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!

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.

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!!

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.)