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…

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.

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.

Doing Christmas: 28 Frugal Gift Ideas

Here’s my guess. Since I had to google sales figures for Thanksgiving weekend and the stock market is tanking, uhhh, I’d say sales probably weren’t that hot last weekend. I found estimates of maybe a 3% increase over last year to, well, flat. I’m proud of you guys!!

Ok, you’ve narrowed down to the “matter” people. You’ve detailed out all those skills you forgot you had. You dug out all the old photos. And, you did a little closet cleaning. So, let’s get to that “do” list. Once you decide, make a gift certificate on the computer and wala, you’re awesome!

Outside Ideas: (Useful for parents and grandparents)

Standard “stuff” required to maintain a house is expensive if you have to hire it out. When supplies are needed below (paint, weed killer, etc.) it’s time to call that rich brother. Make it a joint gift – he supplies the product, you supply the effort.

1) Clean the gutters, caulk the sills, put up storm windows – think winterize the house.

2) Spring cleanup – trim trees, pull weeds, apply weed killer, fertilize the yard

3) Paint the trim

4) Stain the deck

5) Clean the garage

6) Repair/refresh patio furniture

7) Cut and stock wood

8) Repair sprinkler systems

9) Research – check the house out, get quotes for projects, manage the repairs. You can’t afford to fix their roof, but you can make sure they don’t get ripped off by an unscrupulous contractor or end up flooded because they haven’t climbed up to check out the roof in decades.

Inside Ideas:

Again, these probably most apply to older individuals. Guaranteed, Auntie Matilda will love something from this list more than another cat platter or foofoo towel set.

10) Think cleaning – spring, cupboards, closets, refrigerator, baseboards, whatever. Even those who have cleaning people need the stuff done that Merry Maids doesn’t touch – light fixtures, move the furniture, climb up and clean the plant shelves kinda stuff.

11) Paint a room

12) Repair – the toilet, leaky faucets, peeling caulk.  

13) Clean the carpet.

14) WINDOWS – God, don’t we all hate that job.

15) Organize  – help them re-do the pantry or move dishes to make daily living easier.

16) Turn the mattresses, wash the mattress covers AND the comforter, air out the pillows. Make nite-nite nice.

What about those photos?

17) You don’t have to be a scrap-booking expert to make a great gift. A photo album from the .99 cent store and your heart is all it takes. Tell the person what these memories meant to you. “Thanks Mom & Dad for this trip to Disneyland,” or “Remember the year you coached my team,” kinda stuff. Give your siblings photos from their lives – the pics you took of them with their kids. They probably forgot some of these times. Give your friends, nieces, nephews, co-workers the pics that will mean something to them. If you have a scanner, create a PowerPoint or photo  album for them (also keeps the pics from being lost to age.)

18) Help Grandma or Pop or Auntie organize their own pics. Get ’em scanned. Build a pictorial history they can enjoy. They’ll love reminiscing and you’ll know who that skinny guy in the overalls is when someone asks later on…

In the Kitchen:

19) Bake. Everyone loves treats this time of year. (Ok, based on society’s collective waistline, all year long…). Found this great recipe for 12 cookies from one dough. Efficient. My kinda recipe. Even if you’re not a “from scratch” kinda person, buy a cake mix and can of frosting. With coupons, I get them darn near free. Great for taking to a party, the office, or a “it’s the thought that counts” gift for #358 on your list.

20) Cook. Hit the $1 store and buy those partitioned dishes you can freeze. Make TV dinners. Great for singles, kids on their own, grandparents or parents, me… Eating good food can be tough if you’re alone or cooking for just two tiny appetites. With your couponing talent, you can do these cheap and be a big hit.

21) Make a basket. We’ve all done it; picked up the “I don’t know what to get them, this coffee, tea, cracker, whatever basket will do” gift. If you couldn’t drop this person, like maybe it’s your boss, build your own. Again, your ability to coupon and sale shop will keep the cost low and make it more personal. A 4 qt. pan from the dollar store filled with 10 packs of Ramen, a measuring cup, wooden spoon and 10 recipes for the stuff works great for a college student. How about some mugs from the $1 store, marshmallows (which you picked up on sale) hot chocolate mix (also on sale with a coupon) and a dozen of those cookies you made in #19?  Coupons and a little creativity make this a great (inexpensive) gift.

22) Dinner gift certificates – at your house, of course! Good for 5 dinners with the Olsons will make Uncle Walter grin. You know you should invite him over more often anyway!

23) Give ’em groceries. This can be a cheap way to be very generous. With coupons and sales you can build a food basket that’s sure to help. 

If I were a rich b*%#h…

24) Pedicures, manicures, hair coloring – who doesn’t enjoy having these things done for us? 

25) You cleaned out the closet. Bound to have found some candles, perfume, a purse you bought and never used. Build your own spa day treat for someone. Add some bath oil beads, lotions, loofahs, whatever stuff you can find cheap, and make a gift that would cost you big bucks if you bought it ready-made.

Miscellaneous:

26) Mr. or Ms. Fix-it. An oil change, tune-up, even just taking the car to the shop can be a big help. Putting up a shelf or hanging a picture; mending clothes or alterations; replacing a toilet. I’m no fix-it person, but for those who are, there are untold great gifts in your talents.

27) Time – take someone anywhere – the mall, the library, a movie, an art fair. Many people on your list would rather have your time than any gift you could purchase.

28) Write. Parents don’t outgrow that ‘ahhh’ just because you’re 20 or 30 or 50. When your words come from the heart you warm their souls. Try it with your kids, too.

BE the gift this year. It’ll save your budget and you’ll deliver a gift that truly does keep on giving.