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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Inspiration from Kurt Vonnegut, Sarah Rozik, Lao Tzu, and More

Once a month (or so), I share a dozen things that have inspired me to greater personal, professional, and financial success in my life. I hope they bring similar success to your life.

1. Kurt Vonnegut on building and maintaining

“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” — Kurt Vonnegut

This is one flaw (among many) that I see in myself.

I find writing the first draft of an article far more inspiring and enjoyable than editing the article, for example.

At my previous job, I found writing the first version of a software application much more enjoyable and interesting than maintaining and updating that software application.

I find the early stages of any big, long-term goal to be much more invigorating than the long process to actually make it to that goal.

Why is that? Why do I enjoy the creation more than the maintenance? Why is it true for so many others, too?

A big part of the journey I’ve been on over the last several years, as I’ve moved from a financial turnaround to a long journey toward financial independence / early retirement has been figuring out how to enjoy the maintenance in addition to the creation. It’s not easy, but there are tricks. Part of it is figuring out how to build things that fall within the maintenance of a bigger goal… but that in itself could be another article someday.

2. TasteMade

My kids have joked before that I treat Youtube like it’s a cooking channel, and I have to agree. There’s something about the focused food videos on Youtube that I really like. I find them to be (usually) far more focused on practical recipes and kitchen techniques than most modern food shows.

I tend to go through “phases” with new cooking channels on Youtube. I’ll subscribe to them, then gorge on their archives. Then, they’ll stay on my subscription list, popping up new things to watch regularly.

I often watch food videos – well, honestly, I listen to them mostly – while actually in the kitchen doing something. I’ll just set up my laptop off to the side when I’m in the kitchen making a batch of sauerkraut or washing a pan or making supper and listen to the audio and bookmark any videos that I like by using a keyboard shortcut with one hand.

Tastemade my most recent cooking channel “phase.” This is definitely a channel with a lot of different hosts – it doesn’t seem particularly driven by personalities, which I like. I like how it mixes together technique with fairly simple recipes and also show off how you can synergize well by cooking multiple things at once and combining them.

Here’s a great example

This is a video of one of the hosts, Erwan, cooking Filipino fried rice. To me, it sums up what I like – it’s not about Erwan’s personality, though he comes off as friendly, but instead the focus is on technique and why you use particular ingredients. That’s what I want from cooking videos. This actually convinced me to make a very similar fried rice a few days later, and I loved it.

My only minor quibble is that I wish the music on some of the videos was just a touch lower. I don’t mind quiet background music, but this is just a touch louder than I want. Not nearly enough to keep me from watching, though; this is definitely on my food video list.

3. Louis C.K. on erasing mistakes

“If you went back and fixed all the mistakes you’ve made, you erase yourself.” – Louis C.K.

I can look back over the years and see tons of mistakes. I was an absolute financial disaster during most of my twenties. I was really bad at building lasting friendships for most of my life and I’ve set fire to many friendships inadvertently. I see mistake after mistake after mistake when I look backwards.

Yet, now that I think about it, I wouldn’t change any of them, because if I did, I wouldn’t be where I am right now, and I’m pretty happy with where I am right now.

The only use for looking backward is to teach yourself things that you can use going forward. Lamenting the past doesn’t help. Wishing you could change things doesn’t help. Moving forward with a better mindset? That’s what matters.

4. Ryze

One of my big personal initiatives in 2017 has been to build up my friendships. I want to resuscitate a few old fading friendships, work on turning a few acquaintances into stronger friendships, and maintaining and strengthening some of my key friendships. I’m just not very good at doing this, and I often let friendships and relationships fade simply because I’m not good at it. At all.

In terms of my mind, I don’t want to take relationships for granted at all. In terms of my behavior, I sometimes do.

My initial strategy was to try doing this by adding items to my to-do list. I came up with this way-too-complicated system where I made lists of my friends and tried to make sure I was keeping in touch with them regularly and managing it via to-dos, but the whole thing fell apart out of needless complexity.

Ryze is basically an app that does exactly what I was trying to kludge together on my own. Exactly.

It’s basically a contact management tool, except that it encourages you to contact people regularly. Each day, it’ll say “contact these people – you’re letting these relationships erode” and it will immediately provide you with some things you want to touch base with them on.

I started using it a few months ago and it’s been an absolute godsend. I feel like most of my interpersonal relationships are in better shape than ever before.

Honestly, you can do everything that Ryze does on your own with other tools and using Ryze made me realize that some elements of my home-brew system could have been far better, but the tool just works. It’s really effective at keeping relationships straight.

5. Lao Tzu on acceptance and approval

“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” – Lao Tzu

Whenever I try to mold myself to others, they’re never happy with the changes. They always want more and more changes. They’re never satisfied.

Whenever I ignore them and simply try to mold myself to what I want, other people can choose to accept that or not. Most of the time, they do. If they storm off because I won’t change to suit them, that relationship wasn’t valuable, anyway.

This doesn’t mean I should ignore others. I value people’s input and thoughts and ideas. I love helping my friends.

I’ve just come to realize over time that the real standard that matters is inside of me, and I need to strive to meet that standard. Other standards don’t really matter (unless, of course, I’m being paid to match their standards).

Have high standards for yourself. Do your best to live up to them. When you do, people in your life will respect that, and if they don’t, how much do they really value you, anyway?

6. The Other Pair

The credits for this film are in Urdu, but the film is effectively silent except for the music. Words are not needed – the excellent actors evoke everything that’s necessary.

Just watch it. You’ll be glad you did.

7. Larry Smith on why you will fail to have a great career

From the description:

Throughout his three-decade career here at the University of Waterloo, Larry Smith has inspired legions of students to take up the mantle of economics with his passionate and homespun tales of economic wizardry. A renowned story-teller, teacher and youth leadership champion, Larry has also coached and mentored countless numbers of students on start-up business management and career development strategies.

His message is simple: people fail because they consistently choose the easier and more straightforward path that they’re not particularly excited about rather than the harder path that they’re excited about and passionate about. People that get into “good” career paths rarely make it to “great” because they’re not passionate about it, and the people who are merely “good” usually wind up getting grunt work dumped on them because they’re capable but not exceptional.

His argument is that you’re better off being exceptional in a lesser field than being capable in a higher-value field, and passion is the key difference between capable and exceptional. He presents it in a wonderful way, too.

8. Mark Twain on reading

“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” – Mark Twain

When I see this quote, I often mentally substitute the phrase “thoughtfully acquire knowledge” for the word “read.” In other words, “The man who thoughtlessly acquires shallow knowledge from just one source has no advantage over the man who doesn’t acquire information at all.”

Read things and listen to things and even watch things that make you think, but intentionally seek out quality sources. Then, if you find yourself slipping into truly believing some ideas, read a complete counterargument with an open mind.

I truly believe that every major problem facing the world today could be solved with an informed population that understood and respected different sides of the key issues. Instead, what happens when we don’t spend the time and effort to really inform ourselves is that we allow others to make up our minds for us. The people we allow to do that are the ones that use comforting language, maybe those who call us “real Americans” or those who simply label all other viewpoints as being “lies” without any real effort at counterargument.

Don’t give into that. If you truly think your beliefs are the right ones, challenge them. Don’t just make low-effort attempts at knocking down other viewpoints or knocking down people who present those other viewpoints.

9. David Gilmour – Wish You Were Here (unplugged)

This is the best song about lost friendship that I’ve ever heard, bar none. It captures the feeling of a lost friend, one whose absence that you grieve.

You may be able to tell from some of the other entries here that lost friends have been on my mind lately. There are people who were once such a core part of my life that somehow drifted away. I can’t recall ever really diverging from them in terms of who we were, but that familiar rhythm of seeing each other nearly every day just slowly fell away.

This song captures that feeling so perfectly.

10. Buddha on today

“Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” – Buddha

If you’re progressing toward a big long-term goal, today is the only day that matters. The actions you take today are the only ones you actually have control over. You can’t change the past – it’s already happened. You can’t control what you’ll do in the future, either. You can only control what you do right now.

So, right now, are you going to do something that helps your goal? Or are you going to do something that works against it? Are you going to go above and beyond today to make this happen? Or are you uncommitted, more interested in doing other things today?

One path leads straight to your goals. The other does not. It’s your choice, and today is what actually matters.

11. Pharrell Williams’ Happy (trombone loop), performed by Christopher Bill

A few days ago, I was trying to explain how recorded music was made by recording different bits and pieces at a time. Often, those different bits are looped to create a very standardized feel throughout the song and they can be mixed up, too.

I was stretching for a way to really show it to them. I attempted to do a simple version myself using a clapping rhythm and GarageBand software, but it wasn’t really clicking due to my lack of musical talent.

So I went searching, and I found this.

My children quite like the original song, Happy by Pharrell Williams. This is a talented trombone player who basically recreates the loops from the song on the fly using a computer. He plays pieces, then hits a button on his computer to add them to loops. He starts off with a bit of body percussion to get it started, then adds trombone pieces as he goes.

This is the video that made the idea click for them. It’s not about telling, it’s about showing the process at work, and this one does it with no explanation, just demonstration. The guy’s exceptionally talented and this not only shows off both his musical skills and engineering skills, but it also makes it clear how modern music is constructed. Everything beyond this is specialized tricks, really.

Our family has made some atrociously bad looping music since watching this. It’s awful, but the creation process has been fun.

12. Marcus Aurelius on pain

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” – Marcus Aurelius

If someone is causing you emotional pain – making you worry or making you angry or making you upset – you have the power to control that emotion. You have the power to decide whether to feel worry or anger or upset or sadness.

They may have questionable character for having done something to trigger those feelings within you, but you have the power to control those feelings. You get to decide whether that anger or worry or sadness or upset controls your life, or whether you control those emotions.

Do not let the actions of others steer you into sadness. Step back. Recognize that other people often take actions that are not in your best interest. They usually take actions that are in their own best interest alone and that can often leave you in a worse place. Accept it. Reform your opinion of their character, and move on from there to things that bring joy and contentment rather than sadness or anger.

Good luck.

The post Inspiration from Kurt Vonnegut, Sarah Rozik, Lao Tzu, and More appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Friday, June 30, 2017

The College Student’s Guide to Getting Out of Credit Card Debt (2017)

Credit cards can be powerful tools for college students. By using the right credit card responsibly, students can graduate with zero debt and and a great credit score that will help them score a better interest rate when buying a home, qualify for credit cards with better rewards, or get a small business loan. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

It’s easy for students with minimal financial experience to swipe their way to a high credit card balance. In 2016, over 30% of active students had an average credit card balance of $2,573 dollars. (And 33% of those students said they had maxed out their card that same year.) That’s a chunk of change — especially for those who have recently begun paying toward student loans.

If you’ve found yourself in this situation, here’s the good news: With the right strategy, you can minimize interest payments and erase your credit card debt as quickly as possible. Here’s how to do it.

First, review your credit card debt.

Be warned: This is the worst part. Reviewing how much money you owe can be disheartening, but you should embrace it. The more you understand the reality of your situation, the more focused you’ll become on your goal: eliminating your debt.

The first thing you need to do is to jot down a few figures for each of your active credit cards: the outstanding balance, the interest rate, and your minimum monthly payment. Now plug those numbers into our debt payoff calculator below to get a bird’s eye view of your situation.

Here’s a tip: Make sure you input the minimum monthly payment for each card regardless of whether you plan to pay extra. It’s important to start off with the baseline scenario, otherwise you risk misinterpreting the severity of your debt, which could result in a less effective payoff strategy.

TYPE OF DEBT
NAME OF DEBT
AMOUNT OWED (PRINCIPAL)
$
INTEREST RATE
%
MONTHLY PAYMENT
$
I can't pay off my debt! I'm not paying enough each month.
EXTRA MONTHLY PAYMENT
$

Use slider to see how paying a little extra each month can get your debt paid off faster and save your money

$0
TOTAL MONTHLY PAYMENT0Monthly payment: 0Extra payment: 0
DEBT FREE BY
Interest saved by extra payments:0
TYPE OF DEBT
NAME OF DEBT
AMOUNT OWED (PRINCIPAL)
$
INTEREST RATE
%
MONTHLY PAYMENT
$
I can't pay off my debt! I'm not paying enough each month.
EXTRA MONTHLY PAYMENT
$

Use slider to see how paying a little extra each month can get your debt paid off faster and save your money

$0
TOTAL MONTHLY PAYMENT0Monthly payment: 0Extra payment: 0
DEBT FREE BY
Interest saved by extra payments:0
TYPE OF DEBT
NAME OF DEBT
AMOUNT OWED (PRINCIPAL)
$
INTEREST RATE
%
MONTHLY PAYMENT
$
I can't pay off my debt! I'm not paying enough each month.
EXTRA MONTHLY PAYMENT
$

Use slider to see how paying a little extra each month can get your debt paid off faster and save your money

$0
TOTAL MONTHLY PAYMENT0Monthly payment: 0Extra payment: 0
DEBT FREE BY
Interest saved by extra payments:0
TYPE OF DEBT
NAME OF DEBT
AMOUNT OWED (PRINCIPAL)
$
INTEREST RATE
%
MONTHLY PAYMENT
$
I can't pay off my debt! I'm not paying enough each month.
EXTRA MONTHLY PAYMENT
$

Use slider to see how paying a little extra each month can get your debt paid off faster and save your money

$0
TOTAL MONTHLY PAYMENT0Monthly payment: 0Extra payment: 0
DEBT FREE BY
Interest saved by extra payments:0
TYPE OF DEBT
NAME OF DEBT
AMOUNT OWED (PRINCIPAL)
$
INTEREST RATE
%
MONTHLY PAYMENT
$
I can't pay off my debt! I'm not paying enough each month.
EXTRA MONTHLY PAYMENT
$

Use slider to see how paying a little extra each month can get your debt paid off faster and save your money

$0
TOTAL MONTHLY PAYMENT0Monthly payment: 0Extra payment: 0
DEBT FREE BY
Interest saved by extra payments:0
CURRENT PAYOFF PLAN
  • Total Monthly Payment
    0
  • Total Principal
    0
  • Total Interest
    0
  • Payoff Date
    0
ACCELERATED PAYOFF PLAN
  • Total Monthly Payment
    0
  • Total Principal
    0
  • Total Interest
    0
  • Payoff Date
    0

Related: How to use The Simple Dollar’s Debt Payoff Calculator

Once you’ve logged your information, pay attention to two key items: the payoff date and total interest. The payoff date shows you how long it will take to get out of debt if you make the minimum monthly payment for each bill. The total interest refers to the amount of extra money you’ll pay over the course of your debt. Both of these figures can be sobering if you have a lot to pay, but they’re crucial for understanding the journey ahead of you.

Now that you understand your situation, it’s time to build your payoff strategy.

Then build your debt payoff strategy.

Dealing with debt is never fun. It takes grit, determination, and always requires a change of lifestyle. If you have racked up an average amount of debt (around $2,500), it could take months or years to wipe the slate. Thankfully, there are five practical tactics that can help speed up the process and minimize the interest you have to pay. (Plus, you’ll develop a better financial mindset in the process!)

Tactic 1: Consider a balance transfer.

Visit our guide to balance transfer cards to see your options.

A balance transfer (the act of transferring your balance due from one credit card to another) is one of the first tactics you should consider — especially if you owe several thousand dollars or more. Moving your debt from one place to another might sound counterintuitive, but the benefits are two-fold.

Benefit: 0% interest

Many balance transfer cards offer 0% intro APR for a year or more, which means you don’t pay any interest. That interest-free period gives you the opportunity to apply 100% of your payment to the principal and minimize the amount of interest your pay down the road.

For example, if you have $3,000 on a card with 18% APR, you would pay an additional $588 in interest over two years while making a $150 monthly payment. After transferring that to a balance transfer card with 0% APR for 15 months, however, you would knock out $2,250 of your debt before you pay any interest at all. If that balance transfer card has the same 18% APR once month 16 kicks in, you’d only wind up paying an extra $35 in interest on the remainder of your debt. That’s about $550 less than the total you would pay without using a balance transfer card.

Benefit: debt consolidation

Second, most balance transfer cards allow you to combine debts from multiple cards as long as you don’t exceed the overall credit limit. So instead of keeping track of multiple accounts, you just have one monthly payment to remember — oftentimes at a more attractive interest rate. The simpler, the better.

Tactic 2: Pay more than the minimum payment.

Only 26% of college students say they pay more than the minimum payment. That’s too bad, because it’s one of the best ways to whip debt into shape as quickly as possible.

Let’s say you have an outstanding balance of $500 on your card. The interest rate is 15% (which is pretty common for student credit cards) and your minimum monthly payment is $25. If you stick with the minimum payment, it will take you exactly two years to pay off your balance, along with $78 of interest.

If you pay at least $15 extra each month toward the principal, you’ll pay your card off nine months earlier than you would have making the minimum payment. You’ll also save about $10 on interest.

Prioritize payoffs from smallest to largest.

If you have multiple cards with outstanding balances (and you can’t consolidate them all with a balance transfer card), try Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball method. List all of your balances in order of smallest to largest and focus all your extra cash on the smallest debt first. Let’s call that debt A. When you’ve finished paying off debt A, start applying all the money you were spending on debt A (including the extra you had been applying toward the principal) toward the next largest debt on your list. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, this approach helps you gain momentum. Plus, you’ll get the added psychological benefit of checking a debt off your list early on in the process.

Finding wiggle room in your budget can be difficult to do, especially if you’re a recent grad who hasn’t landed a job yet. But if you get creative, there are plenty of ways to rack up a few extra dollars each month.

For starters, you can sell stuff. Perhaps you have some books to sell back to your campus bookstore? Maybe you don’t need your longboard anymore? Sell it and put that money toward your balance. Another strategy is to pick up a side hustle. And if that isn’t feasible, you might be able to commit to completing one odd job every month for family or friends. Don’t write anything off, no matter how small the contribution — even $10 extra a month can make a big difference.

Tactic 3: Avoid fees by paying on time.

Late payments are a big deal: In 2016, 33% percent of active students made late payments, and 15% completely missed a payment. Thanks to the 2010 addendum to the Credit CARD Act, your first late fee is capped at $25, no matter what type of card you have. But after that, the offense can rack up a fee around $37, plus a higher penalty APR.

Just a couple of late fees can seriously derail your payoff strategy, so it’s incredibly important to stay on top of your payments. Think beyond the penalties. Every time you incur a fee, you miss out on the opportunity to pay apply that extra cash toward the principal. It slows down your payoff rate and increases the amount of total interest you pay in the long run. Don’t rely on your memory — add payment dates to your calendar and/or to-do list every month.

Setting up automatic payments is another great way to prevent late fees. But this only works if you keep enough money in your bank account. If you have a history of overdrafting your checking account, you might not be ready for auto pay yet.

Tactic 4: Negotiate.

If you’ve already incurred a late fee, there’s still hope. Call your credit card provider discuss it. According to a 2014 study, nine out of ten cardholders successfully got late fees waived by pleading their case on the phone. Remember: The worst your provider can tell you is no.

But don’t stop there. Two out of three of those cardholders were also approved for lower interest rates simply because they asked for it. Knocking your APR down several points can have a big impact down the road, especially if you have a hefty balance.

Tactic 5: Tighten up your budget (or create one).

There are plenty of good reasons to use a budget. But when it comes to paying off credit card debt, there’s one standout reason: A budget helps you identify and walk away from expensive habits that you might not realize you have. A $5.50 latte on your way to school every morning might not seem like a lot in the moment, but when you tally it up on a budget, the effect on your wallet becomes much more obvious.

Budgets are a tool to help you mold your normal behaviors into a set of more financially responsible behaviors, nothing more, nothing less. — Trent Hamm, founder of The Simple Dollar

When you pay attention to every penny that comes in and out of your bank account, you’re more you’re apt to make smarter purchases in the future. And even more importantly, you’ll be able to cut down on unnecessary expenses and apply that extra money toward your principal. And the more you pay on your principal, the less interest you pay in the long run.

The post The College Student’s Guide to Getting Out of Credit Card Debt (2017) appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Using Negative Visualization to Reduce the Desire for More

What would my life be like if Sarah suddenly died? What if one of my children suddenly died?

Those scenarios seem like horror stories to me – and, frankly, they still do. Those four people – my wife and my three kids – are really the cornerstones of my life right now. I invest more of my energy into being a good husband and a good father than I do into almost every other aspect of my life, yet I still feel that I get more value out of those relationships than I put into them.

The thing is, there are still times when I essentially take them for granted. I assume that Sarah will always be there – beautiful, reliable Sarah. I assume my kids will always be there. I don’t think about what they add to my life.

When I begin to feel that way, I usually end up feeling dissatisfied with my life, not satisfied. I find myself reflecting on all of the things that I don’t have, and I get frustrated and upset.

I want more, in other words. When I become complacent with the things I have in my life, my desire for more starts creeping up and I find myself becoming unhappy with what I have.

I can’t even put into words how counterproductive that feeling is, yet it’s an incredibly common feeling. Almost everyone I’ve talked about this feeling with has had it at some point in their life. Their life seems great and they have almost everything they’ve ever wanted… and yet they’re unhappy. It’s not enough.

Sometimes, when I’m not being too rational or thoughtful about things, I will try to quell that feeling by buying more stuff. For example, I’ll lose touch of the good things I have in my life a little bit, feel frustrated that I don’t have more time for my hobbies, and try to quell that feeling by buying something for that hobby.

That purchase feels really good… in the very short term. Before long, however, the sense of not having enough creeps back in. I still want more.

Here’s the truth: if you listen to that voice, you’ll quickly realize that there will never be enough, that you will always desire more. And there is always more to desire.

How do you fix that? In general, the solution is obvious: learn to appreciate what you have rather than lusting for what you don’t have. How do you do that practically, though?

The solution is actually in that seemingly miserable pair of questions I stated at the top of this article.

What would my life be like if Sarah suddenly died? What if one of my children suddenly died?

Every once in a while – maybe twice a week or so – I spend some time seriously thinking about those questions, and a few other similar questions. What would my life be like if I suddenly lost some of the things that I care the most about?

What if I lost Sarah? What if I lost my kids? What if I lost my vision? What if I lost my ability to walk? What if I lost my ability to creatively express myself? What if I lost my opportunity to write for a living?

I think about those things and I try to imagine my life without them.

My life without Sarah would feel pretty empty. I absolutely love the conversations we have literally every day. I love doing things with her and spending time with her. I have undying appreciation for her wisdom and for all of the things she quietly handles in our life. I love that absolutely warm smile she gets when she’s happy and that twinkle in her eye when she has one of her crazy ideas.

My life without my children would feel pretty empty, too. I would miss my oldest son’s considerate and kind heart. I would miss my daughter’s bursts of creativity. I would miss my youngest son’s humor and surprising compassion. I would miss our conversations and our games and the sheer joy of watching them grow up and develop into their own selves.

My life without my vision… my life without my creative expression… my life without my meaningful career… my life without mobility… those things all seem so incredibly challenging. I could do them, of course, but they would represent such a drop and such a redirection from where I’m at right now.

When I think about things like that, I can’t help but be flooded with appreciation for her and what I have. I want to rush over and embrace Sarah and hold her close and whisper in her ear. I want to go on some crazy adventure with my kids. I want to go on a long walk and feel soft grass underneath my feet with sunshine on my shoulders. I want to sit down and write and write and write until I’ve drained every ounce of creativity from my spirit. I want to curl up with a great book for an entire afternoon. I want to write some mythically great article that touches the soul of everyone who reads it.

In other words, when I really give into visualizing my life without the things that I have that I value the most, I suddenly desperately want what I already have. Realizing what I do have, and then diving deep into exactly what I love about it, brings me a ton of joy. I suddenly feel incredibly joyous because of the bounty in my life.

Why do I ever need more than that?

That simple thought experiment is the single most effective tool I’ve ever found for erasing my desire for “more” and building contentment and finding joy with what I have. It’s called “negative visualization,” and it’s one of the key tools taught by the Stoic life philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome. One of Stoicism’s foremost practitioners, Epictetus, once wrote the following in his great work, The Enchiridion:

“Hold death and exile and all that seems dreadful before your eyes every day, but most of all death: and you will never think of anything bad or desire anything too much.”

Imagine the loss of what you hold most dear and see how adversely your life is affected by it. If you do that simple thing regularly, you stop taking it for granted and begin appreciating what you have. When that shift occurs, your desire for more quickly fades away.

A final thought: isn’t a desire for “more” a good thing? Without that desire, wouldn’t it be difficult to motivate ourselves to do things?

I’ll turn that back around: why, exactly, does a person work hard every day? Do you work hard so that you can accumulate more and more stuff that you don’t have time to use? Or do you work hard to preserve and protect the things you care about the most and to have truly meaningful experiences in life?

Bringing about a contentment with your life and a drastic reduction in the desire for more doesn’t mean that you stop working for anything. I work hard to preserve and protect and genuinely enhance the things I care about the most, the things that I would be devastated to lose. I cultivate – or at least try to cultivate – the things I value the most in my life. I try to invest in my body and mind so that I can have the best chance at living a long life with a sound mind.

In the end, I realize that a truly blessed and content life is one that is filled with the things I truly care about in their best state – my body, my mind, my relationship with my loved ones, their own sound body and mind, learning, and so on. That, to me, is the best life, and it’s really revealed to me when I consider what my life is like when those elements are taken away from it. If my life would be pained by the loss of something, then it is worth my time and effort to do what I can to preserve and protect and enhance that thing. Acquiring more stuff and being unhappy with what I have rarely helps that goal at all.

Let me put it another way. I don’t work to have piles of stuff – in fact, when I do so, I’ve usually made a mistake. I work so that I have a strong relationship with my wife and a strong relationship with my kids and that they have fulfilling lives. I work so that I have a strong body and a strong mind. I work so that I can have the freedom to enjoy a long hike in the woods on a sunny day without much worry on my shoulders.

It’s when I move away from that, when I start to take all of that for granted and start desiring more and more and more, that I begin to be troubled. Negative visualization takes that endless empty desire and locks it away. It redirects me back to the things that I cherish most in my life and reminds me that those are the things worth working for, to protect them and to enhance them in a healthy way.

Take some time to practice negative visualization, not as a constant tactic, but as an occasional one, to remind yourself of the bounty you have in life and to remind yourself that protecting and preserving and enhancing that bounty is a life’s work, indeed. Good luck!

The post Using Negative Visualization to Reduce the Desire for More appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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The K-12 Teacher’s Guide to Funding Classroom Supplies

It’s often been said that you can’t put a price on education, but what about the out-of-pocket classroom expenses incurred by educators each year? In 2015, the average teacher spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 with 10% spending $1,000 or more. And these were not isolated incidents. According to an AdoptAClassroom.org study, 91% of teachers make these costly investments in their students’ education.

As an educator, nothing is more important than ensuring your students have the tools they need to learn. But how do you get the funding necessary to facilitate that growth when it’s likely to come out of your own pocket? Furthermore, how do you make do with what you have? If you’re a K-12 teacher looking for help, check out the following strategies for funding your classroom without breaking the bank.

How to Get Funding

There are several ways you can find the funding necessary to give your students the best educational experience. From taking advantage of tax deductions to utilizing cash back credit cards, we’ll cover some of the best ways to raise money for classroom supplies.

Tax Deductions

K-12 teachers can take advantage of the Educator Expense Tax Deduction to help put a dent in out-of-pocket expenses. To be eligible, you must be a K-12 teacher and have at least 900 hours of work experience at a school that is state-certified to provide elementary or secondary education. The latter requirement can apply to public, private, and religious schools.

Up to $250 max can be deducted from your taxes to cover educational materials, including:

  • Books
  • School supplies (notebooks, pencils, pens)
  • Computer equipment and software
  • Athletic equipment (physical education)

Just be sure to keep receipts when shopping for the classroom. (And remember that you can only deduct expenses if you are not already receiving reimbursement from your school.)

Grants

There are thousands of grants available to educators. Of the various types of grants available to K-12 teachers, two of the most common types are federal and private.

Federal Grants

Federal grants are economic aid issued by the United States government. You can find a massive listing of federal grants on Grants.gov; filter results by the “Education” category.

Private Grants

Unlike federal grants, private funding does not entail funding from any federal, state, or any other public agency. Rather, private grants are funds distributed to the community based on a particular organization’s mission – many of which include helping educators. A few examples of private grants that help K-12 teachers include:

Sites like InsidePhilanthropy are a great place to start when looking for private funding for your classroom. Edutopia is another great resource for finding classroom funding.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding success stories are no longer reserved for inventors and budding entrepreneurs. K-12 teachers can now utilize popular crowdfunding platforms to help fund their classrooms. In fact, it was reported that educational crowdfunding campaigns managed to raise almost $140 million in 2015.

Let’s start with the most popular platforms. There’s Kickstarter and GoFundMe, but if you are looking for an education-focused platform, there’s also DonorsChoose. But how do you choose the right one — and how do you crowdfund effectively?

Kickstarter

On the surface, Kickstarter is a place where projects receive funding from interested patrons. It’s home to a huge array of campaigns ranging from inventions to business ideas to art projects. As a result, it can seem a little daunting to educators looking for classroom funding.

Crowdfunding Your Classroom through Kickstarter

Since Kickstarter is more commonly a platform for innovative ideas than for general funding or charity, it might help if you developed a particular classroom initiative or project for your students to carry out. A project involving a creative showcase of students’ ideas or inventions could gain traction. A good example of a successfully-funded Kickstarter classroom campaign involved a class receiving the necessary support for a green classroom. Not only did they make their classroom more energy efficient, they were able to afford the materials necessary to learn more about conservation and solar power.

GoFundMe

Lots of people use GoFundMe not just to help fund their own educational endeavors but to raise money for their classrooms. K-12 teachers can make use of this platform as well.

Crowdfunding Your Classroom through GoFundMe

To raise the necessary funds, explain what your lesson plan will entail and the specific supplies you will need to make it happen. This gives potential donors a chance to see where their money is going and generally helps successfully fund most campaigns on this particular platform. Greta Van De Carr is living proof that if you reach out with a solid lesson plan and a reasonable goal, people will come together for the children. Now she can afford the books she needs and the iPad for the class to share.

DonorsChoose

DonorsChoose is the quintessential platform for teachers who need a little help providing their students with an enriching experience. In fact, it’s such a great platform that 70% of all projects submitted are fully funded.

Crowdfunding Your Classroom through DonorsChoose

It helps if you can try to estimate just how much funding you’ll need. There are plenty of personal budgeting apps that can help you get a clearer picture of your classroom expenses. Around 90% of projects that total less than $200 are successfully funded on DonorsChoose, but more ambitious endeavors can also succeed. Be specific about your needs, and include information about your vision for the classroom experience to help donors connect with your campaign. Michelle Ramos, who teaches PreK-12 was able to get the funding she needed for multiple projects using DonorsChoose, ranging from arts and science to games and puzzles for growing minds. She also shares the secret of her success with other teachers whose campaigns were fully funded.

Choosing the Right Platform

While Kickstarter is the household name in crowdfunding, it might not be the best platform unless you have an ambitious, innovative idea. The ideal platform for most K-12 teachers will likely be DonorsChoose, but there have been some great success stories on GoFundMe. You might also try organizations like AdoptAClassroom.org, where you can register your classroom to receive funding and donations.

Cash Back Credit Cards

Another way to lessen out-of-pocket costs:  opt for a cash back credit card. Particularly a card that offers high-rate cash back on the types of purchases you’re already making.

These cash back rewards can really add up, especially if you’re earning them with a card that rewards your regular spending habits. Redeem your rewards for statement credits or gift cards (depending on the credit card you choose) to spend on the supplies you need. As long as you don’t alter your spending to earn more cash back, this is essentially free money for your classroom!

Making the Most of What You Have

Locating additional funding can be a little tricky. Whichever strategy you choose it’s smart to make the most of what you already have.

Buy in Bulk (And on the Cheap)

Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy your school supplies in bulk. Stores like Dollar Tree have online shops where you can buy composition notebooks, safety scissors, markers, and more in bulk for a reduced “case” price.

Ask for Donations of Gently-Used Supplies

There’s no shame in asking for donations, and you might find that plenty of people are willing to donate their gently-used supplies for your class. Put the word out at your local church and if there are any community groups in the neighborhood, let them know you need supplies. If you have a colleague who is about to retire or move on to a new age group, see if they have any extra classroom supplies you could use. Your local library is also a great place to check for any gently-used book sales as many of these institutions are all-too-eager to contribute to the classroom.

The post The K-12 Teacher’s Guide to Funding Classroom Supplies appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Halfway There: Nine Ways to Assess Your Year-Long Goals at the Midpoint

Many, many people set year-long goals for themselves. I do it myself – for me, this year is a year of downsizing in various ways. For others, the goals might be specific – I want to eliminate half of my debt in the coming year – or they might be vague – I want to get in better shape. No matter what your goal is, though, a key part of success with that goal is reassessment and accountability to yourself, and there is no better time to reassess a goal than at the midway point.

Right now, you’re halfway there (or very close to it). You’ve probably seen some successes and some setbacks. You also probably have a much more realistic understanding of the goal and what it takes – and will take – to get to where you want to be.

Here are nine strategies you can use at this halfway point to assess your big goals for the year. Take a few moments to pause in the next few days and go through these techniques with your big initiatives for the year. You very well might find that these strategies bring forth a renewed energy and new directions for your goals.

Strategy #1: Look at your overall progress
Most good goals are measurable goals, in that they offer some very clear way to count your progress going forward. It might be an account balance. It might be your weight. It might be your step count. It might be your total debt. It might be your net worth. However you measure your goal, step back for a moment and look at that measurement in three places.

Where did you start? Where are you now? Where do you hope to finish?

Ideally, of course, you should be somewhere around halfway to your goal at the midway point. It doesn’t have to be exactly halfway – you might be more than halfway or a little less and it’s all fine. As long as you’ve made some significant progress, you’re in good shape.

The thing to really note here is whether you’re actually tracking along for a realistic shot at achieving your goal by the end of the year. Do you need to step it up to make it? If you step it up, can you actually exceed your goal?

I find that I’m usually most successful with yearlong goals if I’m at about 40% of where I want to be at the halfway point, for several reasons. One, 40% is enough to show me that I’m making real progress and that the goal is achievable, but that I need to keep going forward. It also gives me a lot of incentive to step back and reassess my tactics, which is the real focus of the next few strategies.

Strategy #2: Assess which tactics worked the best
During the first half of the year, you likely tried a bunch of different tactics to achieve your goal. If your goal was debt repayment, for example, it’s very likely that you used a bunch of frugal tactics to cut your spending and maybe did a few things to earn some extra cash. The same is probably true for improving your net worth. If your goal was career oriented, you probably pushed yourself to make yourself more attractive to employers by taking on big projects and building skills.

Now is the time to step back and assess the individual tactics you tried. Which ones really seemed to take hold and provide great results for you? Don’t worry about the failures at the moment. Instead, look at what really worked the best.

For example, you may have found that buying store brand products worked really well because your grocery expenses dropped significantly without any real negative impact on your life. You might have done some energy improvements and you can really see the year-over-year difference in your energy bill. Maybe you found some success in selling off unwanted stuff on Craigslist and flipping some yard sale and thrift store finds.

Try to find five specific things that you did that were really successful in terms of providing positive results without a whole lot of negative impact. These are your big successes and they should be a big source of inspiration – and a source for ideas – in the coming months.

Strategy #3: Figure out ways to maximize those tactics going forward
Now, look at those five specific successful tactics. How many of them can you directly continue in the coming months? How many of them could you actually expand a little in the coming months? Those are ones you should really bear down on in the future.

Let’s say, for example, that you’ve found a ton of success in cutting food costs by making meals at home. Going forward, emphasize this even more. You’ve seen that it works, that you can do this, that you can produce great meals at home at a low cost. Double down on this line of attack. What can you do to prepare even more meals at home? Will bulk meal preparation help you?

What if you’ve found a lot of success selling stuff on Craigslist? Do you have anything else that you can sell on there? Maybe you can hit more thrift stores for things to flip onto Craigslist. Maybe you can hit more summer yard sales. Maybe there’s another closet or two you can pillage.

Maybe you’ve found success with improving energy efficiency. It’s likely that there are even more things you can do to improve energy efficiency at home. Are you running your ceiling fans in the right direction for the season? Is your home well insulated? Do you have weatherstripping?

The goal here is to get all of the value you can out of the strategies that really click with you, because that probably means (a) that tactic is successful and (b) you find it pleasant and repeatable. If it works, stick with it.

Strategy #4: Assess which tactics didn’t work
At the same time, you’ve probably thrown some tactics at this challenge that just didn’t work at all. Maybe you decided you would “spend less” on hobbies but your hobby spending hasn’t really declined. Maybe you decided to “cut down” on sweets but you’re still knocking back a bunch of sugary treats. Maybe you committed to walking 10,000 steps a day but are only averaging 4,000.

Right now is the time to look at your tactics and simply accept that some of them just aren’t working for some reason or another. It may be that you simply can’t follow through with what needs to be done with a specific tactic in its current form. It may be that other elements of your life are making it difficult for you to succeed, like a busy family that struggles to wean itself from ordering constant takeout.

Whatever it is, accept that at least a few of the things you’re doing right now aren’t working.

It can be really hard to accept that you’re pouring effort and time into tactics that simply aren’t producing results, especially when on the surface you believe that they should be producing results. The reality is that there probably is a way to find success with that particular tactic, but not in the way you’re approaching it.

In other words, you simply need to dump bad approaches. Wherever you’re investing time, effort, energy, focus, or money into progress toward a goal and you’re not seeing any significant progress, that’s a place where you need to accept that a new approach is needed and that your time, effort, energy, focus, and money can and should be used in a better way.

Strategy #5: Eliminate or refactor those tactics for the second half
These bad approaches, as well-intentioned as they might be, simply aren’t working. So drop them. Don’t keep throwing effort and energy and focus behind tactics that simply aren’t doing what you want them to do. It’s a waste of valuable energy, focus, and time, all of which could be used to find success with other tactics.

Dump those bad tactics and don’t lament that they didn’t work. Instead, be glad that you have given yourself permission to use your focus, energy, time, and effort in better ways that will produce more useful results.

That doesn’t mean that these experiences were useless. In examining your failed tactics with this kind of critical eye, you may see a new approach that might work much better for you. For example, if you’re finding it hard to hit a daily step goal of 10,000 steps and you’re not even coming close to it, perhaps resetting the goal to 5,000 steps might work. A simple readjustment of a daily or weekly goal into a range that’s actually achievable will produce positive results, even if it’s not the high threshold you once had. You’re better off pushing yourself to do a little more and succeeding than pushing yourself to do a lot more and failing.

At the same time, re-evaluation of a failed tactic might point you in a completely different direction for success. For example, you might realize that, although a particular class didn’t work for you as you try to earn a certification, you realized that hands-on learning really excites you, so seeking out hands-on learning opportunities could be a great tactic to use going forward in terms of bolstering your career. Alternately, you may find that, although you like cooking and eating homemade food, you don’t like having to do it in the evening after a ten hour day, so having a weekly “meal prep day” might be a really good strategy to try.

Dump bad tactics, but at the same time, try to learn from them. Adjust the tactics to match your reality, or use the ashes of a failed tactic to give birth to a new approach.

Strategy #6: Look for new tactics to try in the second half
Since you’re dropping some tactics, right now is a great time to look for some new tactics to replace them. Reworking your game plan doesn’t mean just dropping what doesn’t work and “doing more” of what does work. It means bringing new things online that may help the cause.

If you’re lining up for a promotion at work, take a fresh look at the job requirements of what you’re shooting for and start applying tactics to achieve all of those things. If you’re trying to spend less money, browse through some frugality strategies and pull out some new ones you haven’t tried before. If you’re trying to launch a side business, do some brainstorming of new directions to take on.

Just like the start of the year, some of these will work and some of these won’t. However, you’ve dumped a bunch of tactics that you know don’t work and you’re retaining a bunch that do work, so use that insight when collecting new tactics. You may be able to draw some general conclusions about things that will click and things that won’t click, and you can use that sense of what works to make smarter tactical choices.

In general, I find that thirty day challenges work really well for trying new tactics on the road to a big goal. Focus intensely on one tactic for thirty days and see what the true impact of that tactic is. Does it click? Does it give big results? If it does, keep it around. If not, drop it and move on to the next tactic.

Strategy #7: Look for unexpected problems that cropped up in the first half
No significant goal, and no significant stretch in life, is completely smooth. You’re not going to travel in a straight line from point A to point B if there’s any significant distance at all between the two. Unexpected events – things you can’t possibly see when you depart – are going to move you in unexpected ways and cause unexpected problems.

What unexpected problems happened for you in the first half of the year? Did you find yourself with a bunch of unexpected expensive travel? Did you find yourself in situations where you couldn’t count calories very easily? Did you get sick? Did you lose your job? Did you find yourself stretched way too thin in terms of time commitments?

Try to identify at least three problems that came up during the first half of the year that you didn’t expect that caused your progress toward the goal to be slowed or blocked in some way. What things happened unexpectedly in your life that caused you to not drift straight toward your goal?

Simply being aware that these problems exist can be an eye-opener, because it means that in the future you will plan for some unexpected events and you also have some idea of the impact they can have on even the best laid personal plans. However, you can also take direct advantage of what you now know and plot a better path going forward…

Strategy #8: Develop specific solutions to those new problems
If you followed the last strategy, you should have identified three problems that popped up unexpectedly as you marched toward your goal. Likely, you kludged together some sort of a quick solution for those problems and kept on marching. You paid for the travel with a credit card and a sigh. You nursed your broken ankle. You dropped all of your savings plans and started searching urgently for new work.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, ask yourself what you could have been doing differently to minimize the negative impact of those unexpected events. What could you have done to be more prepared for a job loss? What could you have done to be more prepared for unexpected travel? What could you have done to be more prepared for unexpected interruptions to your workout routines?

These types of evaluations will often push you toward what I would describe as “transferable” life choices. In other words, when you start looking at how life has interfered with your goals and start looking at solutions to those different interferences, what you’re really doing is looking to make your overall life less susceptible to interference. It will actually help all of your goals.

For example, if you found that your debt repayment plan was slowed drastically by your car breaking down in March, you’ll quickly see that having an emergency fund in place would have done a great deal to keep that from happening, so you’ll make an emergency fund into a higher priority. However, an emergency fund is going to be helpful in terms of preventing interference with many different goals, not just your current one. It might keep you from having to miss a day or two of work to take care of a life problem, which can hurt your standing at work. It might enable you to take a trip to be with an ailing friend when you might not have been able to otherwise pull it off, which can help your social and spiritual life. Emergency funds are just helpful.

The same exact thing is true with almost every solution you implement to these problems. Efforts to improve your employability makes it easy to handle all kinds of unexpected career events and many personal events, all of which can impact both the flow of ordinary life and your progress toward a myriad of goals. Having a side gig improves your professional options and, eventually, improves your personal options, too.

Evaluating the unexpected problems in your life and coming up with lasting solutions for them is always a good strategy, but it’s particularly good at helping you keep marching toward big goals.

Strategy #9: Restate your goal as a six month goal
This is a strategy that works really well for me when it comes to big goals. At the halfway point, I actually cut the goal in half and restart.

So, let’s say my goal was to pay down $10,000 in debt this year. At the halfway point, I’ve dropped that debt down to $5,500. So, right now, my goal changes. I don’t worry about the “year long” goal any more. Instead, I have a six month goal – I need to pay off $5,500 in debt in the next six months.

I find this strategy to be very powerful because it makes that goal feel more immediate. It’s no longer a year long goal. It’s a six month goal. It’s coming right up and I have to get on it now. A year makes me feel I have more breathing room than six months does.

In truth, I tend to do quarterly reviews of all of my goals and I tend to refactor my goals in this way at each review. So, three months from now, this will become a three month goal and I’m going to have to hammer down even harder.

Basically, this is an excuse to feel like I’m starting from scratch with the goal, with two advantages. One, I learned a lot from the first half of the previous goal, which I can apply going forward. Second, the reduced time frame adds a strong sense of urgency.

Final Thoughts
The real purpose behind all of these strategies is to step back for a moment, look at your goal and your progress with a critical eye, and make some alterations to ensure that you finish out your goal with great success. You’re tossing out what doesn’t work, emphasizing what does work, bringing in a few new techniques, and shoring up your protections against unexpected events so you can shoot right to your destination.

These techniques all work for goals of almost any length. I tend to do a “quarterly review” of all of my goals and use these tools with each goal (and, yes, it does take a while, but it’s incredibly rewarding and has really improved my success with goals as of late).

This weekend, step back with your yearlong goals and use these strategies to re-evaluate them. See if you can streamline your tactics and put yourself in the best possible position to succeed, regardless of what your specific goal is.

Good luck!

The post Halfway There: Nine Ways to Assess Your Year-Long Goals at the Midpoint appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Ten Smart Ways to Use Leftover Potatoes (Smart Staple Strategies #4)

This is part of a short summer series covering smart strategies for using leftover staple foods – things like rice, beans, pasta, and so on. Here’s what you do when you cook a bit too much and don’t know what to do with the rest!

One of the nice things about potatoes is that you can prepare them in so many different ways. You can slice and grill them. You can bake them whole. You can mash them. You can slice them and fry them or roast them. You can cube them and use them in a ton of dishes. You can shred them and make latkes (my family called them hash browns). There are just so many possibilities!

Of course, with that many possibilities for preparation, you can definitely wind up with a lot of different potato items as leftovers when you make too much of them. Here are ten things I love to do with leftover potatoes in their various forms.

Turn a leftover baked potato into a twice baked potato
Whenever I see a baked potato or two in the fridge that’s left over from another meal, I immediately think of twice baked potatoes. They transform ordinary old baked potatoes into a delicious side dish that matches up well with almost every kind of meal.

Just take the baked potato, slice it in half, scoop out the insides, and mash the insides with whatever ingredients you’d like. I like using a little bit of sour cream, a bit of garlic salt, a bit of cream cheese, and a bit of shredded cheddar. Mix all of that thoroughly together, then spoon the mixture right back into the baked potato halves. Bake them in the oven at about 350 F for 15 minutes, right on top of a baking pan with the skin on the bottom and the remixed potato insides facing upward. Delicious!

These not only work well as sides for a lot of dishes, they also vary a great deal depending on what you mix in with the potatoes. Just experiment with flavors and add traditional herbs and spices and savory ingredients that match the type of cuisine of the rest of the meal and you’ll rarely go wrong.

Turn leftover mashed potatoes into potato pancakes
Take leftover mashed potatoes, form them into small discs, flattening them until they’re as thin as they can be while still holding together well, then preheat a skillet with a bit of oil or butter in it over medium heat until the butter is melted. Slide in those discs and gently fry them on one side, then flip it to the other side. You’re looking for a golden brown gentle crispiness. Serve them straight to the plate!

I love mixing more ingredients into the mashed potatoes when doing this. If you add too many liquid ingredients, you’ll soften the mashed potatoes too much and make it hard to form discs that will stay together. If you do add liquid ingredients, you can thicken it again by adding flour to the mix. Try adding things like garlic powder, shredded cheese, mustard powder, pepper, eggs, basil, chives, sauteed onions, sauteed peppers, and so on.

Turn leftover French fries into poutine
Poutine is a Canadian dish that consists of French fries and cheese curds topped with a brown gravy. Simple. Savory. Delicious. (Not the most healthy thing, sure, but delicious.)

Take your leftover French fries, spread them out on a baking pan, and bake them in the oven for just a few minutes at 350 F to heat them up without getting them soggy. While they’re heating, just make a bit of brown gravy by mixing together beef or vegetable stock with some flour and butter over gentle heat until it thickens up. Put the fries in a bowl, add some cheese curds atop the fries, and then pour the gravy on top, and serve with a fork.

Unhealthy? Sure! Delicious? Absolutely! It’s a great way to use leftover fries and transform them into a savory, delicious lunch.

Turn leftover latkes into a breakfast skillet meal
If you have some leftover latkes from a previous meal, you can quickly turn them into the foundation of a great breakfast skillet meal. All you need to do is cook up a few vegetables in a skillet with a bit of oil – onions, green peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, and so on – then add the latkes late just before cracking a couple of eggs on top. Let the eggs cook on the bed of vegetables, add salt and pepper, and serve.

I actually enjoy using whatever extra vegetables we happen to have on hand with this dish. It ends up becoming kind of a ratatouille with latkes in there and a couple of eggs on top. If it’s well cooked, you can slice it almost like a quiche or a pizza and serve it in wedges.

Turn leftover baked potatoes into potato salad
This one’s so easy. Just take a leftover baked potato, cut it into cubes, and mix it with other ingredients to make a potato salad. Baked potatoes are already cooked to nearly the perfect texture for this, so it takes no extra effort.

I’m somewhat partial to the way my mother used to make it, with hard-boiled eggs diced up in there along with bits of celery and a sauce made of a mix of mustard and mayonnaise and a healthy dose of black pepper. You can season it however you’d like – vinegar or garlic or bacon or whatever kinds of vegetables you have on hand. All of it works as long as the flavors meld.

Turn leftover mashed potatoes into shepherd’s pie
This one’s easy, too. Just cook some additional vegetables – whatever you have on hand – and deglaze the skillet you cook them in with some water and a bit of flour to make a simple roux. You’ll want enough cooked vegetables to cover the bottom of a casserole dish with an inch or two of vegetables. On top of that, pour the roux you’ve made right on top, and then make a top layer of mashed potatoes over all of that. I usually put a bit of shredded cheddar on the very top. Then, bake it at 350 for 30 to 45 minutes. If you want the top of the potatoes to be a bit crispy, do it without a lid; otherwise, put the lid on. Delicious!

Again, this is an appealing recipe because you can use almost anything you have on hand. You can mix any meats and vegetables for the foundation layer of this casserole; as long as you cook everything together and then deglaze the pan with a bit of water and then thicken that delicious liquid with a bit of flour stirred in, almost anything works here. Season it with plenty of black pepper and salt and any other seasonings you like.

Turn leftover roasted or grilled potatoes into fiesta potato tacos or burritos
This one’s so simple. Just take any leftover roasted or grilled or fried potatoes you happen to have left over, heat them up with some seasonings on them, and put them out with a taco/burrito bar. They work fantastically as a taco or burrito topping. I’ll always use them. We often do this at breakfast as well and I think they’re an even better match with that situation.

What this does is enables you to make a much more hearty burrito/taco bar than you might be able to pull off otherwise. You’ll be able to make more burritos with that extra ingredient on the bar, which ends up meaning more leftover burritos for future meals. It’s a slick way to use up those leftover cooked potatoes that are so easy to toss onto a tortilla.

Turn leftover French fries into hearty scrambled eggs
This is a nice trick I learned from a previous college roommate. Whenever he had leftover French fries, he would simply chop them up into little cube-sized bits and add them to his scrambled eggs in the morning. He’d just cut back on the number of eggs that he cooked – usually from 4 to 3 – to make up for the added French fry bulk.

Suddenly, his penchant for always taking every single leftover fry home with him made sense! He used them to add bulk to his scrambled eggs and add a bit of nice texture and flavor, too!

All he did was scramble eggs as normal with a bit of salt and pepper, then about halfway through, he’d add the chopped French fries. Very close to the end, he’d put some shredded cheese on top, then serve it all onto a plate. So simple, so delicious. I replicate it myself sometimes for a quick breakfast.

Turn leftover baked potatoes into potato soup
If you have leftover baked potatoes, you can cube them up and use them as a key ingredient in a potato soup by adding them late to the cooking process so they don’t completely fall apart.

There are as many variations on potato soup as there are hairs on my head. Here’s a highly recommended one. I personally like to make a very cheesy baked potato soup, so I’ll basically just make a simple cheese soup by using a base of cooked vegetables, broth in the pan with the vegetables to deglaze it, and then quite a bit of cheese in the overall soup, and then add the cubed potatoes late. It works with most vegetables and always winds up tasty.

Turn leftover roasted or grilled potatoes into hash
This one’s so easy. Just take your preferred cured meat, cut it into tiny bits, and cook it over high heat until it’s almost crisp on the outside. Add in your roasted potatoes and cook them right along with it until they’re almost crisp on the outside and the meat is definitely a bit crisp. That’s the basic hash, and from there, you can remix it however you like.

You might want to cook some savory vegetables right in with the meat. You may want to crack a few eggs right on top during the final few minutes of cooking. You may want to serve it with toast. Do with it what you will. It works well for any meal.

Next time, we’ll look at some awesome strategies for using extra sweet potatoes!

The post Ten Smart Ways to Use Leftover Potatoes (Smart Staple Strategies #4) appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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