Tag Archives: Tips

Money Woes

Money Woes

There is a saying, “Money makes the world go around” ~ and it does in the sense that it is the currency that our world operates by. Money is part of our day-to-day lives. It changes hands daily for goods and services. We buy items at stores … we buy food at restaurants … we buy gasoline for our cars … we pay our bills. Like numerous other businesses, Tracy Helps You provides a service to our clients, and we get paid for those services. For payment, we accept checks or cash.

Earlier this week, I got a crash course on being on the receiving end of several counterfeit twenty dollar bills. Like many people, I pay most of my household bills online. It’s simple and convenient – schedule the amount and the date, click OK, and you are done. Except, that I forgot about an annual insurance payment that is taken directly from my account each year. Not a big deal … I just had to deposit more money into the account before the bill payments cleared. I also forgot that the banks aren’t open on Labor Day, so I did the next best thing. I counted out $300 in twenty dollar bills (counted out 15 bills, checked 3 times), put them with the deposit slip into a sealed envelope and put them in my banks “night deposit” vault.

Tuesday afternoon, I signed into my online banking to just make sure that all the payments and the deposit went smoothly. I’m glad I did, because instead of a $300 deposit pending, there was a $240 deposit pending. I made a trip to our local bank branch and was informed that 3 of the $20 that were in my envelope were counterfeit bills and were being sent to the Secret Service. To say that I was shocked would be huge understatement.

They explained that they confiscate the bad bills and sent them off to the Secret Service for verification, and that I basically just lost $60. She advised me to check out their website to learn more about how to spot a counterfeit bill and what to do if you find one.

So, I went home and spent a couple of hours learning about counterfeit money. I encourage you to please take some time and learn for yourself … here is the website www.secretservice.gov. Just click the Investigation drop-down menu toward the top of the page and then click on “Know Your Money”. It takes you to a PDF file showing all the safety features that are incorporated into each denomination of US currency.

The reason for me telling you all of this is to share my unfortunate experience and to pass along some knowledge to hopefully prevent you from having a similar experience.

Tips from a Pet Sitter

5 Tips When Hiring a Pet Sitter / House Sitter

Hope these Tips “help” when you are choosing the person you will be hiring to care for your pets and home while you are away.

  1. Always meet with the pet sitter in your home. Watch how they interact with your pet and how your pet interacts with them. Be alert for any hints that it may not be a good match … animals are usually a pretty good judge of character 🙂
  2. Before you leave town, make sure to write the pet sitter a note with all the pertinent details that you had previously discussed. It will be good for them to have the instructions to refer back to while you are away.
  3. Leave contact information for the vet, as well as, for someone local (like a neighbor or nearby family member) they can call in case of an emergency.
  4. Remember to write down important codes / passwords for the pet sitter (like for the garage door, TV & wifi) to use during their time of taking care of your pets and home.
  5. Let the pet sitter know if you have other services scheduled to take place while you are gone (like the housekeeper comes around 2 on Thursdays … or … someone is coming to power wash the deck at 10 am on Monday). Speaking from experience, it’s not fun to be startled … for either party 🙁

Pet Sitting, House Sitting & Pet Care are a few of the many services we offer at Tracy Helps You. Is there any way we can “help” you ?

 

You've Got Mail ... Email

5 Tips for Managing Your Email Inbox

A year or so ago, I wrote a post about organizing and managing your piles of paperwork and junk mail. These days, I get more, actually much more email than snail mail. Email is a wonderful tool for business as well as for personal use. It is great to have (nearly) instant responses.

Technology has advanced very quickly in the last couple of decades. We now live in a 24/7 world, where practically everything is available at a moment’s notice. Gone are the days of typing a letter, mailing it, and then waiting a week or more for a response. Nowadays, people get impatient if they don’t get an instant response to an email they sent.

As a result, nearly everyone has at least one, if not more, email addresses. I have both personal and business email addresses … all told, I have 6 email addresses. Do you have more than one?
Email inboxes fill up fast. Some people get hundreds every day. It can become overwhelming very quickly.

Here are some tips I try to follow monthly:
• Create sub folders to file emails you will need to refer back to at a future date.
• After reading an email, delete it or file it away in the appropriate folder
• Try to respond right away … saving it for later keeps the inbox cluttered.
• If you get too many emails sales ads from stores, you can request to receive fewer by changing your preferences or unsubscribing completely.
• You can delete multiple emails at one time by using the search bar to find all the emails from a specific sender, then click on check all, then click delete all.

Once you get your inbox emptied out, try to stay on top of it by setting aside some time every month to keep it manageable. It will take less and less time each month.

I hope these tips prove “helpful” for you 🙂

New Car

Tips For An “Almost” New Car

They say that the best time to get a great price on a new car is at the end of the year. The year-end deals are supposedly the best you’ll get all year … they want to sell the current models to make room for all the new models.
If you are like me (and most likely many others), buying a new car just wasn’t on the to-do list last month. To be totally honest, I wouldn’t want to start having car payments again – no matter how great a deal they could give me.
That being said, I wouldn’t say no to some upgrades and TLC for my SUV. Here are some of my ideas (aka my wish list):
• Get it detailed or at least a thorough cleaning –
inside & out, complete with a new air freshener
• Remote starter for those really cold / really hot days
• A dashboard docking station to hold my phone / GPS unit so I can see my driving directions without taking my eyes off the road
• A new bluetooth enabled sound system with satellite radio
In my opinion, having these upgrades done would be better than getting a brand new car ~ no car payments 🙂

Handmade Gift Ideas for the Holidays

Handmade Gifts for the Holidays ~ Update

So, it is getting toward the end of November, on the very cusp of the Holidays. Back in the end of September (while it was warm & sunny ~ unlike now, when we have measurable snow in the weekend forecast), I wrote a blog post talking about making handmade holiday gifts. You can read that post here.

In that post, I laid out some goals for myself. So, I wanted to give you an update on accomplishing them. Sadly, I haven’t met all of them … yet. There, of course, is still plenty of time ~ it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. The perfectionist in me wanted everything to be done super early, but that perfectionist won’t be getting her way this year 🙁
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Labor Day Road Trip Tips

Labor Day Road Trip Tips & Advantages

Labor Day weekend is upon us. I know I’m not alone when I sit here shaking my head, thinking “where did the time go? Summer just flew by !!

Although there are still a few weeks before Autumn officially begins, Labor Day Weekend is (for all practical purposes anyway) the unofficial end of summer. Many families celebrate this long holiday weekend by taking a road trip.

Traveling by car has many advantages for families … especially those with young children 🙂

~ AAA has reported that the price of gas hasn’t been this low since 2004. Spending less at the pump puts more $$ in the vacation budget — sounds like an advantage to me.

~ Your kids are in familiar surroundings … in their own car seat, have their own toys, their favorite snacks, etc.

~ You can take as many breaks as needed – when you need them. You can get out to stretch your legs or sooth a cranky child.

~ You choose meal times and where to eat.

~ You could go “old school” for the weekend … unplug (give your electronic device their own vacation). You could use an atlas to map out your route. If you happen to miss a turn off along the way, just say “we’re taking the scenic route”.

~ Continuing with the “old school” theme, you can play games like “I Spy”, or sing songs together, color / work in puzzle books, or play the license plate game, etc. Have light-hearted conversations … use this time to re-connect with each other without electronic distractions.

~ Take time to make unplanned stops … pull over to the see kitschy things like “the world’s largest ball of yarn” 🙂

These “old school” ideas may sound corny, but they will help make some wonderful family memories … memories your families will cherish for a lifetime (even if they never get posted on facebook or twitter) !!

(Photo Credit to Getty Images)

Back To School Tips

Top 5 Tips & Sanity Savers for Smooth Back to School Mornings

Back To School

In my humble opinion, a peaceful & out the door on time “back to school” (or any other busy) morning really begins with an organized & planned out night before 🙂

Here’s what has worked for me in the past (my kids are grown)…

(1) Have everyone’s lunch made & packed into their lunchbox / cooler, then store in the frig overnight. It will be easy to just grab-n-go in the morning.

(2) A hot breakfast will be easy if you have it pre-planned and pre-cooked beforehand. You can cook over the weekend, then just warm it up in the microwave. Set the table / have as much stuff out & ready to go as possible. Make sure to get everyone up early enough to have time to eat … feeling rushed is not the best way to start the day.

(3) Make sure all the backpacks (and briefcases) are packed and ready to go near the door. Be sure all forms that need a signature are signed … homework is in the proper folder … library materials that are due, etc.

(4) Pick out the clothes for the next day, get everything together – down to the shoes. Then you won’t discover their favorite jeans are dirty, or someone can’t find their shoe = no meltdown 🙂

(5) Try to do showers in the evening … it will help to free up congestion in the bathroom while everyone is trying to get ready at the same time in the morning.

Bonus tip:

Establish a “No Electronics Before School” rule (yes, for grown-ups too) It’s much easier to communicate when people are not staring a screen 🙂

I hope these tips will help you establish a good routine that works for your family. Please share some of your ideas and “tried & true” tips with the rest of us 🙂

Stuffed Shells Freezer Meal

Freezer Meal Ideas

I mentioned in last week’s blog, that I would share my ideas for having some meals in the freezer for those times when your schedule is super busy. You know, those crazy weeks when everything hits the fan all at once. If you try any of my ideas, the hardest thing you have to do is to remember to take it out of the freezer the day before 🙂

When my kids were young, I did a huge freezer cooking day with a friend of mine. It was the kind where you have a month’s worth of meals for your freezer when you are done. We did it over a weekend. Thankfully our husbands helped keep the kids entertained & occupied. We shopped on the first day. It was the one and only time I used a credit card for groceries. It costs a lot to buy ingredients for a months worth of meals, and I usually budget for 2 weeks at a time. We prepped and cooked everything on the second day. It was exhausting, expensive and my family ended up not liking at least half of the meals. I don’t have fond memories of that weekend …

Fast forward … that was then ~ this is now 🙂

With Pinterest becoming so popular in the last few years, I’ve read many (and I mean many) articles and blogs about freezer cooking. There are many different techniques out there, and I’m sure they are great. However, with my not-so-great experience back in the day, I have come up with my own plan that works best for me.

As I mentioned last week, I pretty much only cook for my husband and myself these days. Since we have no need for a whole 9×13 casserole, when I make the recipe, I divide it in half and use two 8×8 pans instead. I use aluminum pans from the dollar store … I cover it with foil and them put the pan in a ziplock freezer bag. I also put the cooking directions in the bag ( paper seems to freeze well 🙂 ) I then have a meal for dinner that night and one to put in the freezer for future use. Sometimes, I’ll double the recipe and have one 8×8 for dinner and the freeze the other 3 🙂

Disclaimer ~ I only make recipes we have tried and liked. I’ve learned that not everything turns out like the picture they show 🙂 I’ve also learned that not all recipes taste good after being frozen … it’s trial and error for me. It’s also easier on the budget doing it this way.

I have also recently starting using my crockpot more often. I confess, my crockpot used to only come out when I hosted a party and wanted to keep something warm on my buffet table. This past year, I have been trying various soup recipes I’ve found online. One of my favorite things to make in my crockpot is homemade chicken stock. I think it tastes so much better than the kind you get at the store. I try to always have a few quarts (mason jars) in my freezer.

I have tried several freezer recipes for the crockpot that I have found on Pinterest. You can check out some of the recipes (not all for the crockpot) I’ve pinned to try. We have liked all the ones I’ve made so far. They have been pretty similar in preparation. You chop everything and measure out all the ingredients, then store them in freezer ziplock storage bags. Write the cooking directions on the bag with a sharpie pen. They suggest laying them flat to freeze to allow for better storage space. Again, you take it out of the freezer the day before to thaw. Then you dump it all into the crockpot and go about your day. Dinner is ready when you are 🙂

I also make a double batches when I make cookies or quick breads. I bake them first. I use the same 8×8 pans or foil loaf pans … wrap them in foil, then store in a ziplock bag. Dessert when you want it or a last minute dish to bring to a potluck type gathering … arrange it on a pretty plate and you are good to go 🙂

So these are a few ideas that work for me … what ideas work for you?
If you want to save some time, Tracy Helps You can do the shopping for you … then you’ll have everything you need on hand for you freezer cooking day. Remember, we are only a phone call or email away 🙂

Meal Planning Calendar

Meal Planning Tips & Menu Ideas

 Generally when I plan my meals, I do it for two weeks at a time. Unfortunately (pretty much since starting my own small business, if I’m being honest), I haven’t been as consistent at meal planning as I once was. I have to figure out a way to make this part of my normal routine once again.

I’ve been researching different meal planning approaches on various blogs and on Pinterest. So far, I’ve determined that there are approximately a million different ideas on the topic … So I’ll make it a million and one by telling you my technique 🙂

My family has changed over the years. My kids have grown ~ one has moved into his own place and the other still lives at home, but isn’t home all that often (and hardly ever eats at home with us). So, I only make plans for me and the hubby 🙂

I’ve decided to make my new meal plan approach to cover a whole month. I print out a blank calendar page and write in the meal for each day. I save them in a binder, and hope to reuse them in the coming years. I usually write in pencil so we can switch things around if we’re not in the mood for what is on the schedule for that day. I try to switch with something in the same week, so I have all the ingredients on hand. Also, I usually only plan dinners on my meal plan.

My schedule (and I use the word loosely) with Tracy Helps You is quite erratic – some days I have multiple clients – some days one – some days none. Each day is different … and I love it, but it does keep me on my toes, so I definitely need a flexible schedule / plan 🙂 My husband works the early shift and is long gone before I even wake up, so I keep a variety of breakfast type foods on hand for fending for yourself. Since I’m only cooking for 2, we often have leftovers for lunches. I also try to always have sandwich fixins’ on hand.

My husband and I have some favorites that are on the menu every week … like Taco Tuesday 🙂 Then I rotate some tried and true staples like spaghetti & meatballs or pork chops with cinnamon apple slices. We go out to eat on date nights and, of course, there are a couple of pizza nights 🙂 Then I fill in the other days with new recipes to try from my Pinterest Board or meals from my freezer that have been prepared in advance. I’ll be talking about freezer meals in next week’s blog post – stayed tuned 🙂

My plan sort of blends my current technique with some ideas that have worked for others. I have taken different points from different sources and come up with a customized plan that fits the needs of my family.

I hope my plan “helps” you … you can use it as a “jumping off” point in customizing your own menu plan or use it “as is” whatever works best for you … it’s all cool 🙂

camping

My Top 10 Best Camping Tips & Hacks

I love camping, but if you know me at all, you know that I love to have a plan. Even if things don’t always go as planned, you can go on to Plan B 🙂

Here are some tidbits of wisdom (no particular order) that have served me well …

#1  Plan all your meals and snacks (I suggest lots of snacks) ahead of time – then use your menu plan to create your shopping & packing lists

#2  Create a separate plastic storage bin (with tight fitting lid) to store camp essentials – one for your “camp kitchen” aka, pots & pans, dishes, utensils, dish towels, etc. – one for your “camp gear” aka, tools, flashlights, rope, fire starters, bug spray, etc. – one for your “camp pantry” aka, to store all your non refrigerated, dry food items.

#3  Have 3 separate coolers – one for meats (freeze ahead of time and put in zip lock bags (to catch blood from the meat so it doesn’t mix in with the water from melting ice)) – one for beverages (I keep these separate because the lid is opened so often). I also fill a gallon zip lock with clean ice for my glass each time we get more bags of ice. – one to serve as the “frig” … for your fruits & veges, condiments, butter, eggs, etc. I freeze gallon jugs of water before hand to keep things cold and then use the melted water to make lemonade.

#4  Try to choose a shady campsite – it is cooler during the day and you can always find a sunny place to hang out if you want heat & fun in the sun.

#5  Get inexpensive solar garden path lights from the Dollar store – place them around your site so you can see where you are going a night … darkness fall very quickly. These generally work even if they don’t get direct sunlight during the day, maybe not as bright, but enough to light your path.

#6  Use aluminum foil and aluminum pans – the grates over the fire pit are usually pretty dirty and gross, so I use foil grill pans to cook my meats – plus easy clean up 🙂

#7  Have two matching (size/shape, so they can stack) laundry baskets – pack your clothes in one with the empty underneath. Each night as you change clothes, put the dirty clothes in the bottom basket and stack the clean clothes on top of it.

#8  Have small mesh bags for carry bath & hygiene essentials to the shower house – make one for males & one for females, or one for each person. I also set up a hand washing station at the campsite for quick clean ups. I put a bar of soap in an old knee high nylon stocking and hang it with a towel near the water / dish washing area.

#9  Always take your trash to the dump station every night before going to sleep – you do not want animals prowling around your campsite because they smell your meal leftovers! I also fill all our water containers at this time too – I need fresh water for my morning coffee 🙂

#10  Always have a well stocked first aid kit with a basic first aid manual. I use a jumbo vitamin/pill day of the week type container and re-labeled them for a supply of Advil / Benadryl / Pepto-Bismol / etc.

Do you have any tips or tricks or ideas about camping that you could share with us? Leave a comment … I’d love to hear them. We can all learn from each other !

Camping - Nap Time

There’s nothing like a relaxing afternoon nap while you are camping.

Happy Camping 🙂