Archive for November, 2007

It’s that time of year I love to hate

Presents and people cloud my mind.   Thoughts of this last year combine.  Frugal this and fritter that.  Plans that worked and what’s left undone.  Life in the present or future fun. 

So here we are on the door of December and choices have to be made.  Each year it gets harder to decide what to do about the gift giving thing.  My personal past is replete with spending beyond my means and then covering the dismay I feel at being further in debt by remembering the effect that each gift had on the receiver.  I really do like to see other people happy.  Unfortunately, this personality trait has been and continues to be a major cause in keeping me from really being debt free.

However, I have to say that this last year my awareness of frugality has been a major help in getting ready for this season of gift giving.  For one thing, I don’t have any credit card debt and for another, I actually have set aside an emergency fund of sorts that (I know I shouldn’t think of Christmas as an emergency) I can now tap into to ease my way through.  T. and I also have talked over the situation too and come to the conclusion that waiting for the after sales is a good idea.  What I hope is that waiting will work like the count to ten rule and keep us from actually buying things we don’t need.

What is a complimenting factor is that she and I are spending more and more time working on and discussing all of the things that go into our life together.  So as stressful as this time can be, it is also a great time to recognize how life at least on a personal level is good. 

Now if we could just end this war and bring our troops home.

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Headlines . . .

I read yesterday that the parliamentary government of Iraq plans to increase the country’s budget to 43 Billion next year based on the expectation that oil prices will keep rising.  Boy, did we bring that country into the capitalist society or what? Meanwhile, the current US economy which is suffering the effects of an economic downturn (in the polemics of our ruling party’s press guide) appears now to be ready for a bear market.  What is fun is watching the two sides of our culture wars marshal their forces.  On the one side is the media and the constant barrage of ads aimed at getting us ready and willing to spend/charge our way to apparent prosperity.  On the other is the blogosphere where Buy Nothing Day is calling us all to the Frugal side.  I guess the winner will be evident in the sales results of the soi disant Black Friday.  The quandry we all share is that as recession sets in we are going to be faced constantly with the choice of how to play our part.  Do we spend in order to keep the machine rolling or do we save to protect our futuresDo we continue with our internal dialogues through the personal finance arena or do we vocalize our position to the world in general?  Do we co-op or do we WalMart?   All I can see from here is the news about the union strikes in the US and in France, and the financial troubles in the lending market in the US and in England.  It strikes me that our political leaders are caught up in their own particular party needs just when our country wants something much more from them.  It’s almost not funny Magee.

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Sticking to a plan

In the past I have always found that whatever eating strategy I might be following at the time, it stills falls to the wayside when the turkey hits the table and the pie scent, of pumpkin or apple, fills the room.  So this year I find myself rather eager to see how my Drink Up plan stands the test.  I like the idea that I have already started developing a habit of eating one meal a day, after all, that’s what I usually try to do on turkey day anyway.  Save up the space for the one big meal. 

Meanwhile, on the saving’s plan, we are rapidly approaching the first plateau of $2,000.  So I have now started to look at the options starting with the links below:

I’ll let you know what I discover.

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You Have Got To Be Kidding

Opened up my Sunday LA Times, and guess what popped up as a headline topic in the Business section.  Your Money Holiday Shopping Guide, the newspaper’s guide to spending money during the holiday season.  It starts off by telling us about a woman who teaches her children to make cookies by having them help decorate store bought ones while telling them “Isn’t it fun making cookies?”  She promises that after just a few tellings, they’ll actually believe that’s how you make cookies. 

The thing is the article promises that its tips will help “reduce stress, save money, and rethink the status quo”.  And though lying to your kids tops the list as a teaser, the rest of the listing gets pretty interesting.  Under the heading of Saving Money  the suggestion is to limit your self to what you net after taxes in three working days.  The idea being that you should be able to recoup that amount by the end of January.  I like the suggestion to incorporate frugality into the buying process.   Buy early, buy by shopping for the best price for the best quality, and stop before you reach your limit. 

The article goes on with advice about keeping in the spirit of the season, finding the best way to ship, and then under saving time, it suggests (honestly) to regift someone with a present you received but never opened.  And then just when you think it couldn’t get  any better it tells you to Skip the Mall and head to Maui.  After all, whats better at Christmas than thinking about your self.

Ah well, at least there is some redemption in the final section, there they list a host of possible charities that may be the best way to spend your holiday spirit.

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Dizzy City

My teachers at school were always happy to tell me that we were studying history so as to learn from it.  In Dizzy City, Nicholas Griffin gives us a story that reminds us that those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.   Unfortunately, that coin has two sides.  In this novel we follow in the steps of a young and brash London lad who is taken off the streets of his city and sent with three of his friends to fight in France in WW I.  When they are all lost to him in a disastorous bomb strike, he uses his street smarts to get as far away from war as he can.  This flight brings him to the dizzy city of New York.  However, before he knows it, he finds himself right back in the war only this time he’s involved with the profiteers not the soldiers.  Benjamin Cramb is caught up in a world that is much bigger than he can imagine and as he struggles to understand and survive we are reminded of two things that history has brought us.  War is where many of our richest families got their financial start – making munitions, much like the gun makers in Texas  today, and selling them to which ever side has the money.  And the shocks of war can produce a Johnny Got His Gun result even though the exterior person looks okay.

As I read today’s news, the story of the war in Iraq and the fact that somehow we are spending 12 and a half million dollars an hour, I realize that history is repeating and just like Ben, I feel just as powerless to stop it.  The people who learned from history are still making money and the people who didn’t are still dying because of it.

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Connecting things up . . .

As you probably don’t know, I also write another blog that has to do with dancing and as it happens since I am in that business there are times when what comes up there should also come up here.  That’s definitely the case with Kristin Lewis’ article in the December, 2007 issue of Dance Spirit Magazine.  Her article on page 92 is called Money Matters and in it she lists 19 ways to survive on a shoestring budget.  From pack your lunch to skip the fancy coffee to get a job with perks her advice rings true and accurately describes the real world of making a living especially when you are just starting out.  Her advice is targeted for the dancer who needs a second job to support them while they are working on becoming a success but that doesn’t mean it wont help us all.  Never charge basic living expenses to your credit card is one tip that really hits home with me.  One month of putting my gas purchase on a card can cost me a year of budgeting to try and pay it off.  Buy a Brita.  “3 months of bottled water – $93, 3 month Brita filter – $8.99, reusable water bottle – $2” also hits home since I still have the Aquifina habit going on.  And I really like #16, They don’t call it happy hour for nothing – look around your city, check out how many hotels and restaurants offer happy hour buffets where you can get a great meal at sometimes just the cost of a beverage.  Added benefit, you can bring your friends.

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Two dollar bills

I collect them occasionally because I like to think they’re lucky.  So this article in the Utne Reader gave me a lot to chuckle about especially since I run a small business that might be able to use this same strategy.  It’s about how the lap dance community (I know, who knew there even was one?) has developed a strategy whereby they only give change in $2 bills.  Which means that their tip income suddenly doubles.  Meanwhile, T. added to my pleasure by telling me her discovery about one of the side benefits to getting a Borders gift card.  Since she no longer has to use cash, she also no longer finds herself dropping a handful of change or worse a dollar bill into the tip jar.  I bet they didn’t think about that when set it up.  As a matter of fact, the whole tip jar thing has become a botherment to me.  The person at the counter isn’t a waiter, doesn’t serve me anything beyond what the job entails and yet here I am giving them a reward as though they did something special.  This seems to me like the company that is employing them is ripping us both off.  The company pays the employee minimum wage and charges the customer full price for its services.  If there were tip jars at every cash register I could maybe understand it, but they are only at the food counter where the store can count on us having the tipping habit.  Actually when you think about it this really means that the food counter people are earning a bonus.

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Carrying Out a Plan

If there is one thing I have learned as this blogging life has grown, it is that wanting to do something isn’t the same as doing it.  When I think about losing weight, I want to be thinner but, guess what, without following a plan that leads to changing my eating habit so that I eat less, I’ll still be wanting when I step on the scale.

But stepping on the scale is a part of my plan, so I had better get doing or get ready to be depressed.  Yes, you read it right.  I step on the scale first thing in the morning (right after I pee) to start the day and at night just before crawling under the covers with T.  I even do it in the middle of the day sometime.  Here’s the deal.  Quite a few people will tell you that losing weight is a mental process and that the scale can make that process harder because the progress you are looking for doesn’t always show up.  It becomes the reason to quit and go binge so that you’ll feel better.  But just like in everything else that is part of a plan, you really do need to monitor what is happening.  Check your weight, see how much looser your clothes are, and keep a chart on the way things change from week to week, month to month.  Remember you are creating a new habit and you want it to last a life time. 

Matter of fact you might even try this new service to keep yourself on track.  Yes, that’s right, get creative and have fun, and email yourself about the various elements of your plan of which you want to keep track.

Meanwhile, keeping track of money isn’t something either T. or I do naturally.  We both deal with lot of cash transactions daily and are used to paying as we go.  Our new saving’s plan is helping us with this.  As mentioned before, we are in it together and making some nice progress.  This week we reached $1400 in our account and we have started looking into where we want to put this first lump sum when it reaches $2000 by mid-December.  And no, it wont be going into Christmas presents unless we want to consider the reaching of the goal itself as a present.

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A Funny Thing Happened

It has to do with trying to understand this coming election.  I want to believe that all the talk and all the apparent discovery through the debate/caucus process is going to yield someone that I can believe in to do the right things for this country.  Not just the right thing for some individuals but for the whole country.  But for that to happen the world as we know it has to change and that my friend doesn’t happen so easily.  The funny thing is that it does appear that we on the internet blog whirl are becoming the center of whatever it is that is going to happen, and that to me is really funny.  All my writing life I have been trying to reach the world and now because of the internet it is reaching out to me.

Meanwhile, this editorial  in the LA Times caught my attention.  In it an exiled (I can guess why) Iranian discusses and dissects the current government of Iran and its foreign/domestic policy as a double standard lie.  The thing is, that if you replace the country named Iran in the article with one named the current government of the US you may see some startling parallels in the practices of each.  I have to believe that people who think about the US and Iran and probably China too, have a really hard time seeing any real differences.

But the funniest thing that happened is that T and I sat down together and watched the Democratic Debate on CNN instead of the NBA game between Dallas and San Antonio.  I can only hope my friends don’t find out.  But that isn’t the only thing that makes me smile.  We really enjoyed listening to and watching the whole interaction though I have to say the most fun was listening to Kucinich and watching CNN try to amp up the animosity they hoped to find amongst Clinton, Obama and Edwards. 

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Planning and diets as Partners, pt.2

It has been a week of ups and downs.  Last Friday, as we were totally up our week’s expenses, T. told me she felt sick.  We spent the day nursing her at home but by midnight things were going south.  Next thing we knew, we were in the emergency ward at Scripps and she was taking a CT scan.  Lucky for us that our company has a health care plan.  Monday, her regular MD referred her to specialist and he put her on an immediate diet to prep for a colonoscopyon Wednesday.  Talk about your emergency funD.

Anyway, our plans in other regards have been moving along just fine.  We now have $1250 in our shared savings account and between us we have lost 33 lbs, 13 for her and 20 for me.  More importantly though, we both have expressed the feeling that the planning is turning into a habit.  Awareness of frivolous spending and cognizance of eating more than we need are becoming, in just the short month since we began, a comfortable habit.

And I am really liking the savings and the feeling of thin that comes when I rub her stomach.

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