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How to Know When You Need a Family Budget

Do you really need a budget? Isn’t that just a boring list of numbers that means you never get to spend money on what you want?

A budget is really just a way to take control of your finances. It does not necessarily mean you can’t ever spend your money on what you want; it just means you spend your money smarter. In fact, if you are always denying yourself and never buying anything you want for fear you can’t afford it, a budget could be liberating. Dealing with real numbers tends to be a lot less stressful than dealing with vague impressions of your income and expenses.

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Photo by Niels Steeman on Unsplash

So how do you know if you need a family budget? Here are some tips to help you know if you need to form a budget.

1. Your credit cards are never paid off.

If you are paying only the minimum balance on your credit card, and/or using one credit card to pay off another, then it’s time to work out a budget to get out of that hole.

2. Money “burns a hole” in your pocket.

Do you feel like you have money for a moment or two, then it’s gone? This could mean you have too many expenses, or that you are too quick to spend on wants rather than needs.

3. You don’t put any money into your savings, or you are random about how much and when you put money in.

Having a savings plan is an important aspect of financial management. If you don’t have any regimented plan for putting money into savings – say the first 10% of your net income always going to savings, or all bonuses from your workplace going straight to savings – then your savings will tend to languish as you keep spending on things you want.

4. You don’t have a savings account at all.

If you don’t have any savings or emergency fund, it may be a sign that you need a budget. A good family budget can help you make savings a priority.

5. You’re always saying, “I can’t afford it.”

Do friends ask you to go out to lunch, or to an event, and you say you “can’t afford it” all the time? This may be true, or it may not be; forming a budget will help you know what you really can and can’t afford.

6. You never seem to have enough.

Money can be deceptive – what seems like “plenty” can suddenly be not enough. Forming a budget can help you get a grip on what you really have; you may be pleasantly surprised that you do actually have enough, or that it’s feasible for you to make some strategic cuts so that you will have enough.

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5 Clever Ways to Name a Character in a Fiction Story

One of the most important aspects of writing fiction is the character’s name.  Often I spend hours or even days pondering over this critical issue.  I spent more time on naming characters than I spent naming my children.  The name has to fit the character’s personality.  Names like Stephanie Plum, Sherlock Holmes, Dirk Pitt fit the characters so well and I hope to do at least that good in naming mine. This is a list of some of the guidelines I use.  I would like to take a moment and point out that NONE of these names belong to anybody I know, so if you try to find yourself in a name, you will be wrong.

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What would you name your baby?
  1. Bad Guys

The bad guy will have a hard sounding name will have “J”, hard “G”, or “D” sounds.  Think Judge, Garrick, Darth.  While Judge Dred was a good guy, to me that is a perfect bad guy name.  A name that sounds like a crime is a good choice.  One novel I wrote has Arsen Gray, Bad Guy.  How about Killian Kroft?  Aaron Battle, or Lance Pierce

  1. Good Guys

An innocent woman or sweet female character will have a name like Mary Perkins or Sarah Simpkins.  It reminds me of “Babykins” or Lambykins.”  Mary denotes innocence itself.  You will never go wrong naming a mother Mary.  Also, variations of Mary, such as Marie Perkins work or Mariel or Muriel.  Sarah or Sally are good mother’s names.  Ann, Anne, Anna, Hannah are all main character names I like to use for my ladies.

For a good guy, I choose softer sounding names like, Christopher or Matthew.  James is a good guy, as in James Bond.  More good choices are Matthew Holmes, Eli Morning, Chris Shanley, or Christian Erikson.

  1. Heroes

A hero would have to have a heroic sounding name, like Ares, Arthur, Garrett, and Julius, or for the ladies, Artemis, Diana, or Raven.

To name a character, you have to figure out who they are and what they will accomplish.  For example, a male who will save Earth from destruction, but is a complete computer geek, you may try something like Arthur Palmer or Sterling Watson. I often create the back story for a character before I ever name them.  I sometimes use a “working name” until I decide what the character’s name will really be.  When I plug in the new name, I read over what I have written to see if the new name fits a s well as I think it will.

  1. Beautiful People

A beautiful woman needs a beautiful name, like Rose, Lily or any other flower name, or named for a jewel, like Ruby, Beryl, or Jewel.  A very handsome man could be Brian, Daniel, Alexander or (my favorite) Adrian.

What about a beautiful evil woman?  Ruby Pierce or Lily Lance.

  1. Intellects

Brian is a perfect genius’s name because it looks like Brain, or Isaac or Vincent.  And a genius girl could be Margaret, Sage or Alice.

I try to use names that are easy to pronounce and recognizable.  I don’t make up names, even in a Sci-Fi story.  I have seen that too often, where a character has a name that makes you want to buy a vowel.  I have spent way too much time trying to pronounce a name in my head that seemed unpronounceable.  In a novel I am currently working on, the heroine is Kathleen Fouraker and the hero is Christian Shanley.  In another Sci-Fi, I used Regina Sharpe as the heroine and James Thompson as the hero.  If you promised your grandmother that you would name your lead character after a village in Wales, then be kind to your readers and include a pronunciation guide.

The character name is an important story element, so don’t be afraid to give it some serious thought. Google it.  Look up the name’s meaning, its origins.  Say it out loud.  Does it sound hard as diamond or soft as cotton?  Also, if you need to change the character’s name, then do it.  I have changed a name more than once in my stories.

 

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How to have a Surprise Retirement

I have been at this retirement thing for about three months. To be clear, my retirement was not by choice. I was forced into early retirement by losing my job. So, what does that really mean?

It means I was taken completely by surprise and I have always hated surprises. My boss came into my office and announced, “This is your last day working here.” They were generous with a severance package and unemployment benefits. But, seriously? “Well, thank you for nothing you greedy, heartless, degenerate moron. I was leaving here in 4.5 years, anyway.” I thought to myself. I packed up my personal belongings, erased everything from my computer including the operating system and walked out of the back door without saying goodbye to anyone.

I had that sudden feeling of falling on my backside as Lucy snatches the football out of the way. I completely understood what the Coyote felt the instant he looked down and saw that he had run off the edge of the cliff or looked up and saw the anvil coming directly at him. Nowhere to run. After a few days of reeling from the news, I was able to think coherently… that is, I could think in complete sentences that did NOT start with, “Now, what the hell am I going to do?”

I had a five year run up to my retirement plan that was effectively cut short by 4.5 years. But, at least the rudiments of a plan were already in place.

  • Pay off my car
  • Pay off my credit cards
  • Double up on my IRA payments
  • Pay off (finally) my student loans
  • Use the IRA to remodel the bathroom and to add hardwood floors downstairs.

Having my income whacked in half, most of my retirement plan had to be amended. Fortunately, I am one of those people who make lists. ALL. THE. TIME. I make lists to remind me to make lists. My new Retirement is Happening Right Now list is pretty simple.

  • Pay the house payment FIRST each month
  • Pay the utilities next
  • Find a cheap cell phone plan
  • Eliminate the cable, keeping Netflix
  • Find a part time job that I can do from home
  • Make regular car payments
  • Make regular credit card payments

Whew! I feel much better having a plan. So how is the new plan working?

It has to be amended again, because I am switching from unemployment benefits to Social Security Benefits which has whacked my already whacked income by 1/3.

So, I still have to make adjustments to my lifestyle and I still have to figure out how to make this work. This story will be on-going as I figure out how to live on a limited income without loosing my house and becoming one of those old ladies who push a grocery cart around and live under a bridge.

Stick around for the fun!  By filling in the form, you will be added to my blog list and receive updates every time I post a new blog entry.

Photo Credit: Photo by Matthew Sleeper on Unsplash

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Watermelon Rind Preserves

I had a conversation with my Mom and when I mentioned that I had watermelons growing in my garden, she said she wanted some watermelon rind preserves.  I remember them from my childhood when my grandmother made them, but I had no idea how to go about it.  Also, I will never admit to my mom that I didn’t know how to do watermelon rind preserves because when she is 94, she will be all, “And besides that, you didn’t know how to preserve watermelon rinds.”

So I googled a recipe.

My brother and I have been preserving veggies out of my garden–so far we have “put up” (See quaint Southern phrases) tomatoes, cucumbers and green beans.  As I mentioned on my About page, my garden isn’t big enough to be sustainable and for this episode, I used a store bought watermelon as my homemade watermelons are still too small to be considered.

100% Natural (and going completely off track)

What I like about preserving my own “homemade” veggies is that there are no preservatives, insecticides or growth hormones added.  All 100% natural.

Back to the watermelons  

To get the watermelon rinds ready for preserving, I cut out the good stuff… that sweet red middle and put it aside to snack on over the next few days.  Then, I cut off the hard green skin, leaving the green part that never gets eaten.

FYI:  Use a good sharp knife to cut off the tough outer skin because it tends to resist removal from the green insides.

According to the recipe I found at allrecipes.com

Step One:  Peel off the green part of the watermelon rind, and slice into 2 inch pieces. Soak the rind in a solution of 1 gallon water and 1/2 cup salt overnight.

So I am soaking and will complete the task tomorrow.  Check that off of my “To-Do” list.

Fast forward 24 hours…

*reading the recipe*

Step Two:  Remove rind from the salt water, and place in a stockpot with clean water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the rind is tender. Drain.

Step Three:  In a large pot, combine the sugar, 8 cups water, and sliced lemons. Tie the cinnamon and cloves into a cheesecloth bag, and place in the pot. Bring the syrup to a boil, and boil for 5 minutes. Add the rinds, and cook until transparent. Remove spice bag. Stir in red food coloring, if using. Ladle preserves into hot sterile jars, and process to seal.

After soaking the rinds overnight I was ready to begin my preserves.   I drained the watermelon rinds and then put them in another pot. I covered them with water and put them on the stove to boil for about 30 minutes. After 30 minutes they were still a little bit tough so I set the timer for another 15 minutes.

While the rinds were boiling I made the simple syrup with lot of sugar, water, cloves and cinnamon sticks and let that boil at the same time the watermelons were boiling. But, I had no lemons.  Thinking quickly, I substituted lemon juice and went on to the next step.

Once the rinds were soft, (about 45 minutes boiling time) I put them in the simple syrup and boiled them together for about 15 minutes.

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Next came the canning process… namely, I boiled the Mason jars, lids, funnel, and ladle in a large stock pot.  Using my canning tongs, I removed the jars from the boiling water and placed the funnel in the first jar.  Using the sterile ladle, I put the watermelon pieces in the jar and added enough syrup to cover them leaving only about a quarter inch of room to the rim of the jar.  I put the lid on and screwed the ring down tightly.

Back in the boiling water in the stock.  I boiled the filled jars for about 15 minutes and then removed them from the water with the tongs to cool.  Waiting for the lid to pop when the jar sealed was the best part.

Finished Product

I only filled 4 pint sized jars, but that was from a single small watermelon.  Also, the recipe called for the addition of red food coloring, but I didn’t add that.  Those of you who are old enough to remember “Red Dye #5” will know why I didn’t put it in.

  • I called my Mom: I have finished the watermelon rind preserves.
  • Mom :  Good.  When are you bringing them to me?
  • Me:  Next time I drive to Florida, which is going to be a few months when the weather cools off down there.
  • Mom:  You are a daughter who hates her mother.
  • Me:…..
  • Mom:…..
  • Me:  Okay.  I am leaving right now.  See you in about 12 hours.
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Hectic Day

Who knew retired life would be so hectic?  Today, I am working on this blog, I am getting prepared for a yard sale I am having the weekend after next, I have some letters to write, two crochet projects I am working on and I still haven’t found anything funny so I can line through that on my “to-do” list.  I have harvested 5 cherry tomatoes from my garden, took a current picture of my house for the About page, and took about a hundred selfies until I found one that I could post on that, too. And is has been afternoon for almost a half hour.  Lunch time, my tummy tells me.

I have begun the ABOUT page on this blogsite.  The About page on a blog is very important because it tells people who I am and what I am trying to accomplish.  It explains my philosophy, a short bio and tells why I am blogging.

 

 

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We Know Tacky When We See It

I was born and raised in the Southern United States.  I still live in the SOUTH, although I am a bit farther NORTH than when I started out.  Most of my early life was in North Eastern Florida which is exactly the same thing as South Eastern Georgia, except there are more military bases. Then, I moved to South Eastern Virginia, which is exactly the same thing as North Eastern North Carolina except there are more military bases.

No, I’m not in the military and never was, so don’t ask me about that.

In the South, all women have a talent:  Identifying TACKY.  Not a single one of us can give you a definition for TACKY, but we know it when we see it.

Examples of TACKY:

  • That rather large woman who goes to (Something)Mart to shop wearing stretch pants so tight the seams are one Twinkie away from splitting wide open.  TACKY.
  • The family up the street that has their house painted forest green and the front door and part of the front porch is painted lime green that doesn’t match the rest of the house.  TACKY.
  • The man in the neighborhood who has red flames painted the front of his rust and cream colored pick-up truck that was brand new about thirty-five years ago.  One word:  Bondo.  One more word.  TACKY
  • The teenager who is dressed really nicely for school with a cute dress, black leggings over her skinny legs and more make-up than I have ever worn in a single sitting who gives me the finger when I turn right on a red without considering that she may want to cross the street when she finishes texting.  TACKY.
  • Any woman over the age of 60 who wears a pair of hot pink short shorts with “Juicy” written across the back side.  She is probably the world’s greatest grandma, but she is not JUICY.  She is TACKY.
  • Anyone who tries to serve a boilermaker to their teetotal maiden aunt is TACKY

But then I realized when my neighbor has a different definition of tacky when she referred to the fake stain glass that I have on the window of my front door as tacky.  Now I know tacky and I would have never put that cling film fake stained glass on my front door if I thought it was tacky.  I would never wear stretch pants around the house, out shopping or even to church.  I would never paint my house two shades green that don’t match.  I would never give someone the finger unless it was well-deserved.  I would never use a flame decal to cover up the rust around the grill on my car.  I would never insinuate that I am JUICY at my age.  I would never serve any kind of alcohol to a teetotal maiden aunt.  But, I still can’t give you an adequate definition of tacky.

But, since my neighbor referred to my fake stain glass that is in the design of an art deco grape arbor as tacky, I have to adjust my thinking little bit.  If she thinks it’s tacky, does every one else in South Eastern Virginia? A Southern women would rather be dead that thought of as tacky.

Because I have tried to avoid being tacky my whole life, I have a major dilemma.  You see, I LOVE my fake stain glass grape arbor so I left it up on the front door, but now I am slightly embarrassed when the UPS man shows up with a package.  Does HE think it’s tacky?  Does the lady who delivers the mail?

Another neighbor told me my house looks like a little doll house.  So maybe it’s not tacky at all.  Maybe my neighbor was just feeling bad that day.

All I do know is, I have spent too much time worrying about whether or not my front door is really tacky.

 

 

 

 

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Finding Humor

As an exercise I asked people to describe my writing in three words.  When I looked at myself, I thought most people would tell me I am funny.  But NO ONE DID.  NOT ONE PERSON described me as funny.  I had some very positive reinforcement from friends with adjectives like intelligent, personable, effective, driven, compassionate, comforting, inspirational, heroic, brilliant, intelligent and creative. But not funny.

I look for humor everywhere I go.  When I look, I find funny things all the time.  So, maybe, I am not relating that to others very well.

Humor is not being able to tell a joke… that’s a comedian.  Humor is situational.  For example, I was in the grocery store today and I attempted to get a cart for my groceries.  The carts were married together in an unbreakable union that no one could put asunder.  I jerked and tugged and pulled first one, then another, but they were stuck together.

A lady who works in the store walked over and pulled the cart free without any fanfare or trouble.  She didn’t break a sweat.  In a single motion, we achieved freedom for the cart I was bursting a blood vessel to get.  I thanked the lady for her help and walked toward the produce pushing my prize.  It had a flat tire.  The rubber came off the wheel in a perfect circle that looked like a fat rubber band.  Every time I pushed the cart forward, it ran over the remnants of the former tire and bumped along with a dull thump for every revolution of the wheel.

And another wheel squeaked.  So there I was, shopping with a grocery cart whose retread separated and was badly in need of some WD40.  Squeak, thump, squeak, thump.

So rather than getting annoyed or trying to wrestle another cart out of the prison, I spent time enjoying the squeak, thump.

For example,  last night my neighbor walked into my house.  Not an unusual occurrence because she does this 2 or 3 times every day.  She opens the door and shouts “YooWhoo.”  What made last night different is that I had already retired upstairs and my brother who sleeps in the bedroom down stairs had turned in early for the night.  But, he left the front door unlocked and so my neighbor came on in.  I went to the top of the stairs and told her I would be right down.  She replied, “Okay.  I’ve got my knife.”

Me: Whoa! Is there a reason you brought your knife and would I be safer if I stay up here?

Neighbor: I found the Swiss Army Knife I thought I had lost.

Me:  So you didn’t plan on using it?

Neighbor: Maybe.  This knife has a corkscrew and I have a bottle of wine.

Me:  Well, why didn’t you say so?

Humor is everywhere and all we have to do is look for it.  In fact, I recommend putting it on your To-Do list every day.  And make sure you check it off when you do find something humorous.

 

 

 

 

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Savage Workout

 

It seems like it never ends… this constant whipping of the body into shape.  I have done the entire gamut of diets, lifestyle changes, weight loss herbs and more diets.  Seems like every week, someone else invents a new “absolutely guaranteed to work” diet.

Enough, already!

Truth is, we live in a society that is over-nourished (at least here in America) and we are hounded by advertisements that tell us “we deserve a break, today,” so buy ultra tasty, ultra fattening fast food.  And then they ask us if we want to super-size it and add extra cheese.

Ads convince us that eating pizza and tacos are the way to go.  Now, don’t misunderstand me because I’m not preaching here.  I LOVE tacos and I have Pizza Hut on speed dial.

The ads make things too tempting to resist. So, I eliminated cable so I can’t see the ads on TV, moved all my junk mail to the trash, immediately, and deleted Pizza Hut from my phone.

A couple of months ago, I found a workout online that is aimed directly at me and my demographic–namely a grey-haired woman who is rapidly approaching old age and who has always hated any kind of physical activity.  Even as far back as High School, I hated PE (Physical Education) preferring to read a good book or even a bad one.  I was always the last to be picked in team sports. When I was the only one left to be chosen, the team captains would look around and then ask the PE teacher if they could pick the lunch room lady instead.  I was as distressed as they when she said no.

Anyway…

I found a workout that consisted of sitting in a chair, mostly.  I thought, “I can do that.  I sit all the time.”  I even stuck with it for a month or so.  Then Deron, a guy who is cute in that he-looks-just-like-my-grandson kind of way, started making the workouts more and more difficult.  From a chair.  FROM. A. CHAIR.

I find myself yelling at the cute blonde boy (who is probably in his early 30s,)  “Deron, does your mother know how badly you treat old ladies?”  or “You utter, utter savage! I couldn’t do that when I was twenty.  What makes you think I can do this at my age?  I’ll break a hip.”

Then, sunrise. I turn on the computer, just so I have an opportunity to yell at cute, blonde Deron.  Alarmingly, his workouts work.  I feel better, my jeans are falling off of me, and I can finally clip my own toenails, saving me a fortune in pedicures.

You toocan find Deron at Grow Young Fitness.

 

 

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Petrol Head? Gear Head? Motor Head?

I just don’t know. I’ve never before had a love affair with a car, except maybe my Chevy Cougar back in 2001, but even then, it was just a passing infatuation.

The number of cars that passed through my life is huge and not very stellar from a Ford Pinto, to a Beetle, to a AMC Gremlin, then a Plymouth Reliant K Car, and on and on ad nauseum. Cars were transportation. Nothing more than a method for traveling from point A to point B with a minimum number of calls to my road service. I had cars that were my least favorites, like the Honda POS that I (thankfully) totaled on Interstate 64, and cars that were favorites, like the peppy little Dodge Spirit.

Right after my near death experience on I-64 in which I lost a whole cup of Starbuck’s Latte, I bought a Chevy Blazer from a friend and subsequently name it Big Blue. It was steady, faithful and reliable until it wasn’t any longer. Several times, Blue left me stranded and the repair bills piled up. Because I needed reliable transportation, I bit the bullet, resigned myself to car payment slavery and started the search.

I live in Virginia, which has glorious weather most of the time, but there is at least one major snow storm a year. After living in Florida most of my life where that sort of thing doesn’t happen, I dreaded the next weather onslaught. I wanted a 4 wheel drive car. Maybe a Jeep.

Or so I thought.

The salesman at the dealership tempted me with an uninteresting car: a 2010 Dodge Avenger.

It had a single previous owner, six years old and… wait for it… only 13,170 miles.

At first glance, I was all “Meh.” But I looked a little closer at the grill, and lights, the flared fenders over the wheels, the roundy hips in the back and my “Meh” turned into, “Maybe.’

Long story, short, I bought it, but still didn’t fall in love right away. That came later. At first the Avenger was steady, reliable transportation that would get me from point A to point B without any call to my road service.

Fast forward 8 months…

I made a road trip from Virginia to Florida, on my own. A journey of 685 miles. Somewhere on that trip, just the car and me, I fell in love. It wasn’t a head-over heels reaction. It was slow, as I got to know her. She became my close friend. We bonded in a way I had never bonded with a car before.

Then, I gave her a name: Emma Peel (Look it up if you are wondering who she is)

I made it my business to find out everything about Emma: 0-60 in 8.3 secs, 2.4 liter engine, 173 hp @ 6000 rpms, 166 torques, 4 inline cylinders, 4 speed automatic transmission, front wheel drive, double overhead cams, average 24 mpg, curb weight of 1.5 tons. That is just a bunch of numbers to me because I didn’t bother to compare it to other cars. What I do know about my new best friend is that she wants to go fast. She is eager. She is willing. She is faithful and she is loyal.

On the con-side, she wags her tail more than a happy puppy. She suffers from under steer in corners if I don’t hold tightly to the steering wheel when going around and accelerate just right (remember to brake BEFORE the turn and accelerate into the turn). She has the same turning radius as the Queen Mary. And the car is made of plastic… everything is plastic.

Maybe it’s time to dress her up a little… new seat covers and floor mats, steering wheel cover, maybe a dash kit. After all, what girl doesn’t like a bit of make up every now and then.