Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sick Day

Going to work sick is a normal part of my life as it is for many of the working poor. When there is no health insurance or sick pay, you just keep going. Last week I kept going but it got too bad when I caught the flu or a cold or whatever it was. I had to call out one day.

This week I received a check for $199.00 and I needed to deposit $196.00 in the bank so I would have the $575.00 needed for rent. Now I'm paying for having that one sick day. I'm not asking for pity, I do have some savings I can turn to in an emergency, and all my other bills are paid for now. It's just a huge nuisance to have three dollars til payday.

My optimism has gone out the window here lately. There was a restaurant hiring and I was sure my husband would be hired with his experience. We weren't expecting one awkward interview over the phone and a negative response. So it looks as if we are sticking with these part time jobs for now, and just scraping by.

Every time I am feeling under the weather and think of calling out I add up the hours of the day in question and multiply them by my hourly wage. I imagine I am picking up my check and it is forty or sixty dollars short. I then figure up how many bills will be due to see if I can afford to be sick. This time I felt horrible. There was no figuring involved.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Green Thumb Woes

I should have realized my destiny when I was a kid and, wanting to try my hand at gardening, transplanted a weed. How hard could it be, my mom was always growing things, carrying buckets of dirt from here to there, and watering random patches of green things. My weed died. I should have given up then and there, after all innocent lives were at stake.

Inspired by my friend who has a lovely home and yard filled with all sorts of plants, I decided to try just two houseplants. I picked out the ones that were supposed to be the easiest to grow. I followed directions and tried to do everything right. When they looked near death I had my friend pick them up. Several months later I asked her how they were doing.

"They are recovering," she said sternly,"And they never ever want to see you again."

Our back yard garden is rough this year. My husband was able to grow many vegetables in our garden before. In the clay soil where we used to live all you had to do was skip backwards across a bare patch of earth, while whistling madly and spilling seeds from cup. Florida is another matter. We had three zucchini's, one cucumber, and two teeny green tomatoes that fell off the vine way too early. Now the plants that are left are just big leafy green plants. There is no hope.

My husband still wants to water the vegetable plants and keep them alive. Sometimes he works and asks me to water for him. I humor him and splash some water over the plants, but if they haven't done anything by now is there any hope for them? I was enthusiastically watering this one tomato plant in a corner. It sits outside my kitchen window and I remarked to my husband how tall it was getting. I'd never seen a tomato plant six feet tall before.

"Honey, I never planted anything in that corner." he said

"But, I've been watering it for you." I replied.

At least now I know that I am finally capable of growing a weed. The straggly six foot high weed is now sporting demented looking daisy flower things on the tops. It waves it's leaves at me and winks as I do dishes. Maybe we'd better try container gardening next year so I know what to water.

Gardening is a great money saving activity. Some people are even able to sell their surplus and make money with their hobby. We should definitely all try new things and see if they help. It also helps if we know our strengths and weaknesses as well. I know that I am a thrifty shopper and when there is a really good sale on diced tomatoes or spaghetti sauce, I can use my coupons to stock up because I can't always count on the bounty from my garden. Whoever heard of a person only getting three zucchinis from several plants anyway?

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Favorite Hoarder, or How Not to Stock a Pantry

One of my favorite shows is A&E's Hoarders. I know they have problems and you may argue it is wrong of me to be so voyeuristic with the mentally damaged, but I cannot look away. Mind you, I watch as I do laundry, dust, or de-clutter. It is difficult to just sit and watch unless you tidy up a bit at the same time. Just try it, I bet you can't. As I watch, I look around and see in my own home a pile of laundry that needs to be washed immediately, an overflowing box of newspaper that has to be taken to the car for recycling the next day, or at the very least a smudge on a mirror.

I re-watched my all time favorite the other day. Jill had an entire house stuffed full of expired and rotting food. She held onto a bookcase full of boxes of chicken broth that had expired three years previously. She said it wasn't bad yet because it wasn't puffy. Not being puffy was the excuse she also used for wanting to hold onto the green meat in the freezer, and the eight month past the date yogurt in the refrigerator. At one time the woman had gone through a period when she was poor and hungry. This affected her deeply and she reached a point where she bargain shopped for food, bought way more than she could possibly use, and stored it everywhere.

My favorite scene was when the man in the hazmat suit was shoveling a blackened rotting pumpkin off her living room floor and she stopped him. She said it had been the most beautiful pumpkin ever when it was alive, then she plunged her hand into the rotting goo to save a few seeds to plant. Wow!

With all this talk of stocking a pantry, it is important to purchase only items you would use anyway. Purchase the quantity of items you will be able to use before they expire. If you only eat canned tuna once or twice a year, don't bother to buy more than a few cans when they go on sale, and don't go overboard with perishables either. The point of having a pantry is to have good food available when you need it, not to buy it cheap and then throw it away.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Glimmer of Better Times?

My husband has been discouraged every week when he looks in the paper to find less than five jobs. Even the fast food jobs that people say are always available are not there. They have a staff already, and believe it or not, they rarely hire in our area. You see the same faces for a long time. People are not able to job hop as they once could.

He drove two counties away to apply for what was advertised as warehouse and sales positions. It ended up being a small building with a few freezers for those people that sell meat out of a truck. They wanted to hire everyone that showed up. We have no idea what these guys are paid, but it just seemed to risky. Who buys meat off the back of a truck anyway?

Yesterday, he applied at a job not too far from home, and with his telemarketing experience he was hired immediately. It may work and it may not, so without quitting the other job he's going to try it out. The job is as an appointment setter for an air conditioning company and it is commission only. I figure, it's Florida where air conditioning is a necessity and he is good at phone sales so.....We are hoping to at the least bring in a little extra income. We need it so badly right now.

Bills are paid but there is no breathing room. We've also managed to keep Chloe in food and insulin without dragging out the credit card. However, this morning she is worrying me. She always eats, and has been as healthy as possible for quite a while now. This morning she refused breakfast. She was able to go on her walk although she moaned a lot. I gave her some apple in case her blood sugar had dropped, something that regularly happens in the morning. She usually eats right away after her treat. She didn't. We will take her to the vet if she hasn't improved by tomorrow morning. She's eating lunch now and that's a good sign.

We are employed when many are not. We have a place to live and food to eat when many go without. Our survival skills are strong and life will improve. Perhaps we'll even have healthcare one day. Here's wishing everyone out there health, happiness, and future prosperity.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Micro-Frugality, or Making it on a Diminished Income

Upon first glance my financial situation may seem grim. How many lower class Americans can receive a drastic downturn in regular income and keep going? How often do many of them fall behind in rent, or have their electricity and/or water cut off temporarily. As an example here my husband has a co-worker that had his water and electricity cut off, and I have a co-worker without electricity right now. Unfortunately, this happens more often than you think.

We will be fine and the tough times will pass and this post will explain how. For those of you already living a frugal life you may be bored to tears and I apologize. For those new to frugal views or recently impoverished, I hope I can help in some small way.

As emphasized in "Your Money or Your Life" by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin it is very important to track your money. Know what you have, what is outgoing. and what is incoming. This is no time to spend it when we have it and then wonder where it went when the bill arrives. This money tracking does not need to involve fancy spreadsheets, computer software, or ankle bracelets. Just get a notebook and find out here you are. Keep it simple and you will be more apt to keep up with it.

My system is as simple as it could be. I have a three ring binder in my kitchen, with pockets for unpaid bills and receipts, and a calendar I printed from the computer. Each month I keep track of when bills are due, when pay will be coming in, and even when heart worm medication is due. I also estimate how much checks will be so I can determine how big a payment I can put on that last credit card, or if I can afford an item I want to purchase. In the past, many years ago, occasionally a bill would be paid late, not always because we didn't have the money, but because I was disorganized and the mail was misplaced. Never again! I look in my book each week and I know that I receive a check on this day and two days later the electricity and car insurance are due.

For the past several months I have been purchasing a box of food each month through Angel Food Ministries. There are no income requirements, anyone can participate, everything is fresh and I have never found a spoiled or out of date item. I've compared prices and found it is well worth it. I can purchase the same foods for about the same prices if I wait for sales, buy chicken one week, ground beef another, etc. This saves me money and frees up my time. My tiny freezer is stocked once a month with steak, chicken, frozen vegetables, and other varying items. A few pantry items, milk and eggs are also included. I complete my grocery shopping at a produce stand and a bread store because their prices beat the supermarket. The best bread store I found actually has fresh bread at discount prices. Before you say it, no I don't drive all over town. If I need to go past either place on another errand then I will stop, otherwise I don't make a special trip just for one or two items.

Angel Food Ministries

I have a large pantry that was well stocked when times were better. When an item that I will use anyway goes on a really good sale I will purchase several. As long as they keep well, it won't hurt to have ten of an item in the pantry. Sometimes tuna, salmon, or canned chicken or vegetables go on a really good sale. These items can be used for a thrifty recipe on short notice. Pasta, rice, beans, fruit cups, pasta sauces, granola bars, nuts, all of these items and more go on sale for at least buy one get one free prices and lower if you use coupons. As long as you use these items anyway, you won't be wasting your money.

For several months now, I have not shopped to replenish my pantry, and we still have plenty to eat. Shopping lately has consisted of one box monthly from Angel Food Ministries then bread, milk, sandwich meat, cheese, and produce weekly. The current grocery cost for us per month $90.00 to $130.00. Dog care costs considerably more but she has major health issues.

We have one credit card to pay off, one last payment for our washer and dryer (six months/zero interest,) rent, cable/Internet/phone (no cell phone,) and water. We've been steadily getting rid of debt to the point that we seem to drop a bill off the list every few months. At the bottom of my calendar I keep track of my total debt, and have been happy to watch it shrink slowly but steadily.

That is how we are able to survive without assistance. We stocked up when times were better. We are organized and diligent in bill paying. We know what we earn and and what we can spend, leaving enough in the bank for the rest of the bills.

We also have savings, which even in difficult times I add to. It may be twenty dollars or five, but it is something. We are also determined not to panic and spend savings on anything unless it is a dire emergency. That may have to become our moving fund if a job opportunity presents itself, or emergency bus fare for a child or other relative in need. It's important if you do have savings to preserve them at this time. That's how some of the homeless families you read about end up in their situation. They reached a point where they had to use their savings for day to day living expenses. It's a sad feeling to see your emergency fund vanish.

I still have my emergency fund, the pantry is stocked, and none of the bills have been late. This is just a temporary, difficult situation. It shall pass. We are still employed, and we have each other. Life is still good.

Friday, September 17, 2010

All Tied Together

Today was a day off spent puttering around the house, leisurely accomplishing just a few tasks so I could claim to myself that I did something constructive. Laundry dishes and all those little things that build up when you work several days in a row and refuse to give them the attention they need.

There's always financial and economic chatter on the web. It's funny how one theme will be brought up in one area and spread to a dozen other sites each with a different viewpoint. Donna Freedman linked to some great sites and discussed a popular goal of many workers. She had a different viewpoint which I completely understand.

see her post here

It's the battle of the work yourself to the breaking point to collect a million versus the take it slower and enjoy the little things crowd. No, just kidding, there is no battle. We all have different lifestyles, philosophies, and circumstances.

The thing about today that was particularly interesting was the surprising moment when real life and virtual life collided. I had a pile of coupons to be clipped and sorted and a DVD, covered in a few layers of dust. It must have been a few months ago when I promised a friend I would watch it.

I've read one of Eckart Tolle's books but hadn't heard him speak before. Perhaps I wasn't in the mood or doing too much while I was listening. My night went like this for a while; clip a few coupons, zone out, snooze for a few minutes, then repeat. That is until I heard this:

"After ten years of struggle and stress and negativity finally you become a millionaire. Finally you've made it. It's pointless, you've been unhappy for ten years, you'll continue to be unhappy even with your millions and in the process of making your millions you've made many other people unhappy. And that's called success." From "Finding Your Life's Purpose" by Eckhart Tolle.

I'll stick with my simple pursuit of happiness while being as financially responsible as possible life. At this stage in the game it would be too much of a mad dash to the end to chase that much money. I'm not saying I would rather sleep on the beach and eat out of trash cans, it's just that I can live on a lot less than that and still reach happiness. Even today, washing dishes, talking with my children on the phone, clipping coupons, a simple dinner of beans and cornbread with my husband....I was happy.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

How Much is Enough?

During my virtual stroll the other day I came upon a post by Len Penzo that has stuck in my mind. I tried to create a link here, but my skills are lacking and I'm running out of time before I have to go to work. Please forgive me. You'll just have to go to and read the original titled "If you can't live on $40,000 per year it's your own fault."

This article had me pondering the many levels of poverty in our world. What may be unbearable poverty to one may be living well to another. I am one of the working poor. While my living conditions would not be ideal to many, I am surviving. I see others on the same wages struggling in much worse conditions than mine. On the other side, it would be horrifying for many people making above $100,000 to survive on what I make per year.

Surely, I do have empathy for the struggle of the newly poor this economy has created. I know what it is to be on a tightened budget. I must admit, I don't fully understand the people who refuse to be anything but their former job title, turning down work they feel is beneath them. This thinking reminds me of the few Wife Swap shows I saw where they traded a wealthy, shop every day woman for a woman who worked low paying jobs or ran a family farm. That was culture shock for them.

For those of us with open minds, those that can picture ourselves in other situations and wonder "What would it be like if....?" I have a question for you. How much do you need to just scrape by? And, what is your magic number, the salary that would leave you comfortable and set and make you feel as if you had truly made it?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I'm Visiting Today

I wrote a guest post today over at Food Stamps Cooking Club. Before I describe the site I'll tell you how I stumbled upon it.

When I first started this endeavor I was visited by another blogger who runs Monroe on a Budget a frugal living blog sponsored by the Monroe Evening News in Monroe Michigan. This may be a local blog but the news items and tips can be of help to anyone on a budget. The site is a very professional, well done and updated frequently.

Visit Monroe on a Budget

Along the side of Monroe on a Budget's blog there is an impressive long list of links. That's where I found a delightful blog written by Mother Connie that focuses on food, news, and healthy eating for those on really tight budgets. It is titled Food Stamps Cooking Club. I was deeply honored when she asked me to write a guest post, and that's where I am today.

Please visit Food Stamp Cooking Club.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fighting the Blahs

I wasn't expecting this severe an economic downturn in my own household so soon. We were coping with our current jobs and chipping away at our debt to the point that I could see it being gone within a few months. We had no idea my husbands hours would drop so severely. It really hit home recently when I put our checks in the bank. His was $37.00 for two weeks. Granted that will be the worst one since hours have picked up since those bad two weeks, but he is still scheduled for no more than twenty four hours.

I've gone in when others call out at work, so I've added a bit to my check. We have been super frugal in order to make ends meet. I bring lunches from home, and cook all of our meals from scratch. My husband doesn't need to bring a lunch as he is only scheduled for three hours a day. We do not go shopping much normally but now we don't go at all. Even groceries are really thought about now. I make sure the bills are payed before I buy juice and popcorn. Micro-frugality is practiced where I plan out each little expenditure.

We still enjoy one anothers company, read, and well we obviously still have all the American basics electricity, Internet, a car... We will survive. I'm glad we have these skills that enable us to live normally when our income has been so damaged. My husband was discouraged when he looked in the Sunday classifieds and there were no jobs. None that he qualified for anyway. Something will fall into place for us, it always does.

I was on the phone with a friend the other day who does make use of "the system" for medical reasons, plus she has children and honestly cannot work at this time. She asked me why I haven't applied for food stamps. I told her that my dad had gifted my husband and I with an IRA, plus I had a little savings. From my understanding you have to be rock bottom and have no savings at all. I once knew a woman who lost her job and became divorced and was very nearly homeless but was turned down because she had a newer vehicle. The social worker told her to sell her car (which she needed to find work!) and come back and reapply.

My friend seeing no other alternative said, "Can't you make that IRA disappear?" I gently explained to her that I'd rather be micro-frugal for a while until better opportunities show themselves. Programs are in place to help people who need it. The families that come to rely on assistance for generations must feel a sense of hopelessness and not see a way out of it. They may come to see it as a normal part of their permanent lives. I would turn to temporary help if needed, however, we're not there yet.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

An Increase in Crazy

I work in customer service. Wherever you are there will always be that one customer per month that goes berserk or starts cussing, or has a meltdown in the store. I've seen my share of unpleasant people. Usually there are no problems and just an occasional outburst every month or so. Here lately however, we are experiencing what I can only refer to as an increase in crazy.

There is a drunken woman who wears garden gloves and a child's cowboy hat that looks as it it's been run over a few times. She mutters to herself, and swings a cane around while she walks. She loves to buy various items and then return them. One day she threw her purse on the counter to rummage for her receipt and a roach crawled out of it. Two days later she returned two empty bug bombs and said they didn't work. Yes, empty! She had her receipt and the manager said to give it to her. Finally, on a different night someone told her "No." She was trying to return something with a receipt for a completely different item. She cussed at us and threatened us, and disturbed several others shopping at the time. The manager on duty said she hadn't abused us enough to be trespassed by the police.

We pay you to get sick. There's another lady that comes in and says I bought this sandwich meat, bread roll, roast, etc and I got sick after I ate it. We apologize and refund the money for the item. She then says, "I need to be compensated for getting sick. Who is going to pay me for being sick?" We call a manager and the manager gives the woman a free ten dollar gift card for our store so she can buy some more groceries and get sick again. Yes, she gets sick often.

Some people clean out their shelves at home and bring all their out of date products back to the store where they receive store credit. If I forget something on a back shelf I will throw it out. I guess they feel no embarrassment when they drag a bag of yellowed cereal boxes and roach encrusted cans back to the store. One man brought back a two liter of Pepsi from 1997. "I bought this here last week but I meant to get a diet Pepsi. Can I exchange it?" The manager said yes. The man very kindly offered to put it back on the shelf for me. No thank you. This will go right in the trash or perhaps a museum.

Other people will get angry because an employee doesn't smile enough. Some will tell a manager that the girl on register three didn't smile and was very unpleasant. Despite the fact that they may have been prompt with ringing the groceries, correct with the change, and courteous as well, their job may be in jeopardy because they failed to grin like a good corporate employee.

A few weeks ago I was working and an elderly gentleman approached me. He pointed at a coworker and said, "That girl down there, that little colored girl, does she work in this store."

"Why yes sir," I replied, "The nice woman helping out on register five? She's my manager."

"Humph." he said before shaking his head and stalking out. If only I could have spoken my mind with him, but I had to be a good little smiling corporate employee.

In months past we have had the occasional incident once a month or so. Here lately, every day has been crazy. We have had more than one person cussing out an employee per week. The service hasn't changed it must be something in the air. I wonder what tomorrow may bring. Sometimes I dream of a different life. Here lately I wish I trained to become a mortician. The customers would be so pleasant.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

And the Aged Shall Rise Up

We made a new acquaintance via our last yard sale. He had stopped by purchased an item and left us with his business card. He had a lawn service and did small engine repair as well. Since my husband is attempting to supplement his meager income with whatever odd jobs he can find until he finds better employment he wanted to get his weed eater repaired.

We had to drive to the neighborhood across the highway, not that far. The homes and properties are probably worth about double what they sell for in our neighborhood. The first thing I noticed was everything was for sale. He wasn't exactly having a yard sale but he had furniture, lawnmowers, exercise equipment, and his boat all lined up with price tags and a phone number displayed. We talked a while and learned that he hurt his back and wasn't running a business any more. His wife had a job making four times what I make until she was laid off two years ago. He said she is about to run out of unemployment and is having difficulty finding a job because of her size and her age of 56.

It was like a meeting of the truly poor and the newly poor. They had been in a much better position than us before the collapse. They may have been overextended in their spending but they hadn't imagined a time when the work would stop coming in.

He told us his wife has been job hunting a long time. She has applied and interviewed and followed up in many places. He said the most frustrating aspect of this is when she goes back to the place she interviewed at to see their new 20 year old employee. He said there aren't as many jobs and from what he has witnessed more jobs are going to the younger generation.

We all need employment, young and old. I'm not agreeing that one should be hired over the other. Myself? In the past I could leave one job walk two doors down and have another the following day. I have never had a problem finding work. I have management experience and interview well. There are very few opportunities at this time. It's rough.

I applied at another company a while back on the recommendation of a regular customer of mine who works there. She gave me a glowing reference, I introduced myself and shook hands with the manager. He said as soon as a position became available he would call me in for an interview. I knew it could take some time. I found out recently he hired a 17 year old and I never even got an interview. Since then I've noticed several places that have said they aren't hiring will be training new people a week or two later all under the age of 24. It's frustrating. I am surprised to have less opportunities based on my age. I thought I was still fairly young.

I keep reading scare stories of how we will have to work until we are 70 to collect social security. Where? Just where are all of us going to find work? I wonder if we are coming to a day when aged gangs will start robbing banks and become cult heroes like the outlaws of the 1930's?

"Can you describe the robbers?" asks the detective.

"I don't know," says the terrified bank teller, "It all happened so fast. A couple of grey haired men came in with guns and started shouting orders and the next thing I knew I was tossing the money into a large sack attached to an old ladies walker. After she hobbled out to the get-away-car they ran out and were gone."

Another scenario is to lower the retirement age to 40. Hey, I can dream can't I.