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Everyday Cheapskate: The subtle art of shoveling

Surely the winter of 2014 will go down in the history books for breaking numerous records and for teaching us a new term: Polar Vortex. Sounds like the title of a Disney movie, doesn’t it?

Actually — and I had to look this up to be absolutely sure to get it right — the Polar Vortex is a prevailing wind pattern that normally keeps extremely cold air bottled up toward the North Pole. However, once in a rare while the vortex weakens, allowing the cold air to pour down across Canada and into the U.S. And that spells another term, and the subject of this column: snow. Cold, wet, heavy snow.

Although shoveling the stuff to keep driveways and walkways clear seems pretty straightforward, there’s a subtle art to the task. And it helps to have the right equipment.

But first a word of caution: Shoveling snow is not a task for the weak of heart. We know this because after a snowfall, hospitals are inundated with heart attack victims and patients with wrenched backs. If you’re out of shape or suffer health problems, hire a local teen or befriend a neighbor with a snow blower instead.

  1. Use a good shovel. You want a shovel with a scoop that is wide at the bottom and has a long handle with an ergonomic bend to allow you to work with minimal bending. You also want a shovel with a no-stick surface. The No. 1 pick out of 25 shovels tested by the folks at The Sweet Home blog, the True Temper Mountain Mover (everydaycheapskate.com/snowshovel) fits the criteria perfectly and is affordably priced at about $25. Adding a BackSaver grip attachment to the shovel will reduce the risk of injury.

  2. Have a plan. Before you even take your first scoop, decide where you’re going to dump the snow. Drop the first shovelful farther away from where you are standing, then dump remaining snow closer and closer to where you are. That way, the last scoops that you shovel are moved the shortest distance.

  3. Think rectangles. Everything from a driveway to a patio to a walkway is really a rectangle, and rectangles have a center point. Move the snow from the center of the rectangle to the nearest edge.

  4. Don’t be fussy. You want to do a thorough job, but don’t become perfectionistic about removing every last bit. Once you expose a good deal of the surface below, the darker color of the concrete, asphalt or dirt will more readily absorb the sun’s heat and melt what remains. Or it will just snow again.

  5. Team up. Shoveling with a friend or neighbor is always more enjoyable than shoveling on your own. Besides, two or three sets of hands can get the job done a lot quicker.

Mary Hunt is founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website. You can email her at mary@everyday

cheapskate.com, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.

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