I know February’s the shortest month of the year, but where did it go? Maybe, I’ve just been too busy to notice. One good thing, we’re moving closer to spring. I’ve been thinking about my garden and already making a list of my outdoor projects. I know most places, yes, even ones that usually get icy temperatures had snow, but let’s think about gardens and plants. So to start this newsletter, here are some gardening tips I was sent from the Epsom Salt Council. I hadn’t realized that it was a plant’s best friend.
Epsom Salt helps seeds germinate, makes plants grow bushier, produces more flowers, increases chlorophyll production and deters pests, such as slugs and voles. It provides vital micronutrients to supplement your regular fertilizer. Epsom Salt is recommended by Master Gardeners and used regularly by commercial growers around the world. Tests by the National Gardening Association confirm that roses fertilized with Epsom Salt grow bushier and produce more flowers, and it also makes pepper plants grow larger than those treated only with commercial fertilizer. www.epsomsaltcouncil.org
• Houseplants: 2 tablespoons per gallon of water; feed plants monthly.
• Tomatoes: 1 tablespoon per foot of plant height per plant; apply every two weeks.
• Roses: 1 tablespoon per foot of plant height per plant; apply every two weeks. Also scratch 1/2 cup into soil at base to encourage flowering canes and healthy new basal cane growth. Soak unplanted bushes in 1 cup of Epsom Salt per gallon of water to help roots recover. Add a tablespoon of Epsom Salt to each hole at planting time. Spray with Epsom Salt solution weekly to discourage pests.
• Shrubs (evergreens, azaleas, rhododendron): 1 tablespoon per 9 square feet. Apply over root zone every 2-4 weeks.
• Lawns: Apply 3 pounds for every 1,250 square feet with a spreader, or dilute in water and apply with a sprayer.
• Trees: Apply 2 tablespoons per 9 square feet. Apply over the root zone 3 times annually.
• Garden Startup: Sprinkle 1 cup per 100 square feet. Mix into soil before planting.
More Let’s Get Ready for Spring
Whether you’re thinking about moving this year or just want to give your home a low cost make-over, here are some of my favorite ways to do just that-
Clean Out the Clutter
Realtors say clutter is one of the reasons many homes don’t sale. If you’re selling your house, or just realize you have too much stuff sitting around the house, now’s the time to tackle it. You’ve got lots of options here. You can either donate anything you don’t want and get a tax deduction next year. You can hold a garage sale, maybe team up with some other neighbors. Or even take items like clothing to a consignment shop. Just getting rid of a few odds and ends can make your house look that much neater and bigger.
A Cheap Makeover
If I’m getting bored with a room but don’t have enough in the budget for a huge makeover one thing I always turn to is paint. Even top quality paint can be purchased for around $20 or less. You’d be surprised at just how great…and clean a room looks with just a different color added to the walls.
Move Them Around
I have to admit I get bored very easily and sometimes I sit in a room and start to think about ways I’d give it a makeover. Some of my ideas would break the bank, but an inexpensive way to make everything look new again is to rearrange stuff. Last year I decided to move the two couches around and put the side table on the other side of the room. Sometimes I move photos and bits and pieces from one table to another. And one way I’ve found that can really make a room look new is to move stuff from one room to another. Every time the clocks change in spring and fall, take a few minutes to change things around. That way you can have a warm and cold weather look to your home.
Have a Swap Party
You’ve heard of people holding clothes swap parties, how about swap parties for things like vases, paintings etc. You might just find something you’ve been admiring in a friend’s house is something she really hates and wants to get rid of.
If you are thinking about selling your home one of the first things a buyer sees is your yard. The idea is to make them think if they moved in they’d have very little work to do. So trim hedges and shrubs, cut out dead branches, and pull up the weeds. And one thing that can really be inviting to any visitor is a water feature. They used to cost a fortune but you can set one up on just about any budget these days.
Windows and Carpets
Two things that most people notice when they visit your house are the carpets and windows. It doesn’t take much to clean the windows and screens, and most supermarkets rent carpet-cleaning machines these days. And to make sure things don’t get dirty all over again, keep one pair of shoes just for wearing exclusively inside the house.
The Tax Man Cometh
If you haven’t already prepared them, yes, it’s tax time again. For some of you who once followed my column on Garden and Hearth you might remember these tax tips from Eva Rosenberg, for the new readers I thought I’d include them here-
Eva Rosenberg MBA, EA a.k.a. Tax Mama. www.taxmama.com, and author of the book Small Business Taxes Made Easy for some hints and tips.
What are some of the common deductions most of us overlook and hence shortchange ourselves?
It’s not the deductions that are overlooked, but the accounting. If people took the time to keep detailed records of all expenses that might be potentially deductible, you could cut your taxes by hundreds of dollars a year. However, when it comes to non-cash deductions, like donations of clothing and household goods given to charities, most people take the lazy way out and just use numbers like $30 per bag. If they took the time to list every single thing in the bag or box, they just might end up with several hundred dollars per bag.
What are items people worry too much about and what are items most people assume trigger an audit?
They worry that real expenses (the ones they really paid), when they are too high, will trigger an audit. If those expenses were really deductible, and you have the receipts to prove you spent the money, don’t worry. TaxMama says you should never be afraid to take a deduction to which you’re entitled.
I’ve heard there’s been an increase in the number of audits, especially for those who run a business and itemize deductions. Is this true, and is there anything we can do to decrease the likelihood of being audited?
Yes, the IRS’s computers are looking for obvious signs of un-reported income and excessive deductions. What can you do? Do your bookkeeping, keep all canceled checks and receipts and get educated on what the law requires of your business. You’ll find detailed guidance in my book. It’s so cheap, that it will cost you more in extra taxes, or audits by not reading it.
What are common mistakes people make when they prepare their own tax returns?
They don’t understand what goes where. They have too many Schedule C’s for insignificant business that should be combined. They treat their 1099 income as if it were wages and don’t pay the self-employment taxes on it. They also forget to report their unemployment income…it’s taxable.
Any tips on what we should be doing this year to make tax preparation easier next year?
Yes, …seriously read my book. It’s about 12 bucks at Amazon, if you do what I tell you to do, it will save you thousands of dollars.
The Budget Smart Girl’s Tip
When it doubt about what form to use, what goes where, or any questions you have about filling or paying your taxes, it’s a smart idea to phone the IRS directly. And here’s a piece of advice that my late father gave me. When you do call an office…and not just the IRS, make a note of the day, time, department, extension number, and ask for the person’s full name. That way if there’s any question as to why you did something etc., you can refer to and prove that you actually spoke to a real person.
Variety is the Spice of Life
I had this article about spices and how to give foods some pizzazz already to post on the site but didn’t get around to it, so here it is-
The Spice Hunter’s www.spicehunter.com food scientist and product developer Daniela Massey offers winning spice combos. With more Americans experimenting with home cooking and refusing to skimp on expanding their palates into next year, she’s provided easy suggestions of spices you can combine with pantry items to kick up the flavor of everyday meals:
Chipotle, Oregano & Raspberry – The raspberry adds a sweet and tart kick when combined with smoky Chipotle and refreshing Oregano, particularly on heavier sauces like Moles, chilis and stews or in fresh salsas and fajitas.
Smoked Paprika, Coffee, Orange – This balanced trio is a satisfying rub on steaks, roasts or shrimp, and also makes a vegetarian dish of winter squash or sweet potato seamlessly savory.
Roasted Garlic, Mustard, Honey – This zesty but sweet fusion makes a tangy dressing for salad, livens up sautéed dark greens, beautifully balances the saltiness of pork, and is wonderful with goat cheese on a flatbread pizza.
Curry, Cinnamon & Green Apple – The spicy curry, warm cinnamon and tart apple complement each other perfectly in a chicken or tuna salad, is delicious in a tofu and vegetable stir fry and makes a savory applesauce to serve with pork or chicken.
And here are some more of Daniela’s tips-
•Toasting Spices – Bring out the flavor in a plethora of spices, not just Ginger and Cumin, by toasting them dry for a few minutes on the stove top.
•Spicing for Health – Turmeric provides heart-healthy antioxidants, as do Cinnamon, Cloves and other spices.
•Salt-free Seasoning – Cut down on sodium intake, not flavor, by cooking regularly with herbs and spices for seasoning instead of salt. Read the labels of blends you buy carefully for hidden sodium loads – The Spice Hunter produces the most extensive line of salt-free blends on the market.
•Fresh Year-Round – Freeze-dried herbs like The Spice Hunter’s Fresh at Hand line offer year-round convenience in your spice cabinet by providing nearly 100 percent of the original colors, aroma and flavor of fresh herbs when they aren’t available or affordable.
Budget Living Is Everywhere
I was reading the local newspaper a couple of weeks ago and saw they were putting together a special edition about ways to save money and were looking for tips so I contacted them to let them know about the Budget Smart Girl Web site. I also gave them the following tips to use-
Ten Tips for Saving Money
1.Use the library for everything from DVDs to museum passes.
2.Don’t be loyal. If your favorite supermarket/store isn’t offering the best prices, shop elsewhere.
3.Do your homework. Research prices etc. online before you buy. Get the facts so you won’t be so easily influenced by a salesman’s pitch to upgrade or buy extended warranties.
4.Buy store label brands over major manufacturer’s brands.
5.Shop the bulk bins, you can buy the amounts you need without waste and for a little bit of effort you save money.
6.Stock up while items are on sale, especially around holidays.
7.Reassess if you really need a service, like additional features on your phone, more channels on your cable subscription.
8.Swap items with neighbors or rent. For example, if you just need a tiller or sander for one job, don’t buy it, rent it or ask a neighbor if you can borrow it.
9.Get a subscription to a magazine like All You that has lots of coupons in it. And make sure you use them on double coupon days at the supermarket.
10.Use consignment stores to both buy and sell. You save money and make money on everything from clothes to household items.
Things of Interest
$1 Light Bulbs
I’ve been seeing this commercial for the energy saving light bulbs on most of the local TV stations and thought I’d check out the Web site www.responsiblebynature.com. You can type in your zip code and see which stores are participating in selling these bulbs for just $1. Seems like it’s for a limited time but the Web site has some other energy saving features too.
How Much Will It Cost?
I love magazines that offer recipes with cost printed beside them. However, not all recipes have that feature but this neat little gadget can help you figure it out. www.sensetosave.com/frugal-tools/recipecostcalc/
I love entering contests. Check out this one at Kikkoman www.kikkomanusa.com for your chance to win $10,000
And here’s one for man’s best friend at Bissell at www.bissell.com (it’s a pet photo contest).
Things That Interested Me
And finally, here are some articles and products that got my attention on the Web this month-
Does It Need To Be Tossed?
Check out this article about those expiration dates on foods www.slate.com/id/2244249
Doing the Laundry
I know buying laundry detergent won’t break the bank but this product claims it washes clothes for just 3 cents a load. I haven’t tried it but if anyone has I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Be sure not to miss this one listing all the sites for coupon lovers like us- http://finance.yahoo.com/family-home/article/108732/best-sites-for-coupon-lovers
Gadgets that Save You Money
This is a list of products that supposedly help us save us money. I have the Soda Stream machine and also a foodsaver machine, both of which I love. And we’re thinking about getting a MagicJack. www.tinyurl.com/ygutdsx
Have a good month.