Monthly Archives: December 2008

Find a Penny..

     You should have guessed by now that I’m the kind of person who picks up every penny I see on the ground. And from the last post, you should know that I accept any and all things people are getting rid of. If I can’t use it, I find someone who can or donate it to goodwill where the donation keeps on giving.

     The other day I’d found a dime on the floor while running to the office during my planning period. I held it up to the Janitor (a fellow frugalist) and he said, Big deal! I pick up all kinds of money all day long in these hallways.  Kids are notorious for not paying attention to what falls out of their pockets.

     I don’t know what he does with his change, but mine gets added to my own money and plowed back into my classroom. Last week, for instance, I bought the strategy-based computer game called “Age of Empires” for use in my classroom (more about that later….); and bought fortune cookies for our discussion of Confucianism and Ancient China.

     What got me thinking of “found coins” was this wonderful blog post by the nonconsumeradvocate. I’ve read it before and it makes me smile each time.

     Along these lines, I have a teacher friend with a large family. Because she is one of seven siblings herself, she knows the value of a dollar! As soon as her children were the age to play sports, I asked if she would like some athletic equipment and shoes my kids had grown out of. “Boy, would I!” came her enthusiastic response. That expanded to passing down clothing and it has had the unexpected benefit of my reliving many enjoyable memories with my own children when I see them wearing a certain dress (worn to a special occasion while carrying a blankie and sucking a thumb) or outfit (worn to a family trip to the mountains where we rode horses up and down nearly vertical terrain in the mud—yikes!)

     Since it’s my blog, I’m allowed to ramble and tell stories here. This same lady is also a teacher. Her own children complain that they have no TV. I should explain: they do not choose to pay for cable or satellite TV and we live in a rural, mountainous area with zero TV reception. As a result, her kids, who I teach, complain that their mother only allows them to watch math videos. I know she is previewing them for her classes and she is a great multitasker. It makes me smile to think of what’s going on. I should mention, however, that her kids are VERY well-read, artistic and are scarey-smart! Since she teaches MY children, I get to hear about these math videos twice.:)

     So, to review: look for pennies and free things—they add up and turn into things you never imagined.

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Pantry and Freezer Challenge

     After Christmas, I try to eat out of the freezer and pantry so we have very little grocery expense.  It makes it easy to pay off credit cards that we used to buy holiday gifts.  We keep a budget and do all our shopping with credit cards that we pay off each month so we incur no interest expense. (see previous post about “loan” being our f-word).

     Another reason to do this is to make room for filling the freezer and pantry again with homegrown items.  It ensures that we are not wasting food by throwing away items that are past their due.

   Some of the things we have eaten this week include sesame chicken noodles made with frozen whole wheat noodles, one large frozen grilled chicken breast and a splash of peanut sauce.  I’ll try to post my frugal version of this recipe later. Since I live in outer Podunk, I have to make due with terribly mundane grocery products so I will post a recipe for this using what I can get locally.

Sesame Chicken Noodles

   I save the last couple of tablespoons of peanut butter in the jar for making this dish. I almost always have cooked noodles and chicken on hand in the freezer for quick meals.  To the jar of peanut butter I add 1/4 cup of soy sauce, a tablespoon of sugar, a little hot sauce (I like Tiger Brand) and a little water. I microwave this on defrost (so the plastic doesn’t melt and just enough for the peanut butter to unstick to the sides of the jar) and shake the jar like mad. Pour this over the leftover noodles, add diced, cooked chicken. If you have planted onion tops in the garden, go looking for them now and add them to your dish! Wa La!

     I’ve been enjoying some free roasted herb turnips from the garden. I peel and cook the turnips they aren’t hard anymore, then toss with a little olive oil, paprika, salt pepper, garlic powder and basil and roast under the broiler until they are a little browned. Yum!

     Since I noticed that there are several packages of veggies that were at the back of the freezer from year’s past I cooked them up in a stir fry. To the frozen broccoli and greenbeans, I added sliced onions and carrots leftover steak.  I mix up homemade teriyaki sauce and keep it in the fridge so I can quickly make stir fry anytime I want.  I’ll try to post that later…

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Debt Snowball

     Related to my last post “Be Your Own Bank,” is Dave Ramsey’s  concept of “ debt snowballing.”  The idea is to pay off a small debt balance, then roll that money that would be going to that debt to the next largest debt.  In our case, we went after the highest interest debt we had and continued from there…

This way of living has had tremendous benefits.  From Amy Dacyczyn’s The Complete Tightwad Gazette, I learned to apply savings to areas that would create greater savings.  This is deliberate living that requires you to be financially self-aware at all times.

     I guess this last concept is more like a “savings snowball.” In the past, I started by having a yardsale that gave me the money to spend on garden tools and seeds. The money saved by growing our own food (we included the cost of gas and wear and tear on our vehicles to to to the grocery store) was then invested in canning equipment and dehydrators.

     Each year at this time, we make a list of what we are going to put our savings into.  Some of what we will do this year are invest in more chicks (for eggs and meat). While feed has increased, we have started freeranging our hens and realized some savings there.  Even though we pay for feed, we get a lot of garden vegetables from the compost made from the deep litter we use in the coop (for another post–we compost all paper products, junk mail, etc…) But I digress….

     I’d really like to take some snowball savings and invest in some miniature milk goats that I could use for (at least) cheese and maybe milk and yogurt.  So far, I haven’t convinced anyone else that this is a good idea. I’ll let you know….

     Every year, we take some of our savings and invest in more edible landscaping. By retirement, we should have enough fruit and nut trees and bushes to support ourselves without needing to use a grocery store.  In my mind, the ability to feed yourself is insurance. It’s one thing to be poor, it’s entirely another to be poor and hungry. No one need be hungry, even in the city (but more on that in later post…)

     In the meantime, I’d love to hear some of the reader’s lists for what to invest their savings snowball in to help them save MORE money….

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Be Your Own Bank

     Anyone can see that a 700 billion dollar bailout of the banking industry has to have some effect on our schools and pocketbooks.  It will be difficult to pay for these budget deficits with taxes alone—especially if you expect that there will be some loss of jobs due to the economy going south (you figure, there HAS to be some effect there.) I predict that one of the first places that budgets will be cut will be the education system.

     It’s much easier to weather the coming storm if you are in a good financial position. I agree with both Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman about having a couple months pay saved (in a safe bank?)in case of emergency.

     In our case, it has allowed us to be our own bank. If a car needs immediate repair, we are able to pay for it without putting it on the credit card (what we consider to be a loan).


     “Loan” is the f-word in our vocabulary. We avoid paying interest like the plague. While we now have a smallish house loan, we are paying extra each month so as to avoid thousands in interest. I’d rather have that money to invest in things that will improve my quality of living.

 

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2008 Edublog Awards: What Jewels Will Be Found?

     I really enjoy reading blogs of other teachers. There is never enough time to watch our fellow teachers hone their craft. Even the brief time in the lunchroom (and I do mean brief, once you deal with Bobby who lost his lunch money or Shakira who is checking out early) is only spent with the five or so teachers who have the same lunch time as you do.

 

     That is why I am looking forward to seeing the list of best educator blogs after they are published.  I hope someday to be on this list, but that is just a goal at this point.

 

     I must read educator blogs at home with a cup of coffee because our school district’s firewall screens out blogs. That’s unfortunate, because I get SO many excellent ideas for my own classroom from these fine teachers.

 

     I’m going to make it a point to steer some of my readers to the best ideas I’m seeing in other blogs. I’ll try to do a roundup of good posts I read.

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Typing Content: Or Killing Two Birds With One Stone

     At the beginning of the year, several elementary teachers I know take their students to the computer lab to type their spelling list.  This accomplishes two things at the same time (maybe more). First, they learn their spelling words. Next, they learn to type and become familiar with the keyboard.

 

     They begin to learn Microsoft Word by highlighting their list and numbering. They learn how to insert a word they forgot. This is a natural way to begin word processing which will later be used for typing reports. In our area, the majority of students do not own computers at home and there is little time in the day to teach typing.

 

I like it.

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Grading Writing Papers or Will They Even Read Our Comments?

writing-document

We do a lot of writing in my classes. At this level, we are hammering how to organize their essays: topic sentence, detail sentences (or paragraphs) and conclusion sentences (or paragraphs).

 

It’s not enough to TELL them that they must do those things, you must show that their grade is related to whether or not they have met those goals.

 

Here’s the rub: it’s hardly worth my time to seriously mark up the final version. If they haven’t followed the lesson, haven’t taken my “walking around the room” advice, haven’t followed the mark-ups on the edited version, why spend the time to rehash?  They just aren’t going to do it!

 

I have to agree with the following from the Prone to Laughter blog :”A current grading technique (and I don’t know why it took me years to come up with this) is to underline everything important. The thesis, a key piece of analysis, a topic sentence that clearly states the heart of the paragraph. The advantage here is that it creates a strong impression that I’ve read and commented upon the paper, without actually requiring much effort from me. Though I don’t know why I scribble on final essays anyhow. Circling typos is also useful for this.”

 

It takes a lot of time to grade writing, but good teachers give a lot of writing work and grade it anyway! My inspiration this year has been the honors English teacher of my own children who goes above and beyond in her teaching of writing.

 

When I’m ready to give up, I think of her. I really should mention this to her, but I’ll wait until they no longer have her as a teacher so it doesn’t look like I’m brown-nosing.

 

Here’s the bottom line (putting on teacher hat for wrap-up here): before they turn in the paper, I have the student underline their topic sentence, conclusion sentence. That saves me some effort and time on my part to go hunting for these things. I can quickly scan whether they have mentioned what the body of their essay will cover.  In addition, it holds them accountable for what they were told to do.

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Prudent Classroom’s Collection Plate #1:Classroom ideas that don’t cost a dime…

  • The Two Writing Teachers blog talks about their take on NCTE sesson related to designing effective writing assignments.
  • Need some good handwriting worksheets or explanations for why it’s important?  Look no further:
  • Have you heard of “speed dating?” How  about sparking interest in reading by doing something similar with passing books after a few minutes? Here’s how at teaching tips machine blog.
  • Alan Haskvitz talks about how B is the new C in his article entitled, “The End of the D and F Grade: Welcome to Lake Wobegon” at teachersnet Gazette. Sad but true!
  • What a wonderful quote about NCLB by Doug Noon of Borderlands : “If we’d have used an NCLB-style approach to the Apollo moon mission, President Kennedy would have simply ordered NASA to fly conventional airplanes higher and higher until they fell out of the sky, and then blamed the pilots for lacking the will and the know-how to get the job done. ” Check out his take on how the new administration should approach assessment.

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Dollar a day Eating Plan

A couple of California teachers ate food costing only $1/day for a month to prove it could be done. You can read about their project here

The wife is a vegan, so there was no meat involved in their diet. But, if you think about it, most of the world eats little meat. For years I could average $1 per meal per person in my household. This is mainly because we grow much of our food. This saves more than the grocery bill because there isn’t the fuel cost to get to and from the grocery store (we live far from a store). In the last year, however, it has been difficult to achieve dollar meals.

I bring this to your attention, because I’m sure there are teachers who are caught in financial straits in these economic times who might be able to glean some information from their experience. What do you do to save on the grocery bill?

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Hustling for Part-time Jobs

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I was reading a blog the other day about financial security and the author mentioned using the time of our youth to earn some extra money and skills. Often, we think of our youth as the time to have fun and party.

Since I put myself through college without benefit of financial aid or scholarship (my parents would not fill out FAFSA) I know a lot about being young and hustling for jobs.

It served me well when I completed my education–I was used to cobbling together two-three–yes, sometimes four jobs to make enough money to live, and play, too).

While living in my run down hovels (and there were many) I housesat and dogsat for wealthy people who paid me well because I was trustworthy. Often there would be a full refrigerator that they would ask me to eat from so things didn’t spoil. At the time, I was living on a canned bean and macaroni and cheese diet, so leftover filet mignon, lobster and shrimp were heaven-sent!  There is nothing like eating steak  and duck liver pate poolside when you are living far below the poverty level. At the time, I couldn’t afford the four bucks to go to the community pool!

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When changing their decor, they would offer me their castoffs. I laugh to think I have hauled these items across the country several times and am still using many of them daily, Even then, I was a forager and happy-to-take-your- leftovers kind of person. This attitude has served me well over the years.

Not only that, I learned early on how to repair and refinish furniture.  And now, I own nice antiques that didn’t cost me very many dollars.  Because I sewed, I could alter any designer clothes that came my way to fit me perfectly. Not only that, but expensive drapery could be fitted to the home I eventually bought.

You see, folks that need dependable dogsitters, housesitters etc.. are also the kind of people who network. Suddenly, you have more jobs ( and castoff furniture, computers and clothing) than you can take. Later, they have children that they are only too willing to pay outrageous amounts to a babysitter to care for them. Still later, they want to age in place and pay you outrageously for things like: moving their winter clothes from a closet down the hallway to their own.

These employers were interesting, talented people who I learned a lot from being around. One was a world-famous artist who had done large commissioned pieces for office buildings and hotels in the large city I lived in. Another was the PR guy for the NBA basketball team there.

From these side jobs I was able to complete my education and save enough money to put a down payment on a home. That was a HUGE thing for me to do alone. This was before balloon mortgages and easy credit! Thank heavens!

Teachers are very resourceful people. They have to be. In my area, many teachers have side businesses like lawn care that they do after work and in the summers. They run camps.

The janitors at my school do home renovation and repairs. They stay busy too–try getting one to put you on their waiting list! Teachers refer them to other teachers and there is a backlog to get them to do small jobs.  They are in demand because people know they can trust them and are happy to pay extra so that they don’t have to let a stranger into their home.

Think of it this way, people know that a criminal background check has already been done on a teacher. You are “vetted.”

Speaking of side jobs like home repair, I met a laid off computer scientist when I lived in that major city who began doing odd jobs for money when laid off. He became in such demand that he never went back to his old job because he made far more money as a handyman.

Funny aside: I met him when my VERY unhandy, young neighbor paid him a LARGE hourly wage to (I’m pausing to laugh here) change the light bulbs in his home. I’m not talking about inconveniently-placed light bulbs here or light bulbs that required the use of an extension ladder. I only wished I’d known–I’d have done it happily for half the money.

This reminds me of a side job I did for the previous owner of that home next-door. The owner was a DEA agent who would be posted to South America for a couple years at a time. He got tired of the poor job that a local realty company did renting out his home and managing repairs while he was away.  So he paid me (less than the realty company–but still handsomely) to rent the home and have repairs done. He knew how handy and frugal I was so it was really a good deal for him. Most importantly, he knew that since I lived next door, I would not rent to people who would trash his home. Although I did not take them, several other offers came to me to manage property in our neighborhood.

So let’s review (puts on teacher hat): Learn to hustle for jobs, accept any donations that come your way, (hey, you can sell them, if nothing else), learn to repair EVERYTHING, save your money and lastly (most importantly) make connections with your friends and neighbors. I’d love to have my readers tell us about some ways they have hustled jobs. Leave a comment, please.

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