More foreclosures means more fixer uppers

They actually lost money on their first handymans special, buying a home for $190,000 at the height of the real estate bubble in 2006, pouring $30,000 into it, and then selling it for $195,000.

But we lost tens of thousands of dollars less than our neighbors did, Petersik says. Plus, they unloaded the house in days.

Now the couple is older and wiser, but still hooked on the dust, noise and profit potential of home renovation. We got comfortable with that lifestyle of sweat equity, says Sherry.

They have already added window treatments and a cobblestone patio and modernized a fireplace in their new home, and after the kitchen is done, they expect to have spent a total of $10,000. She expects that to give them a nicer house than they could have afforded to buy, and to add $50,000 to the homes value.

The DIY strategy is gaining traction these days as energetic homeowners try to build equity in a still-depressed housing market, with a growing number of foreclosures filling the multiple listing services with run-down homes.

According to RealtyTrac, a foreclosure listing service, 26 percent of homes sold in the first quarter of 2012 were foreclosed properties, an increase of 8 percent from 2011. Short sale properties accounted for 12 percent of national sales for the first quarter of 2012, up from 9 percent last year.

This glut of short sale and foreclosure properties means a great need for renovation, say industry experts like Eric Sussman, a senior lecturer in real estate at the University of California Los Angeles Anderson School of Management. As property values have decreased and families deferred maintenance work, many of the most affordable homes need significant renovations, he said.

Foreclosures can be especially problematic, as many people have been trashing foreclosures and carrying away appliances, says Bruce Graf, a general contractor in Grand Prairie, Texas. When people are losing their homes it sometimes makes them feel better to destroy things on the way out.


Last year, homeowners spent $107 billion remodeling owner-occupied units, a 3.5 percent increase from 2010. This year, remodeling spending is expected to grow 12 percent to $120 billion, according to the National Association of Home Builders, a trade association.

A craze with all things DIY has helped make the glut of fixer-upper properties even more alluring, says Liza Hausman, vice president of marketing at, an online remodeling community. The site gets 5 million unique hits per month, up from 2 million in December 2011. People are buying things that they think they can turn into a dream home, she says.

But many buyers dont realize that its easy to lose money on fixer uppers, says Sussman, the real estate lecturer. People who buy a foreclosure at auction may not even get solid information about the condition of the house until after theyve made their bid.

Weighing the costs and benefits of what to renovate is key, especially for homeowners looking to fix and flip. Replacing the front or garage door, creating an attic bedroom and minor kitchen remodeling give homeowners the most financial gains, according to the Cost versus Value survey from Remodeling Magazine conducted in 2011.

The toughest costs to recoup are building a sun room, installing a back-up power generator and remodeling the home office because they arent universally valued, according the report.

As a general rule, renovating the kitchen and bathrooms is always going to help you with retail value, says Adrienne Francis, a real estate agent in Bernardsville, New Jersey, with Keller Williams Realty.

She tells people who want to renovate a home to sell that they should purchase modern appliances and forego any permanent decor thats too non-traditional. But foremost, keep costs in mind: a wood deck addition ($10,350), kitchen remodel ($57,494), bathroom remodel ($16,652) are the average national prices of mid-range projects, according to Remodeling Magazines survey.

Estimate the homes eventual selling price before committing to repairs by looking at comparable properties in the area, says Paul Wyman, a real estate agent in Kokomo, Indiana. Some homeowners make the mistake of doing so many renovations that they price themselves out of the market, he says.

Especially when renovating a primary residence, think about long-term costs, suggests Kate Battle, a graphic designer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When Battle and her husband bought their 1960s home two years ago, she called the utility company to get an estimate of the energy bill in order to plan her budget. Old houses dont have much insulation, says Battle, and the couple eventually paid for more energy-efficient windows.

Battle says she also got help estimating the cost of repairs by talking to contractors and visiting stores like Home Depot and Lowes. She also suggests that prospective buyers hire a home inspector who will give them information about what kinds of repairs might be needed and how much they would cost.

Websites like and provide calculators that homeowners can use to guesstimate the price of the projects they are considering.


A rule of thumb is that materials cost about 40 percent of most projects, with labor making up the rest, so qualified homeowners can save significantly by swinging their own hammers. Just plan ahead for dust and differing opinions with your spouse, says Sherry Petersik, who recommends that most people leave any structural work to the pros.

While most home buyers tend to finance their remodeling from savings, there are different ways to borrow money to cover a major renovation, says Frank Donnelly, a certified financial planner and president of the Mortgage Bankers Association of Greater Washington.

Some new homeowners can qualify for the Federal Housing Authoritys 203(k) or streamlined 203(k) programs, which allow loans with only 3.5 percent down payments and can be bundled with the mortgage. Fannie Maes Homestyle renovation loan is another popular option and allows financing of up to 50 percent of completed value.

The easiest way to refinance is still through a home equity line of credit, says Donnelly. Discuss financing with your lender even before buying to make sure you qualify for a loan.

Dont get halfway through funding it yourself and then look for financing after the project expands, he says, noting a time-honored home renovation rule of thumb: Cost overruns are almost inevitable.

ROY KENT: The more money we have, the more we spend

Each month, the State Comptroller’s Office releases sales tax revenues to cities and counties across the state.

Regardless of whether they are up or down from the same period last year, entities need the funds to continue providing services.

Not surprisingly, Houston is always at the top of list of cities getting payments from the state. And by a large margin. The city of Houston – which received nearly $45 million for the month of February – receives nearly as much as San Antonio, Dallas and Austin combined. For the year, the Comptroller’s Office has returned more than $151 million to Houston, a 7 percent increase from the same period in 2012.

But what does being in Houston’s shadow mean? In most cases, it means a lot.

As Houston sees it sales tax receipts grow, so do Harris County cities like Tomball, Jersey Village, Pasadena and Katy. In fact, among 28 cities in Harris County, only six – five which are relatively small – have seen payments drop so far this year.

Tomball, meanwhile, has seen those tax allocations from the state rise by 12.10 percent so far this year to more than $3.15 million. Katy’s sales tax allocation has gone up a whopping 22.12 percent (to more than $2.71 million) and Jersey Village is enjoying a 14.17 percent increase (to more than $747,900).

Overall, Montgomery County is enjoying equally favorable allocations.

Conroe receives the bulk of the state’s allocations with more than $8.9 million so far this year out of $12.4 million-plus returned from the state.

What does it all mean?

Generally speaking, it means that people are spending more money and buying things. Anything that has a sales tax attached to it is included.

According to State Comptroller Susan Combs, “Sales tax revenues continue to grow, but at a more moderate pace compared to recent months. The latest increase was led by receipts from the construction and restaurant sectors. Collections from other major sectors such as oil and natural gas-related businesses and manufacturing remain at high levels.”

What it really boils down to is the fact that if people have money to spend, they spend it. Without a state income tax, Texas relies on sales receipts and property taxes to pay for the bulk of the services it provides.

Politicians should take note.

If we are expected to continue to grow and enjoy the fruits of our labors, let us keep the money we have in order to spend on the things we want. That is essentially the basis of our economy. This is where national taxes hinder the Texas economy. If taxes go up, we have less money to spend, cities collect less in taxes and the state suffers.

This may be an oversimplification of the whole process but it still illustrates the need to keep national taxes in check. The more money we have the more we spend.

End of the school year

As we head into the final couple of months of the 2012-13 school year, I wait with a heavy sigh as we near whatever standardized test students are taking this year.

Although no entirely to blame, it seems as though teachers teach to that stupid test. Once that test is over, so is the school year. That is when school turns into a huge daycare center.

What needs to happen is education returns to the basics – reading, writing and mathematics. A solid foundation there will prepare most any student for any horrid end-of-course exam. As it is, teachers are approaching the time where they check out of the school year and students spend more time visiting friends. Something really needs to change.

Local heroes

In his Waterloo studio, Josh Goot pores over an intricately beaded and embroidered floral coat of arms that has been worked onto a utilitarian jersey. The materials are sourced from Paris and the UK, says the designer. But the embroidery was all done in Lithgow by a company called Fullerton Design and the hand work was done by a local Sydney lady named Mary Brown.

Every stitch of Goots brand is sewn in Australia, and given he is dependent on 10 separate small makers in locations across Sydney, its almost as if he enjoys making things difficult for himself. Our shirting is made in Marrickville, our jersey in Kingsford, our bonded textiles are produced in Alexandria, and our A-line skirts and digital silks are made by a factory in Milperra, he says. Its an insane amount of logistics and its kind of staggering that we can actually do it.

Goots $395 skirts and $1245 jackets would be cheaper – and he would be more relaxed – if they were made in a single factory in China, rather than dealing with local labour costs and the strength of the dollar here. Making in Australia is more expensive probably than almost anywhere else in the world, he says.

But the designer, a self-confessed control freak, prefers to be close to all the elements of his production. I can design here and engage directly with the manufacturers, to be across samples and quality control, says Goot. We are an Australian brand and if we are to embrace that fully, then it really means something to be manufactured here.

But does a local consumer buying Goots garments really care where they come from?

I dont see any customers peering at a label to see the place of origin, says David Jones group executive of merchandise Donna Player. But our customers have overwhelmingly embraced Australian designers, so it must be implied that its important to them. Player says being Australian-made is not a deciding factor in whether wed stock someone but adds that we would always support the manufacturing of pieces made in Australia because its important that we support all facets of the industry, including the manufacturing process.

Fullerton Designs Sandra Fullerton knows more than most about the manufacturing process in Australia. The 65-year-old embroiderer arrived in Sydney from Rotorua in 1969, and fell into work with a company called Princess Embroidery. Run by a Czech brother and sister, the factory floor in Surry Hills was filled with migrants from Greece, France and Austria. They used to brew their coffee in saucepans and buy their food from Cyrils Delicatessen, so for a country girl from New Zealand they introduced me to another world. They taught me everything I know, she says.

In its heyday, there were 90 staff working three shifts through the night at Princess Embroidery to fulfil orders from design luminaries such as Adele Weiss, Trent Nathan and George Gross amp; Harry Who. Lisa Hos designs needed wheelbarrows to wheel out all the gowns with the crystals on them, says Fullerton. But by the early 90s, she says, everybody started going offshore to keep their prices down, and it affected our factories so much that we closed the big ones. There are few of the old guard still going.

More than 200,000 men and women formed the backbone of the Australian garment industry in the early 80s, but there are now only 4400 textile, clothing and footwear businesses manufacturing here, employing just 49,000 workers, according to 2009 Australian Bureau of Statistics figures.

Six years ago, Fullerton and her husband moved 140 kilometres west of Sydney to Lithgow, where Fullerton Design now concentrates on religious and bridal work. The duo, who recruit additional staff as required, have worked on costumes for the Star Wars prequels and even on Pope Benedict XVIs headdress for World Youth Day in 2008 in Sydney. They told us initially it was for Cardinal Pell, says Fullerton, but our accounts guy recognised the papal coat of arms and said, Thats for the Pope!

Lithgow has a proud rag-trade history – it was once home to the Berlei undergarment factory and a steam-powered woollen mill. There is so much [in the manufacturing industry] that should have been saved but never was, says Fullerton. When I moved the company here, I thought at least I will be able to get some good people to work for me here.

Designer Carl Kapp struggles to find machinists of a sufficient calibre to craft his high-end garments, which are all made in Australia and are worn by the likes of Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman and Rose Byrne.

I would have trialled 50 machinists here last year, and they kind of give up halfway because its too difficult, says Kapp. Its a dying art because all those amazing Italian and Greek makers have retired, and the younger ones want to do it on a computer instead.

With a team of three machinists and a single cutter, Kapp works from a cramped Paddington studio, where 40 per cent of his business is made-to-measure. I dont do it because I want the made in Australia label in there, he says. Id like it to say made in Italy, to be honest. But Im not ready to expand overseas yet and Im just so hands-on that it makes sense.

Carla Zampatti and her designer daughter Bianca Spender are an exception to the trend of moving offshore. They work with six external makers and a handful of machinists, pattern-makers and cutters in their Kent Street headquarters to manufacture 95 per cent of their garments in Sydney (only the knitwear is made overseas).

It is more costly, but ultimately more rewarding for the designers and their makers.

We have a strong line of communication because we are speaking directly to our makers every day, and most of the time its actually the head maker that delivers the garments, says Spender. If theyve sewn it in a different way and its not working, you can sit down on a machine with them, the machinist sews it and they can see and learn a skill set. Its a true collaboration.

Italian-born Zampatti, who founded her label in 1965, says learning from fellow migrants was a crucial part of building her upmarket brand.

When I first started, there were a lot of Italians [working in garment manufacturing] and the opportunity to start in the workroom, then have an opportunity with a manufacturer to be his assistant, was invaluable as a young, ambitious designer, she says. But Zampatti fears designers are no longer learning traditional skills such as pattern-making and sewing as companies increasingly opt to manufacture offshore. As a designer, you need to experiment. To do that you need a good sample machinist and a deep knowledge of pattern-making. If you dont have that, and you simply send it off to the factory with a drawing, it may or may not work.

Sample machinist Shirley Bachtir plays a crucial role in assisting Zampatti and Spender to realise their visions. Bachtir arrived in Australia from Jakarta 23 years ago, when she was seven months pregnant with her daughter. She found employment in the Dolina factory, where she worked for 16 1/2 years until she was made redundant in 2009. I got made redundant because they began making overseas, so at that time they let go of 16 people, from the machinists and the cutter to the pattern-maker to the assistants, she says.

By then, with three young mouths to feed, Bachtir was doing work whenever jobs came up until a friend told her of an opening with Zampatti and Spender. Here is more up-market [than Dolina], she says. With the other ones, sometimes they just go overseas and they copy, but its always exciting here because every time you are sewing you are never making the same clothes. Sometimes its difficult, but there is always a way to do it. You just have to find the way together.

But while today Bachtir works in a studio filled with the whirr of sewing machines and the hiss of steam irons, Zampatti fears for the future of her fellow workers – unless more is done to promote the benefits of manufacturing here. Eventually, Im afraid, it may not be possible to manufacture in Australia, because anyone looking at going into the industry will think its too risky, she says.

We havent made a big deal about [being Australian-made] because for us its been the status quo. But with increasing unemployment in the marketplace we are now looking at how we can actively promote [being locally made] to help support the industry.

But Australian-made does not always mean ethically made. Of the 4400 businesses manufacturing here, fewer than 80 are certified as having met their legal obligations to standards for workers (including machinists, outworkers and pattern-makers) throughout their supply chain, according to industry body Ethical Clothing Australia. Sweatshop is often associated with countries such as India and China, but many clothing workers in Australia, particularly home-based workers, are still paid as little as $6 or $7 an hour and do not receive entitlements such as superannuation or annual leave.

Ive met machinists who are getting paid $12 or $18 for a dress thats selling for $650 on Collins Street [in Melbourne], says Simon McRae, national manager of Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA). When Australians think of buying things that are locally made they think at least the makers are paid well and have been looked after, but for a long time there have been issues around exploitation in the clothing and footwear sector.

Zampatti, Spender, Lisa Ho and Collette Dinnigan are among the designers who have received ECA accreditation by opening their supply chains to be independently audited. Accredited brands can display an ECA trademark on Australian-made products, providing consumers with a way to support ethically produced, locally made garments.

By highlighting the people doing the right thing, we want to show that we can have both an ethical industry and a sustainable industry in Australia, says McRae. We can never compete with a country like China in terms of volume, but we can say in Australia that we do it the right way.

Student creates online business by selling goods from Taobao

Anastasia Kovaleva (right) greets a Vivatao customer at the companys store in Kaliningrad, Russia.Provided to China Daily#160;

When Anastasia Kovaleva was growing up in Blagoveschensk, Russia, she could almost see China from her front door.

Its right across the border from Heihe, in Heilongjiang province, she said. They are only divided by a river.

In fact, the two cities have formed an informal trading zone, and citizens can pass freely from one to the other for up to 30 days without a visa.

Many schools offer Chinese studies in my hometown, she said. Thanks to that proximity, and her degree in international economics, Kovaleva said she knew that China would be part of her future career.

But while studying advanced-level Mandarin at Beijing Language and Culture University, she saw many expats seizing opportunities to be entrepreneurs. She was excited about the prospect of working for herself, instead of a company.

At that time, she was also buying things for friends back home on Taobao, Chinas largest online shopping network. Before long she was placing orders for friends of friends of friends, and she suddenly realized she had a business in her hands.

She enlisted a Russian partner back home, and Vivatao was born. The website is a virtual mirror of Taobao, but in the Russian language.

You can buy anything thats on Taobao, she said.

Five years later, Vivatao is a huge customer for Taobao. Kovaleva has 30 employees and a 20,000-square-meter warehouse in Beijing. Business tends to have seasonal cycles — the peak month came earlier this year, when shoppers for the Russian New Year holiday generated orders totaling 10 metric tons of merchandise.

If that sounds like a lot, its all the more manageable than it was when Kovaleva was shuttling packages in and out of her apartment for friends back home.

The warehouse is fully automated, a system we bought from a German IT company, so bar codes on orders match bar codes on our shelves. We have a coded bin for every customer, she said, noting that more than 60 percent of orders come from repeat customers.

Vivatao isnt the only online outfit that creates a translation portal into Taobao, but the company has built its success on service.

We provide quality control by checking every order in our warehouse, she said. Her team makes sure the order is correct and in the case of clothing is the right size. If the quality is not as good as advertised, the inspector contacts the customer in Russia to see if its acceptable, since returns and refunds are limited to seven days.

Sizes are the biggest problem. When a Russian sees ‘XL they expect something very big, she said, opening her arms wide. In China, XL is usually not so big. There are guidelines on the site so that people can follow waist and chest measurements, for example, instead of guessing what medium means.

Out-of-stock items are a challenge, too, since her company has collected payment for the order already. At that point, we contact the customer, ideally by online chat, and have a conversation in Russian to determine if there is a good substitute offered online.

Her partner, Alex Netrusov, meanwhile, operates a bricks-and-mortar Vivatao store in Kaliningrad, in western Russia, with four employees. Customers can walk in and place orders, and also examine certain kinds of merchandise, such as bicycles, before committing to a purchase.

Its about image and also about overcoming fears of the Internet, she said. We advertise a lot in Kaliningrad, on billboards and TV, and in supermarkets, and so people see that our company is real. The website also features the store in Russia and the warehouse in Beijing, so customers can be sure they are not sending money to a phantom enterprise.

Until now the company has focused on customers in Russia, but the next step is to take the business worldwide.


Report Shows Beer Distributors Make Big Economic – and Community – Impact

The first ever comprehensive report on beer distribution companies is out – and its showing a big impact.

The value of independent beer distributions adds up quickly, and Dever Distributing in Terre Haute says its more than just the dollars and cents they earn – its using that for the greater good.

Just call it liquid gold.

A new study reports that Indiana beer distributors alone generate over 2,000 jobs -and $739 million.

Bill: We just try to maintain ourselves in West Central Indiana to the best of our abilities and take care of all the customers that we can, said Bill Dever, president of Dever Distributing.

Dever Distributing has operated out of Terre Haute for nearly four decades – and its certainly home sweet home.

The company has 500 customers in an eight-county reach, employs over 50 area people and buys locally.

We get back to the area that we serve. Obviously were here in Vigo County, its the area we service, people live here locally so theyre buying things. Its just a good effect and its a win-win for the whole community, said Tom Dever, general manager of Dever Distributing.

Dever has seen its business grow exponentially since opening up in 1974, and theyre not taking that success for granted.

The Humane Society, TREES, Boys and Girls Club, Indiana State, Silent Men, Zorah Shrine, 100 Men Who Cook, Special Olympics, Vigo County Schools, Junior Achievement, said Bill. The list just goes on and on. We try to take care and give something to everybody.

Because while beer is their bread and butter… its what they do with it that counts.

Were just very appreciative. A day doesnt go by that we dont appreciate our customers and the people who are using our products, said Tom.

The report shows that in Illinois, beer distributors are responsible for over 5,400 jobs, and a whopping $2.7 billion total economic impact.

To see a breakdown of state by state stats, click here.

Teach prisoners computer code. Otherwise they’ll be stuffed when they get out

Imagine youd gone to sleep in 2000, and woken up this morning. Aside from wondering who this Argentinian bloke claiming to be the Pope is, and being surprised at how badly your Enron shares have done, the everyday technology we use now would be pretty baffling. I was relatively computer-savvy back in 2000, but barely used email; all my university essays were on floppy disks.

We forget how quickly weve adapted to email, social media and downloading being an everyday part of life, let alone more recent developments that seemed like Bond gadgets a decade ago: touchscreen devices and E-readers. Buying things off eBay or Amazon is the norm; chip and pin machines mean theres less and less reason to carry cash.

Of course, for you and me, not knowing about all of these things is a fantasy. For people just being released from jail after a long stretch, its the reality.

Demographically, most people go into prison as young men, and leave in their mid-twenties to early thirties. Any inmate who serves a long sentence has always found a dramatically different world outside the prison’s walls from the one they left, but the rapid advances in technology have kicked this into overdrive. Even people doing relatively short sentences – five years or so – will have gone inside before smartphones were common, and before social media was anything other than a passing fad. Even if they were into social media before they went inside, their Myspace page isnt much good to them now.

Recently, Michael Santos, an American prison inmate, who had been inside for 25 years, wrote a telling piece about what it is like to emerge from jail. Even though he was interested in the changes going on in society, he couldnt participate in them.  He says I read extensively during my term of incarceration, but reading about technology felt a bit like reading about typing. Regardless of how much I read, I wouldnt grasp the power of technology until I started using it. Predictably, the American system is harsher and there is less access to technology on the inside than there is in UK prisons.

Perhaps as a result, we do have some success stories. In December this year, Duane Jackson, CEO and founder of online accounting software company Kashflow tweeted Exactly 10 years ago today I got out of prison with literally sod all. Spent today packing to move to new house I just bought. For £1m. Cash. I spoke to Duane, and asked him about his experience of working with computers in prison. It turned out, he actually had learned to code in a complex way in a childrens home, rather than in jail, and had always been something of a computer whizz.

Of the experience of technology education in prison, he told me: The IT courses you get inside were really basic. You learned the basics of computer operation – turning the machine on and sending an email, but nothing more useful. Once youd finished your basic course, you could only do another basic course in a different subject, rather than carry on learning more about IT. It was either that or stitching boxer shorts. Duane is passionate about people in prison being given the tools to turn their lives around – hes argued in favour of people being allowed to develop entrepreneurial and computer skills on the inside. I asked him why he thought it was so important.

He repliede: When you come out, no-one really wants to give you a chance. If youre working for yourself, as a sole trader, theres at least a meritocracy. Once you get hired once, if youre good, you can get more work off your reputation. I actually started doing contracted coding while I was still inside. The great thing about doing that with computers is, they are straight dealers. If a program goes wrong, its because you told it something wrong. That may not sound like much, but its great for people with problems with authority.

Of course, coding has paid off in a big way for Duane – his firm now has tens of thousands of users, and a fantastic reputation for making easy to use accounting software for small businesses (indeed, he created the product because he was frustrated at the shortcomings of doing his own books as a freelancer in excel). While it may serve the interests of the hang em high brigade to see people being punished day in, day out, in jail, I believe being taught useful skills inside is one of the best ways to rehabilitate people. It also makes economic sense – the prison can charge out people stitching boxer shorts out at £3 an hour to Mamp;S and so on, but even simple coding jobs command £14-£15 an hour.

Even if you leave aside my dream of prison creating a legion of Duane Jackson-style ex-con millionaire programmers, if we want people to emerge from prison and reintegrate into society, we have to get them used to modern technology. In the same way code clubs are seen as a huge positive for children, we should be giving prisoners the opportunity to learn more advanced skills, instead of writing them off.

Read more by Willard Foxton on Telegraph Blogs

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Dollars and Sense: The best day-to-day investment you can make? Don’t laugh

Johnny Carson asked the financial guru, Andrew Tobias, “If you only have $1,000 to invest, what would be your best investment?” The answer made the audience laugh. They laughed!

What would Tobias buy? Nonperishable consumer staples.

What the heck are nonperishable consumer staples? Well, staples are basic foods and household products that you need and will buy — over and over. Nonperishable items do not spoil easily and are kept on a shelf. They can be canned goods, detergent, toothpaste — the list goes on. In contrast, perishable items will spoil, so they are kept in the fridge or freezer. These are your meats, eggs, and milk, among another long list of items.

Why invest in nonperishable staples? First, they have a long shelf life and could save your life from disasters big — think Hurricane Sandy — or small.

Second, storing them will save you time and money in everyday living. Going to the grocery store for one item can waste half an hour, minimum. Fewer trips mean you will save money on gasoline as well as on the impulse buying you will avoid.

We all make emergency runs to the store. Maybe you needed baking soda so your half-mixed cookies would turn out better than hard little hockey pucks. Here’s the kicker. Did you go to the store, buy other stuff, and come home to discover that you forgot the baking soda? I have done exactly that. The storing of staples will be your friend. When you run out of detergent, it is sweet, indeed, to take another bargain bottle off the shelf and get on with the laundry.

The key factor in saving money on stockpiling these staples is to buy them when they are on sale. Let me repeat. Buy staples on sale.

If you buy a $1 can of beans on sale today for 80 cents, this is an immediate savings of 20 percent. In the future, you may not find that can of food on sale at the moment you need it. Would this kind of return on investment in the stock market make you happy? What would you save if you not only bought the beans on a two-for-one sale, at 50 cents apiece, but also avoided an even higher cost should prices inflate — kinda like Aunt Marge in “Harry Potter.”

Inflation is when things cost more over time because dollars are worth less. What will happen to you if inflation starts upward as some predict?

Years ago, I saw runaway inflation when I lived in Argentina. It was heartbreaking. The peso inflation was so fast that merchants used calculators based on the day’s dollar-peso exchange rate to figure the day’s prices. Things absolutely cost more the next day. Before I went to Argentina, I believed that saving every penny was the 11th Commandment.

My head exploded when I realized that saving all of your money under certain inflationary circumstances might be a bad thing to do. Buying things that held their value became important. I looked at my stable US dollar bills with deep respect. When I returned to Arizona, I could hardly give up one precious US coin to make a telephone call. No wonder the Argentines were always trying to buy our firm US dollars. (Please, Mr. Bernanke, please, protect our precious dollars.)

Watch out for manufacturers’ tricks. To hide higher costs, they often keep their prices about the same while sneakily reducing the size of the item you buy. Do you remember when a half gallon of ice cream shrunk to only 1.5 quarts? Do you remember buying bigger jars of jam? Always check the shelf sticker to see the cost per ounce or per unit.

Buying staples on sale now for future use is not hoarding. You are not buying scarce supplies, not depriving others, and not stumbling over trash in your halls. I reject slanted TV shows that ridicule reasonable storage. They either exaggerate by calling it pathological hoarding or the doomsday fear of the chronically paranoid. Even ants store up for future needs.

Are we less intelligent?

So, know prices well enough to spot a bargain. Carry a little shopper’s notebook in which you write prices. When you find a staple on sale, buy multiples of it. And know the shelf life of products so that you use them at their peak perfection by marking the dates in big letters on the packaging.

Go easy on how much extra you buy. Nothing radical here. As you are able, habitually buy extra staples when they are on sale. Yes, you are spending more money right now; but over the long haul, stocking up on nonperishable consumer staples is one of the best investments you can make. Saving money is guaranteed.

In Aesop’s fable of the grasshopper and the ant, only the stockpiling ant survived the winter. You, too, can survive whatever “winter” comes — and you will get the last laugh.

Geek Speak: A new kind of food

It is my duty to inform you that I have accepted a position at a different newspaper, and will be leaving the Times at the end of this week.

As such, I wanted to close out my blog with a subject near to my heart. It has been my pleasure to work on the Food feature section for Wednesday’s papers, and I loved doing so because of my love for food. A problem that I have always had with food is the incredible amount of waste that results from the industry. I am a big fan of cooking meals entirely from scratch, using single-ingredient produce, and I try to avoid processed foods or packaged items with many ingredients. Still, it is sometimes hard in the busy world we live in to avoid buying things that can be made quickly.

Why Silicon Valley is Losing Its Foreign Talent

As immigration laws make it harder for foreigners to stay and work in the US, Silicon Valley is losing some of its most promising talent — and its unrivaled reputation as ground zero for tech innovation. Those who came here for education or to take a stab at fame and fortune are no longer waiting around for a local job and visa to start their careers. Theyre going home — to India, China, Brazil, or other countries courting them. With the growth of global tech hubs and the capital available abroad, some immigrant entrepreneurs are wondering why they should bother to stay.

Kunal Bahl, who got his engineering and business degrees at the University of Pennsylvania, made money on campus by charging students to watch cricket games. Bahl was hired at Microsoft for what he calls a super-exciting role traveling the globe, selling their products in Asia and Latin America. Bahl’s steady climb was halted in 2007, after his professional H1B visa was not chosen in the immigration lottery system.

But Bahl didn’t pine to stay in the US He declined Microsofts offer to place him in another country and try again. After losing the lottery, Bahl was ready to place a new bet.

“Maybe the time is now getting to a point where it would be right to start a business in India,” Bahl said. “Earlier than that, there was just no meaningful internet penetration to start a technology business.”

Today, at age 29, Bahl is the CEO of Snapdeal, Indias largest e-commerce company (much like eBay) and employs more than 1,000 people.

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In the global market, two big shifts have made it possible for Bahl’s business to grow: First, people in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East are going online and buying things at breakneck speed, and what were considered “developing countries” are now called “emerging markets.” Secondly, its a lot cheaper to build an internet company than say, a semiconductor plant.

“This is a wave, and this wave is not stopping,”Bahl said.


American money is following the foreign talent. Leading venture capitalists are opening offices in Asia and Latin America in order to more easily scout start-ups, and funds that buy start-ups are promoting foreigners to be partners.

First Person: Getting Rid of Newlywed Debt

When my husband and I got married, we didnt want to take on new debt until we got rid of the old debt. Our new debt was what financial experts call good debt because it would be for our first home together. However, our old debt was all bad debt related to credit cards and car loans.

By having an inexpensive wedding that cost us less than $500, we were able to focus our attention on our consumer debt as well as save for a down payment for our first home.

Receiving wedding gifts

Most of our wedding gifts included cash and gift certificates. We used the money and gift certificates for necessities so that we could put aside any extra money for paying off debt. We also avoided the temptation to go out and buy all new things. I was able to sell many of my furniture and household items at a yard sale and on consignment. I used all the proceeds from our yard sales to pay off my car loan.

Moving in with dad

According to experts, multigenerational living is rising. A recent article by The American Society of Aging points out that the concept of several generations sharing a home is not new. In fact, according to Pew Research, 57 percent of people over the age of 65 lived in a home with children or grandchildren in 1900. In order to get rid of our debt as newlyweds, my husband and I shared a home with my father-in-law. We lived under the same roof as we waited for our new construction home to be built. By living together, we were able to share cars, utilities and food costs.

Pretending to be single

Another way we dug ourselves out of our newlywed debt was by pretending to still only have one income. With two incomes, we dramatically increased our spending power. However, we used our power to eradicate debt instead of buying things we didnt need. We followed a strict budget so that we could be debt free by the time our new house was built. Because it was during the housing boom, the construction time was longer than usual. We had to wait more than one year for our home to be ready, which gave us plenty of time to get out of debt.

Paying off the high-interest rate cards

Although we had an equal amount of credit card debt, we had a mixture of interest rates on our credit cards. We made a list of the different interest rates and then paid down the one with the highest interest rate first. We paid of one of my husbands high-interest rate credit cards before paying off two of my bills with higher interest rates. Then we paid off one of his bills with a moderate interest rate before finally paying off my zero interest rate credit cards.

After getting rid of our newlywed debt, we made a vow to remain debt free, with the exception of a low-interest rate car loan and mortgage. Being open and honest about our finances provided a solid foundation for our marriage.

*Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Do you have a personal finance story that youd like to share? Sign up with the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own finance articles.

More from this contributor:

My Kids Wont Die in Debt

Save or Spend the Tax Refund?

Smartest Financial Moves in my 30s