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More corporations are recognizing that there's plenty of good will to be had if they extend a helping hand to the unemployed. Plus they're building customer loyalty and boosting sales.
Is this a win-win?
The latest offers of assistance come from the chains owned by the Sears Holdings Corp. -- Kmart and Sears.
Kmart is offering a Smart Assist savings card to those who've signed up for unemployme
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nt benefits in Michigan, the state with the highest unemployment rate, according to Financial Times. (Kmart was born in Michigan and headquartered there until it joined up with Sears in 2005.) The card provides a 20% discount on regularly priced private-label food and drugstore items and is good for up to six months.
Before you use the card, make sure you comparison shop. You might find a better deal somewhere else. But overall this seems like a win-win. Douglas McIntyre wrote at our sister blog, Top Stocks, that "Kmart has probably lost many of its customers completely and believes that the new incentives will bring these people back." But, he adds, "Sears and Kmart get a gold star for outstanding behavior."
Sears, the nation's biggest seller of appliances, is testing a one-month program nationwide for Sears customers who are laid off after making a big purchase. To be eligible, the Chicago Tribune reports:

  • You must spend at least $399 on appliances at Sears between July 6 and Aug. 1.

  • You must charge it on a Sears card issued by Citibank.

  • The Sears Web site says that "if you lose your full-time job after 60 days and up to one year from date of purchase, one-twelfth of your entire purchase price will be credited to your account each month until you are back at work or your appliance is paid off."

The Chicago Tribune added, "The full debt will be forgiven for customers who find themselves jobless for more than a year, and they will be able to keep the appliance."
Win-win? This program may be the tipping point for buying a new appliance you don't really need. The frugal approach would be not to spring for a new appliance until the old one gives out and/or you've saved up cash for the replacement.
Among other help for the jobless mentioned by Financial Times:

  • Pfizer will give free prescription drugs for up to a year to people who've lost their job in 2009, don't have prescription drug coverage, and were taking a Pfizer product for at least three months before their job disappeared. The offer covers more than 70 Pfizer medications, including Viagra. Catherine Holahan explained here at Smart Spending, "Customers are more likely to stay loyal to Pfizer's name-brand drugs if they can continue taking their medications at the company's expense when they can't afford it and not need to take cheaper generic drugs or go without."

  • This next offer has fewer conditions attached: Spartan Stores Inc., which owns 99 Michigan grocery stores and supplies several hundred independent grocers, is helping General Motors workers who were laid off due to plant closures. Progressive Grocer says:

In early June, Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Spartan provided 850 Michigan Proud bar-coded cards offering a 10% discount on groceries and 3% on fuel now through July 12, 2009, to the UAW Region 1D office for distribution to the auto workers affected by the (GM metal fabricating) plant closure for use at any D&W Fresh Market, Family Fare, Felpausch, Glen's Markets, Glen's Fresh Marketplace or VG's Michigan location. (Other locals have been included.)

  • This one sounds downright neighborly: Green Hills, a family-owned grocery store in Syracuse, N.Y., is offering 10% off on weekly shopping orders from loyalty-card customers who are unemployed. Customers can re-enroll in the program every four weeks, reported, adding: "During the Great Depression, the store extended credit to customers so they could feed their families, according to Heather Hawkins, whose family owns the business."

Related reading:
Can free Viagra ease the pain of the recession?
Here's help to find the best deals on prescriptions
Lose your job, get a refund
The new marketing trend: Job-loss protection
This post comes from partner blog The Dough Roller.
A co-worker recently sent me an article written by Helaine Olen entitled, "The end of personal finance -- Decades of advice turn out to be so much garbage." Published at Slate's
Read More" target=_blank mce_href="">The Big Money site, the article received kudos from an unlikely source,, in a guest post by "Life, Inc." author Douglas Rushkoff.
The article begins with Olen recounting how, in 1997, a financial adviser she was working with to write a financial-makeover feature dismissed the notion that gold was a good investment. Gold was trading at $300 an ounce and now trades at about $900. As a result, she views her decision to leave gold off the table as a mistake. (It wasn't, but we'll come back to that in a moment.)
Olen than proceeds to argue that personal finance is, or at least should be, dead. She attacks stocks and the "efficacy" of the market because it was down 40% last year. She describes the personal-finance industry as a "self-help complex," and argues that the idea that people can manage their money on their own is a lie because prolonged unemployment can burn through six months of emergency savings.
Olen then quotes Nan Mooney, author of "(Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents: The Decline of the Professional Middle Class," as saying that "personal finance has come to substitute for the role government should play for people." Substitute the word "neighbor" for the word "government" in that sentence, and its absurdity stands out like a fart in church.
And then the article turns really dark:

Which leads to another question: What's next for personal finance? The past two years have demonstrated over and over again that bad things can happen to good savers and investors. Very few of us have the wherewithal to fund both retirement savings and a large enough emergency fund to sustain us through a bout of unemployment lasting, say, more than a year. No one, it turns out, really knows what an individual stock, mutual fund, or commodity like oil or precious resource like gold will be worth in six months, never mind six years.
Nonetheless, personal finance is unlikely to crawl away and die anytime soon for a simple reason: We think we need it. "We're kind of screwed but we don't have a choice but to take care of ourselves because no one else is helping," admits MSN's personal-finance columnist, Liz Weston.
And then Olen asks for an apology from personal-finance gurus (think Suze Orman or Dave Ramsey, but presumably not Liz):

Me, I'd settle for a few mea culpas from our finance gurus. After all, I am aware I owe my gold-loving dude an apology. Unfortunately, I know the planner assigned to the case won't be eating crow any time soon. I recently received a copy of his latest book in the mail. It's all about how if you can just identify your money archetype, financial success will be yours. Oh, and one other thing. The press release quotes him as advising, "Don't rush out to buy gold."
Here's a summary of Olen's article:

  • Personal-finance gurus advised us to eschew consumer debt, save an emergency fund, and invest in a diversified portfolio of low-cost mutual funds.

  • Americans followed this advice.

  • The advice was obviously wrong because over the last year or so the market is down, real estate is down, and unemployment is up.

  • Personal-finance gurus owe us an apology for the awful advice they gave us.

  • The government should step in and take care of us, because we are not capable of managing our own affairs.

Olen's article demands a response.
Gold is a crappy investment
Olen, you don't owe your "gold-loving dude" an apology. While it's easy to be swayed by the here and now, particularly when it comes to investing, the price of gold today does not make it a good investment. You've chosen to compare the price of gold in 2009 to its price in 1997. Why not pick 1980 when it was hovering at more than $600, which in inflation-adjusted terms exceeds the $900 price tag today. Remember, in hindsight we can pick dates to make any investment look good, even Enron.
And if you don't believe me, here is what Warren Buffett had to say about gold in 1998:

It gets dug out of the ground in Africa, or someplace. Then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it. It has no utility. Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head.
Will the price of gold enjoy a resurgence when investors are scared away from everything else? Sure. Does that make gold a good, long-term investment? Nope.
Personal finance is not God
In one sense, Olen's article hits on an important point. We shouldn't put our faith in money or personal finance. No amount of emergency fund can shield us from financial calamity with absolute certainty. A prolonged bout of unemployment will wreck just about everybody's finances. Add to that the falling stock market and housing market, and a lot of people are in real financial pain right now.
But just because sound money management is not a guarantee that life will go our way, does that mean it has no value and we should throw it away? If that's the standard, government would have been gone a long time ago.
Let's get real
Reading the article, one gets the sense that most Americans suffering financially had followed the advice of the personal-finance gurus Olen believes should apologize. But surely that's not true. Do most Americans have a six-month emergency fund and no consumer debt? How many followed Dave Ramsey's advice to buy a home only when they have a down payment of 20% or more, and can afford a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage that keeps monthly payments to 25% or less of monthly take-home pay?
There are undoubtedly examples of folks who did follow this advice, and are still suffering financially. But does that describe most of us? All the studies I've ever read say the answer is no. Americans are mired in consumer debt, studies show we overspend, and the recent housing bubble (fueled by the government) demonstrates our willingness to pay just about anything for a house in a hot market.
And it's here that we need to be honest with ourselves. We need to take an honest look at our finances and our money decisions. It may make some feel better to blame others, particularly personal-finance gurus, but is that the honest answer to the financial difficulties most of us now face?
Olen writes:

That our personal finances weren't fully ours to seize didn't seem to occur to many of us until recently, when the stock market plunged almost 40% in a mere year, housing went into free fall, and the unemployment rate began to climb perilously toward double digits.
But what exactly does this mean? If the point is that circumstances outside our control can affect our finances, certainly that's true. It's also true that when times are good, people tend to forget that it won't last forever. The same is true when times are bad.
The stock market is efficacious
Olen clearly views the market as defective because it lost 40% last year. And she writes, "No one, it turns out, really knows what an individual stock, mutual fund, or commodity like oil or precious resource like gold will be worth in six months, never mind six years."
It's the subtle phrase, "it turns out," that makes that sentence. Those three words suggest that until last year, everybody believed they could predict the market six months or six years from now. Really? Who?
Every good investing book I've ever read says the exact opposite. We can't predict the future price of the markets, and we shouldn't try. That's not a problem with the market, it's a reality of life. And by the way, you can't predict the future price of gold, either.
But what we can predict with reasonable assurance is that over a lifetime of investing, investors will enjoy really good years and really bad years. In that context, last year's 40% decline should not come as a shock or surprise to buy-and-hold long-term investors. Neither should the 35% gain we've enjoyed since March. That doesn't make last year any fun, but it should help us understand that the "problem," if there really is one, is not the market. If we don't come to that realization, we shouldn't have been in the market in the first place.
The choice is yours
Each of us has a choice to make. We can throw up our hands in frustration and give up. We can blame Wall Street, the government, or even personal-finance gurus if we want. But doing so won't improve our lives.
Or we can learn from the past year, and day by day make the best personal-finance decisions we can. Does this guarantee financial security? Of course not. And personal finance has never promised such a guarantee. But the fact is that we can, by and large, control our financial destiny.
Suze Orman has described the current recession as "the greatest thing that has ever happened to youth. It gave you a wakeup call that your parents were living in financial la-la land." She's right about that. It's given us all a wakeup call. And we shouldn't hit the snooze button.
Related reading at The Dough Roller:
Zecco online stock trading for free
Amazon launches Kindle DX
Guess what balance-transfer credit cards are ‘up to'

Summer vacation season may be over, but fall travel promises to be a better deal for bargain-hunting consumers.
Americans scrimped on summer vacations, spending just $300 on average, according to Quicken Online, which compiled spending data from the more than 1.3 million consumers who use its financial-management program.
Leisure travel cutbacks have hurt the industry, but it’s the decline in business travel that’s forcing hotels to slash their rates this fall, says Gabe Saglie, a spokesman for travel booking site Travelzoo (
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TZOO/">TZOO). Companies typically plan for conventions and other off-site events a year in advance, and as we approach the anniversary of 2008’s market crash, many hotels are finding themselves with a surplus of vacant rooms.
Now, the recession’s effect is being compounded by the usual fall slowdown as kids return to school. To offset the loss, many hotels in popular vacation destinations are cutting rates by as much as 50%. Here are five fall destinations worth considering:
New York
Wall Street’s woes have pushed hotel prices in the Big Apple down 29% compared with last fall, according to data from travel-booking site Expedia (EXP). “That’s the biggest drop I’ve ever seen [for the city] in 30 years of covering travel,” says Chris McGinnis, a spokesman for Expedia. The Park Central New York Hotel is now offering a 20% discount when you book a stay of five nights or more, lowering weekday rates for a room with a king-size bed from $349 to $279. Visitors will also find plenty of deals on attractions, particularly Broadway shows – where prices have fallen by as much as 50%. (For tips to snag those theater deals, click here.)

Sample deal: Three-star Murray Hill East Hotel is offering travelers who book through Orbitz a 25% discount on a stay through Sept. 30. Rates regularly start at $164 a night.
Las Vegas
A big convention destination, Las Vegas has been hard hit by cutbacks in business travel. In May, Gov. Jim Gibbons said that roughly 400 convention cancellations made thus far in 2009 would cost the city $100 million in hotel income. “Until they see business travel pick up, they’ll focus on getting the leisure traveler with rock-bottom rates,” Saglie says. Some properties have lowered rates by as much as 70%, he says. The Mirage, where rates now start at $77 a night, is offering an additional 10% discount to travelers who book through the casino’s web site. The offer is good for stays before Jan. 31, 2010. (For more tips to save on casino travel, click here.)

Sample deal: At MGM Grand, book a stay sometime between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24, and get a third night free. Rates start at $79 a night.
San Francisco
Weather-wise, fall is the best time to visit San Francisco, says McGinnis, who lives there. “In the summer, there’s fog; in the winter, rain,” he says. Now, prices are favorable for travelers, with the average room rate down 21%, compared with last fall. For example, Campton Place San Francisco is offering a third night free for stays before Dec. 31. Rates start at $270.

Sample deal: Four-star Hotel Nikko San Francisco is now offering its rooms at a 30% discount on Expedia, dropping the weekend rate for a room with a king-size bed from $433 to $303.
Travel to this family destination typically drops off in the fall, but this year rates have tumbled another 20% or so, Saglie says. Some of the best deals can be found at family-friendly properties and those with close ties to nearby theme parks. Through Dec. 17, Nickelodeon Family Suites is offering a third night free and a $50 credit toward the resort’s amenities, which include a water park, spa and 4-D movie theater. (For tips to save on theme park tickets themselves, click here.)
The catch: Florida’s hurricane season lasts through November, so consider inexpensive travel insurance.

Sample deal: Participating Marriott Vacation Club resorts are offering one free night when you book two, or two nights free when you book three. (Use promo code BOG when reserving.) Rates start at $119. Promotion ends Jan. 31, 2010.
Hawaii has taken a double hit as cash-strapped business and leisure travelers have opted for destinations closer to home. Traditionally, the Big Island is the place to find deals, but this fall, pricier areas like Maui are slashing rates by an average of 15% compared to last year, McGinnis says. For example, the Four Seasons Resort Maui cut its post Labor Day rates from $495 to $395 per night, a savings of 20%. “It’s a slower season, so airfares are cheap, too,” he says. Alaska Airlines (ALK) recently offered one-way fares for roughly $150 from Portland, Ore., and Seattle.

Sample deal: At the four-star Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, get a third night free for stays before Dec. 25. Nightly rates start at $260.
SMARTMONEY ® Layout and look and feel of are trademarks of SmartMoney, a joint venture between Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and Hearst SM Partnership. © 1995 - 2009 SmartMoney. All Rights Reserved.

by Aaron Hu
Wintertime is a perfect time for a wedding. Peace on earth and good will toward men reigns, and it’s the best time to get cozy with your loved one. If you plan poorly, however, you could end up with a wedding right out of “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” This article will help you plan a winter wedding that won’t have your guests asking, “What’s this?”
First of all, let’s talk about favors. Winter has so many symbols that it’s easy to find some that are right for you. Silver snowflakes add a charming touch, as do tiny
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tealights–the light within the darkness.You could do your own take on the tradition of having the guests ring a bell for the couple to kiss, and put strings of jingle bells on the table instead. Wedding guests always love this activity, and the jingle bells will provide a personal touch that they will love even more.
Music is an important part of the wedding, but even more so for the reception. Along with regular music for your dancing pleasure, slip in a few holiday tunes. “Let it Snow” is a classic, as is “Jingle Bell Rock”. Perhaps your first dance can be a slow dance to something like “Baby It’s Cold outside”. Your guests will dance the night away, inspired by the Christmas spirit.
For the wedding itself, you can start the theme off with the bride’s dress. There are very beautiful wedding dresses available with a winter theme; some are adorned with faux fur or include a tasteful stole. Or you could have the bridesmaids wear dresses that reflect the theme; perhaps a snowflake pattern or even snowman hair ornaments would work. These ideas would be subtle yet stylish enough to make the theme functional.
The bride could make a grand entrance in a horse drawn sleigh, with her bridesmaids and family riding with her. The groom could ride in on a single horse for his debut. After the ceremony, the reception could be held in an ice hotel (it’s warmer than you think!) or at an ice skating rink. Invite the guests to dress up in Victorian costume–there’s nothing like having a large group reenacting a scene straight out of a Victorian postcard!
Decorations for this type of event are easy. Twinkling lights would be beautiful along the walls, with silver streamers to reflect the light. The tables can be covered with tablecloths that have holly or ivy on them. Fake snow can be sprinkled on the table, and gifts can be put into a large sled. Your guests will be thrilled with the decor! Make it a party for them. Hire someone to play Santa and ask them what they want for Christmas. This will keep the kids happy, make the parents grateful, and give your day a little less stress. You can also get carolers to regale your guests with holiday songs, either during the wedding or during the reception. Imagine the looks on your guests’ faces when you walk in to a sung version of “Here Comes the Bride”, done, perhaps, by a local children’s choir.
Last but not least,the food can reflect your theme. Serve winter favorites like Irish coffee and mulled wine to your guests. Have something for the kids too, like mulled cider and hot chocolate. As far as food, anything goes. A roast turkey would be great; a roast goose would be even better. And for dessert, try a lovely flaming plum pudding.
A winter wedding is an opportunity to show your style and individuality. Make sure you plan and communicate with each other in order to make it work. With this type of foresight, you can have a wedding that will be unforgettable.

About the Author:
If you are looking for Winter Wedding Favors or Christmas Party Favors, we invite you to visit mrsweddingfavors where you will find a great selection of these and many other wedding favors and wedding accessories. With us you will find the Best Prices on the web plus we offer Free Shipping.

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by A Nutt
Your wedding is supposed to be one of the most important and special days of your entire life. Generally, weddings are highly anticipated and planned months or even years in advance. Much care is taken to ensure that every single detail is just right. From the decorations and flowers, to the music, wedding vows, food and cake - every bride wants everything to be perfect. There are many time-honored traditions that are generally observed (or at least considered) in the wedding planning process. Some of these are very important, (such as the exchanging of vows and wedding ban
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ds) and others are more lighthearted - such as the tossing of the bride’s bouquet. Whether you are superstitious or not, some of the more lighthearted wedding traditions may appeal to you. Below is a brief overview of some of the most commonly known wedding superstitions.
The Weather There are conflicting superstitions from different parts of the world regarding the weather on your wedding day. Some say that a rainy wedding day is actually good luck. Others claim that rain on your wedding day signifies that you will shed many tears throughout your married life. A sunny day symbolizes warmth and happiness in marriage.
The Decorations Candles are used as decorations in many weddings. Lit candles that go out are rumored to signify that evil spirits are close. Flowers are also very commonly used in weddings. It is customary for the groom to wear a flower from the bridal bouquet in his coat’s button-hole. This dates back to Medieval times, when a knight would wear his Lady’s colours as a declaration of his devotion. Flowers have different meanings, and it is good luck to choose flowers that have special symbolism for the bride and groom.
The Dress A white wedding gown is said to symbolize chastity or virginity. In some cultures this superstition holds true. However, another theory is that in the old days, white cloth was very expensive. Bleaching the cloth to white cost a lot of money, and therefore white signified the very best. Back then, the whiter the bride’s dress - the more wealthy the bride’s family was. Another superstition related to the actual wedding dress involves death! It is said that if the bride’s wedding gown rips the day before the wedding, the marriage will end in death.
The Flower Girl Ever wonder why so many rose petals are strewn about by the flower girl? Not only is it cute, but it is setting the bride and groom up for a long and happy family life. The rose petals symbolize the bride and groom’s chances at having babies. The more rose petals - the more babies!
The Cake In many cultures, the tradition is to save the uppermost, smallest layer of the toronto wedding cakes rather than serve it at the wedding. The cake is then wrapped in plastic wrap and paper towels in order to conserve it well, and it is then frozen. The wedding cake is left in the freezer until the happy couple’s first anniversary, when it is defrosted and enjoyed. The superstition says that eating the wedding cake on the first anniversary will bring back all the joy and magic of the wedding day.
Right After the Wedding When the bride and groom exit the church after their wedding ceremony, it is customary for all the guests to toss handfuls of rice at them. This is another way of ensuring a long and fertile family life. The more grains of rice thrown, the more babies the couple will have. The noise made by the tin cans that are attached to the couple’s auto is intended to scare away evil spirits.

About the Author:
Toronto Weddings provides a variety of tips, directories, checklits to help you wedding requirements. as things like wedding invitations, a wedding cake, wedding flowers arrangements, Wedding limos, a Toronto wedding photographer and wedding videographer to name a few.

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We’ve reported on all sorts of deals aimed at comforting taxpayers on April 15, the deadline for submitting federal and state tax returns. But we missed one enticing offer: a free massage that the maker
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of the HydroMassage bed says is available at hundreds of health clubs, spas and chiropractic clinics across the country. We wrote the check and filed our taxes last week but we’re still a little tense. Too bad there’s no massage provider listed in our town. But there are plenty to be found around the country. For instance, there are 23 listed in North Carolina, 15 in Kansas and eight in Oregon. But, as usual, there are some caveats. A printable coupon for the free massage is available at the site, but is not valid at all locations that offer HydroMassage, and certain limitations may apply. You’ll need to find a location offering the deal and call ahead to schedule your appointment.The massage is administered in an enclosed bed that uses what the company calls a water-through-air technology that offers user-defined massage options. (A typical HydroMassage takes 15 minutes and costs $20 or less.)  According to the site, HydroMassage produces a powerful, heated massage through a wave technology enclosed in the body of the bed: “Users enjoy total relaxation while remaining comfortable and fully clothed.” An interactive touchscreen allows a user to watch movies or listen to music during the massage.Knock yourselves out. Related reading:Why you need a massage10 reasons to e-file your taxesIt’s OK for file for an extensionTimothy Geithner, unlikely TurboTax spokesman 
Every month, my wife and I track how much time and money we spend growing food. This is the report for April 2009. (Here are the results for 2008.)
April was a slow month for our garden. We didn’t do much. Part of this is because we’ve become more efficient. But another part is because we did some of our chores earlier this year.
Kris has be
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en antsy to get plants in the ground. I always tell her that May 1st is our target date, but she’d plant out on the first of April if she could. Last year she put her tomato starts out a few days early, and that was a mistake. They were pummeled by a freak hailstorm and never did produce much. This year, she decided to wait.
She did, however, do a little bit of work. She planted beets, radishes, and lettuce. She transplanted her tomatoes into bigger pots. And she produced a garden map that outlines where she intends to plant things.
Kris has mapped out where she’ll plant tomatoes and chili peppers

My only garden work was a frustrating hour spent rototilling the compost and leaves and horse manure into the soil. It was frustrating because we have a large, willful rototiller that seems to have a mind of its own. Our actual garden isn’t very large, and we currently have created a sort of maze around the asparagus and onions. That makes it difficult to maneuver. I did manage to get the ground worked up, but it didn’t happen without cursing!
Speaking of cursing: Last year, our gooseberries were mauled by a sawfly infestation. This year, the sawfly larvae are back, and they’re not only devouring the gooseberries, but the currants as well. The gooseberries we can live without, but not the currants. Kris is researching organic pest controls.
Note: Like to garden? That’s the topic of our show this week on The Personal Finance Hour. Join me and Jim from Bargaineering on Monday at 3pm Pacific (6pm Eastern) as we discuss gardening hints and tips. We’d love to have you on the show!

Garden tour
We may not have much to share about our garden this month, but we do have some photos. The last few days have been sunny, so we’ve had a chance to photograph our garden in its early stages. Here, for example, is the (mostly) blank canvas:

As a reminder, the area of our vegetable garden space is roughly 15 ft by 34 ft (4.57 m x 10.37 m), or 510 square feet (47.4 sq. m.). This actually isn’t very big, and we’ve considered enlarging it. As I mentioned before, Kris planted out her tomatoes yesterday, so this space is no longer empty. Before she planted them, however, Kris set her tomatoes outside to “harden off”. I know this photo doesn’t really show it, but these things are enormous after only six weeks of growth:

Meanwhile, we do have some crops up. We’ve recruited help to maintain them. Meatball has been tasked with patrolling the beets, radishes, and peas, and Simon has been given charge of the onions:

The peas and onions aren’t the only things growing. This is the time of year that berries begin to go berserk. They’re not producing fruit, of course, but they’re beginning to show promise. The blueberries are laden with blossoms (especially the Toro, which are our favorite). So too are the strawberries:

Our caneberries have begun their vigorous growth. No blossoms yet, but lots of new shoots:

Though I don’t have photos, our fruit trees have also begun to bloom. We have two apples, three plums, a cherry, and a pear. We’ve set out pest control in a few of these, and that’s all we’ll really have to do until harvest.
Finally, here’s a salad that we made from herbs and lettuce greens that Kris grew indoors. This is a perfect example of how you can harvest home-grown food in a small amount of space. (You can’t harvest a lot of it, but you an harvest some.)

The edibles garden took little time this month — just 3 hours. We didn’t spend a dime. We harvested a single asparagus spear (which Kris consumed raw), but we won’t count that in our totals.
Here’s the monthly summary for April, including comparison data from 2008.


Jan 09
3.0 hrs

Jan 08
4.0 hrs

Feb 09
12.0 hrs
Feb 08
2.5 hrs

Mar 09
4.0 hrs
Mar 08
3.5 hrs

Apr 09
3.0 hrs

Apr 08
5.5 hrs

Total 09
22.0 hrs
Total 08
15.5 hrs

Share your progress! I’d love to hear about other people’s gardens. Especially if this is your first time growing your own food, please chime in with what you’re doing and what you’re learning.

Final word
This garden project is not a formal experiment. Kris and I are long-time hobby gardeners, and we have set ways that we do things. This year, we’re trying to incorporate some new ideas from GRS readers, but most of the time we’ll do things the way we have for nearly 15 years.
We’re not trying to be 100% organic (though we are mostly organic through our normal practices). Nor are we trying to be 100% frugal. Instead, we’re trying to see just what our garden costs and produces based on our normal habits. We hope the results of this experiment will help us find new ways to economize and to improve our crops.
You can read about my goals for this series in The year-long GRS project: How much does a garden really save?
---Related Articles at Get Rich Slowly:

by Marie Shantilly
During times of economic hardship, many people try to save money anyway they can. This is because they may not know if they will have a job tomorrow. One way you can save money is by moving out of your expensive apartment and into low rent housing.
Low rent housing can be found online. There are services that help you look for low rent housing. All you need to do is tell that what exactly you are looking for. Set the rent to the lowest amount and they will give you low rent housing in that price range.
Get a realtor that knows low rent housing to help you
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find one. Since they understand the area and know where the cheapest housing are, you can probably find a good deal through them.
Look for low rent housing in the apartment rental magazines that you might see at the entrance to supermarkets. These magazines give you good idea about the rental conditions in a city.
Finally, try using the service of housing consultants. Housing consultants have a deal with many landlords where they get a commission if they refer people to the housing complex. Therefore the service to you is free to use.
Try to talk to residents currently living in low rent housing. They can give you some clues as to whether the complex staff cares about the residents.
As with any house, you should walk through it before you rent and make sure it is clean and nothing is broken. Any cleaning and fixing you should tell the landlord and have them take care of it right away.
A final suggestion for those wishing to move into low rent housing is to buy renter insurance. The landlords insurance only covers the building and not your personal belongings. If someone stole your things then you would be out of luck.

About the Author:
Marie Shantilly is a realtor who also manages several low rent public housing. She has helped many people find cheap housing during her career as a realtor. You would like to find out more information on low rent housing, please visit her website.

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Cutting your wedding budget doesn’t have to set guests’ tongues wagging about a dreary location or bland food.
During 2008, couples spent an average $21,814 on a wedding, according to The Wedding Report. That’s 24% less than they spent in 2007. But many couples are trimming their budgets in ways that aren’t immediately apparent to guests, says Joyce Scardina Becker, the founder of Events of Distinction, a San Francisco wedding design firm. “Guests don’t necessarily notice something missing at a wedding,” she says. “It’s what&rsqu
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o;s inconvenient, when their needs haven’t been met.” (For example, it might be better to keep that open bar and limit liquor options instead of asking guests to dig out their wallets for a cash bar.)
Here are seven cost-cutting trade-offs couples are making that aren’t obvious to their guests:

Old: Credit cardsNew: Cash

Wedding vendors are eager to avoid credit-card processing fees and -- with the recession putting pressure on future bookings -- maximize their upfront pay. Offer to hand them cash or a check, and you may be rewarded with a discount of up to 10%, says Samantha Goldberg, a wedding planner based in Summit, N.J., and a counselor on The Style Network series “Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?”

Old: SaturdaysNew: Fridays or Sundays

A Saturday wedding package can cost 10% to 20% more than an identical service during the rest of the weekend. For example, the Hermann Hill Vineyard and Inn in Hermann, Mo., charges $3,875 for its Ultimate Wine Country Wedding Package if you schedule for a Saturday. For a Friday or Sunday, you’d pay $3,325 -- 14% less.
Weekday nights can be even cheaper, but not always. You may bump up against corporate event demand at some venues, which could actually increase the price, Becker says.

Old: Separate ceremony and reception sitesNew: One location

If you book a venue that can host the ceremony and the reception, you can spend a little less on flowers and other decorations, says Vanessa Wakeman, the founder of The Wakeman Agency, an event-planning firm based in New York. You’ll also save on transportation costs, she says.

Old: Summer New: Winter

Avoid the peak months of May, June, September and October, and you can as much as double your buying power, Goldberg says. “Demand is low, so you have more leverage to negotiate with vendors,” she says. (For more on winter wedding deals, click here.)

Old: EveningNew: Morning or afternoon

“There’s an air of sophistication about [early weddings],” Wakeman says. Couples can also save on a range of expenses, even if they stick with a Saturday, summer event:

Food. More elaborate options for less. At The Valley Green Inn in Philadelphia, menu options for a $60-per-person wedding brunch include poached eggs with lobster, smoked salmon Benedict and Brie-stuffed French toast. For simple dinner options like rib-eye steak, pan-seared salmon and chicken marsala, you’d pay $82 per person ($92 if it’s a Saturday night).

Alcohol. Guests drink less at daytime weddings, Wakeman says. It’s also easy to cut the number of bottles opened with traditional daytime cocktails like a Mimosa or Bloody Mary.

Lighting. Evening weddings, indoor or out, usually require extra lights or candles. Nixing that expense can save $1,500 or more, depending on the venue, Becker says.

Entertainment. DJs and bands are most in-demand for evening events, so many might cut you a break on daytime gigs, Wakeman says. Potential savings: 10% to 30%.

Old: Invitations stuffed with extrasNew: Wedding web sites

Gone are the days when couples needed to stuff invitations with weighty extras like maps, accommodation suggestions, registry information and local amenities -- jacking up their postage costs in the process. Now free wedding web site providers like let brides and grooms share that information online and provide guests with other details about their big day. Lightening the weight of an invitation from three ounces to one would cut postage by 34 cents a letter, or about $68 for sending 200.

Old: Purchase everythingNew: Rent what you can

There’s no need to buy a fancy designer cake, or even a wedding dress, Goldberg says.
Instead of paying $15 per slice of a fancy cake, rent a plastic model covered with fondant (and one real layer snuck in for the cutting ceremony) for as little as $100. Behind the scenes, an inexpensive sheet cake for $3 a slice will be what actually goes out to guests. “Nobody will know it’s not the same cake they saw in front of them,” she says.
For wedding dresses, ask boutiques about rental rates. Typically, you’ll pay 10% to 20% of the initial selling price, Goldberg says.
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Chalk up another casualty of the recession: workers' health.
A new study released this week found that, despite all the concern over health care costs, the health of people with jobs is declining.
"Workers are putting in longer hours, afraid of losing their jobs. With less time to exercise, more than a third of employees report that work drains them of energy, leaving nothing for their personal lives,'' writes Cindy Krischer Goodman, who
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does the Work/Life Balancing Act column and blog for The Miami Herald.
The Families and Work Institute, in a report called "State of Health in the American Workforce," found:

  • 28% of employees report that their overall health is "excellent," down from 34% six years ago. Men's overall health has declined more rapidly than women's.

  • 41% of employees report experiencing three or more indicators of stress sometimes, often or very often.

  • One in three employees experiences one or more symptoms of clinical depression.

  • One in five employees has trouble falling asleep and 31% awaken too early and have trouble falling back to sleep.

  • 21% are receiving treatment for high blood pressure and 14% are being treated for high cholesterol.

  • Nearly half of U.S. employees (49%) have not engaged in regular physical exercise in the last 30 days.

  • Nearly two of three workers (62%) are overweight or obese.

  • One in four workers still smokes.

"Few would disagree that the health care path we are on represents an untenable route to increasing costs and diminishing returns," said Ellen Galinsky, co-founder and president of FWI, said in a news release. "The message is clear that beyond any reform measures on the table in Washington, it is urgent for employers and employees to pay attention to how they can promote better health, which ultimately will save money."
A few years ago, companies were talking about work-life balance. With the recession, companies want workers to put in whatever time and effort it takes to do the work that used to be done by two or three people. But the cost to workers -- and to companies that pay their health care bills -- may be higher than employers realize.
Leanne Chase at Career Life Connection wasn't surprised by any of the report's findings. But, she says, the question is what employees and employers should do to restore work-life balance and improve workers' health.
She advises workers to sometimes say no. "Yes we are in a recession and people need their jobs to keep a roof over the heads. I get that. But there are people who are more financially comfortable who can just say ‘no' when workplaces are unreasonable. And why wouldn't the workplace ask for more and more and more from workers. They don't say ‘no.' "
Sue Shellenbarger, in her Work & Family column in The Wall Street Journal, wrote about companies that make sure employees take vacations and keep their work lives in balance. A survey of 605 U.S. workers last spring by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 70% of employees work beyond scheduled time and on weekends, she wrote, and more than half blame "self-imposed pressure." She suggests that employees could actually get more done if they worked less.
How well do you balance work and life? Is your job getting in the way of your health? Do you make time for exercise and preparing healthy meals? What do you think employees and employers should do to improve workers' health? Could better work-life balance be one of the keys to lower health care costs in the United States?
Related reading:
6 money lessons of the great recession
Workers' health costs up 34% in 3 years
Hide the Doritos -- here comes HR
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