Reclaiming a Dream

Our grandparents and great-grandparents had a dream. As they toiled each day at a variety of jobs, raised families, worked in the home and on the farms, they dreamed of retirement. So vivid was their dream, they made it a reality by putting into place a plan in w hich they could stop working after a particular age. They saw themselves as enjoying life in the later years, a reward for all they’d done during the previous years of their lives. And, up until fairly recently, the dream was a reality.

The recent economic decline caused the fog to clear on that dream and for the rose colored glasses to come off. No more would the age of 65 mean retirement, but rather it would mean continuing to work. However, the problem with the dream didn’t happen overnight and didn’t have its start with the current economic slump.

Most retirees counted on social security. In the beginning, this was fine. It worked. However, as families had less children and the workforce was not replaced as evenly as before, the first inkling of trouble rose its head. Then, inflation, the economy, and the increase in the average life span finished it off.

I can remember as a child hearing about the lack of social security by the time I reached retirement age, so people knew well before now that something wasn’t working correctly for retirement. I’ve watched the age for retirement rise several times in the last few decades and realize the reason: it is an attempt to rebalance the system.

Consider the group approaching retirement now and part of the problem becomes clear. The baby boomers, one of the largest groups in the workforce, have reached the golden years. However, many of those baby boomers had very small families, so the number of people to fill their shoes doesn’t match the number of people preparing for retirement.

Now let’s see what this economic crisis has done to further help the loss of retirement by 65. Many would be retirees have seen a dramatic decrease in their 401(k) and pension plans as companies have faltered to stay afloat. There are a great number of companies that folded, taking with them the dreams of retirement.

This adds to another difficulty: unemployment for many of the younger crowd since a large faction of the people at retirement age no longer have the funds to retire.

So, now that the problems are laid out, what can be done about them? Those wishing to retire can take solace in the fact that working later does not have to be a terrible thing at all. If they love what they do or at least like what they do, then those who continue to work in the golden years can remain active and maintain the lifestyles they’ve grown accostumed to over the years. For those who are waiting to enter the work force, this little glitch in the plan has a silver lining as well. Find what interests and then learn to do it.

Many jobs that are available require a degree as they involve fields that can’t be learned on the job. Technology is one of these and is growing at a fast pace. Taking the time to get a degree may be the bridge to having jobs open up that are currently unavailable.

No matter the group you belong to, though, there are a few things you should consider. In order to find the dream of retirement again, you must establish a savings plan and follow a budget for long term security. This means living on the frugal side in order to rebuild or build nest eggs. In the long term, saving for the future is the only true method of attaining retirement, for any age group. Invest carefully and wisely. Don’t jump into anything without a bit of research and knowledge of all risks involved.

Preserving Your Budget

The economy took a dive in recent months and millions felt the result as jobs were lost and incomes decreased dramatically. Then, we had a presidential election and Obama took office. He immediately pushed through a recovery plan spanning more than 1,000 pages in length.

Since then, we’ve seen the big 3 car dealers struggle to stay in business with the help of thousands of dollars in bail-out money, the banks struggle to regain balances in finance and a slow recovery of the stock markets. All of this leaves us in a place where we are still seeing a recessive trend, but the degree of that trend is beginning to take an upward movement.

So, what does that mean for the rest of us? The general population?

Not much, in the reality of things. Jobs are still hard to come by, prices are still rising, and the cost of living is still more than some people can afford. While it won’t last forever as most things do come to an end, it does make it difficult for the average family to continue supporting themselves in the manner they’ve become accustomed.

A simple trip to the gas station or grocery store will give you a very good picture of what the economy really is for the average family. So far, the gas price has raised again this year to almost three dollars a gallon. This is down from last year’s four dollar price tag, but tell that to the masses who no longer have jobs due to downsizing.

The average cost of groceries has also increased, making it harder for people to afford to eat healthy. What has remained budget friendly on the grocery aisles are foods high in calories, fat, carbohydrates and cholestrol. Yet, as a society we are told to eat better to combat an increasing problem with obesity. Short of growing your own food supply, there really isn’t much that can be done…or is there?

Years ago, when grandmothers were mothers, there weren’t convienence foods prepackaged on the shelves ready to eat or to heat. Instead, food was prepared from scratch from a few basic ingredients. Yes, it took more time. But, it can be worthwhile to return to the days of our grandmothers when it comes to preparing affordable meals.

Instead of cooking each night, it is possible to prepare meals for the week in one day. Then, simply freeze the meals for later use. Microwave when ready to eat.

Resurrect the caserole. This staple of of hodge-podge ingredients is a great way to stretch a dollar. Besides being able to fill it with a variety of great foods, the combinations are quite tasty and filling. It can be made from leftovers as well as fresh ingredients. Each time a caserole is made, it is, by nature, different. Therefore, it is a dish that one can use without getting tired of eating it.

Even better, when making pre-made meals, freeze individual portions. this way, you don’t end up with a ton of leftovers in the fridge and you are less likely to overeat if you have to prepare another full portion.

Try baking slightly bruised fruit, such as apples, or stuffing slightly bruised tomatoes instead of throwing these away. Bruises won’t necessarily spoil fruit immediately. This gives you some wiggle room in what gets eaten and what gets thrown in the garbage, saving you money in the process.

Don’t go to the store without checking for coupons. This means searching store ads, newspaper, and online sources. I’ve found that I can locate coupons on the Internet for just about anything I’d like to buy. In fact, I’ve even gone out to eat at very nice restaurants for free due to a coupon I found on the internet.

Use gift cards. Sites like Restaurant.com sell gift cards at hugely discounted rates that allow you to dine for a fraction of the price. For instance, it’s possible to purchase a $75 gift card for about $35 depending on the special the site has at the time. Sometimes, you can get them even cheaper.

Basically, with a little help from the internet, a bit of ingenuity, the current economic conditions do not have to directly affect the way you live your life. There are ways around the money-crunch while the economy continues on the road to recovery.

Cleaning Without Breaking the Bank

As I sat around the house today after spending most of the morning cleaning up after the family, I got to thinking about how we clean. Today, we have so many options to choose from when we peruse a website or a store for cleaning supplies. There are products for just about every single job and every little cleaning task seems to require a different cleaner to get the job done right.

When I realized what the implications of this simple fact were, I comprehended just what it could do to a pocketbook in short order. This little bit of information had me longing for yesteryear when things were simpler. With the economy continuing to struggle in the middle of a slump, the last thing I usually have money for is cleaning supplies. In fact, most of the time, there isn’t money for a lot of other things either.

This is resounded in countless of American homes in a time when unemployment is rising and gaining new means of income is getting harder by the hour. Yet, we all want our homes to be clean and to reflect at least some semblance of normalcy when nothing else is stable in the world around us. How to combat the cost of living and cleaning when incomes don’t match what they once were is of utmost importance.

Therefore, instead of continuing the series I have planned on green living, I decided to take today to give some tips on how to clean economically while managing a budget as well. Some of these ideas are tried and tested by generations long gone and others are ideas I have used or that my neighbors have been kind enough to share with me.

I’ve mentioned and many readers have suggested the wonderful properties household white vinegar holds in the realm of cleaning. This is truly a standby from the past that works as well or better than commercial brands.

Plants are the best (and one of the cheapest) air fresheners around. Not only do they lend a subtle scent to the room, they also clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen for us to breathe.

Vanilla isn’t just a great spice to cook with in the kitchen. I love to place shallow dishes of vanilla under the couch and in one corner of the room out of the way to lend a touch of old fashioned charm to my home.

Club soda is great for removing stains from carpets and curtains. It’s gentle and very inexpensive to use. Just rub it into the spot and blot dry. While it won’t work on really set in stains, it’s a lifesaver for fresh ones.

Baking soda
set about in the refrigerator and sprinkled on cat litter boxes can do wonders for the scent of those areas. It absorbs odor and neutralizes them so no unpleasant smells linger. I also sprinkle my trash cans with this.

Salt and lemon juice make a great scouring compound that not only smells good but removes a lot of grime easily. Just use gloves as the acidic juice can be murder on the hands. Also, salt will sting any cut, no matter how small.

Newspapers make great window rags and clean stainless steel well too. The shine left behind won’t show signs of lint as some other paper products will and it gives another use to the stack of papers that lay around after reading the news.

Old t-shirts too stained or torn for wear are wonderful cloths to use for dusting. They won’t leave lint behind and they won’t scratch delicate surfaces.

Those unmated socks also have other uses. I love to use them as wash mitts for the dishes. I just turn them inside out and wash as I would with any other cloth.

If your looking to keep the heat or the cold inside your house, you can use old socks filled with rice. These effectively keep drafts from entering or escaping areas you don’t want them in. These also double as great heating pads when warmed in the microwave and placed wherever you have need of a little heat.

When vacuuming, I prefer to use generic vacuum cleaner bags rather than name brand. The performance is no different than the pricier brands and the cost difference is significant.

I also choose hepa type filters as these meet my needs just as well as true hepa filters which are more expensive This saves on my pocketbook and still gives me a clean home.

For most items, soap and water is still the best way to go. I use these simple items to clean walls and cabinets. I use only hot water with a bit of bleach added for mopping my floors and for cleaning toilets and bathtubs. Both of these are cheap and easy to use. Just remember that the bleach has to be diluted with the water and it doesn’t take much. One part bleach to 10 parts water will clean quite nicely without a strong bleach smell. Ammonia can be used the same way, but must be diluted.

It is also very important to note never to mix bleach and ammonia. The results can be deadly. Before you mix any cleaners to make a stronger one of your own, be sure to check the components. If either of these is present, do not mix it! The odorous gas mixing bleach and ammonia together is toxic and will burn your lungs.

If ever in doubt, use plain soap and water. It worked for generations past and it will work for you today. Otherwise, try some of these tips out for yourself and send your tips in on how to clean around the house without spending a fortune. I’d love to hear how you manage the best of both worlds.