December 2008 - Posts - Workin' It
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Workin' It

"Workin' It" is the blog for working parents who are committed to the frugal lifestyle. This blog addresses some of the issues working families face in keeping their lifestyle frugal, including childcare, work expenses, and the constant trade off between time and cost. The author and her husband, both law school graduates, work full-time; the author has a law firm, and dear husband a property management business. They also have an eight month old. Despite all that we have on our plates, we're still committed to living life frugally.

December 2008 - Posts

  • Five Ways to Survive and Thrive through...Whatever

    Let's be frank: it's ugly out there. The sky isn't necessarily falling, but snow, sleet, rain, hail, and the neighbor's cat are coming down on our financial heads. And if you listen to some experts, it's about to get a lot uglier; we're talking pushing Cinderella's stepsisters outta the ugly tree and watching them hit every branch on the way down ugly. But, short of full scale societal collapse, you can survive and even thrive through these times. Here's how:

    1. Change your thinking.

    Frugal living is not so different from dieting; while crazy methods can help you short-term, sustainable improvement requires lifestyle change. And the only way that sort of thing can stick is if you change your thinking. And "I'm so deprived" thinking will derail frugal living just as quickly as it will a diet. It's time to look at frugal living as a challenge, as a way to bring greater joy and propserity into your life. Instead of saying, "Oh, but I work so hard, and this lipstick is only $6, and I deserve it!" say: "Is this a worthy use of my money? Does this deserve half an hour of my work?" Similarly, instead of bemoaning having chicken thighs--again--because they're on sale, relish the challenge of finding a new and tasty way to cook those bad boys up. Creativity and positive thinking are the most important survival skills you need.

    2.  Know your worth.

    No, not your net worth (although that's definitely good info to have!). I mean: know your skills, who needs them, and their value on the open market.  Believe it or not, the most valuable thing you own is YOU. Even if you've worked for the same blue chip company for fifteen years, you should always know what makes you unique and valuable, and be prepared to capitalize on your skills. As the economy goes crazy, we're all self-employed.

    3. Know your non-negotiables.

    You must have certain things: food, shelter, serviceable clothing, essential medicine. You <i>know</i> you need these things. What you need now is a reliable plan to acquire those things, as well as realistic standards. "Food" doesn't have to be gourmet, nor can many of us afford for it to be McDonald's every night; food needs to be nutritious and filling, and if dinner consists of mac and cheese and broccoli, everyone gets fed protein, carbs, and veggies. "Shelter" doesn't have to mean your own house if you can't afford it; shelter can be a trailer, an apartment, a duplex. And so on: know what you need, and what you need to do to secure it.

    4. Commit now to sustainable changes.

    If you've been living la vida debt-a, it can be really hard to step off that train and start living within your means. It's also easy to burn yourself out if you decide to go from being John McSpendy to trying to be a black-belt frugal champion over night. Pick a change, implement it, and move on. For the indebted among us, let me recommend starting with freezing the credit cards (literally, in a big dish of water in the freezer). If that doesn't work (um, guilty), shred the puppies; mail that emergency card to someone you can trust. If you don't have a budget, now's the time to commit to making one and living by it. If your budget has a leak (like, say, convenience store soda and chips), commit to plugging that leak (with soda and chips from the dollar store, perhaps). Whatever is keeping your from financial goals, it's time now to look it in the face and say, "Oh, no, baby. Not anymore. You are not going to keep me from my better life."

    5. Decide what you're really doing it for.

    Why are you working? Why do you care about your money? No one can answer these questions but you. They might sound silly, at first. "Well, I work because you have to." But think about it. Are you working and taking care of your money so that someday, you can tool around the country in RV? Is it to provide a better life for your kids? so that someday, you'll have the time to write the Great American Novel? Figuring out what really motivates you, what makes it worth the time and effort every day to do what you got to: that's the key, baby. Once you have that motivation, you have something to tap into whenever the road seems too hard.You'll find a way to do it once you really know what you're doing it for.

  • I'm so broke!

    "I'm so broke!" seems to have become a mantra among people. Especially as the economy goes straight into the sewer, folks lose their jobs, and debt threatens to consume everything, it's ringing through the hallways and richocheting off corners: "I'm so broke!"

    I wonder if it's really true, though.

    Are we broke? Are we, as a nation, bankrupt? Or have we just lost all perspective?

    "Broke," in the financial sense, is related to "broke" in the wrecked/ruined/destroyed sense. If something is broke, it doesn't work--if we're broke, our finances don't work. And that seems to be where it stops for most people: despite the fact that husband and I both have jobs, we're broke. Despite the fact that I work 60 hours a week,  I'm broke. Despite doing everything you're supposed to, I'm broke. Throw hands up in the air, wail in despair, dig the hole a little deeper.  "I'm so broke" becomes both a plaintive cry and a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

    Here's the things about "broke," though: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. So if it is broke...fix it! Once upon a time, before we stuffed our houses with mountains of Cheap Chinese Crap, if something broke...you fixed it. If a sock got a hole, you darned it. If the vacuum belt broke, you put a new one in. If Dog-dog, Baby's most beloved toy, lost his stuffing, you re-stuffed him and patched him back up.

    Somewhere, in the chorus of "I'm so broke," someone should be singing a counterpuntal "So fix it!"

    Now then, I realize what I propose isn't fun or easy. At all. I'm not sure most people even know what their finances look like, other than knowing there's more month than money. They don't even know what they don't know. It's like everyone's financial boat is sinking, and they're too freaked out to even bail water, much less patch the hole.

    Dear Hofpapa and I are looking at nearly half a million dollars of student loans, medical, and mortgage debt; paying it off means that, after we get done with work for the day, it's off to teach, or tutor, or  edit, or babysit, or whatever brings in a few more dollars to put on the debt. But we're not broke. Being self-employed is a feast-or-famine kind of game, and it's been more famine than feast of late. But still, we're not broke. We've got way more debt than money, but we're not broke. We get dang tired of not having any money, but we're not broke. We even give up sometimes and go to McDonalds, even though it'd be cheaper to eat at home. But...we..are..not...broke.

    Broke is a mindset. Broke says "My finances are insurmountably messed up. They're ruined." Broke is giving up.

    And the truth is, financially, giving up just isn't an option.

    Somehow, tomorrow, you've still got to eat. You've got to have a place to live. Even if you file bankruptcy, you can't just quit. Broke quits.

    So let's stop being broke. Let's start fixing, one little piece at a time. You can't turn a shack into the Taj Mahal over night, but you can unstop the toilet tonight, and tomorrow you can snake the bathtub drain. You can't become financially self-sufficient after years of debt overnight, either. But you can say, "Today, I'm going to figure out how much I owe, to whom." Tomorrow, you can look at your budget, look for the leaks. The next day, you can say "Groceries are killing us. I'm going to read everything I can and come up with a plan to spend less for groceries." As my father-in-law tells me when I get frustrated because I don't know how to install a shelf in the closet or repair the bathtub: "Just give yourself the time." Broke doesn't allow us to take that time; broke flashes "Game Over!" before we've even put a quarter in the machine.

    I'm done with broke. Hopefully I'm not the only one. 

  • Get down and break a sweat!

    Dear Hofpapa looked at me the other day and said, "You know, dear, it doesn't save money if you just buy MORE stuff cheaply."


    Guilty as charged. 

    I wonder how many other folks aspiring to the frugal lifestyle have the same problem: we're excellent, heck, oustanding at Step 1, which is paying less (preferably nothing!) for the things we buy. Step 2, of course, is to SAVE the money that we "save" by living as we do. Step 2, I am not so good at. I never pay more than fifty cents for a bar of soap...but seriously, does a family of three need thirty bars of soap??

    There's no point, however, in crying over spilled milk, or in beating myself up over money already spent. Now that my beloved husband has identified a problem, it's time to solve it. That which we don't need is being returned, eBayed, or given to charity. Our money is not getting spent without a much more critical eye (and my mother-in-law's voice in the back of my head screaming, "Do you need it? Do you love it? Can you do without it?"). Part of the key is needs v. wants, and I've too often let a "bargain" turn a want into a "need." 

    I'm certain I'm not alone in this problem, and I also think that part of the problem is that we don't know what we need. For at least some of us (cough, me, cough), we have so much stuff that we don't know what we have. And so, we need a whats-it, and instead of pulling out the whats-it we got for our last birthday, we buy a new one. The first step on this journey towards REALLY being frugal was getting my house cleaned (let me just say that it was a weeklong trial that required me and both in-laws full-time to get everything orderly). It's amazing--once the laundry was washed and put away, I have a gorgeous wardrobe. Once the kitchen was sorted through, I have all you could ever want to prepare meals.

    Frugality is a lifestyle. What and how you purchase is just a tiny, tiny portion of that lifestyle--the 8,000 other daily choices we make are just as important, if not moreso, in making our money work for us so that we can have the security and prosperity we want. It's time for me, at least, to attend to that 8,000.

  • This Ain't Your Grandfather's Oldsmobile

    A lot of times, when trying to figure out ways to save money, we look back towards Grandmother and Grandfather...but modern life offers lots of ways for the savvy to keep things frugal, even when without the time available to a stay-at-home parent.

     1. Computers are a fantastic way to track your budget, your spending, and your saving without being a CPA. A quick Google search for "budget spreadsheet" turns up about 290,000 options. Online banking makes it easy to see where your money's going while you're filling out those spreadsheets.

     2. Computers also allow you to track your time and coordinate schedules. While I always keep a hard-copy calendar too, I am in love with Google Calendar. It's a wonderful tool for coordinating with people, and it makes seeing how your time is allocated seamless. For those who are self-employed, it can even be a quick time-tracking tool (although I keep my billable hours as an attorney in a different program, I do track my volunteer hours and my tutoring hours in Google Calendar).

    3. Lots of technological advances have occurred that let us live frugally more easily: CFLs reduce our energy useage while still letting there be light. Low-flow toilets do for the frugal what we used to do with a jar of pebbles in the tank. Energy efficient windows reduce the power bill while keeping the house warm. Power strips keep energy vampires in control. Admittedly, a lot of this technology requires an upfront investment...but isn't it worth it to research and see what would make our lives more efficient?

    4. Comparison shop! Whereas Granny might have had a grocery, a department store, and a general goods store to pick from, we have all the abundance of modern consumer culture. Need a whizbang thingamajiggy? You can Google thingamajiggies, eBay thingamajiggies, get thingamajiggies at a discount retailer like Target, or even go straight to the thingamajiggy shop--unlike Granny, you can hunt for the best value without having to drive three towns over (unless, of course, you live in a very, very small town).

    5.  Information! If Grandpa wanted to learn how to best rotate crops, he either had to ask someone or get a book. While our options are still mostly ask or look it up, the Internet has brought truckloads of information to our laps, requiring only a connection and a good internal BS detector. Indeed, sites like this one are packed to the gills with money-saving ideas that only experience and creativity could have won (who know how much you could with vinegar, baking soda, and old pantryhose?!).

     There's plenty of penny-pinching ways to be learned from looking backwards, but there's quite a lot of advantages to being in the here and now, as well! I say we get to work, and combine the best of both worlds for a life of plenty.

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