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…

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.

Wacky Ways to Save Moolah

After 50 Ways to Trim Your Budget didn’t give me a whole lot of new ideas, I decided it was time to think outside the box – way outside the box…

1) Get a hair cut

My hair hangs to mid-back. Even with coupons I spend probably $10 – $15 a month on conditioner. A few snips and I’ll be able to cut that cost in half. Just think: less mousse, shampoo, hairspray, more time…

2) Speaking of hair, cut the kids’ hair yourself

A few months and you’ll probably get okay at it. It’s winter. They’ll be wearing hats, scarves, hoodies anyway.

3) Go on a diet

No, not Jenny or NutriSystem or whoever. I mean, an honest-to-god, eat-less diet. Smaller portions, less cost, teenier waistline…

4) Wear fewer clothes

Yes, I know it’s winter. I mean change into the same outfit every night for a week when you get home from work – same ol’ sweats.  Remember, it’s winter. You’re not stinking them up. Less clothes = less laundry. That’s less detergent, water, electricity, fabric sheets, bleach. Savings could be big. Let’s face it, the TV doesn’t care what you’re wearing. Neither do the kids. If the spousal unit does, lucky you!!

5) Eat out

I know, I know, this goes against every frugal tip. They’re just not looking at things correctly. Hit the happy hour buffet. Fill up. Leave immediately. (This is totally negated if you order a drink.) If you have kids, visit people at dinner time. Parents and grandparents are great options. If you try this with friends, you better have a lot of them and quit answering your own doorbell around sunset.

6) Clean less often

Truly, you don’t like to do it anyway. Let the kids draw in the dust. Saves on paper and crayons, too.

7) Bonfire!

Extend the shredder’s life and save electricity. Everyone can warm up around the fire place, fire pit, whatever when you ignite your weekly junk mail. Given my pile, that’s good for 30 minutes of heat. Add the week’s papers and you’ve got an hour. Not so environmentally correct, but hey, what ya gonna save first – your money or the planet?

8) Burn candles

This is a triple woohoo! Provides light and romance (that comes after you’re done using the melted wax to clear your upper lip or do a Brazilian bikini thing.)

9)  Family won’t eat leftovers? Good. Quit buying dog food. Pups prefer table scraps anyhow.

10) Exercise

Twenty jumping jacks per commercial break. Fifteen squat thrusts between shows. (Fifty pushups can be substituted, twenty-five at each) You’ll be warm and have the buffest family on the block.

11) Don’t floss.

It’s not the cost of floss – it’s the cost of visiting the dentist when that crown falls off… No gum either. Same issue.

12) Skip the dry cleaner

Do you really think most guys dry clean a suit after one use? Pfffft. Skip the Dryel sheets, too. Toss everything in the dryer for a few minutes with a regular ol’ dryer sheet to freshen it up. Good for most of the season unless you’re sloppy. If you are, stick the outfit in the back of the closet. May not fit next year anyhow.

13) Dry cleaning part II

Another way to take out the whiff-factor? Wear the outfit while you’re using air freshener in a room.

14) And another freshening idea

Put your cologne/perfume on in the car. No more of those little smell good, hangy things necessary.

15) Rub-a-dub-dub

Think community tub. Jacuzzis are great for this. Kids think they’re having fun, not bathing. Every few days a lack of soap won’t kill ’em. Their skin won’t dry out, which means less lotion, too. No Jacuzzi? Joint baths. Just make sure you separate by sex. Don’t want Child Protective Services knocking on the door.

16) Speaking of lotion…

Skip it. Scaley works. No one’s gonna see those legs again until spring unless you’re a lucky you (see #3).  However, that’s only if the lights are on. Turn ’em off – you’re conserving, remember!

17) No more breath mints

Go to the bank. Grab ’em off the counter. Same at restaurants – take handfuls. If you’re running low, don’t invade anyone’s space. Talk behind your hand because, “I think I’m catching something and don’t want to expose you,” cough, cough.

18) Stuffed up?

Forget the decongestants. Anything they use to make meth can’t be good for you. Think hot – sauce, soup, chili. Think vigorous exercise. Try a good cry. All of ’em make your nose run. 

19) Take a page from your kids’ playbook

Wear headphones – ALOT! If you don’t hear it, no response required, ie. no cash outlay. This is especially successful with teenagers when their friends are around.  Show enthusiasm for the tunes by boogeying down  – The Swim, Twist, Mashed Potato. Mortified teens don’t stick around.

20) Invite yourself

Everywhere! Neighbor mentions they’re running to the store? Respond, “Oh, can I join you? I just need to pick up a few things,” as you drag out your three page list. Saves gas & vehicle wear & tear. Co-worker’s chatting about the potluck they have planned? You say, “Sounds wonderful. What can I bring? Is there anything you think I should avoid for the children’s sake?” That last part gets the info on whether this is a free family feed or just a night out for you & the spousal unit. If kids are out, invite them to sleepover – at someone else’s house. No babysitting costs and you still get everyone fed for the price of a dish.

21) Borrow stuff

The more expensive, the better. Baking makes great holiday gifts, but spices, molasses, vanilla – those things are expensive and you’ll use like one teaspoon or whatever. Suggest you and a friend/neighbor bake together (their house, of course.) Take only the essentials. Saves you all that high-dollar stuff. Need a holiday outfit? Pfffft. You gotta tap a lot of sources, but you can end up with the dress, shoes, earrings, purse, shawl that you need and spend zippo. (unless you’re sloppy. May require one dry-cleaning bill. Be neat & it’s just a dryer sheet.)

22) Give the fridge a break

More stuff in it means it works harder.  That’s a shorter lifespan. That’s more electricity. It’s winter in some places. Store stuff in the garage. Let nature keep it cold.

And, the 23rd wacky idea for saving money is…

23) Accept your age

Martina McBride had it right. You earned every one of those lines. Quit letting people tell you to slap on all that gooey stuff to get rid of ’em!

Laugh more. Check the stock market less. Know that you’re not alone in this financial fiasco.  

And, Vote November 4th!

Let’s Start Trimming… The Budget!

Yes, I’m in holiday mode already. But even after I Let Santa Help, I need less month or more cash if I’m going to survive the upcoming season. This article offered me 50 ways to trim the budget. I was ecstatic. FIFTY!! Wow! Must offer some new crevices to pull cash from; some new nooks and crannies to wrestle back a few bucks.

And, it did. Air dry clothes, open/shut blinds to regulate temperature, wash only full loads of clothes/dishes, raise your home/auto deductibles – easy fixes I don’t think we’ve discussed. Under food and transportation, we’ve covered most of those. Healthcare and Clothing offered some new insights. Personal insurance and retirement? I’d love to be worrying about saving $ there.

But it disappointed to. The 2006 stats show annual household expenditures of $62k with average income at $82k (gross.) 2006 stats also say 50% of Americans make less than $32k a year.  That’s AGI folks, income tax $. That’s joint-return bucks. And, yes, I know all about deduction and shelters etc. that make Rich Robby look poor. But the reality is, the average American is strapped! He’s making $62k, which he doesn’t bring home, and living on $62k. No wonder we’re spending 120% of our income. No wonder the next crisis coming is credit card debt.

Gain what you can from this article, but if you’re drowning in debt, perhaps a free evaluation will be more useful. Debt counselors field questions from 9 – 9 ET Monday thru Friday. Post your question or learn from what others have asked. You might also want to check out this article on budgeting. Getting a handle on your financial crisis requires a multi-pronged approach:

 – Know what you make

 – Know where you spend it

 – Slice and dice expenditures like a world-class chef does onions (yeah, it’s gonna bring some tears)

Until you match dollars out with dollars in, no fix will be long-term. Using credit cards for monthly expenses or 401k loans to pay off the credit cards you’re using for monthly expenses is simply a hiatus from facing the truth: You aren’t rich. You can’t live like you are.  This holiday season is a good time to start putting that reality into action.

Independence Day thanks & thoughts

As I watched fireworks last night (yep, on Thursday – competition seems to have no boundaries) I felt a little saddened. Why? Because as great as our nation is, it is our lack of independence (you know, that oil thing) which is creating havoc these days on people’s budgets. Some of you just feel a teeny pinch, others a not-so-loving squeeze, and some are in a downright straight jacket stranglehold held in place by $144 a barrel oil.

Last time, I suggested some ways to find $$ in your budget, and oh, didn’t I smile sweetly when I read Smart Money’s suggestions on saving $500 a month. (http://blogs.moneycentral.msn.com/smartspending/?fpn=how%20to%20squeeze%20500%20out%20of%20your%20monthly%20budget) They copied me. Nah, but they concurred with much of what I said. I did, however, miss a key savings area. As I learned with the newspaper, customer loyalty is often rewarded with higher pricing. Insurance is also well-known for this illogical strategy, but hey, the old marketing rules about more $ required to find new customers than to keep old ones just don’t seem to apply with these guys. Strike your independence today and get quotes on home, car, and life insurance. You could find significant savings.

Speaking of the newspaper, through June, we’ve kept $667.33 in our pocket thanks to coupons. Deduct the $130 spent for the paper and we’ve netted about 125 gallons of gas! That, to me, is worth the couple hours a week I spend cutting and matching to sales. Yesterday alone, free bread, free salad, $1.50 a box hair color (I’m worth it!), $1.50 a package Hebrew National hotdogs, and free mustard, marinade and BBQ sauce saved me megabucks for my July 4th party (well, not the hair color – that’ll just make me a less haggard-looking hostess).

For those of you in the straight jacket, you’re probably already doing this. Some other help you might look into:

1) Check with your utility company. This week the paper announced shutoffs are up 40% in Arizona due to non-payment. It’s either gas or gas… Ours offer financial assistance for some. See if you qualify. 

2) Drugs – Now is not the time to forego your meds. Save $2 a quarter at Walmart by asking your doc to write a 90 day script. Mail order saves $ also. Ask your doc for free samples. Contact PPA – perhaps you can qualify for help.

3) Food banks, dial-a-ride etc.  – Find out about community resources and use them. When the straight jacket eases up, you can help someone else by contributing. 

Which leads me to those pinched and squeezed – I doubt those unfazed are reading a frugal blog. Darn.  It’s my belief food banks are going to be inundated. Couponing can allow you to help others without making a dent in your wallet. Chili is $.50 a can this week. With a coupon, it’s free (or darn near.) Peanut butter, pasta, pasta sauce – same. Help stock up the food banks. Why? If I can’t tug on your patriotic civic duty to help your fellow Americans, how about a truth blast about your own financial well-being? If it’s a choice between eating and gas, guess what? And, no gas means no going to work. Which means more welfare. Which means higher taxes. Which means you could find yourself wearing that straight jacket.

America is a system – a great system. Spend this fourth thinking about our service men and women, and their families, who give so much so it can remain so.  And, think about how just a little effort on your part can make lives better right here at home. Then go lose yourself in some fabulous fiction and take the weekend off from all this financial stress!

Remember: A Frugal Fiction book? $3.99. Reading to your child 15 minutes a day? Priceless!