Friday, November 30, 2007

How To Holiday On A Budget

More on How to Holiday on a Budget:

Encourage your kids to focus on what they are giving people, rather than what they want to receive. Have the kids make a list and give them a budget, say $20/$25 (which ideally they’ve earned themselves) and let them shop. I suggest the dollar store but you’ll be amazed at their creativity, even if you end up at the mall. If they are using their own money, they will be sensible and deeply satisfied that the gift truly came from them.

Drawing names for family gift exchanges is a sensible idea that most families embrace. Ours never did. To this day, extended family insist that we all exchange lavish gifts. One thing I do is to purchase brand new, still sealed items that I find at garage sales and thrift shops throughout the year, then I have a stash to draw from. Another rule I follow is that if I see you on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, you'll get a gift. If I don’t, you’ll get a card. This has eliminated gift giving for multiple nieces and nephews and their offspring.

If in spite of your best efforts, you do get roped into buying gifts for entire families, give one gift per household – such as a large box of candy or a board game or make a movie night basket with a couple of new CDs, a couple packets of popcorn, a 2 liter of soda and a few boxes of the kind of candy you buy at movie theaters.

Another thing I’ve discovered is that there are items you can buy used that appear to be brand new – Christmas mugs, books with intact sleeve jackets, that sort of thing. I’ll buy Christmas mugs throughout the year, if I can find them for a dollar or under. As long as they are not cracked or chipped, there’s no way to tell if they are new or used. At Christmas time I fill them with individually wrapped Christmas candies, wrap them in plastic with a bow and they make great little gifts for co-workers. Swap out ceramic mugs for holiday styrofoam cups-filled-with-candy for the kids to give to their friends.

Now let’s get down to the actual gift purchasing. One thing I’ve noted is that it doesn’t matter what the gift is, it’s where you buy it from that counts. Anything from The Gap or Old Navy is cool to a teen, even if it’s a scarf and gloves. Bath & Body Works items (any fragrance) are welcomed by all females. Men get jazzed about gifts from Sharper Image or Brookstone. Even low amounts on gift cards from these stores seem to please people. Readers LOVE cards for bookstores. Gift cards are way cooler than giving cash, everyone loves to tuck those in their wallet, knowing that they get to go out shopping for themselves. My daughter-in-law loved the 99 cent store near her work. I was really poor one August as her birthday approached, so gave her a $10 99 cent store gift card and she really enjoyed that.

The trouble with gift cards is that you'll probably spend more than if you actually purchased a gift. You can get away with purchasing things that look much more expensive than they are. You can't do that with gift cards.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Being a single mom at holiday time presents extraordinary challenges. No matter how or what well meaning relatives may contribute, it is still up to the person who has the kids on Christmas morning to provide the filled stockings and half a dozen gifts per kid under the tree. My ex and I split up when our girls were 12, 8 and 2 and so I spent a lot of years pulling it all together myself

Keep an eye on the prize as you navigate through the labyrinth of holiday obstacles. Don’t give out gifts early, no matter how tempting. Keep envisioning the tree, the gifts, the stockings on Christmas morning. That is mandatory, all else is expendable.

Artificial trees and wreaths are a single Mom’s best friend. If you store them carefully, they’ll last forever and believe me – most kids don’t give a hoot if the tree is real or not, as long as there is one. It doesn’t cost you a thing to get that tree out each year, dust it off, decorate it, put out the nativity scene, hang a wreath and stockings and voila … abundance! The house looks swell and the kids are happy. It’s amazing how much unneeded stress adults put on themselves and how little it really takes to satisfy the kids.

Beware of hidden holiday expenses! Those include new holiday outfits, gift & cookie exchanges, parties, traditional outings, etc. Very few single Mom’s budgets can handle all these December expenses. Be very careful about what you agree to and what traditions you establish. If it’s a yearly ritual to attend The Nutcracker at the ballet, suggest staying home instead popping popcorn and watching it on TV and see how that goes over.

On Christmas morning my Mom would always carefully budget a certain amount to be spent on each child. That led to some rather uneven gift giving. Someone getting something expensive might only get one or two items. Everyone else would get a whole bunch. I didn’t follow that with my kids. I tried to keep the number of gifts the same and give the big ticket items at birthdays. Most kids don’t have cash registers as brains. They don’t notice how much was spent on their siblings, but they do notice if one person runs out of gifts to open way before the others do.

Also remember – it’s all in the presentation. Wrap gifts as soon as you get them and make them look pretty. Put small items, like CDs, in bigger boxes. It makes the pile under the tree look bigger and disguises the item. Make the gift opening last as long as possible. Make everyone take turns, starting with the youngest. Stop periodically for refreshments or bathroom breaks. Save the stockings for last.

More holiday tips to follow …

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Unexpected Income???

I finally have Sundays off and have been able to go to church. I’d been hearing about a dynamic local ministry and decided to give it a try. It’s based on science of the mind and I like it very much. They frequently bandy about words and phrases like “abundance and prosperity” and “unexpected income.” What ARE they going on about? I thought. I was intensely in survival mode and feeling as poor as a church mouse.

The second service that I attended, the minister talked about a pledge that you could sign out in the lobby. You would agree to tithe 10% of any unexpected income that came your way over the next 30 days. Unexpected Income, oh that’ll be the day ... no point signing that. I couldn’t even afford the $50 needed to sign up for a church luncheon that was coming up in November.

Well, fast forward to the very next service one short week later. I not only had 3 sources of unexpected income create incredible “abundance and prosperity” in my life during that time, but could well afford the $50 luncheon in November! I hadn’t signed up for the pledge but was only too happy to double my contribution to the collection basket as it came my way!

I’d won a thousand dollars playing Bingo on Friday night (I’d been going for years without winning a thing,) my daughter’s father sent her some money to help her out during the slow season (a rare enough occurrence to warrant mentioning here) and heck, I’d even won a couple of bucks on my lottery ticket! How do you win $2 on one of these things, I asked the clerk at the convenience store? I have no idea he replied. He’d never heard of such a thing. Abundance and Prosperity, indeed!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Good News & The Bad News

Good news first, the director of human resources at my new job has approved my starting at the top pay step for my position! Woo Hoo! That should add up to a halfway decent paycheck come this month. Hopefully a good enough one to pay all our bills. Then we could use J’s paychecks for groceries and spending money.

The area I live in, the Coachella Valley, is very much populated by the “haves and the have nots.” We have Indian Wells, the richest city in America and only 20 miles away is Mecca, the poorest city in America. My friends run the gamet from Nancy, the doctor, who owns a 3 million dollar house to my friend Debi, who is trying to survive on a security guard's salary. But even Debi & I are not really poor. We enjoy great abundance in our lives. No one is hungry, everyone has food in the pantry, we are all lucky enough to be living here in paradise. We can’t always do everything we’d like to do but everyone faces limitations … time or money or health or whatever.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

How To Make Money Without Having A Second Job

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against getting a second job and may end up going that route. On the positive side, second jobs are good for paying off your bills because they leave you no time to be out getting into trouble (a.k.a. "shopping".) But negatively, second jobs tend to sap your strength and leave your friends and family wondering what you look like these days. In my experience, most second jobs end up being retail, standing on your feet for hours and you're lucky to make more than two or three hundred a month.

I've been doing tons of research on how to increase my monthly revenue without resorting to a second job and this is what I've come up with:

1) Clipping Coupons can save you big, especially on drugs, new food items and cleaning supplies. Not to mention, restaurant coupons for two-for-one-entrees ... what's better than free food!?! Well worth buying the Sunday paper.

2) Recycling (see previous post), my suggestion is to find a place to store your garbage bags full of recycling and take them in twice a year for a payoff sizeable enough to make it worth your while. Keep a trash bag in your trunk for bottles and cans you find at work and when you are out and about.

3) Selling: on ebay, and craigslist can be simple and lucrative. Everybody has extra stuff around the house taking up storage space. You need access to a computer and a digital camera, the rest is pretty easy. Garage sales can also be a great source of emergency, end-of-the-month revenue. You can make two or thee hundred bucks for a morning of work.

4) Renting out rooms. This is a wonderous source of income. You can easily make $400 or $500 a month renting out even a little tiny bedroom. It would be hard to make that much money working a second retail job. It has it's drawbacks but I've been doing it for over 25 years now (ever since my divorce,) and haven't had any major problems. Just make sure up front that your renter has reliable (and legal) sources of income.

5) Working one shot jobs ... promotions, trade shows, conventions, food demos. These usually require standing somewhere or sitting at a table, being friendly and passing out things. Call your local convention center and ask if they hire local help. Also watch the paper and craigslist for these opportunities. Once you are on an agency's list, you'll get called periodically for jobs. Doing this once in awhile can be fun and get you out of the house working on your mingling skills. You don't have to be young and cute to do these jobs (but it helps.) Even senior citizens do them.

6) Catering jobs - banquet bartending, serving, food prep. Start by getting a food handlers license (a quick, easy process) and then calling the catering companies. You'll probably need a white shirt, black pants and shoes. Frequently you get paid the day of the event in cash. Last season, my daughter made a hundred dollars at a party and all she did was wander around for four hours refilling people's water glasses.

7) Being paid to have advertising signs on your car. For years I thought this was an urban myth but there are actually jobs like that. They send you the sticky decal and instruct you where to put it on your window or will even paint your entire car. You just drive around doing your thing and get checks each month. You'll have to do a bit of digging to find these opportunities - online or in national newspapers.

8) Work from home. I once had a great data entry job working from home part time entering new food items in a database for salesmen to order from (I don't consider it a second job if you can do it at home, sitting down and on your own schedule.) It was actually kind of fun! It paid $20 an hour. I got it by knowing someone who knew someone but I can attest that these jobs actually do exist.

9) House and pet sitting. This job isn't as easy as it looks. It's almost like moving. You have to take enough clothing and toiletries to get you through the duration and leave the house intact and pets alive and as clean as you found them. But it can be very lucrative and there's a big need. People hate to kennel their pets. Check with the local kennels and pet and house sitters and find out how much they charge. Don't sell yourself short, charge a good rate. Try it at first via word of mouth. If it works for you, gather references, get bonded and make up brochures and business cards. Also, there's an agency near where I live that provides doggy day care. They also provide over night care in people's homes. They advertise that these are the homes of people who don't work and have pets for your dog to play with. This would be good secondary income for senior citizens who wouldn't even have to be all that mobile.

10) Home based businesses - Amway, Avon, Cookie Lee, Mona Vie. Some people make money at these multi-level businesses, it always cost me more than I ever made though. I'm not good at signing up my friends to work under me but there are ways around that, you can advertise or have booths at trade shows and sign people up that way. If you are a go-getter and can sell your product to your coworkers at your main job, it would be well worth a try.

11) Get a skill or provide a service. Mobile notarys can make tidy amounts. It's usually a weekend seminar to get your notary license. You can only charge $10 per signature but you can charge a fee for your travel. Dog grooming in people's home is a great service, as some dogs hate car travel. Learn to do taxes, or face painting/clowning at kiddie parties, or ... well ... the opportunities are endless.

Anybody got any more ideas?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Abundance Beyond Belief ...

I just got paid! How did I take advantage of this amazing windfall? Well, let's see. I added the $900 to the $300 I already had in my account. The $300 was already allotted for the rest of the rent. I called the car company and made a $311 payment over the phone (note to self: don't do that again - there is an $8 charge, check could have been mailed just as easily.) I went to AAA and made $115 car insurance payment. $166 will be automatically withdrawn in two days by the cable company for phone, internet and TV service. I had to put $100 in daughter J's account to cover overdraft fees (grrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Note to self ... kill J.)

I took out $140 in cash; using $40 of it to buy gas for the Saturn (a trip to La Quinta and then to Beaumont that same day ate up half the gas.) I mailed my two ebay sale items for $10, bought groceries to the tune of $45 (saving $5 by using coupons.) Gave my daughter $20 to put in the Kia's tank. I met a new friend for lunch $10, bought yogurt for $5, dumped loose change into my coin jar and cannot account for $10. Hmmmmm ... tips? Where did it go? So now I have $60 in my account which has to be left there as a cushion to absorb unexpected bank fees.

Oh well, easy come, easy go. We are supposed to be getting a couple hundred from our border next week and J gets paid on Friday. Good thing because we still have to pay my Verizon cell phone bill ($77) and $400 for the electric bill by October 1st. (Note to self: don't kill J after all, her income is badly needed.)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Adventures in Recycling

In my quest for ways to make ends meet, I discovered that I was unwittingly discarding valuable items each and every day. My middle daughter E informed me that all of those soda cans and wine bottles that I was tossing into the garbage were worth a lot of money. This, as you can imagine, immediately grabbed my attention and I pleaded with her to tell me more.

It turns out that you can turn in empty cans, plastic bottles and glass bottles for cold, hard cash! Who knew? E says that she saves her empties religiously and, about once a month takes them to a recycling center and drives away with, like, $50 in cash! Wow, that's enough to get us through at least a weekend of groceries, or a tank of gas, or a manicure & pedicure, or ... well, the mind reels at the possibilities.

So I did it, I saved and saved until we had 3 black trash bags full. Today I decided that the time had come to claim my $50+. I had lunch dates scheduled for the next two days and no way to pay my share of the tab. And there was no incoming cash on the horizon.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I went out in back this a.m. to find the bags of recycling. I located them in a big old box but, when I lifted them out of the box, I discovered a swam of ants all over the inside! Ewwww. I hit the bags against the wall of the house a couple of times and unhappily put the antsy bags in my trunk.

Where does one go to recycle? I aimlessly drove around the neighborhood until I discovered a structure that could only be used for something as random as recycling. There appeared to be a dozen or so people out in front, the caliber of which I normally don't get the opportunity to associate with. They all seemed to be pushing shopping carts full of cans towards the structure.

After parking, I walked over to a hut and found a helpful young man inside who barked at me "you want those weighed?" I explained to him that I'd never done this before and therefore didn't know what I wanted. He shrugged and walked away and I was left with no recourse but to watch my new cohorts, all of whom seemed to know exactly what to do.

An elderly gentleman turned his bulging black trash bag upside down and emptied the contents into a large blue bin. I noticed that only cans came out of his bag. His glass bottles he had neatly standing up inside a box of some sort. Then I watched a rather well put together young woman (compared to the others in our crowd) go up to an opening in the wall and start shoving plastic bottles, cans, and glass bottles inside. I asked her what she was doing and why she wasn't having her cans weighed. She said that either way worked fine and if I decided to put mine into the opening in the wall, I should put them in bottom first.

Bottom first, I could do that. Plus it would save me from having to sort the cluster of items in my trash bags. As the young lady finished, she pushed a button and a receipt popped out at her. She smiled back over her shoulder at me and said that she was taking it into the nearby grocery store and redeem it for cash! She would only be getting a dollar seventy-five but that would be enough for a burrito, right? Righto!

As I opened my bags, I realized that I had an awful lot of cans ... perhaps I should use one of those blue bins and have them weighed? So I dug in and started sorting. What a nasty, disgusting business! I ended up with all sorts of fluids all over my hands and clothing. Mental note: encourage family to wash containers before discarding them. Some of the items were even stuck to the trash bags but, luckily, I didn't encounter any of the afore mentioned ants.

I sorted and tossed until I had a practically full blue bin, which I pushed up to the ever helpful young man inside the recycling structure. He ignored me as I patiently waited my turn but then he asked the elderly gentleman if my blue bin belonged to him!!!! Excuse me but I hadn't work that long and hard only to have them misappropriated at this stage of the game. So I reclaimed my bin, while giving the young man a withering glance, and kept it at my side while I tackled the hole in the wall. I started putting plastic and glass bottles in there, one by one, bottoms first (I am nothing if not a quick study.)

The machine obliging accepted most of my offerings although it did spit a couple of bottles back at me. The young man won me over by adding a couple of random plastic bottles to my pile. Once I finished and had tossed a couple of larger items I'd brought (pronounced to be "trash" by people behind me in line) into the trash can. Apparently you can not recycle Tide or dog food containers.

I tentatively pushed the green button and the machine spewed out a receipt for $2.63! Then I pushed my blue bin of cans over to the young man who poured it into another blue bin and removed a couple of offending items. He weighed my cans, and produced a receipt for exactly $5.

As I stumbled trippingly over to the store to claim my bounty, I realized that it was far short of the promised $50+. But it was enough to buy 2 lottery tickets (funny how important lottery tickets become the poorer one gets) and some antibacterial hand gel, which was badly needed at that point. Needless to say, I cancelled both of my luncheon dates.

So that was my first experience in the Adventures of Recycling. And what do I have to show for it? A big bottle of antiseptic hand gel and ants in my car. Was it worth it? I'll get back to you about that!