can’t ride the crest of a gain; you have to keep pushing. After watching the balances decrease while you’re eliminating your debt, temptation to return to your debt-growing ways will kick in hard.

It’s almost as if things will pop up deliberately just to try to get you to stumble. Your car’s radiator may drain out on the side of the road just a few days after you make a huge payment to your credit card; your computer will crash just after clicking the submit button on your bank’s bill pay website; your clothes washer will get fed up and decide to lock you out of your house. It seems so malicious, but it’s all part of the game. As long as you don’t give in and power through the pain, you’ll find great success.

Jones: Sometimes You Do Fall Behind

  • Although Cullen Jones posted a time better than more than half of the rest of the field in the finals, the Americans were in 2nd place by over a half-second after his leg. His consistent pace was simply outrun by the 3rd leg of the French team by over a full second.

Even the most successful debt warriors find themselves overrun upon occasion. As dutiful as you attack your debt, there are outside factors that weigh heavily on your ability to repay your balance. Interest rates change, jobs are lost, markets tumble, and emergencies happen – there’s nothing you can do to prevent outside problems and little you can do to adequately prepare for them. The best you can do is play through the punches and never lose sight of your goal.

The numbers may be running in reverse, you may see your opponent pulling away from you; but if you give up, you’ve lost for sure. The only way to have a chance at beating debt is to stay in the game and remember that bad times do not last forever. There will be a period of recovery sometime in the future, you just have to hold on until then.

Lezak: You Can Always Catch Up

  • Handed a difficult job – a half-second deficit and a pairing against the former world record holder in 100m freestyle – the race was up to Jason Lezak. Instead of bowing to the “odds” and letting the favored French make good on their taunts to smash the American team, he rode the wake of the French anchor swimmer until the time was right to attack and steal the lead.

You’re going to fall behind occasionally, but success depends on how you respond to defeat. The best thing to remember when facing what may be insurmountable odds is to remember that a setback is not a knockout. You may not be winning right now, but that doesn’t mean that you’re out.

There’s nothing more exciting than a come-from-behind win, and the American team is feeling that now. My family has been feeling that as well in our battle with debt lately. After months of what felt like just treading water, we’re finally making some serious advances against our debt as well as getting great news about interest rate reductions on our student loans (down to 4.22% from a high of over 9% earlier this year). If we had given up and stopped our assault, we wouldn’t be experiencing this joy right now and we’d probably be in even more pain.

Team USA: You’re Not Just Swimming Laps

  • This was a big race and theirs to win. All the projections had the French blowing past the Americans in the final – nobody expected to walk away from this final saying it may be the best relay ever. And that’s the clincher: The race isn’t decided until the swimmers actually get in the pool and make it happen. And when it was all over, the four unlikely gold medalists stood atop the podium with the pride of a nation ahead of them and a shattered world record behind.

Debt elimination isn’t some routine exercise; it’s not a preliminary heat; every day is a gold medal opportunity and results are final every night. None of the swimmers’ previous times counted in the final, but every one of your actions today count toward your running total. Are you going to swim like everything’s on the line and go for the gold, or are you going to let your red inked enemy win the race?

To hell with the odds or the “favored” team; this race is yours to win. Now get in the pool and swim!

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13 Free or Cheap Ways To Keep Your Home Cool This Summer

Much to the chagrin of my pregnant wife, I held off on turning on the air conditioner until last night. In the evening it was getting cool enough to open the windows and let Mother Nature cool our house. In the morning, I would close the windows and blinds before I left for work to bank the cold air from the evening. Unfortunately, due the rain we anticipated overnight, I was unable to open the windows. As the humidity grew and the temperature inched upward, it became apparent that no amount of fans would keep my wife and daughter happy (and rightfully so since it was 85 degrees upstairs).

In past years, we likely would have had our AC running at full blast by mid-May, but rising electric rates and shrinking budgets caused me to get a bit more creative this year. If you don’t mind being a little uncomfortable, you can get away with a lot of savings.

1. Open Your Windows

When the outside air is cooler than the inside, it’s foolish to keep using electricity for something nature can do for you instead. We have two separate indoor/outdoor thermometer setups (one for each floor of our house) so we know exactly when we reach that tipping point. When the temperature outside is starting to drop and has sunk at least one degree less than the inside temperature, we turn off the air conditioner and throw open the windows.

Nothing is more satisfying than getting a breeze of fresh air after having your home closed up all day.

2. Turn On the Ceiling Fans

While a ceiling fan won’t make your room cooler, it will definitely make it feel cooler by speeding sweat evaporation and they cost far less to run than your air conditioner. If you don’t have ceiling fans already, they’re not very hard to install – I’ve added or rehung five in our house so far.

Once your fans are in, make sure the fan is set to spin in the correct direction: You want the air blowing down in summer and up in winter. If you’re not sure which way the air is moving, look at the blades as they spin: If the leading edge is higher than the trailing, it is pushing the air down. Honestly, we never turn our ceiling fans off whether we have the windows open or the air conditioner on. It’s nice to have air blowing over you and making you feel cooler.

3. Put In an Attic Fan

We’re having a contractor friend come over soon and give us an estimate for installing an attic fan and a timer. When I was growing up, I loved it when we turned on the attic fan; the cool outside air rushing in the windows and the hum of the fan made sleeping very comfortable.

An attic van gives you the combined benefits of moving air (like a ceiling fan) and pulling in the cooler air from outside. Of course, a prerequisite for running this is opening your windows, so the best thing is wait until after dusk to open your windows and then set the timer to run at least until after you’re deep asleep. It’s an investment that can easily pay for itself in a couple of years.

4. Shut the Blinds

On hot summer days, the sun is your worst enemy. The last thing you want to do is have your air conditioner running full blast to offset the increase heat from the sunlight pouring in your windows. By closing the blinds, you’ll still let in enough light to see by, but you’ll reflect back the rest.

5. Run Your Furnace Fan

Many thermostats will allow you to tell the fan to run without initiating the furnace or air conditioner. By turning on your furnace fan, you cause the air to be circulated throughout the house, balancing out any cold or hot spots so that you whole house feels more comfortable. An added benefit is that it will trap any potential allergens that have been introduced by opening your windows – just make sure to regularly check the furnace filter and replace it when it’s dark enough to block light passing through.

6. Install a Programmable Thermostat

It doesn’t make much sense to cool your home while you’re gone, but it’s hard to remember to tweak your thermostat every day before you leave for work. Program your thermostat to go up by five degrees about 30 minutes or so before you leave and have it come back to your “normal” temperature a half-hour before you return. For added savings, program it to also raise the termostat by two or three degrees through the night – you’re unlikely to notice the change in your sleep.

7. Turn Up The Thermostat A Degree Or Two

It’s recommended that you set your thermostat at 78 degrees during the summer if you have central air conditioning. It’s a pleasant temperature, but isn’t necessarily the cheapest setting. If you can handle it, raise your thermostat by one or two degrees and realize a savings of about six to seven percent for each degree above 78.

8. Close Unused Vents

I don’t know about your house or apartment, but there are some infrequently-used rooms in our house. If you’re not going to be in a particular room very much or very often, consider closing the vent in that room so you’re not cooling dead space. That will cause more air to come out of the other open vents, potentially allowing you to add some cooling to a room that wasn’t getting it otherwise.

Note: I wouldn’t recommend completely shutting the vents in a basement since the air conditioner helps remove humidity and you don’t want to end up with a soggy basement.

9. Turn Off the Lights

This isn’t really a suggested limited to summer, but it’s most appropriate now that it’s heating up. If you don’t need a light on, turn it off! All light bulbs generate heat as a byproduct of producing light (even though compact fluorescents run cooler than incandescent) and why would you want to add heat to the summer mix?

What light is filtering in through your closed blinds should be sufficient to get you around the house during the day. When night falls, turn on only the lights you need only when you need them. Not only will you save electricity, but you’ll also do your air conditioner a favor.

10. Hold Off On Cooking

I love chicken salad. In the summer, there is no meal I like more – it can be eaten chilled, you don’t have to cook anything, and it’s quick to prepare. Any time you turn on that stove while your air conditioner is running, you’re taking money out of your own pockets.

During the summer, do what you can to avoid turning on the stove and, if you must turn it on, turn it on in the late evening and (preferably) after you’ve opened the windows for the night.

11. Leave Laundry Until Nighttime

Like a huge, spinning oven, your clothes dryer puts out a decent amount of heat. Much of that heat will be vented outside, but some will still leak into your house. The later you wait to turn it on, the better chance you have of not working against your air conditioner as much. If you live somewhere that has time-based metering of electricity, try to wait until the lower evening rate kicks in.

Of course, nothing beats line-drying in terms of electricity usage, but if your subdivision is like mine and bans outdoor clothes lines, running your dryer at night is the next best option.

12. Use Your Lowest Level

When I go down to the basement to grab something out of our storage, I’m quick to notice that it’s at least 10 degrees cooler down there than our first floor. And, likewise, when I go upstairs to put away laundry in the bedroom closet, I can see that it’s five degrees warmer up there. I would love to spend most of our time in the basement, but we haven’t yet scraped together the funds to finish it as a living space, so we’re stuck on our main level. If you have a basement, don’t hesitate to take advantage of its stable temperatures all year – I know we will be once we finish ours.

13. Unplug/Switch Off Unused Electronics

Not only are those wall warts eating electricity when they’re not in use, they’re also converting some of that power into heat. By unplugging everything you can and putting the rest on switchable surge protectors, you can potentially save yourself a lot of money and unnecessary heat.

Bonus: Turn Off the TV

I don’t know about you, but our TV can really heat up! It’s a seven year-old 27″ CRT and our entertainment center heats up whenever it’s on for more than a few hours. If you’re not really watching something and just have it on for background noise, you can save a lot of money and heat by switching on a radio instead. As an added bonus, switching off the TV allows you to do other things, like go outside and enjoy the cool evening air first-hand instead of using any variety of cooling devices to bring that air to you!

Stay cool and enjoy the summer for less!

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Setting Boundaries for Grandparental Spending

My in-laws came over to our house yesterday. Their visit was very tense as my wife and I had decided to begin confronting the issue of my mother-in-law’s spending habits, especially concerning our children. She is a spendthrift and she would rather spend every penny she finds instead of saving anything for her retirement and increasing medical expenses. We are very worried for her and her impact on their finances and we’re just as worried that she will spoil our children.

At my in-laws’ house, my wife’s old bedroom has been forcibly converted into a huge storage area where my mother-in-law drops off her purchases. When my wife went over there a few weeks ago to get the last of her remaining belongings, she found bags stacked upon bags of new clothes shoved into her old closet that have never even made it out of the shopping bag that brought them home. These bags were from early winter or even before, considering the dust that had settled on these bags. Simply put, my mother-in-law has a problem.

When they arrived at our house yesterday her arms were full of junk that she had bought for our daughter: A huge shopping bag full of dresses and hats (my daughter hates wearing hats), a plastic doll bought at a flea market, a little purse, and a few other useless trinkets. Upon seeing this pile of crap it became clear to me that my mother-in-law is trying to pass her ideals on to our daughter instead of respecting our wishes. The doll immediately went into the trash considering it was far from safe for a 17-month old and the risk of lead-based paints brought by purchasing cheap, unmarked toys. The trinkets also found their way into the trash since we are trying to avoid clutter in our house. The dresses that will fit will be added to her wardrobe, but the rest will be donated along with all the hats.

We have complained numerous times to deaf ears that we do not want them to purchase anything for our daughter, especially without consulting us first. My mother-in-law simply has no concept of what is and isn’t safe for children and she cannot control her urge to purchase nearly everything she sees. This trip finally forced us to take corrective action to prevent this problem from growing. On their way out, she tried to sneak a $20 bill to our daughter without us noticing. This sent me over the edge. What in the world can a toddler do with a $20 and why does she refuse to respect us and the boundaries we have set?!? We have decided that she is an unsafe influence on our daughter. If she is blatantly trying to undermine us now, how bad is it going to get in the future?

The unfortunate consequence of this is that we are going to have to further restrict their interaction with our daughter – which is a real shame since my father-in-law is a blameless victim in this fight. I am in the process of drafting a contract that we are going to make them read, understand, and sign that clearly lays out our wishes and the rules concerning respect for our family and our rules. So far, I have included notes such as:

  • You may not purchase anything for our children without asking our permission first.
  • You may not give any amount of money directly to our children and you must ask for permission before giving money to us for them.
  • You must respect and obey the rules we have set for our household and our children at all times and in all locations, regardless of if we are present.

It really breaks my heart to have to do this, but it all comes down to the one important principle: We are the parents and it is our house, our family, and our responsibility to set the rules governing them. I really didn’t want to have things end up like this, but you eventually have to put your foot down. Hopefully this will cause my mother-in-law to notice her problem, but I am doubtful this will bring anything but guilt trips.

As a parent, you cannot be afraid to stand up for what you believe is right for your household and your family. Sometimes it means you have to step on some toes, but that is all part of being a good parent. It’s painful at times, but it is too important to ignore.

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I Just Paid a Stranger To Mail Me $29 Worth of Worms

Red worm composting

Yes, you read that correctly:  I paid a stranger $29 to send me a pound of worms via Priority Mail.  But, you see, these aren’t just any ordinary worms. These are Eisenia fetida, otherwise known as Red Wigglers.

Last week, I stumbled upon a post on DIY Life titled, “Start your own worm composting bin” and I was enthralled.  The idea that one can wrangle a bunch of worms into eating your food scraps and waste paper and turn it into super-charged dirt for your plants or garden quickly caught my attention.  I immediately showed it to my wife and she surprised me by becoming just as excited about the concept as I was.  (I had no idea my wife could be such a tom-boy!)

I am always looking for ways to reduce the trash our house sends to the landfill, but solutions are hard to come across that are both economical and subdivision-compatible. For example, I would love to have a compost pile, but there is no way it would fly in my subdivision.  And I would also love to be able to recycle more, but our area provides no curbside pickup and storing the recyclables until we have enough for a trip to the recycling center quickly becomes unmanageable due to space and bugs.   That is where my wonderful worms come in…

I made an inconspicuous home for my worms to do their work that can stay in or outside and won’t smell or make any noise or look too out-of-the-ordinary.  My starter system was easy to make and relatively cheap.   We were able to purchase a new 10-gallon plastic storage bin for $5 and I already mentioned the $29 for the worms, for a final total expense of $34 – and the great part is, I never have to spend another dime if I don’t want to as long as we take good care of our worms.   Although, I probably will upgrade to a larger wooden box if the experiment succeeds and our worms dramatically increase their population.   (Here is a resource covering one way to build your own worm bin.)

Once the worm home is set up, you have to put together a bedding of a 6 inches of soggy paper shreds and a handful of compost.  After that, all you have to do is feed your worms a regular diet of common household biodegradable trash (except for meat, oils, and dairy).  That means, if I manage my bin well and I grow a lot more worms, I might never have to throw away any spoiled or scrap food and I could keep my shredded credit card applications out of the trash. Just think, my worms could help save me from the risk of identity theft!

If you want to order some worms for yourself, I recommend Red Worm Composting since the seller is a red worm expert (and blogger) and the prices and quality are great.  My worms should arrive sometime early next week and I guarantee I will be writing more about this experiment after they arrive and when they start showing results.

If you would like to learn more about vermicomposting and building your own worm bin, you can check out these resources:

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A Recession Could Do America Some Good

I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking… “How in the world could a recession be good?” A recession is a painful thing that nobody likes to go through. It’s an exercise in endurance and it’s all the more painful since we’ve had such outstanding growth since our last recession. But it’s because of that growth that we need a recession.

Let me make an analogy to nature. We need a recession like a forest needs forest fires. A forest fire is a violent, painful experience for the forest and all who live in it. In a matter of days or weeks, everything is seemingly wiped out and reduced to a field of char. But once the flames have disappeared and the rain returns, new life springs from the rubble. The fire removed all the old growth and tree corpses, returned their nutrients to the soil, and prepared the land for new growth. Young trees and grasses sprout again, the animals return, and the now-young forest thrives. It’s a natural cycle that trades shorter-term losses for long-term gains.

Just like the forest, our economy is an ecosystem of a different shade of green. Over time, the shells of dead and dying companies litter the economic landscape, old tried-and-true methods and thoughts aren’t so true anymore, and we discover that we’ve spread ourselves a little too thin. The situation begs for a forest fire to come and clean up the waste.

As we enter a recession, it gives us a chance to analyze our books a little closer. In order to save money, companies and individuals both pull back on the riskier investments, cut what waste they can find, and streamline their operations. In the process, revenues for some companies dry up and, following the Darwinian principle of natural selection, they die and free up their resources for a “better-suited” competitor to take their places. It’s a painful time of contraction with lost jobs, stagnant salaries, and increasing costs. It’s difficult, but it’s all part of the cycle that will make the economy stronger as we leave the recession.

That is, as long as we leave it alone and let it run its course.

Just as the case in nature, when we start messing with an ecosystem we invariably make it worse. By taking drastic measures to preserve our recent “growth at all costs” behavior, we only delay the pain and risk making it last longer or have worse effects. What we’re suffering now is the delayed pain from the tech bubble burst that we just shifted over to the housing market. It’s now a fact that the collective “we” messed up when it came to plummeting interest rates, consumer credit, and sub-prime mortgages. If we don’t let the forest fire come in and burn out our mistakes – if we continue to prop up an economy built on false assumptions – when the fire does come it will have plenty more to burn.

I’m not looking forward to a recession by any stretch of the imagination, but at the same time it’s bitter pill that we must swallow. We have to let the weaker foundations, bad bets, and wasteful investments fail and get out of the way for the growth that will come afterward. The longer we avoid the inevitable, the worse it will finally be.

It’s time to get it over with and take our medicine – let the recession happen and look forward to the field of green that will sprout from the devastation.

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