Category Archives: budget

Four weeks, still sane…so far

It does not seem that long, but it has been four weeks without a job.

I’m still OK, and busy. Sending out applications and resumes every day, working out more often, and spending less and when I do spend, it’s cash and it’s done with care.

I’m not cutting back much on competitions at this point. Three swim meets, a triathlon and a 10K are on the schedule in the next six weeks. I’d like to add a half-marathon to that, if a job offer comes through. Or a 5K, if it doesn’t. It’s all about price at this point.

I’m taking the opportunity to search outside my employment comfort level, and doing more freelance work. The house has never been cleaner (you can walk into our master bedroom closet now and not fear breaking a toe by tripping on wayward shoes, dropped hangars or misplaced backpacks).

DSCN2078

The time off has afforded the opportunity to photograph local art.

The Husband would probably like the home office to himself more often, but he has exhibited patience and good humor about it (I bribed him with homemade oatmeal raisin cookies).

In spite of advice to the contrary, I have not changed my habits. I still wake up and go to bed at basically the same time I did when working. I still maintain discipline by dressing as if I am working, and having a to-do list each day, with specific tasks to complete. The temptation to curl up on the couch and watch idiot TV programming is getting stronger, I admit, as is the sense of occasional depressive thoughts, such as the notion that not one single employer is ever going to find me or my talents worthy of money. But in the end, as I said at the beginning, I’m still doing OK and working on getting back to work.

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Filed under athletic competition, budget, employment, Exercise, freelancing, inspirations, mental health, unemployment

Planting something in a food desert

No fresh food for an entire town is something no one wants to imagine.

I’ve got some thoughts rambling through my head at the moment, so maybe some of you can help straighten them out.

One of our local towns, population about 2,000,  is about to become a food desert; that is, a town with no source of fresh food. The only grocery store is set to close shortly. There are other grocery stores outside the city limits, but for many people without cars, those are not within walking distance. And pubic transit here sucks.

I write about food, and I am particularly passionate about fresh and local food. Organic fresh and local food is good, but this town’s inhabitants have a median income that does not lend itself to buying the more expensive organic food, so fresh and as local as possible would be good. Unemployment is high and high-paying jobs almost nonexistent.

The town has other issues: crime, drug and gang violence. There are neighborhoods that are not safe at any hour.

The town has a primarily African-American population. What I love about this town is the number of small ethnic restaurants: Jamaican, Haitian, Mexican, Central American and Caribbean places that offer great food in less-than-glamorous surroundings, which of course means that the price of a meal is right.

There are large corporations doing business near this town, but they are either national companies and/or have around a long time and have a loyal and steady workforce, and that workforce makes enough money to have personal transportation. There’s no city money to pay an incentive for someone to come in here and open a grocery store. And with profit margins pretty thin (between one and one and a half percent), who would take the risk?

But what about everyone else? How do people who cannot access a grocery store eat? And do they have the right to expect such access?

They rely on friends and family for a ride, eat unhealthy and expensive fast food or from convenience stores, use food pantries, free school lunches, free senior meal deliveries and the occasional holiday handouts. It’s a tenuous way to live, especially if you are feeding your kids.

I’d like to get involved in feeding a community, not just for a day, but for a lot longer. Maybe forever. Never been in that line of work, though. How do I get started? How would you get started?

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Filed under budget, Children, Current news, food, hunger, poverty

I Went Over The Shampoo Edge

Had to have it, even at the price of a trip to the grocery store.

Had to have it, even at the price of a trip to the grocery store.

Dear Lord, spare me from the wrath of the frugalistas. I spent $50 for a bottle each of shampoo and conditioner.

And there wasn’t even a salon dude to do the washing included in the price.

Fifty dollars. Holy soapsuds, Batman!

Let’s be fair about this. I have been the stockpiler type for a long time. Bought plenty of toothpaste, soap, shampoo, TP, paper towels and dental floss on sale for just pennies. And don’t get me started on BOGOs, doubling coupons, loyalty club points and free-with-purchase. And I go one step better: I donate a lot of what I buy to shelters and food pantries. So I’m really good.

And you know I’m just trying to use my thrift and thoughtfulness to justify that out-of-bounds purchase, don’t you?

Pampering ourselves is not a bad thing. Pampering to the point of indulgence, assuming all other needs are met, is fine.

But fifty bucks for two products that basically go from bottle to hair to shower drain? Probably just a shade over the edge of sanity on this one. And the sad thing is, I will likely do it again with this product; it’s that good. I’ll take my fifty lashes with the frugal noodle and move on.

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Filed under budget, consumer products, frugality, health and beauty, shampoo, thought

I’m The Bride And You Owe Me

Wedding Dress

Wedding Dress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A friend sent a link to a recent Huffington Post piece from a woman who gave a bride and groom what she thought was a decent wedding gift. Turns out, the bride was underwhelmed.

The recipient of the $100 cash gift decided to let the giver, a recent college graduate with student loan debt and without a full-time job, know exactly what she thought of the amount and why it was not sufficient:

In terms of the amount we got from you both was very unexpected as a result we were very much short on paying off the reception because just for the cocktail + reception alone the plate per person is $200 (as per a normal wedding range with open bar is about) and Mike and I both have already paid for everything else including decor, photography, attire etc., and didn’t expect we had to cover that huge amount for reception as well.”

Something tells me the bride won’t be getting a lot more Likes on her Facebook page from this guest. Had I received a note like this, I would have sent a toilet tissue roll cover to the bride, stitched with the words, “Here, b!$*h. Hope this covers it for you.” I don’t know if the groom knew about the note; the post does not reveal that. If so, then these two trolls deserve each other. If not, I hope someone forwards a copy to him, and he does the smart thing: files an annulment and heads for the hills. It won’t get better from here.

At what point did weddings cease to be a union of love, witnessed by nearest and dearest, and become a bean-counting extravaganza, where wedding gifts were calculated into the cost of a five-course dinner, open bar with top-shelf booze, choreographed dancing, full orchestras and five-figure prices for the wedding dress? I’m not suggesting that a couple should skimp on the best they can afford, but how about priorities, folks?

  • A good photographer rules. You cannot redo hotos. If video matters, same thing applies. If you’re going to spend anywhere, let it be here. 
  • Good quality food and drink matter. No one needs to be overwhelmed with multiple courses or piles of messy, trendy little finger foods. Food needs to make sense for the occasion, rather than blowing the budget. And alcohol can be beer and wine only. You don’t owe your guests Johnny Walker or Grey Goose.
  • Speaking of food: there are a lot of wedding cake options out there. Look online for ideas, check with family and friends to find a baker (hint: check with local baking instructors and cooking schools to see if anyone can help. I found a fantastic wedding cake baker when I took a Wilton cake decorating class – she was the instructor).
  • A wedding dress can be beautiful without being a budget-killer. Shop at the end of the wedding dress season (dresses run in seasons, just like cars) for a bargain. Check department stores for dresses for the wedding party. If you must have the groom and his party in tuxedos, look for a package deal for the entire party.
  • “Decor” does not have to be purchased; this is a one-day event. It can be rented or borrowed, or even crafted by hand. Check with antique and vintage shops and thrift stores for items you can buy and reuse (flower vases, tablecloths, napkins, place cards).
  • Decide early in the planning stages what you must have, what you can live without and what can be negotiated either way. That gets the budget under some control, and you won’t be easily swayed at those bridal shows, where everything looks so cute and wonderful that you must have it.

And as for gift-giving: keep it within the budget you’ve set for yourself. Don’t be manipulated into handing over cash, like a bank teller who’s just gotten the robber’s note. You’re not responsible for the party. If the happy couple wants to get down and boogie big, let them bring on the Benjamins.

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Filed under blogging, budget, Current news, thought

I’d Walk A Mile (Or More) For A Freebie

English: A bowl of Cheerios

English: A bowl of Cheerios (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like a good bargain. I’m even willing to work for it.

I had a few coupons due to expire today, and a national chain drugstore had a decent sale on something I use a lot. The store is a mile and a half away, which is certainly close enough as a decent walk. But it’s hot out. About 85 degrees, plus considerable humidity.

Don’t get me wrong. I can more than handle the heat. And honestly, a mile and a half (three miles for the round trip) is not really a worthy use of gas and tires, even in my little subcompact. And letting those coupons expire seemed like a crime, especially when using them meant the items were free.

The Husband does not really get any of this. Does not get the coupon thing, does not get the walking-for-exercise thing (especially since I exercised this morning), does not get why I would want to suffer the heat when I have a perfectly good car sitting in the driveway that will get me from Point A to Point Wherever in good time. And really does not get why I want more of something I already have stockpiled in the pantry.

I can explain the heat thing (I need to acclimatize for my races), the exercise thing (good for my cholesterol and blood pressure and the coupon thing (senseless to throw away money). I’ve given up on the stockpile thing. Trust me, he loves it when he can wander in the spare bedroom and find “surprise” food (“surprise” food is defined as something he thought we were out of, but of course, we could not be out of, because I stockpile it). He may question the need for the pantry, but I know his secret satisfaction with it.

And just what was that freebie item I went looking for today? My favorite cereal, Cheerios©, was on sale, plus I had a national and store coupon. (Oh, and saw the controversial commercial featuring the mixed-race family. For the record, I loved it. I’m looking forward to the day General Mills makes one with same-sex parents. Now that will be thirty seconds heard ’round the world).

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Filed under budget, consumer products, Current news, food, frugality, television

A Good Friend Gets A New Gig and Good For Her!

A fellow blogger, Donna Freedman, has a new soapbox, and it’s big. And I’m proud of her.

MSN Money has her featured on their site with a daily blog called Frugal Cool, and it’s about time Donna got her due. She’s been there, done that in terms of going through tough times. A frugal single mom who successfully raised a frugal daughter, Donna has worked hard, lived simply, gotten a college education (without student loans) and had the courage to spill-and-tell about how you can do it, too. She’s not harsh with words, but there’s no Suze Orman-style “GIIIIIIRRRRLLLFRIEND!!!!” talk, either.

Donna’s message is simple. You have to decide what things you want the most and why you want those things, and work your budget priorities around those two ideas. For example, we all have to eat. If eating organic, locally produced food matters more to you than eating any other way, then that’s your food priority, and to get it, you have to budget more money to pay higher prices for those items. That means hitting the bars with friends, stopping for “emergency” take out and lunches with coworkers may not have a place in your budget. Life’s unfair, but you have to work with the money you have, or you have to find more of it someplace else to keep spending the way you want to.

Donna makes no apologies for her decisions. In her early years, frugal wasn’t cool, it was a need brought on by the combination of divorce, a daughter and the prospect of paying bills on her own without a college degree. Now frugal is fun, it’s a habit, and it’s a lifestyle, but it’s not a straitjacket. Yes, she coupons (and for those of us who do, that’s a verb), stockpiles, and shops sales.  She’s not missing a thing: she travels, contributes to charity, lives debt-free and has many followers who admire her story and like her common sense.

I think you will enjoy her as well.

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Filed under blogging, budget, frugality, Uncategorized

Reality Stick Smackdown: What Does It Take?

I don’t understand some people’s ideas about money.

They think once they’ve accounted for all the things they know they have to pay for, they’re done worrying. No unexpected or unaccounted-for things could possibly happen to them that could mean the difference between having a balanced budget that month and suddenly scrambling to pay basics like rent and groceries.

I’ve written about a finance board I post on, and one poster in particular, who refuses to give up, change or compromise anything she wants or likes, in order to make living without debt a reality. I should add that she comes from a well-to-do background, and the Bank of Mom and Dad is still probably bailing out her more stupid moves. To make matters more compelling, she is raising children to live this way; buy whatever, spend whatever and don’t worry too much, so long as the income and outgo kinda sorta match up at the end of the month. After all %$!* doesn’t happen here, not to us.

Do tell.

I’ve lived long enough to lose track of the number of  “Oh %$!*” moments in my life. From feline bowel blockages to a husband who breaks a leg on vacation, to an overflowing commode that ruins a bathroom floor, to a sick parent, they never end. Sure, you can break out the plastic, or borrow from family, but isn’t it better to have some funds to fight back with when the reality stick hits you and knocks the wind out of you? Bad enough you have to think fast and react faster; having some money available to pay for extra food, medicine, a plumber, vet, a much-needed adult beverage  is vital to your sanity.

And yes, you can make room in your budget for an emergency fund. We’re talking about a few dollars set aside a week. Give up a treat or two, or put the money aside when you save money couponing and rebating. Try what I do: set aside a small sum every time you do laundry. It’s asking a lot in already lean times to do this. But the next time life wields the reality stick over your head, you’ll at least have a protective shield at the ready.

And an update: All the kind thoughts are appreciated. Mom isn’t doing well, but we are hoping for the best, whatever the outcome will be.

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Filed under budget, family, frugality, mental health