According to the FTC’s 2011 list of top consumer complaints, ID Theft has the largest number of reports for the 12th year in a row. Don’t let this scare you into buying extra ID theft protection, though. In fact, Consumer Reports reported that in 2010, identity fraud actually dropped 27% in 2010. On top of that, the instance of the really bad ID theft, where someone uses your identity to open new accounts or mooch on your insurance, is really quite rare.
Not only is ID theft not as big a problem as some protection and insurance sellers claim, it’s usually not necessary. Federal protection guarantees that you’re only liable for $50 max if your credit card is hacked. For debit cards, you’re liable for only $50 if you catch it within two business days, and $500 if you catch it within 60 days, though you may be on the hook for everything if it goes unnoticed for longer than that. If you’re checking your accounts regularly, like you’re supposed to, then it shouldn’t be a problem. Even if you don’t notice a fraudulent charge right away, it will depend on the fine print whether your fancy-schmancy ID theft protection will even cover the loss, and many financial institutions have policies that actually reduce your liability beyond federal requirements.
If you still feel like you’re exposed and want some type of coverage, don’t jump immediately to a service. First check your home or renter’s insurance policy. I know mine has an ID theft clause in it, which I’m actually seriously thinking about dropping just because it’s an extra expense I probably don’t need. If you must, and I mean absolutely must, get extra protection from potential ID theft, make sure to check out the company you’re getting it from with the Better Business Bureau. That will at least give you an idea of whether others have had good or bad experiences with them.
In the end, though, a lot of the services these companies offer, you can do it yourself. Get your free credit report every year from annualcreditreport.com to check for inconsistencies. Keep an eye on your accounts regularly and use smart Internet safety tactics.
You want to be a crime fighter? But the local boys in blue fall a little flat when it comes to your idea of a hero.
You’re looking for something a bit more interesting. A real thrill, something with flair to it. So… where do you go?
How about J. Edgar Hoover’s School for Gifted Crime Fighters? Or in layman’s terms, the FBI?
Joining the FBI can be pretty sweet if you’re career driven, goal oriented, and laced with dedication. Unsurprisingly, getting a job in the FBI is not an easy task, but if you start early, stay focused, and keep your grades up you’re a Leather Oxford wearing shoo-in!
The first step is starting your undergrad career off right. While you might think majoring in criminal justice will help you stand out, it’s actually the worst place to start. Majoring in law, computer science, accounting, foreign language, and engineering are fields that hold a high value. A full list of sought after majors can be found here. Once you figure out what you want to study, the next step is keeping an eye out for when an FBI agent will attend a career fair at a college near you. You can find a list of FBI friendly schools here, if you don’t see your college listed don’t worry, you can submit a resume online at this location.
Before you get overzealous and submit a resume there are a few things you should know. The FBI has a list of basic qualifications that are a must for any and all applicants. You must be a U.S. citizen, have a 3.0 GPA, and pass an FBI extensive background check. For a list of dis-qualifiers click here.
The FBI also offers two different internship programs, an Honors Internship Program, and a Volunteer Internship Program. Both programs have their own list of qualifications and information on how to apply.
To make a long story short, if you stick to your goals you can achieve anything. If you are one of the chosen few who make it in, think of all the cool sentence enhancers you’ll get to wow your friends with. Words like espionage and psychoanalyst.
If you don’t make it, you’ll still have a snazzy degree to wow the rest of the world with.
I’m not knocking Jeff (hey, he sounds like a real go-getter), but as a “quality over quantity” person, my gut reaction to a person’s number of LinkedIn recommendations tends to be like this:
1-5: that’s nice
5-15: wow, impressive
15-30: starting to show off now
30-50: scrolling, scrolling…
50+: come on
The Internet is really good at facilitating high volumes with ease (I just did a Google search for LinkedIn that brought up 250,000,000 hits in 0.20 seconds), but even it can’t negate a basic truth in life: just because you CAN have more of something doesn’t always mean you should. The purpose of recommendations is to establish credibility, but I think there must be a threshold at which credibility declines (kind of in the way 1,875 Facebook friends makes you ask, “How well do you even know these people?”).
I’ve heard opinions on what constitutes a good number of recommendations ranging from 10 to 30 to “You can’t have too many as long as they’re all sincere.” Where do you see the threshold, or is this a case of “the more the merrier”?
Shaking the nickel bush is the act of making money with your own ingenuity, skills, and luck. The phrase comes from Ralph Moody’s excellent book of the same name. Here’s how we’ve shaken the nickel bush.
When I was 12 years old I pulled on my overalls, laced up my boots, and started a lawn-mowing business. I needed (wanted?) a new pair of skis and my parents informed me that I was old enough to help pay for my own gear. Unlike the common stereotype of skiers as upper-middle-class families with money to blow, the only reason we could afford to be on the mountain every weekend was: number one, my dad–the pastor of very small church–helped manage the local ski area on the side, and number two, that ski area is in Lakeview, Oregon, a town of 2,000 people known mainly for being in the middle of nowhere. The closest bigger town is Klamath Falls 97 miles to the west. Needless to say, Warner Canyon Ski Area is affordable compared to well-known resorts in towns that people have actually heard of, especially with an employee discount.
Not only was my parents’ request that I help pay for my own skis designed to teach me some responsibility, but a family of four living on a pastor’s salary (or lack thereof) made my pitching in on recreation non-essentials a necessity. My 4-H leader Phyllis Kerr–a gray-haired old lady with a big heart and a bigger smile–needed someone to mow her lawn and became my first client. She lived about a mile away and after driving me and the family lawnmower to her house a few times, my dad decided to help my independence go a step further.
Together we designed and built a cart to pull behind my bike. We pieced it together from some old bike frames, tires and plywood and finished it with a coat of black paint. It was just big enough to fit a lawnmower, gas can and Weed Eater. That first summer, I mowed Phyllis’ lawn and soon added two more clients from word-of-mouth referrals. At the end of the season, I had enough money to buy new skis and a better mower and Weed Eater.
I kept the business going through the end of high school, eventually settling on mowing between 10 and 15 lawns a week, which gave me plenty of income while leaving me plenty of free time. The lawn mowing also opened up other opportunities with my clients like weeding, pruning, fence repainting, and, in the winter, snow shoveling. To this day, it’s also the most lucrative hourly wage I’ve made (maybe I need to start doing it on the side again). It might sound corny, but it also enriched me by putting me in direct contact with a client base that was well over 60 years old.
There was Cherry Wood (an amazing name if there ever was one) who had the biggest lawn I’ve ever had to mow and a house full of cats. She was slightly crazy with a memory shorter than a grass clipping, which taught me the importance of getting paid right away. There was an old dame who smoked like a chimney–I’ve blocked her name from my memory–who only ever complained, criticized and tried to short me on payment. She taught me the importance of dropping clients who are more of a pain than they’re worth. Then there was Floyd and Mable Lightle.
Floyd and Mable were like another set of grandparents. Every week after I was done working they’d invite me in, give me something cool to drink and sit me down on the old white couch for story time. They were youngsters during Prohibition and the Great Depression and worked their whole lives outside farming, ranching and logging. You could see every trial and smile etched in the wrinkles of their shrunken-apple faces. I’ve never heard more hearty laughter than when Floyd shared the story of the time his mother made a batch of homebrew in Mason jars during Prohibition. She mixed something wrong and the whole batch exploded making the house reek like spilled beer for weeks.
They taught me that work is more than just the physical action, it’s a connection to other people. When you start approaching work from that perspective it makes it a lot more enjoyable. Every day on the job becomes an opportunity to further friendships and connect more to the fabric of humanity. And you get paid to do it.
College costs increased dramatically in the last 30 years, but it’s not just the actual education that you get charged for. Colleges and universities are bringing in millions from application fees. The average college application fee was $37.64 according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2011 survey. At the three most expensive schools it’s more than two times higher than average.
George Mason University in Virginia had the highest undergraduate application fee of any ranked college or university. It costs a cool $100 just for the privilege of having admissions’ personnel peruse your application packet. For the 2010-11 school year, 25,743 people applied for undergraduate enrollment–that’s $2,574,300 in application-fee revenue. Of those applicants, 12,825 or right around 50% were accepted.
Stanford University in California charges the second highest rate at $90. In 2011, 35,761 people (first-time freshmen and transfers) applied for undergraduate admission. That’s $3,218,490 in fees. Of those applicants, 2,495 or about 7% were accepted.
Columbia University in New York rounds out the top three highest-application-fee schools with a fee of $80. For the 2010-11 school year, 26,179 students applied, bringing in $2,094,320 in fees. Of those applicants, 2,400 or 9% were admitted.
If you can’t afford the fee wherever you’re applying, ask the admissions’ department if they’ll waive the fee or if there’s a discount if you apply online. You can often get a break according to
U.S. News & World Report.
Jam season is upon us. Fruit jams, that is. Strawberry is the winner in my family, and every other year or so a bunch of us get together with several pounds of fruit and split up the rewards. This has a couple of benefits. It spreads around the cost of the fruit and the labor involved. Plus, it’s fun with the right group of people.
Before you freak out about buying canning gear and some 10 step process, please note that there are recipes out there for freezer jam, sometimes known as no-cook jam. It’s easy to make. All you need is a bowl, a measuring cup, a potato masher and some containers (more on that later). No need to sterilize anything. For ingredients, you’ll need your berries, some lemon juice, sugar and pectin.
There are lots of different recipes out there. Prepare yourself: there is a lot of sugar in jam. That’s how it’s supposed to be. So long as you follow the recipe and make sure all the sugar dissolves in the berries, it won’t overpower the fruitiness.
The best part is that you don’t have to worry about proper sterilization and canning techniques that are required with normal canning to make sure you don’t give yourself botulism. You can just pour your jam into a freezer safe container (even the cheap plastic ones from the grocery store work), stick it in the freezer (you can put one straight into the fridge for eating–it doesn’t have to be frozen for safety–but it can’t be stored at room temperature like regular jams), and pull one out for Sunday brunch.
This year, I want to try a few other tasty treats while we’re at it, like blueberry or raspberry jam. Maybe later this fall I’ll try peach. If you really want to get into it, Kraft has a list of recipes for jams all-year-round, with flavors like strawberry-pineapple and pomegranate. These jams last for a really long time in the freezer, so you don’t have to worry about expiration dates, and they comes out tasting as fresh as the day you put them in. It’s cheaper than buying the store-bought jam if you wait for the right season to buy your fruit, and you avoid eating a lot of fancy preservatives.
This year I’m planting a container garden. It’s exactly what it sounds like: Instead of beds on the ground, I’ll have individual pots for individual plants (for the most part). It’s a great alternative if you don’t have room for a garden. In my case, I really really don’t have room for a garden, so I actually got permission from my boss to set up one outside the office. (The picture below isn’t my garden… yet.) The goal here is not as much to grow vegetables, a happy byproduct, but to see if we can determine the cost effectiveness of growing your own vegetables.
This weekend, I went out and did most of the shopping for my project. I spent $6.68 on seeds and $1.19 on little pots in which to start germinating them. I had to buy a small bag of potting soil ($3.59) to start the seeds in. I didn’t use very much, but the rest will get dumped in the containers when I’m ready to plant. The biggest investment, however, was the pots. If I was doing this at home, I probably would have purchased five gallon buckets from Home Depot. However, since I want to make sure the garden doesn’t look trashy to maintain a professional look, I spent a little more and bought plastic planters. I spent $27.97 on four upright pots and $8.99 on one that looks a little more like a window planter. I had hoped on buying six upright pots and two window planters, but when I saw the price tags, I adjusted my number down. Though I might be able to talk myself into more when I go back for the potting soil.
I also had to buy a little nozzle ($3.79) for the hose that I’ll be using. The spout is way back behind our heat pumps and I don’t want to have to wriggle back there twice a day for watering. Oh, and I bought two tomato cages for 99 cents each. Altogether my total investment was $54.36. It’s a little more than what I hoped for, but next year my investment will be less as I won’t have to buy the pots again. Besides, compared to the $59 I spent on supplies for a community garden plot that I tried (and failed) a couple of years ago, it’s really not that different. Plus I don’t have to spend the money on gas to get back and forth to my garden every couple of days.
Once I got home with all my supplies, I started the seeds by filling the small containers with potting soil, followed the instructions on the seed packets, and watered them thoroughly. They’ll sit on my windowsill for about a week or two until I’m ready to plant. Now it’s just a waiting game.
I recently made my first attempt at baking macarons, the Parisian delicacy that’s hard to come by in the U.S. and notorious for being finicky to make. As I waited for the crispy cookie shells to bake in the oven, I took in the almond flour scent and imagined a blissful life running a macaron production line, spending my time surrounded by the pastel morsels, and feeding them to happy family and friends and customers.
Once I admitted this was probably not actually an ideal career path (so much standing on my feet!), I did stop to wonder if it would be possible–if I could perfect the technique–to make macarons and sell them around town on occasion as a fun side hobby.
It used to be that if you had a fabulous method for for vanilla cupcakes or macarons or peanut butter cookies, and your friends or neighbors wanted to get their hands on a dozen, you had two options to bake and sell: 1) get a commercial kitchen license or rent out a commercial kitchen in order to comply with health code regulations, or 2) do it illegally under the table from home (metaphorically speaking).
Fortunately for people like me and anyone else interested in dabbling in the baking business without renting a restaurant kitchen, Cottage Food laws have spread across the country in the past few years. Currently pending in states like California and South Carolina, and already in place in states from Oregon to Maine, these laws are a departure from the regulation of all things edible, allowing home bakers to bake from home and sell their goods to the public under certain circumstances.
Though the laws vary by state, they usually set the following conditions:
1) Paperwork. Although the general idea is to keep state regulators out of your business, some states may require an inspections process of your home kitchen in order to get started up. You may also have to pay a home bakery registration fee.
2) What you can sell. In most cases, only baked goods considered “non-hazardous”–things like cookies and cakes that aren’t likely to harbor food-borne illnesses–are allowed by the laws.
3) Where you can sell. In stricter states, you may only be able to sell your home-baked goods directly out of your home. Other states with more lenient laws allow home bakers to sell at public venues like local farmer’s markets.
4) Labeling. As a form of consumer protection, most laws require labeling on home-baked products specifying that they were made in a home kitchen not regulated by the state’s department of agriculture. Some states also require a list of any allergens (peanuts, wheat, etc.) contained in the item. Others require a list of ingredients by weight, similar to standard food labeling for commercial food.
5) Profit limits. Many Cottage Food laws limit the total amount of sales a home baker can do in a year–typically somewhere in the low thousands. Anything over the limit and you’ll need to set up a commercial kitchen like other larger-scale operations.
Though the laws have been met with much rejoicing by bakers hoping to boost their economic situation, they aren’t without controversy: food safety groups and consumer protection advocates are up in arms in many states, worried that home baking will put consumers at risk. They do have a point. If you wanted, you could whip up your cupcakes in a dirty kitchen with sick children in the house, use improper food handling precautions, and then wrap those up in a pretty box and pass them off to an unsuspecting customer. Don’t do that.
To get your own home bakery operation started, find more information about your state’s laws below.
If your cell phone gets soaked, don’t panic. There may be time to save it.
Here’s the scenario:
You’re chillaxing on the couch with your smartphone hangin’ next to you on the end table. You reach for your glass of Sunny D and spill faux orange juice all over the mobile. What do you do?
You have to act quickly! First, don’t attempt to operate it. The phone may short out and morph into a very expensive doorstop. Instead, remove the battery, SIM card or memory card and any other removable components as soon as possible and thoroughly dry them with a towel. Don’t put the phone back together right away either. The individual parts must dry for 24 to 72 hours, depending on how bad your skin crawls without access to a usable phone. For maximum dryness, submerge each part in rice inside an airtight container; the rice will absorb any leftover moisture. If all the effort is in vain, be cautious when trying to file a warranty claim. Some phones have water indicators that show if the phone’s warranty has been compromised.
I love to cook, and I’m always trying to save on groceries so I can have more money to buy healthy, fresh ingredients. Unfortunately, much of the kitchen frugality advice out there is impractical for my life: use a bajillion coupons (too tedious for me), buy everything at warehouses in huge quantities (I live in a small apartment), and store-hop like 3 different grocery stores to get the best deals (really?).
Instead, I’ve adopted a really simple approach that works for me, and I’m thinking it might make things easier for you, too: whatever you buy, just actually eat it.
Here are five tips to this end that require no coupons, little extra time or effort, and that you can use no matter what you like to eat and where you shop.
1. Waste not, want not
My husband makes fun of me for all the tiny containers in our fridge, but I use every bit of leftover food I can. Half of a leftover banana can be the base of a smoothie. Two slices of a leftover baguette can mean homemade croutons for tomorrow night’s soup or salad (plus they taste sooo much better than the bland rock-hard store croutons). If this sounds ridiculously frugal to the point of being obnoxious, get in touch with your earth-friendly side and just think of it as not wasting food. Since I’ve started doing this, the amount of food I have to throw out has considerably shrunk, and saving a few dollars here and there is a nice side benefit.
2. Magic produce saver spray
Produce is especially prone to waste because it can go bad so quickly. I learned this tip from Cook’s Illustrated: make a quick rinse that will help prolong the freshness of veggies by mixing 3 parts water to 1 part white vinegar, and soak hardy veggies for a few minutes before rinsing them off and storing them. The vinegar kills off mold spores and bacteria and will help produce last longer–hopefully in time to actually use it all up. (Don’t worry, your broccoli won’t taste like vinegar.)
3. Dry goods stockpile
I keep a list of the basic dry staples we eat on hand and then stock up on them when I find a good deal–sometimes this means at a grocery store with bulk bins sold by weight, at Costco, or just by buying a few extras if I happen to see them on sale. If I add to the supply a little here and there or when I run out of something, it only costs me a few dollars a week, and then I can focus on spending more of my grocery budget on fresh items like fruits, veggies, eggs and dairy.
I call this the carb cupboard.
It’s only helpful if you only buy what you actually use, though. Here is my list of items:
- Oatmeal: For breakfast and baking. I buy this for around $0.60/pound from bulk bins.
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat flour: For homemade bread, pizza dough, baked goods…etc.
- Dry cereal (I prefer boring bran flakes and Kashi, but if cocoa crunchie marshmallow milky doo-dads are your thing, that works too.)
- Whole wheat pasta
- Popcorn kernals: Healthier and less expensive than buying packaged microwave popcorn
- Canned tomatoes: for pizza sauce and other Italian meals. This GIANT can from Costco looks ridiculous in my cupboard (like, am I feeding a football team?), but it’s a better deal than buying smaller cans. Once I open this baby, I can divide the tomatoes I don’t use into containers and freeze them.
4. Freezer time
Speaking of the freezer: as much as I try not to waste food, I inevitably end up with leftover ingredients or extra food that sits in the fridge and slowly gets sour, moldy, and unappetizing–or inedible. My new trick is freezing whatever I can as soon as I suspect it might be doomed to the trash. I also pre-emptively freeze stuff that can go rancid in the cupboard. Some examples:
- Bread products: Regular sliced bread, specialty bread, everything from pitas to tortillas–if I don’t think I’ll eat them in time, I put them in the freezer. (Tips: If you want to toast frozen sandwich bread, defrost it first or it will end up really stiff. To get a frozen baguette or artisan-type bread back to life, rinse it with water and reheat it in the oven at 350 degrees until it’s warm and crispy.)
- Flour: The higher fat content in whole wheat flour means it can go rancid faster than white flour. Stick it in a plastic freezer bag and store it in the freezer to prolong the life.
- Nuts: Same goes for nuts–I freeze walnuts for baking, and almonds and sunflower seeds for salads so they’ll last longer.
- Veggies: Clean them beforehand, and if possible chop them up into the size you will eventually want to eat them. When I make soup, I usually have leftover vegetables like celery, carrots, and onion. I now chop up whatever is left and freeze it in individual bags. Later if I want to make soup again, I already have the basic vegetables ready.
- Fruit: As soon as any bananas start to get spotty, I peel them, put them in a freezer bag and save them for smoothies (same goes for berries).
- Cheese: Wrap up half a block of cheese tightly and freeze it until you’ve finished what’s left in the fridge.
Certain types of leftovers can admittedly taste downright sog-tastic after sitting for a day or two in the fridge, but eating up leftovers is like the cherry on top of the don’t-waste-food sundae. There are things you can do along the way to make leftover dinner more palatable as tomorrow’s lunch. For example, don’t mix dressing into a big salad before you serve it and store the extras. Add a little lemon juice to leftovers like hummus or pasta salad to freshen it up again. And make soup–it always always tastes even better the next few days.