Frugal Living 
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Why Homemade Laundry Detergent Rocks!

Laundry LineFrugal Dad recently wrote a post about why he doesn’t make his own laundry detergent. He wrote that there are some things he refuses to give up, and store bought laundry detergent is one of those things. To his credit, he correctly stated that frugality is an individual thing, tailored to each person’s priorities in life.

I, on the other hand, proudly make my own laundry detergent (here’s my homemade laundry detergent recipe).  While saving money on homemade laundry detergent is nice, it’s not the only reason I take the time to make it.

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 Insurance 
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Health Insurance Plan Types

Red StethescopeI’ve been doing some research to improve upon my “How to Get Independent Health Insurance” post, because 3.6 million people have lost their jobs in the last year-plus. I requested health insurance quotes through eHealthInsurance, which mainstream media absolutely loves (Kiplinger just named them one of 2008′s Best Sites for Health Insurance), and saw that plans from the same company varied greatly based on deductible, plan type, co-pays, etc. I think the concept of deductibles and co-pays are well understood, but what are these plan types?

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 Career 
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Five Career Lessons from Golf

Eldrick Tiger WoodsI was just watching Sportscenter when they had a little chat with Eldrick Woods (you may know him better as Tiger Woods, but we call him Eldrick in the clubhouse), who recently had re-constructive knee surgery. As I listened to him talk about how he missed practicing every day, how he had to rest the day after practice, rather than practice some more. His devotion to his craft is legendary, much like Michael Jordan’s devotion and the devotion of many of sport’s greatest stars. As we watch them perform, we can take a lot of these lessons and apply them to our lives. We can apply them to our own chosen careers and, in applying them, we too can excel. Here are the career lessons I’ve learned from watching the game and the athletes in golf.

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 Frugal Living 
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Homemade Provençal Rack of Lamb

Provençal Rack of LambMy wife and I have started a tradition of cooking our own meals for our special anniversaries and celebrations. It was a tradition we started in college when neither one us owned a car and a $25 entrée was a once-a-year treat. Back then, we celebrated our dating anniversary by making crab cakes, a tradition we’ve continued (this year, we added a cream of crab soup to the menu!). For Valentine’s Day this year, we decided to get adventurous and cook up this Provençal Rack of Lamb recipe.

Everyone knows that cooking your own meals can save you a lot of money, but the main reason we cook our special meals is because it gives us the opportunity to spend time together doing something. The money savings is significant but time spent working on a meal together is far more entertaining than getting dressed up, waiting for our reservation, sitting at a table, and waiting for food to be served. Plus, you don’t have to pay 2.6x the retail price for a bottle of wine!

I couldn’t help but break down the cost of the meal, just to see how much it really cost and was genuinely surprised (figures are ballpark):

  • Rack of lamb: We bought the rack at Costco for approximately $14, with each of us eating two chops each (just like in the picture!). $7.
  • Tomatoes: We bought two “ugly” vintage tomatoes for about $2.
  • Fresh herb pack: We picked up a package of fresh herbs designed for roasting chicken and used a little of the rosemary and thyme; I imagine the spices used cost less than $1.
  • Potatoes: We bought a 5 lb. bag for $3.99 from our local grocery store. I’m not sure how many we used but let’s say a third of the bag – $1.50.
  • Smoking Loon Syrah: Picked up a bottle from our local wine shop, $8.99.

Total price of our romantic meal? $20.49.

I challenge you to find an entree that includes any cut of lamb that costs less than $20.49. It’s a lot more work to cook it yourself and you have to clean up afterwards, but between the quality time and the money saved, you simply can’t beat avoiding the Valentine’s day crowds and cooking up your own special meal.

If you cooked something special this year for Valentine’s day, what was it? We’re always on the lookout for fun new meals!


 Frugal Living 
7
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A Penny Saved, Is A Penny And A Third Earned

“A penny saved is a penny earned.”
       – Benjamin Franklin

That oft quoted Benjamin Franklin line, while good intentioned, is actually inaccurate nowadays.

Can you guess why?

Chances are, you can and you said taxes.

If you are in the 25% tax bracket, every additional penny you earn will be taxed at that rate. This doesn’t even take into account local and state taxes (though it also excludes deductions). When you save a penny (and here are a 100 money saving tips), you’ve saved the whole thing! Thankfully, the government hasn’t yet discovered a way to directly tax savings (though one would argue that inflation is essentially a tax on savings).

You can’t blame Poor Richard though, he was never alive to see a personal income tax. The first personal income tax was first levied in 1861 to help pay for the Civil War.

So, the next time someone says “A penny saved is a penny earned,” be sure to remind them that we have to pay taxes on our earnings. A penny saved is actually worth a penny and a third earned.

(Photo: Dystopos


 Investing 
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Basics of Retirement Investing

Seated Stock TradersFive years, on the first day of my first “real” job, the HR administrator of my company handed me a folder labeled XYZ Company Pension & Retirement Plan. Inside the folder was a description of the company’s pension and 401(k) package, two “things” that meant almost nothing to me. I knew what a pension was but had no clue was a 401(k) was, but the folder seemed to have enough information in it to help me start my own 401(k) company if I wanted to. I made some good decisions about my 401(k), mostly by luck (I put 40% of my money into emerging markets, which was a good choice but I did it for a bad reason – I had no reason!), but you shouldn’t have to.

Retirement investing is not rocket science, it’s just confusing with all the acronyms and the taxability and everything else. The basics, which we’ll cover in this Foundation series article, once you unravel the confusion, are fairly straightforward.

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 Reviews 
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The Frugal Millionaires by Jeff Lehman

The Frugal Millionaires by Jeff LehmanJeff Lehman is a millionaire from the dot-com era (former exec at Alta Vista, Webaroo, read more about jeff). More importantly, Jeff Lehman had a few millionaire friends. What he did was ask each of his millionaire friends for a list of tips they used to “make their money work smarter for them.” He and his friends would trade these tips and they’d all be the better for it. Rather than stop there, he decided to expand his network until he compiled a list of ideas and tips from seventy millionaires. He packaged those 800 practical and useful ideas into a book and that book is The Frugal Millionaires.

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 Education 
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American Opportunity Tax Credit Details

CNNMoney has broken down the details of the latest stimulus package and has the following to say about the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which was a refundable credit pushed heavily by Pennsylvania Representative Chaka Fattah (D):

New temporary college credit: The bill introduces the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which would be in effect for 2009 and 2010. It expands the existing Hope Scholarship tax credit and would be worth as much as $2,500 for higher education expenses, up from $1,800 currently.

The full credit would be available to those making less than $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers). Those making between those amounts and $90,000 ($180,000 for joint filers) would get a partial credit. And the break would also be partially refundable, meaning lower income families with little or no tax liability could now claim some of the credit. Estimated cost: $13.9 billion.

The stimulus package also has another education related tax break, the Pell Grant has been increased to $5,350 for 2009 and $5,550 for 2010; an increase of $500 in both cases.


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