When You’re Among the Working Poor

Thanksgiving is just days away. Other than the pressures of the regular end-of-the-year kind of things, this is actually my all time favorite time of year; the time period with the week leading up to Thanksgiving, through to the days after Christmas. I love the anticipation of the Christmas season, even if it overshadows Thanksgiving. I know people get upset about those of us who like decorating early and planning holiday parties in October, and listening to Christmas music while the Harvestfest pumpkins haven’t even rotten on the porch. My all time favorite pastime — watching cheesy Christmas movies starting in November! It doesn’t matter that I can predict the plot of every single romantic holiday movie — because they’re mostly the same four or five plot lines, switching off lead gender roles and cities. I sit plop down in front of the TV when I need a break from the real world, and turn my brain off for two hours of entertainment!

There is one Christmas movie that I watched for the first time in the middle of July. It was during Hallmark’s Christmas in July features, about six or seven years ago. The movie originally aired in December 2006, but I don’t remember it back then. Maybe my life was too full to have time to watch many movies at the time. Or maybe it just didn’t catch my attention, back when I was gainfully employed, without a financial worry in the world. Whatever the reason, the movie, “Home by Christmas” not only caught my attention back in 2011, but it really resonated with me. It was that summer when I was 2 1/2 years into a new employment status I hadn’t really planned on — self-employment. It had been a real struggle, working 12-14 hour days trying to generate enough money to cover my bills, with little to nothing left over to re-invest into the company or even myself. Things were made more of a hardship trying to deal with some clients who didn’t pay their bills; others who took advantage of my generosity to help — and therefore, still didn’t pay me for my work; and a host of other things I, at the time, had not planned on.

This was the same summer when Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets was birthed. Maybe it was even by watching “Home for Christmas that I felt a sense of confirmation that some of the choices I had made over the previous two years were the right ones for me to adjust my life to my new normal. The premise of the movie was this:

A wealthy, stay at home mother discovers that her husband is having an affair. Though she’s willing to forgive him, he wants a divorce instead so he can be with the younger woman. Her attorney wants her to stay in the house and get both child support and alimony. She allows pride to get in the way (Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.) and gives up the house just to get away. Because she’s not been employed for years, she has a hard time finding a job, and therefore, can’t afford another home in the same area. Her daughter chooses to remain with her dad so she can stay in the same school district. Unable to find employment, eventually she can’t even afford the apartment, and finds herself homeless. At this point, her daughter is studying abroad, and has no idea her mom has fallen on such hard times.

Don’t worry, it’s a Christmas story, and starts to get better halfway through the movie. But the main part of the story that spoke to me is this. During the woman’s transition, she had to learn to do things differently. She had to learn to adjust to her new normal, and not allow pride to keep her from doing things differently. Along the way, she met a woman who became a friend (as you can guess, her old friends deserted her as soon as she was no longer able to afford to remain a part of their circle). The woman was a well-dressed, articulate, financial analyst. What caught her attention with the woman was after seeing her at the same coffeeshop multiple times, one day noticing that the outfit the woman was wearing looked just like a suit she had donated to a thrift store months earlier.

So as the story unfolds, we learn that this well-dressed, college-educated woman who had been hanging out at the coffeeshop working on her laptop, was herself homeless. But she didn’t talk like it or look like it. She looked like the businesswoman she introduced herself to be. As the story continues we learn that the woman had lost her job, but had learned how to survive while she looked for another one — how and where to eat, find a place to sleep, and continue to look her best while searching for another job.  This woman teaches our mom how to shop at discount places, where to go to get free personal services, type of places to find free food, and even finding safe places to sleep besides her car. A lot of other things happen during her to get back on her feet. But it was the things she learned to do along the way, to survive and stay safe, that did as much to change her as the luck that came her way, to help her pull herself out of the spiral she was experiencing. 

So what’s my point?

In part, it is the fact that looks can be deceiving. Too often we look at someone and determine their status in life by what they’re wearing, how well “put together” they appear, and whether or not they “look” like they’re employed at a “good” job. But there are many people sitting in coffee shops across America today who are working on job applications, or maybe just using the free wifi as they try to stay warm, if only for the day. Maybe they’ll strike up a conversation with someone who might have a lead on a job. They look well-dressed because they showed up at Goodwill’s 50% off Saturday sale to purchase that nice suit and shoes; and they went to the local cosmetology school to have students do their hair and nails for significantly less than going to a salon. And you may have no idea that the last time they had something to eat was one of the day old bagels that the coffeehouse donated to the homeless shelter the night before.

So when I read a recent tweet by someone in the media mocking new Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s outfit, suggesting that she can’t really be struggling too much if she’s able to dress a certain way, it really set me off.

“I’ll tell you something: that jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles.”

There is a lot wrong with his full tweet, including why a journalist would even make such a statement. But his comments, and the ascertain by some of his followers who chimed in, line up with the unfortunate misguided judgements a lot of people make; the assumption being that if you’re dressed in what appears to be “high fashion” clothing, then you must be wealthy. And likewise, if you look like your clothes came off a store rack at a shopping mall department store, then the person is less well off, unable to afford a more professional look for their workplace. Some of his followers tweeted a response that she couldn’t possibly be as bad off as she’s suggested in the past, if she’s able to “wear clothes like that.”

I’m in no way suggesting that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lives at the poverty level or shops at thrift stores. But what if she did? Would that make her any less of the person she is; any less qualified to want to have a voice in how her community, her state, and this country is run? Politics aside. And whether I agree or disagree with any of her positions, why are we judging someone by what what they do or don’t wear; what they drive, or how they get around; where they can and can’t afford to live? Maybe that’s one of the problems with American politics. American people keep electing their government officials who don’t live anything like them; who have never struggled to keep things together between pay checks; who have to make hard decisions each month, for the sake of their budgets; who worry that they’re one hospital stay, or two paychecks away from losing it all. And then they expect these same people to actually work and pass legislation on behalf of them and other working class Americans!

But I don’t want to get political. What I do want to get is real. If you’re one of the many working poor, who go into work everyday, rotating the same five outfits throughout each month. If you’re one of those who’s working a full-time job with a check that seems like part-time pay; with more going to bills and just the cost of life, than anything that can be saved to build or help out later. If how you make ends meet is by shopping at thrift shops and discount stores; giving up cable and the fancy mobile devices; and limiting hair cuts and manicures to special events a few times a year. Take heart. You’re not alone. We’re sadly a growing majority, some who even went into debt attending college so that we wouldn’t become a part of this story. Living in a time where the housing market has priced you out of that homeownership dream, while apartment rent remains as high as a mortgage. The working poor. Making just enough to be priced out of most programs designed to help those living in poverty, but not enough to live upon those means. 

Everyone has a story. Don’t assume you know what it is. If you’re fortunate not be  among the working poor, be thankful instead of arrogant. And maybe instead of retweeting an ugly comment, or making up one of your own, think about someone at your own workplace, in your neighborhood, or at your school, who might be just barely hanging on. And then find a way to reach out to them and help.

 

 

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The Cost of Higher Education

I was recently talking with two parents whose children are heading off to college.  One was dealing with financial aid issues and was concerned about the amount of debt his son might have to deal with after graduation. He acknowledge that he and his wife would be helping out, but that the costs of school exceeded what they’d be able to outright pay for. And since his son didn’t make high enough grades for any academic scholarships or grants, they would need to rely on various financial aid packages.

The other one expressed how happy he was to be dodging that bullet since his oldest had chosen to take advantage of a relatively new program in the state of Tennessee called the Tennessee Promise. With this program it provides FREE education at a community or technical college for two years, with the student graduating with an Associate degree. The advantage of this program is in not only allowing students a free education, but since most of the courses are General Studies classes, those wanting to go beyond an Associate to get their Bachelor’s degree, can apply to an in-state 4-year university to take the remaining two years of course work. This means they have two years longer to save up enough money to continue their education, if they’d like, or seek employment in the area of their two-year studies, and not have the burden of student loans to pay back.

To me, any parent living in this state, who doesn’t have $80,000 to pay for their student’s 4-year college tuition is kinda crazy for not to taking advantage of their kid receiving free higher education for two years; and cutting that financial commitment almost in half, should they choose to continue!

I understand a parents desire for their child to be able to choose where they want to attend school, just as much as they should be allowed to choose what it is they want to major in. But if the alternative is cleaning out your retirement funds, or having to prolong retirement for many years beyond your original plan, then I think looking at other resources needs to be on the table. 

The first guy was also struggling with the notion of his son declaring himself as independent. It seemed to bother him that a student could do that, or worst, that parents would want their kids to do that so that they don’t have to pay for their college education. So I interjected.

“You do know that there’s no law in this state that mandates a parent having to pay for their child’s college education?” I asked. 

Higher Education is a privilege not a mandate or a right. 

While I wish everyone who wanted to attend college could do so, and I wish our country could figure out a way to make it more affordable, if not free, it is still not a parent’s responsibility to empty their 401K, take out huge loans, or take on a second job just so they can pay for their kid’s education. Not only is it not their responsibility, but it can be dangerous for someone in their mid-50s, as was the case for him, to risk their financial future, especially being that close to retirement, in order to pay for their child’s education.

I went on to remind him that while some people can, and do pay for their children’s college; many parents don’t even have the luxury of choice in ever having had an education fund for their child, and they don’t make enough money even now to pay the tens of thousands of dollars tuition has grown to; even at state schools.

The other guy said his family fell into that group. “As sad as I am that I can’t, I just told my daughter that there was no way her mom and I could afford to pay for her college tuition. The money just wasn’t there. But fortunately for us, she was actually interested in attending a community college first any way. We were lucky.”

Sadly, I’ve heard too many accounts (and know of some personally) of parents trying to find money anywhere they can to pay for their student’s education, only for that student to not do well in school — either from not being ready for the demands of higher learning, or being away at school, or from just not caring or taking school seriously enough to try.

At the end of our conversation the first guy recounted a story of someone he knew who paid for her son’s first year of college, and after he managed to fail both semesters, she put the financial burden on him to continue forward and participate in the cost of his own education. The last time he checked, his friend’s son was doing quite well in school; even talking about the lessons he learned after blowing his first year, and the difference it’s making being responsible for it all himself.

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I think if parents have the means, and the desire to pay for their children’s college education, then they should do so. For some friends of mine, it’s almost like an insult to them not to provide that for their kids. At the same time, I don’t think other parents who can’t afford it, should be made to feel bad about needing financial assistance, or having their student declare independence, in order to qualify for the various grants and loans they would have access to apart from their parents. 

It does come down to money, planning, and sometimes, just being able to adjust to a new normal, and being alright with it.

 

 

From the Garden to the Freezer: Making it Last

Saturday was a beautiful day; and not just because the weather cooperated and didn’t rain out my day. No, it was good because I spent it doing something I haven’t done in such a long time. 

I baked!

I used to enjoy baking, and even cooking a lot more. I haven’t had the time, or rather, I haven’t taken the time to do anything more than preparing a meal. But today, I decided to not allow the fresh zucchini and yellow squash given to me from a friend’s garden, go to waste.

The zucchini from Lisa’s garden was so large that I used less than half of it to make a full batch of the bread. I decided to get a little creative as well, using oat flour instead of white flour, and coconut sugar instead of white sugar. The texture was a little different, but they tasted just as good as any others I’ve made in the past. 

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Thinking ahead, I decided to bake them as small loaves so that I could freeze some for later. And with half the zucchini still leftover, I think I’ll make some time in my Sunday afternoon to make even more. They make the perfect quick breakfast; paired with coffee or a glass of milk and some fruit!

My friend blessed me with some yellow squash as well. And to be honest, I’ve been staring at them with guilt looking at them laying on the counter for over a week. I’d already prepared some for dinner on the stovetop, In my typical sautéed with onions and butter. And while that was nice, I just didn’t feel compelled to try to eat the rest of the squash in that fashion. But I also knew that the clock was ticking on their freshness. And I didn’t want to waste a gift of food, especially garden fresh food. So onward to a squash casserole I went.

From one large squash I was able to make two small casseroles. Of course, one headed straight for the freezer. The other one complimented the leftovers I had for dinner, with plenty still to enjoy later in the weekend. 

In between the chopping, preparing, and baking, I sat and vegged out on a marathon of another new, mindless reality show that I came across, stopping occasionally to play a word game on my phone; something I added recently to help sharpen my mind and help keep me focused.

Late afternoon found me outside cleaning out a car I’m preparing to sell. I made a promise to myself that any money I get from the sale will go straight into my savings account, after first paying off my dental bill.

By the end of the day, I at first thought I hadn’t really accomplished anything major, including the dishes still in the sink, the result of my sudden burst of domesticated kitchen goddess, I actually felt really good this evening. I’d been able to take vegetables from the garden and make some food for now, and some for the freezer to enjoy later. And since most of the items I needed for both dishes were already in the house, or things I needed for the house anyway, the cost was minimum.

My hope, dream, and future plan is to eventually buy a house with a reasonable amount of land where I can walk to the backyard, out into my own garden, and save money not having to go to the grocery store for vegetables, herbs; maybe even fruit from trees, while hopefully being able to bless others as I have been so fortunate to be blessed by friends over the years.

How fun would that be?!

Yep, It’s Time to Go Back to School

It’s that time of year — again. While many families in the northeast, midwest, and the west coast are celebrating the midpoint of their summertime, with backyard cookouts, trips to the lake, and the kids being gone for another week or two away at camp, many southern state families are spending these final days of July shopping to replace the clothes and shoes their kids grew out of since last fall, and hectically going through the school district’s mandatory shopping list, in preparation for a return back to school soon.

In Tennessee, as with most southern states, students return to school before the end of August. In the Middle Tennessee area, which includes Nashville, students will be back to school by the first week of the month! Can you even imagine?

For one of the neighboring counties of Nashville, the busses will start rolling out this Wednesday, August 1. And almost all of the other area counties will follow less than a week later, with returns on August 6, 7, and 8! So if you sense a little panic from your southern Facebook and Instagram friends with kids, now you know why.

Fortunately, this is also Tax-free weekend (July 27-29) for the state of Tennessee. For those whose states may not offer this, it is a weekend once a year when parents can stock up for the school year, buying clothes, shoes, school supplies, and even computers, and pay no sales tax. In a state where the sales tax is 9.75%, that shopping bill can add up really fast. But so does the savings, if you plan ahead and do most, if not all, of your shopping during this time period. I mean, imagine a college student being able to save almost $100 for that $1,000 computer they need, by just choosing to purchase it this weekend versus next!

And now that parents are tasked with buying supplies for more than just their own child, planning your shopping adventure is even more important.

This is an actual list of school supplies for one of the local elementary schools:
  • Colored Pencils – Box(es)
  • Crayons – 24 Count
  • #2 Yellow/Wood Pencils Sharpened with Erasers, 24 Pack
  • Glue Sticks
  • Scissors
  • Ruler 12″ Standard/Metric
  • Protractor
  • Pocket Folders
  • Pens
  • Composition Notebook Wide Ruled
  • Spiral Notebook Wide Ruled
  • Package(s) of Sticky Notes
  • Box(es) of Facial Tissues
  • Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, Canister(s)
  • Package(s) of Filler Paper, Wide Ruled

A Middle school list in the same district looks like this:

  • Pens, Blue
  • Pens, Black
  • Pens, Red
  • Pencils, #2
  • Package(s) of Cap Erasers
  • Package(s) of Filler Paper, Wide Ruled
  • Notebook paper
  • Package(s) of Graph Paper
  • 1″ Binders
  • Write On Dividers
  • Composition Notebook Wide Ruled
  • Highlighters
  • Dry Erase Markers
  • Colored Pencils – Box(es)
  • Hand Sanitizer – Bottle(s)
  • Canister(s) of Disinfecting Wipes
  • Box(es) of Kleenex Facial Tissues
  • Paper Towels – Roll(s)
  • Duct Tape
  • Hot Glue Gun Glue Sticks
  • Package(s) of Index Cards
  • Box(es) of Reclosable Storage Bags
  • Package(s) of Printer/Copier Paper – Colored
  • Masking Tape
  • Package(s) of Plastic Cups
  • Box(es) of Plastic Forks

So don’t just shop. Shop wisely.

  • Shop at the right stores.  Find the ones that have the lowest price on the things you need.
  • Use coupons. As you see, the school supply lists have grown way beyond pencils and paper. Look for store or manufacture coupons for those paper towels, toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, and Purell that many schools now require.
  • For your student heading off to college, check out yard sales and online sites where you can find inexpensive desks, chairs, bookcases, and other things for their dorm room and apartment.
  • And don’t be too embarrassed to shop at discount stores and places like Goodwill, where they also offer special discounts on top of their lower prices, including a 10% Student Discount on Sundays; a 10% Senior Adult Discount on Tuesdays; and 10% Military discount on Wednesday. Again, every little bit helps!

When it comes down to it, making the most of your time and saving the most of your money, requires some planning and preparation. But your bank account will thank you for all of the dollars you save. And you’ll thank yourself when that money comes in handy later; usually unexpectedly.

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Every Day’s a Good Day to Save Money

I love freebies! I know, I know. How can you tell? But seriously, I’m all about saving money, finding discounts, using coupons, and getting FREE stuff! Whether that’s birthday freebies, like I took advantage of last month. Or earned rewards freebie from several places I normally shop. I get a big rush when I see the register ring up items, and I don’t have to hand over any money. Sometimes, with taxes, I may have to reach for some pennies and nickels, but not dollars. That’s always my goal.

I actually wish I was more organized and more disciplined to really keep up with which store was running a sale at the exact same time that I’ve collected coupons.  I know I could be saving so much more money. When I do get lucky enough to do that, I love watching the register go in the negative direction. Just the other day I picked up a large container of laundry detergent, regular price of $6.99, but it was on sale for $4.99. On top of that I had a $1.00 off coupon for that brand, so I paid only $3.99! That’s a three dollar savings because of timing and coupons. With today’s increasing gas prices, $3.00 represents another gallon of gas to me!

One of the reasons I love shopping at Kroger so much is the earned points on gas, the in-store savings each week, and the coupons they send in the mail. Part of their rewards program that I’ve been enjoying taking advantage of is the Friday Downloads!  

For a while I thought it would be one power bar after the next, after a couple of weeks of candy bars (which I don’t eat, but shared with my students). I’d almost given up, until recently they’ve had more things that I’ve enjoyed and actually use, like Tic Tac gum and one of the flavored waters. Last month, the downloads included a full loaf of bread, and a regular size of the Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice.

Getting something for free each week is nice, but this week, I was able to get several items for (almost) free at a retail outlet.

At World Market, I had my eye on some wooden baskets that had been marked down several weeks ago. I used one a few weeks ago to put together a birthday basket for a friend. The marked down price was already nice. But using my own birthday rewards money to get the items was even nicer.

IMG_6690So when I returned there, I planned to grab a few more of them while they were on sale. I liked that they were wooden and a great alternative to the gift bag world we have turned in to . “Buy a gift. Stuff it into a bag. Maybe add some tissue paper. Call it a day!”  

I like that the wooden basket offers a second chance use other than just holding the goodies.

So much to my surprise, not only did they still have several baskets left, but they had been moved to a special SALES table — 50% OFF of the red tag sale price! Jackpot!

Suddenly my large $7.99 basket that had already been marked down to $3.98 earlier, was only $1.99! And the smaller ones that had been $4.99 before being marked down to $2.49 were only $1.24. But also, for some reason, the pink colored one was no longer an “in” color, according to what the sales clerk told me! So they had marked those down even lower! But wait! There’s more. Two days earlier I received a 15% off the total sales coupon! What a pleasant surprise.

Two large and two small decorative wooden baskets later, along with three speciality bars of soap, and I went back for a small glass lantern I’d seen on the table too. 

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I knew if my calculations were correct, it should come to about ten dollars. But my goal wasn’t just to go shopping to spend $10.00.My goal was to spend the exact amount of my rewards coupon — which was ten dollars. It was FREE money to be spent, and I wasn’t about to let it expire.

And exactly how did I end up with ten dollars in rewards in a non-birthday month?

Well after winning the search for the World Market golden Llama back in June, and winning money with that, I received an additional rewards coupon for being an Explorer member! I mean, basically they rewarded me twice for finding the golden ticket. Now that’s what I call a pretty good rewards program; one that gives you money just for being a member, as opposed to racking up mounds of shopping debt before earning anything!

When the register rang up, my total, with taxes? Forty-six cents! Yes, just 46 cents for stuff I’ll actually use. The pear soap has already found its way into the guest bathroom, and one of the small baskets is being used in the guest bedroom for guests to have a place for their keys, cell phones, and stuff. The large basket has found its place on the desk in my bedroom, holding books, journals, and notecards. 

You can live on a budget, and still shop for fun stuff, and find great gifts without running up your credit card, if you stop and take the time to join reward programs, search online (or for old school — in the newspaper) for coupons, and keep an eye out for when your favorite stores run sales.

One birthday month regret I do have is not getting to use my ten dollar Chico’s coupon. I went to use it one day but couldn’t find anything in that price range. I did find a pair of earrings that were on sale, but they wouldn’t apply the store percentage on the remaining amount after the coupon, so it left me owing $5.00. She tried to explain why it rang up the way it did, but all I thought about was the fact that I didn’t go in there to spend five dollars. I was there just to spend the money from the coupon, and couldn’t justify spending extra money just to be able to use the coupon. So I left with nothing.

If you’re shopping just to shop, and end up spending money you wouldn’t have normally spent just to use a coupon, then you lose. It’s not a saving if you spent money to get something you’re only buying because you have a coupon. Resist the temptation to fall into that trap.

Maybe coupons aren’t for everyone. And I’ve had a friend tell me she doesn’t sign up for rewards programs because she doesn’t want to get all the emails. I don’t mind emails from places I shop (and I don’t sign up for programs at places where I don’t), if it means saving money on things I need. But whatever you decide, if you want to get serious about saving money, then you need to get serious about making a plan for how you’re going to do it.  Saving is one thing. Spending wisely is another. You can do both. Just be strategic. It’s worth it. And you can still have fun while doing it!

My Trip to the Farmer’s Market

I love going to the community farmer’s market. I don’t go as often as I should, because I keep forgetting. Out of sight out of mind, I guess. But whenever I’m visiting my hometown in SC during the summer, I always remember to go because it’s located right across the street from an outside mall I frequently visit or drive past. That wasn’t always the case. Before I moved away, the only option was going all the way downtown to the large city-run one. Road side farmers started popping up right before I left, but it would be years later before organized community markets started to become the norm.

I suppose that was the case everywhere. When I first moved to Nashville, the only Farmer’s Market was the large one, again, in the downtown area. I lived 15 miles away, and even though I worked downtown, the traffic and parking wasn’t worth trying to get there during lunchtime. I’ve actually been a little surprised by how slow the community markets have come up around here. But since moving to a town just to the south of Nashville, I found one that sets up on the downtown square, only six miles from where I now live. It’s worth the short drive, past all the grocery stores, to pick up fresh vegetables; mostly grown locally. And many of the items I pick up cost less than what’s in the store. I mean, have you noticed there’s almost never a store coupon for fruits and fresh vegetables?! 

I’ve gotten to where I enjoy walking around the farmer’s market; even with the summer heat. It’s kinda nice looking at all of the small farm and family booths and checking out what their farms have yielded. I think that even while we’re watching our money, trying to stick to a budget, and stretch our paychecks each month, we cannot forsake our health in the process. One of the things we don’t think about, and that is not often taught or talked about, is the fact that not eating healthy will often cost you more in the long run. Someone once said to me, you can pay more now to eat right and do the things needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle, or you can pay more later, with the cost of doctors’ visits and medications from diseases we develop, mostly attached to our unhealthy lifestyles.

I’ve decided to only use cash when I go to the market now, so that I can control how much I’m spending. The other decision I made was to not buy more than what I could prepare and eat in one week’s time. In the past, too often I’ve ended up having to throw away some of my vegetables if I couldn’t eat them fast enough before they started browning, wilting and growing mold. I always feel bad when that happens because wasted food is wasted money! I recently read that Americans waste  approximately 150,000 tons of food each day, which comes out to be about a waste of one pound a day per person. That is ridiculously sad; especially given the number of people who go to bed hungry every day in America. 

While I can’t control what other people do, I am motivated to do more of my part, and not contribute to the  “American waste” mentality. And I do think it’s a “mentality.” Here in America, we live in a society where no one likes to be told what to do; certainly not what or how much to buy. Where “rights” have overtaken common sense. I mean, why else were so many people originally against wearing seatbelts and still fight helmet laws?  

Regarding food, I still think about how so many schools were against Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution; when he set out to show how the foods being served in many American schools were high fat, high sugar, high sodium, processed foods, that were contributing to the increase in childhood obesity, and the decline in the overall health of children at much younger ages. The state governments may be saving money by the food choices they make for the schools, but parents of these kids are spending more time and money in doctor’s offices, and setting up an unhealthy lifestyle that their child will have to deal with once they become adults, and the cost gets transferred on to them.

But I digress.

So being single, I have had to learn how to figure out what’s enough and what’s too much, because there’s no one else helping you eat it. That’s why I also try to only buy those things I know I like, or in some cases, things I know I need, like these beets. I don’t like them, but I’ve figured out a way to prepare them to help me try to eat them more often, mostly because of all of the nutritional benefits they provide. 

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As you work on your monthly budget, and make out your weekly shopping lists, remember to leave room for the bigger picture. Plan today so that you’re not paying a bigger price tomorrow.

Another Happy Birthday!

As the final minutes ticked away at my birthday on Friday, June 8, I was thankful for another happy one. I love it when it falls on a weekend, giving me more reason to celebrate my birthday over multiple days. 

I decided that this year, I was going to make today all about me. I made it a point of making it happy and enjoyable. After all, isn’t that a lot of what it’s suppose to be about — a celebration of the day we were birthed onto this earth? So this year, I had a plan; not for a party, but for how I was going to take advantage of all of the great freebies and birthday rewards programs I was a part of; with reminders that were stacking up in my email inbox!

So I started my morning in the Starbucks drive-thru picking up my FREE coffee drink! From there I cruised around to my favorite outdoor shopping mall, stopping at the World Market. I had a $10.00 birthday reward that I wanted to make sure to take advantage of, but when I got there, they were still in the middle of the golden seahorse game. I’d been trying to find one of those discount certificates for over a week; first while I was still on vacation in my hometown. And then as recently as yesterday, neither times with any success. I have to admit I was very disappointed; almost mad, when I’d spent over an hour in the Columbia store, unable to find one (mad, because the ladies seem to enjoy the fact that they had hidden them so well). But as timing would have it, as if saving the surprise for my birthday, I didn’t just find one today, but I found the big one with the highest dollar amount of $20.00. The sales lady, recognizing me from the day before, said “aren’t you glad you didn’t find one yesterday,” reminding me that each person could only win once a season! What a great blessing!

So equipped with a $10 birthday coupon and now an unexpected $20 gift certificate (which had to be used on that specific day), I went about the business of deciding how to spend it. After roaming up and down the aisles for about 20 minutes, I realized that I really didn’t need anything. I didn’t need another clock or wall art. I had plenty of bath soaps, lotions; jewelry and other accessories; lamps and other various outdoor lighting configurations. I even tried the kitchen area, with my eye on one thing that would have cost double what my savings were. Since I was determined not to go over the $30.00 — and therefore, maintaining my Free Birthday Friday, I decided to wait for their big kitchen sale they hold once or twice a year. So as I settled back into the food and snack area, it hit me. With several summer birthdays of friends and family members coming up, I thought I’d pick up some items to make a nice basket for one of those. 

The challenge with trying to find gifts for my adult friends is that, like me, there’s very little they still need for their own homes. And outside of an “experience,” which can be a little tricky, there’s not a lot of things to buy that the person would need or even want in their home. But we all have to eat, right? And who doesn’t like some interesting things to snack on; stuff you don’t normally buy for yourself?

After making my selection, the cost, with the basket, and taxes, came to only 12 cents over! Who can complain about getting $30 worth of items for one 12 cents?!

Then it was off to get some lunch; a free birthday burger at Red Robin. I traded the french fries for a salad, and ordered the burger without the bun, in an attempt to reduce the carbs, knowing that a free rewards program desert was going to be in my birthday future! 

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After finishing lunch, I couldn’t believe how fast the day was flying by. How could I get everything in that I wanted to do? Fortunately, almost all of the coupons and rewards were good for multiple days. Only Starbucks required the same-day use. So after I made another stop at Chili’s to pick up the desert, I rushed home, dropped off the World Market items, threw the desert in the refrigerator for later, and did something I almost never do. I went to the movies — alone!

I surprised myself by how comfortable I felt sitting there alone, enjoying this movie! Doing everything I wanted, and on my own terms and time table, felt good. I later joked with my friend and hair stylist that perhaps cutting my hair short had given me some kind of new, special powers. 

I didn’t just feel free. I was also doing some things I hadn’t done before. And I was enjoying it!

After watching Ocean’s Eight, and realizing there was not enough time left in the evening to give my shopping the justice it needed, I decided to call it a day; making one more stop for dinner — Jersey Mike, whose rewards included a sub sandwich and drink. Comfortably at home with my free dinner, I began plotting my adventures for Saturday, which after a high carb and sugar day like today, will include a trip to the gym, where Planet Fitness offers a free bottled water to celebrate birthdays!

The moral of my birthday story? Sign up for rewards programs! It’s worth the inconvenience of receiving email throughout the year; especially if they’re places you shop, eat, or drink at some times during the other 364 days of the year. And you might get lucky enough to be able to save money using your coupons and discounts getting items you would have otherwise paid for — like, say, gifts for other people!