Why Growing Your Own Is Worth It

Nothing compares to walking out your back door and picking fruits & veggies from your yard.  I’ve had the pleasure of doing exactly this the past few days.

First, let me say, about a week ago, I harvested eight zucchini but half were soft and wilted.  The other four were decent.  I gave two to my next door neighbor and keep the other two.  I also harvested three cucumbers which a family friend  opined were not full-grown; she called them pickles.

I’ve taken my friend’s comments to heart.  I’ve harvested three cucumbers in the past three days and I made sure these cucumbers were full size.  I have so much planted in a small space that I had not noticed the growth of those particular cucumbers..  I shared one cucumber with a family member.  The cucumber smelled and tasted like a cucumber I would have purchased at the farmers’ market.

I plan to have one of the cucumbers as part of my lunch tomorrow.  Too bad the tomatoes (yellow and Roma) are not ripe for the picking, because then I could have a cucumber and tomato salad.  I guess I will settle for adding a couple of basil leaves to my cucumber.

Growing your own is really worth it.

And, I can’t wait not only for the tomatoes to ripen but also the watermelon.  Yummy!

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Personal Finance 101 (cont’d)

Wouldn’t it be best if all consumers had a basic, sound understanding of personal finance? [Maybe then you would not need the creation of a federal consumer financial regulatory agency.] Wouldn’t it be terrific if, as part of the public education curriculum, students are taught the ABCs of personal finance?  But no, for some reason, society has not deemed a sound personal financial background beneficial to local communities and the nation as a whole.

For some reason the approach to educating individuals about personal finance is a sink or swim mentality or a pull yourself up from the bootstraps approach.

And not many employers take the initiate to provide any personal finance education and/or counseling.  I remember years ago I worked at the museum shop at the National Museum of American History (Smithsonian Institution). I learned that employees of the Smithsonian Institution were eligible to join the Agriculture Federal Credit Union (“AFCU”).  I began speaking with a colleague about the benefits of joining AFCU and why this credit union is better than a bank.  A supervisor overheard my conversation and told me to discontinue such a discussion.  I was frankly annoyed with my supervisor.

How are some people ever going to learn basic, sound personal finance principles?  A lot of people don’t want to bother with reading a book.  Plus reading the book doesn’t provide you any feedback.  Talking one-on-one with someone is a lot more helpful.

If a course of personal finance is not offered at your child’s school, by the local community college or some program offered through your employer, PUSH and ADVOCATE for such a program.

We ALL benefit when individuals are knowledgeable about personal finance issues.

Personal Finance 101

One thing obvious from the Great Recession – there is a lack of basic personal finance knowledge among a significant portion of Americans.  How do you explain negative amortization mortgages, no interest loans, no “doc” loans and “ninja” [no income, no job, no assets] mortgages?   Apparently none of the consumers who financed their house purchases using such exotic financing ever read Home Buying for Dummies.

Personal Finance is not on the curriculum of many schools across the country.  Should personal finance be taught in the schools?  I say, YES INDEED.

I’m a history buff and enjoyed taking history/social studies throughout my educational development.  But, less be honest – what’s more practical  – – history or personal finance 101.? You guessed it, the latter.

Not all children have the benefit of  parents who can educate them about personal finance issues.  Offering such basic programs through the school is a greater equalizer.

I enjoy helping others with basic personal finance questions or issues.  I don’t want to see individuals hit with tons of fees because the person did not quite understand the credit card application or how the overdraft protection works.

I’m not impressed with businesses, such as the “big banks”, making their money off of late fees, overdraft fees, etc.

[To be continued tomorrow]

Growing Food at Home

I’ve decided to take the plunge and grow my own food.  I started planting and seeding in late May (warm season crops).  I prepared three areas around my house to plant and seed.  The largest area is next to the garage.

I didn’t begin with dipping my toe in the water (maybe that would have been a smarter way to start).  Instead I stepped in the water with both feet.

I have planted zucchini, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, sweet potatoes, bell peppers and pole beans (seeds).  This morning I harvested some zucchini (a few should have been harvested sooner; the other four – I gave two to my next door neighbor and kept the other two) and three cucumbers (only one a really decent size).

Two crooked neck squash are growing, there are small green tomatoes on both the yellow tomato plant and the Roma tomato plant and the tiniest of melons have appeared on one of three watermelon plants.  I’m thrilled.

Not yet time to discuss cost & time and whether it’s all worth it.  Will save that for after the growing season.

Follow-up: Money & Food

Today I received in the mail World Ark (The Magazine of Heifer International), the Summer 2010 issue.  [I’ve donated once to the organization so surprise to be receiving the magazine].  Flipping through the magazine I found an article by Michael Pollan entitled Vote With Your Fork.   High fructose corn syrup is mentioned in the article.

Since 1980, we are managing to pack away about 300 more calories per person per day than before 1980.  And there’s your obesity epidemic.  And most of those calories – most – are full of high fructose corn syrup.  High fructose corn syrup is a sweetener made from corn.

You probably don’t realize just how much high fructose corn syrup you eat in a day. But if you spend some time looking at the labels in the grocery store, you would find that all the sodas, many of the baked goods, the jellies, the pickles, the mustard, the ketchup and frozen foods – all sorts of foods have high fructose corn syrup.  It’s a tool of food scientists to induce us to eat more because you will always sell more of something if you make it a little sweeter.

The same magazine contains an article of an interview with Marion Nestle, professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University.  I first learned of Marion Nestle in the documentary Supersize Me. I can’t recall if she makes this statement in the movie, but Professor Nestle recommends that one should not consume packaged foods containing more than five ingredients (excluding salt, pepper and water).

In yesterday’s post I raised the issue – why is produce such as sweet potatoes and apples more expensive than junk foods?   A similarly themed question is asked of Dr. Nestle.

What is your solution for the concern that healthy, organic, locally grown food is available only to the wealthy and not the poor or those on food stamps?

My first question is why should poor people have worse food than rich people?  Almost everyone I know who is involved in this food movement wants everybody to have access to this kind of local foods.  You have to ask the questions why are fruits and vegetables inaccessible in low-income areas?  And why are fruits and vegetables so disproportionately expensive?  That has to do with federal policy, what gets subsidized.  So this is about politics.  This isn’t about elitism.  We’ve made choices as a society to make corn, soybeans and wheat very cheap.  Subsidized.  We have made choices as a society to not subsidize fruits and vegetables, or organics.  So that’s a choice.  We could change that choice.

How would you sum up your food philosophy?

Eat less, move more.  Eat real food, not products.  Support local farmers and grow food at home.  Cook at home.  Teach kids to cook; that’s the most revolutionary thing you can do from the standpoint of food.

Eat Real Food at 11 (Summer 2010 World Ark)

Knowledge is power.

Filling vs. Crown

Took a day of sick leave for three medical appointments.  The second appointment was with my dentist.

Now, about 3 weeks ago I noticed a back tooth on the left side, lower jaw, was suddenly sensitive to cold.  Hmmm, I wondered, what caused it?  I mentioned the very sensitive tooth in passing to my mother.  She mentioned maybe you need a root canal.  Root canal?  My immediate response – I’m too young to have root canal issues.  Then I began fretting about the cost if a root canal is required.  My dentist does not participate with any insurance program so I must pay him in full at the time of service and then seek reimbursement from my two insurers (Health Plan – where I receive no more than $25 – what a joke.  Shouldn’t force enrollees to waste our time filing.  Just eliminate any dental coverage except for accidents) and then my Aetna Dental Plan.

Because I was focused on the cost of a root canal, my mother noted there could be other causes for the tooth being suddenly sensitive to cold.  As I thought about it, I deduced what the culprit was – sunflower seeds.  I realized I must have irritated or caused damage to a filling by cracking the shells of sunflower seeds.

You may be thinking – who cracks the shells of sunflower seeds anymore?  Well I was reading the May 2010 issue of  the Nutrition Action Healthletter.  The special feature of this issue was “5 Overrated & Underrated Foods.”  Sunflower seeds were one of the 5 underrated foods.  Regarding sunflower seeds the article stated, “For a snack, buy sunflower seeds in the shell (it will slow down your munching).”

Well, for the average human, it may slow down the munching, but not for The Money Heifer.  I can’t eat a bunch of hot dogs in a short period of time, but I’m rather swift with cracking the shells of sunflower seeds.  Too bad there was such a competition when I was younger.

Anyway, I didn’t go to the dentist immediately since I had an upcoming appointment.  I would tolerate the cold (& not spend money until necessary).

Well, today I got the dentist’s verdict.  There’s been this one tooth that’s been a concern for several years.  When I see my dentist twice a year, he always examines this particular tooth, which has always been stable.   Apparently in cracking the shells of sunflower seeds, I cracked the tooth. Yikes!

I now need to schedule an appointment with the dentist so  he can determine the extent of the damage (unknown $$).   If I need a filling, it will cost $500.  If I need a crown, $1500.  You can imagine – I hope I need a filling. 🙂

And, in case any of you are wondering, NO, I don’t have a medical emergency fund.  I do, however, set aside money for my twice a year dental visits. I had set aside $200.  I ended up $48  short because of X-rays [which are not taken every visit].   So I had to pull $48 from another bucket of money.

It’s smart to consider worst case scenario.  So what if I need a crown?  I would scrape up the money one of two ways – a) cashing a CD before maturity, meaning I incur a penalty or b) diverting money designated as extra principal payment on condo mortgage.

More later.

Money & Food

You’ve heard the expression Pay Now or Pay Later.  That’s  what I think about when it comes to food choices available to the American public.  Why are potato chips, sodas and candy bars so inexpensive, but produce such as apples, sweet potatoes and broccoli more expensive? Why do Americans gravitate toward convenience foods whether it’s junk food (salty snacks like corn chips, pretzels and popcorn), sweets (like cookies, cakes and candy) or fast food?

Michael Pollan provides an explanation in his book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.

Meanwhile, the genuinely heart-healthy whole foods in the produce section, lacking the financial and political clout of the packaged goods a few aisles over, are mute.  But don’t take the silence of the yams as a sign that they have nothing valuable to say about health.

Page 157.  Advertising is extremely persuasive.  Think about all the fast food commercials and salty snack commercials on television.

And what are the consequences to the health of the American public?

I believe it’s readily apparent the consequences to Americans’ health.  Consume a lot of convenience foods now, and develop various medical conditions (for example obesity, diabetes, hypertension)  later in life, which in turns means one must take several pharmaceutical drugs to combat the various medical conditions.  Watch the entertaining documentary Supersize Me for additional information.

A simple step in reducing medical costs in the future and in maintaining a healthy weight is to eat right.  Avoid any and all food products [i.e., processed foods] containing high fructose corn syrup.  {Why is high fructose corn syrup bad for you?  Watch the entertaining documentary King Corn.}  Eat sufficient quantities of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  Eat in moderation.  And, of course, exercise.

Sounds simple, right?   So why don’t we do it?  Too busy, too lazy, not as tasty as convenience food.  Hmmm, another expression comes to mind, live by the sword, die by the sword.

I’m no exception.  For years I would eat fruit, in a heart beat, but didn’t eat many vegetables because, preparing veggies were “too time consuming.”  I can eat an apple or pear (after a quick wash) or peel a banana.   It’s not as quick and simple with veggies.

Well, even if veggies require a little more time, I need veggies to help balance my diet.  Fruits are good for you but consuming too much too often may not always be wise because of the amount of sugar (even if natural).

But back to  pay now or pay later.  Several years ago a work colleague told me her doctor had prescribed a cholesterol lowering medication.  Now I know the development of high cholesterol is not always attributable to diet.   Genetics may play a role.  But I challenged this work colleague to change her diet by having oatmeal daily for breakfast.  She followed my suggestion.  I recall, during a follow-up, the work colleague learned her good cholesterol had improved.  This work colleague was motivated to change her diet because she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life taking a cholesterol lowering medication.  [And that becomes another fixed expense you need to account for in your budget.]

Obviously, as we grow older (I’m thinking from an age range of 55 to 65), medical costs will likely rise.  One way to control some future medical costs is to take control of your diet.  Remember, you are what you eat.

Kumuda Reddy, M.D. (with Linda Egenes) summarizes the importance of diet in the book, Conquering Chronic Disease Through Maharishi Vedic Medicine on page 165.

Diet is one of the pillars of health in Maharishi Vedic Medicine.  Eating is one of the three most significant things you do each day to renew your body and uphold health.  The right foods can not only prevent disease, but also alleviate many chronic problems.   Changing harmful dietary habits is one of the simplest, yet most effective, steps you can take  to eliminate chronic disease.

Don’t short change your future health by cutting corners now.  Eat right.  As Michael Pollan suggest, pay more, eat less.   In other words, buy organic but don’t consume too much.

Think of paying a little more for quality, healthy food as an investment for retirement – instead of saving and hopefully growing one’s nest egg, you want to eat healthy & exercise with the goal of not being dependent on any prescribed medications.

You think I’m day-dreaming?  Until my great aunt had to be admitted to the hospital last August, at age 97 she was not taking any prescribed medications.  The paramedics, the  nurses, the doctors were stunned.  And her retirement income?  Just over $900/month.  If you had so little income at retirement, you would hope to be as healthy as possible so you would not incur hefty medical expenses.

Selecting a mobile phone company based on politics?

Today I received in the mail an envelope from an unfamiliar company, Credo mobile.  Apparently this company is more than a network.  a movement.

The front of the envelope states Your phone company should support YOUR values –  not Dick Cheney’s. Depending on your political persuasion you may immediately toss the envelope in the trash, you may be REALLY excited to open it or just curious – seeking more details.

The envelope contained a four page letter. The third paragraph on the 1st page states in pertinent part:

If you’re an AT&T or Verizon Wireless customer, your mobile service provider could be undermining everything you’re doing to change the world – and then some.   Among other things, AT&T gave the maximum legal contribution to John McCain’s ’08 presidential campaign and to the Bush-Cheney ticket. Both AT&T and Verizon Wireless have contributed to politicians who are pro-war, enemies fo the environment and opposed to a woman’s right to choose.

Wow, must politics be a part of EVERY decision I make, every choice I make?  I, as a consumer, should not make a decision based on quality or craftsmanship or price?    The political affiliations of the company should also be a factor in making a decision?  Sorry, I don’t think so.

The envelope from Credo mobile also contained three brochures.  One such procedure, on the flip side, is entitled Building a Better Future  . . . One Phone at t Time. The brochure states.

While AT&T and Verizon Wireless support right-wing politicians, CREDO Mobile backs nonprofit groups that share  your progressive values.

We’ve generated over $65 million for groups like:

ACLU

Center for Responsible Lending

Change Congress

Defenders of Wildlife

Democracia U.S.A.

Democracy Now!

Doctors Without Borders

Energy Action Coalition

Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network

Global Fund for Women

Human Rights Watch

NARAL Pro-Choice American Foundation

National Resources Defense Council

Oxfam America

Physicians for a National Health Program

Planned Parenthood

Rainforest Action Network

Union of Concerned Scientists

Women’s Voices. Women Vote

Whether your personal passion is protecting the environment . . . fighting for civil liberties and human rights. . . eliminating poverty and hunger . . . defending reproductive freedom. . . or increasing citizen participation in our democracy –your mobile phone company should be CREDO Mobile.

Make the switch today!

Okay, I’ve contributed to Oxfam America and Doctors Without Borders.  I’ve listened to (though not recently to )Democracy Now!.  Does this mean I am automatically a progressive?  No.

Not sure how Credo mobile determined I am a potential customer.  I don’t like the assumption that because I’ve given money to Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam America that I am a progressive.  Personally, I think it is a HUGE LEAP to assume someone is of a certain political persuasion because of their charitable contributions.

Funny, I’ve experienced the same situation from “the right.”  I’ve given money to Adoptaplatoon and The USO.  I guess these contributions flagged me as “right leaning politically.”   I received a letter with solicitation from Judicial Watch.  The letter bashed President Obama multiple times.  Again, I dislike presumptions about my political affiliation based on my donations.

For the record, I’m a registered Independent.







Yo-Yo Electric Budget Plan

When I first purchased my home five years ago, my mother advised me to sign up for each utility’s  budget plan, as a better way to manage my bills.  I did so.

DC WASA (Water and Sewer Authority) has been the smoothest and easiest utility for the budget plan.

Washington Gas – that first year, the projected budget plan proposed by the utility company underestimated my usage [granted, the company based it on projections by the previous owner but there were some months that the house was vacant].   The bill I received in January 2006 was scary – even though I was on the budget plan and paying the amount Washington Gas estimated, I still received a bill for $300+.  YIKES.  Lesson learned from this experience:  the monthly budget payment is about $117.  I round-up to $175.  I  build up enough credit that I am able to suspend payment for four months each year.

The utility I find least favorable is Pepco.  Why?  Because of the yo-yo effect.  The monthly budgeted payment is adjusted downward during the winter but upward in the summer.

Below is a quote from the 1st paragraph of a letter dated June 16, 2010:

A review of your electric service account has revealed that your total actual usage to date has been greater than anticipated.  Consequently, in order to ensure that your monthly payments more closely reflect your actual annual billing until the plan settlement anniversary, it will be necessary to increase your average monthly payment from $65.00 to $125.00.  Please pay the amount shown on your current bill statement and the new amount starting with your next bill statement.

I look at my electric bill closely and I had noticed a couple of months ago the cost of usage was creeping upward.  So I adjusted as well, increasing my monthly payment from $65.00 to $120.00.  For example the bill dated June 15, 2010 identifies current charges as $107.65.  My previous balance was $46.95, my previous payment was $120.00 and thus I had a balance of $73.05. 

I wish Pepco would allow customers to build a credit of at least $200 – $250.  When I reached a credit of $130 with Pepco, the utility company sent me a check in that amount.  In contrast, Washington Gas has allowed me to build a credit of $700.

I know many of you may think my strategy is like receiving a big refund each year from Uncle Sam – allowing Uncle Sam to hold onto my money interest free.   Well, it is in a sense, but I do like having some months where I don’t use the money for a utility and instead divert it for other uses.  Presently, I’m diverting $175 Washington Gas payment as an extra principal payment on the condo mortgage.

You would think Pepco could come up with a monthly budget payment which would incorporate both the winter and summer fluctuations.  Not yet unfortunately!

What Recession?

I’ve been amused by newspaper accounts (and accounts heard on the radio) about consumers rushing to pre-order the latest iPhone and the difficulties consumers have encountered on Apple’s & AT&T’s websites.

Now what is not amusing at all is the disclosure of Consumer B’s information [but apparently not sensitive information such as a credit card number] while Consumer A is placing her order. 

So many consumers have rushed to pre-order the next iPhone that both Apple’s & AT&T’s websites have been overwhelmed.  So consumers have opted to go to Apple or AT&T store to order their new iPhone.  Sadly, some consumers won’t receive their new iPhone on the first day of release.  No, they have to wait til the 2nd or 3rd day [oh no].

Apparently all these consumers have jobs and no credit card debt and at least three months’ worth of an emergency fund [at least I hope so].  And I’m not as strict as those well-known personal finance gurus:  Dave Ramsey would say 3-6 months’ emergency fund; Suze Orman would say 8 months; Chris Farrell of Marketplace Money would say one year.

I’m assuming some of these consumers already have iPhones but want the latest & greatest.  What do they do with the old ones?  Donate it?

I never been the type who desperately needs to have the latest and greatest technological gadget in hand ASAP.  I’m practically at the other end of the spectrum:  I wait til all “bugs” have been discovered and resolved with the  new gadget and the price drops significantly.   For instance, my first Nano iPod (or is that iPod Nano) was a 3rd Generation which included video.  And the price was just right.  I saved money to purchase one for myself and one for my brother as Christmas gifts.

I do get excited about paying off debt & building savings.  I know, not as sexy as the latest & greatest iPhone.

To each his/her own.  🙂

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