Monday, May 31, 2010

Twenty Things I Do to Save Money


I correspond with writer and astrologer Anita Sands from Los Angeles. She challenged me to list ten things I do to save money, and then sent me her ten tips. I got a little nuts and told her, ten will get you twenty. So here are mine. When I get her permission to post her ten tips I will do that. BUT FIRST! Here are just a couple links to her AMAZING huge gargantuan website full of advice for living frugally, finding luck in love, becoming a screenwriter, and all sorts of other goodies:
Gardening, or why you should have no grass in the yard
Start a side business as an artisan
Finding luck in love, for the ladies

OK! Here are my 20 tips

1. I do most of my laundry in a bucket and hang it dry. I've been known to use homemade laundry soap too. It's a bit of a pain to grate the Fels Naptha though.
2. I bring my own meals and coffee or tea to work. I cook big pots of food about once a week, saving prep time.
3. I have completely stopped my former habit of eating at fast food joints all the time. I also used to go for sushi, I stopped that too.
4. I buy "reduced" meat and produce, it's usually still fine. Sometimes this requires me to make a lot of a certain dish. You have to prepare something pretty much right away with reduced foods.
5. I have a 2 family with the other apt. and a roommate paying me rent so my share of the "rent" is miniscule when I have full occupancy. But then I have to do all the repairs, pay the water bill, etc.
6. I shop for building repair supplies at a salvage/recycling place. $10 vitreous sinks! 10 cent cabinet handles! Tile for 10 cents a square foot!
7. I grow my own tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, taters, herbs, grapes, apples and I forage for edible plants too. Also saves on gym membership and mowing. Speaking of which, I recommend buying your mowers used/reconditioned from a lawn mower man, and learning how to maintain your own mower.
8. I get my plants (flowers and vegies) real cheap, free, or for trade, save seeds, maintain a compost heap.
9. When I know what I'm doing (only then!) I represent myself pro se in court. When I don't know what I'm doing I get a lawyer. I do my own evictions and I did my own divorce using a kit.
10. Even though I'm a bookkeeper I use a CPA for my taxes (I have complicated taxes). He costs me hundreds but saves me thousands.
11. I make and sell soap. See here for Sudsorific.comI keep the misshapen ones. I'd have to say that making soap is no way to save money over store bought, unless you also sell some. Now if you like to buy handcrafted soap, with what it usually costs, then making your own would be a discount.
12. I use my tax number to shop at a restaurant supply shop, and get my oils for soap there and also food in bulk for wicked cheap. I get "pomace" olive oil, which is the lowest grade. That doesn't mean it's bad. It's basically what you get when you press the olives a second time. I make sure it's only made of olive oil. Some of that "pomace" is actually a blend, you have to read the can. Then I cook with some of it too. You can't get pomace at the grocery store, generally.
13. I have learned how to fix houses, including simple plumbing and wiring, cement, tile, drywall, painting, etc. So I do most of my own repairs. For the hard stuff I hire a cheap but competent handyman. Those are like gold. Then I help him and learn more!
14. I shop in thrift stores. But only when I need something. I don't shop for fun either, not even in the thrift store. I hate malls, too. (shudder)
15. I don't watch TV hardly at all. I don't believe in cable. The idea of paying for TV is ridiculous to me. I also really don't read magazines too much either. Therefore I don't covet fashion and the lifestyle that TV touts as "normal middle class", that the real normal middle class actually can't afford.
16. Sometimes I cruise around on trash night looking for treasures. Or when I was in real estate, sometimes there'd be lots of junk in a house I bought. I've found cast iron cookware brand new, Oriental rugs, furniture, tools, building supplies, you name it. Much of my furniture and rugs I got for free this way. I still have a pair of red Keds sneakers that fit me that I got in a fixer house I bought. I told people they were $27K sneakers that came with a free house.
17. If I buy books, I pick them up at the thrift store or library sales and then try to sell them online when I'm done with them. Mostly though, I get them from the library, take notes, and return them.
18. I use the cheap shampoo. There is really no difference between cheap and expensive. I once knew a chemist who used bar soap on his hair. His hair looked fine. He said there really wasn't much difference between soap and shampoo except price. Well, there is a chemical difference, but they work the same.
19. I use cheap hand cream, also on my face, as there is really not that much difference in hand or face creams either. All those extra fancy ingredients are essentially just there for marketing.
20. My budget for Xmas is around $20. I decorate my potted citrus tree, and give used books, my soap, other handicrafts, food, or some of the nicer thrift store finds (i.e. sometimes they have things that are new with tag still on) for gifts. Last year, however, my BF wanted a specific new book from online so I spent a bunch extra on that. I still spent way less than $100 total. I have done away with Xmas lights, as they raised my electric bill by $25 the last time I used them. I suppose the new LED ones might be lighter on the energy bill. One time I had no money at all and housemates with small kids, so I made a “castle” out of cardboard boxes for them. Once I saw a 10 foot tall dinosaur made from cardboard boxes. That was cool.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Edible plants in my flower garden!


About the plants in my flower garden. Unbeknownst to me most were edible or at least medicinal. A few were not.

Monarda/Bee Balm/Bergamot: Bergamot Tea is good for stomachache.

Day lily - The flowers are edible. They may be diuretic or laxative in large quantities, so don't pig out on them.

Evening Primrose: The whole plant is edible. An oil made from the seeds is supposed to be good for hormonal balance. You can eat the leaves as greens. Put the flowers in your salad. Tea made from the roots is good for obesity. The roots can also be cooked and eaten like potatoes. This was a Native American staple.

Yarrow – the leaves were used to staunch wounds. Tea is a mild sedative.

Monkey Grass - The Chinese use its tuber to clear heat and irritability in the major organs of the body. It is the cardinal herb for yin deficiency. It's calming, and is also good for coughs. To prepare it, dig up the tubers in the summer and cut off any stringy roots off them, then dry the tubers and pulverize. Make tea out of the powder. Ophiopogon japonicus – make sure you don't really have mondo grass, which is different. The stuff you want has a serrated edge.

Irises – you can turn the root into a powder and soak it in alcohol to make a perfume. Not edible. Iris pallida (grows in Croatia) makes orris root powder which was used for diarrhea – but it's pretty toxic so don't.

Wild Ginger - The stems and roots of the Wild Ginger were used by early settlers as a substitute for the tropical ginger. The Indians used the root to staunch wounds and as a decoction to induce sweating and break a fever. The root was also used for respiratory problems.

Sedum – I have this small kind with yellow flowers. Don't know what kind it is. It's probably inedible. There is one variety that can be used as a salad herb, but it doesn't look like mine.

Live Forever (Sedum purpureum) Salad, cooked green, cooked vegetable, pickle. The young leaves can be added to salads or boiled for 5-10 min. The crisp tubers can be boiled for 20 min. and served with butter, or pickled in seasoned vinegar

Bishops Weed - (Aegopodium podagraria) leaves edible as a pot herb or salad herb until it flowers, then it becomes a laxative and tastes funny. I wish I didn't have this in my garden, it took over my irises in one bed and choked out my mint in another and it's impossible to get rid of. Even the smallest part of a root, if you leave it behind, turns into another plant. And it spreads like mad. Oh well. Next spring you can bet I'll be eating a lot of this to keep it under control.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hobo Wine


Here's my fave hobo wine recipe!

Ingredients:
2 frozen juices from the supermarket, like grape, white grape, white grape and peach, grape and raspberry, apple, etc.
NOT ORANGE JUICE!
2 cups white sugar
1 gal. water, in a gallon jug
1 packet wine yeast (can use bread yeast instead)

Equipment:
The plastic jug your water came in
Air lock or balloon
Plastic flexible tube to use as siphon (hardware store)
5 used wine bottles OR another clean water gallon jug
Some corks. Or use twist top wine bottles and save the tops. If you can't find corks, cut a candle into some 1 inch slices and use that as corks.
A big pot
A funnel
Bleach

Take the water and the sugar and boil them for 10 minutes. Take off heat.
Add the frozen juice.
Wait until mixture is cool enough not to burn your finger when you dip it in.
Soak the funnel and the air lock in bleach water and rinse.
Transfer mixture back into the gallon jug using the funnel.
Pour the yeast into the jug. Put the cap back on.
Shake the jug good.
Take off the cap and put on the air lock or balloon.
If you have no air lock or balloon, screw the top back on LOOSELY and this will probably work, though you run a higher risk of getting a vinegar bug.
Wait at least 3 weeks, or until the stuff stops fermenting. Either your air lock will quit bubbling or your balloon will deflate.

Soak your old wine bottles and your siphon tube in bleach water. Rinse.
Siphon off ("Rack") the wine into the bottles, taking care not to put the muck at the bottom into the new bottles. Cap the bottles.

Sometimes it's wise to wait an additional week before drinking the wine. You can test it to make sure.

If you drink it before it's ready it will taste like old rubber tires. If you wait till it's ready it will be really tasty.

I would upgrade the equipment/ingredients by using old gallon wine jugs, and wine yeast, an airlock, and tasting corks from a brew supply house.

You also don't need to rack your wine, you can pour it straight from the jug you fermented it in into your glass, but near the end of your jug you will get a lot of cloudy crud from the bottom.

I figured out that the cost is about $6 or $7 per gallon, and you get 5 bottles out of it. Less than 2 Buck Chuck!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Use a Land Trust to Buy a House with No Credit


You can use a land trust to buy a house with no (or bad) credit, by paying on the seller's existing mortgage without having to qualify to assume the loan with his lender. If you can negotiate that you don't pay the seller a down payment, then you have a house for no down payment with no credit. In fact, if the house needs any repairs, you might be able to get the seller to pay a few months' payments for you while you fix it.

You can also use a land trust to hide your identity from the land records.
You can also use it to dodge a lawsuit (for a little while anyway).
You can also use it to avoid probate when you die (on that property, anyway).


Here is basically how a land trust works:

The first land trust was invented by Julius Caesar. He was going away to fight a war and wanted his friend to mind his property for him. So he drew up this document that said his friend was holding the property "in trust" for him for the time he was in the war. The friend had total control over the property, but the property still belonged to Julius. The control was to revert back to Julius when he got back.

So, that being said, the land trust is in the US also sometimes called an Illinois land trust. There are 3 parties to a land trust. There is the trustor, the trustee, and the beneficiary. The trustor is the guy who owns the land at first. The trustee is the guy who the trustor trusts to control the property. The beneficiary is the guy who ultimately receives the benefits of the property.

These three can all be the same person! Or they could be different people.

For example, Paw has a house he wants to leave to his kid but doesn't want it going thru his estate. So Paw puts the house in a trust. To do this, he draws up a trust agreement and a deed from Paw to the trust. But in the trust agreement he makes Sonny Boy the beneficiary upon Paw's death. Maybe Paw wants to retain complete control over the trust himself, so he makes himself the trustee. Or maybe he wants Cousin Cletus to be the trustee, because he has a different last name and he doesn't want his own name on the house anymore. Since Paw is still the beneficiary until he dies, he controls Cousin Cletus. He can "fire" him and get another trustee if he needs to at a moment's notice. Cousin Cletus cannot dispose of the property in any way not specifically granted to him by the trust agreement. If he did, he'd be in big trouble. So Paw can still live there, Cletus can't sell the house out from under him, and Sonny Boy gets the house when Paw dies and the property doesn't need to go through Paw's estate.

Paw could also still sell the house if he wants to later. He would have to get Cousin Cletus to come to the closing and sign the papers.

Or take the example of a real estate investor wanting to buy a house, and control its ownership but not put it in his own name. Say Joe Deadbeat owns the house and wants to sell it to Irving Investor. So Irving (or his lawyer) prepares a land trust for Joe. He calls it the Joe Deadbeat Land Trust, or he could call it anything really. Anyway, he makes up this trust agreement for Joe to sign and a deed from Joe to the trust. He also makes up a document transferring the beneficial interest in the trust from Joe to Irving. Maybe because he doesn't want his name on the property he makes his Cousin Cletus the trustee. (hey, this Cletus is a busy guy!)

When the deed to the trust is recorded, in both cases the land records show the property as being in the name of Cousin Cletus, Trustee. Maybe Cletus is the trustee for a whole bunch of people's trusts. Cletus isn't the actual owner of any of this property but his name appears on the land records as trustee. If Irving's house has a crumbling front porch and gets a building order from the building department, they have to find Cletus and give it to him. But that doesn't make Cletus personally responsible. He's just the trustee. But Cletus has a duty to tell Irving about the building order.

Having property in a trust has other benefits for you if you might get sued.If someone slips and falls on Irving's property, and they're going to sue, he can quickly fire Cletus and get another trustee, say his other cousin Jed from out of state, but not tell Cletus who the new guy is, and the plaintiff looks in the land records and sees Cletus. So in the deposition they ask Cletus if he is the trustee and he'll say no, I was fired, and then they'll ask him who the new guy is and he'll say he doesn't know. Then it'll take them a long time to find out who to serve. It'll buy time for Irving to figure out what to do. They can't sue Irving personally either, even if they know he's the beneficiary. It's not his property. It's the trust's property. They have to sue the trust. So even if they get a judgment, they can't put it on all of Irving's properties, only on that one.

Buying property in a trust can let you take over someone else's mortgage without bank approval. Now if Irving wants to take over Joe's mortgage (i.e. buy the house SUBJECT TO the existing mortgage), he can. Banks have a due-on-sale clause in most mortgages, where they can call the mortgage due if someone sells the house. This was established in the Gramm-Leach-Blyley Act in the 1980's that they can do this. The exception to this law is when the owner of the house puts it into a trust for estate planning purposes. The beauty of Irving's situation is nobody can tell the difference between it and Paw's situation.

The deed is a matter of public record, but the trust agreement is not, nor is the transfer of beneficial interest. So Irving gets a bank account in the name of the trust and has Cletus pay the mortgage with it. He has Joe sign a letter he made up to the bank saying, I have put this house in a trust, please send the mortgage statements to Cousin Cletus, Trustee. The bank doesn't care, as long as they're getting paid. Now if the bank finds out that the beneficial interest was transferred, they might care. Just don't tell them. Don't lie if they ask, but don't volunteer the info!

Buying subject-to keeps you from personal liability on the mortgage. Now, if Irving screws up and doesn't pay Joe's mortgage, the bank will come after Joe and the trust. Irving doesn't get sued personally. The papers are served on Joe, who signed the note, and Cousin Cletus, Trustee because that's who is in the land records. Cletus himself is not personally liable, he's only the trustee. But poor Joe's credit gets ruined. Irving has a karmic duty to pay that mortgage, but that's about it.

Unfortunately even if Irving keeps up the payments, if Joe wants to get a new mortgage somewhere else, he may not qualify because the old loan is still showing up in his credit report, and it whacks his debt-to-income ratio. The way around this is for Irving to give Joe some proof that the trust has income - from renting out the place, for example. (like a copy of a lease). Joe can then show this to his lender and it may make it so Joe can get that loan.

So there's land trusts and subject-to in a nutshell.

If there are any loan officers out there who know whether showing rental income on a property you put into a trust will still boost your income in the eyes of a lender, please comment here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

More Wild Urban Edibles


I forgot a few plants last time. Mostly trees. Here they are!

Linden – Linden trees are often part of streetscapes. The sap, flowers, leaves, and fruit are edible. The flowers can be made into a tea which has calming properties. They also smell very nice. The flower looks sort of like a light green skinny leaf with fuzzy flowers. You harvest both the flowers and this light green leaf thing and that is what you make tea out of.

The leaves, if young, can be eaten in a salad. If they are older, they can be dried and ground up into a flour. They can also be added to stews as a green and/or thickener.

The fruit, when immature, tastes like chocolate, especially if you also add a few dried flowers to it. When mature, you can grind it up to make a coffee substitute. (This “chocolate” does not keep very long, however, so don’t try to put it by.)

The sap can be turned into a cordial, or you can brew it into a sort of mead.

Incidentally, the wood of the linden is GREAT for carving. It has almost no grain and is easy to carve and sand. Lots of European church fixtures/statues were carved in linden. It also makes good guitar tops. The tree has much folklore regarding its magical properties.

The bark of the linden is very stringy and was made into rope for rigging on Viking ships.

Ginkgo – Of course the leaves can be made into a tea, which is supposed to be good for your thinking and memory. The nut of the ginkgo can also be roasted or pickled in brine and eaten. They taste a little like chestnuts. Ginkgos are male or female, and most urban areas will have male plants only. This is because the fruit around the nut smells like barf when it is ripe! Still, you might find a female ginkgo here and there. Maybe the owner of the tree (or their neighbors!) would appreciate you removing its smelly fruit for them.

Elder – The flowers can be eaten in a salad, or made into a sort of beer, or even a soda. They have a natural yeastlike quality, but I would still recommend adding yeast anyway. The berries can be made into jam or wine. You don’t want to get very many stems into your wine. One way to get rid of the stems fast is to put the berries in water. One will sink and the other float. Another is to roll the berries down an improvised ramp. The stems will remain behind because they don’t roll.

Oak, again – I already wrote about acorn flour, but young, small oak leaves can also be eaten in a salad.

Pine – We all know about pine nuts, but the cambium, or inner bark, of the pine, especially the white pine and the Scotch pine, is edible. You can dry it out in a low oven and make a flour out of it, or boil it, maybe with a piece of meat. It’s not supposed to be very tasty, but it is nutritious. You can also take the cambium and brew a cough syrup. The needles can be brewed into a tea which has a lot of Vitamin C and a good amount of Vitamin A. The new shoots of the white pine can be peeled and candied.

Maple – In addition to maple syrup, you can also eat the seeds either raw or roasted. The cambium of the maple is also edible, if you make it into a flour.

Baobab – This is for you Californians! The leaves, fruit (including seeds) and roots of the baobab tree are edible.

Redbud – The flowers and young leaves are edible.

Thistle – The roots of the thistle can be eaten raw or cooked. You can also peel the stems and boil them. It’s also good for making twine.

Milkweed – You can eat the shoots, the flowers before they flower and are just buds, the flowers themselves, and the immature pods. The stems are also good for making twine.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Edible Urban Wild Plants


All around you are urban wild plants that you can eat. Some of these are more nutritious than the produce in the grocery store!

Dandelions: little, young leaves are good in salads, older leaves you'd probably want to boil because they get bitter. The petals of the flowers can make dandelion wine. Basically you make a tea out of the petals (best to cut off the white part at the bottom, it's bitter), then you add sugar, and then yeast (when it's cooled down), and it turns into wine. Also you can dry the roots out and make tea from them, the same way chicory root is used to extend coffee.

Chicory: Use the dried root to extend coffee (or substitute for it). This is that tall plant that the leaves look a little like a dandelion with branches, but it has blue daisy-like flowers.

Violets: the flowers can be candied (boil in sugar water, then spread out to dry). The leaves have a TON of Vitamin A, but you don't want to eat a whole lot of them, for the same reason.

Purslane: this is the sidewalk-crack-growing stuff that looks like a scrappy jade tree with red stems. This stuff is GREAT raw, in salads. Foodies like a version that has bigger leaves, but why pay for something that's just growing wild?

Lamb's Quarter: this plant grows in poor soil or sidewalk cracks. It has a spinach-leaf shaped leaf, but only about 1.5 to 2 inches long. The underside of the leaves is silver. It's in the spinach family and is more nutritious than spinach. If you let it, the plant will get taller than you.

Poke: this is the tall bushy weed with big leaves and the column of black, blueberry-sized berries on a red stem. If you know where a poke plant grows, you can get its leaves when they're young, i.e. before it makes those berries. The leaves are good boiled.

Mulberry Trees: The berries make a good pie. Soak them in salt water to get the bugs out, then rinse them off before making the pie. There is a white mulberry as well as a black one. The white ones look funny but taste like the black ones.

Day Lilies: The flowers are edible. Don't get mixed up with irises! Irises are poisonous.

Cat Tails: the roots and the young catkins are edible.

Wood Sorrel: This is that shamrock-looking plant with the yellow flowers that grows in poor soil. The leaves are sour. You can make a cream soup with this, or just add some to a salad for zing.

Paw Paw: This tree grows in the woods. It is skinnier and shorter than the big trees. The fruit of a paw paw looks like a green and brown, lumpy mini potato and has big black seeds in it. It tastes a little like banana custard. The fruit goes ripe pretty much all at once and doesn't keep, so you have to be out at the right time (fall sometime) to get any. I'm including this one even though I'm trying to stick to an urban setting, because sometimes you have parks with woods and you might have these trees there.

Raspberry: Well, duh. But the leaves are also good for making tea. Raspberry leaf is often used as the backbone of an herbal tea, and it's good for women.

Clover: The leaf makes a good tea. The petals of the pink ones are sweet.

Crabapples: You can make a jelly from them.

Rose Hips: Also duh. You can make tea or jam from them. I guess you can eat them raw if you like really sour things. They have a lot of Vitamin C.

Acorns: To make flour, you shell them, then grind them up with water to make a mush (use blender), then rinse the mush (while encased in a cloth) until it's not bitter anymore. Then you dry it out and voila! Flour! I found a good step by step instructions at http://www.ramshacklesolid.com/2008/09/making-acorn-flour.html. You can mix it half and half with regular flour to make pancakes, etc.

Kudzu: Most of the plant is edible. The leaves can be eaten like spinach, and the flowers are also edible. The root is the best part though: you can dry it out and pulverize it and use it like a starch.

Chives: Some people's lawns have wild chives growing in them. They taste like - Chives! (duh) You can tell them because they look like grass only round, and they're usually darker and a little taller than the surrounding grass.

Wild Carrot: Apparently this plant (also known as Queen Anne's Lace) has an edible root. BUT I'd say DON'T TRY IT because it looks like HEMLOCK, which of course is poisonous! There's plenty of other edibles that are easily identifiable.

I am sure I've forgotten something important and obvious, but there's at least some plants to look out for.