Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Getting Ready for Summer and Back to School...At the Same Time

Yay! My kids have been on summer vacation for a week and it's awesome. Don't be jealous, though, because school will begin again during the first days of August. But who cares about that right now. It. Is. Summer!

After a week of Field Day, Movie Day, picnics, parties and chaos I am not in the mood to work. I want to just throw down the backpacks and relax. And that would be disasterous. Work would pile up to my knees  eyeballs. If I get all the tedious stuff done then there's more time to relax and have fun. I've found some crazy easy ways to start the summer off right and get ready for back to school all at the same time. Without breaking a sweat or getting stressed out.

End of School:  As soon as we're home from the last day, I gather the backpacks and lunchboxes. They are emptied and we assess what needs to be tossed and what needs to be replaced. If it's tossable (yes, it's a word) then it goes bye bye right that waiting. In quick order, I assess the kids' clothes, school papers and school supplies. Clothes are organized into categories: next size up, to sell, to donate and rags. School papers are pared down to a few examples from the beginning, middle and end of the year. Here's a fun tip: Save a few less-than-perfect samples. Let your kids enjoy the misspelled journal entries that really speak of who they were when they were little. Assessing the school supplies only takes a few minutes. At this point, the smartest thing I do is make The List. I'll print out the school's required supply list and on the back, I'll jot down all those things I know I'll need such as extra ice packs, a spare lunch box, new backpacks, etc. As I buy things, I'll cross them off my list. I start my shopping now because I don't want to spend the last precious days of summer standing in a long line at the big box store with all the other tired mamas and their equally tired and exhausted kids. I'll use those sales to stock up for rainy days and school donations.

Summer Fun:  Aside from trips we may take, I make sure to have plans that fit my, relaxing, free or inexpensive. I check out the library for free movies, summer programs and Dollar Book Days. I look for festivals, fireworks, market fairs and anything that's just a little out of our ordinary routine. I also look for coupons or specials at all our favorite places during the summer. Many places let kids eat free on specific days. I also look for discounts at local attractions. True, we've already seen some of these things, but I promise you, a rainy day at the interactive museum will be fun, especially if you haven't been in a while. By the way, if we do take a trip you can be sure I'm looking for the best deals and savings I can find.

Back to School: I'm already looking for ways to get school clothes at the best possible prices. In one of my favorite stores I was given $20 in Store Dollars for spending a certain amount on a previous purchase. I used those few dollars to pick up three short sleeved shirts that will be perfect for returning to school in August. I've been looking at eBay, consignment stores and my favorite online places to get a jump start as well as looking for great items in my favorite stores. I'm not aiming for a full wardrobe; I just need to fill in the gaps of their summer wardrobe and get a few things that  make them feel like the start of the school year is a special time.

Kids, school and vacation cost money but they don't have to break the bank. Use some creativity and start early to keep ahead of the chaos. Enjoy your summer!

Monday, March 4, 2013

What NOT to do During the Furlough

In a previous post, we covered what could be done to help get you through the furlough. Hopefully those ideas will help make those 22 weeks a little less painful. Now that the Do's are covered, it's time to tackle the Don'ts. It's a gut reaction to eliminate all spending to squirrel away every single penny possible to keep the wolf away from the door. I know, because that's what my instinct tells me to do.

There are going to be some instances where doing that very thing is going to cost you a whole lot more money in the long run. A whole lot more. 

Don't forgo auto maintenance.  It takes time and money to get your oil changed and that $25-40 could buy a lot of of canned goods. Change the oil instead. The cost of new motor would be the kiss of death to your financial well being.

Don't reduce your medicine.  My household spends hundreds of dollars a month on medicine and that's going to be a strangle hold on my financial neck, but so the outcome of eliminating or reducing the dosage of our meds. If possible stock up now. Get as many refills now as possible and put them back. Ask your doctor for samples. My own physician thinks its the greatest thing in the world to send his patients home with a goodie bag. Yours will, too. Also, some pharmaceutical companies will give you one free month for certain medications. Take 20 minutes and hit the web to see what's available.

Don't eliminate your business memberships. In some cases, these are expensive and you might be inclined to eliminate them from your budget. Try to maintain them provided you aren't starving to do so. The connections you make just might get you some freelance work or maybe even a new job.

Don't give up all business lunches.  It is true you can provide a tastier, much healthier meal from your leftovers (which makes it free, too.) It's also going to be true that morale at work might be lower because everyone is in the same boat as you are and it's hard to be happy and productive when you're mad at the boss and broke. You need to avoid that mindset at all costs. If you can financially manage it, eat at work one day a week or once every other week. You need to see and be seen. Even during hard times, networking is necessary. There is going to be that one guy who picks up extra work and is willing to tell you how he did it. Or someone is going to mention that Such and Such Company is looking for someone with your exact qualifications. You can't afford to miss those opportunities. And if your employer holds Morale Booster events every month, then by all means, go to it, choke down a few finger foods and open your ears for income making possibilities.  And do not bad mouth your employer.

Don't give up all your fun.  Your money is going to get tighter and you aren't going to want to be spending those precious remaining dollars by throwing them away on frivolous entertainment. But you need frivolous entertainment! Sign up for all the free birthday goodies in your area. Many places provide free ice cream cones, appetizers, one movie/sporting event ticket and many more. Just check your local area and sign up for everything you can. Try second-run theaters. If you love arts and crafts or mani-pedis, try the clearance bins and look for coupons to make the price practically free. Hard times feel harder when you're deprived. Try to find a few things that make the tough times bearable.

Don't wallow in your misery.  It is easy to start wallowing around, overeating, letting things pile up and just being miserable. We all want to do that. The problem is it just doesn't work and makes it all worse.  On your furlough day, get up! Take a shower and dress nicely for the day ahead of you. Make sure you eat something and start your day. Be positive about whatever task is ahead of you. Remember the people around you are going to pick up on your cues and, in turn, you will respond to your own positive attitude.

 Losing one fifth of your income for 22 weeks is about as awful as it gets, financially speaking. It's going to take determination. patience and faith. Hang in there and keep your chin up.

Good luck.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

How to Survive the Furlough

The thought of a looming furlough has many of us mad, afraid, even shaking in our boots.  Many of us are looking deep in the piggy bank and staring at a stack of bills wondering How on earth can we survive? You can and you will. It will not only affect the 800,000 federal employees but also anyone who is breathing. You can't possibly imagine how many things you do/buy are affected by federal employees and what can happen when they are working 20 percent less. Prices will go up and money will go down.

My husband and I will be affected and here are some things that we, and some of our friends, are doing to make it much less painful. Everyone of us is in a different situation but there's something for everyone here.

Take advantage of the warning. A furlough could go into effect beginning the end of April and lasting until the end of September. That's 22 days or almost one month's salary. Don't wait until you see a smaller check or find crazy high prices to panic. Start planning right now.  Take advantage of these next few weeks to put some financial armour between you and the wolf at the door. Make your changes now.

Determine how much pay you're losing. If your employer has provided a furlough calulator, by all means use it today. When I received the email of my husband's calculator, I will admit I felt a sick knot in my stomach. You have to get passed that and figure out how much less you'll be living on. If you don't have a furlough calculator, just get a ball park figure in mind. In a five day week, you're losing one day's pay. Take your check and divide by 5. That's the amount you're losing. Painful, but ignorance hurts more.

Get a new attitude. It is perfectly human and natural to want to pretend it isn't happening or want to deal with it tomorrow. Save yourself the misery. You have got to trade fear for determination or even anger. Forget about I can't do this. What am I going to do? You go look in the mirror right now and tell yourself Well, this just sucks but I am in control of my future. I will not let this ruin me. I am smart and I'm a badass. I got this. Or whatever makes you want to get up, roar and take some action.

Save what you can.  Try to save as much as you can now to offset the amount you're losing. Let's suppose your check will be $300 less. Could you start living on less now and save $150? Do that with every check and you'll have a fair sized buffer between you and the wolf. Go one better and determine the entire 22 days of lost pay and then calculate how to put that amount in the bank before the furlough begins. Score!! I know. That's a big stretch for most of us, but that's okay. Just save something, anything and start yesterday. Do not touch it.

Stockpile responsibly.  Here is a way to really save responsibly. Stockpile expensive, necessary things without going overboard. Meat inspectors are federal employees and if' they are working less you can bet the farm the prices will skyrocket even higher than they are now. Every trip to the grocery store, buy something you can put back. Think: canned chicken, tuna, Spam, sausage, hot dogs, basically any meat/fish you know your family will eat. And if they hate Spam, do not stock up on it, no matter how many coupons you have.

Buy less processed items. My kids love cookie mixes and I've found it's just tons cheaper to have some of the raw ingredients on hand. Take the time to bag up the dry ingredients and write the directions and other ingredients on the outside of the zip bag. There you go! Prepackaged cookie mix.  Stay away from those seasoned microwave veggies coated in cheese. It is the easiest thing to make at home and you will be surprised how good it tastes. Do this with all kinds of things and you'll see significant savings.

Make some changes now. If you wait until the last minute to make changes it's going to be overwhelming. Make some now and many will hardly be noticeable. I've got two kids that will eat everything that isn't nailed down. That bag of chips that went from 2.99 to 3.49 is now 4.99. Um, I don't think so. I'll get a bag but when it's gone, it is gone and I don't do special trips for chips. I've already switched over to healthier alternatives that happen to be cheaper. When Crunch Time hits, they won't even notice we're cutting back. That goes for every category. Start driving less. If you aren't giving up your expensive gym membership then find a cheaper gym now.

Save as much vacation time as possible. If you just cannot make ends meet, you may need to use your vacation/holiday/annual leave time to make up the financial difference in your check. Save as many days as you can just in case.

Creative savings.  If money somehow vaporizes before you can deposit your savings, then get creative with how you save. I've been buying grocery store gift cards every time I go shopping. True, they're only small amounts but a handful of $10 gift cards will come in handy when we need milk and lunch meat. I do the same thing with gas cards. Just buying one or two now could make the difference in me running out of gas and getting stuck on the side of the road. This isn't for everyone but I'm trying to convey thinking outside the box so that these hard days don't control you. You control them.

Love thy neighbor.  My brother is very generous and shares with me the blackberries and figs he grows. I love them and there is always a ton more than I can ever use so I share them with my neighbor who has lovingly shared the garden vegetables her brother shares with her. It's a funny circle but we all benefit. I've learned that to offset her financial loss, my neighbor has found a way to save on after school care. Another neighbor is a stay at home mom and is willing to pick up all the children (two) and bring them to her house until the mom gets home from work (about an hour) in exchange for pizza take out on Fridays. Brilliant. There's tons of ways we can all help each other. Last week, my neighbor and I were both going to the store for a gallon of milk, so I picked up hers too.  Next time,she goes she's agreed to grab me a gallon. We both save a few pennies and a good half hour.

Find multiple streams of income.  With so many people on furlough and probably an equal amount hurting financially, it might be a little hard to get a part time job or change jobs completely. Don't let that stop you. Take the time to make your resume the best and submit it anyway. While you're waiting, you need to find more ways to boost your income. There's always the old tried and true methods like  yard sales, ebay, etsy, etc. Stick with those and add a few new ones. Could you tutor students one day a week? You could meet them and their parents at the library on Saturdays. Are you artistic or musical? Try getting a gig at the local art/music store. I know someone who is doing hand calligraphy on children's party invitations during the evenings. She's not getting rich, but her car always has a full tank of gas.

Keep to the routine.  A routine is what makes us feel safe and secure so you must keep to them as best as you can. If you go to the movies every week, switch to a second-run theatre.  Like to hike? Try out areas of interest closer to your home.  How about that expensive hobby you enjoy? Now is the perfect time to use up all those supplies you have before buying more. You know the old phrase Use what you've got, do what you know. How about a gourmet coffee and gigantic muffin? Perfect! Come on over! I found a new recipe and it is divine! Find inventive ways to keep some of what makes life feel normal.

Keep at it! Times are tough and feels unfair. But we've just got to get over it. We can't run from it and we can't avoid it. But we can tackle it head on and we can get through it. Not every idea will work and some will work wonders. I bet you've already got a list of what you're doing to get through the furlough. Please share those ideas. I can use all the help I can get.

We're in it together. Best of luck to you!