Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Toyota Prius Voluntary Recall for '04 to '06 Models

Toyota will be recalling 320,000 Priuses to repair a potentially faulty steering system component. Owners are being asked to wait until they receive a recall notice before scheduling an appointment with their local dealership. You can read more about it here.

Cashless Society? Not So Much

My apologies for the long hiatus and infrequent posts in the past week or so. I flew out to NY/NJ early Friday morning and spent the past few days with my best friend, blissfully disconnected and unplugged from life as I know it. Usually when I visit NY, it's a combination of both work and leisure. But this time around, it was purely for fun. We visited the United Nations, snagged really great tickets to 'Awake and Sing' at the TKTS booth for half off, visited a church that I've heard wonderful things about, had lunch with a bunch of friends who happened to be in town, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and waited half an hour for a scoop of yummy gelatto at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory and broke in a new pair of shoes.

One of the interesting things about NY City is that there are still a number of mom and pop places that don't accept credit or debit cards. For example, my best friend and I ate dinner Sunday evening at a wonderful, neighborhood bistro called Tartine. There was a large sign on the door that said 'We accept cash only'. Since I had offered to pay for dinner, I was thankful that I had enough cash with me to cover the entire bill because the nearest ATM was nearly 2 blocks away. But when I commented on the sign, my best friend explained that it's fairly common in NYC. When she first moved to the area a year ago, she asked her husband why he was burning through so much cash. He was constantly having to make trips to the ATM. She works in NJ, while her husband works in the financial district in Manhattan, so she just didn't get it. He explained that very few of the places near his office accepted credit cards, so he's forced to pay cash all the time.

Anyway, it made me appreciate some of the modern conveniences and comparative advantages of living and working in downtown Chicago. People in Chicago don't leave large bags of trash on the sidewalk because thanks to the Great Fire, we have alley ways and trash cans on nearly every street corner. And thanks to Mayor Daley, we have flowers and trees along every major street. Best of all, it's a cashless society. You can pretty much use your credit card to pay for even the smallest transactions, which makes tracking expenditures on Quicken a whole heck of a lot easier (i.e., one step update to download all transactions vs. recording each transaction on my Palm manually).

The one thing I will say about NJ. No sales tax. Since most of the places we would've visited were closed on Memorial Day, we decided to hit the outlet malls. Let's just say that I put one heck of a dent in my clothing allowance. But it was mostly stuff that I've been meaning to buy anyway. So, it's just as well, I guess. Also, my best friend trimmed my hair Monday evening, so that saved me about $50, which is what I usually pay for a haircut.

All in all, a fun and relaxing trip. And it turned out to be a lot cheaper than I expected.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

An Expensive Convenience Item

A lot of folks in the pf blogging community have been talking about rising fuel prices. According to an article that I read this morning on, entitled 10 cities worst hit by rising gas prices, the average American family with two drivers will spend between $2,736 and $5, 772 this year on gas. Well, fortunately (or unfortunately) for me, as a single person who either walks or takes public transportation to work, the rising cost of fuel prices doesn't affect me very much.

What does affect me is the high cost of maintaining a car, especially in a metropolitan area like Chicago. When I purchased my condo two years ago, I had to pay $35,000 for a deeded parking spot. Admittedly, even if I didn't have a car, I probably would have purchased a parking spot anyway, because my realtor told me that it adds to the resale value of my condo. But on top of the purchase price, there's the property tax, to the tune of nearly a $700 a year. And then you have the cost of auto insurance at $866 per year, which is pretty darn expensive when you consider that I'm a 'leisure' driver (under 6,500 miles per year) with absolutely no traffic violations on my record. Then you have the $78 that I pay the State of Illinois to renew my license plates each year. And another $75 to the City of Chicago each year for a parking sticker. So, as you can see, it all starts to add up. And that's not including the routine costs of actually maintaining the car (e.g., oil change, brakes, tires, muffler, window wipers, belts, spark plugs, etc.) . Thankfully, other than the routine stuff and a small leak in a hose, my car has been relatively trouble free.

So, given the relatively high costs, why exactly do I own a car? I confess that it's purely for convenience. I live across the street from a bus stop. And it's only a 10 minute walk to the nearest grocery store. But my parents and several of my friends, as well as my church are all located out in the suburbs. Admittedly, I could take the metra train to visit family and friends or hitch a ride to church and church meetings if I needed to. And I do offer rides to other folks and carpool whenever possible. But honestly, I just enjoy the freedom of being able to hop in my car at any moment, at any time of the day and drive wherever I want or need to go.

In short, my car is my number one most expensive convenience item. And it has nothing to do with rising gas prices.

How about you? What's your most expensive convenience item?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Series Finale of Alias and Random Thoughts about Illicit Funds

A bit of a spoiler follows for those of you who didn't get a chance to watch the series finale of 'Alias' last night.

There's a flashback scene towards the end of the last episode where Sydney (Jennifer Garner), supposedly in college, comes home one day and hands her dad Jack (Victor Garber) an envelope full of cash. She says something to the effect that it's about time that she paid her dad back for some of her college tuition and such. With a bemused expression on his face he asks her 'What? Did you rob a bank?' She replies 'No, but I've been working at one or the last month.' Upon hearing the name of the bank, Jack realizes that Sydney has been recruited by SD-6. He's clearly upset, and in a fairly harsh tone of voice he proceeds to try and persuade her to quit her job. Sydney reacts with shock, hurt and bewilderment. At this point in time, she doesn't realize that her father is an SD-6/CIA agent as well. 'I didn't come here to ask your permission. I've made my decision.' And then she runs out of the room.

I found it kind of interesting that at no point in time did Victor try to hand the money back to Sydney. He was clearly upset about the way she had earned the money, but he accepted it nonetheless. So, that scene got me to thinking about how I would've reacted if a closed friend or loved one had offered to pay back a loan or bought an extravagent gift for me with what I suspected was 'illicit' money (i.e., cash that they'd earned through questionable means). Would I risk offending that person by refusing the money?

I knew of a girl in high school whose dad paid for everything in cash. He was always walking around with a huge wad of cash in his pocket. A lot of folks who lived through the Great Depression still hide their money under their proverbial mattresses, so it wasn't that big of a deal, except that he drove really flashy cars and engaged in a lot of conspicuous consumption, which fueled the rumor that he worked for the mafia. I'm not sure what I would've done if I were her daughter. Looked the other way until I became an adult?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Relaxing and Surprisingly Frugal Weekend

One of my friends was kind enough to offer up her lake house for the weekend. So I and a group of female friends drove up to Michigan Friday afternoon for some much needed rest and relaxation. We mostly just hung around the porch or sat on the dock, reading, eating, laughing, chatting and playing board games. It was nice to be able to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Of course getting there wasn't so fun. We got caught in rush hour traffic in a relatively small city, about an hour away from our destination. So we arrived a bit later than we anticipated. A few of my friends started prepping for dinner immediately, using ingredients that we'd brought with us, while I and another friend went grocery shopping. I couldn't get over the low, low prices at the local Super Walmart. Talk about cheap!

When we split the grocery bill, we wound up paying $34 per person for five hearty meals, which included some yummy grilled steaks for dinner on Saturday evening. All told, it was a very relaxing and frugal weekend.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Money Saving Tip - Borrow Clothes from a Friend

As a follow up to my post earlier this week, I have a lot of hard-working, intelligent friends who are unemployed or underemployed.

One of my friends has been searching for a full-time position for nearly a year now, ever since she graduated from law school last spring. She's a highly qualified candidate who turned down a prestigious job offer with the DOJ because it would have meant relocating out of state and away from her husband. But just this week, she found out that she's managed to land a full-time job with a small law firm in the Chicagoland area. And she was totally caught off guard. Just to give you an idea of how quickly everything happened for her, she had her first round of interviews early last week, went in for a second interview at the end of the week, and then was offered the job the following Monday. She then had a day or two to think it over before she accepted. And now she's scheduled to start her new job this coming Monday.

Here's her dilemma. The law firm requires 'business attire' four days a week. But she only has two suits...just enough to get her through two rounds of interviews with any given employer. So, with only four days' notice, she now has to scramble to put together a decent business wardrobe for the upcoming week. Unfortunately, her weekend is already jam packed with other social obligations that she'd already committed to before she even found out about this job. So, she won't have time to hit the outlet malls.

Chalk it up to Murphy's Law, but if you're anything like me, it's nearly impossible to find a suit or a special occasion dress if you actually need one. I wind up spending hours and hours trying on various items and deciding that they don't fit quite right or are way too expensive. And just as the stores are closing, I wind up grabbing something, anything out of sheer desperation and then regretting the purchase.

Fortunately for my friend, she and I are nearly the same size. And since my employer no longer requires business attire, I offered to lend her some of my suits. That'll hopefully buy her some extra time, so she can shop at a more leisurely pace and find some good deals.

Anyway, if you're in need of a special occasion suit or dress, and you're really pressed for time or on a tight budget, consider borrowing the items from your friends' wardrobes or closets.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Free Tulip Bulbs in Chicago

For those of you who live in the Chicagoland area, the Garfield Park Conservatory is giving away free tulip bulbs this Saturday, May 20th, beginning at 9AM in the Market Place area. Get there early because it's first-come, first-served, and a limit of one or two grocery bags per person. The bulbs are usually gone by noon. For more information, visit the official website.

Most Expensive Home in the U.S.

What would $75 million dollars buy you? An oceanfront home in southern California and a footnote in the history books. According to an article posted by Reuters, if it actually sells at or slightly below list price, it would be the most expensive U.S. home sale ever. Admittedly, for $75 million you would get a 30,000 square-foot estate with "a car museum, entertainment complex, gymnasium and mini water park." But still....

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hugh Jackman's Perspective on the New York Housing Market

I always liked Hugh Jackman (the actor who plays Wolverine in the X-Men movies). But after reading this interview in Newsweek yesterday, I like him even more.

Q. Now you're moving to New York.
A. We're going to have to bite the bullet and rent, I think. My wife is fussy, and it's a lot of money to live in New York.
Q. But I bet you could afford it.
A. Do I have the money? Yes. But I still struggle with how expensive it is. It feels a bit obscene.

So, there you have it folks. Even though he's rich and famous, Hugh Jackman strikes me as a fairly down-to-earth sort of guy, which is rare in Hollywood these days. Maybe it's because he and his wife avoid the excesses of Hollywood by living in Australia for the most part. I just can't imagine someone like Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt balking at excessive housing prices.

Festival of Frugality #23

Many thanks to Jane Dough at Boston Gal's Open Wallet for hosting this week's Festival of Frugality. I'm not sure how she found the time or energy to do it after spending the weekend fighting the flood waters. Anyway, check out all of the great posts, including one from yours truly on custom jeans.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Work is a Four-Letter Word

According to an article posted on Yahoo this morning, Hillary Clinton apologized to her daughter for essentially calling all young people lazy. In previous remarks, Hillary indicated that young people today "think work is a four-letter word," and they have a sense of entitlement after growing up in a "culture that has a premium on instant gratification."

Hmm. Interesting. Is it just me or does it seem a bit ironic that Hillary is commenting on the shiftless nature of an entire generation of young people? Flashback to the 1960s, when Hillary was a young person. What exactly was her generation known for? Something about smoking pot and talking about world peace and free love?

Quite honestly, as a member of Generation X, I'm sick and tired of hearing folks from the boomer generation complain about 'young people' and their sense of entitlement. Every time I look at my paycheck stub, I just shake my head. You want to talk about a sense of entitlement? Try suggesting that we take social security away from the boomers. As it stands, the boomers will be, most likely, the last generation to benefit from social security. The rest of us 'young people' are expected to fund Clinton's retirement and then fend for ourselves.

Anyway, I'm glad that Chelsea called her mom to task. Like Chelsea, I happen to work very hard, as do the majority of my friends.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Goodbye Hummer H1 - Rest in Peace

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, GM plans to stop production on the Hummer H1 next month. A moment of silence, please...

Yeah, right! All I can say is 'It's about time!' Who the heck needs to drive a military-grade vehicle that gets, at most 10 miles to the gallon? The thing is so stinking wide that it can't fit into a normal parking space. I used to walk past an H1 on the way to the train station, and it was always parked half on the street and half over the curb.

Custom Jeans - Frugal or Foolish?

Have any of you women out there ever tried to order custom pants? If yes, did you have a positive or negative experience? I know that men do it all the time, but I'm more interested in seeing if any women have done it.

I'm actually thinking about ordering a pair of custom denim jeans from Lands' End. It seems like a fairly straight forward process. You choose from a variety of styles and colors. Click on your body type, enter some measurements, tell them whether you have a full, average or flat tummy, posterior or thighs. And voila! You'll get your new, custom jeans in the mail in 3 to 4 weeks.

There's also a money back guarantee:

If the fit isn't "just so" the first time around, you can nip and tuck your profile accordingly and re-order a new item. We save all your information, so you can fill your order with just a few keystrokes. And, if your Lands' End Custom garment is anything less than perfect, you may exchange it, or return it and we'll reimburse you for the purchase price. Lands' End Custom is Guaranteed. Period.

And surprisingly, they're pretty reasonably priced at $54. That's a bargain when you think about what it usually costs (in terms of both time and money) to buy a decent pair of jeans. For all you men out there who don't know what I'm talking about, check out the hilarious diagram that Financial Freedumb posted last week. It totally captures my typical jean buying experience. A few years back, my friend and I spent over 3 hours at the Gap store on Michigan Ave. We were bound and determined to find a flattering pair of jeans that actually fit. I think we must've tried on at least 40 pairs of jeans in all different types of styles, sizes and colors. I wound up paying $48 for a pair of jeans that fit me fairly well. But I promptly ruined them the second time I wore them. Someone spilled hot coffee all over me, and I couldn't get the stain out. Oh well. They were button fly and a total pain to get on and off, so I didn't bother to replace them.

So, what do you think? Are custom jeans are frugal or foolish? Should I order these jeans?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Cooking Lessons for Kids at

There's an article in Wednesday's edition of the Chicago Tribune about Isabella and Olivia Gerasole, the hosts of a popular online cooking show for kids. The amazing thing is that these two sisters are kids as well! At 10 and 8 years of age respectively, they just became "the youngest winners in the 16-year history of the James Beard Foundation food awards."

If you're interested in teaching your kids the joys of cooking (or just want some fresh recipe ideas), check out their Webcast at

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Mother's Day Musings

I've been thinking a lot about Mother's Day this week. Maybe it's because my co-worker just lost her mom early last week. But it's been on my mind.

Like most individuals, I have an interesting and unique relationship with my mom. She's never been officially diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but she has many of the hallmark signs and symptoms. When my nephew was diagnosed with ADHD, it was as if a light bulb went on in my head. Suddenly, some of my mother and brother's crazy behavior made sense to me. But in spite of her sometimes crazy behavior, my mom is a great mom.

A few years ago, I sent my mom flowers for Mother's Day. She called me to thank me. But instead of telling me that some of the orchids were wilted when they arrived, she kept silent for weeks, because she didn't want to seem ungrateful. Later, when she asked me not to send her flowers anymore, I thought she was just being frugal and didn't like the fact that I'd paid for shipping. But when I dug a bit deeper, I got the real reason out of her, and then I was pretty annoyed. If she had told me about the wilted flowers right away, I could have easily called the florist and asked them to replace the order. Most florists have a money back guarantee.

Anyway, the following year, I decided to 'learn' from my mistake and sent her a plant instead because my mom loves gardening and she has a very green thumb. Well, the plant arrived on time and in good condition, with healthy and vibrant leaves. And although my mom grumbled about the cost, she was pretty happy about least initially. To this day, my mom gives me grief about that plant because it never flowered.

So, this year for Mother's Day, I bought my mom a sweater, and hand delivered it to her last week. She seemed pretty happy with the sweater. It was something that she needed to round out her wardrobe. But somehow, it didn't sit well with me. It didn't seem like enough. Does that makes sense? I wanted to lavish her with something that she wouldn't normally buy for herself, to make her feel special. And I wanted to let her know how much I love her and appreciate her and all that she's done for me. Like I said, maybe it's my co-worker's recent experience that is weighing heavily on my mind. But I'm just not sure how much longer my mom will be with me. Longevity runs in the family, but you just never know.

So, I'm back to my old tricks again. Last night, I hopped online and ordered two dozen roses and a box of truffles for my mom. Hopefully, she won't complain about the cost.

Anyway, this is a shout out to all the moms out there. Happy Mother's Day (a few days early). And for all you slackers out there who still haven't ordered presents for your moms, get to it! Life is short. Take the opportunity to appreciate your loved ones while you can.

* Update 5/12/06 - The flowers arrived today. And predictably, the first words out of my mom's mouth were 'You shouldn't have spent so much money! I told you not to send me flowers anymore.' But then she followed it up by thanking me profusely for sending them. So, I know that she was secretly pleased.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Festival of Frugality #22

The Festival of Frugality #22 is being hosted by Caitlin at Clutter2Cash. Lots of great posts, including Frugal Mom Wardrobe Basics at The Space Between My Peers and one from yours truly. Enjoy!

Worst Job Ever - Concession Stand Worker

Nickel over at Five Cent Nickel wrote about his worst job ever, and he invited the rest of us in the pf blogging community to join in on the fun.

My worst job ever happened to be my very first job. The summer after my sophomore year in high school, I got a job as a concession stand worker at a second run theater. Second run theatres aren't necessarily second rate. They show movies that have ended their first run at regular theatres but before they're released on DVD. Popular movies at a cut rate price. What's not to like?

I was too young to watch the mostly 'R' rated movies that they showed. So, no real benefit there. And by the end of the summer, I was really sick of eating leftover popcorn.

So why did I hate my first minimum wage, hourly job? I'm not sure what the owner was thinking, but he didn't have a cash register, and he wouldn't even let us use a calculator. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I can't do math in my head. Needless to say, it was a painful experience, both for myself and for the patrons of that theatre. How do you 'ring up' a customer when you can't figure out how much they owe? Anyway, I tried to compensate for my deficient math skills by memorizing some of the more popular combinations (1 large popcorn and 2 large drinks). But when people ordered things like Junior Mints or nachos, I was a goner.

The other thing that I really hated about that job was cleaning the popcorn machine. Again, the owner was a stickler for cleanliness. According to one of my friends, other theatres pop all of their popcorn for the week in one huge batch and then they 'store' it in the machine. Not so where I worked. We popped fresh popcorn all the time. And each and every night, it was the concession worker's job to clean out the machine with paper towels and a bottle of glass cleaner. I dunno what was in that buttery flavored oil that we used, but once it cooled down, it became a congealed mess. It literally took me half an hour of scrubbing and 2 rolls of paper towels to get the machine squeaky clean. Ick. Also makes you really not want to eat that first batch of popcorn out of the machine. Would you like some windex with your extra butter?

On the bright side, I met my first boyfriend at that job. He was working as a usher. The irony is that our dating life revolved around movies and theatres as well.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Free Premium Coffee at McD's on Mondays

I'm not sure if it's available nationwide, but the McDonald's on the corner of Clark and Monroe in downtown Chicago is offering free coffee on Mondays. Check to see if your local McDonald's has a sign posted near the registers. Of course, it goes without saying that there's a limit of one cup of coffee per person per day.

Carnival of Personal Finance #47

Wow! Jim over at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity did an excellent job with the Carnival of Personal Finance this week. Check out the Renaissance themed carnival map. "If you hover your mouse of a particular submitter, it should give you a brief message about what the article is about." Enjoy!

Start of the Wedding Season = Gifts Given

A bit of a rant follows....

Each year, the start of the wedding season fills me with a sense of frustration. I'm not really a big fan of huge celebrations. And the weddings that I've attended in the past decade have been pretty elaborate affairs. In addition to trying to figure out what to wear, there's the tricky issue of trying to figure out what to get for the bride and the groom. Registries help, but only to a limited extent.

My parents taught me that you should always cover the cost of your plate when giving a wedding or shower gift. But when the bride and groom choose to spend, on average, $75-100 per plate for an elaborate dinner reception, your wedding gift will need to be lavish and expensive as well. Obviously, folks who don't make a lot of money spend what they can afford. The bride and groom usually understand that and wind up covering the cost. But since my friends and acquaintances know that I earn a decent wage, there's definitely no free pass for me, even if I'm trying to save up money to go back to school. So, that creates a huge dilemma for me. If I want to celebrate the occasion, I can either attend the ceremony and just skip the reception, or attend the reception and purchase a gift that would meet or exceed the bride and groom's expectations.

Then there are the out of town invitations to weddings that both you and the happy couple know that you won't be able to attend. A number of years ago, I was shocked to discover that according to the etiquette books, you're expected to send a gift to the bride and groom even if you can't make it to the wedding. So, some of my college friends must have thought that I was incredibly rude. Chalk it up to ignorance and different social customs.

What I find truly ironic is when my married friends complain about having to spend money on wedding or shower gifts. At least they've benefited from the social norm at some point in their lives. I have a fairly young co-worker who registered for and received flatware that cost $30 per setting. Let's just say that my flatware cost substantially less.

As for the actual impact on my finances, I spent $100 on a wedding gift in January, another $40 on a shower gift last month, and $137 on two wedding gifts this weekend (one is for a wedding that I'll be attending in June and another for a wedding that I won't be able to attend in July). I still need to pick up 3 more gifts for weddings that I'll be attending in July, August and September. And this morning, I got an unexpected invitation to another wedding shower. So I need to factor that in as well. Anyway, all this to say, I think it's time to adjust the 'Gifts Given' category in my budget again.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a miserly person. And when I give birthday gifts, I tend to be quite generous. But it's the societal expectation that I have to give a certain amount in order to celebrate or participate in what should be a joyous occasion....that's what rubs me the wrong way. And don't even get me started on how much I've spent over the years serving as bridesmaid.

Okay, end of rant.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

What Goes Around, Comes Around

Yesterday, I mentioned that I'd gotten my first cash rewards check from Chase. What I didn't mention was that technically, I'd already spent the money...on a parking ticket, of all things! Definitely not a budgeted item.

My friend was being, well...just that...a friend. We were supposed to carpool to a meeting out in the suburbs, and usually she meets me at my condo building. But this week, she offered to pick me up at work. I thought she was stuck in traffic, so I took my sweet time, going to the washroom, shutting down my computer, packing up my bag, and mosey'ing down to the corner where she was supposed to meet me. Right as I get within 10 feet of the corner, my cell phone rings. I see that it's from my friend, so I stop to answer it. 'Do you see me?' Huh? Yeah, I see you. 'Well, hurry up. I see a cop behind me.' So, I start running to the car. And just as I get in, the cop arrives, and she's writing my friend a ticket. 'You see the sign? No stopping or standing. People want to use this lane to turn.' My friend doesn't say anything. Just takes the ticket.

So of course, I offered to pay for it. She was, after all picking me up. And I shouldn't have dawdled. But for crying out loud! $50 for standing there at most, 60 seconds? And why the heck did my friend call me instead of just circling the block when she saw the cop?!?!?! Argh. I know, I know. Hindsight is always 20/20. Just needed to vent.

Anyway, what goes around comes around. The $50 rebate went straight from Chase to me to my friend to the City of Chicago. Go figure.

Has that ever happened to you? You get a bonus or a rebate check and before you even have a chance to say 'thank you', some emergency happens, like the transmission in your car goes out, and you have to use the money to pay for that? For some reason, it feels better if the money sits in your checking account for a least a couple of days before you have to dish it out again.

Friday, May 05, 2006

OT - Writing Isn't Painful

Garrison Keillor cracks me up. You've gotta read his column entitled "Listen up, all you whiners" from yesterday's edition of the Chicago Tribune.

Here's a brief excerpt:

OK, let me say this once and get it off my chest and never mention it again. I have had it with writers who talk about how painful and harrowing and exhausting and almost impossible it is for them to put words on paper and how they pace a hole in the carpet, anguish writ large on their marshmallow faces, and feel lucky to have written an entire sentence or two by the end of the day.

It's the purest form of arrogance: Lest you don't notice what a brilliant artist I am, let me tell you how I agonize over my work. To which I say: Get a job. Try teaching 8th-grade English, five classes a day, 35 kids in a class, from September to June, and then tell us about suffering.

The fact of the matter is that the people who struggle most with writing are drunks. They get hammered at night and in the morning their heads are full of pain and adverbs. Writing is hard for them, but so would golf be, or planting alfalfa, or assembling parts in a factory.

The biggest whiners are the writers who get prizes and fellowships for writing stuff that's painful to read, and so they accumulate long resumes and few readers and wind up teaching in universities where they inflict their gloomy pretensions on the young. Writers who write for a living don't complain about the difficulty of it. It does nothing for the reader to know you went through 14 drafts of a book, so why mention it?

The truth, young people, is that writing is no more difficult than building a house, and the only good reason to complain is to discourage younger and more talented writers from climbing on the gravy train and pushing you off.

Young people are pessimistic enough these days without their elders complaining about things. Shut up. Life is pretty good when you grow up.


Environmentally Friendly Cleaning and Gardening Tips

There are some great alternative (environmentally friendly) household cleaning and gardening tips in this week's edition of Clean Home Journal from SC Johnson. Here are my favorites:

Black pepper - as a plant saver. Sprinkle on plants to deter pets and pests.

White bread - as a scuff and stain remover. Decrust a slice of white bread and roll into a ball. Rub it over wallpaper or painted surfaces to remove scuffs and stains.

Potting rocks - as a soap saver. Help prevent a scummy soap dish by covering the plate with smooth potting rocks and placing the soap on top. The rocks prevent the soap from sitting in that inevitable puddle of water and disintegrating.

Lemon - as a lime-descaler. Hard water can cause buildup called lime scale in your bathroom sinks. To eliminate, cut a lemon in half and use it to scrub the area. This will help cut through the scaling. Then use a scrubby pad and water to clear leftover debris.

Nylons - to clean window screens.

Lip balm - to silence squeaks. Coat noisy hinges to reduce squeaks.

Tea bags - as fertilizer. Sprinkle used tea leaves in flower beds for fertilizer. Or dilute a cup of tea in four cups of water and use it to water your plants.

Quick Turnaround on Cash Plus Reward Request

On Monday, I noticed that I had accumulated just over 5,000 points on my Chase Cash Plus Rewards Visa account. So, I submitted my very first request for a $50 cash reward online at And 3 days later, I got my check in the mail. Wow! That was fast! I was thinking that it would be at least a couple of weeks before they processed my request.

So, now I'm wondering why it takes, on average, 6 to 8 weeks to get a rebate check?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Salary Estimate for Stay-at-Home Moms

Here's an interesting article from Reuters. According to a recent study, stay-at-home moms deserve to be paid $134,121 per year for their work.

This is based on "the earning power of the 10 jobs respondents said most closely comprise a mother's role -- housekeeper, day-care teacher, cook, computer operator, laundry machine operator, janitor, facilities manager, van driver, chief executive and psychologist."

If you're a stay-at-home mom (or dad), and you want to calculate how much you'd make if you factored in what you could've been paid, how many children you have, where you live, etc., check out the calculator at

Americans Remain Undeterred by Gas Prices

There's an article in the Chicago Tribune from Bloomberg News indicating that "retailers reported the biggest monthly sales gains in two years as Easter and warmer weather sparked demand for spring clothing from U.S. consumers undeterred by higher gasoline prices."

Are Americans in denial or is it true that higher gas prices really don't have that much of an effect on the U.S. economy?

Feeling Poor - Vending Machines and Convenience Items

I'm going to be writing a series of posts on some of the things that make/made me feel poor. But first, let me make it clear that I'm not trying to throw a pity party for myself. I am very much aware of the fact that compared to majority of the world's population, even when I felt poor, I really wasn't poor. But I also believe that our memories and experiences profoundly influence how act and behave today. So, I write these posts as more of a cathartic, helpful exercise. It makes me profoundly grateful for the many blessings I have today.

Grocery shopping wasn't nearly as fun for me and my brother as it was for our friends. While other kids were being bribed with promises of candy and fun for good behavior, we were being told in no uncertain terms that candy and vending machines (i.e., anything that dispensed gumballs, candy, soda, snacks or toys) were strictly off limits. And those mechanical rides that cost 25 cents for 60 seconds of shake, rattle and roll? Forget it. We got pretty good at playing make-believe. But oh for just one quarter!

Today, when I buy convenience items from a vending machine, like an ice cold bottle of Coca-Cola Blak or a pack of mints, I feel an immediate and inevitable sense of guilt. I can hear my mom's voice in the back of my head telling me that I should wait for these things to go on sale or buy them in a multi-pack. I have to remind myself that I'm a busy professional, and that my time is worth something, as well. But even so, it's enough to stop me sometimes from reaching for that candy bar or that bottle of soda.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

USPS Proposes Rate Increase & 'Forever' Stamp

The USPS is proposing rate increases, yet again. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, first class stamp prices would increase 3 cents to 42 cents next year. And what's up with the price guarantee on the 'Forever' stamp? They would be sold at the same price as the then current first class postage rate. And they would (theoretically) be honored forever. Interesting concept, but I wonder if it'll actually fly.

April Expenses

In an earlier post, I promised that I would try to be more transparent about my spending habits. So, for the month of April, here's a brief rundown on my variable expenses.

Charity - $1370 (tithe and miscellaneous charitable organizations)
Dining - $229.75 (work day lunches and snacks)
Entertainment - $0
Groceries - $106.40
Gifts Given - $326.02 (birthdays, showers, and weddings, oh my!)
Personal Care - $40 (hair cut)
Auto - $75.43 (fuel)
Clothing - $74.35
Utilities - $84.15 (phone and electricity only; gas is included in monthly assessments)
Dry cleaning - $18.65 (I generally try to buy items that don't require dry cleaning)
Household - $9.49 (cleaning supplies)

And yes, once again, I managed to spend zero dollars on entertainment. Which isn't to say that I didn't have any fun. But as I noted in my previous post on March expenses, there are several reasons for this. First, my friends are okay with doing things on the cheap. Second, I didn't wind up seeing 'Wicked' (postponed until later this month). And third, my out of town trip got cancelled. But now that my classes are almost over, I think my entertainment expenses are going to go way up. Gotta make up for lost time!

I'm looking forward two mini-vacations towards the end of the month. Woohoo!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Avoiding Procrastination

When life gets busy for me, which it has been for the past few weeks, I wind up spending way too much money on convenience items. But here's one 'convenience item' that I was determined to resist - a 3 month extension on a correspondence class.

The correspondence course officially expires tomorrow. And I had one assignment left in the class...a research paper that would require a significant amount of time and energy to finish. But I'm also taking a second class at a community college. And I needed to prepare and give a presentation and submit a research paper for that class as well. Needless to say, I could have used a few extra days to finish everything up. But was it worth paying for an extension? I could literally buy myself 3 months of time.

In the end, I decided that it wasn't a good idea to pay $75 for the extension and then have the paper hanging over my head all summer. So, last week I started feverishly working on the two research papers and the presentation. I gave the presentation on Thursday, submitted my final assignment for my correspondence class on Sunday, and turned in the research paper for my second class on Monday.

Of course, as a reward to myself for my good behavior, I promptly went out and spent $107.17 at the outlet malls. In my defense, Saturday was supposed to be a Spa Day with friends that we'd arranged months in advance before I knew about my class deadlines. But the spa was totally booked solid. So I probably spent less money at the mall than I would've at the spa. And in the end, I probably had more fun shopping and laughing with my gal pals. As an added bonus, I got some great deals on several much needed items for my spring wardrobe, as well as a mother's day present for my mom.

Now all I need to do is study for a final exam, and I then I'll be schoolwork free for 3 whole months! Woohoo!