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.

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.