Saturday, February 27, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Thoughtful Gifts

A thoughtful gift need not cost a fortune. On my tennis team, we celebrate birthdays every month and if I were to run out and get a gift for each person on my team (there are more than 14), I would quickly go broke. I try to give creative gifts that are heartfelt, yet don't break the bank. One year I burned a "Relaxing" CD for every one celebrating their birthday. Last year, I made photo cards with photos I've taken. I wrote the location the photo was taken in pencil below and then wrapped the cards and envelopes with raffia. For a friend's birthday yesterday, I paired a spa candle I got at Marshalls with a pretty vintage tea cup I found at a thrift shop (also known as Oodwillga). I wrapped it with cellophane and tied it with a green grosgrain bow. This is exactly the kind of gift I would like to get myself, and so the perfect gift to give to a friend. Remember, if you use your noggin (and a few creative sparks), you don't have too use too much moola!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/Bundle Your Errands

Bundle your errands, also known as killing two birds with one stone (kind of a grisly analogy when you think about it.) On a recent weekend I trekked out to a Plant Store to get some shiny black rocks for my yard. Just across the street is a great fruit and produce store, so I popped in there to get some amazing strawberries and also some pasta (perciatelli) that I can't buy at my neighborhood grocery. After that errand, I went to Crate and Barrel (read my blog from 2/20/2010 ) to buy wine glasses and then dashed into Publix across the street to pick up a couple items I needed. This technique is especially helpful if you have to go somewhere out of your way- hit any stores you need to while you're there. If you don't know the area, look around while you're driving for stores you may need to frequent, or look up the surrounding area on the internet. So make a list, plan your route (Mapquest of GPS helps) and bundle your errands. This tip will save you gas, time and energy. So, don't delay-bundle your errands today.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Somewhere Over The Rainbow

On grey and dreary days such as today, sometimes it is hard to keep cheery and motivated. Wouldn't it be nice to escape to a bright and sunny tropical isle for some much needed R & R? You can, you know, if only for a few minutes. Reading a recent online newsletter from the Maui Insider took me back five years ago to our blissful (10 day!) honeymoon. As I read up on the recent resorts, restaurants and activities in Maui, memories of that trip flooded back to me. There was even a recipe included in the newsletter from a Maui chef. Imagine my husband's surprise if I whipped up some Fish Enchiladas tonight? Or some Loco Moco, one of his favorite meals from our trip. So put on some Iz (Israel Kamakawo'ole), listen to his cover of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", sip a Mai Tai and imagine you're on a warm, black sand beach. It only takes a few minutes to take a vacation in your mind. Don't forget your paper umbrella!

"Careful Daddy: those Mai Tais can be mighty powerful." Chad Gates (Elvis) in Blue Hawaii.

Loco Moco Recipe Serves 4

16 ounces ground beef

2 ounces ground pork

1 egg

Garlic salt

freshly ground pepper

Worcestershire sauce

1 1/2 cups panko

1 cup cooked rice

4 eggs, fried

Teriaki sauce

Brown gravy


Mix the first 8 ingredients (beef through panko) and form into 4 patties. (Even easier, use pre-made hamburger patties). Broil patties to desired doneness, about 5 minutes on each side. Divide rice between 4 plates and top each with a patty, 1 egg, teriyaki sauce and gravy. Yum!

A hearty meal for your hungry man.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cheap Wine Glasses/ Upsides to the Down Economy

Cheap wine glasses. I needed some for a dinner party since my husband and I seem to break wine glasses on a regular basis, even the very fine Riedel set we got free at a wine tasting. I googled "Cheap Wine Glasses" and came up with three different options. Walmart, where you can get 4 for $10 each. There is no Walmart near me, so that was not an option. Target, where you can get 4 stemless wine glasses for $20, or $5 each. I have gotten these before (they all got broken) and although I love the idea of stemless because they are easier to clean and less likely to get broken, I wanted something a bit fancier for dinner and plus there's that whole wine gets heated up when you hold it in your hand (like a brandy snifter) argument. We like our white wine served ICE cold, so that was a no go. My quest for cheap wine glasses led me to my final destination, Crate and Barrel, a store I love to walk around in just to get ideas for table decorations. "I hear you have wine glasses for $2", I said to the salesgirl, when I couldn't find them myself. "Let me check," she said and went to the computer and located them and showed them to me on the shelf. They were OK- short, squatty red wine glasses you might find in a French bistro but since I needed both red and white wine glasses, I opted for the Bordeaux at 3.95 each. These seemed less manufactured, thinner and nicer for drinking ze vino than the $2 variety. I got 10- so spent around $40. My quest for cheap wine glasses complete, I returned home victorious. So far, they are all intact. I know that won't last forever but when I break a few, I know where to go to get more cheap wine glasses. And now you do too.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ There's No Wiggle Room in this Tight Economy

A recent study showed 73 percent of almost 30,000 potential employers have no plans to hire new workers and other companies are still cutting jobs. January has been a particularly cruel month- with the highest cut in positions in the last five months. What does this mean for people looking for work? Potential employees are agreeing to concessions they wouldn't have dreamed of before, such as long hours, commuting and working nights and weekends. During interviews job candidates are advised not to bring up routine questions regarding: flexibility, vacation time or job hours, lest they risk losing a shot at the job. And the longer a person has been out of work, the more willing they are to put up with less than ideal conditions. I called my friend, the lawyer seeking a part time job, to tell her about the article. On both of the interviews she had been on, she asked if the hours she worked could be more flexible to accommodate picking her daughter up and playing tennis. This kind of inquiry is a major red flag for employers and should be avoided at all costs. It could also explain why, despite her fine qualifications, she was not called back for a second interview. Get your foot in the door, get hired and once you're there a while, then you can explore your wiggle room. In the meantime, my friend went to a Legal Eagles meeting, of high school alumni who are lawyers. She has decided to get certified to become a foreclosure mediator. There are not enough in South Florida as it is now and a new law (starting March 1st) requires banks to mediate with owners re: their foreclosed houses. She will be certified by the end of March- perfect timing. In the meantime, she is freelancing editing work and tutoring for Spanish (a listing she found on Craigslist) to make ends meet. The mediation work is flexible and pays well, which is exactly what she needs. So, another word of advice for job-seekers is Networking. By going to this meeting, she talked to people and came up with this brilliant idea for a career. Just remember, with this tight economy, there is no wiggle room in interviews. Get in first, wiggle later.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Get Mad As Hell!

American Airlines announced it will start charging $8 for blankets on most of its flights. This seems to me the latest insult, and perhaps the last straw of tolerance for already-battered airline travelers. Flying, is obviously, not a fun way to travel anymore and this latest slap in the face, is just one more way to screw the flying public. First was the disappearance of complimentary "airline food", an oxymoron in and of itself. I didn't mind that so much, as I'm sure a lot of went to waste and I'd rather have control of what goes into my body than be at the mercy of whatever was served. Then they started to charge to check your luggage. Checking your bag (for free) was something that, as an airline passenger, I always took as unalienable right, right up there with the pursuit of happiness. And now this... Not that it's such a big deal, but if you're freezing your little pittuty off on a flight, a blanket -even one of those nasty thin blue airline blankets- is something that you need to have. I usually take a pashima in my carry-on anyway in case I can't find a blanket, but the point is, I shouldn't have to. Aren't the airlines (and the flight attendants) in the SERVICE industry? Isn't their job on-board to make sure their passengers are as comfortable as possible? So, after being charged to check your luggage, assaulted by airline security, you finally plop your ass down and are starved and frozen to death on board. That's not my idea of pampering. The airlines are having a hard financial time, but I don't think nickle and diming the flying public is the way to get more people to fly. I would rather be charged 3o extra dollars upfront for the ticket, than endure this BS. They are really adding insult to injury. I think the best idea is to start boycotting American Airlines, since they seem to be the leaders in this insanity. Like in Network, we need to get mad as hell and not take it anymore! In the meantime, if you must fly, you might want to take along some items in your carry-on that I do. I call it my Flying Emergency Kit.
Flying Emergency Kit
Earphones (for movie)
Hand Sanitzer
Pain Reliever
Small Hand Lotion
Lip Balm
I would say Happy Flying! but who am I kidding? Boycott American! Until it hits them in their pocketbook, they're going to keep thinking up ways to screw us.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ A Tough Job Market

According to a recent news report, there are now 6 people applying for every job opening available, as opposed to the 3 that were applying in December of last year. Chick-fil-A recently had a glut of eager job hunters applying for positions; their acceptance rate was lower than Harvard University. We keep hearing the economy is getting better, but these job stats do not support that claim. Personally, I know that in our family business, there was a deluge of job seekers for a recent opening; usually there's barely a sprinkle. I also have a friend, a brilliant lawyer who quit practicing to stay home with her kids, whose been looking for a job to make ends meet. So far, she has gone on two interviews and hasn't gotten either job, despite excellent qualifications. As for myself, I've applied to a couple of online writing jobs my friend has forwarded me from Craig's List. So far, no luck. My son told me I'd probably have to apply to about 30 of those positions before I get a job. He should know, as he's been writing for various websites for a couple years. So, I guess I have to put on my big girl panties, plaster a determined smile on my face and plow ahead until I get hired. In the meantime, an article I wrote (for free) was published on this week. That will have to do for now.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ How to Become Really Rich

You've probably heard stories that go something like this: Little old lady (school teacher or laundress) lives a modest life, in a small house, then dies and it's revealed that she was actually a millionaire. It's a shock to all. In The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas J. Stanely examines the lives of the truly rich and determines that many people become rich, by not acting rich. Here are some of the things Millionaires have in common (and how I stack up).

  • Most (86 percent) don't drive luxury cars. I drive a 1998 Toyota Avalon. Nuff said

  • Most pay about $16 for a haircut. OK, I'm thinking these are men we're talking about here. I get my hair colored and cut twice a year at a fancy salon. It costs a fortune, but in between I go to Hair Cuttery.

  • Four in ten buy wine that costs about $10. That is definitely my style. If I can get it for even cheaper, so much the better. Cotsco is a great place to get decent wine at a good price.

  • In the US, three times as many millionaires live in homes valued under $300,000. Unfortunately, I am not in that category and it is one place where a lot of our money goes- not just in mortgage payments, but in taxes and insurance, electricity and water.

  • The #1 shoe brand worn by millionaire women is Nine West. Ann Taylor is their favorite clothing store. I have my share of Nine West shoes and can go Ann Taylor one better, by shopping at Ann Taylor Loft.

How did you do with this test? Now that we've gotten used to cutting back on luxuries to get us through this rough patch, it might be time to re-assess what we really need to make us happy. Maybe financial security feels better in the long run, than fancy vacations and nice cars in the short run. It's food for thought.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Crazy Heart

I LOVE Jeff Bridges and I LOVED Crazy Heart. Since this blog is (occasionally) about ways to save money, how about this stat? Crazy Heart was made in 24 days for 7 million dollars. Despite what qualifies as an almost student film budget, it is up for an Oscar for Best Picture, along with Avatar, which took 15 years to make and a bazillion dollars to shoot. I may be exaggerating, but you get my point. A pivotal concert scene in the movie had to be shot in an hour, at a Toby Keith concert. You can't tell me it would have been any better if it had taken days and days. In fact, it is this relaxed, natural feel about the movie that makes it so good. That, and Jeff Bridges... and everybody else in the movie. I am "heartened" to see that a simple story with great acting has turned into such a success. This the best movie I have seen in a long time. Go see it!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Happy Birthday C.D.

My daughter turned 24 Monday. She wanted a CD player for her car so I burned her a CD of songs that reminded me of her for her birthday. It's much easier than putting together a scrap book or photo album! Music is such an evocative medium- it brings back memories and takes us back in time. I had a great time going through my CD's and racking my brain for what songs stuck out as memorable as she was growing up. I started with a song from the year she was born- Walk of Life by the Dire Straits and ended with Hello World by a hot new country group- Lady Antebellum. In between were a Patsy Cline song I used to play to walk her to sleep when she was a baby, a song from the first concert I took her to (Billy Joel- River of Dreams), Butterfly Kisses- for her Dad and lots of Boy Band songs (Hanson, Sugar Ray, LFO). Boy Bands were big back in her teen years. I made a copy for myself and have been listening to it in the car as I drive around. It is a tie that binds us together. Now she just need to get a CD player to play it.