Doing Christmas!

Before you’ve even cleaned the turkey you’re scouring the ads. Who’s got deals? What time do they start? Ohhhhh, look, should I camp out for that killer price on whatever?

Stop, stop, stop! STOP!

And, accept this critical fact:

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A KILLER SALES PRICE WHEN YOU CAN’T AFFORD IT! 

Well, actually, there is. It’s a KILLER sales price because it kills your resolve, kills your budget, kills your plan to DO Christmas this year instead of BUY it.

Christmas is an annual addiction: the ads, the lists, the “go here first, then here, then here” mania that has us grabbing and shoving and stuffing shopping carts as we’re swiping, swiping, swiping without thinking about the bills that will show up in January.

Don’t tempt yourself. Stay home on Black Friday. The frenzy, the noise, the mass of humanity works like the ding, ding, ding of slot machines. It lures, draws, and downright sucks you into the insanity. “Everyone else is doing it, they have money, they’re spending, why can’t I?” you whine.  

Because you’ve accepted reality. You understand your financial position. You don’t want January’s hangover from Christmas’ overindulgence. You have a plan. A DO plan. Which means you must avoid those who don’t.

You can already feel the withdrawal. God, it hurts not to be a player in the annual “Save Retailers” campaign. Breathe deep and repeat after me: “Charity starts at home. Charity starts at home.” Keep repeating until your brain accepts – 20, 30, 40 times… Be patient. This could take awhile

Okay, now you’re ready. Set the ads aside. FAR aside. Using ‘em to get a fire started works best. Stuff the turkey. Peel the potatoes. Bake the pies. Savor every smell, every taste. Really talk to people you’re sharing the day with. When you’re not focused on the Friday free-for-all you can actually enjoy Thursday’s blessings. Eat too much (a reward for the self-control you’ll be exercising by skipping the Friday fiasco.) Watch some football. Hug everyone. Be grateful for what you have. Give thanks. After all, it’s been a great day, and, tomorrow you can sleep in!

Oh, God, Friday, more ads… So hard to ignore. Itchy gas-pedal foot. Mall, mall, just for an hour…

DO NOT SUCCUMB! Guess what? The mall is gonna be there, all the way through Christmas. And, I’m guessing, the ads will get better. And better. And better. This may actually be the year of the procrastinator. Take out a sheet of paper. Make the list – remember the “pared down, these people really matter” list?  Chances are, your first effort won’t be that pared. Try numbering the people. “If I could only buy for one person…” Give them a 1. “If I could only buy for 2…” Someone gets a 2. Do this until everyone has a number.

Now, write down what you can DO. Cook? Bake? Arts & Crafts? Lawn work? Errands? Fix-it stuff? Damn, look how talented you are! Keep thinking. Cleaning? Sewing? Car repairs? Spending time with someone? WOW! You have an almost unlimited budget of stuff you can DO!! Stuff that really matters.

Use Black Friday to keep you in the black. Work on that list. Match your talents to those “matter” people. Pick projects. Determine the time you’ll need to complete them. Make your DO plan. Feel great. Not a single elbow from fighting over the last Boo-boo Baby whatever. No shopping cart derby crushed toes. Not a single foul, nasty, unkind word or look tossed your way.  

This weekend plan your holiday; budget realistically, and focus on what matters, who matters. You do. Your family does. A roof over your head, food, heat, gas in the car – these are critical. Boo-boo Baby and electronic gadgets and stuff aren’t. To retailers maybe, but not to you. Relax and know this can be the most stress-free season yet because you choose to make it so. It can be the most giving season yet because you choose to make it so. It can be the most blessed time ever because you choose to make it so. With your mindset, not your wallet. Get that, and you’re well on your way to understanding frugal.

And, just so you won’t go all berserk on me before I get back with some project ideas, try these to get you thru the weekend:

1) Sort old photos (you know, from before we had digital) and separate by person. There’s gifts in those memories. (more on that later.)

2) Clean. If you’re like many, there’s gifts in them thar closets.

3) Get out the decorations. Dust ’em off. Have a family dinner, grilled cheese and soup, and discuss past years. Start building your holiday joy quotient by remembering what you remember most? Was it a gift? Or was it feelings and relationships that warm you deepest?

4) Send out cards. No, not $10 a box, $.42 to mail cards. Email cards. Get the kids involved. Have them send cards to Grandma & Grandpa, too. And Aunt Bertha. And Uncle Fred. (it’s good training.) Free means you don’t have to send one signed, “Love, Susan, Dan, Jeffrey, Alicia, Allison, Jeremy, Joshua, Bobbie, Carol, Willie, Snuggles and Spot.” Everyone’s involved (well, Dan may still expect you to cover him, and unless Snuggles and Spot are really special, they’re on you too, but the kids get to send their own message.)  You can send one or one a week or one a day. You’ll be building someone else’s joy quotient with each message. Or you can make cards – you know, colored paper, crayons, markers, glitter, glue, messy… Fun! Either are great ways to interact with the kids, show a little creativity and let loved ones know you’re really thinking of them, not just checking “send cards,” off the holiday to-do list.

5) Go to the park. Exercise with the kids. (Hey, we gotta get rid of that reward somehow.) Or visit the library. Read a Christmas classic. 

Back next week with project ideas. Until then, chant with me, “Charity starts at home, charity starts at home…”

Happy Thanksgiving!!

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Right now, it’s tough for many to embrace those words. If the economic crisis boat is floating in your tub, that’s assuming your tub hasn’t already been foreclosed on, it’s hard to feel grateful. Retailers could likely find this to be the year that “Black” Friday becomes “Still in the Red” Friday. The idea of putting up a tree when you don’t know where the dollars will come from to put anything under it overwhelms us. I’m guessing doctors are handing out mood elevators faster than the neighbor who offered full-size candy bars on Halloween. Face it, it’s bleak out there – financially –  which means it’s also devastating emotionally.

Yes, it may be the worst holiday season you’ve ever experienced, financially. But it doesn’t have to be an emotional train wreck. It can be a time of reassessment, of rethinking that can lead to a resurgence of your spirit, if not your cash flow. In this long-term predicament, that’s crucial.

First, breathe deep. The next thirty-plus days are among the most stressful we face. Now, look inside. Do you matter? Of course you do. To someone. And, it’s not because of the stuff you buy. It’s because of you.  That’s the first lesson in making the holidays more manageable:

CUT YOUR LIST DOWN TO THOSE PEOPLE WHO MATTER.

How many of your holiday dollars are spent on “should” buys? Drop them. Giving isn’t about shoulds. Frugal people understand this. They don’t, however, reallocate that money to someone else. They reduce their holiday expenses.

The second lesson in your holiday-expense reduction plan?

WHAT CAN I DO FOR PEOPLE ON MY LIST THIS YEAR?

DO, not BUY. All of us have talents. Seldom do our talents and those of the people we care about match exactly. What can you do for someone that they will appreciate because they can’t do it. Or don’t want to. Or don’t have the time. That’s a great gift. (Don’t worry, I’ll be back in a few days with tips for all that “doing” you’ve decided to try this year.)

The third question you must ask to reduce stress and money this season?

WHO CAN I HAVE AN HONEST DISCUSSION WITH ABOUT GIFTING?

Years ago my best friend and I quit exchanging gifts. Our friendship was a year-long gift to each other. Family draws? Maybe you can stop them. Or reduce the limit. Or require the gift be homemade. Same at the office. Often, we overspend because we don’t want to “look” cheap. Anytime you can drop a draw, do so.

These three mindset changes can have an enormous impact on your holiday bottom-line, not to mention your emotional well-being. I hope they bring just a tad relief so that whether you’re enjoying a full-out turkey extravaganza or nuking a can of turkey noodle soup, you can embrace “Happy Thanksgiving,” (which, by the way, is a great time to broach that “drop the draw” discussion.)

Frugal Requires Focused Funding…

7500. That’s where the Dow is. Ok, rounded up it’s 7600, and (supposedly) set for a big open. Are you holding your breath? Open doesn’t count. It’s where it closes that matters. I read recently (can’t find the link) that 7000 would be the number. I’m beginning to believe.

Best I can tell, the latest freefall centers on two things: GM and jobs. I’m torn. We can’t afford to lose more jobs. But we can’t save every poorly run company either.

I studied the recent round of expertise on GM’s impact on our economy. Bailout or bankruptcy the pundits ask. So much at stake. Their demise could lead to 3 million more lost jobs. The kicker in that figure? GM employs just 123k people. The big three (if you can call them that) employ about 240k. But… each person accounts for another 4 jobs – another million people. AND, another 1.7 million people have jobs thanks to those 1.2 million. Which lead us to a key reason why GM and the others are floundering. Big wages – 1.2 million people buy enough to keep another 1.7 million in jobs. And that leads us to the root problem –  Mfg. only accounts for about 12% of our GDP now. Services (as in people who make far less) accounts for 67%. 

That figure made frugal crystal clear to me. We, the generation who wanted our children to have more, spoiled them on mfg. wages. They, the generation who believed us and acquired more, live on service wages. Any wonder we’re in this mess?

I’m not intellectually well-versed enough to analyze the macro/micro implications of GM. Here’s what I do understand:

If you give a failing company more money to continue under the same management to do the same things that made them a failing company…  (I believe AIG’s 2nd run to the money trough proves this point.)

Yes, the government successfully bailed out Chrysler years ago. But, Lee Iacocca took over – a new leader, new team, new ideas.  And, we still had a strong manufacturing base back then – people still bought American. Today, we’re trying to fix things (personally as well as nationally) based on the definition of insanity: continuing to do the same things (when everything has changed!) and expecting different results.

The time to save manufacturing was long ago: Ten years ago when 76% of socks were US made; twenty years ago when we started losing the 3.7 million jobs now in China and India; fourteen years ago when the million jobs in apparel and footwear began vanishing.  

I have nothing against GM, Ford, and Chrysler. I wish they were better businessmen/women. I wish 3 million jobs didn’t hinge on a larger deficit for the American public. I wish someone had the foresight to address our dwindling manufacturing economy  before it, well, dwindled. But they didn’t. The reality is this: The more we move to service-sector wages, the more mfg. jobs we will lose. BECAUSE WE CAN’T AFFORD AMERICAN. That’s why jobs moved overseas to begin with – COST. A bailout won’t change that. The question shouldn’t be, “How do we save GM,” it should be, “How do we fix our service-based economy?” 16 million, maybe 19 million jobless folks are counting on that answer.

I watched the election coverage diligently. To me, the historic implications of this choice had nothing to do with age or color. It had to do with the devastating economic challenges our new leader would face.  I needed to know how that person intended to fix this disaster. What I learned? Obama is a brilliant politician. It wasn’t until his acceptance speech that he used the two words that summarize, truthfully, the only things that can salvage our financial future, the two words that if bantered about during campaign stops quite probably would have derailed him. Sacrifice and Service. We are now a service-based economy. That requires sacrifice.  

A chicken in every pot is still possible given good couponing and attention to the weekly ads. A house, new car, DVD and plasma screen TV are not. Those of us living frugal lifestyles understand this. I wish our government did. Manufacturing doesn’t drive our economy. Service does. Period. We have to live on service wages. The government has to collect taxes and budget their spending based on service wages. 12% of the GDP won’t change that.

So, my question is this – do we save 3 million jobs in the short-term, or find ways to employ the 16 million already out of work? Do we save three businesses, or spread that money over the multitude of small businesses failing daily because even after round one of the bailout program there’s no financing available?   Do we start now living the new American dream – sacrifice and service? Or, do we just continue the insanity?

Frugal Has No Fantasy Fix

How do you know the economy is in trouble? Read this. Then, check your email.

Lately, my junk box is stuffed. Some of the garbage is even making its way to my in box through all that techie stuff hubby set up to keep the culprits out. They (meaning the villainous vultures who see bad news as a way to make a buck) are working overtime. Here’s a sampling from just ONE day’s attack of over 35 “solutions” to my core problem of, well, needing money.

A) These guys either want to give me money, or get rid of the money I owe. Guess what? They don’t do it for free. Always, always check with the Better Business Bureau, your banker, your uncle’s banker before you SPEND money to erase/correct debt. It’s a computerized world. The record will exist. If you can reduce your debt, it’s there for the world to see. It will impact future credit. It often doesn’t work. Think lawyers – they charge you for taking the case, not for guaranteeing the outcome. So do these guys.
      
Fast Friendly Loans Loan (loo@mypromisedvictories.com)
2Avoid4Closure Message(bttra@yourgreatsve.com) We Could Help You Stop Foreclosure‏
Debtco Debt Solutions (DebtSolutions@dncards676.com)
Debt Wipe (debtwipe@ustosia.com)
Debtco Debt Solutions (support@thekicksilvers.co
CreditRepair.com (creditrepaircom@skeloldo.com)
Credit Department (creditdepartment@belosia.com)
Consolidate Debt…from EclipseMediaOnline (help@imposearseswant.com

B) You’ve seen these advertisements everywhere. Send us your gold. Right. I’m gonna send you what few valuables I have left, HOPING that you’ll be honest about receipt, weight, etc. This doesn’t sound like the wisest move I could make. Not that wisest move often describes decisions made during financial stress. Before trying any of these, visit local jewelers first to see if you can PUT THE STUFF IN HANDS YOU CAN TOUCH AND LEAVE WITH THE CASH.

*G0T-USED G0LD?* (worthit@checkwinners.com)
~~WE BUY JEWELRYandG0LD~~ (EasyPz@castresults.com)
Cash4Gold (MW2263199QJ@SIMPLEPHONEOFFERS.COM)
Get Cash For Your Gold Jewelry (zZ62263199uD@thenewamazingrareoffers.com)

C) These sweethearts have free stuff for me. Ever try to collect? There is no free. Just page after page after page of “offers” they’re trying to hook you into so you get the free stuff.  I gave up after about 20 pages…

Laptops for FREE (Laptops@dncards676.com)
You Qualify! (Sample@melslipyard231.com) free samples
Mike G (ts@kzadvantage.com)  free gift and laptop
Product Test Panel (Vx2263199cBn@REALOFFERSPRO.COM) free Wii System
Trip on us (r7HV2263199VC@REALOFFERSSTORE.COM) free $2000 Expedia gift card
Thank You (offer@melneddlenose322.com) free Walmart gift card
Weekly Grocery Savings (bbTO10062728631TZ@FANTASTICGREATOFFER.COM) $500 Holiday Gift Card

D) Then, of course, others want to educate me so I can get a better job and improve myself out of this nightmare. Degrees don’t come from emails; they come from hard work at an accredited college. And, yes, employers do check credentials. They’re receving 250+ resumes per job posting. They can be choosy.

Nursing Careers (woodhaven@painterstart.com
Investigator Degree from EclipseMediaOnline (Emmanuel@vitalblowrore.com)
Business Certificates…from EclipseMediaOnline (thank_you@nearcouldready.com)
CriminalJusticeDegreesExclusive (criminaljusticedegreesexclusive@randust.com)

College Moms (collegemoms@smorras.com)
X-RayTechnician (patsfan@solarpowermario.com)

E) And, of course, everyone has jobs:

Help Desk (esozm@wilfamilymall.com) this one found me a job
WorkFromHome (workfromhome@banryn.com)_
WorkFromHome-googlemoneytree (wfJ1006272863zmP@BIGNEWOFFERSDAILY.COM) Google system makes working from home a real deal‏
Home Jobs(ts@kzadvantage.com)
 R.Allen(esozm@alphadelpha.com) I made 277 people millionaires
 JohnC (JohnC@hederaadvice.com)
Michelle Andrews(michelle@summerpail.com) our Last Chance to make $22.50 every 15 min. Guaranteed‏
Casting Dept. (castingdept@kyastyriarin.com) Psst – their money’s in the glossies required…

Now, most of us won’t resort to desperate actions like robbery, murder, arson, insurance fraud, and suicide, all of which are on the rise, but we’re not above falling prey to some slickly written, compelling promise that sounds like an oh-so-easy solution. Folks, (as the guy we didn’t elect would say) there are no easy answers. Nor are there more than maybe 20 – 30 areas where we can cut back. Check any frugal blog or article on saving money. Most of the info is the same.

Face it. We’re way beyond shouldering the burdens. This economy is attacking us with a full body press. These tempting offers seem to provide hope, a chance, an opportunity to climb out from under the stress and pressure that lost jobs, late payments, faltering 401k’s and the like have dumped on us. All for just $19.95 or $29.99 or…

Don’t do it. Save your money. Make this your daily affirmation: “I am strong. I know there is no easy solution. I will endure and practice frugality to ease my burden.”  It’s kinda like losing weight – we didn’t end up in this shape overnight. We won’t get out of it that quickly either.

PS: If you’re bored, feel free to spam these jerks back. I’d love to see their servers crash.

Frugal Priorities!

Postponing medical care. Cutting back on prescriptions. Foregoing medical coverage all together. These trends are part of today’s economic crisis. But, they aren’t frugal, they’re foolish! Without health, you can’t:

1) Work (at all)

2) Better yourself financially

3) Care for and enjoy your children

4) Experience life

Ask anyone dying or seriously ill what they’d give to have their health back, and I guarantee the answer would be anything. They’d forego houses, savings accounts, 401k’s, cars, presents under the tree, clothes, trips – anything, just for the opportunity to spend more/better time with their kids, spouses, families, and friends.

47 million Americans have no health insurance. 47 million Americans risk death daily. 47 million Americans will find their life expectancy decreasing at a time when medical science is extending lives. Choosing to be part of that 47 million Americans isn’t frugal. As the old car repair ad aptly stated, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.” But you’re not a car. You’re not replaceable, nor are many of your parts. And, even if the parts can be replaced, without insurance, you won’t be able to pay for the repairs.

If you’re part of that 47 million Americans because you are opting out by choice, that head-in-the-sand-it-won’t-happen-to-me mentality could have deadly consequences. If you’re not part of that 47 million Americans by choice, I hope these tips offer some relief:

Save Thousands on Medical Bills

A Survival Guide for the Uninsured

Help A Budding Doctor & Save

10 Immunity Boosters

Medical and dental care

In “A survival guide for the uninsured,” I list a variety of organizations and agencies that provide medical and dental care to the poor, including:

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Insure Kids Now, which helps families making up to $34,100 a year to get health insurance for their children.

The Health Resources and Services Administration, which can help you find federally funded, low-cost clinics.

State health departments that provide additional clinics and resources

 

The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which can help women find low-cost mammograms and Pap smears.

 

NeedyMeds and the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, which can help people without insurance get low-costs meds.

 

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, part of the National Institutes of Health, can help you find low-cost dental care.

 

Other resources to consider include:

 

The UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation, which helps pay for medically necessary treatments or services not fully covered by insurance.

 

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which provides free pharmacy services to the poor.

 

Bottom line: Being uninsured increases your risk of dying prematurely and can affect your ability to earn a living. Take the help that’s offered.

Vote November 4th. 

(Or just keep quiet for the next four years)