Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Money Saving!

Okay, families large and small, the idea of saving money is definitely in everyone's minds.

One of the first ways we can start saving money is by de-cluttering. And I am in the running for Clutter Queen. Either it's because of busy-ness, or fatigue, or good intentions. But it happens. So get the kids together, de-clutter, and have a YARD SALE. You'll help other people find some good deals and you'll get stuff out of your house (so you'll find out why you have two staple guns because you LOST one of them). And you'll have a few dollars in your pocket you didn't have before.

I mentioned in another post (Pa, it's time to buy us some chick-uns) that we can save money simply by limiting our eating out.
We can also check out thrift stores. I know, some of them have junk. But last summer when I realized the kids needed sturdy rolling suitcases before we went on vacation, I found some nice ones for $8 apiece at a local thrift store, instead of paying $30 and up for a case at the store.
Click on the photo above and check out my friend Gina Conroy's Summer Savings at Writer, Interrupted, for more summer saving ideas!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tight Wallets and Tight Fists

Okay, this post may seem directly opposed to my last one about trimming our budgets, especially where eating out is concerned. I've noticed that when times are tough, we want to clench our hands more tightly around whatever funds we do have. No one's going to control what we do with our money, and yet it seems when the gas prices rise, we must adjust our budgets. Even if it's painful. I read somewhere that our gasoline consumption has not decreased from a year ago. Ironic. We still complain, and still pay at the pump.

During times of these skyrocketing gas prices and the carryover to our grocery stores, do you know who I really have sympathy for? People on fixed incomes that don't spend money on extras to begin with. I admit it. Right now, our budget has some padding for those nice little perks we enjoy. Sodas on the weekend. A night at the movies in town ($3 admission per person, so even that's cheap fun). A nice cut of steak (on sale).

When prices climb, people on Social Security don't receive any extra compensation from the very government that pays their meager pension. And those numbers of people are increasing in the U.S. day after day. Or think about a single parent, working a full-time job and trying to pay day care for several kids. It's crazy. My husband runs a day care and we know it's not cheap. And we've only raised our rates twice in 11 years.

I'd like to put this out there for people to consider: Who do YOU know that's on a fixed income or struggling? And I mean, someone who's struggling more than you think you are? What can you do to help them or make their load a little easier?

Mother's Day is over, but Father's Day is coming. We bought my mom a gift card to her favorite deli, so she can buy some sandwiches when she goes to visit my stepdad in the nursing home. Really, my mom has so much stuff, she doesn't need another knick-nack or Greatest Grandma T-shirt. When she had surgery in February, we got her a 3-month Netflix gift certficate. One of my sisters got her an assortment of meats from their local butcher. For Father's day, I'm going to send the dads some Dunkin' Donuts cards.

Other ways you can help someone on a fixed/limited income would be gas cards or postage stamps. Listen when they talk to you about things they'd like to do but can't. Sometimes those little perks help us through tough times.

The more tightly we hold onto what we have, the more that fear can turn us into misers. Remember, give, and it shall be given unto you.

Reminds me of a story I read once.

A man was having a conversation with the Lord and said, “Lord, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.”

The Lord led the man to two doors. He open one of the doors and the man looked in. In the middle of the room was a large round table. In the middle of the table was large pot of stew which smelled delicious and made the man’s mouth water. The people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles that were strapped to their arms and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.The man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering.

The Lord said, “You have seen Hell.” They went to the other room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one. There was a large round table with a large pot of stew which made the man’s mouth water. The people were equipped with the same long-handled spoons, but here the people were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking.

The man said, “I don’t understand.”

“It is simple,” said the Lord. “They have learned to feed each other."

Who can you feed?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pa, it's time to buy us some chick-uns

Have you seen egg prices? I'm ready to build a hen house, but I have flashbacks to my in-law's psycho birds they used to have on their farm, so I'll hold that thought.
We are such a spoiled culture, we Americans. I won't start raving about the increased prices because I've been seeing that happen for over a year now. With my husband running a home day care, we frequently purchase the same products, and most prices are up 10% or more from a year ago. In some cases, 25-30% or more. I could give you a list, and we could probably compare. That said, this is nothing new. I find it ironic that only in the last few months or so the media has begun to notice what my husband and I have noticed for a long time.

Anyway, we've been finding ways to adjust our budget without kicking and screaming too much. We're spoiled. We've made a practice of confusing wants with needs, comforts with necessities, our pampered palates with real hunger.

For example, going out to eat for a family of four is expensive. At a conservative 50 bucks a pop (that's ordering water, too and not paying $2 a glass per person of soda), that translates to $200 a month if you eat out once a week. Multiply that out by 12 months, and you've got at least $2400 over the course of a year.

But what if that's not enough to help your budget? What about ordering pizza or going through the drive-through once a week? Conservatively, that'll run you $25 a trip for 4 people. Or $100 a month, or another $1200 a year added onto the above. So far, if you cut out one trip through the drive-through and one dinner out, that's $3600 in your pocket for a year. Okay, so you'll spend it on gas. Or absorb that into your grocery bill. But it's do-able without an undue amount of suffering to our spoiled selves.

Let's face it, folks. We criticize our government for lending itself money, printing more when it runs out, and spending billions that it doesn't have. And we do the same thing. As long as the lights are on and there's food on the table and nothing infringes on our little world, sometimes we just don't care that we're spending like there's no tomorrow. Um, well. Check the calendar. It's past time to flip the page. Tomorrow's here. We need to quit whining, stop buying our spoiled selves so much takeout, and grow up. I'll continue my semi-rant another day...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mom Was Right

It's taken forty years for me to say that. Really.

(The photo to the right is of my gorgeous baby sister Amy and my mom back in November at my middle sister Cat's wedding. My mom looks GREAT for 66, dontcha think??)

Anyway, back in 1984, when I was a junior in high school, mom knew I loved art and design. I remember the harrowing experience of course selection. Which courses? Which electives? I took education very seriously then (still do). And of course, I thought I knew best. In art class, my teacher Ms. Chiampa wheeled out a neat contraption called a Mac. Wow. We sure had fun , each of us students taking turn during class time and playing with the computer's graphic features. Of course I went home and told my mom.

Senior year was fast approaching, and the usual questions came. What will be your major? (I'd already picked a college)

"ComPEWter graphiCSSSS," Mom would say. "You need to study comPEWter graphicCSSSS." (My sisters and brothers-in-law will understand the intended enunciation.)

"Sure, mom."

A few years later, I was still an art major and had transferred to a college back home because of finances. One of the professors was known for her computer design courses.

"I still think you should study grrraphicccsss."

"Right, mom." I took every other art course except computer graphics.

When I think about the fledgling computer industry over 20 years ago, I realize it was still very new. I didn't have the foresight to know that the future has become all about computers.

Where would I be if I'd listened to Mom? Kind of like that movie where the kid goes back in time and tells his old friend. "Yahoo. When you decide to buy stock one day, buy Yahoo." And so in the future, his pal is a multimillionaire for listening to his friend.

And somehow mom knew that computers would one day revolutionize every area of her lives. Or at least knew how to point her kids in the right direction. No, she didn't know everything. She wasn't right about everything (which far too often I smugly tried not to remind her). But in this case, mom was right.

I love my life and feel that I've been blessed in spite of myself. And mom has cheered me on, every step of the way. Thanks, mom!!