Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Game of What If (Including My First Ever Shout Outs)

What if did not exist as a blog? What it it was a community resource center instead? What would you see at The Working Poor Resource Center?

First of all there would be a building with several rooms for all the many subjects or uses. There would be meetings, classes, childcare for those attending, and help available for those facing severe poverty, others climbing their way out of debt, and newly poor people unsure of how to make ends meet.

I would invite people like Connie to teach a few basic cooking classes so people wouldn't feel the need to eat out so often on a small budget. When they had a few cooking skills under their belt I would introduce them to The 99 Cent Chef so they could search for new recipes to suit their tastes and budgets.

When they expressed a need to tame their spending and craft a budget I would introduce them to Monroe on a Budget for all sorts of tips. If they were stuck on spending and collecting more stuff and couldn't even fathom another way of life I would send them here for a valuable lesson.

If they were feeling deprived while trying to get their budget under control and save I would call upon Adam at The Magical Penny to give them a pep-talk.

When they were ready and had saved some cash and were healing financially speaking I would send them here, and here for lessons on how to start investing for the future.

There are many more people out their doing wonderful things on the Internet. This is by no means a complete list. I have wanted a chance to introduce readers to some of the blogs I have enjoyed. I don't follow or Facebook or anything of that nature because as I said it would just make me feel guilty for not keeping up with it all. I am out there reading and I've enjoyed making these introductions tonight so it's a feature I may use again. Life may be difficult at this time but remember to have fun out there!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Splendiforous Giveawayapalooza!

As you all know by now, today is my one year blogging anniversary. I wrote a brief post last night but feel I need to do something else to commemorate the occasion. I realize I have a small site, without a great deal of traffic yet I still want to try a giveaway. Please help spread the word. Nothing fancy here, as I am still a techno-moron. I will put every ones name into a hat and have my husband draw a winners name. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post.

The prizes: "Miserly Moms, Living on One Income in a Two Income Economy" and "Frugal Families, Making the Most of Your Hard Earned Money" by Jonni McCoy, and "Debt Proof Living, the Complete Guide to Living Financially Free" and "Debt Proof Your Marriage" by Mary Hunt. All are used books but the spines are in excellent shape, so they still seem practically new. They would be an excellent start to a frugal hints collection to help a recovering spendthrift change their outlook, or for a young couple just starting out.

As I said I am a techno-moron, I don't Facebook, or Myspace, or Tweet, and I don't even own a cell phone. It took me almost a year to figure out how to make a link to another site on my blog. My kids have to set up any electronic crap around the house. It's embarrassing really, however, work takes a lot out of me and I have a tremendous amount of work to do at home with Chloe's medical care among other things. If I did Tweet and Facebook and Youtube and all of those modern things it would just create more things that I could feel guilty about. I feel bad enough when I miss several days on my blog, I would be just a complete mess if I had other electronic obligations. How do you more connected bloggers manage it all?

Back on topic, do you want to win four books? Just leave a comment here. Want to help a sad technically challenged blogger not be embarrassed when there are only two entries for her contest? Send your friends here so they can have a chance to win as well. Come back Saturday, November 6th to see who won.

Thank you all for reading, and joining me on this journey. It has been quite a year. I'm not sure if I have accomplished any of my goals from the first post long ago, but I do know I am working towards some changes. Things are getting steadily better, and anything I learn along the way I will share with you.

One Year of Working Poor

Hey everyone, it's my one year blogging anniversary. If you haven't read the very first post feel free to follow the link and have a peek.

10-29-2009 A look Back

I've enjoyed the community I've found here, the feedback from readers, and the lessons learned from other bloggers. Still not sure what I expect from the whole thing, but I do plan to continue and hopefully get better as I go along.

This anniversary post is much shorter than what I had planned but I closed tonight and open tomorrow. I am feeling old, tired, and completely worn out so sleep will take precedence over writing. There will always be other nights. Have a great week-end out there!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mindful Spending

I had a post in mind and I was ready to write this morning. First I visited Donna Freedman's blog Surviving and Thriving and what she wrote made me forget all about my plans. She wrote about being frugal on purpose so that you could spend on those few items that are really important to you when you are able. She wrote about cherries but I was thinking about my purses.

Choosing What and Whether to Buy

I have been poor to various degrees all my life. Frugal living has been a necessity not a conscious decision. When the children were little, everything was about them. I was just the mom. I spent very little on myself. I would buy a cheap black pocketbook because it would go with anything. I would spend no more that ten dollars and keep it until the straps broke and it fell apart at which time I would venture into a department store and purchase another ten dollar black purse.

Near the time of the empty nest I decided that I was worth a few extra purchases and I was really tired of the one black purse. I went online and found a nice green purse (my favorite color, how did you guess) and spent gulp twenty four dollars. A few months later I was shopping for work clothes and shoes. Yes, I was using a credit card because it was an emergency need, but I paid it off in three months. As I was walking quickly through the store just getting what I needed I came to a halt in front of the expensive purse display. They were on sale 60% off but still, remember I never used to spend more than ten dollars.

With the discounts the purse I fell in love with was still over fifty dollars. I walked around with it, sure that I would feel silly about spending that much on a second green purse. I wasn't a label fiend either and this had the designers name right on it, which I usually hate. However, the color was beautiful and shiny, the design was unique. I felt like I had one of Monet's water lilies on my arm. I made the purchase thinking I was buying a quality item I would have for a long time. Surely it would last much longer than those ten dollar purses of long ago.

The edges of the corners and zipper pulls peeled and the lining ripped within three months. Meanwhile I use my twenty four dollar Internet bag every day and it still looks new. I can't imagine buying a $3000.00 bag. I feel bad enough over $50.00.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"All That We See or Seem is but a Dream Within a Dream" Edgar Allan Poe

I think my subconscious was trying to teach me a lesson the other day. At work I went to the break room for my lunch. A brief word about our break room and then I'll continue. Our break room is about the size of a walk-in closet, it is filthy and ant infested, and they shove spare furnishings and shelf fixtures in there so we have even less room. There is no sink to wash our hands and we are not allowed a refrigerator to keep our food in because they say corporate said if we had one it would encourage theft. We are however allowed one old microwave and we also have a bulletin board with a notice warning us to never attempt to gather and form a union.

Now back to the story, I entered the break room and it was already crowded with a few people from other departments. I took a seat and pulled my book and my sandwich out of my bag and proceeded to grumble silently in my head as they continued with their loud conversations. Usually I look forward to as quiet a break as possible to unwind a bit from the sales floor with the constant beeping of the machines, the piped in music, and the cacophony of conversation. I ignored them as best as possible and read a bit of my book. There was one woman who spoke loudly and excitedly about her life and two others kept asking her questions. I ate my lunch quietly and then left, end of story or so I thought.

The next morning I woke from a dream. In this dream the woman I sat near during lunch and I shared a ride to a class our company was sponsoring. We drove in her SUV to an elementary school in the evening. They had rented rooms after hours at the school to hold their classes. We left the class (I can't remember what it was about.) and we were driving home when it started to snow and we had to go very slow. That's about it, I woke up and wondered why I had that very odd dream. I thought about it all day. I hate having work dreams, because the work I do now isn't particularly pleasant but it brings in a much needed paycheck. I go to work collect my pay and come home and don't like to think of work all the time. It bothers me a bit when it invades my dreams.

A day later I figured the dream actually had meaning. I was ignoring my fellow humans at lunch and seeking my solitude in a book. I should have joined in and reached out instead of always being so reclusive. What about you? Has your subconscious ever taught you a lesson?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dispatches from the Land of Negativity

Working with the public is always an adventure. You never know what the attitude of the day will be. Large corporations usually work hard to please all of their customers to keep a steady customer base. Some companies become overzealous in trying to make all customers happy at any cost. I work for an overzealous company.

Remember this slogan, "The Customer is Always Right?" That is an untrue sentence. It cannot be at all times. Yes, products are shelved wrong, tags are missing, or something is damaged. Mistakes are made, everyday and several times. However, there are also cranky people with personality disorders who come in looking for a fight. They shout, spit, and throw things. Some feel that every store clerk is out to cheat them. Some want every rule bent just for them. They will swear that everyone else allows them to use a starter check, or that the other clerk took a Dannon coupon for a Yoplait product.

Some workplaces are incredibly positive. Management is polite, workers are encouraged and all is right in the world. Other places can be a tad on the negative side. When walking down the hall to the time clock at my workplace there are several bulletin boards. One side of the time clock has notices and reminders. "You must fill out this form correctly or else." "You must be in proper dress code at all times, or face termination." "Discussing pay rates with other employees is an automatic termination." "This is how our store is ranked according to our customer surveys. You must do better or we will hire new workers to replace you." On the other side of the time clock is a chart showing cashiering scan times among other things. They list the bottom performers here with their names. On the opposite wall is a bulletin board with a sign above it that says "Wall of Shame." On this they place mistakes cashiers have made with their name. They also have a list hanging next to this with workers names on it that says "Top Offenders." This list is for people that make more than one mistake.

There was an incident recently where an employee was almost terminated. A young employee noticed his name at the top, right under "The Wall of Shame" header. It amused him so he snapped a picture of it and posted it on his Facebook page. The office manager snooped about and saw it online, called corporate, hauled him into the office and made him remove remove the photo. He said corporate wanted him fired immediately but the manager said other than this he was a good worker and she wanted to give him another chance.

This company is striving to please every customer and build a loyal fan base. They make use of those surveys attached to random receipts. After shopping a customer can call in rate their service and then leave feedback on a machine. Some people call in with genuine compliments, and occasional complaints. Others just rant about some random weirdness. Of course corporate takes everything seriously. There is another list that makes it to the wall occasionally that is titled "It Had Better Not be Happening Here!" This list is the details of customers complaints. Several people have called to complain they were turned away from a ten item or less lane. Another complained that someone refused to take his four dollars in loose pennies. One complained that the air conditioner was too cold.

Working here makes me feel as if I am taking part in that old fable about the old man and his son taking the donkey to market. People complained the old man was walking while the young boy rode the donkey so they switched. Then others complained so he made his son walk. At one point he carried the donkey. The moral was you can't please everyone at the same time. When will this company realize this, make some rules and stick to them. As it stands now, the place is teeming with negativity. So many changes need to be made. As I put that uniform on I feel a cloak of dread wrapping about me. It doesn't need to be that way, but that is their corporate culture.

Hey big companies, treat your employees well. You know the ones your customers see every day, the ones that help you bring in lots of money. Make a positive environment for them, train them well, and don't let a few unruly customers mistreat them. Your sales will go up and you may be able to keep some of your workers longer. Just a thought. You can make a positive change or keep carrying your donkey as usual. Your choice.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Where Has She Been?

Working, and cooking, and catering to a demanding dog, that's it. I've worked several odd shifts and after chores about the house just haven't had enough energy to post. Finally, tonight as beans boil in a pot, and a homemade apple pie bakes in the oven I feel I can spend a few moments catching up. I always feel so guilty when I am away for long periods, but I realize I do need sleep and sanity.

There is cause for celebration in the working poor household. This month I made the final payment to Lowe's for our washer/dryer. If you need an appliance I highly recommend going to a store like this when there is a six or twelve month no interest special. The prices are much better than those rent to own places and if you pay enough each month there is no interest. It's well worth it not to cut into your savings, if you have any left, and not having to pay a credit card company extra fees.

Speaking of rent to own stores...have you done the math? Next time you get one of their flyer's in your mailbox notice what products they offer, and multiply those payment amounts by the number of payments. Look for similar products in a department store. The price once all the payments have been made is sometimes as much as twice what the product sells for elsewhere. In my opinion they take advantage of the poor and ill-informed.

That's it for my brief update and rant. I may be on a more even schedule this week and back on track.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Handy Hints for Communal Living

As the economy continues its downward spiral more and more people are moving in together out of necessity. I've been in similar situations myself. Some of them worked out and others did not. This is one of the ways that homeless people can find themselves completely homeless. When friends or family become completely aggravated with the close quarters or duelling personalities tempers flare and agreements erode.

Now I am older I have become the host. My youngest daughter stays with me occasionally and my son stayed for a while. I just learned that my eldest daughter is 99% sure that she want to move in for a while. It will be wonderful to have her and the grand baby here, still with that many in the house we will have to be very organized and tidy. Of course moving in as an adult will be completely different, hopefully, than when you were a child.

With thoughts of living arrangements changing, and extended family and friends bunking together to avoid complete homelessness I arranged a list of ideas to make the transition go smoother. I know I'll get comments with more ideas. You guys are good like that.

Handy Hints for Communal Living:

1) Tidiness. An extreme neat freak will have a difficult time sharing their home with anyone. For the rest of us, help keep the home picked up, vacuumed, smelling nice, etc... Take some spare time and mow the yard or dust the TV and polish the furniture. Tempers are less likely to flare if the home is even cleaner now that you are there. Believe me, it will be greatly appreciated.

2) Quiet times. Know the schedules of all family members. Even if your sisters husband, who has to leave at five AM for work, says your TV viewing until two AM doesn't bother him, he may just be trying to be polite. Some people may work all night and sleep through the afternoon. Respecting others schedules and being quiet when it is needed will go a long way towards keeping the peace. Just ask my insomniac husband who can hear a flea cough on a neighbors dog three streets away.

3) Special skills. One household member is a gourmet cook, while another can make the bathroom sparkle. One person may help out with dog walks, or litter box clean-up. One person may be a home energy expert and can switch out the light bulbs, or install weather stripping. Get it? Everyone has a special skill that they can contribute to the household.

4)Respect. Uncle Harvey may have odd bathroom habits. As much as you want to, don't do your impression of him gargling. Claudine may wear mismatched outfits but don't insert your opinion. Remember this is their house and try to make it as pleasant for them as possible.

5) Arguments. When problems do arise, do not deteriorate into shouting matches. Have a house meeting and deal with it. Compromise, and make a list of house rules if you have to, just don't fight. Shouting will not help anyone.

6) Privacy. Being cooped up for long periods with friends or family you used to just see occasionally may be fun at first and then become difficult. Before relationships become strained, give one another some space. Take a picnic and enjoy a day at the park. Give your family some time away from the house and give the homeowner some time alone in their own home as well.

7) Adult children. Treat adult children as adults. This is simple, Suzie may still be your daughter but she is also a grown woman. Remember this when she is making her own decisions. Also, if you are the child, remember you are grown and don't revert back to the sullen teen in tense times.

8) Cleaning. I know I mentioned this earlier but it is a big one. How much each person does will really depend on how much they work, how much the homeowner wants you to do and so on. If you are staying with someone and you have time though, clean a lot and show your appreciation. It will go far in smoothing a rocky road.

9) Common rooms. Preserve the original function of common rooms. If you are staying in the living room or den, tidy up each morning. Clear the couch, roll up your bedroll, and pack your clothes away. If Aunt Dolly can still sit in her favorite chair and watch her soaps she will be less stressed. No one wants to eat their breakfast while looking at your dirty underwear. Pick it up and keep the home stress free.

10) Budget. Your money situation will be strained, after all that's why your moving in together right? Be very careful with your money so you can get out of this situation as soon as possible. Don't rely on the homeowner to foot the bill for everything though, unless you have no choice. Buy some groceries, or cleaning products, or pay the light bill, whatever works for you. If you have special budgeting skills to share, do so. This is a team effort.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

10-10-10 Happy Birthday Dad!

Today would have been my Dad's 88th birthday. He loved a party and I know he would have had a great time celebrating on 10-10-10. He would have worn a paper party hat, played cards, and had a large serving of cake and ice cream (butter pecan was his favorite.)

I'm glad I was able to spend a small amount of time with my dad before he passed.

I'm grateful I was able to write my dad's obituary.

My dad was a coupon clipper and rebater. He stretched his money farther than anyone I've ever heard of. Without realizing it at the time, my after work shopping was sort of a tribute to him. I bought two large tuna pouches, and two Bumble Bee tuna sensations lunch packs for seventy one cents. Thanks Dad.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Six Degrees from Homeless

Many of the working poor are just a few paychecks away from homelessness. Those with savings can last a little longer. Have you given thought to how long you would last if you lost your income and had no other source of money? I would be able to survive about two months on my savings, and I have very few bills. If it was so bad and we had to dip into our retirement account we could go another three months maybe, if we really economized.

Now, take a moment to think of those on public assistance. Their children can get free lunch at school, some of them receive medicaid to help with doctor visits, a very few receive cash assistance or housing help. How far can they get before things turn bad?

So many people become homeless through no fault of their own, a dispute with a family member, the loss of a job, an illness... The reasons, or circumstances are endless.

Lately, there's been many mentions of the homeless in the news. With the recession still going strong, despite what our government is telling us, and homeowners still facing foreclosures it is a growing reality.

Once again, while working, the headlines came to greet me. A young girl approached the counter and asked if she could borrow my phone to call her daddy. As soon as she got that first sentence out she burst into tears. She said she was fourteen years old and her mother had just kicked her out and she was scared.

My heart broke, what could I do? I kept an eye on her and made sure it was her father that picked her up. Of course, I don't know the entire story. You actually see a lot when you work with the public.

So many people have lost the ability to imagine. They are unable to put themselves in another persons shoes. Keep your compassion well exercised and remember to daydream often so you can see another point of view.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Blame it on Bach, A Scatterered Mind and Life at the Bottom

I'm reading "The Salmon of Doubt" by Douglas Adams in little snippets on breaks and in the car when I am waiting on someone. I've saved this read until now because it is the last Douglas Adams I will be able to read. He died way too young. In this book are all of his brief writings, introductions to other books, magazine articles and such. One of these is his ode to Bach's Fifth Brandenburg Concerto and that is the tune that has been running through my head for several days. What does this have to do with my blog? Well nothing really, but it does describe the scattered state of my mind. Every time I start to have a thought, here comes Bach.

Paula at Monroe on a Budget had an article this morning that's been on my mind all day.
see story here
The article is about how stores are gearing their sales to coincide with the food stamp shoppers who seem to shop all at once when their benefits are placed on their cards. Some of the shoppers wait around in Walmart until midnight so they can make a purchase the very moment they get their money.

I work in a grocery store and I do notice people seem to come in all at once. I had one customer today who shopped with her two young daughters. She handed me the empty containers to scan first because they ate a bowl of fruit and drank a soda. One girl handed me a yogurt and asked me to hand it right back because she wanted it now, and her sister handed me half a block of cheese with teeth marks in it so I could scan it and hand it back. I laughed because I see children all the time acting like they are starving because they are in the store. My own kids did it and I bet yours did too. This afternoon this story was on my mind and I wondered if maybe they had gone a day or two without before their benefits kicked in.

I personally know what it it like. I received food stamps decades ago when they were paper. I never shopped all at once and went without at the end of the month because I have always cooked from scratch and had a pantry most of the time. I was on them because I had to at the time. I wasn't forever but it felt dreadful. It was very little and it had to be stretched very carefully.

You used to have to stand in a long line to pick up food stamps. There were no snazzy cards back in the dark ages. One time the line stretched out the door and along the side of the building facing the highway. There was an older man in front of me and in front of him was a woman leaning on her crutches with bandaged arms, wearing a neck brace, with a cast from foot to upper thigh. Someone leaned out of their small brown pickup truck and yelled "Get a Job!" The older man and several others murmured "I wish I had a Job." I'll never forget the look on the woman's face as she twisted painfully on her crutches to look at the vehicle.

Being poor may suck but being even poorer sucks worse. It's not so bad being a member of the working poor. I've been worse off in the past. Don't know if I can bring myself to write about the dark times, but I will say things can always improve and it won't always be like this. The hard times may pass but we must remember what they were like so we can remind ourselves to save and keep a frugal mindset so we can prosper in the future.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Empathy for the Rich

In addition to clipping the coupons I always enjoy reading the Sunday newspapers. This Sunday the following headline from the St Petersburg Times caught my eye:

No Longer King, Queen, of their Castle

This family made all their riches in the building trade when it was booming. The husband probably did a lot of the work on their staggering 7000 square-foot home with some help, but they still had a mortgage, RV, boat, pool table, golf cart, etc. They weren't keeping up with the Joneses. They were the Joneses. Anyone with half an an eye for furniture can see the pieces in the background of the video and know that money was no object when they were sprucing up their nest. Of course his business was bringing in three to five million in better times.

Now he gets to work every other week or so and they still own too much in property to qualify for food stamps. In order to try to keep their house, they retreated to just a few rooms, and rented as many rooms as they could. They still may not be able to keep their house.

They must have never heard the phrase, "Live simply so others may simply live." After all, she paid $14,000.00 for the front doors alone. Another $10,000.00 went towards curtains.

I can understand their pain. They are letting strangers live in their home just so they can afford food and electricity, for the work is gone. Their daughters have to share bedrooms for the first time. Coming down from a three million a year business to wanting public assistance must be quite a blow to them. However, the poor person in me is wondering how they could see such lavishness as a necessity. I also wonder how they plowed through their savings so quickly.

It's weird this brief glimpse into another way of life. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I could never see myself spending $20,000.00 on a piano, or needing all of the play toys that they had.

The economy is rough for everyone to some degree. From what I've read about the Depression the very poor were sometimes better off than the newly poor, because they already knew how to survive with a lack of money. It proves true with our recession to some extent too.

I know of people in my own poor neighborhood who once made their living in the building trade. Some collect unemployment, some keep afloat with odd jobs, and some have carved dinky apartments out of their already small homes to rent to others who are even worse off. One of these apartments I saw was no bigger than a walk-in closet, but the extra $50 a week was sorely needed by the out of work painter.

I hope this family learns some frugal skills, and pull through this trying time as better people. While I can find empathy for them as this is a real ordeal they are experiencing, I also see many ways in which they may have made poor decisions.

There are many news articles lately about the rich, or formerly rich, who feel impoverished. Some readers may become angry, while others understand. I want to bring these people into my home, serve them a dinner of salad, vegetable lasagna, or roasted chicken and homemade rolls. We can eat at my card table which serves as my formal dining room table in my dining room which is also my kitchen. After dinner I can share a few recipes from my cookbooks (bought used) from my bookcase (handmade, yet still serving the same purpose as their $3,700.00 bookcase.) We could talk of several subjects. I could try to convince them to give up a few cell phones. Are you sure every member of your family has to have one? Before they leave I can show them my budget and let them know that they can survive on less. Really, it's not as bad as you think.

What's your initial reaction to the story? Empathy, anger, astonishment, or something else entirely?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Welcome Back Snowbirds!

This is a small town and not near the big travel destinations where you expect an upsurge in traffic during the winter. I never realized until I worked here what an impact the seasonally challenged retirees have on our local economy. Every summer our hours get dropped each week til it hurts. Snowbirds, how I have missed you!

Today, it was busier than usual. Large orders kept coming through the line. There were several two and three cart orders. It is the first of the month, which accounted for most of the traffic, however, Pennsylvania also came in to restock her kitchen and Michigan said she would be in the next day because she was certain she forgot several items. I was so glad to see them, I'm down to 24 hours this week!

I had a discussion with a coworker the other day. I complained about only having $1.65 in the bank after paying rent, but quickly added that I did have some savings for an emergency. She said all her savings were gone and her husband will be losing his job soon. This used to be her part time job for extra money. Her factory job died two years ago, now her husbands job is almost at an end too. She said their income dropped from $50,000 to $20.000. They say it's a recession, but it sure feels like a depression for those of us at the bottom.