7 and Holding…

Whew! Back above 7,000 after that scary skirting of 6,000. Maybe (hopefully) the number is 7. So, I’m pulling weeds yesterday ($8 – $10 for  weed killer – bad for the environment or free and 157 squats – good for the pear in me – no brainer) and thinking, what more can we do?  We lost $11 TRILLION  last year!  A few coupons ain’t gonna cover that…

But just like the market’s 400 point surge on two little pieces of positive info (Bernanke saying it’ll be over this year and Citigroup having, woohoo, two profitable months) we can realize a big positive as well by combining LOTS of little things. Pulling weeds, using coupons, becoming DIY’ers, bartering, giving things up, settling for less. There’s no one thing that’ll do it, but a combined attack on your expenditures can deliver strong results.

So, from the person who (yes, I admit it) washes out her baggies  to reuse them, which saves $ and landfill space, I searched out some things to think about.

First thing I found – a free haircut thanks to Herbal Essences.  Well, sorta. You have to buy stuff, and then do a rebate kind of thing to get the free cut. If you find it on sale and have coupons and would use the stuff anyway, it might make sense. But, if any of these is not true, free costs you more than that $9 cut at wherever. This week I’m buying Fructis at .99 with $1 off coupons. I did find, however, that this site also offers coupons. The right sale and you might score. Personally, I like Herbal Essences. I just like free better.

Must be spring time means a new “do” because I found two other hair articles. This one, “Haircuts and car repairs on the cheap,” seemed like an odd pairing. Then it clicked – chop shops!  Kidding. Actually, it points out a way to save money and help education at the same time : Use tech school labor.  Yes, you may be a little leery of that tattooed, green-haired, piercings everywhere tech touching your hair or your car, but relax. My parents freaked when boys let their hair touch the collar. Things change, and I’m thinking, if anything, this younger generation has an incredibly high tolerance for pain. Given the economic conditions, good for them. It’ll come in handy.

The last one didn’t wow me., but this is about finding lots of little ideas. Catchy title – “I’d Rather be a Brunette.”  Personally, I’d rather be bald and only have to worry about the cost of razors…

Need a vacation? Volunteer! Need repairs? Strap on that tool belt! Want to talk to your spouse/parent/child who moved to India for a job? Want more deals? Become a secret agent. (I think the ol’ saying is “ask and you shall receive.”) Can’t hurt to try. Have some money? That’s pretty trick (yes, I know, showing my age. That went out in ???) Need some new duds? Think thrift shops. Consignment shops are filled thanks to people trying to generate cash and you can score. Really desperate? You may be worth something.Not in my top ten ideas for generating income, but blood banks are always thirsty. Speaking of which, how about some income those IRS rascals can’t touch? Now, ready to  stock away some money since you’ve found all these savings? Banks want it. May them pay for it!

My “I love you, man” award of the week goes to a Chicago sheriff who’s reluctant to process evictions. Since we’ve got the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America,” Joe Arpaio, I’m not holding out much hope for folks here, but I applaud the efforts of someone who’s not letting lenders get another freebie. I’m thinking the bailout dollars are enough. If they need to foreclose, let ’em actually follow the proper processes.

But, in the end, the best advice for these tumultuous times is the same thing that brought the market back to 7 – a little positive thought. Letting all the gloom and doom control your life won’t change whatever’s going to happen out there. But, a little Zen in our lives might make it easier to deal with. Here’s to optimism!

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.

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?