Category Archives: Saving money

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!

House Hunting Your Way to Divorce

I was recently watching an episode of House Hunters. It’s not one of my must-watch programs, but sometimes, there really is nothing else on television that I feel like getting in to. And other times, I just want to be as far away from anything that comes close to making me mad (the news) or making me think (most movies) or getting involved in a series where I either don’t know, or don’t care enough about the characters to give an hour or more of my time. So HGTV is my fall back, and that evening’s time slot was House Hunters International, to be more exact.

I think you can tell a lot about many people on these type of shows by what they say when they have their one-on-one private camera time. It’s as if they forget that while they may be alone in the room with the producer and the camera person, what they say will be aired and viewed by the person they’re talking about, and hundreds of thousands or more other viewers. So as I was watching this particular night’s show, it took me less than five minutes to think, they’re house hunting their way to divorce.

Why would I say that, as a passive viewer on the other side of a TV set?

Because what a person says, or fails to say, actually speaks volumes in a relationship. According to a recent study by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, other than infidelity, communication problems were the number one reason for divorce in America.

It’s not surprising that many of the couples who go house hunting — with or without a camera crew following them — often times have different ideas of what they’re wanting to buy. Is it a cottage with an English garden out back; or a three-story townhome with a postage-size yard? Do you want to live in the city, close to restaurants and clubs, or in the suburbs near shopping malls and the school system of choice? People ponder many things when making a decision to spend, or rather invest, thousands of dollars into their first home, last home, or even vacation homes.

Will it be a Colonial or a Victorian? Move-in Ready or a Fixer Upper? On the ocean or in the mountains? A single-family home or a condo?

But unless you’re single, purchasing your own home, at the end of the day, you have to compromise — for a spouse; for children; for in-laws who may be moving with you.

Then there are the finances!

Money is right up there with communication issues in factors leading to divorce. How to make money? Who makes the money? How you’re going to spend the money? Are you in agreement with how to save that money? Perhaps that’s one of there reasons most good pre-marital counseling sessions include discussions about finances and how each person views it. Some people even go through financial counseling before getting married.

It was obvious to me in this evening’s episode that the husband believed in having a budget, and the wife believed in getting what she wanted. It wasn’t just my observations, but it was what she actually said during her on-camera part. 

The husband didn’t want to go over $1,800/month; the wife said money wasn’t an issue. The husband said he wanted to be close to his job. The stay-at-a-home wife insisted they move to what amounted to being a 30 minute one-way drive for him. The couple only had two small kids, so the husband thought a three bedroom house was plenty. The wife insisted on a five bedroom house, citing needing room for all her clothes.

Did I mention that she was a shopaholic?

In spite of them being in the hunt for a house. In spite of them needing to watch their money, according to the husband. In spite of the fact that her closets were already filled with more clothes than most women could wear in a year; even if they changed outfits at least once per day. She bought more. And it was obvious that this spending habit bothered him. But he said nothing that wasn’t couched in a joke; at least not to the camera. But his face told a different story.

The biggest thing that stuck out to me was that the husband wanted to please his wife; admitting that “she usually gets her way.”  And the wife didn’t really care anything about the things that the husband wanted, saying “I don’t believe in compromise.”  She went on to say that she wants what she wants, but was in agreement with him on at least one thing — that she always gets her way!

I’m not sure why people think that’s a good thing; to brag about always getting your way. In families. In the workforce. In life, there are always compromises.

Money is no different.

At the end of the episode, they’d rented a 5-bedroom house, flipping one of them to her wardrobe closet. The house was a half-hour drive from his job, and it was hundreds of dollars over their planned monthly budget. And she was shopping again!

I shook my head as I watched the outcome. It wasn’t just that she got everything she wanted. But it was because to me, her actions displayed how much she didn’t care about what he wanted. She didn’t seem to show any regard for the true meaning of a healthy relationship, and certainly didn’t seem to care that she was stretching them financially with her shopping habits and insistence upon living in a place that was above their means. Whether those means were put in place because he wanted to save money, or because that truly was all they could comfortably afford, doesn’t really matter. If you set a budget that to most people seems to be a reasonable budget, then why would you knowingly go above that — adding to the stress of living abroad, and being married, with children, to begin with.

Loving someone doesn’t mean you have to give in to everything they want. A marriage without compromise is a marriage on the verge of divorce. And one of the things that can  drive people to an early divorce is financial challenges and money disagreements.

At the end of the show, he said, “as long as she is happy.”

I had to wonder if he was just saying that for the camera. Notably, she never shared the same sentiments for him.

 

 

Time to Move from Financial Denial to Reality Living

I made a Facebook post on my Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets page, bragging about how happy I was to find a large container of Folgers coffee on sale at Kroger. I was very happy about my find because I was in there picking up items for an event that was happening the next day, and coffee was among them.

Seeing that winter was refusing to leave, and the forecast called for a rainy and much cooler day, I knew that a fresh brewed pot of hot coffee would be a welcomed treat to our guests!

But within hours of me posting my 75% savings, and talking about having paid less than three dollars for a 23 ounce container that normally sold for over eleven dollars, one of the women who follow my page decided to mock my posting.

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“It is $3 for a reason,” she wrote. Adding the ever present “hahaha” whenever someone’s trying to be funny. I fired back; not because I was personally offended. To be honest, I don’t routinely buy Folgers coffee. I don’t drink enough of it on a regular basis to buy large containers of anyone’s coffee. So I tend to grab the smaller bags; usually when I have a coupon for the grocery store, or when a place like World Market runs them for a Buy One Get One free! And on the occasion I’m sitting and writing from one of my favorite cafes, I’ll usually buy a small cup there, if only to justify why I’m taking up a seat while working on grades or even this blog.

But I responded to her, not so much to set her straight — perhaps she really was trying to be funny — but more as a message to any of my other readers who thought the way her comment implied:

“Lots of people love Folgers. Actually, lots of people are drinking it and don’t even know it. Don’t you know that’s what most people are serving at conferences and church? Do you really think it’s the high premium ones being served?”

You see. I’m convinced that the reason so many people struggle financially for so long following a job loss, or downsizing, or an economic blow to their bank account, is because they’re not willing to adjust their lifestyle to their new life. They live and spend and go about their days in what I call “denial of the moment,” that catches up to them when the debt collectors come calling.

I know there are some who really don’t know how to make a major life shift, because luxury spending and not having a budget was always so much a part of their every day life, that adjusting is difficult. They don’t know where or how to start. However, that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t learn.

But then there are others; several people who I know personally, who don’t because they won’t. They would rather be seen with the five dollar green logo cup of coffee in their hands, than the one dollar gas station version; or even something brewed from home. They would rather run up their credit cards at their old familiar boutique retail outlets, than to be seen coming out of a discount store, let alone, any type of consignment shop.

These are the women who buy cars for “show” and look down on generic or store-brand products, some of which have beaten the higher priced items in blind taste tests, or are even products made by the same name brand companies. But when you’re putting on a show, the illusion is what you’re trying to sell.

And that’s one of the things that can get people into financial trouble, or gets in the way of them getting out of it. For an illusion to be believable, it has to be sustained. People have to work at getting others to buy their lie.

Today in church, I sat next to a friend I’ve known for over 10 years. When service was over, another woman we both know commented on her outfit; complimenting the skirt and top she had on.

I got it from Goodwill,” my friend spoke up confidently. Their conversation after that was about which one of the Goodwills in town had the best finds, and which day of the week was the best time to go, etc. I had to smile, because I’d actually gone shopping with this friend at several Goodwill stores before. I’ve also spoken frequently with other women about giving it a try; especially if they said they were serious about watching their budgets.

But if there’s anything I’ve learned watching and personally walking through this past decade, it’s that you can’t make someone change their ways. You can only offer them assistance, show them another way, and encourage them to make life’s adjustments to their new normal. It’s up to them to face the reality of where they actually are, and stop with the illusion of where they once were, or hoped to be.

There should be nothing embarrassing about being wise with your money.

 

When Stores Close, Where Do People Go?

Back before the Christmas holidays, I remember hearing news about the toy store company, Toys R Us, closing some of its stores. I didn’t take a serious note of it; first, because I don’t have kids, and my youngest nephew is 16 years old. So it’s been quite a while since I’ve shopped in any of their stores. Second, news of the closing of “some” of their stores was not unlike the reoccurring news of Kmart, Sears, Macy’s, even Sam’s Club. It had become an all too real part of the news cycle. Another month, another retail store filing bankruptcy, mostly to reorganize, and in the process, closing several of their stores.

But then earlier this month, that news changed. It was no longer just some stores closing, but rather, news broke that the company planned to sell or close all 800 stores in the US. The part that jumped out to me in the articles I read was that as many as 33,000 employees would be affected!

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From what I understand, Toys R Us had declared bankruptcy back in Fall 2017 because of an almost EIGHT BILLION DOLLAR debt it was struggling to pay. Let that sink in… Other than the position we’ve allowed ourselves to get into as a country, where else do you hear about a business continuing to operate for so long with that kind of outstanding debt?

One of the things that came to mind was wondering how many employees took any action upon originally hearing about the company’s bankruptcy? How many people in upper and middle management pulled out their resumes and started working on updating their information? Or who of the hourly employees started looking for other places hiring in their community? How many even knew or gave thought about the financial instability of their company — even though the information was readily available and reported on?

Perhaps it’s hard to say with certainty what any one of us would do, given the same scenario. Or maybe you DO know, because you have already been in this situation. But I ask these questions because I’m curious as to why people stay in a place, making little effort to seek alternative employment, when they know the clock has already started ticking down towards the day when they will lose their job. An announcement that a company you work for is closing should signal that it’s time to get serious about making a change; preparing for reality — the new normal that’s about to fall up you. 

One article I read talked about the gap between the time when some people can apply for unemployment, and the timing it takes to actually start receiving an unemployment check. And while that money is there for such a time as this, it won’t be the same amount as what most soon-to-be former employees have become accustomed to living on. By its design, it’s suppose to just tie people over until they find that next job. For some, they’ll have one the day their store closes. For others, it may take weeks or months.

So my question for you is, how prepared are you if you were to find out today that you will no longer have your job by the end of the year? Or by the end of the month? Maybe even by the end of the week?

vintage-music-closed-shop

In a list posted by Clark, a retail and consumer news site, some of the other stores scheduled to close at least some, if not all of their stores this year, include: Abercrombie & Fitch, Foot Locker, Best Buy cell phone stores, J.C. Penney, Bon-Ton, Sam’s Club, Macy’s, J. Crew, Gap and Banana Republic, Teavana, and Michael Kor’s. Additionally, Ascena Retail Group, which is the women’s clothing retailer that operates the brands Ann Taylor, Loft, Dress Barn, Lane Bryant, Justice and several others. (https://clark.com/shopping-retail/major-retailers-closing-2018/)

The Most Important Woman in the World

It’s Women’s History Month; a time when we celebrate the progress, influence, and contributions women have made and continue to make in society. It’s kinda funny to me that we have to set a month aside each year in order to pause and recognize what women do and what they have done in history, rather than celebrating those accomplishments every day. I mean, just look around and it’s amazing all of the incredible things women are able to do, to share, to teach, and to create.

But I never realized just how much I learned from the most important woman in my life — my mom. And how much she did, how much she shared, how much she taught me growing up…until she was gone; and I couldn’t tell her.

People talk about hearing their mother’s voice in the words they find themselves repeating. Funny phrases. Directives to their kids. A discussion with their spouse. They laugh upon realizing that some of their vocal tone, actions, body language, and even reactions are things they saw or heard from their mother, and that they swore they would never say or do. There are so many things I find myself doing, and at times, stop and realize I’m doing them a certain way because it was the way my mama taught me. Or it was something I observed her doing.

Being one of six kids, I often shake my head in amazement that mom had the time, the energy, and the mental stability to raise all of us; and to do a pretty good job of it, I must say. Of course she had challenges, and I’m sure if she was still here she would talk about the things she might have said or done differently. But as I look back at the woman who married young, had two kids more than she and my dad had intended, and was twice forced to become a single parent for a year while my dad served two tours of duty in Vietnam, it is a wonder how she managed to keep it all together; to keep us all together.

One of the things that impressed me about my mom was how she was able to take care of her family on the low pay soldier’s salary my dad made. Even today, there’s much that can be said about the low salaries of our military, but back in the 1960s and 70s, it was even worst; especially for enlisted members. So retirement wasn’t much better. But in spite of that, we never went to bed hungry; never spent a night on the streets; and when it came down to it, we never went without the things we needed.

We shopped at Sears and other discount stores; always had shoes on her feet; wore clothes that were handed down; and while we may not have been the most fashionable bunch, mom often found a way to splurge on us for special events, like attending a concert or the middle and junior high school dance.

She had a way with making money work for her.

Growing up, I didn’t just watch my mom clip coupons. She made us cut them from all of the coupon fliers in the Sunday newspaper each week, and the numerous Army base magazines she picked up from the Commissary. I may have been too young to fully understand the value of a dollar back then, but I will never forget the value of the savings and her ability to stretch the dollars in order to regularly provide for our family. It’s a practice that I have replicated to keep me afloat during some financially challenging times.

Having been raised to live within my means; to not be embarrassed to shop at discount stores; and not worry about not making fashion statements; or to let pride keep me from making wise decisions about purchases and savings, it was an easier transition for me to re-adjust my lifestyle in my adult years, when after years of upward financial mobility, I was dealt an unexpected change in my job and financial stability. It was the lessons I learned from my mother that helped me to get through that time in my life.

My mom had such wisdom about her, even in her younger years. The youngest in her own family, with sisters who were much older, it is a wonder how she picked up on so much. I used to ask her about things, like where she learned about keeping a budget. She would say, “some things you’re just forced into learning how to do.” I guess that’s part of what made her generation so much different than ours. They worked hard for the things they needed; and put off many of the things they wanted, if it didn’t fit into the budget. We, on the other hand, work hard to surround ourselves with things we just want, seldom allowing patience and planning to direct our steps towards having them; even if it means going into debt.

So when I think about the purpose of celebrating women’s history month, and as I’m thinking about the woman who had the biggest influence on my life, I can say without hesitation that it was definitely my mom.

How Are You Using Your Water Buckets?

You’ve heard us talk about “water buckets.” It’s even in the name of the website. But have you ever wondered what we’re talking about when we refer to them? Do you know what your water buckets are and how are you using them?

Your water buckets are those things you use to catch the “rain” of blessings that you’ll need to sustain you, not today, and maybe not even tomorrow, but at some point in the future.  Preparation is one of the keys to success. While you can’t know every possible bad scenario that could happen in your life, you can have a plan to better prepare yourself for how to deal with those circumstances as they come.

Everyone should keep water buckets around. Maybe it’s maintaining your own savings account after you get married; or learning how to turn your hobby into an income stream for your family. Perhaps as a single adult, you decide to take in a roommate so that you put the extra funds away for that emergency. Or as a family you purchase a house with the purpose of turning part of it into income property to help you pay your mortgage off early. Water buckets are ways to save money and resources today so that you have them to use later when you unexpectedly need it.

If you’ve been through a divorce, and suddenly found yourself dealing with the shock of returning to just one income; or your spouse carried you on their insurance, and now you’re having to pay for your own, along with the mortgage, and that new car that at the time seemed like a good idea — then you understand the concept of having the advantage of having something in those buckets to help with your transition.

Maybe you’re single, just lost your job, and now there’s no second income to fall back on; no one else to help pay those bills or provide some of the health benefits that you just lost. Or you and your spouse figured you’d “get around” to getting life insurance when you got older, only now they’re gone and you’ve had to use all of your savings to pay funeral costs.

Perhaps you still have your job, but with the cost of everything increasing, you’re just barely making enough to cover your monthly expenses, with no room for anything else. But then the brakes go out in your car, and there’s no coworker or bus line within 10 miles of where you live, offering no alternative but to some how get the car fixed.

If any of these scenarios sound familiar in your life or with someone you know, then you understand that life is full of unexpected surprises and unplanned stops in the middle of places you never imagined. And while we can’t control some of the circumstances that may happen to us, we can control how well we’re prepared to take on those events when they happen.

Being prepared for life’s unexpected turns means being willing to create and then implement a plan now, so that you are where you need to be, have what you need to have, or are on your way to accomplishing steps to help you if or when a crisis hits.

So when it’s raining outside, the grass is looking green, the flowers are colorful and all the trees are thick with foliage, don’t worry about your neighbors or friends looking at you strangely because you’ve placed your water buckets around the house to fill up. Maybe they haven’t checked the forecast to know that there’s a drought coming. Be thankful that you’re going to be ready for it.

Adjusting Your Life to Your New Normal

Why the name Catching Raindrops?

The verb Adjusting means “to change (something) so that it fits, corresponds, or conforms; adapt; accommodate.” Adjustment is defined as “adaptation to a particular condition, position, or purpose.”

Interestingly, the dictionary gives an example of “adjusting,” by this sentence use: “to adjust expenses to income.”

That definition lines up so perfectly with the actions that lead to the name. As I’ve shared before, I spent about a year looking at ways to make adjustments in my lifestyle to accommodate my new life. One of those changes included figuring out ways to cut back not just on expenses outside the home, but things that impacted my money inside the home. There was nothing I could do about the fixed mortgage, because I already had a good rate, so I zoned in on adjusting the other things that were variables – my utilities, groceries, clothes, and related items.

With that, I kept my heat at 66 and my air conditioner turned to 78. For most of my friends, they thought I was crazy, and actually had their own heat and AC settings exactly the opposite of mine. But then, I was trying to save money, and to understand that being comfortable didn’t have to mean ending up with hundreds of dollars in utility charges.

I forced myself to wear the clothes that were already in my closet; not that I was a fashionista to begin with. And limited purchasing new items only for special events, and with retail coupons. I did likewise with my groceries; using reward cards, coupons, and waiting for certain sales before shopping, still trying to stay with only buying the things I needed and not what I wanted. I think sometimes it’s harder to deny yourself from those things you want, than even the things you need! But I knew I had to do it.

I started cutting my own grass again and stopped watering the lawn and floor gardens, allowing nature to take its course. If it rained, they got water. If it didn’t, I just prayed the lawn and flowers wouldn’t all die. Fortunately, that never happened. And since I’d started a patio garden with vegetables and herbs, I took advantage of any opportunity that the skies would deliver water for FREE. I caught as much water as I could by placing water buckets around the deck in my backyard. Southern summers demand a regular watering of container plants if they are to survive. So the water-filled buckets I caught when it rained served to refresh plants later to avoid the summer’s hot sun from drying them out. And it didn’t cost me anything!

It was equating that literal process I was engaged in – taking advantage of free resources today to save and use when the need occurs later – that the name Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets, grew. Whether that was saving herb plants on the deck, cutting and using coupons at the store, joining loyalty programs for discounts on gas and other items; or even in the downgrade of things such as cable TV and my house alarm system — all of it was for the purpose of making adjustments in how I was living to survive these new times.

I was adjusting my life to my new normal!