Author Archives: Annie

Katie’s Graduation

Published / by Annie / 11 Comments on Katie’s Graduation

The big day finally arrived. My youngest, the reason I worked so hard to live on less, finally graduated high school.

It was a bittersweet day. I spent close to 20 years striving to work less so that I could spend as much time with her as possible. I swam against the current as a single mom but this day marked the moment where the journey was finally over.

My baby is now an adult even more so than she was when she turned 18.

A friend of mine drove over four hours to celebrate with us. The first thing we did that day was surprise her with flowers.

The next thing we did was take her and her boyfriend out to Olive Garden. We wanted to make this a day she would never forget.

We gifted the kids with a round of gag gifts. Her boyfriend C really got a kick out of one of them!

As we told him, we figured that since he was going into the Army he could use the guy for practice! Oh how he laughed! His real gift was a journal in which we inscribed “to keep track of your future adventures with Katie.” He was touched.

We also got him a set of crowns so he could remind Katie of who was the “king” – complete with spares for when she knocks them off his head! She got a tiara, of course – she is my princess!

After digging out some other gifts Katie finally got around to her big one from my friend. I’d given her my gift earlier because I didn’t want to detract from the moment. Here’s the expression on her face when she realized that my friend had gifted her with a pair of diamond earrings.

Once the dust had settled C had another surprise for my daughter. I was the only one aside from him who knew his plan. He smiled at her and announced. “I’ve got something to go with those earrings.”

That was when he proposed.

After all of that we still weren’t done. We drove them around and took lots of photos of them to mark the big day.

Once we dropped them off so they could do their thing prior to graduation my friend and I went out for a good stiff drink to mark the end of an era. We both needed it by then. My friend had known her since she was a baby and I needed liquid strength to get through the graduation ceremony. Not only was my youngest daughter graduating, I was lost. I’d spent so many years trying to be the best mom I could be, trying to spend as much time with her as I could. It didn’t help that, like my daughter, my dad had been dying of terminal cancer as well when I had graduated from that very same high school. I was filled with bittersweet memories, all of which came to the surface as I sipped on my Jack and Coke.

Thus prepared, we headed to the stadium for the graduation ceremony. We looked around, relieved to see that her dad, my ex-husband, actually managed to attend. He’d had Hospice take him. Once the ceremony finished we met up with the kids and took some more photos. I’m the one with the red shirt and big boobs.

So this is it, folks. The end of an era. My goal of raising my daughter is complete. Katie has not only graduated high school, but she’s engaged as well.

I’m both proud and sad.

How to Start Buying in Bulk

Published / by Annie / 3 Comments on How to Start Buying in Bulk

It can be a challenge to switch from only purchasing what you need to buying in bulk. Not only do you have to figure out where to put the items you purchase you need to save up money so you can start buying.

I enountered that issue when I resolved to return to my old stockpiling habits here. Money was tight since I was still recovering financially from my injury. I’d also repurposed my old stockpile storage to maximize my living space but with a little shifting of both possessions and finances I made it work.

Create a storage space

You will need to designate a place to store your stockpile. The area will need to be clean, dry, and protected from vermin. A metal shelf in an out of the way spot is ideal if you don’t have a convenient closet or pantry. Try not to store your supplies around water sources in the winter. A broken pipe can destroy a fortune in paper supplies really fast. I learned that the hard way many years ago. I stored my bathroom tissue stockpile beneath my bathroom sink. When the pipes burst I lost a small fortune. Mice and rats can also be a threat to your supplies so make sure you have traps, poison, or other deterrents near your storage areas. I keep the majority of my stockpile on a wire shelf that is kept far enough off of the floor and away from walls to prevent them from climbing onto it. My cats like to help guard my supplies as well.

Start small

Unless you decide to devote part of your income tax refund to the investment your funds will be limited at first. You can overcome this by selecting one or two items at a time to stock up on. I started out by buying a stockpile of bathroom tissue on my first payday. The next payday I laid in a supply of paper towels. Over time as those needs were met I expanded to other items like soap, shampoo, feminine hygeine products, pet food and the like as money allowed.

At first it will seem as if you are spending more (which you actually will be in the beginning) but over time you will begin to reap the savings. As it is, we are now able to make a large purchase once a month or so to keep plenty of supplies on hand.

Take advantage of windfalls

Instead of splurging on treats when a windfall comes, use part of it to increase your stockpile. I use my income tax refund to stock up on all sorts of items and try to purchase enough of certain things to last us the entire year or longer. This increases our money savings as prices tend to rise over time.

Watch for sales

When something you use goes on sale, purchase extra when you can even if you already have a supply on hand. I had recently purchased a large package of paper towels a few weeks before my store offered them on sale but I still purchased some because I knew it would save money in the long run.

Consider online purchases

Online stores will frequently offer closeouts and bargains to online shoppers that aren’t available locally while some offer significant discounts to first-time customers. My daughter stocked up on leggings the other day with this method. She discovered that an online store offered her favorite leggings at a 50% discount to new customers. She purchased several pairs and saved a week’s wage as a result. That was like getting an extra paycheck, especially since the leggings in question will last her for several years.

The savings can really add up, even if you only work for minimum wage like we do.

Use social media

It is becoming common for extreme couponers to offer items for sale in social media groups at a significant discount. Joining these groups can save you a small fortune on your favorite brands.

Keep extra money available

Always keep money in your account to take advantage of unexpected sales. You never know when a local store will decide to go out of business and sell their remaining stock at a HUGE discount. I’ve seen some places decide to sell everything in their store for 90% off or simply have a crazy low price for everything. It is also common for stores to stock up on a bargain that they’ve found and pass the savings on to their customers. Keeping money on hand for these unexpected bargains can save you a small fortune.

What other tips do you know that will help people learn how to stockpile and save money? Please share your stories in the comments below.

The Art of Buying in Bulk

Published / by Annie / 6 Comments on The Art of Buying in Bulk

I was taught as a child that buying items in bulk not only saved money when you purchased the items on sale or at a discount, it made life considerably easier because you didn’t have to worry about running out of stuff constantly.

I must confess that over the past few years I questioned that teaching. Minimalist gurus preach expansively against the practice and encourage you to buy only what you need when you need it. I watched my friends purchase just enough supplies to last until their next pay periods and questioned them extensively about the practice, hoping for some tips. While some of them touted the benefit of having the ability to switch brands on a whim and keep up with changing needs, I noticed that they all shared a common refrain: they only purchased what they needed at the time because that was all they could afford.

Despite the fact that this raised alarms in my head I decided to try it. I used up my stockpiles and followed the practice for several years. While it does make shifting brands easier and allow you to avoid large stockpiles of items that you stop using as your needs change, I discovered the hard way that it costs a significant amount more than my old method of stocking up. I also discovered that, on many items such as bathroom tissue and basic cleaning supplies, I didn’t switch brands near as often as some claimed to do. In fact, I realized that the primary reason many of my friends switched brands so frequently was due to cost. They would buy what they could afford at the time even if it wasn’t the brand they preferred.

More importantly, I discovered that it’s a pain in the ass to go shopping every single payday, especially when you don’t own a vehicle.

My current job allows me to see the differences between those who buy in bulk and those who refrain. I noticed that the ones who purchase large amounts of items on sale tend to be wealthier than those who do not. It breaks my heart to see a customer forced to count their pennies in order to purchase a single roll of bathroom tissue, especially when I know from my research that they would save money in the long run if they had simply purchased larger packages to begin with. While I know from experience that financial challenges strike all of us from time to time, buying in bulk when money allows simply makes sense.

The Art of Buying in Bulk

Stock up when money is plentiful. Income tax season is an ideal time to purchase stockpiles of things that you know you will use. Bathroom tissue, paper towels, feminine hygeine products, and cleaning supplies won’t go bad just sitting on a shelf so stock up on these items whenever you can take advantage of sales. I make it a habit to take advantage of back to school season to stock up on notebooks, office supplies, panties, socks, and other items that are offered at a discount then.

Keep money in reserve to take advantage of sales. You never know when you will stumble upon a good bargain so it pays to keep some money available to take advantage of these opportunities. For instance, just the other day the store I work at offered a 16-pack of paper towels for a dollar less than the regular price on two 8-packs of the same brand. While we don’t use a lot of paper towels (one roll typically lasts us a couple of months), the dollar I saved is a dollar (or more, if prices go up) I won’t have to worry about earning in the future.

Know what you need and use. Keep an eye on your stash so that you will know when you are getting low on something. This allows you to start looking for sales before the need is urgent. Few things are more annoying than to discover that you’re on your last roll of bathroom tissue or your last sanitary napkin while you’re sitting on the commode. Last minute purchases can eliminate your money savings.

Use caution when stockpiling perishable items. It isn’t a bargain if most of it will go bad before you use it. Watch your expiration dates carefully. For instance, it saves us money to purchase milk in gallon containers as opposed to half-gallon but there are times when we don’t drink it all before it goes bad. To combat this we buy the containers with the longest expiration date and never purchase more than a gallon at a time regardless of price. We also refuse to purchase milk on clearance since we know it will go bad long before we can drink it all. While canned goods can last for years past the expiration date, items like flour, milk, crackers, and cereal have a limited shelf life.

Stock up during clearance sales. My daughter enjoys giving gifts so after Christmas we stocked up on wrapping paper and related supplies when they were placed on clearance for half price. We focused on items that could be used for any occasion but also selected a few things specifically for the Christmas holiday season. We saved the equivalent of several hours’ wages by doing that.

Check the per-unit price. On some items it is actually cheaper to purchase several small containers of an item instead of a single larger one. For instance, the store I work at purchases four pound bags of sugar by the pallet to save money, passing the savings onto their customers. Since the demand is less, they actually spend more to purchase larger packages of sugar. The people I observe buying the larger packages don’t seem to realize that they aren’t saving any money in this case. While occasionally the larger packages can be offered at a savings, it pays to bring a calculator to verify.

Avoid stockpiling fads. Children are fickle creatures. While they may go through copious amounts of a certain item for a time, the day will come when they suddenly decide not to use it any longer. When my children were younger they would go crazy over a certain brand of cereal. I would stock up only to discover a few days or weeks later that they wanted to move on to something else. I ate a lot of super sweet garbage to avoid waste in those days!

Set aside a place to store your stockpile. It won’t save you any money if the items get destroyed before you can use them. I have spaces reserved in my cabinets and on a shelf to avoid this occurrence.

Never use credit to stockpile. The interest charges will eliminate any money you save.

That’s all there is to it. By taking advantage of sales and buying in bulk you will not only remove the need to purchase certain necessities constantly, you will be able to keep more of your paycheck in the end.

Do you buy in bulk? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Grocery Savings

Published / by Annie / 2 Comments on Grocery Savings

One of the things I have never done is factor the cost of food into my budget. Our spending varies too much based on bargains, bulk buying, and available finances for us to set aside a certain amount every month.

While some months we barely buy the basics like milk, other months we come across good deals to take advantage of or we use our available cash to stock up on staples. Our grocery store jobs have really benefited us in this area.

For instance, the grocery I work at had several cases of Manwich that were marked down to ten cents a can in order to liquidate their stock before the expiration date last year. Since I am well aware of the fact that canned goods can last for years, I bought a case of 24. I spent $2.40 as opposed to the $24.00 or more I would have normally paid (I can’t recall their everyday price but I know it was over a dollar a can the last time I purchased it).

My chest freezer has a tidy supply of Hawaiian Sweet Rolls–a treat in our house–that I purchased for a quarter apiece along with a nice stockpile of meat that was placed on clearance or on sale.

My most recent purchase was a case of Mac and Cheese. They were nearing their expiration date but since that stuff will last for ages past that I snagged it without hesitation. Katie loves the stuff so I routinely use it as a base to make other dishes when we have it available.

I paid $4.99 for a case of 24 boxes, which equals up to twenty cents a box. The current price for the stuff is 39 cents a box, meaning that I purchased it for roughly half-price. It will take us several months to use up this supply; I expect it to last us for most of the year. Even better I managed to save most of an hour’s wage by buying in bulk when I discovered the bargain.

Do you purchase food in bulk when you run across a good deal? Please share your stories in the comments below.

The Beauty of Old Things

Published / by Annie / 4 Comments on The Beauty of Old Things

Several months ago my daughter surprised me with an odd request. She had noted that many of her friends and family were giving away their collections of old vinyl albums; could I help her select a record player so that she could play them?

While I am aware that vinyl is making a comeback, the last thing I expected was for my daughter, the Streaming Queen, to want to explore a technology that I abandoned decades ago. She has been so gung-ho when it comes to subscribing to this service or that, taking her music and stuff with her on her phone that I was taken aback.

When I finally managed to stop laughing I agreed to help her. I figured she would quickly get bored and pass the items on to me–and I would selfishly enjoy the nostalgia.

I helped her select a portable record player, get it set up, and showed her how to use it. I instructed her to keep a coin nearby to help with skips and even how to clean the records if they were dirty.

We’ve ended up with a new ritual as a result. When my daughter is at home she selects one of the albums from the ones she has managed to scavenge and plays it for both of us. She gets to expand her mind with older music while I get to savor the blast from the past.

Her friends are rather surprised when they come over for a visit. She likes to pull out her favorite Big Band album and use it as background music when they come over. Considering that most of her friends have never even seen a record player in real life, much less heard such old music, they are usually quite surprised.

Watching my daughter has made me realize the error of my ways. I eliminated my old stereo system along with a huge collection of vinyl, cassettes, and 8-tracks many years ago under the misguided notion that modern was better. While I see no logic in regret, I do see opportunity. No one wants to use older technology any longer. If it isn’t the latest and greatest it’s tossed out with the trash or practically given away at thrift stores.

While I don’t see myself actively shopping to replace my old stereo system in the future, I’ve decided that I won’t hesitate to fish one out of the trash or buy one if I stumble across a cheap offering at a thrift store. I’m always stumbling across interesting dumpster finds so it shouldn’t be an issue to locate a small music collection as I go about my daily life.

If anything, I’ll be saving something from the landfill while reducing my dependence upon the Internet. I will admire the beauty of the past as I carry it with me into the future.

We have been much too quick to discard the old, I’ve decided. For me, that stops now. Do you have any older items that you still use? Please share your stories in the comments below.

It’s Okay to Own Things

Published / by Annie / 4 Comments on It’s Okay to Own Things

It’s become fashionable to throw things away. Out with the old, to make room for the new. There are even groups out there that will help you get rid of your things and encourage you to eliminate as much of your stuff as you want.

I know. I was one of them.

In time I realized that the Minimalist movement had devolved into little more than a pissing contest; a competition to the bottom. “I’m better than you, because all I own fits into my backpack.”

“Tough,” someone might respond. “I got rid of my backpack last week.”

There is some good to be had in the Minimalist movement. If you find yourself overwhelmed with possessions, especially if you have reached the point that you are tripping over stuff, you might need to thin down.

However, unless you’re preparing to move house or backpack around the globe it’s not really beneficial to get rid of all of your things, especially if you use and enjoy them.

The trick is in the using. If you have a cabinet full of dishes that you’ve not touched in years, you might want to pass them on to someone who will enjoy and actually use them. It doesn’t make any sense to clutter up your life with a bunch of stuff you don’t actually use.

Now that I’ve decided to settle down in this little town I’ve allowed my possessions to increase as a result of my revelation. I enjoy reading so I collect interesting books when I stumble upon them for free or cheap. I keep a decent-sized collection of unread material now but as I read them, the ones that I know I won’t need for future reference are passed on to friends or donated to the local library.

When I stumble across a clothing stash that someone is giving away that actually fits (and is something I will wear) I add the items to my wardrobe. I discard the pieces as they wear out.

I don’t go crazy buying things but I do make room for things that come into my life that I will actually use. Since I have no intentions of moving in the near future (and I am nowhere near the point where I’m tripping over things), this allows me to increase my comfort level while saving money as well.

You should start doing this as well. Once you eliminate the things you really, truly, do not use, don’t hesitate to add something you will use to your collection of possessions if the price is right (preferably free, of course!).

Just remember that this isn’t an excuse to start buying everything in sight. If you have something that does what you need, use it instead of buying new. Just because you can own it doesn’t mean that you should.

Katie’s Prom

Published / by Annie / 2 Comments on Katie’s Prom

My daughter’s growing up. It’s hard to believe that she is 18 and on the verge of graduating high school. She even has a boyfriend now. He’s leaving for the Army in a few months so he’s resolved to spend as much time with Katie as possible before he leaves. He even gave her a promise ring this weekend.

Here are some photos of them at Prom the other evening.

I am in awe of her beauty, of how wonderful they both look in these photos. I am in awe of how quickly she has grown up. It seems like yesterday I started blogging as I searched for a way to be the best mother I could be; to spend the most time I could with her while she grew up.

I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that it’s been ten years since my very first post on that very first blog. What’s next? This can’t be all there is in life. I’ve spent the last 28 years focused on raising my children…what do I do now?

I’ll figure something out. I always do. In the meantime I’ve something else to focus on: how did someone so beautiful come from a woman as ugly as me? 😀

Disconnect

Published / by Annie / 8 Comments on Disconnect

As the days stretch into months I’ve gotten rather lazy when it comes to guarding my personal time. Whereas I used to go to extreme measures to have quiet time in which to write I found my days have become a whirlwhind of messages, comments, and other communications from folks both near and far. Every time I would sit down to write I would end up being interrupted, losing my train of thought, or going on some random goose chase down the halls of the Internet.

Ding.

Ding.

Ding.

<Hey, you on?>

<I see you’re online. Why are you ignoring me?>

Random thoughts. Pointless comments. Gifs and pics and jokes galore. The more I asked people to leave me be so that I could write the more they seemed to want to communicate until I realized that I was approaching my breaking point.

Early one morning as the beeps began I found myself missing my ancient Windows XP laptop. It might have been old and decrepit but it had one serious advantage: it couldn’t go online.

I could turn that old computer on and work all day without having to deal with a single person messaging me. They couldn’t, since the computer wasn’t connected to the Internet.

I leaped out of bed and dived for the ethernet cable attached to my computer. Soon it was unplugged and my world lapsed into silence.

I accomplished more today than I have in over a month.

Do you ever take time to disconnect from the Internet? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Life Without a Remote

Published / by Annie / 4 Comments on Life Without a Remote

We don’t often think about the little conveniences that we have these days. While those of the older generation might remember, many of us tend to forget just how life used to be in the past.

A while back, that reality slammed down on me. I was visiting a friend. We were just hanging out, watching a bit of television while we chatted when his phone rang.

“Here,” he handed me the television remote. “Pick out something to watch while I take this call.”

I stared at the device once he left the room. All of those buttons. Some were to change the channels but others, I gathered, controlled other things like the DVD player and whatnot. Completely befuddled, I played with it. I ended up messing up the television for a moment, switching the channel to another device.

I quickly muted it, then figured out how to get the television back to where it had been previously. Afraid to press my luck I left it like that, completely silent.

My friend returned a few minutes later. “Why did you mute it?” he asked. “I went into the other room so you wouldn’t have to.”

“Oh, I was afraid that the noise would still bother you,” I lied. I wasn’t about to tell him the truth!

He gave me a look and started laughing. “You don’t know how to work the remote, do you?”

I shrugged, embarassed. I’ve used a computer to watch movies on for so long that the devices have outgrown my limited knowledge.

He offered to teach me but I refused. I see no point in learning how to use a device that I have no intentions of owning in the future, so why bother cluttering my mind with useless knowledge? I’ll figure it out if I ever need to…which I hopefully won’t.

Have you ever stumbled upon tech that completely befuddled you? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Bill Collectors

Published / by Annie / 5 Comments on Bill Collectors

Several months ago I received a phone call. It was a debt collector, claiming that I owed money on an old debt.

Since I’ve been living and writing about the stupidity of debt for a decade, I was skeptical. Even if I did happen to owe something to someone that I magically didn’t remember, that debt would have fallen off of my credit report years ago.

“You do realize that you’re talking to a woman who preaches against credit, right?” I informed the man when I stopped laughing. “I’ve been writing books and articles condemning credit for a decade. Now, tell me just why you believe this debt is mine.”

He did. He claimed that I had opened a credit card over a decade ago and then stopped paying on it some time later. I asked him for the address where I lived when I had the card.

I hadn’t lived in that house for twenty years and I told him as much. “Unless you can give me an address where I’ve lived within the legal statute of limitations on debt, I’m going to have to conclude that this is a scam,” I informed him calmly.

He couldn’t. The man didn’t have a single address for me other than the original one he mentioned.

I didn’t take out a credit card when I lived at that address. I was far too broke at the time to even consider it.

The man huffed and informed me that the debt would damage my credit rating and haunt me for X more years. I laughed. “Do your worst. I don’t own a house, I don’t even own a car, so I have nothing you can place a lien on. So unless you can supply me with valid proof that this debt is mine, I’ll just take my chances. I don’t use credit anyway.”

The man promised me that he would send the information on. I gave him my current address and told him I would look for it.

That was several months ago. I’ve not received a single thing.

Since then I’ve done a bit of research on bill collectors. There’s a scam going on where companies will create completely false debts in hopes that the marks will pay. Here is one particular article that I found rather interesting on the subject.

This is just one reason why I don’t believe in using credit. Not only do you pay a ridiculous amount of money for the ability to live above your means, you open yourselves up to predators who steal your information and attempt to bully you into paying on debts you don’t actually have.

Be warned, folks.

Cash register

It Pays to Use Cash

Published / by Annie / 5 Comments on It Pays to Use Cash

How do you handle your money? Do you deposit your check every payday and then swipe your card when you want to buy something?

Every time you swipe your card in public you place yourself in danger. Not only do you put yourself at risk of having your card information stolen by skimmers, you also run the risk of spending more money. Studies have shown that people who prefer cash over cards spend less money. Even worse, some banks charge you a fee every time you swipe your card. My personal bank charges me a dollar every time I use my bank card as a debit card at stores.

Carrying cash can eliminate this issue. If you withdraw the amount of cash you have budgeted for gas, groceries, lunch, and other extras during that pay period, you eliminate the danger of overspending. You know you have so much money for the week, so you need to be careful with your money.

Paying cash also eliminates any chance that you will fall prey to a skimmer. They can’t steal your card information if you don’t give them access to your card in the first place.

If you’re worried about being robbed of your cash, place your money in a place where thieves won’t look for it. My father kept his stash in his sock; I keep mine in an assortment of places aside from my wallet (no, I’m not going to tell you where). It also helps if you don’t attract attention by driving fancy vehicles or dressing in clothing that indicates you’ve got money. It makes little sense to rob someone who appears to be broke just to get a few pennies. Dressing simpler also comes in handy when haggling for a lower price. Some sellers tend to charge more if they think you can afford it.

While you can’t pay cash when shopping online, you can do this for the everyday purchases you make locally. Food, fuel, and other everyday purchases can be made just as easily with cash as with plastic.

If you are not paying cash for your everyday purchases, you need to start doing it now. Your budget will thank you.

 

A Pillow for your Bank Account

Published / by Annie / 4 Comments on A Pillow for your Bank Account

It’s happened to all of us. We spend more than we anticipate, a hacker steals our card info, even a mistake at the bank can lead to overdrafts. Just the other day a mistake at a local bank caused the accounts of several personal friends to appear overdrawn due to an accidental double-posting of charges.

Keeping a financial cushion in your checking account can help immensely. It can not only help prevent overdraft fees (without paying for another service), it can give you needed funds while you sort out the issue.

I keep a minimum of $500 in my checking account for this purpose. I never allow my balance to go below this amount. That way, if I ever do make a mistake while budgeting I know that I won’t have to pay outrageous overdraft fees. I call this my pillow since it cushions me if I fall.

It isn’t always easy to build up a financial cushion, especially when you don’t make a lot of money. I limit how much I spend each month so that I have a little left over to add to my padding. In time I plan to build my cushion to $1,000, the amount I kept in reserve for years but since times were lean a few years back I am still working towards that goal.

It may sound insane to some of you. You may be thinking “How can I save $500? I can barely pay my bills as it is!” but I promise you that it is possible. You may not be able to eat out as much or splurge on those little extras but you can do this. If I can build up $500 while earning minimum wage at a part-time job then you can do it no matter what your story may be.

More importantly, you should. My local bank charges almost $40 in overdraft fees per charge; a single mistake can cost you hundreds of dollars in fees if you use your bank card routinely.

I learned this lesson the hard way. Several years ago an attorney I hired cashed their check a week earlier than agreed. While there was enough in the account to cover it my balance was wiped out. I ended up owing over $250 in overdraft fees alone, on top of my other charges (which my bank thankfully paid). It took a while to climb out of that hole.

Ever since then I have insisted upon keeping a pillow of cash in my checking account on top of my regular savings. I refuse to be that stupid ever again.

How much of a cushion do you keep in your bank account? Please share your stories in the comments below.

How I Budget for Bills

Published / by Annie / 6 Comments on How I Budget for Bills

No one enjoys paying bills. I for one hate them with a purple passion so I strive to have as few as possible.

When I moved out on my own decades ago, I really struggled. It never seemed to fail; a bill would come due before payday arrived or my check would be short and I wouldn’t have enough. I would sweat bullets every single month as I tried to juggle my finances.

Eventually I worked out a way to resolve the issue. I would pay all of my bills on the first of the month after saving the amount needed the month before. Since I didn’t want to be broke while I saved up the money, I would work out just how much I needed to save every single week on a spreadsheet.

Now that I’ve got a regular paycheck I’ve been able to build up a cushion in my checking account. Thanks to this cushion I no longer have to painstakingly account for every upcoming bill each payday.

Since I know I will be safe if I spend $25 a week on laundromat and extras, I pull that out of the bank and keep it in my pocket. When the money is gone, that’s it. No more little extras until the next payday. That prevents me from accidentally dipping into my bill money. The rest of my paycheck is left in my bank account until the first of the next month.

When the first of the month rolls around I pay all of my bills manually. Once that task is completed I look at the amount that is left. A portion of it (usually half) is sent to my online savings account while the rest is mine to spend or save as I please.

My financial cushion is kept untouched.

How do you budget to pay your bills every month? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Extra Paydays

Published / by Annie / 4 Comments on Extra Paydays

Several times a year I end up getting five paydays during a month instead of four. These are always good times; I have my finances budgeted for four paydays a month so the fifth is like getting extra cash.

When these months roll around my co-workers are always excited. They regale me with the ways that they plan to spend the extra cash. Some pay bills, some use the opportunity to reduce their debt, while others simply blow the cash.

I save half of it.

Every time that bonus payday rolls around I send half of the money to an online savings account. That allows me to build up my savings while also giving me a little money to splurge with.

We should all do that with the little windfalls in life. A large income tax refund, a bonus from work, or even those extra paychecks we get throughout the year can be set aside to build savings. Doing this allows us to painlessly save up for a rainy day or a large investment like a home or a vehicle.

This month just happens to be one of those months when I get an extra payday. I’m not only looking forward to having my savings account balance increase, I’m also looking forward to splurging on something special.

How do you handle extra paydays? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Why I Cancelled Netflix

Published / by Annie / 9 Comments on Why I Cancelled Netflix

It was the 1980’s. Dad and I were driving along when I spied a video rental store that had recently opened.

“Why don’t we rent a movie sometime?” I suggested.

“Makes no damn sense to pay to use something when you can spend a little bit more and actually own it,” Dad retorted.

“But you can watch more things for the same amount of money,” I argued.

“And have absolutely nothing to show for it at the end of the day,” Dad countered.

Over the years I’ve tried it both ways. I’ve rented movies, used subscription services…. What could be easier than just paying a few bucks to watch your favorite movies or listen to music?

The answer: actually owning the items in question. When you own the items you can watch them as often as you like. You don’t have to worry about the service you subscribe to removing your favorites or lose access to your whole collection because you happen to be low on money.

Even better, you can sell your copies if you decide you no longer want to keep them or need some extra cash.

Because of this revelation I have cancelled my movie and music subscriptions. I would rather own just a few items than pay to have access to a lot.

Instead of sending money to subscription services, I set that money aside for when I get a chance to look through the bargain bins. Some months I don’t add anything to my collection while others reveal so many hidden gems that I force myself to select only a few.

DVDs

My latest acquisitions.

Minimalism is a good thing but it gets ridiculous when you pay something for nothing. Since most of us don’t live out of backbacks there is no excuse for us to throw our money away when it comes to entertainment.

In short: If you’re going to spend your hard-earned cash on entertainment, get something to show for it at least. You can always sell it on eBay when you’re done.

Grumpy Gus

Published / by Annie

“Watch out,” my trainer whispered into my ear during my first day on the job. “The guy who just got in line is really mean. He’s made cashiers cry before.”

I glanced up to see an older man with graying hair and a decidedly sour disposition, tapping his foot impatiently as he waited his turn. He loudly remarked that if I couldn’t do my job properly that they should fire me and get someone in who could.

“You’re new,” he snorted when he approached my register. “I can tell. You’re slow.”

“It’s her first day,” my trainer defended me before I could respond. “She’s doing really good.”

“Hmph!”

I was out of training when I saw him again. A customer turned the bag carousel too fast and caused a two-liter to fall. Sensing their embarrassment I claimed full responsibility for the mishap. “It’s my fault; I should have handed it to you directly,” I apologized.

Just then, Grumpy Gus walked past my register. He glanced at me as he huffed. “Is she new?” he called to the manager on duty.

“She’s been here for a couple of weeks and she does really well,” my manager responded. He snorted skeptically as he began to shop.

A few minutes later he brought his purchases to my register. “So you’re the new girl.” He eyed me up and down like he’d just found me molding in his refrigerator.

“Yes, sir!” I responded cheerfully as I began scanning his order.

“And you’re the one who drops bottles for the customers,” he tried again.

“Yes sir, I sure am,” I looked up at him calmly, refusing to be intimidated.

His eyes widened. “Hmph!” He paid for his order and left.

Two more weeks went by, during which the man pointedly refused to come through my line. I watched him wait for service at the other registers while my line stood empty and he glared at me balefully.

I decided to up my game. Every time I saw him enter the store I waved and greeted him cheerfully. He was taken aback at first but then started responding with his trademark snorty huff.

“How are you doing today?” I asked when he was finally forced to go through my line again.

“Obviously not as good as you,” he grumped. He proceeded to complain about missing a sale. I apologized for his inconvenience and confessed that I’d missed it too. “They just don’t last long enough, do they? I didn’t get paid in time to take advantage of it either.”

“As much money as you’re sittin’ on I don’t see why you couldn’t,” he replied.

“Bills,” I told him with a shrug.

He nodded, paid for his order, and left. In the next few weeks he seemed determined to throw me off my game. I fielded him every time.

Just because he’s unhappy doesn’t mean that he has the right to right to disturb me. I allow every single insult and complaint to roll off my back because I know it isn’t personal.

He just likes to have something to complain about.

Inevitably the time came when he caught me on a bad day. I punched the numbers into the register so fast that the machine failed to acknowledge one of them. I called out my mistake and begged him to cancel the transaction on his side so that I could fix it before he ran his card.

I apologized profusely. Of all the customers, it just had to be him.

To my surprise he comforted me. “We all have bad days,” he announced. “At least you caught it before my card went through.”

I had to catch my jaw before it bounced on the floor. “Yes sir, we do. I’m so sorry it happened to you, though. I know you’re too busy to deal with my carelessness.”

He snorted. “I’ve got time,” he replied.

We came to an odd sort of truce that day. While he still likes to complain, his attitude has shifted somewhat. He now glances toward my regular register when he walks in and nods in response to my greeting.

He even fusses at me now when he sees me out after work. “I just can’t get away from you,” he grumped one evening when we encountered one another at a nearby gas station.

“I’m stalking you,” I gave him a mock evil look. He actually laughed at that one!

I love my Grumpy Gus.

Spinster

Published / by Annie / 2 Comments on Spinster

Valentine’s Day means that all of the lovely people around me will be focused on romance. As a cashier and a single mother, this means that the volume of questions will increase. My regulars have gotten so close to me that they feel completely comfortable asking questions that many would consider rude.

“Are you married?” No.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” No.

“Do you want one?” Meh.

I had one gentleman come through my line with his adult daughter the other day. When he started tickling my taste buds by describing the meal he was preparing to cook his daughter loudly announced “My dad needs a new girlfriend so he can cook for her. Do you know anyone?”

I couldn’t help but laugh at the sheepish expression on the gentleman’s face. Either Daughter saw my lack of a wedding band or they were one of the many who have inquired about my relationship status over the months.

It has gotten to the point where I jokingly refer to some of my male customers as my harem. It’s hard not to think of them that way when so many like to sneak up and surprise me with friendly hugs! A shift does not go by where I don’t receive at least one.

I have been given phone numbers on everything imaginable. A few have included little declarations about just why I should call (and assuring me that they were serious).

While I never call the numbers, I keep every single one of those notes. When I stumble upon my little collection I smile.

The hardest part of being single is fielding one particular question: “Why?”

How do you tell someone that you’re content with your singleness when the whole world seems obsessed with romance? That you’ve not seriously looked for a relationship in years because you’re happy to go home to an empty house?

I usually just shrug and say “I don’t know.” It’s the truth, in a way. I honestly don’t know what to tell them.

While normally it doesn’t bug me, Valentine’s Day is the worst. Upon the day of romance I am usually looked upon by my beloved customers with well-meaning pity.

That’s okay. Their concern just tells me they care.

For now I need to get dressed, head to work, and deal with a stream of customers focused on love and relationships. My boss will doubtless have something silly for me to wear (she’s discovered that I’m the only one aside from her willing to dress up on holidays) while my customers invariably try to hook me up.

Oddly enough, I’m looking forward to it.

How do you handle being single in a coupled world? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Minimizing Relationship Stress

Published / by Annie / 8 Comments on Minimizing Relationship Stress

It’s painful to watch friends self-destruct, to watch them slide down the slippery slope of insanity. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You’re unable to turn away. You reach out your hand, only to have it slapped away time and again. Either they realize they are slipping and don’t care, or they’re enjoying the ride. Regardless, you try to help.

Eventually you realize that this person is causing you misery. You dread your encounters. Instead of offering them another hand up, give them your foot–to shove them out the door of your life.

There is no shame in this. It is not beneficial to keep people in your life simply because they are friends or family when all they do is give you pain. Loyalty is stupid when the person in question bites the hands that feed them.

Minimalism is about so much more than stuff. It is about curating all aspects of your life to bring peace and tranquility. While you cannot eliminate all of life’s storms, you can reduce the day-to-day strain on your emotions.

Today I urge you to look at your relationships. Determine that one person you would be better off without.

Then let them go.

It Pays to Keep Your Stuff

Published / by Annie / 6 Comments on It Pays to Keep Your Stuff

In this disposable age most of us don’t think about the value in using items until they are completely worn out. Rather than keep the old, they buy new even when the item they already own still works.

It makes financial sense to keep things, however. The longer you use something the less it actually costs to own it. Here are a few examples from my personal life.

I purchased a small window air conditioner in 2010. I paid $105.99 for it ($99.99 plus tax). I’ve now used that little air conditioner to cool my home for eight seasons. When I averaged the cost over the eight summers I’ve used it I realized that I’ve only spent $13.25 a year to own an air conditioner. If I had upgraded to a newer, larger, fancier one, my costs would have went up exponentially but this one still works (it’s a bit noisy these days) so I plan to continue using it for as long as possible to reduce my cost of ownership even further.

I purchased a van in 2007 for $500. It needed a new transmission but I was able to get it on the road for $2,000 (that includes the purchase price). I sold that van to a young man in 2014 so that I could write my book The Car Free Experiment. Not including annual taxes and insurance, that means it cost me $200 a year ($16.67 a month) to own that van. To calculate the cost I subtracted the amount I sold it for from the initial purchase expense and then divided by the years owned.

I purchased an iPad mini in January 2013. It cost $344.50 after tax. I’ve had it 60 months, or 5 years. So far it has cost me $68.88 a year, or $5.74 a month to own. It is still going strong so the longer I keep it the less it will cost me.

This is the reason why businesses try to keep their equipment working for many years before they replace it. They know that the longer they keep an item, the lower the costs of ownership.

I want you to think about that. Every time you replace an item that still works you increase your cost of ownership. For folks like myself, who used to replace items like computers every year or so, that money can add up but the longer that you keep an item, the inverse is true.

You can save a lot of money just by keeping your stuff.

Have you ever calculated the cost of owing the items in your life? Please share your stories in the comments below

Laundry Day

Published / by Annie / 2 Comments on Laundry Day

Laundry day is always an adventure in this house. Once we decide that it is time to visit the laundromat we wander through the house to locate any stray items that have managed to avoid being placed in our laundry bin. We bag everything up and stick the whole load into our shopping cart along with our washing supplies.

After gathering everything together for a recent trip I looked down to discover that I was wearing one of my favorite shirts. I needed to wash it as well so that I would be able to wear it before my next laundry day. I tugged it off and tossed it into the bag as well.

“Hmm. I should probably wash my bra too,” I told myself. Off came the bra. Since I was already topless I decided that I might as well change my panties and jeans while I was at it. That way all of my dirty laundry would be taken care of.

Standing buck naked in my kitchen I realized that I needed to wear something. I couldn’t go to the laundromat naked! I padded over to my makeshift closet and dug through the remaining items in search of an outfit that I wouldn’t miss wearing until I did laundry again.

Being a minimalist I didn’t have a lot to choose from. I finally selected an outfit, added some panties to the pile, and decided to go braless for the trip. I was just going up the street; if anyone had a problem with my saggy boobs they could kiss my butt–I wanted all of my bras to be clean!

So there I sat at the laundromat wearing a ragged set of sweats, complete with saggy braless boobs just minding my own business when an absolutely gorgeous guy comes in to dry his laundry. He checked me out and to my surprise started flirting with me.

A friend who decided to meet me at the laundromat leaned close. “This’ll teach you not to dress your best,” she teased in a whisper.

I laughed. “That guy would have kittens if he realized that I wandered around buck naked for ten minutes just to choose this outfit!” I retorted out loud. I wanted to see his reaction to that little comment.

Sure enough, his head whipped around. “What?” he chimed in, eyes wide.

“I wandered around my house naked for ten minutes trying to figure out what I could live without until the next laundry day,” I replied. “Don’t tell me you’ve never done it.”

“Your boyfriend must have enjoyed that,” he grinned.

“Don’t have a boyfriend.”

“Oh.” I could see his eyes sparkle with possibilities.

Of course, my friend decided that this was the perfect time to add her own brand of humor to the encounter.

“She always waits till I’m not home to walk around naked!” she huffed with feigned upset.

I watched Mr. Cutie promptly toss me into a box named ‘lesbian’ and dismiss me from his mind.

“Gee, thanks!” I snarked at my friend after he left.

“You’re welcome,” she replied smugly. “The moment he opened his mouth I knew he wasn’t your type anyway.”

I shook my head. Leave it to your friends to tell it like it is.

Still, he was kinda cute.

Do you have a funny story to tell? Please share it in the comments below.