Contest time: Tell Ms. Cheap how you are spiffying up your porch, patio or balcony

CLOSE

In honor of Ms. Cheap’s 25th anniversary of her column, the Cheapest of the Cheap contest is back, and you can enter today.
Autumn Allison, Nashville Tennessean

One of my most vivid childhood memories is the time I enjoyed on my grandparents’ Senatobia, Mississippi, front porch.

The spacious porch, which spanned the front of their turn of the century wood-frame house, was just a few doors from the Tate County Courthouse and a block and a half from downtown Senatobia.

With no air conditioning, I spent untold hours sitting in the white painted swing (my favorite spot) with my grandmother, shelling peas, or just swinging and talking and watching folks walk or drive by.  

A rite of spring would be when my grandfather, Grandy, would climb up a ladder with a can of 3-in-One oil to grease the swing’s chains at the top to keep the squeaking to a minimum.

► Frugal fun, all year round:  Sign up for the free Ms. Cheap newsletter

Every now and then, the swing would get a fresh coat of white paint, and the wooden porch floor a welcome dose of Confederate gray stain to spruce things up for our spring and summer porch sitting.

The only adornment on the porch was the set of my grandmother’s carefully tended matching fern stands on either side of the front door, which would spread their lush fronds all the way to the floor. 

Wonderful memories. There is something just so Southern and comfortable about sitting on a well-maintained porch.

So, with spring just around the corner (hopefully) and the long-awaited porch-sitting season that comes with it, we decided to have a Ms. Cheap Porch, Patio and Balcony Makeover contest.

My goal is to get lots of creative ideas for spiffying up a porch, or patio or balcony without spending a wad of money.

Here’s what I am looking for:

Send me a before and after picture or a detailed plan of your makeover project, along with a full description of the changes you are making or have made, and how much your project cost.

I’d love lots of details about how you did it, and any potential pitfalls or challenges you faced, in case other readers want to use your idea. 

Can’t wait to see what you come up with. And you can enter more than one idea. 

More newsletters

Submit your entries at cheapporch.tennessean.com.

The deadline for entries is March 3, and the top prize is a $100 gift certificate to the Habitat ReStore, and four tickets to the Nashville Home and Remodeling Expo

► Got other great money-saving ideas? Enter the 2019 Ms. Cheap Cheapest of the Cheap contest

About the show

The Nashville Home and Remodeling Expo will be at Music City Center March 15-17, with exhibits, industry personalities and the latest trends in home improvement, including remodeling, kitchen and bath, windows, flooring and more. 

Ms. Cheap will be speaking at noon on Friday, March 15, in a QA session. Home renovation experts Kortney and Dave Wilson of HGTV’s “Music City Fix” will be on stage at 6 p.m. Friday, March 15, and 1 p.m. Saturday, March 16. Other presenters include interior designer Jennifer Davenport, interior decorator Bohnne Jones and floral designer Ethan Shane.

Exhibitors include companies offering products and services in everything from lighting, kitchen, bath, windows and doors, to elevators, landscaping, home decor, closet organization, swimming pools and spas.

Tickets are $11 but you can save $2 per ticket if you buy online. 

For discount tickets and other information, see nashvillehomeandremodelingexpo.com or call 1-800-395-1350.

Reach Ms. Cheap at 615-259-8282 or mscheap@tennessean.com. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/mscheap, and at Tennessean.com/mscheap, and on Twitter @Ms_Cheap, and catch her every Thursday at 11 a.m. on WTVF-Channel 5’s “Talk of the Town.”

If saving money is your goal, focus on one behavior at a time

Popular science claims it takes anywhere between 21 and 66 days to form a habit.

To change one habit is simply to create a new behavior in its place. These habit-changing tips can work to create new habits for your health, finances or any behavior you want to improve — like listening better, working harder or maintaining a more positive attitude.

Observe

Before you can start changing a behavior, you need to get familiar with it. If the habit you want to change is to save more money, first you’ll have to figure out where your money is going that isn’t savings.

Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star

#ReadLocal

Target

Targeting a habit gives you a focus, instead of trying to change everything at once. Once you get an idea of the current patterns, choose one to alter. Let’s stick with the same idea of savings. After observing your spending, you may notice that you spend your extra income on both entertainment and online shopping. Instead of saying you’ll cut both out in favor of saving, either cut one out or cut each in half by 50 percent.

Track

Figure out how well your new habit is forming by tracking. Where you once saw $100 going toward online purchases and $0 into savings, you should now see $50 contributed to each.

Review

Choose a reasonable deadline to establish your new habit. Then sit down and see how your habit has changed. You can define what success looks like to you. If there isn’t very much difference between what your habit was at the beginning versus what you’re tracking now, try to find something else to target. But if you feel like you’ve accomplished what you set out to, head on to another habit.

So if you’re like most people and your 2019 resolution has already started to waiver — most are totally abandoned by this point in the year already — maybe choose one habit to tackle and follow these steps. It’s all about the progress, not perfection.

Kat’s Money Corner is posted on Dollars Sense every Tuesday. Kat Hnatyshyn, when not blogging or caring for her little ones, is a manager with CommunityAmerica Credit Union. For more financial chatter, visit http://communityamerica.com.

Sustainable Buffs: 5 ways to save money by living green

Woman cutting up cilantro in kitchenLiving sustainably often comes with an added bonus—saving money. Even better, most of these actions don’t require much additional effort, and you can earn prizes with the PIPs mobile app! Here are five ways to save money, and earn more PIPs, by living green.

Get thrifty

Looking to update your wardrobe or living space? Need to find a gift for a friend or family member? In the market for new skis? Thrift stores and consignment shops are the perfect place to score unique finds and save money. Some second-hand shops have special sales and deals where you can get items even cheaper. Grab a friend or two and enjoy bargain hunting at some of the best shops in Boulder.

With the rise of online marketplaces, you may not even need to visit a thrift store to find great secondhand items. If you arrange to meet up with someone to buy or sell an item, be sure to use the Online Safe Exchange Zone offered by CU Boulder police and Parking Services.

Spend more time in the kitchen

Cooking food at home helps cut down on waste and save money in the process. For affordable, healthy and delicious meal ideas, we recommend using the free cookbook Good and Cheap. You can also review these six ways to eat healthy on a budget. If you are able to shop organic items, consider replacing conventional produce on the “dirty dozen” list.

Turn down your thermostat

If you pay your own energy bill, you’ve probably seen how costs can increase when temperatures lower. One easy way to save money is to turn down your thermostat when you aren’t home or when you go to sleep. A programmable thermostat can make this process even simpler—check with your property manager about installing one.

Setting up an ECO-Visit, where CU student technicians visit your home and install energy- and money-saving upgrades free of charge, can help. If you live on-campus, sign up for the Green Home Certification to learn more ways to save money, energy and get free swag.

For the month of February, PIPs users can earn up to 1,000 PIPs when they complete an ECO-Visit or Green Home Certification!

Reuse and get a discount

Most coffee shops, including Starbucks, Method Roasters and The Bakery on campus, offer a discount when you bring in your own mug. Reusable grocery bags are also particularly helpful in Boulder and can help you avoid the tax charged on plastic bags.

Take the bus or bike

Between gas, parking permits, maintenance and repairs, cars can get expensive. Choosing to take the bus with your free College Pass or ride your bike can help you keep more of your savings. Plus, when you register your bike, you can take advantage of free bike maintenance services at the bike stations.

Sustainable Buffs is a new series brought to you by the Environmental Center. Learn more sustainability tips and ways to get involved at colorado.edu/ecenter.

Save time and money by changing your screen habits

This article is reprinted by permission from NerdWallet.

Apple’s

AAPL, -0.71%

  Screen Time feature can tell you more about your iPhone usage than you may care to know.

Like how many text notifications you received, the number of hours you spent on social networking and how your total usage on any given day stacks up against your average.

The numbers don’t lie, but they can be surprising. If you find yourself wasting too much of your day on your phone or tablet, here are some ideas for how to use your time and devices for something more productive — like saving money.

Double-click on your usage

First, be honest about how many hours you spend staring at a screen.

Mike Johansson, a senior lecturer in communication at Rochester Institute of Technology, has asked his students to keep track of how they spend their time.

Also see: Here’s why you’re getting so many spam phone calls

“Over time, I had a few students who came back to me and said, ‘I was amazed. I didn’t realize that over the course of a week I was averaging three to four hours on YouTube every day.’ It adds up,” Johansson says.

Once you’ve tracked your habits or checked your phone’s tally of your usage, make some judgment calls about which activities are (or are not) a good use of your time.

Double down on your apps

If you can’t put down your phone completely, try switching the applications you use most frequently. If you’re going to be on your phone, you might as well make it worthwhile, right?

Don’t miss: The cities with the most freebies

Instead of opening YouTube, Instagram or Facebook

FB, -1.55%

 , here are some of the apps and tools that can be a more effective use of your screen time:

  • Financial accounts. Download and check the apps for your various financial accounts. “The first app people should sign in to every day is their bank’s app and any credit card apps they use,” Robert P. Finley, a certified financial planner and the principal of Virtue Asset Management in Illinois, said in an email. “First, this process will help them better understand their daily spending, and second, help them keep an eye out for any fraud.”
  • Budgeting apps. Similarly, budgeting apps like Mint and PocketGuard can assist in keeping your spending in check. Use these regularly to get a better handle on your cash flow and how much money you’re devoting to each category of your budget.
  • Organizers. Organization tools like Evernote and OmniFocus can help, too. Open up these apps to create shopping lists to prevent you from buying extra things you don’t need, or to-do lists to ensure you pay all of your bills on time.
  • Coupon finders. Coupon apps, including Coupons.com and CouponCabin, compile coupons free. Take the time to consult these before shopping to lower the amount of money you’re spending on life’s necessities, such as groceries or household supplies.
  • Cash-back sites. Take the extra step to use cash-back websites such as Ebates and BeFrugal to earn money back on purchases you’re already making.
  • Freebies. Sure, social media is free, but there are other free apps that could be more educational. Libby, for example, is a reading app that uses your library card to access e-books and audiobooks free.
Double-check the clock

While these apps are helpful, it can be freeing to cut down your screen time completely. And contradictory as it sounds, your phone can actually help you limit the amount of time you spend on your phone.

Some apps help you stay off your device altogether. Flipd, for example, calls itself a “digital nudge” to discourage phone usage. Download the app to lock yourself out of your downloaded apps for a certain period, says Alanna Harvey, co-founder of Flipd.

“Flipd is a productivity and time management app that people use to help motivate themselves to not get distracted by their phones when they should be doing other tasks more mindfully like studying, reading and spending quality time with family and friends,” Harvey says.

If saving money is your goal, you can add financial management to that list of things to do in the real (not virtual) world. If it helps, get off your phone and spend some time with an old-fashioned paper budget, calculator, your credit card statement and checkbook.

And perhaps most important, start by changing your mind-set. You don’t have to be tethered to your phone.

“Once upon a time, people literally would call your house, and if you weren’t there, they would call back later,” Johansson says.

More from NerdWallet:

Courtney Jespersen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @CourtneyNerd.

Get a daily roundup of the top reads in personal finance delivered to your inbox. Subscribe to MarketWatch’s free Personal Finance Daily newsletter. Sign up here.

We Want to
Hear from You

Join the conversation

STUFF WE LIKE: Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 | Lifestyle

DO JUST ONE THING

Simple, easy and money-saving ideas that also do something positive for the environment:

Donate old tech safely

When you’re upgrading technology at home or your office, a safe and tax-deductible way to recycle old laptops is to donate them to charities like Goodwill. First, they do accept old technology and follow strict standards set by the U.S. Department of Defense to scrub the hard drives clean. They guarantee no one will ever see what’s on your computer; it goes into a special machine that wipes the computer clean without ever turning it on. Then it’s either sold at the store or given to a person in need through their GoodTech program.

Save energy, money when away from home

If you’re going away for a few weeks or months, there’s no need to keep your home toasty warm during the winter months. But you also do not want to turn off the heat entirely in your house. The ideal temperature at which to set your thermostat for energy efficiency and to protect your pipes and appliances is 50 degrees. Also, lower the blinds to keep the windows insulated. And if you can, plan to eat everything in your fridge prior to leaving. Empty it, turn it off completely and leave the doors open to let it air out. This one step will conserve a significant amount of energy.

LIST-MANIA

Top outbound states for movers

United Van Lines’ annual National Movers Study tracks customers’ state-to-state migration patterns over the past year. Here are the states where people are moving out of the most in 2018:

1. New Jersey

2. Illinois

3. Connecticut

4. New York

5. Kansas

6. Ohio

7. Massachusetts

8. Iowa

9. Montana

10. Michigan

NEWS OF THE WEIRD

By Chuck Sheppard

Police Report: A motorist in New Canaan, Conn., called police on Jan. 23 after spotting a woman stopped at an intersection in the driver’s seat of her car with her eyes closed. When officers arrived, they found Stefanie Warner-Grise, 50, “unable to answer basic questions,” according to the arrest report. They “detected an odor of vanilla coming from her breath (and) her speech was slurred. … In addition, several bottles of pure vanilla extract were located inside the vehicle.” Warner-Grise failed field sobriety tests and she was charged with driving under the influence of vanilla extract. The Food and Drug Administration requires that pure vanilla extract must be at least 35 percent alcohol, which makes it 70 proof.

Dave Says: Should I use my HSA as a way to save money?

Dear Dave,

I just realized our insurance has a health savings account (HSA) option. We’ve considered dropping this insurance soon and going to a cheaper Christian medical sharing program. We’ve got about $19,000 in debt between credit cards and a car payment, and we’re on Baby Step 2 of your plan. Our thought was to fund the HSA for a period of time as a means of saving, cancel that policy, then go over to a medical sharing program we found that costs $600 a month less. After that, we would start paying down debt again. What do you think?

Amy

Dear Amy,

There are two components to an HSA, the insurance component and the savings component. You don’t have to participate in the savings component. The insurance component is simply a large deductible, 100 percent coverageafter the deductible, cheaper-premium health insurance plan. If I were in Baby Step 2, I would not do the savings component. I would only do the insurance component, or I’d do the medical sharing program.

I’m not sure why you’d need to jump back and forth it you’re going to permanently move to a medical sharing program. I get the idea of saving money, but what you’re talking about isn’t something I’d recommend for someone who’s in debt. I wouldn’t fund a savings account of several thousand dollars only for medical when you’re not even on Baby Step 3, which is saving an emergency fund of three to six months of expenses. That money needs to be used to pay off debt first.

It’s not the end of the world if you don’t fund the HSA portion of your current insurance plan. If you went with a medical sharing program, and just saved up a large emergency fund, the only thing you’d really lose out on is the tax deduction associated with an HSA.

Good question!

—Dave

* Dave Ramsey is CEO of Ramsey Solutions. He has authored seven best-selling books, including The Total Money MakeoverThe Dave Ramsey Show is heard by more than 15 million listeners each week on 600 radio stations and multiple digital platforms. Follow Dave on the web at daveramsey.com and on Twitter at @DaveRamsey.

Ease Money Stress: 6 Squirrel Saving Ideas

Ease money stress by learning simple strategies from your backyard friends. Squirrels shrewdly save their treasures during times of abundance so they can draw on them during lean times of need.

Money stress often results from two unexpected events – lost income or unplanned expense. Job loss and divorce account for many bankruptcies related to reduced income. Repairs and rising costs (especially college tuition, utilities and credit-card fees) contributes to financial strains related to unplanned expenses. Illness, the leading cause of bankruptcy, can cause both lost income and staggering medical expense. So, how can you ease money stress?

The squirrel knows that winter will arrive and prepares for times when resources become scarce. Shouldn’t we humans (who are a bit smarter than squirrels) understand that the winter of life events will likely arrive at some point in time and prepare as well? Here are a few suggestions to squirrel away a few acorns for those reasonably expected, unexpected money events.

Open a Squirrel Savings Account

At the bank where you hold your primary checking account, open an interest-bearing savings account. Each time you resist the temptation to spend money unnecessarily or save money from smart shopping (see ideas below), transfer half of that amount into your savings account. Treat yourself to the other half. A friendly competition with friends or family might raise the interest (pun intended).

Do I Truly Need it or Truly Love it?

The next time you’re tempted to buy that luxury item that will morph into dust-collecting junk in a few weeks, ask yourself the following questions. Do I truly need it? Do I truly love it? Will I use it within the next year? Rate your responses on a scale from 1-10.  Any item eliciting a response less than “8” should be promptly discarded from the shopping cart (including the one on Amazon). Remember, if the item is truly important, it can always be purchased later.

Find Cheaper Ways to Ease Stress

Unhealthy habits like drinking, smoking, and fast-fooding offer quick stress relief, but contribute to health problems in the long run. Healthier habits like deep breathing, meditating, walking and laughing, cost absolutely nothing, relieve more stress and promote better health. Eliminating just one restaurant meal a week could save you thousands of dollars in one year. Plus, you will save calories and the cost of diet products to compensate for those calories. The jackpot of savings will alarm when your doctor tells you that you don’t need any medications or hospitalizations. This will certainly ease money stress.

Process addictions like screening, shopping and gambling offer the illusion of easing stress, but truly create more stress . . . and depression, and insomnia and relationship problems. Ultimately, these problems will cost even more in divorce, psychotherapy, psychotropic medication and outrageous interest on debt to finance these addictions.

Finance at Lower Rates

If your credit score won’t qualify for decent financing rates, borrow only enough to build your credit. If you finance a car or roomful of furniture at zero percent, use your interest savings to pay down other credit cards or your mortgage. Speaking of mortgages, always finance for 15 years – that is the best squirrel savings account you can find.  Buy a smaller house. After all, the bigger house won’t be necessary if you buy less junk.

Save Half of That Income Tax Refund

Come on. You’re just gonna buy more junk to fill that bigger house that holds more junk. A squirrel would never pass up such an opportunity to save.

Ease Money Stress by Cutting Costs

Check out money saving tips on auto insurance.  Find alternatives to Cable TV.  Cut up a few vegetables yourself.  Shop at resale shops. Limit gifts. Turn those lights off.  In short, simplify your life.

With a little resourceful creativity, you too can save like a squirrel.  Then you will ease your money stress when the expected, unexpected events happen in your life.

Image from Pexels.com

Consumer Reports offers tips for saving on a new phone; giving a ‘tuneup’ to your old phone


With the latest flagship phones from Apple and Samsung priced at $1,000 and up, consumers
are looking for ways to save. Consumer Reports offers some ideas you may not have considered
before.

There’s nothing cheaper than keeping the phone you already have. Start off by giving it a
tuneup. First, make sure the operating system is updated. That can help speed up a sluggish
phone. You can also swap the battery if it’s not holding a charge. A new one can cost you less
than $100. Also, if your screen has seen better days, you can replace one on many older phones
for about $150 or less.

But if your old phone is beyond saving, there are ways to pay less when buying a new one. You
should think about phones the way you think about cars. If you buy last year’s model, you’re
going to save a lot of money.

Because smartphones are evolving more slowly than they used to with each new generation, CR
says you can get an even better deal by buying one that’s two years old. Another thing to
consider—Samsung and Apple sell the vast majority of phones out there, but they’re not the
only players in the game. LG, Sony, Google, and OnePlus have recommended models in
Consumer Reports’ ratings.

Another way to save? CR readers really like refurbished smartphones.

Two components to HSA: Insurance and savings

Dear Dave,

I just realized our insurance has a health savings account (HSA) option. We’ve considered dropping this insurance soon and going to a cheaper Christian medical sharing program. We’ve got about $19,000 in debt between credit cards and a car payment, and we’re on Baby Step 2 of your plan.

Our thought was to fund the HSA for a period of time as a means of saving, cancel that policy, then go over to a medical sharing program we found that costs $600 a month less. After that, we would start paying down debt again. What do you think?

Amy

Dear Amy,

There are two components to an HSA, the insurance component and the savings component. You don’t have to participate in the savings component. The insurance component is simply a large deductible, 100 percent coverage after the deductible, cheaper-premium health insurance plan.

If I were in Baby Step 2, I would not do the savings component. I would only do the insurance component, or I’d do the medical sharing program.

I’m not sure why you’d need to jump back and forth it you’re going to permanently move to a medical sharing program. I get the idea of saving money, but what you’re talking about isn’t something I’d recommend for someone who’s in debt. I wouldn’t fund a savings account of several thousand dollars only for medical when you’re not even on Baby Step 3, which is saving an emergency fund of three to six months of expenses. That money needs to be used to pay off debt first.

It’s not the end of the world if you don’t fund the HSA portion of your current insurance plan. If you went with a medical sharing program, and just saved up a large emergency fund, the only thing you’d really lose out on is the tax deduction associated with an HSA.

Good question!

— Dave

•••

Dave Ramsey is CEO of Ramsey Solutions. He has authored five best-selling books and hosts “The Dave Ramsey Show” on more than 550 radio stations. Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRamsey and on the web at daveramsey.com.

Your friends’ social media posts are making you spend more money, researchers say


(Illustration by Christopher Ingraham for the Washington Post’/Illustration by Christopher Ingraham for the Washington Post)
Christopher Ingraham

American families don’t save money like they used to. As the chart above shows, in 2018, the personal saving rate hovered around 7 percent. That’s up from an all-time low of 3 percent right before the Great Recession hit, but it’s well below the rate of a few decades ago.

There are several potential explanations for this. Wage growth has slowed while necessities such as housing and medical care have become more expensive, taking a big chunk out of personal income. The rise of easy credit has made spending beyond our means more simple than ever. Pension plans have been replaced by 401(k)s, which are much easier to draw down on in a pinch — even if it’s nearly always a bad idea.

Now, a team of American and Canadian economists have proposed a new explanation for the declining savings rate, one rooted in individual psychology. At its heart lies a simple observation: Personal spending is a lot more visible to others than no spending. Changes in the media landscape have made other people’s spending more visible than ever. That, in turn, is making all of us spend even more — and save even less.

Humans are social creatures, and we have a tendency to evaluate our own standing in life relative to how our friends and neighbors are doing. We want to keep up with the Joneses, and stay ahead of the Smiths. Because of this, when we see other people spending money, we have a tendency to think that we can — or should — be spending, too.

“A boat parked in a driveway draws the attention of neighbors more than the absence of a boat,” the economists explain. “Similarly, it is more noticeable when a friend or acquaintance is encountered eating out or reports taking an expensive trip than when not, or buys an enjoyable product as compared with not doing so.”

These signals from other people are particularly powerful in part because many of us have considerable uncertainty about how much we should be spending. “There is a great deal of evidence suggesting that people are indeed often ‘grasping at straws’ in their savings decisions, which suggests that they may look to social cues for help,” the authors write.

David Hirshleifer, one of the authors, said via email that “saving is the flip side of consuming, and it’s tempting to think that you’re saving enough because you are not throwing lavish parties or taking expensive cruises the way some people you know are.” But, he warns, “such self-congratulation is treacherous, because those cruises and parties may not really be typical of your acquaintances — they just stand out in memory.”

Fifty years ago, our frames of reference for our spending habits were relatively small. We had our neighbors and friends, of course, as well as people we interacted with at work. But that has all changed. Television brought us things such as “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” the Home Shopping Network and eventually reality TV shows where contestants are jetted off to tropical islands to enjoy expensive meals.

Next came the Internet, with the discussion forums and specialist websites, where postings about cool new product purchases “are more interesting, and therefore more likely to occur, than a posting to announce the news that the individual did not buy anything today,” as the authors tell it.

Now we have social media. We can log on to watch kids unbox expensive toys on YouTube. Facebook lets us stay in touch with our rich college classmates who always seem to be on vacation. We can create and share detailed logs of the stuff we consume on sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor. We can see what our co-workers ate last night on Instagram.

On social media, as the authors tell it, “a posting about a consumption event triggers a notification to friends; a non-posting about not engaging in a consumption event does not.”

The net effect of this saturation of consumptive media is that we’re bombarded every day with signals to consume, consume, consume — and that’s before you even stop to consider the rise of an entire industry, advertising, devoted to parting consumers from their money. “People infer that low saving is a good idea,” as the authors put it.

They spend a good deal of their paper developing a sophisticated mathematical model to explain exactly how this process of consumption contagion works. One of the implications of their research is that finding ways to make non-spending more visible might help people develop more realistic views of overall spending and saving behavior.

“To decide if you’re overconsuming, make a special effort to notice when your friends do something that is frugal, such as having a staycation or holding on to their 15-year-old car,” Hirshleifer said. “If you’re going to compare yourself to others, try to make it realistic.”