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Ask the Readers: Basic book on doing your own taxes?

Today’s question is from Charlotte:

I’m wondering if your readers can recommend a good, basic book about doing your own taxes or just taxes in general?

My husband has always filed our taxes because whenever I try to get involved, I quickly get overwhelmed. I feel like I know so little about tax laws, tax brackets and tax breaks, so I’m looking for a place to build a little knowledge base. I just don’t want to be afraid of taxes anymore.

What I’m looking for is a very basic book. Perhaps a tax book written for High School students, or at the very most freshmen in college. -Charlotte

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Q&A Tuesday: How do you save money on groceries in rural areas?

I’m writing to you to see if you have any suggestions for people who live in rural areas, far from Walmarts, Targets and Walgreens. My husband and I live and work at a Baptist camp in the Panhandle of Texas with our sweet baby girl. We try to use cash for everything, and have tried to narrow our budget down as much as possible in order to eliminate. The nearest of any of the stores I mentioned above are at least two hours away. I can use coupons and things like that at the local grocery stores, but things are so much more expensive here (for example, sometimes $6 or $7 for a box of cereal).

I am also trying to be healthy for my family: whole grains, lots of fruits/vegetables and little processed foods. That, however, also adds up. Healthier foods are often more expensive, and the produce sections can be really shabby. Do you have any suggestions or advice?

Lacey, it sounds like you are doing a great job already, so be encouraged!

I’ve never lived far, far away from big box stores before, but my advice would be to “think outside the box”. You’re not going to be able to score some of the amazing deals other readers here do, but you can still keep your grocery bill rather low. Here are a few ideas I had (many which you’re probably already doing!):

Stick with simple meals. It sounds like you are not using a lot of processed foods, which is likely helping you keep your grocery budget low. If your husband is okay with it, you could plan a weekly meatless night where you have burritos or beans and rice. A weekly breakfast for dinner, a weekly soup night and a weekly homemade pizza night are a few other simple ways to keep dinners inexpensive. If you serve meat as a condiment rather than the main thing, you’ll usually greatly reduce your grocery budget. (Mary Ostyn writes more about this in her book, Family Feasts for $75 Per Week. Excellent book, if you’ve not read it yet!)

Examine your expenditures. Where are you spending the bulk of your grocery money? If it’s on household products, consider making your own cleaners, using cloth diapers or and eliminating paper products.

Look for great deals online. Based upon the price of cereal in your area, I’m guessing the sales at Amazon are usually always going to beat your local prices. You could also look into ordering from places like Mountain Rose Herbs or other online sites. Watch for specials, free shipping offers and coupon codes.

Consider growing a garden for as much of your produce as you can. If you don’t have a green thumb, see if you can find a friend who grows a garden who might be willing to sell you produce or barter their extra garden produce for your willingness to bake them bread or babysit.

Buy in bulk. If you’re eating mostly whole foods, I’d suggest making a trip to the nearest town every few months to stock up in large quantities. It would totally be worth a drive of an hour or two both ways to save $500 on your groceries. You’ll want to calculate in the cost of gas as well as the wear and tear on your car, though, when considering how much this will save. And remember that your time is valuable, too, so I’d only recommend a big day trip like this every six to eight weeks.

Keep a positive attitude. Maybe you can’t get great deals on groceries where you are living and you’re probably going to have a higher grocery bill than others, however, I’m almost certain that living where you live is providing you opportunities to bless and minister to others which are worth the extra costs.

What ideas do the rest of you have for saving money on groceries when you live in rural areas?