What Now???

Market was up 150 points yesterday and we’re still under 7,000, 1/2 of where we were less than two years ago. I’ve mentioned before, I’m no economist – not that I think the economists are doing such a hot job. Or the regulators that were supposed to protect us. Or the CEO’s, CFO’s, etc. that run the companies. Or the government who let the CEO’s, CFO’s ruin (no,not a typo) things. Or the new government who’s dumped us into debt so deep I’m thinking  Atlantis is probably easier to find than a way out of this mess. Everywhere, it’s yes, no, should, shouldn’t, save, spend. Truthfully, I’ve got a headache from trying to understand it all. I think terror does that. 

For example, take this article. There’s a new syndrome – sudden wealth syndrome – which by the way, I’m sure most of us would like to experience.   Wealthy people are inundated by people wanting handouts. They’re torn. Are they creating welfare monsters by bailing these people out, by absolving them of their financial debacles? Oh, what to do?  I wish the government had some of these concerns. Aren’t bailouts to non-performing companies  the same thing?

Or this one – schools are overwhelmed as they try to find the resources to deal with a new student issue – homelessness.  At a time when we’re promoting education as our economic salvation. And, this one –the suicide rate in young men is climbing. At a time when we’re going to bring numerous troops home to well, debt and joblessness, the things driving this statistic. Oh, and by the way, if you’re saving money to try and shore up for a job loss, well, that’s wrong, too.

Confusion and frustration reign, as well they should. And, with confusion and frustration comes anger. Which comes from unmet needs. No job, foreclosure on the horizon, gas prices climbing again – those things create unmet needs – like a roof over our heads and food on the table. Bosses are tense, spouses are tense, kids are tense. The first thing we might try is giving the other guy a break. Recognize that the slight, the insult, the outburst probably have a whole lot less to do with you than with the situation the other person faces. Psst: try not to be the “other person.”

Second, there was a time when you almost felt like you needed to be in one of those self-help groups for frugality. “Hi, I’m so and so, and I’m frugal.” Now, when you pull out that wad of coupons, instead of the person behind you letting go of a disgusted sigh and rolling their eyes, it’s likely they’ll be watching the tally to see how much you saved. And hoping they’ll do better. I can’t stress enough how far a few dollars can go if you cut coupons and match ’em to sale items. Yesterday, a free box of Cheerios made it to my pantry thanks to a coupon, and the store paid me .01 for a box of Raisin Bran thanks to adding a manufacturer’s coupon to the store coupon. Couponing is cool. More important, it gives you a sense of power at a time when powerlessness is running rampant.

A little side note: If everyone who didn’t eat those things had done the same thing and shipped the items off to the food bank…  If you haven’t before, please consider joining the coupon brigade and shoring up our very hungry food banks. It costs you nothing but time.

Third, there’s an old saying about God helping those that help themselves.This is no time for pity, but quite honestly, from my viewpoint, it is a time for protectionism – the protected item being yourself, not your country. If saving $$$ saves the stress in your household, do it. Be glad you can. If you can spend and it feels right, more power to you. If you can share – bless you. The depression didn’t create a generation of welfare bums. This situation won’t either.

Fourth, there’s money everywhere if you look. Not a lot mind you, but right now, a little can look like a lot:

Rebate – if you don’t want the item, how about a community swap group? “I’ll trade you that razor for this fancy wrinkle remover goo.” Collect stuff and sell it at yard sales. Hold onto it and make gift boxes.

Junk Mail – Read it. A free ipod is on it’s way because I signed up for one of those services the banks promote but aren’t affiliated with. 30 day free trial period. Cancel at any time. Gift is yours to keep.  There are tons of these offers, and I’m guessing more will be on the way. Like rebate items, they make great gifts or swaps. Of course, I’ll be canceling before the 30 days is up. Is that stealing? Hmmm. Gray area. You’ll have to decide.

Keep reading – I visited a model home center for a $25 Target gift card. I had a nice day at the ballpark – free. I entered a Thriftiest Family contest. Money to be won (not likely, but…) There was an extra 10% off my shopping bill in the newspaper – not with the regular ads. There all tons of free or savings in the daily newspaper. Skip all the bad news and just look for what you can save.

More reading – We all could use some inspiration so here are  15 simple ways to save. I’m not in total agreement (like the warehouse store thing – I think those are money-suck machines. Unless you’re the octomom – then they probably have some serious value.) He also mentions apples and teeth so I added this one on DIY Dentistry. Now, that’s when you know things aren’t so good… Maybe you’ll get a new idea, or maybe these will simply shore up your resolve. Either way, you’ll be more committed to your frugal goals.

Hmmm, maybe there should be a self-help group for the frugal…

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Money and Love…or Hate

Yes, I’ve been remiss.  Prepping a house for sale and looking for a job have slurped up my creative juices. When you hit a job fair where 15k people show up… When the market’s at 7,000 points… (note: long ago I mentioned that someone (I couldn’t find the source) said 7 ,000 was the point where the market would stabilize. God, I hope so!! Just not seeing the continual slide might help many find just a smidgen of hope that we’d get through this.

But, many aren’t. You can’t be frugal when there’s nothing to be frugal with. And, few things test a relationship as much as an empty checkbook. For many, money is our worth, our value to others. For others it’s a means of avoidance – a new outfit or fancy dinner allows us to skip facing the issues in our life. For still others, it’s a barrier to a relationship, as this funny, but sadly true article shows. Creativity and a sense of humor had no chance against $$$.

Many are staying in unstable, unhappy, unfullfilling relationships out of necessity.   Can’t sell the house. Can’t find a job. Can’t leave. It may be a financial fix, but it’s one that will surely lead to repercussions felt for generations. Frustration, fear, anger, hopelessness – who better to vent at than that SOB spouse you’d leave in a minute if it weren’t for the economy. Love crossses that ever so thin line and turns to hatred. Divorce may be on the slide, but I’m guessing domestic violence will see a big upturn, mostly in terms of verbal abuse, but don’t count out battered bodies along with the scarred souls.

We don’t like to talk about mental health issues in this country. Only the “weak” can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps ( or whatever cliche you’d like to insert.) Guess what? A lot of strong, responsible, caring human beings will find themselves tested beyond their limits. Some may throw themselves in front of trains, but more of them will throw their pain at others or internalize it and self-destruct (drugs, alcohol, affairs, gambling, over-eating.)

If there’s ever an issue that you can’t be frugal about, it’s your brain. A mind IS a terrible thing to waste. Find a means to shore up your mental health during these horrific financial times. Reallocate dollars and maybe you can try a Relationship Boot Camp. Too steep? Buy the book. Watch Dr. Phil. Search the internet. See what services your community offers. Find a way to save your sanity, if not your relationship.

2009… Where Have I Been?

Hope you all survived the holidays and none of those nasty reminders (credit card bills) are arriving this month. I did, actually managing to cover Christmas for ten people at under $200. And yes, I did deliver those wonderful photo memory albums to another six people. I had the albums in a hall closet so no expense except for loving effort.

Now, onto New Year’s resolutions. Even though I haven’t talked with you in a while, I haven’t forgotten you. When we start a frugal new year, one of the things we’re undoubtedly thinking about is stuff we have to buy this year – not groceries and gas – but items that may be on our have-to-replace list. So, first off, let’s look at 10 Things You Should Never Buy New and 10 Things You Should Never Buy Used. (I wish I had the money to worry about a new wet suit… On the other hand, as an author, the idea that books should all be retreads, well, no wonder I’m looking for a job.) It’s tempting to pick up that bike helmet or used car seat at a yard sale. Don’t do it. You can buy Charmin so the kids don’t use as much TP, but don’t cheat on items intended to keep their little bodies in one piece. By the way, if kids always take too much, how does the fact that its softer or stronger change that? Just wondering. That commercial’s always bugged me.

Now, there may be other big-ticket items on that list. That’s where haggling comes in. This art is difficult for many, and done poorly, well, it achieves poor results. The key to effective haggling is research – know the value of the item – and then, most important, understand how much you want it. If not getting it creates more angst than paying a little more for it, know this before you talk yourself out of a sale. Cars and yard sales seem obvious, but negotiating with the local Walmart manager, hmmm. That has possibilites. “What do you mean you can’t discount these tomatoes? Look, look at them! They have wrinkles, more than I do…” Honestly, I’m not counted among the top negotiators. But, it’s knowledge, and armed with knowledge, even one or two better deals can make a big difference in your financial picture.

I’ve signed up for the paper again. Last year, net savings from coupons exceeded $1,500. I made about 6 times my investment, enjoyed items I might normally have to pass on, and fed the local food bank with some of my killer purchases, allowing me to give back even on a tight budget. This year, more than ever, food banks are hungry. Time spent cutting a few coupons and watching ads can allow you to send plenty of peanut butter, salad dressing, soap, soup, etc. at zero or no cost to people in much worse financial straights.

Next time: Love and money.  Frugal findings to you!

Just In…Gift Certificate Concerns

Even those Doing Christmas may find themselves buying a gift certificate here and there – a fact retailers love because many are never redeemed. This year, more than ever, that might be true!

Here’s a partial list of  stores planning to close after Christmas that are still selling cards through the holidays even though the cards may be worthless January 1. Apparently there is no law preventing them from doing this – it’s just part of the process known as “Bankruptcy Planning.” 

Those that aren’t going out of business may still be closing stores that your gift recipient would be able to access. Better put them on Santa’s “not nice” list or you may end up there next year… 

                  ·        Ann Taylor– 117 stores nationwide closing

                  ·        Bombay closing remaining stores

·        Cache will close all stores

·        Catherine’s to close 150 stores nationwide

·        Circuit City (filed Chapter 11)

·        Dillard’sto close some stores

·        Disney closing 98 stores and will close more after January.

·        Eddie Bauer to close stores 27 stores and more after January

·        Ethan Allen closing down 12 stores

·        Fashion Bug to close 150 stores nationwide

·        Footlocker closing 140 stores – more to close after January

·        GAP closing 85 stores

·        Home Depot closing 15 stores, 1 in NJ ( New Brunswick )

·        J. Jillclosing all stores (owned by Talbots)

·        JC Penney closing a number of stores after January

·        K B Toys closing 356 stores

·        Lane Bryant to close 150 stores nationwide

·        Levitz closing down remaining stores

·        Linens and Things closing all stores

·        Lowes to close down some stores

·        Macys to close 9 stores after January

·        Movie Galley Closing all stores

·        Pacific Sunwear(also owned by Talbots)

·        Pep Boys Closing 33 stores

·        Piercing Pagoda closing all stores

·        Sharper Image closing down all stores

·        Sprint/Nextel closing 133 stores

·        Talbots closing down specialty stores

·        Whitehall closing all stores

·        Wickes Furniture closing down

·        Wilson Leather closing down all stores

·        Zales closing down 82 stores and 105 after January

Frugal’s Weekend Moral Support

It’s the weekend. Ads bombard you – TV, radio, Internet, newspapers – all screaming at you to buy, buy, buy. Your resolve is crumbling faster than those chocolate chip cookies you forgot to freeze last week. Don’t do it!! 

In two weeks, the pressure and guilt will be over. Unless, of course, you succumb and blindly funnel your funds into the media frenzy like a herd at the slaughterhouse. Instead, spend your time and read this great article on dealing with Santa’s shrinking budget. You’ll find you’re not alone. Which means chances are that dreaded, “Bobby got the …” whine won’t be heard quite so often in the aftermath of this paper-ripping season. Your change in attitude  will not only reduce stress levels in the coming months, but bring the opportunity to help you teach your kids to be rich.

(Note:  “Rich” is relative. If, like most parents, you want your children to live better than you do, wouldn’t simply not having to experience your level of financial stress make them “richer”?)

Then, take another look at Doing Christmas and get busy with some new frugal traditions that will make  your holidays brighter for  many years to come.

Frugal and Jobs

All I want for Christmas is… a JOB! That’s on the wish list of millions this year – like the  4.4 million who are trying to survive on unemployment benefits. The 400k who gave up looking?  In an economy that lost almost 2M jobs this year, it’s not hard to understand their hopelessness. Which leads us to auto workers.

$73 an hour? Absurd! Yes, but also not true. Workers COST $73 an hour, they don’t MAKE $73 an hour. If you’re earning $15 an hour, you’re probably costing your employer about $20, assuming you have a reasonable benefit package. Auto workers do make about double the average worker and about $10 an hour more than their non-union counterparts. And, they get pensions – I know, most of us don’t have a clue what that is anymore. Our future financial health is our problem. (also known as the tanking 401k.)

If you’re unemployed, you probably want to save the auto industry so you don’t have to compete with another 3 million job-seekers. If you’re employed and struggling just to survive, the fear of higher taxes from the bailouts probably has you saying, “the heck with ’em.” I can talk out of both sides of my mouth on this one. There is no easy answer. What I do know is this:

1) If you have a job, suck up, do what’s asked, do more than what’s asked, smile a lot and KEEP it! If anything in this article sounds familiar…

2) If you have a job, spend like you don’t. Given that companies are dumping  jobs faster than I can hit the delete key, think like a good Boy or Girl Scout – Be prepared.

3) If you’re going to spend money, make it count. Money can buy happiness – if you understand what happiness it.

4) Practice frugal principles and extend your bucks, always grateful that you have them to extend.

But even the most frugal finagler can’t invent bucks.  For those of you without a job:

1) Now’s the time for, “If I didn’t work I’d…” (fill in the blank.) Make this a time to regroup. Get in shape. A healthier you interviews better. Use your brain. A well-versed you interviews better. Learn something. A confident you interviews better. Volunteer. A paying forward you has more opportunities available.

2) Lower your standards. Income can be extended, juggled, massaged. Zero is still zero.

3) In an economy where 1 in 10 find themselves in trouble with their mortgage, you won’t be alone if you try to restructure debt. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins for a reason – it won’t feed you.

4) Knowing you’re not alone in this nightmare doesn’t relieve the stress of living it. Try one of these.

Now’s the time to prepare for 2009. Part of that planning is restraint during the holiday season. Part of it is visualizing the frugal you in the year ahead. And, part of it is attitude, the most predominant aspect of gratitude. Not since more years ago than most of us can remember has the economy left so many so hopeless. A quick look down and  you’ll see there are plenty of people even worse off. It’s the looking up that makes the glass half empty.

Best Gifts for the Holiday Season? A Sense of Humor & a Budget!

Ok, so you’ve stayed in a mall-free zone thus far and your mood is cranky. Darn cranky. You tried some of my suggestions. Your cookies are flatter than Faith Hill’s stomach, the gift certificate you slaved over hid in the C drive, and the grocery stores checked your coupon organizer so that, hee, hee, none of those items are on sale this week. (Yes, the paper is getting pretty sparse on the coupon front. Try these sites out.)

“Pfft. Doing Christmas. This moron makes Pollyanna look like a pessimist,” you’re saying. I feel your pain. Neighbors are putting up lights and decorations all around me. I’m sure it’s aimed at making me feel even more broke. The extra cost of electricity alone… (On that subject, Bracing for Winter and Cut your Heating Bills may help.)

Everywhere you’re bombarded with messages that say SPEND, as if somehow emptying your wallet will fill you with the holiday spirit everyone else seems to have. FACT: While it may make the next 20 days woohoo-party time, you’ll regret it when January rolls around. And February. And March… Which is why I loved this Top Ten article on why it’s great to be broke this season.  

I received an  email from a friend yesterday that said holidays just aren’t the same. No, they’re not. We turned them over to the retailers. And with that, we lost the good, warm, ahhh feelings that holidays used to bring. Now, if we can’t let go of the $832 people say the plan to spend we’re thinking they aren’t fun or fulfilling. Hey, at $832 they’re not fun and fulfilling either – they’re foolish and frenetic. And, NOBODY APPRECIATES OUR FINANCIAL INSANITY ANYWAY! Long gone are the days of, “it’s the thought that counts.”

Instead of labeling yourself a failure this season, embrace these top ten reasons for why your fiscal savvy puts you way ahead of the pack.

10. Credit card bills have all that junk advertising enclosed. You’ll be saving trees, too.

9. You won’t be on anyone’s “worst gifts” list next year.

8. No one will curse you for making them look cheap.

7. Not a single person will have to exchange your gift. You’re saving them gas, stress, helping cut pollution!

6) No one will feel guilty because you bought for them and they didn’t buy for you.

5. And you won’t shame anyone by being the “best gift giver” while they make your worst gifts list…

4) The postal person won’t be overburdened delivering tons of credit card bills to your house. 

3. You won’t have to eat 5 out of 7 meals at the happy hour buffet come January.

2. You can listen to others bemoan their holiday debt, nodding sympathetically without adding a single comment yourself as you smile gleefully – inside of course.

And, the number one reason you’re not a failure?

1. The first time is always the hardest. With your new frugal fixation, you’ll actually be able to look forward to 2009’s holiday season.