Thursday, October 30

Can money buy happiness?

It's the eternal question, isn't it?

Currently, it's being tackled by Tricia over at Blogging Away Debt, though it's been posed by many other a PF blogger, like Crystal over at Brunette on a Budget.

I honestly don't know if there is an answer to the question, because so much depends on the person involved.

If you're unhappy in general -- you feel like you don't have any real friends, your career isn't going how you had hoped, you feel empty, your relationship isn't working out -- then no, money won't buy you happiness.

It will buy you things and people who call themselves your friends. But unless you're the ultimate narcissist, this life seems like it would ring hollow. (If you are a complete narcissist, well then it's all fine, so long as you always have people around willing to flatter you and pretend to like you. Everyone wins.)

I find joy in my life through other people. Perhaps I'm overly attuned to interpersonal relationships because my disability isolates me so often. I don't know.

What I do know, however, is that if I had all the money a gal could want, and no real friends or loved ones to experience it with, I would be bitterly unhappy.

I suppose that sounds cheesy and cliche. Maybe even trite. But I hate operating in a vacuum. (Actually, I hate vacuums, period. That's why Tim got the floors on the chore list.)

I crave interaction. Sure, we all dream about having money and the good times it could bring. But most of those good times probably involve someone alongside you. To me, part of money's allure is that I would be able to splurge on the people I care about.

The fact is, for me "stuff" doesn't cut it. Gadgets are cool and fun. But they're not real companions. Traveling the world would be thrilling, but not without someone to experience it with -- or at least to describe it all to when you get back.

The problem with human need is that it's insatiable. Most of us will probably never quite feel like we have enough money. There could always be a little more in the retirement funds, in the emergency fund, or in your investments. And for people who fill up their lives with gadgetry and luxury, there will always be a new doodad out on the market.

Either way, we'll never be done. Most of us spend our whole lives convinced that if we just {fill in activity here}, we could be happy and content. But there's always going to be another, bigger goal that we could achieve. The trick, cheesy as it sounds, is in finding contentment with what we already have. Anything above that is nice, but not life-making (or breaking).

So, on review, I guess I do have the answer, after all. It seems like I'm actually pretty staunchly against the idea that money can buy happiness.

Make no mistake: It can make life easier and more fun. Those can each be mistaken for happiness. But long-term happiness -- at least, for me -- isn't contained in possessions or experiences. It's in sharing my life with people I care about.

You know, I'm actually a little horrified at how cliche my true feelings are. But, in the end, it doesn't matter. Because I have people who accept me, even when I'm saccharine-y sweet. I'm off to watch something jaded and disillusioning before I start writing cards for Hallmark.

Can everyone see me?

I talked to a reader today who said she's been having trouble viewing my site for the past few days.

I guess she could view everything but posts.

Anyone else having these problems?

If so, email me at (since you probably can't leave me a comment) and let me know.

Wednesday, October 29

Tag, you're it!

I was tagged by Danielle over at "The Happy Wife"

Danielle is a homeschooling mom of 4 who does some cool themes like "Money Monday" or "Try it Tuesday." So definitely go over and check her out. (She also studied nutrition, so I am going to keep an eye on any recipes she mentions!)

And now for the rules:

1. To link the tagger and provide the rules on your blog.

2. Share 7 facts about yourself.

3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving names as well as links to their blogs.

4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs.

So facts about me

This could be hard, as I always blab so much about things anyway.

1. Well, currently, I'm sitting in front of a SAD light and it makes an almost instant difference. (Also, I found out that it's not just 15 minutes at a time. You start there and work up to longer periods, as much as 2 hours in some cases.)

2. I have a cat, Sandy, who is adorable but completely insane. She's irrationally terrified of Tim and pretty much all other men. Sometimes, she's afraid of me, if I make a sudden move. Also, for a cat, she falls a lot. She has gotten so used for flopping over for belly rubs that she'll do it, whether she's on the edge of the couch, a lap, the desk or actually safely on the floor. And the other day, she was perched with her front paws on the arm of my chair and her back paws on the desk. Then I heard a scrabbling sound and she disappeared from view. When I looked down, she was sitting on the floor, vaguely dazed.

3. I wrote for the Anchorage Daily News when I was 15. There was a competition to get one of 4 slots for a monthly column. I entered under a pseudonym, since both my parents worked there. And I stayed on after the 6 months. I wrote for about a year and a half, until I was too busy.

4. I'm an only child. So sibling rivalry completely bewilders me.

5. I bite my nails.

6. I mostly stick to eating just poultry. With dorm food, I ended up avoiding red meat so much, I lost the taste for it. And I was never much for seafood or pork. It makes me a real pain to prepare meals for.

7. I really dislike having to list things about myself as I always draw a complete blank.

As for blogs that I will tag:

1. Brunette on a Budget: Crystal is a newlywed living in DC. She has good explanations about some of the more complicated finance stuff, which I appreciate, since I grew up in a family that didn't even deal with CDs or anything. I also love it when she does her fashion spotlights. While she certainly has a taste for the finer things, she's also got a great eye for affordable fashion, and will often suggest stylish outfits from affordable stores (Target, Forever 21, Old Navy, etc). Finally, her posts tend to have a humorous voice that tickles my funny bone. And I respect anyone who can make me giggle (on purpose).

2. The Freebie Blogger: I'm not generally big on freebie blogs, honestly. There's usually not much for me. But I love Wendi's site! Why? Well, first and foremost, I am amazed by her dedication! She keeps it up to date EVERY DAY and always with several items. She knows about great freebies going on, in addition to tipping you off about coupons and weekly specials at stores. Finally, she has great giveaways. In the last two months, she's already given away two year-long subscriptions to All You magazine, which apparently has great coupons etc. And right now she's holding a giveaway for a $50 Barnes & Noble gift card! Wendi is amazing because she updates this site EVERY DAY.

3. The Adventures of Spondy Girl. This is a blog about life and, often, about life with a disability. She's matter of fact about things, but still it's interesting. I wish I could explain exactly what it is about this blog, other than the overall tone and writing style, that I like so much. But it's just very engaging. Go see for yourself!

4. Simpson's Paradox: This is a strange, but great little blog. It's usually just a few lines, sometimes reporting a life event, other times just musing. But it's a wonderful addition to my inbox, that's for sure! My favorite so far:

Last night while Stick was playing the new evolution game Spore, he announced excitedly “Meg! I’ve become sentient!”

Let the record state that I made no response.

5. Thrifty Jinxy: Not only does Thrifty Jinxy provide freebie info, she also has good features like "Thrifty Thursday" and "Works for me Wednesday." Like Wendi, she astounds me with her ability to keep so on top of posting. Be sure to check her out -- especially her giveaway this week of a $10 Starbucks card!

6. Lifestyles of the Organized: This is a cool little blog that I found. I'm a big fan of organization (though you wouldn't know it to look at my apartment right now) since I think it's an important part of frugality. Plus I just like the idea that one day, I might actually get organized. It's comforting, if illusory.

7. Pushing 30: My debt deadline: This blog is just about a gal who is dealing with living frugally. She just got through more than two weeks without using credit at all. G

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Tuesday, October 28

Are the media being drama queens?

About a week ago, Tim opened a piece of mail and announced that our MyPoints card has increased our limit.

It didn't even occur to me until a couple days later how extraordinary that is. In this economy, my credit cards aren't cutting my limits. Quite the opposite. And they're not trying to sneak in higher interest rates through some back door channel -- although one card notified us that the rate is going up at the end of the year.

Yet all I read about (and hear about other people reading about) are woeful lamentations of countless Americans being turned out of their homes. Stocks plummeting. Card companies slashing limits and raising rates.

So what's a gal to think?

I think that perhaps we're all buying into the media coverage unquestioningly. It seems like no one is trying to quantify just what effect it's having -- and on which sectors of the population. Certainly, there are some major changes going on, as Wal-Mart's sales numbers have indicated. .

But instead of focusing on the question "How bad is it?" perhaps we should be asking "How many Americans will actually be affected? And for how long?"

Because the fact is that there are small rays of hope out there. They're just not getting much coverage. For example, gas is down under $3. But suddenly gas prices aren't the big story.

Yes, that's not enough to compensate for the hard times ahead. But, guess what? We already had the good times.

Like the spoiled children we are, Americans had their dessert first, and now we're aghast (and petulant) that we have to eat our vegetables. A fair number are even trying to get out of it, because the sugary desserts gave them tummy aches.

I'm not trying to minimize the suffering that will happen. I'm not trying to say it's all lollipops and rainbows. Things are bleak. Times will be tough.

But, listening to most news sources, you'd think we're looking at at least a half-decade of strife and uncertainty.

So I was honestly quite startled to find out that the actual prediction is about 18 months: until June '09.

Sure, it could last longer. Maybe it will. But for years and years of market highs and financial self-indulgence I think we can all weather a year and a half of tough times.

I'm not trying to bash the media overly. Editors and publishers go with what sells. And right now, what sells is doom and gloom.

That's because of our own attention spans. Most of us wouldn't click through on a story if the summary were: "Mildly distressing times ahead, but not for too long and not as bad as the Great Depression." But "1 in 6 homeowners 'Under Water'" will really get your attention.

The other big problem is that journalists, like doctors of a critically ill patient, have to prepare us for the worst-case scenario. Better to be too pessimistic than too optimistic. Because if you do better than expected, it can be called a miracle and the doctor's skill. But if you do worse, the family can have emotional pain and suffering -- and a good lawyer.

So the media tell us just how excruciating it's going to be. Stories fill us with details of average credit card debt, rises in defaults, and all that grim information.

So what does it all mean? It means things do suck in the short-term. And, much more importantly for our collective psyches, the future is highly uncertain. That means it's easy to get panicky.

But the upshot is that things may not be as horrifying as news coverage would have you believe.

Banks are being taken care of (mostly by other banks, which I don't love, but it sure beats having whole lending institutions call it quits). There's no Dust Bowl. And people who are in danger of being foreclosed on may be getting government help or settlements from places like Countrywide, whether or not we believe they deserve it.

In other words, while tough times lie ahead, our society isn't going to fall into an everlasting pit of despair. Can we all just remember that? Especially when the angst starts piling up?

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Monday, October 27


It looks like today is a day for housekeeping, so here are a couple updates.

First: The Freebie Blogger is giving away a $50 gift card to Barnes & Noble! Visit her site to find out more about this fab, fab giveaway!

Second: I am painfully late on my own giveaways.

I know this. I am so very sorry. Thanks to the depression spiral, updating to the new template, doing my contract work and helping with the oft-mentioned Magic Cards we're selling for a friend... I got completely behind.

So, to one person who actually is still owed her stuff, I haven't forgotten you and you'll be getting extra goodies as an abject "I'm so sorry!"

When I mail off these goodies, I'm bringing home some flat rate boxes so that I have no excuse to get so behind again.

As for the rest of the giveaways... I never heard back from the winner of the Jean Chatzky book "Pay It Down!" so I picked another number.

Subscriber Janet Faye was the winner. So Janet, if you can contact me (just leave me a message in the comments, I won't publish it) with your address, I will get this puppy out the door and off my to-do list!

As for the currently-listed giveaway, the winner was TXsunlover! TX, same thing. I need to know where to mail this basket of goodies.

Ladies, I'll go ahead and wait one week before drawing again. So please respond because I want these things off my guilty conscience!

I'm going to go ahead and wait for this to get settled before I do another giveaway, which will also ensure that this time I have all the packing materials and such ready to go.


Interesting note....

I still didn't see Aveeno Eczema Care stuff back on the shelves of any drugstores around here. So I wrote to Aveeno asking for an ETA on the stuff.

The person who emailed me back is a terrible speller ("excema"??? c'mon, you're a skincare company representative, for cryin' out loud -- spell check) but otherwise quite helpful.

Apparently, although officially the "Eczema Care" line has been discontinued, the "new" products Aveeno® Advanced Care™ Body Wash and Advanced Care™ Moisturizing Cream are the exact same formula.

So if any of you have eczema (or even excema) or know someone who has it/loved that line of products, just go and find the new name.

And, for my troubles, I am getting some coupons in the mail. I do love customer service reps, even when they're orthographically challenged!


Sunday, October 26

A new way to save money

There is nothing quite like the cast-offs from the affluent to make for good bargain hunting.

Moreover, it’s humbling to see the detritus from nearly 900 people’s families. It makes me realize just how wasteful we are as a society.

As I pawed through the discarded toys and games, I wondered why more parents don’t visit rummage sales. Not just because they could save money by buying there, but also because anyone at these sales quickly sees patterns that are very telling.

After the third, bulging Ziploc bag of Harry Potter Magic Trading cards, I began to wonder why parents even bothered. (I also wonder how Hoyle makes any kind of profit on playing cards – there were at least 20 packs of them there, and there’s usually two packs at any given garage sale. Who buys these things new anymore?)

Don’t parents know that what they’re buying will be quickly discarded? Most trends are. Remember Furbies? Tamagachi?

Then again, maybe the parents aren’t paying attention either. It would explain the three bread machines I saw for sale. And the five sewing machines last year. I won’t even try to guess the number of still-packaged candles and holiday decorations that filled various tables.

A lot of frugal bloggers talk about buying fewer things. Fewer buys means you keep more money. You also encourage less waste, which is good for the environment. Some PF bloggers advocate a very minimalist lifestyle.

For me, it’s a matter of being aware of my own limitations, as a procrastinator and a woman with a disability. I could buy a bread maker for $10 at a garage sale and call it a deal. But is it a deal if I never use it? Shouldn’t I take my cue from the fact that so many women are trying to get rid of these things?

I’m sure that there are plenty of women who consider their bread machines to be culinary staples, like a good set of knives. If that’s you, great. But it’s not me.

If I bought a bread maker, I would never use it. It would take up space and be a constant reminder that I wasted money. (This, ironically, makes me more determined to keep the item, since if I can make myself use it – which I so will any day now – then it wasn’t a waste of money.)

The fact is, my resources are limited. And I’m not just talking about money. We live in a one-bedroom apartment, so it’s easy for small items to become clutter.

I also have a very limited amount of energy. I don’t want to spend it feeling stressed and guilty about clutter. And I really don’t want to spend it cleaning up the clutter so that I can relax.

So I try to be conscious about what I buy. If I can’t be sure I’ll use it, if I can’t figure out where I’d put it, I don’t make a purchase. Whatever the item, I can usually get another one. I can’t get more energy or more space, at the moment.

I guess I just wonder what if more people thought this way. Folks into economic theory predict all sorts of fire and brimstone: businesses closing, fewer jobs, less money being spread around. But we didn’t limit ourselves and isn’t that what’s happening now?

I think that perhaps it would just lead to more competition in the more basic businesses. If people thought more about their purchases, it would lead to fewer unnecessary, easily discarded baubles and gadgets.

But that doesn’t mean the complete eradication of the entrepreneurial spirit. People who want to go into business for themselves can always find an industry. They can repair cars. They can offer computer support. They can sell any number of consumer goods that will always be in demand. And competition is always good for the consumer. So I guess I just really don’t see a downside to all this.

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Saturday, October 25


I hope you all like the new template. I have been fiddling with it for a couple weeks now. I think it'll be a lot less cluttered and so easier on the eyes.

I still have some minor kinks to work out, so let me know if you find problems or have suggestions. (The Rewards tab and the Making Money tab will eventually lead to different sections, but for now all the info is on one page.)

Thanks for reading. It's really nice to know that there are people out there who tune in to my printed babble.

And now, it's heinously late so I am going to stop messing with this site and go to bed before I end up drooling on the keyboard.

Thursday, October 23

How I relax (frugally) in this economy

How I relax (frugally) in this economy

I need a massage.

Okay, really, we all need massages.

The fact is, we’re getting pummeled with bleak financial news every time we turn around. It’s disheartening – and I think it’s hurting national morale.

And I just watched an episode of Supernatural that was all about how fear can take control of you. Granted, it was a funny episode, as a normally macho guy turned into a simpering dweeb (with a great, high-pitched girly scream, no less). But the point remains: Terror and foreboding can take over, and run your life.

So, instead of contributing to the angst and dread, I want to focus on how to take back control. And the biggest way to do that is to relax.

Of course, the easiest way to relax would be that massage, but most of us can’t afford massages.

So first thing’s first:

Make sure you can’t afford a massage.

• Be their practice dummy. Massage therapists, like all therapists, have to practice. This means that you may be able to get a $30 massage. Usually, it’s for first-time customers only, but hey it’s still a $30 massage. Some people don’t take advantage of this because they don’t know about it. Others are reluctant to try a student. But in the unlikely event that the massage is sub-par, you can always ask for a supervisor and (politely) voice disappointment. Chances are, they will be eager to make amends.

• Barter. Craigslist is a fascinating read. Especially the barter section. You’ll find some pretty esoteric offers out there. You’ll also find a lot of massage therapists offering up their services in exchange for things. Like a lot of independent contractors, many of them want to trade out for health and dental. But many are also just looking to see what they can get. So think of some things you’re good at – from website-building to resume polishing to basic chores – and offer. The worst they can do is say no. Don’t forget that you may also have things they’re interested in. So look through your clutter and see what might appeal. Perhaps it’s not worth a lot, but maybe a discount on a massage?

• Trade. Okay, so maybe you can’t build them a cool website. But look around your clutter. Do you have something they might want? Perhaps something that will get you at least a discounted massage session? And don’t forget about unused gift cards. Others might have a massage gift card to trade. Or the massage therapist might take your gift card in lieu of payment (or as partial payment).

Next: Take a deep breath and try to remember: This will pass. As advice goes, it’s a little old, sure. But the fact is, it’s the best way to survive with your sanity during these tough times.

When the anxiety starts mounting, you need to try to calm yourself down. You can do this pretty simply. You just have to remember that you’re ahead of the curve.

Think about it: We keep seeing all these stories about how the American family is having to change in the face of the dreadful recession. The stories talk about shopping sales, couponing, budgeting, trimming expenses and tons of other things that you’ve already dealt with. You’re much farther along than most of your countrymen (and women).

If you’re still breathing into a paper bag at this point, then you need to make a list. It can be on paper or in your head – whatever works best for you. List all of the things that you have done to further your goal. Be sure to list each expense you’ve cut as a separate item. After all, each one required a decision on your part, so you need to recognize that. Even if you haven’t madeyou’re your changes yet, you probably still have a lot of things to list.

Off the top of my head, we’ve made plenty of changes:

1. Tim and I are using more coupons
2. We’re stocking up on sales to avoid the shopping as much.
3. We are trying to cook more and eat more leftovers.
4. I’m shopping around for cheaper Internet options.
5. I’m buying less candy to cut down on grocery bills.
6. We’re using the food bank
7. We’re making a conscious effort to make fewer impulse buys.
8. I’m trying out online programs to bring in a little extra money to throw at debts.
9. I checked out my credit report to ensure it was accurate (a higher score gives me better leverage with card companies)
10. We lowered our Blockbuster Online membership to reflect our actual needs, saving $15/month.

So take a moment to breathe deeply. Realize that you’re already doing a lot. Think of it as a budgetary rosary. Going over the changes you’ve already made will help you feel more in control of your financial fate.

And if that’s not enough, make a to-do list. Think of ways that you can do more. Then vow to implement one a week (or a month, or whatever) to make your money go even farther. Whenever the anxiety starts mounting, review all the changes you’ve made so far to get away from debt and live within your means.

Finally, if you still need to relax, create your own spa atmosphere. You can make bath salts pretty easily, especially if you have a crafty hobbies store near you. Most of them sell affordable sea salts, and even some coloring or aromas you can add. Or, you can find discount versions at Ross, Marshalls or Tuesday Morning. You can make an affordable sugar scrub with white sugar and mineral oil. It’s great for exfoliating.

Don’t forget exercise is a great relaxer, too. (And an excellent prelude to the nice long bath.) Exercise will help you burn off some of the stress. It will also raise your endorphins. And if you get out, the natural light will be good for you, especially in the wintertime. Take a long walk or jog and you’ll feel better..

Or rent your favorite comedy, pop some popcorn and have a good laugh.

Just do whatever you need to in order to relax and escape a bit. Whatever it takes to feel more in control.

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I don't usually post coupons...

But this one bears sharing. (Tim's running low on his Hemp Body Butter, and this will essentially turn it into buy one, get one free.)

Hopefully some of you can use it too. I know Tim and I will be going in separately with coupons, maybe to a couple different stores if we have the time.

Wednesday, October 22

Do you watch the register?

I saw this article today: Turns out Target has to pay California customers $1.7 million from scanned items that rang up too high.

It made me wonder... Don't people pay attention to register prices?

My mom taught me to always keep a close eye on the register readout. Of course, she used so many coupons and sales, it was pretty much in her best interest to make sure it all went through. (She often uses coupons, rebates, and store sales to let her donate items to shelters. They always need toothbrushes, deodorant, tampons, etc.)

But I grew up watching her often (politely) point out when something didn't seem to be discounted. So I always keep a keen eye out, as items are being scanned.

A few months ago, Tim and I actually saved ourselves quite a bit of money this way. We had gone in to get some on-sale cereal. We bought about 15 boxes of the stuff. But when it rang up, the cereal was at its normal price. Turns out, the smaller size was on sale. (There was only space for that larger-sized box. Apparently, this store didn't carry the smaller version.)

Tim insisted that, since it was the only size available, the store should honor the sale. I was shocked when the manager amiably agreed -- although she specified that, in the future, we should remember that some stores' inventories are different. In other words, we wouldn't get to use that argument on her indefinitely.

If we had just accepted the total, we would have overpaid by about $30-40. (Though I can't really imagine anyone not noticing that big a discrepancy.) But between my vigilance and Tim's stubbornness, we also got the sale price on the bigger size of cereal. Talk about win-win!

Of course, the point is that you should watch all prices -- sale or not. I often choose items based on price. It isn't just sales where this can happen. If a tag has been pushed too far over to one side, you can pretty easily pick up a $7 item, thinking it's significantly cheaper.

The tags at most of our local stores are often not even close to aligned with the products. So it has taught me to look carefully at the tag before putting something in my cart. I compare the brand name, item name and weight. (And, of course, we should all always be comparing items' prices by weight, not just the overall price. I hope that's second nature to everyone already.)

Perhaps this is when the self-checkout lane is the most useful. As you ring up items, you get to verify the price. It also keeps you honest: You have to handle the item while you see its cost. I know there are a few times that I winced at the price of a treat Tim or I picked up. It usually made me much more conservative on future grocery buys.

So what about you? Do you keep your eye on the register's readout?


Tuesday, October 21

A question everyone must ask one day....

And that is: Just how many 2 liters of Mountain Dew can a Chevrolet Cavalier's trunk hold?

As this picture proves, more than 62!

Safeway had a three-day sale on Mountain Dew. A 2-liter bottle was only 59 cents.

I suppose it goes without saying that we took advantage of the plentiful bottles that were still there.

And it reinforces the point that you should always ask. There was a limit of 10 bottles, but Tim approached a cashier and asked if she'd be willing to ring up each group of 10 separately. And sure enough...

Thankfully, the Safeway is less than 3 miles away, so the very low-riding trunk (and probably horrible gas mileage) wasn't much of an issue.

Just a tidbit that made us giggle.


Monday, October 20

Why you should always keep asking


Pardon me. I just needed to get that out of my system.

So, what with my depression and Tim's boil, days have been clipping on by without much notice. And suddenly, it's late October. Friday, I finally got Tim to sit down and check out the application for the Washington State Health Insurance Pool. (I had mentioned it in passing a couple of times, but always when we were out and about, nowhere near the computer. Which means we had completely forgotten long before coming back home.)

This is the pool you apply to once you've been rejected from "normal" individual plans. And apparently two or more MRSA outbreaks in the past five years has more than enough points on the scoring sheet (Who knew your health was being graded? Is there extra credit?) to reject him outright. Add the eczema and asthma, and I'm shocked they didn't just write "lol: nice try" on the top of the sheet.

This was way back in May, before we left for our honeymoon. We got back and read the rejection. Being normal people, we tossed it. Who the hell wants to keep something like that?

Fast forward to now. Turns out that Monday, the 20th, is the deadline for new insurance applications. And we find this out Friday.

Now: I understand that we procrastinated. So some of this is our fault. Although I swear that we were told the WSHIP application would come in the mail during the last month of coverage. Perhaps I made that up in my mind, as a comforting fantasy. Who knows.

But, the point is, we were in big trouble. Turns out you need a rejection letter with your application. And not just any rejection letter: One that is less than 90 days old. We obviously had neither.

So, first I have Tim call up his old work to verify that this is, in fact, the last month of coverage. No reminder was sent, and we had verified months ago that the coverage ended after just six months. But we were having trouble remembering exactly when the official "non-employee" coverage started.

Sure enough, this is the last month. And since we needed proof of coverage -- and didn't happen to have a Certificate of Coverage on us -- he had to ask them for a letter verifying the beginning and ending dates for his coverage, preferably on company letterhead. Oh and, uh, today if humanly possible.

Then, he called the insurance that rejected him to verify that it had been more than 90 days since being rejected. After three operators (and one accidental hang up), we were told it was back in May.

Then, Tim could finally call WSHIP itself. We outlined the problem: We were expecting an application in the mail; we procrastinated when it didn't come; we tossed the rejection letter. The operator's answer? Nope, you need the rejection letter. It's the one major eligibility requirement for the pool.

Okay, well Lifewise was sending us a copy of the old rejection letter. Would that work? Nope. Has to be within 90 days.

At this point, I asked for the phone. I reiterated that we didn't have a rejection letter and that Tim could not go without insurance for a month. I took blame and explained that I guess I had been wrong about being mailed an application. I apologized for the lateness of it all. Then I asked her if there was anything we could do.

Nope. We need a rejection letter.

I tried another tack: I understand we made our own bed here, but we really needed coverage and obviously today was the last day. Was there another way of doing this so we could proceed?


I almost said okay and hung up and cried my eyes out. But I decided to be stubborn, because this is bureaucracy and there's almost always a loophole. (Plus, if there's anything my fellow Americans have taught me it's that denying reality over and over does often work out to one's advantage.)

So I said, Look, my husband has to have insurance. You're telling me that there is no way that we can get this application in and maybe get a rejection letter later? There's no way he can be insured in November? We are just S.O.L. for a whole month?

And wouldn't you know? Turns out we can fax our application in today to try and hold the Nov 1 start date. "But we need that rejection letter," the operator said. And we need to mail the original to them, since they need original copies of Tim's signature.

I reiterated what she had said -- we fax over the application today, apply for insurance again and as soon as we get the rejection we fax it over and we can still get it -- and thanked her profusely and hung up.

What I wanted to do, amidst the flood of relief and gratitude, was shout at her, "Why didn't you mention this the other two times I was practically begging you for a solution?!"

But that would have been pointless. And we are grateful that we can still get in.

However, it does highlight the important point that you should always keep asking -- even when it seems that they've told you point blank you have no alternatives. Especially in bureaucratic settings, there's almost always a loophole of some sort.

I've used this technique a few times. If you're politely stubborn enough, managers will often honor coupons, even if it wasn't intended for their store branch. Or if you're one day late on a sale, I know some people who have finagled an extension. If the shelf is empty of a certain sale item, be sure to ask if there's any in back. Many times, it's an issue of when they restock.

We also used it recently to stretch the meaning of "10 per person" to "10 per transaction" thanks to a cashier who was willing to humor us. But that is a story for another post...

Incidentally, you may be wondering what the big deal is -- one month of insurance can be inconvenient but not a huge deal for most. It's not really a big deal for medications. They're under $100 a month, which would be annoying but certainly possible for us to afford.

But with Tim's severe eczema, no insurance quickly spirals into major problems:

If Tim had been uninsured for a month, that would mean no light therapy. Each two-minute session costs nearly $200, three times a week. Our backup plan was lots of outside walks, but the main problem is that it's cold out, so not much skin would get direct sunlight.

Without the light therapy, his skin would rash up more easily. (Although people think of eczema as a rashy skin thing, it's actually called "the itch that rashes." Just because there's no rash, doesn't mean there's no itch. The itch is constant.) When it rashes up more easily, it's easier for MRSA to hide out. And also the rash breaks open more easily than regular skin, leading to more staph infection, MRSA or not.

That would mean doctor visits, which we couldn't afford. So, we would have to go to the low-income clinics or, more likely, we'd end up waiting until he couldn't take it anymore.

Then, we'd end up in Harborview ER (the local go-to place for the uninsured), wait for hours to be seen, only to have a doctor give him the expected meds. Often, this included more steroids, which are just soooo fun. Among other things, they kill your metabolism and can make you antsy, which a person with ADD just doesn't need.

Then we would have to fill out financial aid information to prove we needed the hospital to cover the cost. After that, we could go home... until it all happened again. Usually about a month later.

And this is how poor people end up in the ER, or even dead, from minor, treatable things.

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Saturday, October 18

Who'd have thought being poor was the way to go?

It strikes me, strangely, that Tim and I are pretty recession-proof.

I guess the one benefit of being so far down on the financial food chain is that we don't have far to fall. After all, Tim's unemployment is more or less guaranteed until April. A friend has gotten him an interview with Target as part-time security, which would help him stretch out the funds even longer.

As far as actual careers go, now that he's working with the Dept of Vocational Rehab, I am thinking his odds of getting a job will actually be higher. And, of course, there's a chance that he'll have to get some training/schooling for his work -- so some of the economy may have settled by the time of his actual job hunt.

Meanwhile, my contract work is guaranteed for close to a year, and my disability payments will keep coming until I have done this work for 9 months.

Yes, there is the danger of lowered credit lines; but so far we've steered clear of that.

So the only real recession problems become:

  1. Higher food prices. It's just a matter of time before food costs creep back up.
  2. Inflation. Our dollars simply won't go as far.
  3. Job market. Okay, I do think that with the state on our side, Tim's chances of a job are better. But there is always the chance that the sector he ends up in will be cutting back, or will simply have a lot of other job seekers.

But still, I'm pretty hopeful. Why? Because none of these are huge deals for us.

Higher food prices. We're already shopping stores like Grocery Outlet and supplementing our groceries by going to the food bank. So while food prices have gone up noticeably since even this time last year, I'm still able to pay relatively affordable prices for most items. And Tim and I are trying to cut out foods that are pricey luxuries.

Tim has his cereal. I am a total healthy-cereal convert since discovering Kashi GoLean Crunch. But Tim loves his Reese's Puffs/Fruit Loops/Cocoa Puffs or whatever the cereal of the day is.

And cereal doesn't tend to go on sale for more than a week or two at a time. Often, the sales aren't all that great, either. Save 50 cents on $4 cereal? Hey, savings are savings -- but that's still too much to pay (in my less-than-humble opinion) for something that doesn't even fill him up for two hours.

Add to that the fact that he tends to eat only one cereal for around two months at a time, and it's a huge grocery item. Luckily, we found that at least a couple of the cereals he likes are at Grocery Outlet for $2/box. Currently, he's into Fruit Loops. And one or two of the other cereals are at Sam's Club, for when we can't find a better deal elsewhere.

Beyond cereal, Tim's been reining in his expensive tastes. Generally, when we're shopping, I try to find one or two small treats that are on sale and offer those up. This way, he doesn't feel completely deprived, but we're not spending a ton of money.

GO is especially good for these things. It even has a good selection of expensive cheeses: We got gouda for $3-4 instead of $6-10. If GO doesn't have the cheese he wants, the next-best option is Sam's Club. He felt like he was getting a luxury, but our wallet didn't.

As for me, I have my junk food to cut down on. This week, I only bought candy once -- after two straight days of craving Red Vines. I did, however, snack on some of Tim's Fruit Loops, which means we'll run out sooner. So I have to keep paring down my sweet tooth.

One way I'm going to do this is to stock up on canned fruit next time there's a good sale. Also, I try to keep myself busy when I'm craving sugar. If I'm playing a game online or working on the blog, it's hard to eat. Most of the last week, I was able to stave off candy cravings this way.

Inflation. There's really nothing we can do about this, except to spend more carefully. You use more coupons, scout more sales. It's easier said than done, of course. Working people have time issues; I have fatigue that sometimes makes shopping not an option. But Tim has agreed to start walking, biking or taking the bus up to the stores as needed. This will also help cut down on frozen and junk food, since they would melt on the trip back.

As for the rest of mundane expenses, well we just have to keep scheming. So far the new owners of the building haven't mentioned raising rents. If they do, I have a plan to dissuade them. And Tim and I are both trying to avoid unnecessary spending, whenever we can get away with it. In addition, we're slowly moving to a cash-based system. That will help keep our debt steadily declining.

Job market. Okay, as I said before, I think having the DVR helping us will actually make Tim's job search easier. Not only will Tim have advocacy to back him up, the department (as I understand it) works with at least a few specific employers to keep some more flexible positions available. Additionally, it obviously has in-roads with the state government for jobs.

But there is the possibility that Tim's desired career field -- whatever that ends up being -- will turn out to be chock full of desperate job seekers. In that case, we still have until the end of April before his unemployment checks would run out. And three of Tim's friends work at Target, which means it's plausible he could get a position there while continually applying for a job in his chosen profession.

He's also considering the possibility that, since he has supervisory experience from his last job, he could try to rise through the ranks at Target. Certainly it would be decent career potential, but I did remind him that there is the possibility his skin will start rashing up again. He agreed to not to put all his eggs in that particular basket -- at least before seeing what DVR can do for him.

So, really, we should weather this economic storm pretty well. When you get right down to it, this whole economic "crisis" is only one for people who have something to lose: investments, real estate, jobs.

I'm not saying that life will be easier for the rest of us -- except for those in the collections biz. But I think that, for the vast majority of the working poor, life will continue on more or less unchanged. Food money won't go quite as far. Rent may go up a bit.

But it's also a lot less likely now that they'll get kicked out of their building because someone wants to make it into condos or townhomes. And their jobs aren't much in danger. There will always be a plethora of jobs that don't pay well and have little to no health insurance.

Really, who'd have thought poor was the way to go?


Friday, October 17

Just a random thought...

As it's Friday, my thoughts naturally turn to garage sales.

I'm wondering, with the economy in the tank and so many families hurting financially (or just plain scared they will be):

Do you think we'll see a much-extended garage sale season?

I think, here in Seattle, at least, we already have. It's not quite the bustle that occurs in the summer, but I still see more signs than I'd expect to.

Perhaps we will all be able to nab some extra yard-sale deals this year, for gifts under the tree, etc.

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Thursday, October 16

So close, and yet so far

Well, it's official: Tim has another boil.

I was starting to get my hopes up, because it'd been around two months (since the last time I posted about it) since he'd had one.

But he got another one -- and in yet another new strange place: his nose.

We were hoping that it was just inflamed because he was fighting a cold but the bottom of his left nostril got more and more swollen. And so he went in to the doctor to have it confirmed.

The best part? It's actually in his nose. Ewwwww. Poor fella.

It's disheartening for him (and me) to be sure. I think we were both starting to get our hopes up that he was officially getting a break from any more boils. The relentlessness of a chronic condition -- including a propensity toward MRSA, apparently -- is what truly wears you down.

But, to be fair, it's not all that surprising: MRSA actually hides out in the nose. So we're going to have to go back to swabbing with the anti-MRSA stuff, ick. Better safe than sorry though.

In part, his success has been due (I think) to not reusing towels or clothes, though that really increases our laundry load. It's money well-spent when you consider the pain and frustration of boils, let alone the co-pays for doctor visits.

The other big factor is that his light therapy has really been keeping his skin clear. Unfortunately, he's been starting to burn, even with sunblock, so they have to cut back on time/visits. And, as I understand it, he can't get light therapy indefinitely, since there's an added risk of skin cancer.

What you have to love about Western medicine is that nearly every solution creates a potential problem.

For now, though, he's relatively clear and actually vaguely comfortable (in between boils) so that has to be our priority. That and putting sunscreen on him as thoroughly as possible before each light session.

Anyway, we actually have some fun planned: My mom grabbed some screening tickets from the student center. And they just happen to be for Max Payne, a shoot-em-up that Tim wanted to see. We have to stand in line for an hour or so, but for a free movie I'm game.

So we'll go down to the University District and have Tim get in line, then I'll go and grab some cheap teriyaki (gotta love student-priced food) from an old favorite place of mine, and bring it back to him so we can eat. A cheap night to be sure!

I know I've mentioned this before, but you should always check any weekly papers your town has. That's where most movie screening tickets are offered, though sometimes regular papers offer them, too. Sometimes, you just go by a shop and pick up the passes; other times, you have to mail in a postcard or something. Either way, that's a pretty cheap flick!

I'm off to get some work done, we have appointments before the movie so work has to be done early today.

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Wednesday, October 15

Quick frugal tip: Meal substitution

We're all stressed out and many of us are upset and fearful about the economy. Which means, like me, you're probably extra tired.

There's no problem with that, but I can tell you (and I think we can all agree I'm an expert) that fatigue and depression make it hard to do day-to-day chores. For me, one of the first things to go is food.

When you're upset and feeling powerless, it's easy to give in to convenience. You know you shouldn't -- that you could quickly fix yourself something cheaply. But it suddenly seems like too much work.

About 6 years ago, I was at my lowest point, physically. I left the house maybe twice a week. Everything exhausted me and I spent a lot of the day sleeping. Getting to the grocery store a mile away (without a car) was miraculous.

So I invested in Slim-Fast shakes. Not the greatest tasting, but it meant I didn't have to worry about two of my three meals for the day. When I have to figure all meals out, I get anxious and that tires me out further.

I have since abandoned the practice in favor of a healthy cereal, Kashi Go Lean Crunch. But, upon hearing about Tim's sugary cereal, our trainer Elston recently recommended a healthy meal substitution.

GNC Pro Performance has a whey protein shake. The chocolate is actually pretty tasty. If you use chilled water, it tastes kind of like a thin chocolate shake. Otherwise, it just tastes like hot chocolate that's cooled off.

I like it because it's fast and easy. I was running late for my training session. So I opted for it instead of my cereal. It took me about a minute to make and about 40 seconds to drink. Great for when you're pressed for time. And I got 20 grams of protein from that drink, with almost no sugar.

If I were going to substitute it for an entree, I would probably use two scoops, since there's only 130 calories in each serving. (Don't forget: Calories are units of energy, not just things to avoid.) Then I'd have some fruit or something else to round out the meal.

Obviously, the GNC stuff is just one of many brands you can try. I like it because it's low in sugar, so I don't crash an hour later. I have also tried Glucerna, though I wasn't crazy about the taste.

Most of meal-replacement shakes (at least the ones I've tried) have tastes you have to get used to. By the third or fourth time, you're usually pretty accustomed to their version of chocolate. The GNC stuff probably would have been good on the first try, but we were using too much water, which dilutes the taste.

My (sugar-conscious) favorites are the Zone bars, followed by Cliff. Zone makes a mean mint chocolate bar. It's almost like candy, but with a good balance on sugar. There are also protein bars, as well. My favorite (that don't have a ton of sugar, anyway) are the Zone bars, particularly the mint chocolate.

For some of you, a 260-calorie breakfast is too small. That's fine. The 130-calorie one I had only lasted me around 90 minutes -- long enough to get to the training session, through it and back home. Just because I mention calories doesn't mean I'm advocating you strip your diet down.

In fact, I really loathe programs like Jenny Craig, though a couple of friends have seen terrific results from it. They'd have to. Why? Because if you follow the program instructions, you live on 1200 calories a day.

Think that doesn't sound so bad? The average 160 lb person burns that lying in bed all day.

So, yeah... Not healthy! Most regular-sized people who want to lose a little weight should, as far as I can tell from my dealings with those-in-the-know, shoot for no fewer than 1500 calories.

If you're one of those normal-sized people who eats like a normal person, you might not be crazy about replacing a meal. But these things can still be useful from a frugal standpoint. That's because these make good snacks.

Most of the time, when you're considering what to eat, you're already hungry. If it's dinner, you're probably tired from the day. Like shopping when you're hungry, it's a no-no to try to decide meals while you're stomach's rumbling.

Instead, have a shake or bar or whatever. This will stop the immediacy of the hunger and probably up your energy a bit. Then you can do a more realistic assessment of plausible homemade food.

And starting with a shake or bar means you won't be fainting from hunger when the meal's ready. This will help you eat a more sensibly sized portion, which will leave leftovers. That helps you stretch your food dollar, meaning you can spend less at the grocery store.

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Monday, October 13

Fitness, ADD-style

Just had to pass along this little tidbit: Wii Fit has officially outsold Halo 3. That's big. Very big.

While I'm happy that Americans are expressing some interest in getting into shape, I fear it's yet another fad that will quickly lose momentum.

It seems to me that our need for constant stimulus/cool gadgetry has become part of our fitness problem. People are making a concerted effort to save money, but buy this game? I mean, hey, if it actually helps them lose weight, then terrific.

But how many of you have unused exercise equipment lying around? And how many of you swore up and down you would use it all the time, that having spent the money would motivate you?

Tim and I were reviewing things to give away on Freecycle to get the clutter to a more manageable level. One of the big ones? My exercise ball. I kept it for ages, swearing I would use it. Mostly it just takes up space, because I refuse to deflate it. I keep thinking if I see it, it will guilt me into action.

Of course, that's been the going theory for 5 years now.

Can't we brainstorm some cheaper routes to fitness? In these lean financial times, you have to get a bit innovative. Yeah, a gym is nice, but it's also a great place to avoid. Meanwhile it sucks away (generally) $30+ a month. And if you don't keep going, the guilt of it just adds to your generalized dread about working out.

Too heavy. We have all these extra pounds to lug around and guilt to boot? Nah, not worth the money or the stress.

If you look at a lot of the better (in my opinion) fitness magazines today, most of them will translate any machine-regime into a real-world scenario, as well.

What I really like about Shape and Fitness is that their workouts are based on PRE, or Perceived Rate of Exertion. This means, instead of saying that the exercise has to be done on a treadmill at 6 mph, 12% incline, the article will say a PRE of 8. Then, in the back, there will be a table that explains each of the points on the RPE 1-10 scale. At least a couple of the magazines translate it into very intuitive (for me) explanations such as "Can hold up a conversation with some slightly labored breathing" or "Breathing very labored. Conversation difficult."

Why do I prefer PRE? Because it tosses out the ridiculous notion that there are one-size-fits-all exercises. It's not true. Sure, 30 minutes of walking a day will be possible for most people, even those very out of shape. But not me. I generally have to start around 10-20 minutes and inch my way up. It doesn't matter how fast or slow I walk, my limitations are often just as based on time as exertion level.

Once you get rid of these false ideas about what you "should" be able to do, you're much more able to just start at what works for you. And all that guilt about "should" goes away (at least, partially), leaving you more energy to focus on your real goals.

So: Instead of going out and buying a game, or plunking down first/last/sign-up at a gym, just get out in the world.

  • Check out your library's magazine selection. Chances are, it subscribes to at least one good fitness magazine. Don't forget, you can xerox pretty cheaply.
  • Invest in a good pair of workout-only shoes. If you can find an affordable pair, I really love New Balance and get mine at the sports-outlet chain Big 5. But there are other good brands.
  • Get some (cheap) workout gear. Go to Ross, Marshall's or TJ Maxx and find some affordable workout clothes, especially sports bras. Target has good sales too. If you're just walking, you don't strictly need new attire. But for me it's a mindset. Decide how important it is to you.
  • Find a spot you can walk. It can be a park or around your neighborhood. Heck, Tim and I walk in a cemetary two blocks from us. It's peaceful, there are paved roads, plenty of hills and no car fumes. Others prefer to do hills as interval training. It doesn't matter where you go, just start moving.
  • Don't worry about speed. Find a rate that you can keep up (unless you're doing interval training) that still keeps your heart rate elevated. It doesn't matter if snails are passing you by. They may be really fit snails. Just pretend you're one of those horses in a Hansom cab -- you have blinders on and can only look ahead.
  • Get some tunes. I find music is really essential for me, unless I have company to chat with. Good music keeps me going and sets the tone for me. With my clunky old MP3 player, I can choose cheesy pop/techno for pure pep, alternative grrl music for spunky, push-through-the-limits attitude, loud/angry music if I'm just in a really dark mood, or (my favorite) random for the simple interest of what's coming next.

The music is also great for my time-keeping. I own few watches, since I tend to obsess about time passage when I do. Instead, I just add the song lengths together to keep a running approximate tally of my workout length. Songs also make things seem more reasonable. Thinking "Just 12 more minutes" is a lot more discouraging than "Just three more songs." It can be a good motivator.

Obviously, Black Friday is a great opportunity for a good MP3 player. But the retail chains like Best Buy and Office Depot are getting pretty desperate, so keep your eyes on their ads. Big Lots has also had players from time to time. Unless you like listening to the same music over and over, I recommend at least 1 gig, preferably two, from a reliable name brand. We've had good experiences with Sansa, including them replacing one with no questions asked because ours "stopped working" when it fell from Tim's hand to a cement floor.

As for fitness attire, I get by pretty easily with 2 sports bras, two pairs of pants and various old shirts. I have a couple that got bleach stains and so got thrown out of my usual wardrobe. But if I'm going to be sweaty and red faced anyway, who cares what I'm wearing?

I bought one long-sleeved shirt for colder days. If it's pretty chilly, I will sometimes wear a hoodie and, once I'm warmed up, tie it around my waist.

If you can find it at the discount stores (and I did), I highly recommend moisture-wicking clothing. It keeps the sweat away from your body, which is better for your skin. Additionally, it keeps the clothes from smelling as quickly.

Finally, if your library doesn't have a decent fitness magazine, or if you want one of your own, try (great for MyPoints) or search the web for a cheap subscription price.

A few other handy tips I've picked up over the years:

1. Instead of buying handweights for your walks, fill up two large water bottles. They weigh about the same. Meanwhile, you'll drink up some of the weight as the workout goes on, so they won't get too heavy as your arms tire. (Walgreens is currently selling "D" shaped water bottles, which make them easier to hold, for $1 in the summer clearance section.)

2. If you don't want to buy free weights, find exercises that use your own body's weight. Even for the trimmer folks, that's over 100 pounds, when you do a tricep dip off a chair or do wall-sits.

3. Common household objects can substitute for lighter weights. I once saw a whole piece about using the last Harry Potter book. There are plenty of groceries we buy with the weight right on them: rice, flour, sugar, etc. Be sure they're well-wrapped and preferably unopened. But get creative and you could save a ton of money.


Thursday, October 9

May you live in interesting times

Things certainly have been difficult around here.

The Lexapro is kicking in to a certain extent. I am feeling less overwhelmed and more inclined to leave the house. But I am still kind of emotionally fragile.

Meanwhile, we're still sorting through Magic cards. We finally sorted the cards so that each set is in only one spot in the three boxes. But we have to check the boxes at some point to make sure everything was accounted for.

Also, if you'll recall our 0% offer ran out. So I went ahead and applied for a card offer in the mail that would give us 0% for 1 year. The good news: We got approved. The bad news: For $500.

Finally, we had some unexpected expenses -- doctors visits, a few of Tim's shoes wore out, and a few other odds and ends -- which means we actually went up a bit on the credit cards. Part of the problem is that I only just got around to invoicing for my contract work with MSN. Once that money comes in, we can pay down a big chunk on one of the cards.

But seeing the credit card go up was a good wake up call. I had a minor panic attack and then sat down and consulted with Tim about what we could do. Here's what we came up with:

The biggest thing is that we're going to slowly start paying for more things in cash. This will help in two ways. The first, most obvious way, is that we won't be charging up the balance while simultaneously trying to pay it down.

The second way has to do with double-cycle billing. Double-cycle billing is another sneaky credit card company trick. When you can't pay your balance in total, your finance charge is based on the daily average for two billing cycles -- aka months.

If that's a little abstract, think of this way: My card has an average balance of $10,000 for two straight months. On the 61st day, I make a payment of $5,000, bringing my card balance down by half. But my finance charge? It would be figured as follows: $10,000*59 days + $5,000 for one day, then divide all that by 60 days for an average daily balance of $9916.66. In fact, after a month of having a $5,000 daily balance, the card company would still be charging for an average balance of $7,500.

You can see the problem.

I know that, to some of you, it may seem ludicrous that we were charging everything -- and shocking that we haven't made this step sooner. But between my depression and Tim's ADD, we have a long history of getting overwhelmed by finances and overdrafting. So we talked about it and made the choice to take the less-than-ideal route of credit cards.

That worked for a bit, but this recent credit card statement confirmed my fear: We're not able to keep as close of track of spending. We have to switch to cash. Still, both of dispositions mean that we could do great at finances for a couple weeks, then crash and burn. So we are still determined to make the transition to cash gradually. The first step is paying only debit or cash for groceries.

The second major move is that we are going to a nearby food bank. There are three days we can go (written on the white board, since neither of us currently have a short-term memory) and it will help supplement our food budget.

While food rates are slowly lowering, just getting a few fruits, veggies and bread products will really take the pressure off our budget. I'm hoping we can save $50-100 a month this way.

This week, we got some taco shells (last Saturday we had some very tasty ground-turky tacos), some potatoes (eggs are on sale this week, so Tim will make his very tasty "hobo hash"), an onion, some rolls and a couple cans of beans. Next week, we'll have a better idea of what's there and what kind of meals we can make around the ingredients.

We will also be making Grocery Outlet our default store. We were able to get Tim's cereal-of-the-month (he is a cyclical eater), Fruit Loops, for $2 a box. So we got 6 boxes, because I've been snacking on the stuff myself lately. We also got some red and orange peppers for 60 cents each -- whereas in normal stores I've seen them for $1.50 to $2. Things of that nature.

And once again, I'm cutting back on my snacking. It'll be good for my health -- and for our budget. This should save us $6-10 a week. I, like Tim, am a cyclical eater and the depression has added to my snacking urges. This has hurt the grocery bill, significantly. Even on sale, a bag of candy is $2 and I often split it with Tim so it lasts no more than two days.

Finally, we're debating giving up our weekly training session. It's certainly a luxury in some regards, seeing a personal trainer. But our friend Elston is not your average personal trainer. He got a four-year degree in sports medicine and (I think) kinesiology. He then got a secondary degree at Ashmead, studying nutrition, physiology, etc. And he's about the only person I trust to not overwork me, because he specializes in people with chronic conditions.

With him, Tim and I do weight-bearing exercises once a week, and Tim has been reaping the benefits as well, since he has big joint problems with his knees. He has excess fluid on the knees, plus both have been broken two times. One of those was being run over by a car. His knees and back have definitely been better since we have been seeing Elston. And Elston gives us a special friends rate. Still, it would be $180 more each month toward debt. It's something I'm going to ponder over the next few days.

As for the small credit card limit, our options are limited. Just getting the new card probably hurt my credit score a few points. So it would look really bad if I opened yet another account.

I think the best bet is to call the card company and explain our position. The company pointed to our extensive use of credit. Understandable. But I will call and ask to speak with a manager. I will explain that we would be closing out the current United card, which we opened to get miles for our honeymoon trip. Perhaps this will help convince the manager to extend more credit. Unlikely, but then I can ask how long it might be before our account could be reviewed and extended.

If that doesn't yield great results, I will call up Citi and pull the "loyal customer" card. I've had the card for over 12 years. I will explain the situation and see if they can offer any kind of balance transfer offer of a lower-interest rate. Failing that, I'll ask for a lower interest rate in general, since I've been a good customer (and it would guarantee them that I'd carry a balance on my card, equalling interest income for Citi).

If that doesn't work, I'll have to evaluate whether it's worth investigating yet another 0% offer, which would further hurt our credit, or simply suck it up and pay the interest.

A lot will depend on the next few weeks, since Tim was officially accepted for services at the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. (Yay!) There, they'll help him figure out career possibilities. Depending on whether he'll need schooling, we can make some choices.

And, on another positive note, I officially invoiced today for the first time for my contract work with MSN. That will give us the ability to make a big payment on the cards.

So things continue to be bumpy but overall we are moving forward. I am hoping to start testing out some new, cleaner-looking templates as soon as this weekend. Thanks to everyone who has filled out the poll at the bottom of the page. The feedback is really useful.

Currently, I am compiling an Amazon store based on my own readings and recommendations of people I trust. Once I get it up and running, I'll let everyone know which books I actually read and which were recommendations.


Tuesday, October 7

Frugal tips Part II

A continuation of last week's "Frugal hacks so obvious you may not be doing them"

9. Ask whether you really need it

  • Ask yourself if you can find something else to work in its stead, rather than buying. Need a newMaybe instead of a new briefcase you can make an old carry-all work.
  • Ask yourself if you can get along without it. Is it an imperative? Or just something nice? For example, if you join a baseball league, cleats and a mitt are necessary.

10. Buy more than one pair of shoes

  • Like it or not, our feet aren't entirely dry. And the moisture from them (and the pressure we put on them) is transferred to our shoes.
  • If you allow shoes to dry for about 24 hours before using them again, it slows the breakdown of the materials. This makes your shoes last longer.
  • So, if you're priding yourself on your thriftiness by having one great pair of black work shoes, you may want to consider investing in a second pair. Alternate days and you won't be back in the shoe shop quite so quickly.

11. Keep a list of staple clothes when you do go shopping. (Or, in this day and age, a photo on your phone or iPod.)

  • Okay, we've all bought something, only to come home and discover nothing matches.
  • In other words, if you have to then go shop for shoes or a shirt, how frugal are you actually being?
  • On the rare occasions you find yourself shopping, endeavor to make a list of the highlights in your closet. If you can't find something on the list that coordinates, don't buy the item.
  • Alternatives include taking a picture and loading it onto your cell phone or MP3 player.
  • Don't forget, once you actually bring an item home, you're far less likely to get it returned.

12. Spend a little more

  • Sometimes, cheap things are cheap for a reason.
  • The rich spend less than the poor, because they can afford quality merchandise that will last.
  • So remember that, sometimes, the thriftiest short-term solution may not be the cheapest in the long run.

13. Before you replace, repair

  • One of the great joys of dieting is tossing your "fat" clothes. But it's a lot cheaper to go to a tailor than to replace your wardrobe.
  • Shoe broken? I got a great pair of dressy black loafers (with heels) at the last Value Village 50% off sale. The bottom of the heel was partially off so they were $10, meaning I paid $5. A few cents' worth of superglue fixed it quickly. If your beloved shoes break, don't forget there are cobblers around town.
  • Our $150 vacuum broke after less than two years. The problem wasn't under warranty, but a new belt and fixing a clog will be a whopping $14.59.

14. If you can't repair, sell

  • If the vacuum was too costly to repair, I was going to sell it to the shop, which could repair and resell it. Then I would use the money to buy a refurbished vacuum from Big Lots for $40.
  • Check Craigslist and local repair shops. They may buy the broken item from you which will help build a fund for a replacement.
  • Here in Seattle, we have a place called RePC which buys old machine parts. You can buy a "boot box" -- a computer tower without an operating system -- for as little as $30 or $40.

15. Put it out in the universe

  • I covered this somewhat in "How to Get Something for Nothing"
  • Sometimes, if you let enough people (and general universal forces) that you're looking for something, you may find things fall into place.

16. Make BOGO work for you.

  • BOGO sales sound great, but are you getting the best bang for your buck?
  • At a BOGO steak sale, Tim grabbed two random packages -- one much smaller than the other. I put that one back and found one much closer in weight. There was about a pound extra in my choice.


Saturday, October 4


Well, folks, it's been over two months. I'm happy to have so many of you aboard and reading. Makes me feel like I'm not just shouting into the void of the Internet.

As you can see, I've put two polls up at the bottom of the page. I'd love your feedback. And if there are other comments, feel free to post them and let me know what you'd like to see. This is as much about you as it is about me. So let me know what you think, and we'll start there.

Thanks to everyone!

It's a little early for Thanksgiving but...

Sorry, folks, I know some of you are waiting for the second part of the "frugal hacks" post. It's done. I just keep finding other things I want to talk about. But I will post it soon.

In the meantime, I know I haven't been terribly chatty lately. Or, at least, I feel like I haven't. A lot has been going on for me and I wanted a little perspective before I shared.

Last Saturday, we went to a friend's 30th birthday party. We found out his wife (who was one of my bridesmaids, her husband one of the groomsmen) is pregnant and due in March.

Of course, I'm happy for them. They'll make fabulous parents. But at the party, most of the people there were workers in good- to high-paying fields. Most of the couples were two-income. And the friends' house is pretty nice, even if it is a bit out in a suburb.

I just started thinking about the ease with which everyone else seems to live. I know that's not fair -- every person's life has its own kind of hardship. But Tim and I are a bit weary and I've been trying to do too much lately. (Plus, as my therapist later pointed out, I'd been kind of isolated at home between work and blogging and sorting Magic cards. So it was a bit of a shock to the system to be trying to socialize.)

I just started feeling overwhelmingly sad. And angry. Or perhaps jealous is the right word. I don't know. I just sat there, watching the guests play Wii and listening to them chattering about their own Wii at home, or their jobs or whatever... And I just couldn't take it anymore.

I was able to get to the bathroom before the tears started, so it wasn't too bad. Then I just caught Tim's eye and told him to make excuses for me. I couldn't talk to him until we got home. I was afraid to start crying while driving.

Once we were home, though, I still couldn't really explain it. I was just tired. Tired of everything being so hard. And everything feeling so overwhelming. The fact is that it will take Tim and I at least a couple more years before we can even start thinking about a baby. We'll get there, but it's frustrating when you're confronted with other people's financial padding. Even though you know you're as smart as they are but won't make the same kind of money.

Probably needless to say, this was the deciding vote for whether I needed to go talk to my doctor about my medication levels. I kept getting teary for three or four days afterward, whenever I'd so much as think about the baby.

So Monday came around and the doctor ended up putting me on a THIRD medication. Turns out I'm much higher on my Effexor (which I've been on the longest) than he's comfortable with. Plus I'm on Wellbutrin for anxiety and depression. Now we're trying out Lexapro.

It was hard to stomach. I hate being on so many pills and so adding another isn't exactly palatable. But at least for now, it seems necessary. Sunday was especially bad and after quarrelling with Tim, I bawled my eyes out -- I mean non-stop, heaving cries -- for at least 20-30 minutes. All I know is, I think it was the longest I'd ever cried. And it wasn't about anything in particular. It was just that ache in the middle of your body, compiled-sadness and hopelessness sort of thing. Scary stuff.

The doc also wanted to do a blood draw in case some of this was my thyroid. He kept asking was my marriage okay, any major life changes. I said no, just that it's been forever since I've changed my meds. And while I often have cyclical downturns, this one wasn't going away.

Saturday and Sunday, I felt so precarious. I felt like all of my emotions were in this egg inside me with the thinnest of shells. And it took nothing to crack it and have them all come spilling out.

So I went in and got blood drawn. Apparently, I hadn't had enough to drink that day. She had major trouble getting a vein, which never happens with me. She ended up having to take from my left arm. She kept apologizing because she said it was going to bruise. But I bruise easily so I reassured her it was no big deal.

Yeah. You ever feel like a walking metaphor? I felt so fragile that weekend. Later Monday afternoon, a nasty-looking bruise was forming. But Tuesday morning, I woke up to find that it looked like someone had spilled wine on my arm. Tim took a picture for posterity. (There's too much flash, so picture it about two or three shades darker than what you see here.)

Let me just remind you this is from one poke.

It's since turned all sorts of interesting shades and is yellowing out. But it just reminds me that this isn't my normal downturn.
Clearly, I'm having a particularly bad time on a few fronts. I need to go back to taking my daily vitamins, need to start sitting in front of mom's SAD light and need to suck it up and get used to being on three meds for awhile.

And so with all this in mind, despite it being too early for Thanksgiving, I would like to draw your attention to "The Bad Old Days?" by Frugal Zeitgeist.

Amid all the negativity of the markets and economy and Congress and politics, she thinks we should take a moment and try to think of 10 things that are going right in our lives.

Here's my entry (I'm realizing that I don't think you all know about #7, but it more or less explains itself: I spent a couple years as a landlord. I'm telling you, I've done a lot of stuff...) :

1. I'm a newlywed so I'm still in that amazement stage. That's fun and exciting.

2. We finally finished off hubby's student loans.

3. Despite a lot of inner turmoil, I kept it together enough to go to a doctor when my depression started to worsen, before things got dire and talk to him about my medication levels.

4. The new levels are starting to even me out, I think.
5. My husband is a wonderful individual who accepts that I am a depressive and pretty calmly is there for me when I freak out at him or the world.

6. I'm (slowly) learning to live within my limitations and not spend all my energy fighting them. (I live with chronic fatigue, but am a Type A personality.)
7. I was in the housing market (with a loan I probably shouldn't have qualified for) but got out around four years ago. And it was enough to pay off my mortgage, my student loans (which was what the original downpayment was supposed to have been for) and pay back my mom who had lent me money.

8. I'm finally working a small part-time job, which means there's a light at the end of the tunnel of being on disability.

9. I'm still finding time to keep up the blog I started.

10 After only two months, I have 90 subscribers (yay!)

I want to encourage you guys to join in this and think up your own ten things. Shoot for ten and if you can't get that far, just be glad that you don't have to type as much, I guess. (Yeah, I'm playing Pollyanna's glad game... Don't tease the depressive, folks!)

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Thursday, October 2

Fabulous new way to make $$$

Any fellow Kirtsy-lovers probably already know about YouData. But the fact is that I am completely smitten by this program. (So smitten, in fact, that I've embedded it into this website's sidebar so you can check it out/sign up/log in and check ads while you read my posts.)

Basically, the program starts from the assumption that advertisers are buying your time. So why not make them pay you? I do love anything that offers to pay me for my time and quasi-attention.

You sign up and create what's called a MeFile. I'm hoping they add more categories soon, since these are kind of broad, at present. But you say your gender/age/income level/interests/family situation/pet situation. Then you're done.

After your file is created, it's just up to you to login and check out ads. (As mentioned, you can also view them from my sidebar and multi-task.)

One of the things I really like about this program is that you get two ways to earn money: viewing an ad and then clicking on it. This way, people have options about how invested they want to get.

You get five cents just for viewing any ad. (And in case you're thinking "Pssshhhh, a nickel? Are you kidding?" I would point out that you see tons of ads on the web for free, all day.)

Then, if you click through to take a look at the site, you get extra -- usually around 16 cents. I haven't been keeping strict track, but that is the number I see most often.

As usual, a caveat: I'm not saying you'll get rich with YouData. But it's definitely more profitable than most read-email programs, for example.

The first day, I made nearly $2. The second day was a little skimpy on ads. I'm about to hit the 72-hour mark and I'm at $4.70. It won't put my kids through college, but hey I'll take any extra funds I can.

Of course, your earnings will vary, depending on how your MeFile looks. If you have kids, I'm guessing you'll see more ads. Parents are a big market for advertisers. That's just an educated guess, mind you.

But even if you don't see tons of ads right away, remember that this is a relatively new program. As it grows, it will probably attract more advertisers, which means more money.

(Full disclosure: Like bloggers who embed coupon-printers, I will get a small profit from you checking the ads from my site. I like to be upfront about that.)