breezewood proving grounds

Finding Deals at Harris Teeter

For the last few months, I had stopped shopping at Harris Teeter. I usually want to find a bargain and stretch our dollars as far as they will go…. and the deals – for me – were elsewhere. I always like to use up my pantry items too… so it was a slow shopping period overall.

Harris Teeter this week has what they call Super Double Coupons… where they will double up to a $2.00 coupon. Yes, that means that a $2.00 coupon will double to $4.00 off! No one else around here even doubles the $1.00 ones, so it’s usually a great “event” for me to participate in! There are limitations, and rules, of course — there always are!

But even I skipped the last two Super Double Events — because usually to make the best deals, the items need to be on sale (already reduced in price) and then the coupon matches and doubles — kind of like a double play. This week they are already out of some of their sale items, and if they are, I always ask for a rain check — hoping somewhere down the line to use them. Their rain checks as far as I know, don’t expire!

This week however I spent yesterday (the day I found out they were offering the Super Doubles) checking and looking through all my coupons. Reading what was on sale and checking with the sites on the web that list what’s on sale each week at the different supermarket chains. From reading all of that, I made my list and organized my coupons. The rules at Harris Teeter include the fact, that you can only use 3 of one type of regular coupon, or 2 of any internet printed coupons per trip, with a limit of 20 coupons per day. You can use more that won’t or can’t double, but the limit for doubling them is 20.

DSC03267Here’s what I was able to get –  3 Bottles of Shampoo or Conditioner (Garnier Fructis), 6 cans of Iams Cat Food, 2 Star Kist Creations, 3 Think Thin Bars, 8 Packages of McCormick Taco Seasoning (this is the only one I have found that uses Potato Starch instead of CORN products… that’s important to me because I am allergic to corn), One InkJoy Pens, 6 Yakisobi Noodles, 3 Containers of Chock Full of Nuts Coffee and one can of Chicken of the Sea Tuna.   Can you guess how much my total was? 

DSC03270YES… that’s right, even with the tax, it was $3.89.  (.82 cents of which was tax!!).  I do have to add a caveat though…  I had a $5.00 credit applied to my Harris Teeter account from a previous error during my last shopping trip.  AND so, maybe because of that….  the cash register wouldn’t accept 2 of my coupons, and I think if it would have, I would have been about the same or less (there was one $2.00 and one $1.00) it just would not take them, and since I was very happy with the overall total, I didn’t press the issue (plus I can use those two tomorrow). 

I want to just say Thank You to Mary over at Sweepingme for encouraging me with all her great CVS shops! I really enjoy reading about her trips and seeing how she stretches her dollars!  I am planning on making a few trips to CVS myself to see if I can do as well!

 

Are you a Cheapskate?

If  just reading the title of this article makes you on edge,  and has you thinking about whether you could be, read on!

I can tell you, although some like to sugar coat being a cheapskate, there are others that defy human understanding when it comes to the term.  I recently watched the “Extreme Cheapstakes” program on TV and had to turn it off because I really couldn’t deal with some of their extreme ways.  I cannot fathom not using toilet paper (one gal didn’t) and I can’t count the times I flush (so I can pay my share of the water bill), or lock up my food so my husband doesn’t get any.  And while in some of those (loosely called) households it was a competition to see who could save the most, or live “happily” without – that’s way beyond my personal comprehension.

All of us could be in one way or another considered a cheapskate at some level – but certainly the majority of us deserve a nicer term to describe the ways we save money on everyday necessities.   And while some of us don’t mind spending whatever it takes on food, cars or movies – but hate spending money on clothes, shoes or dental work, that doesn’t make us a cheapskate at all.

I mention the things in the last paragraph to try and take advantage of hitting a nerve with one or two of you reading this piece.  Thinking about it you might just know that you’d buy the $200 shoes, and forget the 6 month dental cleaning.   Or you’d water down the milk and juice in your house so that you could actually get a 6 pack to take to the Super Bowl party without going over your food budget.  But would you dumpster dive for food at fancy restaurants instead of buying any food,  or would you serve that food to guests?  Some extreme cheapskates would! 

If you ever want to feel better about the crazy things you do, day in and day out to save a few dollars – your hard earned dollars by the way, to use on something else – just watch the show once.  I already feel better about reusing things around here.  And while I thought I did it “to save the environment” or for some other noble reason, I realize I do it because constantly buying new costs more than I want to spend.

And so, even though, I do reuse, repurpose, take things people have given me and use them till there is no life left in them – I now realize I am definitely not a cheapskate.  Are you?

Our Story about Refinancing a Commerical Property

One of the things we really needed to do a while back was to refinance our commercial property. 

Why?  Our current loan had a couple of years left, but the balance of the loan (because of the way the original one was set up) wasn’t taking down the balance of the loan at a fast enough rate.  And while we understand why it had to be written that way at the time – 100% benefiting the lender, there comes a time when you know you are in a better negotiating position and need to move on it.  My family is debt adverse.  We don’t like debt and getting rid of it is very important in the scheme of things.  It doesn’t mean we don’t use it — but we just don’t abuse it.

The reason we took the original loan was because at the time, it was the best (as new investors) we could do, based on what the marketplace was offering, what was needed on the property in question to make it function, and our financial situation.  We were putting 35% down, and it was in a prime location – otherwise we might not have even been considered.

When we approached this refinancing task – the reason was two-fold.  For one, our debt on the property was not going down as fast as we wanted, and we saw that the advantage to the bank was way more than it needed to be.   Second, we had a 10 year commitment on that loan and no matter what – would have to do something in the next few years.  So we took the initiative, and started shopping for a new loan.

There were so many variables to make this deal happen – more than I expected.  I really tried to get to the bottom of those variables with our bank, but it just wasn’t happening.   Suffice it to say, there are secrets that only the select few officers of the bank know and understand. The commercial loan people are not always forthcoming with the “details” and when you think you are ready to sign, some “issue” arises that seems always to be in their favor and is going to cost you extra money. Why does it have to be this way? Why not outline the “obvious” issues upfront and in full before the process gets started…. and why drag your feet on a modification of a loan you already hold?

We started with our current lender — of course.  But we also made sure we went out and got some offers from others – because now the property is both viable, operating, turning a profit and more valuable.  We needed to negotiate the best rate but we now had time, payment history and higher property values on our side of the equation.

Sudley-interior

Which brings me to the variables part again – can you do 5% 12 years? No 5% 8 years and then an adjustment. We can do 4.5% 6 years and then an adjustment. We can do 5.5% 12 years, or 4% 10 years. Before you are done, you are swimming in numbers and variables.   All of these numbers and variables do affect what you will pay a month, how much you will pay in interest, and how long you will have to pay it for (and in some instances, what will be due as a balloon at the end of the term).

We thought we were all set with the 5% for 12 years, after the first meeting with the bank and were given the impression all was fine but they needed to get a new appraisal.  I understand it might be a government regulated necessity, but they did it with an non certified appraiser and his value came in 400K lower than the tax assessment for the land.  We still had a stellar loan to value ratio (even with the low ball assessment) – but we know the appraisal wasn’t done by someone who knew the values of the properties like ours. We have – several times – been offered much more than the appraised value of our property. It’s a money maker, it’s remodeled and it’s in a desirable and amazing location.

We had options. We could have went to another bank, or lender – we could have written a check against the equity loan we have on our home,  we could have  mortgaged our house and used that money,  or we can just simply write a check to make the loan value lower — but none of that was in the plan for this property.

In the end, we had to get actual offers from other institutions, and basically do some hard negotiations with our current lender.  The business that runs from the property generates an enormous cash flow thru their bank each month.  If we move lenders, we will move the cash flow, and remove some of the other monies that we have in their institution.  These factors, often times are a  part of the larger dollar loan agreements.  This bank above any other, had our history of about 7 years of operation and payments to rely on.  They didn’t want to let us “move on”… and we got what we consider to be a great deal.

This process took at least 6 full months to complete.  But, we were able to modify our old loan to be a 5% fixed rate, 12 year loan which at the end of 12 years will pay off this commercial property in full.  Included in that agreement, was the fact that we use them for our banking and will not remove our deposits from their bank.  That’s do-able! 

 

 

Heathcare – It’s So Annoying

Our first blow was that our health care provider (the one we have for our company) sent us a letter saying they would keep the company insured, if instead of continuing in our current policy,  we renewed “early” at only a 4.76% increase in premium.

Our current policy won’t be renewed when it expires next year (because it likely doesn’t comply with the government minimum requirements)  and they wanted us to be on a calendar year, instead of a fiscal one.  They also stated everyone would lose all the dollars they have spent towards their deductibles this year and would have to start over at zero.  To their credit, I do believe that the increase was to cover the government mandated minimums my current plan didn’t already contain.

At first I thought the letter was a “you do this by 12/1/13” or you have no insurance, a non-negotiable statement of fact.  However after talking with my insurance agent, I was advised they had to keep us till the expiration date of our contract, but at that time did not need to offer our company another years plan or services – and of course, the premium could go up more than the 4.76%.

So after approximately 29 years of providing 100% free health care for myself and my employees – we are now going to have to all fend for ourselves after our policy end date next year.   As a small business the cost of providing this care – in these economic times -has become a hardship to the business…. and while it was never cheap, it was a benefit I proudly gave every single employee.  That ends early in 2014 when we all will have to sign up with a government sponsored plan.

Blow two – came when my doctors office informed us that they have signed up with what is called a “concierge” program and in order to be a patient of theirs you have to pay $1800.00 per person per year.  Yes, you read that right.  That’s not fees for services – it’s just to be their patient.  You will still have to pay for visits, pay your deductibles and every other fee that you had previously — this is in addition to those fees.  

Obviously, this is a way to insure they have a certain amount of dollars coming in at all times.  There could be a lot of patients who sign up — they say you will get more time with the Dr. and more care, but I don’t think that’s really going to happen.   And quite honestly I was never happy with their care but it’s so darn hard to find a doctor who is even taking new patients that we “settled” with them.  We have been with that practice 8-10 years,  but I am not signing up because “they” as doctors decided they needed to pad their pockets with $1800 from each and every patient who wants to stay with them. 

Since we usually only go to the doctor once a year, for our “previously” free physical and medicine renewals –  my husband and I would in essence be paying $1800/each for that one visit.  Surely you can see how for us, it’s not even close to worth it.  I feel bad for some who are so connected with serious illnesses or problems that they feel they have to pay – but we don’t and won’t.  So as of January 1, 2014 – we have no providing physician either!

Could this be a trend to the future?  It might be.  I guess we all will just have to wait and see.

How have you been affected by the new healtcare regulations?  Are you losing your coverage?

Recipe Raiders

Today I started to write about those who pilfer recipes from sites and post them on their own sites as originals, or at the very least make NO mention of where the recipe or their idea originated.   Anyone who has ever shared an original recipe knows that can be very annoying –  to see it show up elsewhere after they spent the time, effort and the money to develop that recipe. 

But once I started reading blogs, copyright legalese, and other related articles — I lost my desire to write about any of it.  One topic seemed to lead to another and another on this never ending data supply we call the internet –  so that I started getting confused myself!

My original viewpoint was  — there are too many recipes shared from parents, friends, and pot luck suppers over the years — that not every recipe you think is original or “from your own mom” is actually that!  And maybe a word or two about common ingredients used to make certain items,  and that being unique in ingredients or execution may be harder than you think. 

Recipes are all over the web.  There are thousands of good sites containing all sorts of recipes, and using all sorts of ingredients.  Some of them measure like a chef in grams and pounds and others go by our standard method of a cup and a tablespoon.  You will, if you look, see the gambit in terms of ingredients, combinations and even techniques.  But certain sauces, pastries, meringues, and even some cooking methodologies have specific names attributed to them because they use the same ingredients or procedure time after time to achieve the desired result….and yet, even those are recipes someone, somewhere originally devised.

These are all pictures of some of my breads.
These are all pictures of some of my breads.

Recently some actual recipe developers complained about their recipes being copied, stolen, or used on a “well known” blog without their permission.  And it made me seriously wonder why the blog would do that (knowingly or not) and why the original author didn’t just send a note — thanking them for making and sharing their dish and asking they add a line or two from where the recipe originated. Wouldn’t that just solve the problem?

Yes and No.  And therein lies the dilemma and that’s why I wanted to stop writing about this subject.  I like things black and white, not grey.  While a baker, cook or recipe developer may think that they originally made that recipe and it belongs to them to distribute, authorize or use — what if it doesn’t?  Who makes that call?  What if 40 years ago it was published somewhere and their grandmother found it, made it and then it eventually got passed down — doesn’t it still belong to the original cookbook author  — and how is one to know?  Grandma might be long gone and there isn’t anyone else who really does know.  You could be sure that your dish is unique, but it’s still possible it’s not.

So, while I am not a lawyer and this is definitely not any legal advice — I will just quote the actual US copyright law** with regard to recipes.

Mere listings of ingredients as in recipes, formulas, compounds, or prescriptions are not subject to copyright protection. However, when a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection.

Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author’s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form. Copyright protection does not extend to names, titles, short phrases, ideas, systems, or methods.

But that doesn’t end the discussion.  The real discussion actually just starts there.  And so after reading about 20 different articles about this subject – I still feel that most recipes are not subject to being copyrighted.  I do believe some may (though there are formidable obstacles) but most are not. 

What seems to be clear to me (and again this is not legal advice, and I am not a lawyer) is that while the list of ingredients and way of preparation (divide into quarters, add the butter to the boiling milk, etc)  is not protected …. the way in which you actually did it, the extra flourishes, your descriptions, your expressions of your unique style and also your photographs are subject to copyright protection.

Clear a mud, right?  That’s how I felt.  And so, just as an aside to anyone who might see this – do yourself a favor – do your own descriptions, do your own photographs, add/subtract and make a recipe your own, but also take a minute to give credit to whomever you got the inspiration from — be it your long gone grandmother, your dinner club, or a specific chef, author or blogger.  If you don’t know …. maybe a word about that might also help them know your intention was not to pilfer their work.  

Some of my homemade soups.
Some of my homemade soups.

 I saw a cookbook recently that had several recipes I have been using for years.  I know that these recipes (shared from my relatives and friends) were not the original work of this author.  I don’t know where they actually originated and likely neither does the author (because saying this is Aunt Mary’s recipe may or may not be actually truthful) — but just because she has now published them into a book — the recipes are still not hers to claim.  The book however and it’s design, format, and contents are unique, copyrighted and hers.

For more information …. **Copyright Information – Main:  http://www.copyright.gov/  Recipes: http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl122.html

**Disclosure, I am not a lawyer and this article does not contain any legal advice, you need to consult with someone much more knowledgeable on this subject if you have a question about copyright laws.  I was not compensated in anyway for this article and the content and opinions are 100% mine.