Category Archives: money

A tribute, of sorts

WWII Poster for Victory Gardens

WWII Poster for Victory Gardens

My great-great-Uncle passed away this last weekend. He was my great-grandmother’s brother, and a charming man. I had not seen him since I was a young child, but we all heard updates about the former World War II pilot still flying his plane into his 90s. He was quite a character, and he will be missed very much by his family.

Uncle Dick’s death provides a good segue into something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. The World War II veterans are, sadly, leaving us. Along with their generation goes an entire generation of people who know what it means to sacrifice for one’s country while it is at war. I look around, as our country’s troups fight what seems to be an impossibly long war, to see an economy collapsing because of greed, to see Hummers and SUVs barreling down the road, to see restaurants full and credit cards used to the max.

I realize this is an unpopular war. I realize that feelings toward the admnistration are not, shall we say, all warm and fuzzy. But irregardless of that, we have our young men and women fighting for their lives, for our lives, and for what they feel is the best course of action. We should be supporting them better than what we have been doing. Ignoring the far-away war and not changing our own behaviors as the country goes bankrupt fighting it is abhorent.

I realize I’m oversimplifying a bit. But I’m ok with that. Point is, back in the day, when Uncle Dick was flying over the battlefields of World War II, people back at home were scrimping and saving and reusing everything so that our country would be stronger in the end. Women knitted clothing for themselves and the soldiers. Home-grown food was canned–at home. Metal was scrupulously reused and rationed. People didn’t consume, consume, consume. That was not their way of life. And, partly due to their efforts, our country was strong after the war.

What are our soldiers coming home to now? A country that prefers to pretend they don’t exist. Households that wouldn’t know what to do with a mason jar and purchase everything that is shiny and new. Households that have consumed their way into the collapse of our economy (and yes, I know it’s largely a part of Wall Street policies, but Wall Street had to have people willing to buy its policies). It makes me very sad.

I’m a pacifist; I hate war. But I still think we need to start doing our part to support the people that are out there fighting it and support our country. Clearly our government is not going to strengthen us, we have to do it from the ground up. And that means adopting some of the behaviors that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers perfected: using less, going without, and being grateful for the small pleasures in life that such sacrifices do allow. Let’s get back to a more frugal, balanced way of life. Let’s get back to the things that once made this country stronger and respected.

In honor of Uncle Dick and his generation, I plan on canning some food this weekend, and I’m making all of my Christmas gifts this year. Small changes, but hopefully that will make some difference, not the least to my checking account. What can you do?

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For richer or for poorer

I admit to being completely baffled by the number of divorces that occur due to couples not communicating well regarding money.  The way I see it, from date number one you both are entering a dialogue about money.  If you’re out to dinner, you communicate about who pays for what.  If the first date is a walk in the local park, you’re communicating about a low-cost lifestyle.  Even if you’re not having an explicit conversation about your views on money and everything that goes along with that, by your very actions you are communicating about finances.

Obviously, as time goes on in a relationship the need to have specific conversations about finances deepens.  This is so very important.  If you are not doing so in your relationship, and you think you have a future together, sit down with your partner immediately and start a dialogue.  What are their financial priorities?  Do they line up with yours?  If they do not, what is a valid compromise that satisfies both parties?

Having open communication about money, and keeping that line of communication open over the years, will solve many a problem before it even starts.  Take Spouse and I, for example.  We’ve been together seven years, married over three, and we’ve never once had an argument about money.  Read that again: not once.  We’ve purchased cars, a home, home improvements, student loans, and retirement accounts together–and never had a problem.

Is this to say we will never fight about money?  Of course not.  But–and this is the key–when we first started combining finances we agreed on our priorities, the basic structure of our finances, and we keep each other updated on a weekly basis (or more frequently, as needed).  Communication is key–and BOTH parties need to be involved, no matter who is in charge of managing the money.

Do it for yourself.  Do it for your relationship.  Tonight after dinner, grab your bank statements, a bottle of wine (if you so desire), and your partner.  Start out with some basics:

  • I’d like to take a look at our finances together and talk about our plans for the future.
  • Where is our money now?  What patterns do we see in our spending?  What would we like to change?
  • What are our goals for the next month?  The next year?  The next ten years?
  • What is our biggest financial priority?  How can we make that a reality?

And remember, this is an open discussion!  No blaming, no anger–just start from where you are now.  Don’t worry about the past; it’s in the past.  Focus on where you want to go, and how you both can make that happen.  And don’t be afraid.  Even the darkest nights have a dawn.

If your discussion causes alarm, there is help.  I recommend:
“Knee Deep in Debt:” A Guide from the Federal Trade Commission
Dave Ramsey’s Website I am not officially endorsing his products or services, but I do know he is very popular among the debt blogging community and a lot of people really value his advice.

The No-Credit-Needed Blog, one of the Money Network blogs, has some great ideas–as do all the blogs in the network.

Add your favorite financial management/debt blogs in the comments!

~K

Another Idea I Wish I’d Had First . . .

Spouse works full-time and goes to school. I take care of all his textbook purchases and such, because left to his own devices he would just go to the school bookstore while I, the Pennywise Librarian, will scour the entire internets to get the best penny-saving deal.

That is what I found myself doing yesterday, when I found this site. It was as if the heavens had opened. Chegg.com lets you rent your textbooks!!! What a fantastic idea! No more paying way more than you wanted to, only to later be stuck with a book that you can only sell for a quarter. I was quite excited. They don’t have everything, but they have enough to make a major impact on our book-buying budget.

Now, I haven’t used their service yet, so I can’t officially recommend them, but I can at least spread the word and save other starving college students some cash.

~K

Where finances and perspective meet…

I have just finished two books about cutting back and spending less: Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine and Give It Up! My Year of Learning to Live Better with Less by Mary Carlomagno.

For one year, Judith Levine gives up things that aren’t necessities. She doesn’t buy q-tips, wine, or pre-made salad mix. She tries repairing her old stuff in lieu of buying brand new. She eats in, she rides her bike, she even joins a group for people interested in voluntary simplicity. When her niece graduated from college, Judith and her significant other put their heads together and came up with a priceless gift that cost them nothing at all. She is honest, funny, and analytical about the entire process. She even let’s you know that she slipped twice (a cute pair of pants and a resale shop outfit).

BUT HERE IS THE BEST PART – She totally boasts about what libraries have to offer! Because when she needed free entertainment or wanted to make hand-made gifts, guess where she found books, events, and information??? Ms. Levine is a total champion for libraries as an invaluable resource for the cost-free entertainment.

I liked her ingenuity and I liked that she provides insight into how she got more from purchasing less. (For instance, who knew going to the museum on “free night” could be so fun?). You can visit her website and blog at http://www.judithlevine.com/

Give It Up! did not impress me as much. For one month each year the author gave up the following: alcohol, shopping, elevators, newspapers, cell phones, dining out, television, taxis, coffee, cursing, chocolate, and multitasking. Now clearly she wasn’t just giving up financial things, she was also giving up some habits. I liked her sense of humor and approach to things at times, but something kept nagging at me as I was reading. Then I got it…her attempt at giving things up and living with less is how I have to live daily. I’m not holier-than-thou or anything, don’t get me wrong. I love to swear, I multitask like a fiend, and I have never met an elevator I didn’t like, but my financial situation forces me to live a certain way. I guess I was looking for a book on saving cash and what I got was a book written by a New Yorker who pared herself down to the standards by which most Mid-westerners (and especially Michiganians) are living. It just kind of makes you feel a bit dismayed and even resentful.

Now in poor Mary’s defense, she is funny and speaks with great candor. She asks herself (and her friends) some tough questions (like, why do you feel compelled to drink when you hang out?). She is founder of Order, a clutter control and organization company and I’m looking forward to a book about that from her because the website is interesting. But at the end of the day, our financial perspectives are too different for me to really like the book.

For my next literary adventure I’m waiting for a book about America’s Cheapest Family to come through inter-library loan. I bet the pendulum will be swinging to the other extreme and I’ll be sneering at them too! Well, I’ll let you all know.

– C

Hey, they do that with ransom too!

It’s always been a trend for gas stations to give you a less expensive price if you buy a bad car wash.  But more and more in the Metro Detroit area I am seeing signs that you can get the cheaper gas if you pay in cash.

Just a thought…but don’t they do that when someone is kidnapped?  “We only want cash…unmarked bills”.  I get to drive my car just a bit further if I pay the gas station in cold, hard cash.  They might as well post the price in letters cut out from magazines.  That’s ransom proper.

I am resigned to the high gas prices…there are far too many elements to the gas game than I can protest, letter-write, or lobby to (God love ya if you do).  But don’t toy with me.  I need to see one price when I am driving by the gas station at 40 miles/hour or else I get confused.

I don’t give you two different answers to reference questions depending on if you paid your taxes via check or cash to the city.  But if you are a gas station owner, maybe I will.  (Ah, spite, it is an evil, evil thing.)

– C

And when I am bad, I am very, very bad.

I read personal finance and frugal living blogs all the time.  I champion the “less-is-more!” cause with like-minded friends.  I make my own bread.  I write on this blog. 

But I have a dark side.  There are times when I want to be–even times when I am–a rampant consumer.   Many people have heard of Dave Ramsey’s “debt snowball” plan.  A lot of people online talk about debt snowflaking.  I want to be out of debt very, very badly.  But I also want a pair of new shoes, some new black pants, that new book out by my favorite author, a new couch for our newly finished basement, and . . .

Clearly, snowballing doesn’t just happen when one is paying down debt.  I think of it this way: I get money–my “snowflakes.”  Many little moneys equal a “snowball.”  I nourish and develop these snowballs until I decide to send them off into the world.  Rolling them down “Hill A” means sending them to various debtors where they continue to pick up speed and more snowflakes in the form of saved interest and lower bills.  Rolling them down “Hill B” means I have a shiny new thing but no more snowball.   I have to start over.

Some weeks I’m really good about staying on Hill A and paying down debt.  This is not one of those weeks. 

On Friday, I got bored and went to Borders.  Borders for librarians is sort of like a liquor store for alcoholics.   On Sunday, I went to an art show.  Have I mentioned that I have a M.A. in Art History?  Art shows are also a particular weakness.  Yesterday was my three-year wedding anniversary–we just had to go out for sushi to celebrate the fact that we still like to be in the same room together.

Today I caught myself fantasizing about buying these so I could essentially wear my slippers everywhere I go.   I also went to Jimmy John’s for lunch.  It’s got to stop!  Tonight I will buckle down, face my worst fears (aka balance the checkbook) and re-commit myself to more fiscally responsible behaviors.

Do you ever find yourself snowballing in the wrong direction?  What are your “self-intervention” strategies?

~K