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Using First-Order Thinking to Visualize Spending Decisions



One of my favorite strategies for getting down to the core of something is to use a trick I call the “five why’s.”

Basically, I use this technique whenever I identify a problem of some kind in my life, or when I’m trying to dig into the core of an idea. I’ll take that problem or that idea I’m trying to understand and I’ll ask “why?” Then, I’ll take that answer and ask “why?” again. I’ll keep asking why until something interesting or valuable emerges; it usually takes five “why’s.”

Let me share my favorite example from the old article:

We often wind up with a large backup of laundry, then find ourselves doing several loads on a single weekend day.

Why? Our laundry routine doesn’t work.

Why? One big problem is that our laundry room is literally as far as possible in our home from our bedrooms, plus the laundry room is back in the corner near the guest bedroom. Out of sight, out of mind. As a result, we often don’t even think about the laundry until the evening, when we’re just about ready for bed. Then, in the morning rush, we walk right by it.

Why? It’s more convenient to just ignore it in the morning and we’re too tired to deal with it in the evening.

A solution presents itself. Fill up a laundry basket in our bedroom in the evening and place it right in front of the door so that we’ll trip over it in the morning if we don’t deal with it. Then, when we go downstairs in the morning, we carry the basket down and we’re pretty much ready to drop in a load of laundry on our way out the door. I’ve started doing this and it actually really works.

The five why’s — in this case, it was just three, but you get the idea — actually led me toward figuring out a more efficient pattern for doing laundry, one that’s more in line with the energy I have throughout the day. I will often come downstairs in the morning with a laundry basket of dirty clothes in hand which goes straight into the washer.

What I want to talk about today is another similar tool that I use in situations that are almost the opposite of this situation, where I have a core idea and I’m trying to figure out the impact of that idea. Imagine that I’ve actually got the answer to the five why’s, but I want to move in reverse back up to the problems and benefits it might cause in my daily life.

I simply ask “and then what?” over and over again, usually about five times.

Let’s look at a clear example of “and then what?”

Let’s say I’m considering a major life change of some kind, like moving to a new house.

So, I start off with the idea of a new house. What are some really obvious things that will result if I buy a new house like what I want?

We’ll have a bigger kitchen.
We’ll have at least one guest bedroom.
We’ll have space out back to build a small exercise shed.
We’ll have a bigger yard.
We’ll have higher property taxes and insurance.
We’ll be a little closer to where Sarah works.

Some of those are positives and some of them are negatives.

For each of those, though, I’m going to ask “and then what?” Let’s start with having a bigger kitchen. Okay, I have a bigger kitchen, then what?

I’ll likely cook more meals at home.
We’ll probably refresh a lot of the items that are in the kitchen.
It’ll take more time to keep it clean.

For each of those, I’ll ask something like:

“Okay, we’ll likely cook more meals at home, then what?”

The kitchen will be messy more often.
We’ll probably spend less on food.
We’ll probably make more interesting meals.

Again, I can ask the “and then what?” question about some of these.

What I’m actually digging for are specific things that actually matter to me. What spending changes will this new house cause? What time use changes will this new house cause? How will our daily routines and activities be changed? What will be the actual quality of life improvements? What are the actual quality of life drawbacks?

The more answers I have to those questions, the more clear the positives and negatives of having a new house become. I can start assessing a lot of the conclusions and then make a much better decision regarding a big choice like that. For me, it usually becomes clear after a while whether the answers add up to a positive or a negative.

So, for us, although we used to dream of having a big house in the country, the “and then what?” exercise actually led us to realize that it would have more drawbacks than benefits, so, for now, we’re not really considering that move anymore.

I do this exact same exercise when evaluating a new major goal that I’m thinking about. I do this to try to weed out some of the potential pitfalls of a goal in advance so I can decide if I really want to jump on board with that goal or if there are problems with the goal that I can fix in the planning stages to increase my chances of success.

For example, my biggest personal goal that I’m looking at right now is achieving a black belt in taekwondo. Figuring out how I can get there, to be fit and flexible enough to be able to excel at tests and to know enough techniques, means that I developed a daily training plan to get there, and repeatedly asking “and then what?” helped me to revise that daily training plan to the point where it made a lot more sense in terms of something I can stick with.

The “and then what?” question is just a model for first order and second order thinking — and beyond.

The real secret behind the “and then what?” question is that it nudges you to go beyond first order thinking when making a decision or a plan.

Okay, so what’s first order thinking? I like the words of Noah Pepper when describing this:

First order thinking is the process of considering the intended and perhaps obvious implications of a business decision or policy change.

Since first order thinking expands to all decisions and changes a person might make, I’d reword it like this for our purposes:

First order thinking is the process of considering the intended and perhaps obvious implications of a personal decision or plan.

Great, so what’s second order thinking? Again, in Noah Pepper’s words:

Second order thinking is the process of tracing down and unraveling the implications of those first order impacts.

And, thus, third order thinking is the process of tracing down and unraveling the implications of those second order impacts, and fourth order does the same to third order, and so on.

So, in the above example with our consideration of building a new house, the initial observations like having a bigger kitchen and having a guest bedroom were examples of first order thinking, and then when we delved into the bigger kitchen, we were engaging in second order thinking, and when we delved into the ramifications of more meals at home, we were engaging in third order thinking. You can keep going from there as deep as you want.

For me, I find that I stop when it’s clear that the firm conclusions I’m reaching are pointing me toward a particular plan or a particular decision. If I’m still unsure, I keep digging deeper with more “and then what?” questions.

The decisions are like a giant tree.

One thing a person can’t help but notice here is that you’re creating a giant tree of thought. If you list out the first order thoughts about a particular decision or plan, you’re looking at the big thick branches coming off the trunk of a tree. However, the second order thoughts are like thinner branches coming off of those thick branches, and the third order thoughts are like even thinner branches, and the fourth order thoughts are like twigs. It’s a giant tree!

If you have ten first order thoughts, and each first order thought gives you five second order thoughts to think about, and each second order thought gives you three third order thoughts to think about, and each third order thought gives you three fourth order thoughts… right there, you have 450 things to consider. That’s… overwhelming.

So what value does this really have? I’d point toward three key things.

First, almost always, this process makes my decision or plan better. It will nudge me toward the increasingly obvious best decision when making a choice or it will help me continually refine a plan such that it’s more likely to succeed.

Second, I usually only delve that deep on major decisions or plans. I delve down to fourth and fifth level stuff only with really big decisions. Should we move? Should I switch careers? What about this big multi-year goal I’m considering adopting? I usually do this on paper and write all of this down, page after page after page, just to make sure I’m committing to something worth committing to and something that’s optimized for the best chance of success.

Third, I will sometimes delve this deep on smaller decisions and plans, but usually when it’s something that will come up again with some regularity. For example, I’ll go this deep with things like weekly routines. There are a lot of regular tasks in my life for which I have checklists, and I’ll definitely go this deep when writing such a checklist, because I want that checklist to be correct. I’ll sometimes go fairly deep on small decisions that seem off to me.

Outside of that, I don’t go that deep with decisions, except for giving some depth to decisions that cost money and particularly repeatable ones. Most decisions for me are instantaneous, but they often rest on having gone a little deeper at some point in the past. For example, I’ll give some real thought, going two or three levels deep, about something like which kind of milk to buy at the store, but then I can just draw on that thinking to make a reliably good snap decision next time, and it’s worth it because it’s a decision I’ll be making over and over again.

In other words, the tree of the decision is only as big as you want it to be. When a clearly good choice becomes apparent, it’s time to go with it rather than endlessly going down tinier and tinier branches. Only do that with the biggest decisions in your life, and even in those cases, I stop with just five levels.

Applying “and then what?” to real financial decisions is easier than it seems.

Let’s look at “and then what?” questioning as applied to a real financial decision.

You have a 401(k) plan at work. When you first started, you contributed a tiny amount — say, 2%. After a year or two, you started reading more about personal finance and now you’re thinking you should bump that up to 5%, as your employer matches your first 5% of contributions dollar for dollar.

So, you might initially think of the following benefits and drawbacks:

  • You’ll have a lot more money for retirement
  • You’ll have a little smaller paycheck

Let’s apply the “and then what?” question.

You’ll have a lot more money for retirement, and then what?

  • Retirement will be a lot more comfortable when you get there
  • You’ll worry less about retirement as you approach it
  • You could potentially use that money for other things in a real emergency.

You’ll have a little smaller paycheck, and then what?

  • You might have to cut down on some of your treats
  • You might feel a little less financial flexibility

Those are the second order issues. Let’s go through the third order ones, too.

Retirement might be a lot more comfortable when you get there, and then what?

  • You can actually do some things in retirement that you’ve always dreamed of doing
  • You will have a much easier time visiting and spending time with any children and grandchildren you may have
  • You won’t have to live a life of poverty in retirement

You’ll worry less about retirement as you approach it, and then what?

  • You won’t have to make huge last minute contributions to retirement to try to catch up
  • Your life during your 50s and 60s will be less stressful
  • You can use the resources you might have had to throw into last minute contributions for other things that are important to you

You could potentially use that saved money in your 401(k) in an emergency, and then what?

  • You’d survive that emergency a lot more efficiently.
  • However, you’d then be back to having less in retirement than desired, so you’d be making catch-up payments
  • Having that option available, however, reduces worries about the future even a little more

You might have to cut down on some of your treats in the short term, and then what?

  • You’ll probably end up missing some of the things you cut and not some of the others
  • You’ll likely end up adjusting a little
  • This might make you feel unhappy for a while

You might have a little less financial flexibility, and then what?

  • You may have to learn how to be more frugal in some areas of life
  • Some of those things might be almost invisible, while others will be frustrating
  • You might feel unhappy for a while as you figure it out

So, let’s tie all of this together.

Some of the downsides of contributing more to retirement would include cutting out a few of your treats, some of which you might miss a little (but others you won’t). You also may have to try being more frugal in some areas of life, like maybe cutting your cable or eating at home a little more. These changes might make you feel unhappy for a little while as you adjust to minor lifestyle deflation.

On the other hand, contributing more now means that you’ll avoid a lot of stress later in your career because you won’t have to make big last-minute contributions to retirement. You’ll give yourself financial flexibility then, and even more flexibility when you are retired. You’ll be able to have the flexibility to take on new adventures without financial worry and not have to face restricted options due to poverty.

Digging into third order (and deeper) elements helps a person see what the real consequences are for their choices, and when you look at it from this lens, bumping up your retirement a little so that you’re still comfortable in your current life while bringing all of those benefits into your future seems like an obvious choice.

If you don’t look deeper, it’s easier to get caught up on that slightly smaller paycheck, but while it looks like a big issue with first order thinking, it looks a lot smaller when you dig in a few layers. The reverse is true with retirement savings — you begin to see that having money in the bank will benefit you much sooner because you’ll avoid stress later in your career thanks to those savings now.

Of course, if you’re already saving a ton, you might do this same experiment and conclude that more savings won’t really bring many benefits, but it will add significantly to today’s hardships.

“And then what?” is helpful throughout your life, at any level

The more you apply “and then what?” to the important decisions in your life, the better your decisions will be and the stronger your plans will be. The key, however, is to avoid going too deep with it, because “and then what?” can lead you to analysis paralysis where you keep evaluating.

Stop regularly and look at what you’ve figured out. You may just realize that what you’ve learned is strongly pointing you toward a decision, and when that’s clear after digging through a few layers of this, you’re virtually always looking at the right answer, so just go with it.

Ask “and then what?” Ask it again. Listen to the answers. They’ll usually tell you what you should be doing.

Good luck!

The post Using First-Order Thinking to Visualize Spending Decisions appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Azlo Review – Online Business Checking



Azlo ReviewAzlo Review

Alzo is an online bank that focuses on simple business banking for entrepreneurs. With a huge focus on online entrepreneurs like freelancers and business, they are looking to change the way these businesses bank.

But what does that mean for you if you’re looking for a great business checking account?

Let’s dive in!

See how Azlo compares to the best business checking accounts and read more in our review below.

Azlo LogoAzlo LogoAzlo Logo

Quick Summary

  • Completely free business checking
  • Integrated invoicing and payment acceptance services
  • Does not offer checkbook services and cannot accept cash

Azlo Details

Product Name

Azlo Business Checking

Min Deposit


Monthly Fee


Account Type




What Is Azlo?

Azlo is an online-only bank available in the U.S. and Mexico. The CEO & Co-founder is Cameron Peake. Azlo was founded in 2017 and is part of BBVA USA, Member FDIC.

“Within the banking industry, small business customers usually either aren’t served at all, or they’re served as an afterthought. At Azlo, from day one, we’ve built our product just for them. For example, we don’t have minimum balances or monthly fees. This is important because if you’re a new business owner ― particularly someone who hasn’t started earning revenue yet ― your money should be put towards your business rather than fees,” Peake said in an interview with

What Do They Offer?

Azlo offers free business checking suited for simple businesses such as small businesses, contractors, and freelancers who do all of their business online. 

It also has a no-fee model. Companies that need to write paper checks will want to use a different bank since Azlo doesn’t offer checkbook services. Businesses that need in-branch services and deal with cash will also not be a good fit for Azlo since none of those services are offered.

For most small businesses, Azlo can do virtually everything needed without any fees. It offers simple business checking, but for many small businesses, they don’t need anything more. Here’s what’s included with an Azlo checking account:

  • No-fee checking account
  • Free ATM access using Allpoint Network (55,000 ATMs)
  • Invoice clients for free
  • Debit card
  • Bill pay, which includes option for mailing paper checks
  • Connect your checking account to popular accounting software such as QuickBooks Online, Xero, and Wave.
  • Accept credit card payments through Stripe, Square, or PayPal.
  • Clients can send in paper checks for payment or use a bank transfer.
  • Receive incoming wire transfers fee-free. Outgoing wire transfers are not available.

As you can see from the list above, Azlo is very business-oriented.

Some customers have reported that transfers with Azlo are slower than with other banks. Azlo lists that outgoing transfers can take 1-3 business days, and incoming transfers can take 4-5 business days. Mobile check deposits can take 1-6 business days to process. These processing times can certainly be a factor if you need fast processing for transfers and check deposits.

Azlo cannot send international transfers. They are working on adding this option. Although you can pull from an Azlo account using an international debit service.

We also experienced trouble trying to use the invoicing and receiving payments with credit cards on invoices.

Azlo is available in all 50 states. Azlo is not able to offer services to businesses involved in gambling, money services, privately-owned ATMs, sales of marijuana or its derivatives, precious metals, pawnshops, or cryptocurrency exchanges. It also can’t support limited partnerships or limited liability partnerships.

Azlo does have some limits on certain transactions. From their webpage these include:

  • ATM withdrawals are limited to $1,000/day.
  • Card purchases and over-the-counter cash withdrawals have a cumulative limit of $8,000/day and 30 unique card transactions/day.
  • Transfers TO a linked account are limited to $300,000/day, and transfers FROM a linked account are limited to $100,000/day.
  • Payments through bill pay are limited to $10,000/payment. Bank-to-bank (ACH) payments are limited to $300,000/day.
  • Mobile check deposits are limited to $10,000/check and $20,000/month. Limit can be increased based on your Azlo account history.

Mobile App

Azlo has a mobile app for both the iPhone and Android. On the Apple App Store, it has a 4.3/5 rating from 258 people and 4.1/5 rating from 298 people on the Google Play Store.

Customer Service

Customer service is available by email and phone. You can email Azlo at They reply within 1 business day. Phone service is available at 844-295-6466 from 6:30 am to 5:30 pm Pacific time Monday through Friday.

Are There Any Fees?

Nope. Azlo is all-free business checking. That begs the question — how do they make money? Azlo says it makes money by earning interest on checking deposits and from customers using the Azlo debit card.

Payment serviced from Stripe, Square, and PayPal do charge processor fees, but these are separate from Azlo.

How Do I Open An Account?

Accounts are opened online at

Is My Money Safe?

Yes, Azlo uses bank-grade encryption on its website, and mobile and BBVA USA is a Member FDIC.

Is It Worth It?

It has potential, that’s for sure.

For small businesses that have simple checking needs and want to accept online payments from customers, Azlo will do everything you need. 

It has integrated invoicing and the ability to accept payment from credit cards and bank transfers, providing a great infrastructure for small businesses.

However, if you’re looking for more, check out our list of the best business checking accounts here.

The post Azlo Review – Online Business Checking appeared first on The College Investor.

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10 Slow Cooker Recipes That Will Make Dinner Time Easy



Are you looking for some new and delicious slow cooker recipes so you can have tasty and stress-free dinners this week?

I love making meals in a slow cooker. Dinners are so much easier when you start everything in advance! I’m less stressed, can focus on things I’d rather do, all while knowing that I have a delicious meal cooking.

So, if you’re looking for some of the best slow cooker recipes, I have 10 new recipes for you to try – that’s almost two full weeks of meal ideas!

I think you’re going to like all of these slow cooker recipes, but here are my favorites:

  • Easy Slow Cooker Cauliflower Soup – Cauliflower, cashews, and a smoky chickpea topping. This soup is packed full of protein, and it’s vegan. This soup is creamy, rich, and the chickpea topping is roasted, which gives it a nice crunch.
  • Slow Cooker Salsa Verde Chicken Soup – Chicken, black beans, fire roasted corn, lime juice, and more. You can top this hearty soup with cheese, avocado, sour cream (I like to use plain Greek yogurt), and more.
  • Mozzarella Stuffed Crockpot Meatloaf – Garlic, onions, mozzarella cheese, Italian seasoning, and more. This meatloaf even has a delicious sweet and spicy glaze on top. I honestly had no idea that you could even make meatloaf in the slow cooker until I found this recipe.

Many of these slow cooker recipes take 15 minutes or less of prep time, which means you can easily make them before you go to work in the morning. They also make great leftovers for lunch the next day.

I like to put together slow cooker recipes before we go out hiking, biking, or exploring. We’re usually very hungry when we finish, and having a slow cooker meal ready to eat means we’re never too tired to eat dinner at home.

Being too tired or too hungry to cook is probably one of the top reasons for going out to eat, but dinner out can easily cost $30-$50. That can be a lot of extra spending that you didn’t budget.

So, these slow cooker recipes will give you some delicious new ideas, make dinner time easier, and they’ll keep your food budget in check. 

If you’re interested in more meal ideas, I recommend checking out the following articles for more of my favorite recipes:

Note: If you’re looking for easy weekly meal plans, full of budget recipes, I recommend $5 Meal Plan. $5 Meal Plan is a meal planning service that sends you a delicious meal plan and shopping list every week for just $5 a month.

Here are 10 slow cooker recipes.


1. Easy Slow Cooker Cauliflower Soup

Get the recipe here.


2. Slow Cooker Vegan Butternut Squash Soup

Get the recipe here.


3. Sweet Potato Apple Casserole

Get the recipe here.


4. French Beef Stew

Get the recipe here.


5. Teriyaki Chicken Quinoa And Veggies

Get the recipe here.


6. Salsa Verde Chicken Soup

Get the recipe here.


7. Slow Cooker Corned Beef Tacos

Get the recipe here.


8. BBQ Pulled Pork Tacos

Get the recipe here.


9. Slow Cooker Chicken Chili

Get the recipe here.


10. Mozzarella Stuffed Crockpot Meatloaf

Get the recipe here.

What are your favorite slow cooker recipes?

The post 10 Slow Cooker Recipes That Will Make Dinner Time Easy appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

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Eight Useful, Frugal Projects You Can Do to Save Money



It’s been my experience that if you leave yourself too much idle time, you usually end up doing things you regret. Perhaps it’s just as simple as wasting away the hours watching random television programs and movies, or maybe it’s something destructive and wasteful that you’ll regret. Whatever the case may be, a sudden abundance of time can lead to some bad routines.

A much better approach is to find useful ways to fill that time, particularly in terms of making things, learning things, or optimizing things for later.

Here are eight projects to take on during moments in life when you have more time than you expect and are struggling to find worthwhile things for idle hands to do.

Maintain your appliances.

There’s really no better time than right now to go through each of the appliances in your home and give them some maintenance love.

The easiest way to do it is to look up the manual for each of your appliances online and see what they suggest doing for maintenance. Which appliances? Your refrigerator, dishwasher, stovetop/oven, microwave, washer, dryer and AC unit. There’s a nice checklist to get you started.

Almost every manual in the world will suggest maintenance and cleaning steps for those appliances. Follow those instructions as closely as you can. You’ll be doing things like leveling the washing machine, dusting behind the fridge, cleaning out little holes in your dishwasher, and so on.

Why do this? Whenever you do a maintenance run on your appliances, you’re extending their lifespan significantly. That means, during the time in which you live in this home, you’ll have fewer appliance replacements. Plus, you’re likely to get these appliances to run more efficiently as well, which could save you a little money along the way.

Make stock.

Stock is the liquid backbone of a ton of different soups and many casseroles and other dishes. There are countless uses for stock — whenever you would use water or bullion in a dish, stock will improve the flavor substantially. The best part? Making it yourself is free, but it requires some planning ahead.

What you need to do is save every vegetable scrap that you have, either raw or plainly cooked. If it’s a bit of extra vegetable that’s edible, but you skipped it for some reason, use it. If it’s a vegetable that’s on the verge of going bad, use it. If it’s some leftover steamed broccoli, use it. If it’s an outer layer of onion that you peeled away, use it.

All of that stuff can go in a large container in your freezer. A gallon-sized freezer bag is perfect for this.

Along with that, save the bones and cartilage and scrap bits of meat from any meat that you cook. Did you cook a whole chicken? Save the bones and cartilage and scraps. Did you cook a roast? Save the bone. Do you have leftover plain meat? Save it.

You’ll want to save individual kinds of meat — save the chicken bits in one-gallon freezer bag and beef bones in another.

When you have a gallon bag full of scraps, you’re ready to make stock. Pour all of those scraps into a pot. You can mix one type of meat scrap with vegetable scrap, or just do them alone if you want vegetarian scraps. Cover the scraps and bones with water, add a tablespoon of salt and a tablespoon of ground black pepper (or some peppercorns), and then simply simmer it on low all day long in a pot with a lid. You can do it without a lid, but you’ll want to add some water during the day. Twelve hours of simmering should do it. You can do this in a large slow cooker on low, too, and that allows you to safely leave it overnight.

When you’re done, strain the liquid. It’s the liquid you want to save, not the mushy scraps. That liquid can be stored in a big jar in the fridge or frozen in a freezer-safe container. It’s the basis of amazing soups and amazing casseroles. It’s amazing when you use it to cook rice. It’s basically liquid flavor for almost anything where you want to impart that kind of flavor.

Make your own bread.

Homemade bread is a little denser, far more filling, more nutritious, and makes absurdly better toast than the bread you buy at the store. A humble homemade loaf is like $10 bakery bread rather than the $2 loaf you normally buy, but here’s the kicker: it doesn’t even cost $2 to make, and your grocery store has all of the stuff (even if you don’t have it on hand). Not only that, making it yourself is a great kitchen confidence builder.

It’s really easy to do, too. All you really need is flour, water, sugar, yeast and an oven. A loaf pan is nice to shape the final loaf — if you don’t have one, you can get an inexpensive one at the grocery store for a dollar or two.

All you need is a packet or a tablespoon of dry yeast, 2 1/4 cups of warm water (it should feel nice and warm but not hot to the touch), 3 tablespoons of sugar, a tablespoon of salt, a small bit of oil for greasing the pan and 6 1/2 cups of bread flour. This will make two loaf-sized dough balls. You can wrap one in plastic wrap and store it in the fridge a few days for when you’re ready to bake another loaf.

Mix the yeast and half a teaspoon of sugar into the water and let it sit for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, mix together the salt, the remaining sugar and half the flour in a really big bowl until it’s thoroughly mixed. Then, add the water and stir — it’ll be like a soup. Add the rest of the flour, half a cup at a time, until you have a big dough ball you can handle with your hands without sticking to them.

Clear a spot on a table, put a little flour down, and knead the ball until it’s smooth. This will take about 10 minutes. Add a little flour if it starts to get sticky again.

At this point, split the dough ball in half and wrap up half of it to stick in the fridge. Take a bowl, rub a bit of the oil all over the inside of it so nothing sticks, and put the other dough ball in there. Let it sit for a couple of hours in a warm spot, covered with a towel.

After that, just punch down the dough and form it into a loaf shape. Rub a bit of oil all over the inside of the loaf pan and fit the dough in there. Cover that loaf again and wait another 90 minutes or so for it to rise.

Then, heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, pop in the loaf and wait 30 minutes. It’s done when you tap the top of it and it sounds hollow inside. Remove it from the pan and let it sit on a wire rack (or anything you can find that will elevate it from the table and let air flow under it) for a while to cool to room temperature. It’s ready to eat and should be good for several days. The toast is to die for.

When you want to use the other ball, take it out of the fridge, put it in an oiled bowl, and cover it. Let it sit for 3-4 hours and it will start to rise, then jump into the procedure above where you’re punching down the dough.

Not only does this make amazing bread, but it’s also pretty inexpensive, it’ll make your house smell amazing as you cook it, and if you do it a few times it’ll seem really simple, which will encourage you to bake other things yourself. Most basic baked items are similarly easy. It’s mostly mixing together flour, water and yeast, kneading for different lengths of time, adding another ingredient or two, and shaping it differently.

Fix a damaged article of clothing.

Most of us have an item of clothing with some minor issue. Maybe a button is missing from a dress shirt, or maybe a pair of pants is a little too long and needs to be hemmed.

Most of us also have a small sewing kit at home, with a few needles and a few different colors of thread in there. It’s one of those things we pick up over the years as a housewarming gift or in an emergency and then stick in a drawer for later.

Now’s a great time to pull out that garment with an issue and that sewing kit and actually fix it.

Sewing on a button, for example, is a very simple project to get started with. Here’s a great Youtube video that will walk you right through the process.

Other projects will require more work, but they’re all doable with a little time and some needle and thread. You can repair a torn seam. You can sew a patch on a uniform or a jacket. You can hem up a pair of pants.

The first few times you do these things, it’s going to be really awkward and slow. The key is to work through that awkward and slow phase, and this is a perfect time to do it.

Check your windows for drafts and bad caulk spots.

Go to every window in your home and inspect the edges around the window slowly, along every line of caulk (it’s the rubbery stuff at the edges of windows). Look for any spots where caulk is missing or looks damaged and make a note of it.

If you do have access to equipment to seal them (caulk, a caulking gun, and a putty knife), then by all means, seal those windows. These are items that many people have in their tool chest, so you may be able to just tackle it right now. However, springtime is a time of the year when you’re least likely to need to run air conditioning, so this part of the project can wait.

If you make a thorough catalog of all of the places with inadequate caulking right now, actually fixing it later will be a pretty easy task. You just get a caulking gun and some caulk and a putty knife and head straight down the list, going from spot to spot to fix the issues.

Why is this useful? Those spots where the caulk is missing from your window are spots where warm air is leaking out of your home in the winter and hot air is getting into your home in the summer. Fixing those spots will save you quite a bit of money over the long haul.

Make some homemade laundry soap.

Homemade laundry soap costs about $0.03 per load and does a pretty good job. On almost all loads, I find it’s almost exactly the same as Tide or storebrand detergent at a tiny fraction of the cost. It’s also easy to make it — you can get the items the next time you need to visit the grocery store.

All you need is baking soda or washing soda, borax (likely found next to cleaning supplies or laundry supplies), and a couple of bars of non-glycerine soap (Ivory or a generic brand works just fine). You’ll also need a container of some kind to keep near your washer, as well as a measuring tablespoon, and you’ll need a box grater. You’ll likely have most of that stuff already at home.

First, take the bar of soap and the box grater and grate the soap into fine flakes. You essentially want to turn the bar of soap into powder. This will take a little while — maybe 10 or 15 minutes — but you can do it while listening to a podcast or watching a TV show as long as you pay attention to your knuckles so you don’t grate them.

If you have baking soda instead of washing soda, put one or two cups of baking soda onto a baking tray and bake it in the oven at 400 F for one hour. The heat will turn the baking soda into washing soda.

Then, pull out your storage container and put equal amounts of washing soda, borax, and soap flakes in there. If you have a big container, two cups of each is great; if it’s smaller, aim for a single cup or a half cup of each. Shake the container and mix the powders together for a few minutes, then pop the measuring spoon in there and you’re good to go.

All you need is a tablespoon of this mix for a normal-sized load of laundry. Just sprinkle it around evenly in the load — don’t just dump it in a clump. It does an impressive job of getting clothes nice and clean.

If you use a cup of each substance, you have three cups of homemade laundry soap, which, if you’re using a tablespoon at a time, adds up to 48 loads. If you add up the cost of the ingredients, your cost per load will end up somewhere in the $0.03 to $0.06 range. If you compare that to the cost of normal laundry detergent per load, you’ll be pretty impressed by the savings.

Consider this a nice “trial run” to see whether or not homemade laundry soap works for you. It works pretty well for me!

Make a “refill” list.

This is actually a project I’ve done myself in the last few days. I typed this up, printed it, and laminated it.

It’s simply a list of the 40 or 50 things around our house that we consistently use up and need to replenish. The items on that list are things that we’ll always stock up on if we notice them on sale, and if we see that we’re running low, they get added to the list. Rather than just writing “dishwashing detergent” every few months on the grocery list, now we can just put a star by “dishwashing detergent” on the “refill” list.

Just go around your home, looking in your various cupboards and pantries, and identify all of the household supplies and nonperishable food items that you always want to have on hand. You’re looking for things like toilet paper, dishwashing detergent, flour, bar soap, shampoo, pasta and so on. The exact list will be different for everyone, depending on age, family size and specific requirements, and you’ll find that your first draft is probably missing several items.

What’s the value? Like I said, having a list like this with a dry erase marker handy makes it a lot easier to take note of the regular stuff you need at the store, so that you don’t forget something essential and have to make an extra trip. Notice toilet paper missing? Just draw a quick star on this laminated sheet, then check it the next time you’re about to go to the store. It’s as easy as that! Sure, it’s a new routine to get used to, but it’s a super simple routine, and it can easily start saving you trips to the store.

Review your subscriptions.

Many of us have subscriptions to services and publications and other things that we completely forget about most of the time. We’re subscribed to a magazine or two that comes in the mail that we don’t read that gets automatically renewed. We’re subscribed to an annual service on our phones that we were really into a few years ago but now it just gets re-subscribed without a thought.

There’s no better time than right now to sit down and go through all of those subscriptions and evaluate which ones are worth retaining and which ones aren’t.

There are several ways to find the things you’re subscribed to.

One way is to go into your email program and search for “subscription” and “renewal” and see what comes up.

Another way is to use your phone to find your online subscriptions. Here’s how to do it on iPhone and how to do it on an Android device.

Another place to look is your Amazon account. Here’s where you should go to check your subscriptions through Amazon.

It’s also worthwhile to look through your credit card and bank statements for the last several months, identifying any automatic charges and renewal charges that appear there.

You might also want to examine your magazine rack and any other spots in your home where magazines accumulate.

This isn’t a call to cancel everything, but rather to review everything and cancel things that clearly aren’t giving you enough value.

This whole process will take a little while, which is why it’s a nice project to take on when you have the time for it.

Make tomorrow better.

The goal with each and every one of these projects is to use some time today to make tomorrow better – a little less expensive, a little easier to navigate, and so on.

Good luck!

The post Eight Useful, Frugal Projects You Can Do to Save Money appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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