Tag Archives: new normal

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.

 

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

 

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.

 

 

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.

student with books

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.

 

 

Not Another Women’s Conference!?

As we close out another important month — National Women’s History Month — I couldn’t help but take the timing of the ending of March to announce the kickoff plans of Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets “house events” later this year!

My “adjusted lifestyle,” hasn’t just been about journaling and starting a website. It has been about making some real changes in my life that impact how I am living. Our finances are a big part of the way we live. There are financial issues you control (spending, utility usage, entertainment and luxury items, etc.), and there are financial issues you can’t control (the economy’s impact on your 401K, increase in property taxes or insurance, loss of a spouse or loss of a job, and many other things.). Regardless of the source, when something impacts your financial life in a negative way, you’re the one who suffers the financial consequences. Those consequences can be huge and long-lasting if you don’t face the reality of your new normal and make some adjustments.

The impact can be even harder on those who only have one income. Whether it’s a married couple with a stay-at-home spouse, a single person with no family or roommate, or an older couple in retirement, when your “normal” changes, you have to change with it, or get caught up in the financial repercussions.

One of the things I learned through the process of going through my last nine years of change, along with decades of watching my own mom figure out how to make ends meet during trying times; especially with a large family, is that planning is key.

People plan to finish school; plan to go to college; and plan to get a “good” job. But most people don’t plan, financially, for what happens when one of those other “plans” get interrupted. Ignoring the possibility that it can happen doesn’t change the reality when it does. So why not be ready.

Notebook mockup

 

The Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets conference is designed to Inform, Educate, Encourage, and Challenge women of all ages on how to plan for a successful adjustment when life throws unexpected surprises at them. 

INFORM attendees on ways to save money, stretch dollars, and invest wisely simply by planning ahead.

EDUCATE attendees on resources available to offer assistance during their adjustment period.

ENCOURAGE attendees to try new things; be creative in finding or creating secondary sources of revenue.

CHALLENGE attendees to step out of their comfort zone; start a new business; turn a hobby or a passion into extra income.

While we can’t control many of the circumstances that may happen to us, we can have some control over how well prepared we are to handle those stops, detours, and many times life-altering events when they happen.

We’ll be kicking off the larger conference (launching in 2019) starting first with doing small group house events. 

Ultimately, the conference is designed for women to meet, network, learn, feel encouraged, and for some, to come to the realization that they need to stop trying to live the lifestyle they used to know, and start learning how to live a changed life, adjusting to their new normal

Stay tuned!

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!

collector-s-doll-angel-guardian-angel-sad-160720

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/)

What’s in a Cupcake?

I first heard about Gigi Butler when I was a music agent at a talent agency located on Nashville’s infamous Music Row.  Someone brought her cupcakes to the office one day. A couple of months; maybe it was only weeks later someone else brought some in for a meeting. After that, I began to hear even more people talking about them. I can’t say that I “loved” her cupcakes. I actually prefer a little less icing with mine so that I can better enjoy the cupcake itself. But after several months, I did know that there was a growing “buzz” about her new shop, Gigi’s Cupcakes.

IMG_5256

 

I switched jobs less than a year after she launched her company, and was no longer working at the same location, so as I continued to hear more about these cupcakes in other places, I realized it was no longer just another Music Row bakery shop.

Fast forward seven years to 2015, with several articles read about her company’s growth, and biographical information I’d come across, I was one of many who tuned in to the Undercover Boss TV show she was featured in to see how she would handle her own employees and franchisees’ feedback about the cupcakes, and the company as a whole. I found the episode very interesting, because she actually seemed more surprised by what she learned than many of other company CEOs and executives who I have seen on the show.

So when I learned she would be coming to the university where I teach, I made it a point of inviting myself to join the Business School students who were present during last year’s Entrepreneurship Week. I must say that I expected there would be more students in attendance. It still blows my mind that there are so many free opportunities for students to learn from people who are doing what they say they want to do; who they would never get a private meeting with, and yet so few, proportionately speaking, ever attend. I thought this was just an issue in my department. But that’s another story.

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As I sat in that auditorium listening to Gigi tell her story, I was taking mental notes, keying in on things that probably went right past others listening. I wasn’t interested in starting my own cupcake company, but I was interested in hearing about her entrepreneurial journey. And while I had read about much of it online and in various articles, I wanted to hear her tell the story of how as a teenager she started a small business to raise enough money to come to Nashville to pursue a music career. I wanted to hear from her how she built that first company into a success, made the move to Nashville, but struggled to make it in the music industry.

I listened intently about how she struggled financially, not making enough money playing the shows she was able to get (which is not that unusual for those seeking stardom in the music city), but still wanting to continue her pursuit of becoming an artist. And then she said it…

She talked about how she took on other jobs, and then decided to start up her former business again — a cleaning service. Gigi cleaned houses during the day, waited tables at night, and performed when she could.

Why did that interest me so much? Because I’m impressed with people who don’t allow their circumstances to consume them, but rather, will do what they can, what they need to do to keep moving forward. Gigi’s dream was to become a music artist. Her reality was that the years were passing by, and she had monthly bills to pay in order to survive.

She had to adjust her life to her new normal.

Too often we allow pride to get in the way of making the necessary adjustments in our lives when things aren’t going the we planned or things happen that we didn’t expect. Sometimes when our plans get altered, we get so bogged down in what we want to do, that we lose sight of what we need to do.

Of course, the rest of her story is obviously the bigger story that everyone focuses on. While coming to the realization that her original dreams were fading, she gave something else a try; something she had never anticipated being a part of her life, but it was the one thing that brought her the fame that perhaps she was seeking, and certainly more money than she could have imagined. Instead of building a singing career, she went on to build a cupcake empire.

If you’re curious for more information about Gigi Butler and Gigi’s Cupcakes, visit her website at: https://gigiscupcakesusa.com/about/gigis-story/

For now, I leave you with Gigi’s closing comments from that site, because they line up with words I would have shared with you as well.

“If I can convey just one idea to someone reading my story, it would be to believe in yourself, walk with integrity, work hard and trust in God. And maybe your life won’t turn out exactly how you were expecting or hoping it to be; but maybe, just maybe, it will be so much better than you could have ever imagined!

With God, all things are possible!

Blessings,

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From Zero to Hope: Part Two

I can’t say that I’ve always wanted to be married. But I can say that I’ve never wanted to be divorced. I have actually been neither.

But I’ve been to more weddings than I can count; a bridesmaid in my first one at only 15 years old. That was my oldest sister. She divorced seven years later. My two brothers also married and divorced. My parents, on the other hand, had been married for almost 50 years before my mother passed away. Oh, theirs was not a perfect union; far from it.  Something made them stick it out — for better or worst. I’d like to think it was always love that kept them together when things got rough and they felt like giving up; especially once we were all out of the house and old enough to survive on our own.  But it also wasn’t lost on me (and likely, not my parents either) how difficult it would have been for either one of them to survive single life in the late 20th and early 21st century, had they divorced during some of those trying times. Or even earlier, if my mom tried to raise six kids on her own. It’s been done before, but not always with success. And I’m certainly glad it was never anything we had to grow up in or deal with.

Other kids aren’t as lucky. Other couples aren’t as fortunate. And sometimes, no matter how hard you try, things happen. I have a number of acquaintances, associates, co-workers, and even friends who have gone through a divorce. Not a one of them have ever said they saw it coming; or at least not when they walked down that aisle, said their “I Dos,” promised to love in good times and bad times; until death do us part

No, most of them admit to struggles and challenges, like most marriages, but ending up divorced was not a part of their life’s plan. When it happened; they had a couple of choices. They could either allow their divorce lead them to anger, depression, bitterness, guilt, shame, and so many other negative, unhealthy feelings — which I’ve seen. Or they could choose to hang on; cling to hope, and to not accept or allow what happened to their marriage to define what was going to happen to them and their future.

Most of them ended up going in and out of  both places. The reality of a changed life that they didn’t ask for. And the truth that they didn’t have to let that determine their future success — in love, in parenting, in work — in life. And those who landed in a place called HOPE have been able to move on; to adjust to their new normal.

That’s what Kathy did. Her story post-divorce began “messy,” as she described it. But she didn’t leave it there. She found a way to keep going.

From Zero to Hope: Part Two

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What this little graphic does not show you are many nights I cried for one reason or another.

Yet, I can say despite the struggles, I am blessed to look back and see the village that supported me and those who still do to this day. Transparency and vulnerability are necessary if you are going to benefit from the “village.” It is not just about the transparency and vulnerability of the ones in need, but it extends to those playing the supportive role. Once again, this is not easy, especially if your tragic circumstances include a form of loss of meaningful relationships. This too is messy…”who do I trust and what do I trust them with?” I have to ask myself this question constantly and consistently, which is exhausting.

So where is the hope in all this? Well, I can tell you that once I accepted the fact that my new normal was going to be “messy” for a while and that I needed to prayerfully invite members into “my village” for support, this is where the strength to take the first step begun. What the graphic does not show you are various victories won:

  • healing from the emotional struggles
  • freedom from doubt
  • regaining sight of my worth and value
  • new friends and strengthened family ties
  • two wonderful boys who remind me daily how much they love me
  • the experience of walking with the Savior who is fashioning something new out of my life
  • gaining beauty from my ashes

kathy-phillipsFor me the journey is still underway and I must keep moving forward. Yet, I do know with each step that I will need the love of God to sustain me, the love of friends to encourage me, the courage to inspire others, and the ability to accept that this is going to be “messy.” Win or lose, the battles will come. I can only take it one day at a time, pressing toward my final destination-hope. Mercy and grace continue to cover me and allow me to discover that hope exists and is available along the way!

 

From Zero to Hope: Part One

Yesterday I had to go for my three-times a year follow up to check my thyroid levels. My doctor and I are actually the same age, so it’s funny to watch him struggle through some of life’s unfair assaults on our aging bodies like I do. He had just returned to work after having surgery on both wrists for carpal tunnel. We certainly aren’t 20-something any more. But I swear, there are days when I feel a good decade older than the calendar says I am!

After our usual time together, I followed my routine of heading around the corner to get my blood drawn. Sitting down chatting with the woman who had been drawing tubes of blood from me for almost two years, the conversation somehow ended up on the topic of the importance of living within your means, and planning for the unexpected. We’d been talking about the recent gas shortage in Nashville, and the impact it had on some people. I began explaining to her about why I’d topped off the gas in my car — because I knew I had several appointments coming up that week; and running out of gas was not going to be an option. She admitted that did not. “My sister called and told me to fill up my tank on that Friday,” she said. “But I figured I’d get around to it later in the weekend, and went about my day.”

By Saturday afternoon, she found herself driving around town to four different gas stations before finding one that hadn’t run out of fuel. “And then I paid much more for it than it was the day before,” she said. We continued our conversation, so that I could pretend the needle prick didn’t hurt, and I shared with her how it’s become a passion of mine to try to help women to not put off nor feel guilty about taking care of themselves. I told her that it needed to start with proper planning. She was lucky because she found an open gas station, and paying more for fuel is better than not having it at all. But I asked her if there was any particular reason why she didn’t go ahead and get it on Friday after she heard the news, and her sister’s advice. She admitted there wasn’t, which lead me to talk about the importance of planning, and finances in general. I told her in the big picture, this was something minor, but it could have turned into a bigger deal. “You spent more money paying for gas, after spending a lot of time being worried that you might not find any, all because you wouldn’t heed the advice and take the time to get some earlier, when you could.” When I was done, she said, “You know, you should write a book.” I laughed a little, and then shared with her that I had already begun working on one. But in the meantime, I told her, I was sharing my story and other people’s stories, advice, and encouragement through this blog. So I gave her my card, told her to check it out, and then said I’d see her again in four months.

Sharing the stories of female friends and associates who have been through different trials, and how they were able to make it through, is important to me. I don’t have all the answers…I just have my story. My friends don’t have all the answers, but they can share what worked and didn’t work for them. It’s their story. And most of you reading this right now…you have your own story. What connects the stories I choose to share, is not just what people do to plan and prepare for the unexpected things that can happen in their life; but also what they did to survive when those unexpected things happened. There are those who live in denial — after a job loss, a divorce, the death of a loved one — who will continue to do things as they always have. Then there are others who acknowledge the changes in their life, how it has impacted them — on personal, social, and oftentimes, financial level — and then they make an adjustment for their different lifestyle. They adjust to their new normal, so that they can move on in the life they now have.

Below is part one of the story a single mom, entrepreneur, and friend shared with me. It’s about the curve ball that life threw her; inconvenient timing and all; and the journey that followed. Remember to come back for part two of her story, next week. Perhaps something she shares might help you or someone you know as well.

From Zero to Hope

I cannot really put my finger on when I took a wrong turn off my life journey toward hope. It could have been the aftermath of drama in high school, the blurry and illogical moments in college, or the sudden and tragic end of my marriage of 12 years. Regardless of how I got to my lowest point, I can recall the emotions affecting my daily life beginning around Christmas of 2006. It was at that time I discovered the reality of a pending divorce, I was 34 weeks pregnant with my second child and the mother of a four and a half year old son. It has been 10 years since I began my journey from zero to hope. I can proclaim two things about this type of journey.  The journey is messy and it takes a village!

There is no Hallmark Channel story here. My tragedy transformed how I viewed myself, shattered my confidence and caused misplaced views of my value. I do not know about you, but trying to “dream” for yourself is hard enough. Yet, I needed to look past myself and begin a new life for the joy of my two young sons. There is no magic formula to regaining purpose after tragedy. In the beginning, every decision was painstaking. I found myself overwhelmed every five minutes, either dealing with my emotional struggles, the emotional and physical needs of my children, or just battling loneliness. This was my “zero” point. As much as I wanted to move forward, I often lost strength or ran out of resources, time and/or money.

Today, 10 years later, I own my own business, work from home and am able to play an active role in my children’s lives. I must admit it is not easy to look back. I have not arrived, but I know I am so much further than I was when I started out. The process for me is like a winding road with rest stops, exits to amazing or scary places (all distractions, I might add), and the homes and hearts of friends and family. At the surface, the process seems simple enough.

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What this little graphic does not show you are many nights I cried for one reason or another.

  • The struggle of overcoming stereotypes as a black woman with two kids; some assuming I was never married and the boys had different dads.
  • Endless nights trying to find strength to take every necessary “next step” for my children and me.
  • Another night having to turn down companionship or relationships because my new life demanded transformed priorities.
  • Struggles to believe I had worth and value.

The list goes on and on. This is the “messy” of the journey. Did I always make the right choice? No, probably not. So finding courage and strength to forgive myself made it even more “messy.”

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More from Kathy Phillips in Part Two…

Catching Raindrops in Water Barrels

I love hearing from people who have made changes in their lives because of something I’ve shared here, and on our Facebook page, or challenges I’ve made to encourage others on ways to take control over their own financial future. It’s not always possibly for someone to take on a second job; or even in some cases, working outside the home at all. But there are lots of ways we can all make changes to help save and stretch the use of the money that IS coming in to the home. So I was really excited to hear from a friend of mine who had not only done just that…but utilized one avenue quite literally, by catching raindrops in her water (buckets) barrels!

Meet Erica Manly, a stay at home mom, who previously worked full-time outside the home. Much has changed in Erica’s life over the past five years, including marriage, quitting her day job, having a baby, and moving three hours away from her family for her husband’s job. Erica’s life changed…so Erica had to learn how to adjust her lifestyle to her new normal. Let me let her tell you more about that.

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My name is Erica and I’m a wife and stay at home mom to the cutest and busiest little three year old you’ve ever seen. In order to make it possible to stay with her full-time and to save for our future (and hers), I am always looking for ways for our family to save wherever we can. We became even more serious about saving last year after reviewing exactly how much money was going out every month. I started serious couponing first, because most of our budget was going to the grocery store. I wouldn’t call what I do “extreme couponing”, but we are definitely saving about $400 per month in comparison to two years ago between the grocery and other big box store spending. And as a bonus, our cupboards and closets are full of food and toiletries!

I also took up gardening last year with one raised bed garden of vegetables. Whenever I decide to start a project like this, I’m sure my husband cringes as this means work for him. He built a nice raised bed for me and filled it with a truck load of dirt. Our friend had started extra tomato plants and had other extra seeds, so we actually spent absolutely nothing on our plants!

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As a new gardener, I noticed how much more everything grew when it rained in comparison to my usual watering from the hose. Our friend calls it “magic water”.

Partly inspired by our Catching Raindrops friend, Gloria, I told my husband that I needed a rain barrel. The way I remember it, he rolled his eyes and sighed. A couple days later, my man was researching rain barrels and told me he found some 55 gallon drums for sale nearby and had found a way to tie them into our downspout under the back porch. Within a week, the project was complete – three 55 gallon drums filled with water after one good rain.

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I can’t break down exactly how much money it is saving us, but I was watering our new landscaping on the front of the house and/or the veggie garden almost everyday. Since installing the rain collection system, I have only pulled the garden hose back out a few times. I am looking forward to expanding my garden this spring to two raised beds of vegetables and using my good and bad experiences from last year to improve. My husband will also add another rain barrel or two to be sure we never run out of rain water.

While my ways may be extreme to some, and my reasons to save money may be different from yours, there are almost always ways to spend less and save more for a rainy (or even not rainy) day!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go follow my child around while turning off lights and try to explain (again) that just because you can flip all the light switches now doesn’t mean you need to turn all the lights on!