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The struggle to become a saver

22 Oct

After a few nights of Nyquil, I seem to be back on the right track. I am starting to think my flu like feeling was less about having the flu or a cold and more my body’s response to the high levels of stress I have been dealing with. I find that sometimes it takes getting sick for me to prioritize and take care of myself, in theory I love the idea of daily self care but at times it’s harder to fit it into the schedule.

This morning found me thinking about money, it has been a while since I have talked money here. I have a confession; I think I am a spend-a-holic. On paper I write the most magnificent budgets, they come across as practical yet in practice I struggle. It seems every trip to the grocery store inevitably costs more than I budget and well an extra $50 here and $50 there starts to add up. I will say though that this month I have accomplished one goal and that is very little eating out. When I feel the urge to eat out I ask myself do I really need this. Will that meal make me feel great or is the bigger issue that I just don’t want to cook? If what I really want is to simply avoid cooking, I have been using up my stash of soups and chowders I keep in my freezer. Tasty, good for my waist line and even better for my budget. The results so far are that I have been able to add a little extra to the savings account and I realized that I have not raided my savings account in several months. Baby steps, that’s what it’s all about for me.

A few days ago one of my employees called me up and decided to forget the boundaries that should exist between employer and employee and long story short, she is grappling with serious financial issues. I had no real words of advice other than if need be I would be happy to assist her with a budget.  Another employee just bought a brand new car that truthfully I wonder how she will afford knowing that she is already tight on cash. Yes a car in Maine is mostly a necessity but a brand new car is not a necessity. Hell, as the Spousal Unit and I are learning even relatively new cars require maintenance hence last month’s unexpected $1200+ in car repairs not covered by the limited warranty we still have on our car.

I work with people who deal with financial scarcity day in and day out; almost 20 years ago I dealt with that same scarcity. The type where you are hoping and praying you can keep the lights on until your next check. While I still have a ways to go financially as far as digging out of debt, I have learned to take care of my 4 walls and keep a little cushion so that an unexpected $100 bill is not a crisis. So many times with the clients that I work with it is truly the little things that take an already precarious financial situation and turn it into a full blown crisis. One of my tricks to building a cushion has been rounding off numbers. We have a number of automatic withdrawals such as Vonage, Netflix, etc. Over the past 7 years I started rounding upwards, a $25.52 bills become $30 and so on, by doing this I create a cushion so eventually you create a decent cushion. I am not by nature a saver and grew up with parents who didn’t teach me about money so I am learning as I go along.

I have also realized that not all bargain style shopping is a great deal. Thrift stores are a great source of savings yet if you go all the time and buy items you really don’t need simply because they are cheap, well you are wasting money. I have taken recreational shopping/looking out of my schedule. It seems to be working. I admit I still struggle with my daily visit to Starbucks or other coffee shops though I try not to frequent these places on the weekend when I have the time to make my own drinks at home.

This past weekend found me dreaming of places I would like to visit, it has been a long time since we have been able to travel anywhere as a family. In part because travel especially from Maine is costly (I swear travel was cheaper in Chicago) the other factor in our not traveling is tied directly to finances, at one point there was no money to travel but also bad spending habits have created a situation where travel is difficult. Yet raising my child in Maine, I see that it is necessary that we travel so that my daughter is exposed to many different types of people and cultures. Much like we find the money to do necessary maintenance on our house, I now feel we must find the money to travel at the very least to see friends and family.

I think having goals with my money makes it easier for me to make the sacrifices necessary to be a good steward of what I do have. Anyway excuse the ramble but with the year soon drawing to a close I am thinking about the changes I need to make when it comes to me and my money. What about you? Do you struggle with money management? If so what are you doing about it?

Last night CNN aired a program Black in America 3-Debt and while I only caught about 40 minutes of the show it was um…interesting to say the least. I think as Black people we get so caught on short term financial goals (new pair of Louboutin’s, etc) that at times we miss the long term boat. I mean if your house is about to get foreclosed on, maybe it’s a good time to downsize your entire lifestyle. Anyhoo, that’s a whole other blog post.

PS: While I am saving, I am still a fair distance away from being able to buy a much needed new computer, consider contributing to the BGIM computer beg-a-thon. It is still happening. At this point if I can raise even half the cost of the computer, I may be able to handle the rest myself.  Just a reminder, as always no pressure.

It’s okay to be mediocre

12 Aug

We are living in crazy times here in the US, many of our fellow country men and women are struggling to survive to the point where just keeping food on the table is a struggle. Yet at the same time many of us are still playing our role as the ultimate consumers. Fancy meals, coffee drinks (yeah, I am guilty of this one), standing in line to get the newest and latest iGadget, all the outward signs of success. I often wonder how many of us can really afford these things? Make no mistake, I know not everyone is struggling but most of us are living in denial. If we lost our jobs and didn’t find one in six months or so our world would collapse.

Yet despite the grim statistics that in this new America a permanent underclass is being created where a good 10% of us at any given time will be jobless and many more are underemployed. We still cling to the dream that we must achieve success and that well… success will include climbing the corporate ladder or maybe the non-profit ladder or owning our own business. Success is often defined by what we have rather than by who we are and frankly I think that is fucked up.

Social media allows me to stay connected enough to remind me that the second reason why I chose to move to Maine was that I wanted to get off the hamster wheel. Prior to our move to Maine and the eventual downsizing of our life, the Spousal Unit and I worked hard to the point early on we had a patch where work was fucking with our marriage. A boss who does not give a damn that your wife is sick has a funny way of creating tension in a marriage especially when your presence is requested on a Sunday just so you can sit in the office and be on call for a client. When the Spousal Unit was fired from his lovely well paid position at a Big 4 firm, it was the beginning of a turning point in our marriage that turned out to be preparation for life in Maine. Yet because we made the conscious decision that our marriage and family was more important than anything else I suspect its one of the biggest reasons that we have weathered the financial storms of life.

In many ways we have reached the point where we are okay having less, that as long as our basic needs (and I admit we are defining basic a bit broadly), are met that we are fine. In a world that says mediocrity and settling is bad we are at the place where we are ok with settling professionally and even financially when our personal life is so rich. It’s funny because the past few months have been some of the best times personally for us as the kidlet has gotten older and a bit more predictable (i.e. regular bedtime).

Last night before I drifted off to bed, I told the Spousal Unit that I was content with our life and he replied that he wished he could do more for us, like rehab this 127 year old dungeon we call a home. I won’t lie, it would be lovely to just hire contractors to fix this place but I am happy to just have a home and more importantly a home that is paid off, the rest will come in time.

To my young readers and maybe not so young readers, I guess what I am trying to say is life is too fucking short to spend your time chasing shit that won’t really make you happy. Sometimes we set goals of things we think will change our life and guess what? Those things often aren’t all they are cracked up to be. Instead happiness must come from inside, true its hard to be happy when your belly is empty and you are sleeping on a park bench but the fact is if you got a place to lay your head, food, and more importantly you have good people in your life that is the shit that matters.

I guess in some ways this may seem strange coming from someone who is holding a beg-a-thon to get a new computer after all if I had a better job I could just go out and buy the damn thing. But while that would be nice, the fact is even this blog is a labor of love that I could not do if I were tethered to some high paying gig, thus not having the chance to meet all you fabulous folks who read my ramblings. So don’t let others define who you are by what you have or don’t have, know that you are fabulous no matter what!

I need your help

2 May

It’s been a while since I have mentioned my finances or frugality in this space, in part because things are not too tight and I have to admit, I have fallen off the frugality wagon. Oh, it wasn’t intentional but lately I realized that I have not been picking up the Sunday paper and clipping coupons, nor have I been shopping the sales. I admit part of it has been because the Spousal Unit and I have both been pretty busy with work and well time is money. I would like to save money on the other hand I have been earning money and what time I have had, I really have not felt like spending clipping coupons and searching for the best deals.

However I have a dilemma and for some reason am just unable to make a decision and stick to it. Next month, elder boy graduates from high school, to recap elder boy decided several years ago to move back to the Midwest with his Dad, they actually live not too far from my hometown in Chicago. I admit months ago when I was thinking about his graduation, I figured I alone would attend, not that the Spousal Unit was not interested in attending, but these things often have a limit on the number of tickets you can get and we figured between, me, elder boy’s Papa, and a few other key family members that the hubster just would not be attending.

Well elder boy made a request of me sometime ago and that was to have both his sister who is his only biological sibling and the Spousal Unit to attend. The Spousal Unit was delighted to be asked to attend and it speaks volumes to the love elder boy has for Spousal Unit who is technically his step-Papa.

So we are all excited to go, but now we are dealing with logistics and frankly cold hard cash. The question that I need your help with dear reader is do we drive or do we fly? The distance is about 1200 miles one way or 2400 miles round trip. I originally figured we would fly but I have to be honest while I pay for plenty of plane tickets for elder boy, I have not flown since my Mama passed away six years ago. No interest, desire or until recently cash to go home or anyplace. So I started pricing out 3 adult tickets since the kidlet gets no break in price despite being only 4, it also seems that since I last flew, paying to check bags is now the norm on most airlines except Southwest. Now the graduation is not in Chicago, so if we fly we not only need to pay for a hotel and of course grub, but we would also have to rent a car. I also priced out the fact that since the best deals heading to the Midwest are not from my local airport but Boston’s Logan airport, we would have to pay to park the car. Holy Moly, unless I read the price list wrong for the number of days we would be gone, parking alone would be close to $100. Damn, shit is high.

So I priced out driving and looking at the advantages of driving our car, all in all unless gas prices do a major spike between now and the first of June, I would come out a good $300 cheaper than flying.(including motels on the road) There is also the convenience factor of not having to schlep car seats on planes and that nonsense. Maine to the Midwest can be done in 2 days if you make an overnight stop, it’s a drive we have done before and the man doesn’t mind. Granted from the time standpoint it’s a time suck but its coming at a time when the man will be in his slow period for work and thankfully thanks to technology we can still check in our work.

I must admit, the scales were tipped towards driving but now we are split, the man says drive and I say fly. I admit the idea of 2 days in the car with the kidlet is making me a tad scared. So since we cannot come to any agreement, I ask you drive or fly?

Frugality on hold

10 Mar

It’s been a while since I have talked money, partially because I have not been riding the frugality train as hard as I had been in the past. Things have started to look up with regards to income, of course that’s the life of a freelancer. Some years the Spousal Unit has had a great yearas a freelance writer and editor and then there are years like the past few where things have been tighter than…use your imagination.

Seriously though, I realized that while the past year we survived, we put a lot of things off that needed to be taken care of and recently have been playing catch up. The man and I broke down and got much-needed eyeglasses, truthfully he needed them more than me since I wear contacts but I always like to have a pair of recent glasses around for those days when my eyes are not feeling like wearing contacts.

While I have enjoyed thrift store shopping the fact is there are some items I am just not buying used, so we have been playing catch up with personal items. I must admit though my single biggest splurge was the Tony Lama boots I bought clocking in at $260 with tax. There was a part of me that felt guilty about buying em, but I will be honest I have been wanting a pair of cowboy boots for quite a while, last pair I had lasted a good 5-6 years and they were no name ones. I also have not bought a pair of decent shoes in years and that is not an exaggeration. I used to be a die-hard Dansko wearer, last pair I bought was 4 years ago and they are still going strong with my oldest pair at 12 years still in rotation.

One of the reasons I had not bought shoes aside from not having any extra cash is that I am big believer in you get what you pay for as far as footwear. Yeah, you can go to Payless and get a pair of $20 kicks but my own experience doing so is generally they either fall apart or have my feet hurting. Thankfully my old shoes have lasted and definitely have some life in them but sometimes you want something just because….in this case I have been through financial hell and back in recent years and while there is a temporary lull, I just needed something for me.

Now that we are getting adjusted to having a little more breathing room in the budget, we have no plans to go hog wild but I admit the past few weeks have been nice. I am reminded that having extra cash is nice, sometimes it allows you freedom. This past weekend, we took the girl child to see Nemo on Ice, it wasn’t planned but it came up and she really wanted to go. Just a few months ago, we would have had to say sorry sweetie instead we were able to go and while I found the show boring and all the extras they were selling to be quite costly ($10 for cotton candy? Come on now), I was one again reminded that sometimes life is meant to be enjoyed and money can help that happen.

So its time to get back on the frugality wagon as we prepare for tax season, and some travel plans. How are your attempts at frugality coming for this year? What are you doing in this area?

Potlucks and Race

20 Dec

With the holiday season underway and financial times tough for many folks, everyone is looking for a way to celebrate the holidays without breaking the bank. One of the suggestions that seems to come up often for planning a get together is to make it a potluck style meal. Now obviously the benefits of taking this route are easy to see, no one person gets slammed with the cost of  feeding a gaggle of folks.

I must admit that prior to moving to Maine, the only time I ever encountered a potluck was in the work place. I worked at a few places where my coworkers loved having a potluck lunch…I always thought they were nice but really can’t say I ever went to a potluck style gathering at someone’s house. I never hosted one. Generally anytime I hosted a gathering, I put together the meal and told folks to just bring the drinks.

Yet moving to Maine I have encountered potlucks in pretty much every part of my life. We have them at church, friends have them, even work related gatherings are often potlucks. I have to say that potlucks have allowed me to try foods I would never think about making on my own, some of which have become favorites…cocktail weiners being a big one.

But I have to admit I have often wondered is something as simple as a potluck, a cultural difference? See, among my Black friends even in Maine, very few host potlucks. To be honest, I only know one Black person that will host a potluck and even then she still provides most of the meal with the idea that others will provide the dessert.

Now I gotta be honest, I have asked some of my inner circle their thoughts on why don’t Black folks embrace the potluck as a cheap way to entertain and to be honest, I am not gonna post the replies since frankly they are insulting and not logical. After all lack of hygiene knows no racial boundaries and yes there are plenty of white folks who consider their pets family members but Black folks like animals too and might get a stray hair into the chili as well.

So I ask you dear reader, is a potluck a symbol of a racial and cultural difference? Or is it just a regional difference?

I love the idea of entertaining yet rarely do it because of the cost and most certainly am thinking that potlucks might be a way to entertain without breaking the bank. Yet as a Black woman, I am strangely curiously about why potlucks are not as popular with Black folks as they are with White folks.

See, this is what happens when you are stuck home with a sick child and snow…your mind goes all over the place!

When not to be frugal

18 Dec

This is the type of post you write and you feel a tad hypocritical about sharing, but I am an open book in many instances especially when it comes to my finances. I look at this way, while there are some who would never share as much as I do about my financial life, I hope that by sharing maybe someone will learn something and not make the crazy mistakes I have made in the past.

I realize that for some of my readers much of what I write and share may seem like common sense but let me tell you there a whole lot of folks who when it comes to their finances are fucking clueless. I know, I used to be one of those people. How else can you explain folks in the past few years who made maybe 50-60G’s tops and bought half a million dollar homes? They believed those folks offering the mortgages and never did any research, once upon a time you had to be credit worthy to buy a house so even though folks knew they weren’t when those folks said they were, they bought it. Now many of those folks are losing their homes. Truth is I would have been one of them had it not been for some serious blessings that rained down upon us.

But I am not talking houses, I am talking about my car situation. Yesterday, the Spousal Unit and I bit the bullet and got financing and bought a late-model SUV…people who know me personally know this is a huge deal for us. First off, for years I have referred to SUV’s as FUV’s…fuck you vehicles. Reason being, a large portion of folks I have observed driving them drive like assholes. I know not nice but oh well. In some way I just had a mental block against them.

So how did a person who goes from striving to live cheaply decide to buy a car that is a lot more money and most certainly not as light on gas as our previous car? Well, we had discussed the fact that if our options for a car came down to financing one that we needed to get something that truly met our needs. It was one thing to pay cash for a clunker and live with the fact that it wasn’t quite what we needed, it was another thing to commit to payments and still have a car that required us to rent trucks and vans from time to time.

See, my son elder boy is 6’3 and in our past 2 cars he has been very uncomfortable, with the addition of girl child it’s been even tighter than before. It also does not help that periodically I shop for my job and end up in a pinch scraping rides because our car was too small. Then there is the fact that the Spousal Unit observed that with my car phobia I am much more relaxed in large cars. I hate being enclosed and anytime I am in a larger car, its much nicer so the Man has been hoping this means I will think about driving more and making him drive less. Of course there is the matter that I have no idea how to park my land yacht but I will figure it out.

Point of this is, we decided that while being frugal was important it was also important to look at the whole picture and the whole picture means a car that truly fits our needs. While older paid for cars are great, it also helps if the owner is someone who knows how to work on them…sadly neither I nor the man have that skill. So we went for the car that will fit our needs and while gas consumption is a concern we are fortunate that our day to day lives don’t require a great deal of driving. After all, my job is a mile away from the house and the Spousal Unit’s office is in our house and we are still a one car family.

Sometimes cheapest does not always equal best and as I strive to live within my means, I am learning it’s still a work in progress. There are times when the cheapest option is not the best and the most frugal option may require spending a tad more cash…sort of like shoes. I find that when I buy a good quality pair of shoes, say a pair of Dansko’s the initial outlay of cash hurts but $100-130 on a pair of shoes that can last at least 6-7 years turns out to be a good deal.

How Low Could you Go?

14 Dec

I know, I know…you are probably tired of hearing me talk about money. Well considering it’s the season when most of us lose our heads in the quest to give the best gifts we can (or cannot) afford I figure you can never talk enough about money.

I have been reading this blog almost since it’s inception, I think I mentioned here once before. Basically it’s about a family that lives off $1000 a month! Yes, you read that correctly a thousand dollars a month. Long story short, it’s a married couple with 3 small kids, they live here in Maine and actually seem to do ok. Ok at least as defined by the blogger.

I must admit that while I strive to reduce debt and be frugal that there is no way I could live off that little, hell I couldn’t do it as a single Mama almost 17 years ago. That said, while there are a lot of choices this family makes that I couldn’t see doing personally, I have to admire their desire to live within their means…even when they don’t have much.

This weekend, while I was happy to have solved the car problem without going into debt, I must admit I was having a bit of a pity party. See, I busted my ass to get my bonus from work. If you read this and you know me personally, you know the work I do and at times how grueling it is. I love it but at the same time it leaves me drained. This organization has never given the director a bonus…so you know a sista was grinding away to get that extra cheddar. (translation, I worked hard as hell to convince them to give me a bonus).  Now I had not planned anything specific other than to visit family with that cash, I had planned on there being some cash left over for Mama to have some fun. Fun? Oh yeah, simple shit I no longer do like getting nails done and actually a trip to get my hair done since the fro has gone crazy. Well all that is history at this point thanks to the car situation.

Now I know I should be grateful that we were able to resolve the car problem yet human nature being what it is, I was feeling pissy yesterday and realized what a hypocrite I can be at times. Hell, I was just telling my sibling the other day you have to focus on what you have and not what others have….great advice, even better if I were to heed it myself. Truthfully I do a great deal of the time, but this weekend was not one of those times.

This morning though as I made the rounds to blogs I read while I feed my coffee habit, I was once again struck with how some folks are seemingly able to make do on so little and appear to be content. So I wondered again, what would it take for me to be one of those folks? I don’t have the answer yet but I am thinking about it and when I figure it out I will be sure to share, in the mean time I ask you, could you live on a thousand bucks a month and be content? If so, why? If not, why?

Problem solved and no debt incurred

11 Dec

Well readers you can breath a sigh of relief that you no longer have to hear about my car woes. The Spousal Unit and I were able to find what we hope will be a trusty car. I ended up contacting a local well-known used Volvo dealer and repairman and he had a car that fit our price range. Long story short, we bought it and it was just inspected so all should be well.

Now if you are a regular reader you know how much I hate the idea of incurring more debt since I am digging out of the mountain that I have been under for a while. So part of my fear was that our need for a car was going to make us slaves to a monthly payment and frankly that thought scared me shitless.

I have to say it was a lovely feeling to buy a car using cash and knowing that aside from maintenance issues which of course you would have with any car, that we are not going further into debt. While the car purchase has pushed back my family travel plans I have to say there is something to be said for living within ones means. Besides I even have a couple bucks left over from my year-end bonus so I really can’t complain.

So thanks to everyone who weighed in previously on the car situation and have a lovely weekend.

Best plans tossed aside by Murphy

4 Dec

I am in full vent mode today, so if I sound crazy it’s because my plans have been tossed aside by that bitch named Murphy. Regular readers know I am struggling to reduce my debt and live a more frugal life. It’s been going fairly well despite falling off the no Starbucks wagon. It’s those damn Peppermint Mochas that come out only in winter, they are so good and work is so stressful and well after work I like to unwind with a hot beverage. Yeah, I can make a Chai at home but damn those Peppermint Mochas are great. Thankfully I have been keeping to the budget in every other way so I am trying not to feel too guilty.

Well December in addition to being Christmas which we celebrate and generally requires me to spend some cash, it’s also car inspection time for us. What that means is we take the car to the mechanic and he determines whether or not we get the state required sticker that legally allows us to drive our car. Now being the good planner I strive to be these days, I had planned for this event using last year’s repair costs as the gauge for how much cash to save for this blessed little event. Turns out I got it wrong….very very wrong.

To repair our 12-year-old car and keep her on the road legally is going to cost a minimum of almost $1300 and I say minimum because there is one repair that Mechanic Man says he can’t give us the price on until he starts doing the work. Um….to say I was stunned and pissed is an understatement. Now we bought ole Bessie from a friend several years ago after our other car died after a very long stint with us. When we bought this car, it was a good alternative to going into debt since we had gone that route before and frankly I have decided I hate car payments. Getting a car on a 5 year loan seems like a great idea but for us it sucked. Problem is the cash car has been a bit of a money pit and now I am trying to plan our next steps.

Part of me wants to just pay the cash and fix ole Bessie but not having an exact price makes me very skittish, there is also the fact this car is as comfortable as a Cracker Jack box and is really too small for our family. On the other hand, I only have about 2G’s to buy a car in cash and at the moment, I am not running across a great deal of selection since thanks to the lovely Cash for Clunkers program, a lot of really decent used cars got taken out of circulation. So whereas at the beginning of the year I saw some decent cars for a couple grand, now that is not the case. Which leaves option three, go to a dealer and get a car and a car payment. Now as a member of the less than stellar credit club that means I will get a shitty deal as far as financing and as a member of the get the fuck out of debt club that pains me.

Problem is I live in Maine, a place with not a great deal of options when it comes to getting around sans a car. It’s possible but not really. I mean this ain’t NYC, Boston or Chicago. Plus I have a job, so as you can see I have a problem. The only upside is I have until the end of the month to solve it so I have time to explore my options but really barring a fabulous used car made in this decade, that is available for 2G’s, my options are not great.

So trusty reader, I ask you, what would you do in this situation? Do you take a chance and keep ole Bessie and sink a ton of cash into a 12 yo old car or do you decide enough is enough. Is this a good case for incurring some debt for a ride? Decisions….

Schemes to part us from our loot

30 Nov

As further proof that I need to rename this blog old black chick in Maine, I have only recently learned about the Kindle reading device. I had heard about it a while back and knew that it was a reading device but after hearing a few folks recently debate the merits of the Kindle versus the Nook, I figured I would find out what the hype was all about.

Let me state for the record that I am a voracious reader, I love books, I love to read. Never am I reading less than 2-3 books at a time. We as a family are on a first name basis with the library, going at least 2-3 times a week. I admit there was a time when I used to pass by the library instead to spend money at bookstores. Yet in 2007 when our financial tide shifted I was reintroduced to the joys of the library and have been a fan ever since. I will buy a book, but generally only if it’s a very specific book that I will either use as a reference guide or something I really want to own.

Yet as someone who always travels with a book in my bag, I thought maybe it would be great to have less weight in my bag, which is why I was checking out the Kindle. So if I have done my reasearch right, it appears that the starting price is $259 for the basic device, and then I have to start buying something to read on my device. Now I admit the magazine subscription prices seemed reasonable, I love magazine but I canceled almost all my subscriptions instead choosing to borrow them from the library. The few publications I still buy are quarterly so the cost isn’t too bad especially if I find a friend willing to loan me their copy.

What got me though was the cost of New York Times bestsellers, they were going for $9.99, I saw a few for $14.99 but I was told you can find inexpensive stuff to buy as well. Oh really? Once I started adding up how much my reading habit would cost to go Kindle, let’s just say I had a laugh and decided I will be sticking with the local library and the occasional visit to the local booksellers.

I think for folks making a comfy financial existence, who travel a bit and love to read, the Kindle might be a good idea. However for most of us regular Jane and Joe’s, I am not sure its a great idea. From a purely financial standpoint, it’s definitely not a great idea, after all in most places access to the library is free or there is only a very minimal cost to check out items.

No, the Kindle like so many other gadgets that we think we must have, seems to be another scheme to part us from our money.