March 2011 - Posts - Yankee 2.0
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Yankee 2.0

March 2011 - Posts

  • What I love (and don't) about Aldi

    An Aldi supermarket opened up in my city about a year ago. I had heard of the store on frugal blogs, but didn't know that much about it. The store has changed my food shopping life. They are in a big push to expand across the US, so you may have an Aldi in your neck of the woods soon, if you don't already.

    Let me start with the bad and ugly -- their produce is horrible. It's wilted, it's bruised, it's spoiled and unappatizing -- at least in my local store. I don't buy a thing in produce any more (although I tried it when they first opened). Instead, I go to a local fruit and veg place that sells wonderful (and largely local) produce for less than half the cost at a regular supermarket.

    But back to Aldi, and back to the good. I'm a vegetarian, but I do eat lots of eggs and milk and cheese. A gallon of milk at Aldi costs about $2.50 (that's the cost for a half-gallon at the grocery store). They were selling eggs for 39 cents a dozen for months, and have recently raised the cost to 89 cents a dozen. Their five-poind bag of flour costs $1.56 They have wonderfully fresh walnuts for $4.29 a pound. Their cheese is cheap and good, and they have terrific canned tomatoes for under 50 cents. Their frozen peas are 99 cents and frozen corn is 69 cents. Frozen cheese pizza (two servings) -- $1.25

    So for staples and minimally processed food, they beat the supermarket hands down. I also love their Meister Roth chocolate, and I buy my shampoo (I used to make my own, but it's actually cheaper to buy it here), face soap, and laundry soap at Aldi.

    Not to my taste -- their coffee (also just as expensive as a regular brand), their "multigrain chips" (imitation SunChips that were really gross), and their mayonnaise.

    Other fantastic products -- sour cream (99 cents a container and no funky stabilizers) and regular wavy potato chips.

    Aldi doesn't take credit cards (a big plus in my book that a store takes an anti-credit stance), or coupons (they don't usually have non-Aldi brands, but sometimes they do, and I wish I could use my pistachio coupon there). You have to bring your own bags and bag your groceries (not a problem). Their everyday prices are always so much less than grocery stores that it is shocking to me when I go to a grocery store and see the same item cost twice as much. 

    I used to buy everything at the grocery store and sometimes the farmer's market. I don't go to either anymore, and I am saving a lot of money. My weekly grocery bill averages $20 (this is for me, one person, and includes all meals and snacks -- I do not ever eat out). Not too shabby, thanks to Aldi! 

  • A letter to the employers of the world

    Dear Employers,

    In the past several years, you've received hundreds, perhaps thousands, of applications for every job that you've posted. Some of the people who've applied have been overqualified, some underqualified, and some perfectly qualified. Some applied to your company hopefully, looking for their first job. Some applied to your company humbly, having been laid off from previous careers. Some were looking to make lateral moves, some upward, some even downward. The people who've applied have been young and old and have come from near and far. What do they have in common? They're people -- we are people.

    We've taken the time to sign up for an account with your HR department, to create a user name and upload our resumes to your system. We've filled out screen after screen of personal information. We've emailed and we've snail mailed. Many of you have sent us back paper or electronic notification saying that you've received our application and you'll be in touch with us if you want to interview us. We appreciate that. It saves us the worry of wondering if the resume was lost in the mail or on the internet. We know you know how to reach us. We won't have to waste your time or ours in calling to confirm.Thank you.

    But to those of you employers who haven't ever had the courtesy to send an acknowledgement to the many people who have applied for jobs at your company, please remember that we are indeed people. Each one of us is a person, and if you don't think we're important enough to acknowledge, consider this: we know lots of other people. And if someone asks us for our opinion of a company that couldn't be bothered to send an acknowledgement of receipt of a job application (it is 2011 after all, and these things are easily automated), we will have to report that the company in question doesn't seem to respect people very much, and we'll advise the other people we know to take their business elsewhere. 

    Each one of us little people must not mean very much to you. But we remember you, oh employers of the world. Why, just yesterday I was chatting with some friends about local colleges. It turns out that three of us applied for (different) jobs at a local college in the past two years and none of us received acknowledgement of our application. One of the other friends was aghast and said it made her think twice about advising her children to consider attending that college.We then shared various tales of applications acknowledged and unacknowledged, and the parent of the college-bound children took it all in, thinking very much about the general atmosphere of each institution under discussion.

    You don't know the repurcussions of your incivility, oh you employers. But we little people remember you.

  • Make Do & Mend

    People who look at design magazines or web sites will have no doubt seen the ubiquitous "Keep Calm & Carry On" posters. These current consumer goods/decorations are reprints of WW2 era messages from the British government to its people. Another was "Make Do & Mend," though I don't see that message popping up in American glossy mags as much.

    Make Do & Mend is a more common message and poster in England and an article in the New York Times magazine yesterday talked about the "new British frugality." The article basically says that the Brits are better at belt-tightening than we Yanks because it's hard-wired in them from the deprivation and rationing in the inter-war years and beyond. I think on the whole, that's probably true, although here in New England, I do think we have a pretty strong frugal streak (and my parents definitely knew Depression rationing).

    It's certainly true that we have a lot more natural resources here in the U.S. (and we're such an enormous country, compared to the little islands of G.B.). Our housing prices and consumer prices are also much lower, and we have a long history of ready credit availability. I lived in England for four years (20 years ago now) and while I certainly had my basic needs met, if I wanted a little extra, I had to scrimp and save. No credit cards, no way that I could have afforded a house, and no hope of upward mobility. I was a waitress and I'd always be a waitress. I found it stifling. I wanted to earn more and make financial progress -- I wasn't satisfied with having enough.The thing is, though, that "enough" is guaranteed in England -- there's health care, welfare, and social services for all. I lived in England in Margaret Thatcher's day and she wanted to move the country to a more American-style free market system. She thought that knowing that basic needs would always be met made people lazy and kept them on the dole (welfare) with no incentive to find a job. So the system changed a little, but people's basic needs were still always met --food, housing, education and health care -- all in a basic, small-scale way.

    Twenty years on, back in the US and slogging away at a bunch of freelance jobs (no benefits, health insurance that I buy myself), I think that knowing that we would all have "enough" would be great. We have so many homeless, sick, and poor people here; just imagine what a relief it would be to know all our citizens had their basic needs met. But what so many people aspire to isn't having enough, it's having too much -- a fancy television, a fancy car, fancy clothes, a big fancy house with enormous washing machines. Those definitely used to be my dreams, and that's why I was dissatisfied with living in England.

    My own idea of how to live, what's enough, and how to relate to money has changed immensely (dare I say matured) in the past twenty years. I'm a big supporter of the "Make Do & Mend" philosophy, maybe in part from my time in England. I think it's a mindset we could use importing.


  • How to get rid of "stuff"

    Over the last few months, I've been getting rid of stuff that I don't need or use. At first, I was worried that I would miss the stuff, or that I would need or use it later. However, I've found that once the stuff is gone, it's out of sight and out of mind. I started out by looking around my (big) house room by room and identified things that I hadn't used in the past 12 months or more. I asked myself "Do I use this? Do I need this? Could someone else use this?" 

    First, I started with actual money -- old coins and bills that had been sitting in a box. Every few years, I would take them out and look at them, but really, they were just sitting there. So I researched the sales prices of these coins and listed them on ebay. The face value of the coins was $10.41 and I made $200 on them (after ebay and paypal fees). Some didn't sell, so they went back in the box, which I'm going to give to a friends' young boys who like to travel (they're foreign coins). I brought the bills to a dealer, and he paid me a bit over face value for them.

    Then I looked around for precious metals. I had some dinged up old silver candlesticks and other odds and ends. Sold them all on Craigslist and eBay. I was starting to get the fever for selling. I looked at my jewelry box. I don't wear that much jewelry, but I had a heaving box of stuff I didn't wear, and the things I really did wear got lost underneath the other stuff. I also had my grandmother's engagement and wedding rings, as well as two other old rings of hers. They were beautiful and so small they wouldn't even fit on my pinky. They'd been sitting for ten years unworn and unappreciated. So I took them to a jewelry store (with a lot of other stuff) and they told me they'd melt everything down. I didn't want that -- the rings were beautiful and would be appreciated by someone, I was sure, so I found an antique dealer through Craigslist who bought them and assured me that they would be sold intact. My jewelry box is considerably more spacious now, and I've been wearing my jewelry much more, because I can find it!

    The closet was next. "Have I worn this in the past twelve months?" If the answer was no, I put it in a bag for either Savers (if it was casual) or Dress for Success (if it was professional). Now, I can see all my clothes, and it's much easier to get dressed for work each day.

    Decorative things followed -- were they just collecting dust? Could I whittle down a set of four jars to just one? Did I have things stashed in a closet for "when I get a summer house?" (ha!). Yes, yes, and yes. Sold, sold, and sold. 

    How about the stack of paintings sitting in an empty room? I'm awaiting word from an art dealer about those as I write.

    All told, I've made close to $2,000 on stuff that I was not using or appreciating. I have fewer things around me now, but each is something special. I feel much less burdened by things, and all the sale money is going towards paying down my one remaining credit card. 

    I'm piling up the things that haven't sold in anticipation of a summer tag sale, which I hope will be my last. I've had tag sales nearly every year, but have kept acquiring more "stuff." During this current phase of decluttering/destuffing/streamlining, I've greatly reduced the flow of stuff coming in, and am being much more thoughtful about each purchase. I don't miss the specific items I've sold or given away, and I don't miss the volume of stuff in the house. I'm really enjoying the vast areas of space and swaths of bare walls. 

  • Student loan payoff begins

    I have a LOT of student loan debt. My parents insisted that I go to college, but they didn't have any funds saved, so I started out my undergraduate experience by signing up for loans. At 17, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I'd gone to public school all my life, so I didn't really have any concept of paying for schooling. My parents lived paycheck to paycheck and never really discussed money and had no savings (see lack of college fund for only child, above). When I realized I could take out additional loans, I went for it. Somewhere in the back of my head I knew that a loan meant I'd have to pay it back, but the future seemed so far away. Well, it took me ten years to finally get that Bachelor's degree. I'd take time off (some of it financed by loans), work, pay a little of my loans, go back to school, travel. I did a lot of things in those ten years! Then I finally got serious about finishing and got my degree. 

    My degree was in Philosophy, which has no financial relevance to anything. Sure, I think like nobody's business, but there aren't a lot of jobs (outside of waitressing and bartending, which is what I was doing for work) for a Philosopher. So I went back to school. I got a Master's degree in Education, figuring I'd get a job teaching in the community college. And also knowing that my undergrad loans would be in a state of limbo while I was in school. The school I chose to go to didn't offer any graduate assistantships, so I took out more loans. I did, indeed, begin teaching community college, but as an adjunct. Adjuncts do all the things full-time faculty do, only we get paid about one-fourth of what full-timers make, we have no benefits (like health insurance), we have to join a (pretty useless) union, and we have very little job security. 

    So then I heard about another Master's program in a liberal arts field that is my passion -- translation. I did get an assistantship for this degree -- yay -- which meant I "only" had to pay the fees for my schooling. Well, the fees were more than the tuition. How did I pay? Student loans.

    So now I have three degrees in very low-paying jobs and a mountain of student loan debt. Despite those great thinking skills I gained in philosophy, I kept putting off the student loan repayment, thinking the government would come up with some forgiveness plan. This was a prime example of magical thinking.

    I was earning so little money as an adjunct professor and itinerant translator that I managed to defer payment year after year. Interest accured, but that "later" day when I'd begin paying the loans off just moved farther and farther into the future. Last year, I heard about the Income-Based Repayment plan for student loans. Your lender (mine is Sallie Mae) calculates your payment based on what you're earning. Great! I signed up, and instead of the impossible $495 per month that they originally wanted, my payment is now $66 -- at least for the next twelve months. 

    The Income Based Repayment plan is calculated each year, based on the previous year's income tax returns. As long as I continue to be a pauper, my payment continues to be affordable, and I can actually pay towards my loan instead of ignoring it. Great! And even better news, is that after ten straight years of (a) paying the loan and (b) working for a non-profit or educational institution (yes, I do), the balance of the loan may be forgiven -- my dream come true!

    Today I wrote my first check for my new, reasonable monthly payment. It felt good -- like the first step on a ten-year journey to getting that debt out of my life. Do I wish I understood more about money when I first entered college? You betcha. Not only did I rack up big student loans in college, I also got my first credit card -- on campus, with the university's blessing. I had nooo idea what I was doing with money at that time. I'm extremely grateful for my education, but I do wish that my financial education hadn't been entirely self-taught.




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