Author Archives: gloria green entertainment

About gloria green entertainment

Since my undergraduate years in college, I've worked as a Social Worker for the Department of Social Services, a Graduate Assistant in the College of Mass Communication, a University Sports Information Office Intern, an Assistant to the Lieutenant Governor's press secretary, a Public Information Officer for a state agency, a Talent Agent for a large entertainment agency, and now I am the Owner of my own faith-based entertainment company where I am a Consultant, a Speaker, and an Entertainment Executive working in Publicity and Artist Development. Oh and according to an article in Fast Company, I appear to be a part of Generation Flux! {Look it up, you'll enjoy reading the article} In 2012 I started teaching full-time in the Recording Industry department of Middle Tennessee State University, and in 2014 officially became a tenure-track Assistant Professor. I like to tell people who work in the Music Industry "I teach your future employees!" What else can I say?

One of the Ways I “Comfort”

I was a 13 year old 8th grader the first time I learned to make Oatmeal Peanut Butter No-Bake Cookies! This was back when Home Economics was still offered in junior high and high schools across America.

The class wasn’t just about learning to cook, bake, or even sew (something I can’t say I ever accomplished outside of school). But we learned how to plan, how to follow directions, how to measure things (a smart way to show us the importance of math), and even the importance of patience. We learned how essential these skills were not just to running a household, but to personal survival as a whole.

It’s sad when I think about how classes such as these, as well as Shop (something my brothers took and learned basic elements of masonry and carpentry), are no longer being offered at many schools, even though they used to give students the type of life skills that despite all of the modern day smart technology and Artificial Intelligence, we find ourselves still in continued need of.

With everything that’s going on in the world today; and especially in our country over the past several months, stress, anxiety, and depression is at an all time high in America (according to multiple mental health and psychological studies and associations). So it’s no wonder many people are looking for ways to de-stress; to find comfort in the chaos.

Monday morning, I woke up to snow falling, and temperatures below freezing. That’s called an average winter morning in almost half of the country, but for me, it was a “not going in to the office; working from home today” moment. But being the fourth straight day indoors, trying to focus on prepping for the start of a new school semester, and trying not to think about or watch the onslaught of more news coming out about the recent violence and political events, I found myself in need of some immediate comfort; a de-stressing distraction.

Baking came to mind. But going out to buy ingredients to make something was not going to happen. As I tried to keep working to keep my mind off of this sudden desire for something sweet, and kept peeking out the window to see that the snow was actually sticking, I couldn’t shake it.

So I gave in. I went through my cabinets in my mind first; remembering that I had all the fixings for a favorite, quick cookie recipe I used to love — rolled oats, peanut butter, cocoa, sugar, and butter!

As I pulled each ingredient from the refrigerator and cabinet shelves, I was suddenly back in that eighth grade classroom, hearing the voice of a teacher whose name I can’t remember, but whose influence will forever be a part of who I am.

As I watched the butter melt in the large pot, and stirred in the sugar, cocoa, and peanut butter, it was a relaxing state of being as my eyes followed the wooden spoon around in the pot; mindlessly stirring, slowly, and waiting patiently for the mixture to boil.

I thought back to making these no-bake cookies before, when things didn’t work out so well. It was always because I didn’t allow the mixture time to boil long enough before removing from heat and adding the remaining items. So I made sure not to hurry the process this time, allowing all of the bubbles to form, and then starting the clock before the final steps.

After a while, I realized my breathing was slower. My mind was at ease; my thoughts not consumed with all the other stuff weighing me down.

I was in my “comfort zone.”

Within minutes, my no-bake, Oatmeal Peanut Butter cookies were ready to cool for me to later enjoy. And I was ready to return to my desk, back focused on work.

We all need ways to comfort when things start to become too much. Especially while we’re still dealing with this pandemic, forcing continued stay at home and social distancing measures, as opposed to physically connecting with friends, heading out to a movie, or traveling somewhere fun.

Reading a good book, journaling, listening to music, binge watching a new series, cooking, and of course baking — all are great options to help relax, destress, and find a comfort zone to help maintain good mental health.

So when’s the last time you “comforted?”

Only While Supplies Last

I don’t usually put companies on blast. At least not in a public forum. But I woke up this morning with the conversation I had with a Customer Service representative last night still on my mind.

Last weekend, @BathandBodyWorks held its annual candle sale. This wasn’t anything new to them, and I’ve been participating in the enormous savings on their 3-wick scented candles ever since I came across the sale many years ago. Every year, I’d wait patiently for that first weekend of December; get up early and go fight my way through the crowds with others who had done the same. Waiting too late in the day meant getting leftovers, and there were always certain holiday scents I wanted to make sure I got a hold of.

There are usually only two times of year that I actually stocked up on these candles. The December candle event, when I grab the various scents of the season. And the summer Semi-Annual sale, to refresh my house with some of the lighter scents. I’ve talked often about what great birthday, hostess, or housewarming gifts these made; and even for things like Administrative Assistant and Teacher Appreciation Day.

A couple of months ago, I asked a sales clerk if they were still going to have the sale this year, given the Covid-19 climate. She said she was pretty sure they would, but that they would probably be doing it a little differently. While she didn’t reveal what that was, I figured it would probably include a multi-day event; since the thought of trying to cram everyone into a one day event (knowing how high the past numbers of people who participated) seemed unlikely.

So I made my preparations in anticipation of the sale. I resisted participating in the Buy One, Get One Free campaign. Given that their candles are regularly priced at $24.50, that would mean I was paying $12.25 per candle. I even ignored the Buy Three Get Three storewide sale, because that would have meant paying $73.50 for six candles — which was the same thing as Buy One Get One (I guess they don’t think some of us actually do the math before pulling out our wallets).

I knew from previous years that the candles would be ten dollars or less. When I first started participating, they were on sale for $8.95. Last year, they were $9.95 — a price that, absent of a coupon, I was still willing to pay; not just for one, but for many. I even tried to persuade a friend from ordering some over Thanksgiving (at the “sale price of $14.50); and told her if she could wait just one more week, she could save a lot of money. She was battling pet odors and other smells in her house, and wanted to purchase one of the same scented candle I’d given her (hostess gift) a year ago when she invited me over for Thanksgiving dinner. Purchasing anything that involves scents for someone else can be tricky. So I was happy that she liked that one so much she was trying to replace it.

When the email arrived confirming that this year would be a multi-day, weekend event, I went to work on it. I started off trying to order through the company’s website. Time after time, I kept getting a “Technical Difficulties” message. It wasn’t just some “message” popping up. This was an official company designed, blue logo, with Bath & Body Works bags as artwork, type of page that kept popping up saying “try again!” And so I did “try again.” And each time I tried again, I would get a little further into the order before getting the same message. At one point I got far enough to get my credit card information in, but then it wouldn’t process it — and bam! That same pop-up landing page about the website’s technical difficulties appeared!

I wanted to walk away, and just forget about it. But the system already had my credit card information. So I tried again, and again, and again — each time something different — wouldn’t take my billing address; wouldn’t acknowledge the shipping address. I got so frustrated that I grabbed the phone, figuring I could not only make them aware of the website issues, but maybe try to do my order over the phone.

But low and behold…they already knew. While the outgoing message (you know, all the stuff you have to listen to when you call a company, before it finally gets you into the holding pattern where you can hold your breath on whether or not you’ll actually get to talk to a human being), encouraged people to make their orders online, it also acknowledged that “due to the overwhelming response…their website was having technical difficulties .”

Well DUH?!

You had just ONE job to do! And you had NINE months to prepare to do it!

When things are so bad that you have to acknowledge in your own outgoing phone message that your website is having technical difficulties — then let’s just all agree, YOU SCREWED UP! And you might need to replace your IT department!

Finally, I just got into the car. The nearest store was only two miles away, and I had other errands to run anyway. But the lines were as I expected; maybe worse (thank you very much Corona!). No way were candles worth hours of my time and increased Covid risk. I returned home and got back online. As I worked my way through the ongoing “technical difficulties,” I decided to also call at the same time. “Whichever came through first was fine with me.”

As I remain on hold, for what felt like hours, I was finally able to get back into my order; only now I was receiving a message that one of the candles I wanted was out of stock. I didn’t dare to return to the shopping page to try to find a replacement, so I removed it from my order, clicked all the right buttons, and finally — Success! Shortly afterwards, I received a confirmation email for my order. Once I double checked to make sure everything was in there, I hung up the phone. NO. No one ever ended up getting on the line the entire time I was holding. But with my confirmation email, I was free to get on with my day!

But then Monday came!

I received an email, subject line “an important update about your candle order.” The email said “due to overwhelming demand for the event, we’re unable to fulfill some of your 3-wick Candle order — so we wanted to send you an apology now…” That was the message, along with telling me I’ll be receiving a second email. I had no idea how many they couldn’t fulfill or which ones. And what bothered me the most was that their email didn’t offer me a chance to choose a different one to replace the out of stock items.

A couple of hours later, the second email arrived: “Item cancelled from your order,” was the subject line. And wouldn’t you know it, the one candle I wanted the most — “Holiday,” was the one missing from my order! Again, no option for replacing the candle with something else. So later that night, when I finally had a moment to call to inquire about a replacement candle, I did. And I think I’m still in shock as to what the Customer Service representative said.

We’re completely out of the candle,” she said. After I told her I was aware they no longer had the Holiday candle in stock, but I wanted to replace it with an alternative, she repeated “we’re completely out of the candles.” The second time, I heard the plural in her response. But for clarification, since I hadn’t even told her which one I was hoping for, I asked “You mean to tell me your company is completely out of every single candle that you make, in all the scents?” I was being funny, and trying to make a point. Until she responded.

“Yes.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Bath and Body Works was completely out of every single 3-wick candle for their online order — no matter what scent!

How could this be? I thought. Certainly a company that’s been around this long; who’s held this sale and knows the typical response to it for this many years; who HAD to have known there would be a MUCH greater demand for online orders THIS year, given the Coronavirus pandemic…certainly this company would have been prepared with a bigger than normal supply in stock?! After all, people have been posting about putting up their Christmas decorations since Halloween! Even some Psychologists have encouraged people to start their holiday traditions early this year, if they wanted to (with research suggesting the calming effect of holiday decorating the house). And with so many people still working from home, the thought that many people may be burning through their candles at a much faster rate (me included) is like “Freshman Marketing 101” kinda sense!

Why weren’t they fully prepared for this deman?

In talking with Customer Service, I learned that they ran out of candles even before the 3-day event was over! Since my order was placed on the Friday morning (started with five and was already down to just four by the time the order processed through), the fact that I not only am not getting one of the other candles I wanted, but that there are no other candles to even choose from, is just mind-blowing!

What’s more confusing, as well as suspect and frustrating, is that the company held TWO different other candle sales within weeks of the big one (at a higher price, of course). So given that they knew in advance how many candles they’d already depleted from their inventory from those two events, why weren’t additional orders to restock that inventory done? Or the bigger question. Why even have two other events so close to the big one in the first place?!

This just doesn’t make sense. It’s like Starbucks saying they can’t fill your coffee order because the factory is completely out of all types of coffee beans! Who’d believe that?

So, back to last night’s customer service conversation. After determining that what she was saying was indeed that there were ZERO candles in stock, and her hearing my disbelief over that proclamation, she actually said to me “well, it does say ‘while supplies last.'”

I tried to contain myself and measure my next words, understanding that I was talking to an hourly employee whose fault it was not, that the company had run out of product. But I said to her, “don’t say that to another customer!” I went on to tell her that when a company advertises a 3-day sales event, and then runs out of stock within 24 hours; and a customer receives an email saying their item has been cancelled; even after originally getting an email indicating their order had been confirmed, the last thing they want or need to hear from that company is any reference to the “only while supplies last” notion. Because in my mind, the moment they took my credit card information and email confirmed my order, then supplies must have been available at that time. What happened after that is their fault, not mine, or the next customer, who might not respond as nicely as I tried to!

So here we are a week into December, and I’m already halfway through burning the last of my holiday candles from last year. What’s left of my now three of five Bath and Body Works order isn’t scheduled to arrive for another week. And that makes me sad. But I did see that @Kirklands has their holidays candles for $9.99. Maybe they’ll become my new supplier.

Who or What Pays Your Rent?

Unless you’ve been living in outer space, many galaxies away, it should not be news that live entertainment and events as we knew it, have come to a complete halt in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic! 

What does that really mean and who’s being impacted?

People might argue that the pandemic has had an impact on everyone, in almost every area. But while other areas, such as retail shops, restaurants, and bars have been able to reopen; albeit to smaller capacities, live concerts have been left out of that opportunity.

Maybe to the fans, live concerts is just about entertainment. But live entertainment is an industry; it’s a business. And when a business is forced to close and not be able to take in any revenue for over five months, (and counting)…then everyone affiliated with that business will not only lose their jobs, but that loss creates a devastating ripple effect on the community and economy around it.

It might be easy for some to think only about the big headlining artists they’re familiar with; those who tour in arenas and stadiums, who have made millions of dollars over the years. It would be easy to think they’re fine through all of this, and move on.  The truth of the matter is that there are far more young, up and coming, and still establishing artists in the industry than there are “A-listers.” Also, live entertainment employs hundreds of thousands of people who never take the stage to sing or play for the audience. They are the people who work backstage, side stage, and behind the scene to make that show happen. When an artist can’t perform; can’t tour, then that ripple starts with the artist’s payroll — no commissions to be made by their agent, personal manager, or business manager (which then creates a financial shortfall within each of those offices; resulting in the need to let some employees go) — and then it goes much deeper. If the artist isn’t on the road, then neither are their road crews – the band and background singers, the tour manager and production people, and everyone else whose livelihood relies on artists being on the road; such as tour bus companies, trucking companies that transport the artist’ production, pre-tour production people who create the stages and design the sets the artist takes out on the road, and many others.

When live shows aren’t happening, the promoters, who make their money from selling tickets to those shows, aren’t making any revenue. And just like with the artist’s team, the promoter must now make hard decisions of letting people from their own companies go, in addition to money not being spent with vendors who supply sound and lights; or with live event marketing companies who help to promote the show. There’s no money feeding into the local media markets.

Then there’s the direct impact on the concert venues themselves. Small, medium and large clubs, theaters, and arenas have mostly been closed to concerts, resulting in massive layoffs, and buildings sitting empty. Local production people, venue staff, ticket takers, ushers, and concession vendors and workers — are all without the ability to earn their pay check.

The list of the enormous impact of the domino effect from there being no live shows, with no end in sight, is much bigger than can be stated here. But one thing for sure…thousands of artists, musicians, management companies, booking agencies, venue staff, promoters, and road crew people are out of work. And unemployment checks alone, for those who even qualify, isn’t enough.

One such person, whose band was directly impacted by the stop play of 2020 is Katy Bishop DuBois, a former music business student of mine (one of many of my former students who are now having to adjust to their life to their new normal). Her band Maybe April was just taking off, with a new album and tour, when live music stopped. Suddenly, they had shows cancelled, which meant no income.

So when music provides your paycheck, then what pays your rent when the music is gone? And what do you do in the meantime?

Let me let Katy tell you her story and share what she’s been up to since the spring.

 

For information on how YOU can help the live entertainment industry, check out these websites:

https://www.saveourstages.com. https://www.paysmyrent.com  https://www.grammy.com/musicares/get-help/musicares-coronavirus-relief https://www.maybeapril.com

#SaveOurStages  #SaveOurStagesAct  #NationalIndependentVenueAssociation. #RestartAct #MaskNowPartyLater #MusicPaysMyRent #NewNormal #CatchingRaindropsinWaterBuckets

NOTE:  This video interview was done in May 2020, before the US started experiencing a dramatic increase in Coronavirus cases and deaths; further extending the delay of the return to the reopening of live venues. All major music festivals and tours that had been rescheduled for Fall 2020 have been moved to 2021.

Shop Smart. Eat Smarter!

It was fun reading various social media posts from people talking about how much more food they were eating than normal, and listening to their predictions about how much weight they were going to put on doing the social distancing, safer at home time period that we found ourselves in this past spring.

I remember saying to at least one person that they can’t eat what they don’t buy. With so many restaurants that were closed down during those early weeks of the “safer at home”  period, I told her that if she was eating a lot of foods she deemed unhealthy; then it was because she was buying a lot of those foods that were unhealthy. And once they’re in the house, then it is truly challenging to ignore and avoid them; especially during stressful situations. 

I never actually thought about what they were calling the “covid 19,” and I don’t even know anyone who actually put on 19 pounds over the past months. I’m sure there are some of my friends who did gain some weight. For me, Covid-19 aside, I’ve always had one foot in the land of dieting, swearing off sugar or carbs or both, and promises to eat better, exercise, and get more rest. But 2020 has been different. The wake up call of hearing that health, nutrition, and a strong immunity system seemed to be important factors in fighting off the worst of the Coronavirus symptoms was enough for me to give it more than just a “here we go again” try. So I vowed to buy, and therefore eat, as much fresh fruits and vegetables; nuts and seeds; and healthier food choices such as oatmeal and peanut butter, as I could, while in this period of being safe at home.

Knowing that fresh produce does often come with a higher price tag than just grabbing something off the shelf, I made a point of working on my budget; shifting the money I would normally be putting into the gas tank, to help justify spending the extra money on the fresher groceries instead.

It was actually a fun process, picking and choosing things I may not normally eat; at least not on a regular basis. And healthy choices shouldn’t just be what we do when we’re afraid of getting sick. It should become so much of a lifestyle, that we seldom get sick. At least, that’s what I hope to make it for me.

Now, as many of us are sadly living in areas that are heading back towards where we were over three months ago with this virus, the need to stock up on good food items may come back around. But even if it doesn’t, and I certainly hope that’s the case, it doesn’t hurt to invest the time and money into your own health.

Now, if I can just get the whole eight hours of sleep down!

 

 

 

Burnt Toast and a Crock Pot

Recently I was having a texting conversation with a friend of mine who lives in another state. We haven’t seen each other in years, but we manage to stay in touch, like many people, through email, texting, and social media. We’ve been talking a lot more lately with everything going on with COVID-19 in the country.  One of our conversations was on a day when we had both made a quick run to our grocery stores to stalk the pantry and the fridge. We joked back and forth about wiping off the plastic grocery bags with disinfectant wipes. And I laughed when she sent me a picture of her purchases because I had just shot of video of my shopping trip (for an upcoming post), and realized our grocery filled counters looked very similar (mine above; hers below) “right down to the carrot cake mix,” I told her.

After we’d chatted a bit, and I discovered that she shopped weekly in order to keep fresh produce in the house, I asked her how that was working out for her financially, since weeks earlier, she had unfortunately been laid off from her job like so many others resulting from the pandemic’s negative impact on the economy. When we spoke, she was still waiting on her first unemployment check, but we talked about how she’d made it a priority to eat healthy, even through these times when she also had to watch how she spent her money. As we talked more about not only her shopping habits, but cooking, I asked her if she would be open to sharing a little about her ventures to my followers.

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If you’re anything like me, when that lock down took effect, I got worried. I wasn’t too worried about the financial aspects because I knew unemployment would be coming my way. The worry was about eating! OK, I admit it, I’m a lousy cook. My mantra is “I never cook for people I love,” except my ex-husband! How do you think I got rid of him so easily?

I’ve always been a career focused woman without a direction in cooking. I had an awesome boyfriend after my divorce that would cook for me or take me out to dinner. When I lived at home, my mom and dad were the chefs! Dad was an expert on the grill. Mom would make us yummy Slovenian dishes and desserts. Her homemade bread? Well there’s no describing it. But me? I have to buy two loaves of bread just to get two edible pieces of toast because I’m constantly burning them. How do you set those toasters anyway? So complicated.

Being a vegetarian, I don’t have to worry about meats, poultry and fish. But I do get concerned about eating too many carbs. When a vegetarian goes out to dinner and lets the waitress know they are vegetarian, the first thing they do is bring a big plate of pasta with tomato sauce poured over it. Yuck! Even “I” can make that! I don’t like to eat heavy in the evenings so most of it would go to waste.

I guess the reality finally hit me by the middle of my first week in lockdown… I don’t have any food in the house! Thankfully I have a wonderful friend who just so happened to call me just as I was “also” down with the flu. Knowing I’m not a kitchen girl, Mary asked me where the crock pot was that she donated to me a few weeks earlier. My response was one of, “uh … well, um ….” Within an hour, she knocked on my door, slid her hand inside, which was holding a brown paper handle bag filled with goodies, AND instructions on how to use the crock pot! When I opened the bag I thought, “What! You mean I have to “put this stuff into the crock pot!” I was a mess.

Except for the just made warm loaf of challah bread, in the fridge the bag went. And there it sat.

Two days later I pulled out the goodies and my crock pot. I was actually quite impressed. She brought me carrots, celery, fresh parsley, and several little jars filled with measured spices, barley, vegetable stock, etc., And a “recipe”! All I needed to do was put everything in the crock pot with some filtered water, turn the dial to 4-hours, and I was golden! Wow! What a concept.

I took all of the recipes she so generously printed out, along with some recipes my sister brought back from Australia, and I made a list of the foods that I would like to eat and would be able to make in my crock pot.

During my trip to the grocery store, I bought fresh fruits, spring mix lettuce, baby spinach, mushrooms, fresh and frozen vegetables, almost ripe avocados, golden potatoes, high protein pastas, nuts and seeds, some cheeses, sour cream, eggs, vanilla yogurt (to protect my good bacteria), a greek olive mix of feta, kalamata and Spanish olives, ground spices, and a fresh loaf of my favorite Tuscan bread. Yes, two loaves.

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My kitchen was flourishing. For two weeks I made the most delicious foods that not only kept me healthy and filled up, but I lost weight! I was so proud of myself! I had a kitchen filled with beautiful fruits and veggies that I put on display, a new selection of fresh herbs and spices, and my two loaves of Tuscan bread. My freezer had some frozen fruits for smoothies, plus I treated myself to some pierogies. Yes, I did.

In my venture out, I opted to go to Aldi’s. They have great prices and a large selection of organic choices. The avocados were on sale so I stocked up as much as I could knowing they’re perishable. The bread was at Giant Eagle, so I made a trip across the street. Much to my surprise the prices at GE were LESS than Aldi’s! I was very surprised. The third stop I made was to Big Lots – they have some organic spices that really saved me a lot of money. With all this shopping, my bill was less than $70! Did it take extra time, yes, but it was a great day to start my new venture with my crock pot … my toaster, and my pots & pans. I need new ones, by the way. I should send a hint to Mary!

No matter your opinion is about the CV19 lockdown, the reality is we have to go on with our every day. We have to get up in the morning. We have to get dressed. We have to mentally prepare for our survival. AND! We have to eat! Do yourself a favor… make this fun. Find something new in your kitchen, your basement, your garage. Fill your day with happiness and new ventures.

Good luck!

To Spend or Not to Spend? Is that Really the Question?

By now, most of the people who are going to get the $1,200 COVID-19 stimulus check, and who had direct deposit, have received it already. And those waiting on the paper check should get theirs in coming weeks.

So the question I’ve seen from a lot of people on social media is what they should do with their check. It’s been interesting, but not completely surprising to hear how some people are talking about spending their money; from taking a vacation to throwing themselves a huge party, or going out on the town, once the social distancing orders are lifted.

But there are many people where that question never crossed their minds. The thought of using that money for anything other than life’s necessities, isn’t a luxury for them. They are past-due on their rent or mortgage; have a car payment coming up; are dreading their next utility bill, and just trying to keep food on the table for their kids. 

I’m one of the lucky ones because I’m fortunate enough to still have my job, with a monthly paycheck that covers all of my bills. So I put my check into my savings account to continue solidifying my emergency funds.  I realize there are many people who can’t do that. But then there are others who won’t do that. 

I recently read a Facebook post from a woman who asked if she should use the money to pay off one of her credit cards, or if she should save the money. She went on to give additional information including the fact that she did not already have a savings account, her hours at work had recently been cut, and her boss said they would re-evaluate the future in a couple of months. After reading the additional information, I was honestly dumbfounded as to why she even needed to ask the question about whether or not she should save the money. I mean, why on earth would you spend money (even to pay off a credit card) when you’re already working fewer hours, and you’ve been put on notice that things might change again — loss of even more hours or possibly the job itself?

I do understand someone’s desire to pay have debt. But a little common sense should also come in to play. First, she admitted that she had no savings, then so she has nothing to fall back on in case of an emergency. That’s never a good place to be in. It’s actually one of the reasons many people continue to have rotating debt — something minor comes up (say a flat tire) but the person has no emergency funds, so they use a credit card; oftentimes paying hundreds of dollars more than what the item cost by the time they pay it off. If they had put money aside, they could have purchased the tires with cash.

Second, she had already experienced a cut in numbers of hours at work; which means she’s making less money now than she was a few months ago. How can anyone even be contemplating what to do with their money when they see the economic impact of COVID-19 and the Stay at Home orders across the country. And in these uncertain times, pay cuts aren’t just happening to hourly employees. My former workplace (I’ve been gone for over 10 years) had an across the board pay cut to all salaried employees making over a certain amount. Had I still been working there, I would have fallen into that cut off and therefore, have experienced a 5-10% pay cut. Even if the cuts are temporary, they still impact you in the moment, and for however long they last. I’ve often said that it doesn’t matter how much money you make, if you’re living right up to the amount of your paycheck (or over it), then even a small change can quickly turn into something worse .

And third, she’d also already noted that her company had indicated other actions may be taken at a later time. The nature of those actions, I’m sure, might include another pay cut, or layoffs, as we’re seeing around the country. That should have been enough for anyone to heed the yellow flag and proceed with caution. What good is it to pay off a credit card, in lieu of saving money, only to lose your job, and end up having to run your card back up again to pay bills, with no income. Few people realize that even payouts for unemployment benefits are far below what someone’s monthly income would normally have been.

So what’s this all about? 

In the U.S. most stimulus plans are designed to get money into citizens’ hands, so that they can in turn go spend and help jump start the economy. In this case, the economy was doing fine, until the U.S. found itself a little behind in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The US went from barely a dozen cases at the end of February to several hundreds of thousands of cases just four weeks later. Somewhere in the middle of all of that, sporting events stopped, music tours were rescheduled, festivals and business conferences cancelled; students were sent home for online learning, “non-essential” businesses were closed, people stopped flying, and social distancing prevented even small coffee shops, restaurants, and boutique retail from remaining open. As of mid-April, there are almost 750,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S., and over 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment.

This is not normal. And we may not see normal for many months to come; if ever. So we need to stop treating our finances as if we have any guarantees for what happens next. Not that we ever did.

So, to spend or not to spend?

Given the uncertainty of our future life without a vaccine for this virus happening before 2021 — with or without lifted stay at home orders — it doesn’t seem plausible that the economy and American life, in general, will return to the pre-Coronavirus, pre-March time period. So any level of careless spending, even spending for something that might otherwise seem sensible (i.e. paying off credit card debt) to me seems to be a little risky in this environment.

There are people waiting for their unemployment check today who may have had a very different view of those benefits when they had a job and never thought they would need it. Small business owners may never be able to reopen their businesses. Live events may be sidelined for another year. And some entrepreneurs and contract workers are visiting their local food banks for the first in their lives.

It’s our new normal. Even if it is temporary. And adjusting your life to your new normal will require some work, planning, and discipline. But it can be accomplished.

If you’re one of the fortunate ones who still has a paycheck, then why not try to accomplish both things — continue paying off your credit card, while at the same time, open up a savings account and start putting money away. I would go one step further. Look at your spending habits and see if there are other ways you might be able to save money. Ask yourself, are there things you can give up for a few months — cable television, movie and/or music streaming services, Amazon prime, etc.? Can you put off replacing that sofa, do you really need those new shoes, are you still ordering out more than you’re cooking in? 

And what about your grocery bill? Are you utilizing coupons and reward programs, making a shopping list in advance, and resisting those impulse purchase buys that can raise your grocery bill by 5, 10, 15 or more dollars that you weren’t expecting to spend?

There are lots of ways and places where most of us can save money, if we try. If you haven’t taken this area of your life seriously in the past, now might be a good time to create new habits to get through what might be ahead now, or even what could happen later, regardless of a virus.

 

Preparation is not a Sign of Fear. It’s a Sign of Readiness

As I slathered more lotion on my hands, having lost track of just how many times I’ve washed them, I took stock of what was left of my soap and lotion, surprised by just how much I’d gone through over the past four weeks. 

I can’t believe just how many times I’ve lathered on the soap, smoothed on the hand lotion, and the number of candles I’ve lit in just one month’s time; since the start of the Safer at Home mandate where I live. When you’ve spent most of your waking hours away from home five days a week, most of your hand washing takes place at work or occasionally a restaurant. But thank goodness I took advantage of my favorite store’s semi-annual sale back in January, and had already stocked up on some of my favorite scents. Back in December I received several candles as gifts, and have been burning through them during this extended time at home.

With the heighten awareness — perhaps even fear — of not infecting myself with an uber contagious and nasty virus while doing anything from a quick run to the grocery store (if I remove my gloves before I open the car door to avoid cross-contamination, then what about having to touch the grocery bags to put them in the car? But wait, now the virus may have transferred on to my car seats; and I still have to get the bags out of the car and into the house!); to a trip the mailbox (use a paper towel to open the mailbox; grab the mail; toss it on the floor by the door; throw away paper towel, wait a full 24-hours before opening mail; dump contents onto the chair;  immediately discard the envelopes and wash hands. Go through the actual contents of the mail. Wash hands again “just in case!”). 

person-washing-his-hand-545014I’ve always been a pretty good hand washer. One need only to be in a public restroom, at work and otherwise, to soon learn that not everyone apparently takes personal hygiene as personal as you do. So the old grab a paper towel to use on the door handle exiting the restroom is nothing new for me. What IS new for me is noting how many times I touch my face after touching something else that was handled by someone else. Before the COVID-19 “quarantine” as we like to call it, that was everything from opening the door to enter and exit my classrooms, working on the shared computers in each classroom, using the copier in the faculty room; picking up an ink pen to sign paperwork in the Chair’s office, and even opening or discarding my mail that had traveled from wherever it came, to the campus post office, to the on-campus postal carrier, to the Department office, into the hands of the student worker or secretary who placed it into my mailbox.

Isn’t it weird how we never really thought about some of the things like that; even during cold and flu season?

We were on spring break when the “stop everything and re-do all your curriculum to transition from the brick and mortar classroom, to an online community,” directive came down from our university president. The wording was much softer than that, but it nonetheless, came with a firm deadline. The students would receive an extra week of spring break; while faculty would have that week to completely shift everything, including projects and deadlines, and what would have been hands on student-to-student assignments, from the on-the-ground school system to remote access learning.

In the middle of all that, one of the first things I thought about was the “What Ifs?” My “what ifs” were not built on fear, but rather learned from the history of what happens when people are prepared versus when people are not prepared when emergencies happen.

Watch for the signs!

photo-of-road-signage-2994331Before there was NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) or the Weather Channel, people relied on warning signs from nature (wildlife, plants, and the ocean), to prepare for what might be coming weeks or even months later (a bad winter, a dry spring, etc.). Except for perhaps many farmers, most of us wait to be told what to do.

Twice a year, when we change our clocks for Daylight Savings Time, there are a number of public service announcements reminding people to change the batteries in our home smoke detectors. Why? Because most people will forget or ignore the need. And the time to find out that the batteries are dead is not in the middle of a fire, when they don’t go off while you and your family are sleeping.

During our earlier than usual spring break, I had time to watch more television than normal. As I did, I started not just hearing about, but seeing images from other countries, of what this coronavirus was doing; people it was impacting; the way it was spreading, and some of the drastic ways some countries were trying to deal with it. And I thought, “what if that happens over here? What if the virus starts to spread in certain parts of the country at such an alarming rate like what I was seeing?”

So when I got the university email, I thought, what is it that the school systems know that we’re not hearing yet? It was a bold and costly move for most colleges to switch to online learning; supported by the purchase of licenses and software the schools had not been prepared to financially invest in. And what did those western state Governors see that we hadn’t yet; knowing that their actions would result in a huge economic hit to their state?

Turns out their quick response may have saved hundreds or even thousands of lives.

There wasn’t an answer. And certainly nothing I could do about whether or not the U.S. would experience the fate of Asia, and at that time, a growing part of Europe. But reading the signs, I decided to take inventory of what was in my house (pantry, cabinets, refrigerator) and started shopping for necessities. Having just gotten over a really bad cold less than two weeks earlier, my first thought was buying cleaning and sanitizing  items. I originally purchased a large can of Lysol and disinfecting wipes to use in my office and classrooms, even before spring break. But once the dynamics started to change, I knew there were additional items I needed to make sure I had. And so I shopped! Bleach, Clorox wipes, non-perishable pantry and freezer items; fresh produce, and yes, toilet paper! While at an already scheduled doctor’s appointment, I asked my doctor to write my medicine refill for 90-days instead of the 30.

In other words. I started preparing. Days before the first wave of panic buying, and over a week before the president declared a National Emergency, I had already stocked up on the items I predicted I would need in an emergency that had an undetermined length of stay. Unlike a blizzard that passes in hours or a hurricane that moves on a day or two later, we had (and still have) no idea how long and to what extent this COVID-19 would impact us. And in a case like that, I would rather over-prepare and not need, than to under prepare and not have something I need.

To be clear, stocking up to prepare for an emergency is not the same thing as hoarding items you neither need, nor plan to use (especially evil hoarders whose entire intent from the beginning is to resale for profit). Stocking your house of the essentials needed is smart, and what everyone should do regardless of whether there’s a severe winter storm or a superbug headed your way. 

As I watched and listened to some people on social media a week and two later, complaining about not being able to find basic items like eggs, meat, and of course, toilet paper, some of their posts were angry rants about how inconsiderate other people were that they couldn’t get what they wanted/needed now. And I thought, yes, there were definitely people over buying, and perhaps a number of hoarders as well. But the other truth of the matter is that we all had access to the same information; the same sighs (some would say warning bells) were visible and audibly to everyone. Yet, some waited. Some dismissed it. While others chose to heed it.

I definitely understand that not everyone has the luxury of being able to shop early (ahead of a paycheck) or shop for extras (even after a pay day). I have been one of those people more than once; including in the midst of the last recession 10+ years ago. They are the ones who have every right to feel frustrated.

But for many others, their unwillingness to act (like a coastal shop owner refusing to board up their business, in spite of the hurricane warnings that come days in advance of making landfall), they need to ask themselves how might they do things differently the next time. Because by all scientific accounts, there will be a next time; perhaps a lot sooner than any of us would like.

How prepared will you be?

How the Last Recession Prepared Me for the One that’s Coming

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to check in. To say that this Spring has been among the strangest, and one of the most unexpected time in our lives, would be an understatement.

It’s been about eight years since I started this blog; just a few years after being forced to adjust my life to a new normal. Like so many people who are dealing with that today, the recession of 12 years sent the economy tanking, the housing market tumbling, small businesses closing, and corporations downsizing. Massive layoffs, unemployment, company bankruptcies, house foreclosures, and lots of uncertainty. And even as we slowly came out of it, thousands of people remained underemployed for years after; having to learn how to live with their new career and smaller salaries.

Millennials graduated into a shaky economy, where they struggled to find jobs, or accepted ones far less than the salary they expected their college degrees to help secure. Some of their Baby Boomer parents never found new employment (ageism), while many Generation Xers had to transition into positions far less than their expertise, prior experience, and career positions had previously demanded. We were all in this together; trying to figure things out, move forward, stabilize the economy, and get back to as close to normal as possible. 

And we did. We succeeded.

It was painful, and a lot of what was, would never be again. But the economy came back. Jobs came back. New small businesses emerged. Entrepreneurship grew. We survived.

But here we are again. This time dealing with something much bigger than the loss of a job or home. We’re being thrust into a new normal where we must deal with that and the ever increasing, globally impacted, loss of life in this pandemic they call COVID-19.

There is an old saying that Handsight’s 20/20. But I think Foresight can be as well; especially when you start to see familiar signs; warning bells.

One of the things my four years in the last recession taught me was the importance of planning and preparation.

Planning is creating a type of road map that outlines what you will do in an emergency, or when you see a catastrophe (natural or financial) heading your way. It’s what children learn in school from the fire department when they ask every to create a fire escape plan at home. In Public Relations, we call them crisis management plans which outlines what a company or organization should do in the event of a crisis. If they follow the plan, it usually helps them get through the crisis without stumbling and causing more harm.

Preparation is putting into action your plan, and collecting the resources needed. If the forecast is for a foot of snow in a place that barely receives an inch, then ask yourself, what do you need to do if you end up being “snowed in,” schools out, and you know you will be unable to get to work due to road conditions? A prepared person would probably grab the folders and files they need from their office so they can work from home; encourage their kids to bring their books home from school that day; and by all means, stop at the grocery store to pick up any items they have on the monthly shopping list, that they weren’t planning to do for another week. At home, someone preparing for a major snow storm might also take the time to check the batteries in their flashlights, pull out their candles or secondary light sources, and make sure all of the important devices are fully charged.

It’s too late to check for batteries once your power goes out. Or to realize your pantry is mostly empty, after the roads have closed. And yes, if you only have one pack of toilet paper in a house of four people, you should probably be mindful to pick up another one “just in case.”

About 10 million people applied for unemployment benefits, in the wake of the Coronavirus related layoffs, business closings, cancelled public events, and a volatile stock market. While a number of companies have instituted pay cuts to keep their employees. Rent, mortgages, groceries, medicines, utilities, and other bills are coming due, with many people lacking the funds to cover them.

paine.UNEMPLOYMENT-INSURANCE-2.0402

According to Bankrate’s Financial Security Index, nearly three in 10 (28 percent) U.S. adults have no emergency savings. One in four have a rainy day fund, but not enough money to cover three months’ worth of living expenses.

Sadly, there are a lot of Americans, literally working paycheck to paycheck, with no room in the month for emergencies or unexpected hits to their finances. This is a particularly difficult time for millions of people. But for many others; especially those who have always had a steady income, your habits, your lifestyle, and planning, or lack of planning, does still matter. What you have today doesn’t guarantee your tomorrow.

I’ve watched an industry I thought was invincible, screech to a grinding halt. And related companies institute pay cuts across the company. 

So what can you do now if you’re one of the people whose rainy day funds are not sufficient to cover you in the event you’re next to lose your job?

  • Stop spending frivolously.
  • Start saving immediately.
  • If you’re not already a coupon user, start shopping with them now.
  • Utilize rewards programs for groceries and gas to get extra savings.
  • If you don’t need it, don’t buy it!
  • Even as you desire to support local restaurants, limit how often you’re eating out.
  • Go through your bank statements searching for automatic withdraws, and stop the ones you don’t need/use. If your gym is closed right now, are they still charging you a monthly fee?
  • Get rid of duplicate services (do you really need both Hulu and Amazon movies; Spotify and Apple Music?). 

If you do not have a personal financial crisis plan, consider developing one now.

If the last recession taught us anything, it’s that what may have taken only months to get in to, took the majority of people and various industries years to climb back out. How are you preparing yourself now for the long-term?

 

 

Would Your ‘Do-Over’ Make a Difference?

Six years ago, I was frantically trying to pack up the house I was renting on one side of town so that I could move back into the house I owned on the other side of town. It was January 2014 and less than two months earlier I’d sold my house…or so I thought.

There were a lot of reasons why I wanted to sell my home, but that bad decision to move when I did was the beginning of three back-to-back terrible house-related decisions, and a total of seven moves in less than a four year period of time, that completely wrecked me financially; at a cost I’m still paying for today.

Why did I think I’d sold my house? Because my realtor told me I did.

We had the contract and the earnest money in hand; the inspections were done and repairs were made; an appraisal was completed; and the closing date was set. But I made one big mistake. I moved out of my house the weekend before closing, which was set the Friday after Thanksgiving. I knew there was no way I could get packed up and moved the actual day of the closing AND since I was planning to rent for a year, I also needed to secure a place where I’d be moving to before moving out. So I put down a deposit for the rental house, paid the required first month’s rent, and then paid movers to move me out of my home and into my new place.

The buyers were making their preparations too. They put in for their mail forwarding; the paperwork to have the utilities transferred into their names was completed, and they were planning to start moving in that weekend after closing.

But during the process, something felt wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something just didn’t feel right. And then my realtor went AWOL during the final days leading up to the closing; the time period when she should have been most available.

And then I got the phone call. The closing had failed! What happened after that was a total nightmare!

First, we tried to work with the buyers and their bank, to try to find out what happened; see what could be done in an attempt to get them to change their mind. Before I accepted their offer, my agent had assured me that they had a pre-approval letter, so hearing that the failure had to do with finances was a shock to me; leaving me to question whether or not my agent had really done her due diligence.

Then we tried finding another buyer (sadly this was right before the housing explosion in Nashville)! It was the middle of the holidays and no one was looking to move during Christmas. By January, I’d been paying both a mortgage and rent for three months and couldn’t continue doing so.

So, I made the hard decision to move back into my home and take it off the market.

 

That meant not only losing my deposit at the rental; but paying to get everything transferred back over into my name – the cable, the security system, phone, gas, electricity, and water. It also meant that all of the money I’d paid to turn everything on at the rental was lost; as was the money paid to the movers; and now I was going to have to pay to move back to the house.

Talk about a hit to the finances!

No house sale. And now I was out over $8,500 of money (counting the rent, the deposit, moving costs, etc.) that I really didn’t have to lose. All because someone else’s finances fell apart. Even though I didn’t know, and my agent didn’t tell me that I could have put a contingency in the contract to not move out until a certain number of days after the closing – I would have still been out the deposit and first month’s rent on the rental house, as that was the only way to hold the place to move in to. Not to mention the costs to make the updates they wanted from the home inspection.

 

That hard financial hit taught me one thing. Don’t accept another contract offer without adding a contingency on the move out date. That’s what I did four months later after switching realtors and putting my house back on the market. And it sold to a nice couple, who accepted the contingency, allowing me to move out three days after we closed.

But unfortunately, instead of going with my original plan of renting first; I put my money into another house (I needed to move from having stairs to having one-story, for health reasons). Under normal circumstances, this would probably have made perfect sense. But once again, I didn’t listen to my gut. I started having a bad feeling on the house during the inspection process – a time when I could have walked away due to the contingency I’d placed on it about the inspection report. Everything in me said to stop; something wasn’t right. I truly felt that the buyers weren’t being truthful. But once again, I listened to my realtor (a different one) and convinced myself that perhaps I was just getting cold feet and unwarranted panic attacks. So we kept moving forward.

BIG MISTAKE!

I ended up in a money pit, and with documented evidence that came later, turns out the buyers HAD indeed lied on the inspection report and face-to-face when questioned about certain things. And while it cost me a lot of money to make the repairs, the attorney I spoke to said doing so would still be cheaper than trying to sue them. You see, even if I won the lawsuit, she said…all they would have to do is declare bankruptcy and I wouldn’t see one penny of the money; but I will have spent over $20,000 in legal fees and such to take them to court.

I decided to cut my losses. I called my old realtor who sold the other house, and he sold that one in less than two weeks. I just wanted out and away from another house.

IMG_5312I can admit today that I fell into a depression, fueled by the incredible back-to-back financial hits I’d incurred – the draining of my savings account, the distrust of people who I thought were supposed to be there for my best interest. And the multiple moves in such a short period of time that hadn’t just destroyed my bank account, but my confidence and the security of who I was.

I was smarter than that. I knew I was smarter than what I had allowed to happen to me in that less than two-year period of time. So, what happened? And how did I let this happen?

I knew that my mental state wouldn’t allow me to trust another home purchase decision; and I certainly wasn’t going to trust another realtor. So, after a one year stay in one rental house, I moved 30 miles away — closer to my job — settled into another rental where I stayed put for the past few years.

I needed to breathe, to think, to plan, to live for more than a year in one place, and think back on and figure out the rest of my life. black-and-white-hand-person

I couldn’t go back and change what had happened. And I knew it would take me years to replace all the money I’d lost over the two years. But I also knew I didn’t want to make another move without a full plan in place.

What would I do differently?

Well, hindsight is always 20/20. And as this year is 2020, it seems appropriate to refer to my life’s lessons in vision terms. I should have viewed more things through strong lens.

 

  • Evaluate whether moving from your current house is the right thing to do and the right time. Once I moved back to my house that January, 2014, in spite of the knee injury (and later, surgery), I probably should have stayed put a while longer.
  • Never move out before closing; even if it means adding a contingency that some buyers may not accept. Better to lose that buyer up front than to be left holding the financial bag on the backend.
  • Trust your gut! If there’s one thing I regretted through the turmoil, it would be listening to realtors instead of my gut – both times! It cost me greatly. When something doesn’t feel right, stop and try to figure out why. Trust that overwhelming feeling, ask the hard questions, and don’t accept soft answers that seem to gloss over your concerns.
  • Cut your losses. Try to re-group and recoup. You can’t re-do the past, but you can make plans not to repeat it in the future.
  • Watch out for your mental health. No one talks about the emotional hit that home buying and selling can have on a person; especially when the expected outcomes go bad. What that 2-3 year period did to me psychologically has had a lasting, negative, and financial impact on me even now, 6 years later.

 

What Will You Do in 2020 to Make Your Difference Financially in 2021?

So, in my last post, I mention the four major areas I plan to focus on in 2020:

  1. Personal Life
  2. Home Life
  3. Financial Life
  4. Professional Life

I said that I’d be sharing some of the things I’m doing, learning, and planning for myself in this new year. No particular time table. No scheduled challenges. No added pressure contributing to the stress.

Even though I was planning to write from my own experiences, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to share an awesome story with you from one of my BFFs adult daughters. I think you will find it very inspirational, even if the nature of it doesn’t specifically apply to you.

For the sake of this blog, I will call her LW, a 30-something year old, recently divorced, working mom of two kids. And like many of you reading this, she is in debt; a lot of debt. And like a number of you, she decided to do something about it.

calculator and pen99.999 percent of you will never win the million dollar lottery. And almost as many will likely never receive a multi-hundred thousand dollar settlement or inheritance. So the reality is that if you are living with debt that you can’t pay off each month, and you want to change that, then you have to be willing to change you. And by changing you, I mean, change your mindset about debt.

Debt isn’t something that just poor or middle class people struggle with. The simple definition of debt is owing more than you earn or have. Break-even means only spending what you earn/have. So if you earn (or even win) one million dollars, but you spend one and a half million; then you’ll find yourself in debt to the tune of $500,000. That’s why you often read about athletes who received huge multi-million dollar contracts, ending up broke just a few years into their retirement; or lottery winners losing their millions less than five years after their win.

But debt doesn’t always come about as a result of mismanagement of money. LIFE sometimes throws us a curve ball, resulting in unexpected expenses, a shift in lifestyle, or downturn in the economy. A bad investment, a business deal gone wrong, job loss, mounting medical costs, and lots of other things can impact your financial life. How you respond, and your willingness to adjust your lifestyle to your new normal, may determine the future of that financial life.

Here is LW’s story. The “bold” is my emphasis.

In 2019 I was finally in a position to take control of my finances, and I’m taking a moment to celebrate what I’ve accomplished. 

On 1 Jan 2019 (after my separation but before my divorce was finalized), I had $120,814 of debt to my name. The number made me physically ill to look at, and I was burdened by 6 different minimum monthly payments on credit cards, a personal loan, a 401k loan, a car loan, and one (large, consolidated) student loan.

In July, my divorce was finalized.

Today, on 1 Jan 2020, my total debt is now $68,891 – just my car loan and student loan. I paid off $51,923 of debt in 2019, focusing on the lowest balances first, and snowballing those monthly payments into the next-highest debt as they were freed up. 

I didn’t accrue any new debt. I’ve been so blessed by family – I lived with my parents rent-free for half of the year, then moved into a family-owned condo where I pay very low rent. I’m blessed with a good career and good income (that I work hard for), but even outside of that I worked my ass off

I sold a LOT of my stuff. I started reselling gently used clothing on Poshmark and delivering for Shipt. I’ve never really had problems controlling my spending, but I tightened my belt even more this year, trying to focus on reducing fast food and restaurant meals and cooking at home instead; using what we have instead of buying new; continuing to use coupons and rebate apps like ibotta, and using our local “Buy Nothing” Facebook page. I didn’t buy any Christmas presents this year except for my girls (sorry, fam – next year!). 

And it feels amazing; freeing, empowering.  

I have a long way to go and a lot more work to do. And in other ways this year was full of more ugliness than I’d ever wish on anyone. But it feels incredible to see the quantifiable progress I’ve made in this one area. I’m on track to be completely debt-free in 2020

2019 was for recovering, stabilizing, and rebuilding. 2020 is for flourishing, living generously, and teaching my girls how to do the same 

— LW