Archive for June, 2009

Trading in your old books on Swaptree

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One of the things that I really enjoy is a good book. I have piles of books that I have picked up at used bookstores and ordered from ebay. Now that I am tightening my belt, I thought that I might need to curb my book lust for a bit. Then, I discovered Swaptree.

The idea behind swaptree is:

  • You take the books that you no longer want. I found that I had piles of books that I read once, and didn’t mind parting with.
  • You enter the ISBN numbers into the website, and it catalogs all the books you have to trade.
  • You make a list of books that you would like to have. In most cases, this is as simple as browsing the site and clicking “want it.”

As the days go by, swaptree will start to make associations between the books you have, and the books you want. It will even go as far as instigating three way trades. This means that:

  • You have a book A, and want Book C.
  • Another user has Book B, and wants Book A.
  • A third user has Book C, and wants Book B.

Swaptree will then send all users a notification as to where to send their books. You can even print out a prepaid shipping form (for a few cents more) and drop your book in the mail.

Since most of the books ship media mail, it takes a week or so to get them, but it also means that you can facilitate a trade for about $1.35.

So far, I have made 16 trades, and have only been burned once. Let that be a caveat. If you get burned, there is not a whole lot you can do to make it right. You can give the user bad feedback, but that’s about the extent of it.

For the low price of entry, getting burned is not the worst thing that could happen to me.

One final note. I should have mentioned this earlier, but you can also share DVD’s and CD’s too. In fact, I have traded a book for a Gamecube game on two occasions.

So, dig through your book pile, find the stuff that you can part with, and get some new books on that shelf!

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Shop at a Bulk Food Store

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For years, I have driven past the sign for the local bulk food store. Every time I see the sign go by, I vow to stop in one day. The inception of this website was a push to get me to finally step in to my local bulk food store, The Food Dock

DSCN1768.jpg Bulk food stores buy staples (and an assortment of other goodies) by the truckload, and break the quantities down, and sell them in plain plastic bags. This allows them to sell staples at a much lower cost to you.

Some examples of the pricing include:

  • Flour – 55 cents a pound. So, a ten pound bag is only $5.50. If you want to save even more, you can buy a 50 pound bag for $18, or 36 cents a pound. Compare this to about $7 for the same amount of flour at the grocery store.
  • Spices – Spices vary, but none of them are more than $1 for a baby food jar full (about an ounce). At the grocery store, the same spices sell for anywhere between five and eight dollars.
  • Baking yeast – If you decide to start baking your own bread, the first thing you should do is drop the idea of baking with packaged yeast. The cost of such yeast is about $3.05 per ounce. A full pound of baking yeast goes for $3.47 at bulk food stores.
  • Baking needs – While I am not familiar with the prices of baking supplies, they offer the same discounts on anything else you would need for baking, including: corn meal, baking chocolate, baking powder and soda, etc.
  • Health products – Dried fruit, Wheat germ, flax seed, and all the other health products are available for similar discounts and packaging.

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Some things to remember:

  • Since bulk food stores don’t have the same dollar power as bigger stores, you need to keep an the store hours and plan accordingly. They are usually open 9-5, but check beforehand to make sure.
  • Before you buy a truckload of something perishable, make sure you can use it up before it goes bad. Per pound pricing is usually the same no matter what quantity you buy, and several quantities are available, so you can buy what you need, and still cash in on the savings.

If you live in my area (Ashland, OH), you can try the following places. Otherwise, check your phone book for more info, then go out and explore!

  • The Food Dock 479 Township Road 1275 Ashland, OH 44805 419-281-3084.
  • The Hayesville Corn Crib – 4 E Main St Hayesville, OH 44838 (419) 368-7500.
    The Corn Crib also sells lunch meat and cheese at great prices.

If you decide to go adventuring into the world of bulk food stores, let me know..

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Baking your own artisan bread – How much per loaf?

sourdough.jpgMy family eats a lot of bread. We can usually eat a loaf of store bought bread every two or three days. Since I am spending a lot more time at home now, and we are eating sandwiches for lunch instead of going out to lunch, we are eating even more bread.
We usually buy a variety of sandwich bread and artisan bread. Artisan breads are a bit smaller, alot denser, and a bit more expensive than sandwich bread. At my local grocery, I bought the following recently:

  • One loaf of sandwich bread for $2.89
  • One loaf of sourdough bread for $4.99

In retrospect, this sounds like a good deal of money.

Since I like to cook/bake, i decided to find out how much it would cost to bake artisan bread myself. Today, I am going to look at sourdough bread. This isn’t the simplest bread to make, but it will demonstrate pretty quickly if there are any cost savings.
sourdough_starter.jpg I am not going to give a full rundown on the art and science of sourdough, but I will point you to a few sites that contain tons of great information:

  • The Yankee Gardener – This is the recipe I usually make, just because it has the first sponging step, and you can actually see something happening.
  • Sourdough Home – These guys have a sourdough recipe that taste just like back home (California).
  • Fast Track Sourdough – Read this site for a great primer on sourdough.

If you should get interested in pursuing this further, let me know, and I will make arrangements to get your a starter.

One other thing to mention is that I am pricing this out based on picking up flour from my local bulk food supplier. In the future, I will give you more detail on how these work. Suffice it to day that I bought ten pounds of flour at 55 cents a pound. Here is the price per cup of flour calculation that I will use for all future calculations. Hopefully, the price of flour will not fluctuate enough to render this calculation dated very soon.

  • One cup of flour weighs four ounces, while not exact, this is pretty close.
  • There are 4 cups of flour in a pound of flour.
  • A cup of flour costs about 14 cents. This shall be our hallowed number.
  • If you buy flour in a 50lb sack, you can get it for 36 cents a pound!
IngredientCost
8 cups flour$1.12
Salt0*
Sugar0*
Sourdough Starter14 cents
Total$1.26

*Note that the asterisks denote that these items should be in any well stocked kitchen (more about this in a new article). The costs for these are negligible.

This recipe makes two loaves of bread, so the effective cost of baking bread is about 63 cents a loaf plus a few cents for gas to heat the oven.

So, does baking your own bread pay off? let’s look at the pros and cons:

Pros

  • Eight loaves of home made bread costs as much as 1 loaf of store bought bread.
  • Home made bread tastes much better than store bought bread.
  • Home made bread is much healthier than store bought bread.

Cons

  • Unless you have a dough hook and heavy mixer, it takes alot of work to knead this recipe.
  • To make a loaf of this bread, you will need to plan ahead. Start the recipe the night before, and you will have bread by dinner the next day.
  • You will need to maintain your starter. This takes about ten minutes a week or so, but you have to do it.

So, for me, it turns out that baking my own bread is well worth the cost. Let me know what you decide.

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What to do when you are laid off

Times are getting rough. It seems like I have read about unemployment for a few years now, and had several friends who have joined the ranks of the unemployed. Luckily, it hasn’t hit me or my family, until recently. I had spent the more than 20 years with only 2 weeks total time without full time employment.

A few weeks ago, I found myself without a job. I have been working in the professional world for a good long time now, and have been on both ends of this issue, but I am now finding that there are alot of people out there who are facing this for the first time.

For those of you out here facing unemployment for the first time, I thought it might be a good idea to give you a few things to think about.

  • Don’t panic – While I can’t be accused of keeping in touch with the news more than your average guy, I haven’t seen anyone that has died lately from being laid off. Sure, your life is going to drastically change in the next few weeks, but I assure you, it will not end, nor will you get sick. Chances are, you are in the middle of a big do over in your life, a time to take inventory and make long awaited changes.
  • Don’t take it personally – Layoffs are hard on everyone involved. No one in your company wants to take part in something so terrible. If it were personal, you would have been fired, or forced into an early resignation. The fact that you were laid off means that this is not a vendetta.
  • Inform those that count on you – Many families pay in excess of $1000 a month on childcare. Since you are not currently drawing a salary, you should most definitely take these duties over. While this will save you $1000 a month, it will also cost your childcare provider $1000 a month. It’s only fair to let them know ASAP what is happening so they can plan accordingly.
    This also applies to other non essential services such as housekeeping and car detailing. You will probably be doing these on your own for awhile.
    Let everyone know so that they can make changes as your changes roll downhill.
  • Inform your creditors – You most likely have a mortgage. You may have a car payment and a credit card or two. As you are not drawing a salary currently, and your search for employment could go on for a bit of time, let these people know ASAP about your status. I have drafted a letter and sent it to my creditors just to make sure they are in the loop in case any arrangements need to be made. I will post my letter on this blog in the next few days. Feel free to use it verbatim if you’d like.
  • Tell everyone you know – While your first inclination might be to refrain from telling your friends and family that you are unemployed, tell everyone. Chances are that you know a lot of people in your personal and professional realms that are just a few connections away from employment.
  • Make business cards – In the past, freebie business cards like those at VistaPrint held a stigma. This is not longer the case. You want to make sure that anyone who wants to offer you employment at any time knows where to contact you. Make cards, and give them to everyone. The personal network still reigns supreme when making contacts.
  • Make a list of your skills – This may be a chance for you to take your career into uncharted territory. There is no rule that says that you need to go right back into the career you had before. Make that list, and see if you can glean something more enriching and more suitable from it. I will cover this in more depth later, so keep tuned in.
  • Stop spending money – Although this is listed last, it is probably the most important. While you are not drawing a salary, it is imperative that you stop spending any money that you do not need to spend. This include things such as: childcare (we will explore this in full detail in a later article), going out to eat (this too!), going to the movies, etc. Do not get rid of things that you need to pursue employment efficiently. This includes: cell phone, internet access, and any other viable communications tool.

These are very brief suggestions, which should get you through the first few weeks.

Entering the ranks of the unemployed is a disheartening and scary process, but it doesn’t have to be painful, and it can teach you a good deal of lessons about you, your friends, and your family.

I would love to hear stories of coping from our readers!

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