May 3, 2009

Cheap 'Cause They're Stolen

In today's New York Times Metropolitan Diary Column:


Visiting New York City a few years ago, I was walking down Avenue of the Americas in the 50s when I noticed a man selling watches out of a briefcase atop a garbage can. About eight people were eyeing the watches, a typical sight on these streets.

One potential customer asked, “How can you sell these so cheaply?”

The man answered, “They’re stolen, stupid!”

Richard Hofrichter

April 21, 2009

An Ad On the Subway Train

A Pictorial

So yesterday I took the subway to the Loop.

I spot this advertisement featuring a happy dancing girl. Looks like she has won the lottery. Must be an Illinois Lottery ad. (We hit a bump in the tracks as I click my iPhone.)
No, not the lottery; even better than that! [Rant alert]

She has just [euphemism alert] modified her mortgage in a DebtStoppers Bankruptcy.

She has [euphemism alert] shirked her responsibility to pay parking ticket fines for having violated municipal parking code. Rates will then rise and you will be subsidizing her parking violations.

She is nullifying her commitments to previously signed contractual agreements by not paying her credit card balances...inflating the cost of everything to account for assumed losses for a certain expected /planned for percentage of non-payment by clients such as she. Losses to be written off by companies and banks with which you do business; thus you are now subsidizing additional aspects of her (clearly jubilant) life and lifestyle.

I visited the website. The copy reads:
The DebtStoppers Community Financial Workshops
Evenings of Fun, Food & Empowerment
Check back often for the next Chicago or Atlanta Event

Empowerment. Empowerment!? our country's morals, indebtedness and position as world economic power and democratic leader are dramatically weakened and undermined in that whoosh down the slippery slope.

April 17, 2009

Greeting Cards by Me

I know most people don't do this.

First off, Hallmark, Dayspring, and the other card companies just aren't that funny, and they definitely are not personal. So I make my own cards, which I remember first doing when I was about eight. It's way more fun. And it's also conveniently free, except for the 42 cents to mail a letter; 27 for postcards.

I make my own not so much to save money (like $3.50 per), but because I think mine are waaay better and sweetly personal. Gives a much warmer fuzzy than a Hallmark with little more than a butterfly, a bad poem, and Aunt Betunia's signature; no note attached.

Tonight I was sorting through the many stacks on my desk (paperwork, the bane...!) when I came across an old parking ticket notice. I tossed it, because I had attended to the 3rd or 4th notice after this one. (Innocent, for the record.) 
Actual Greeting Card: I think you are...FINE" and "U R TOTAL-LY Cool."
But then I thought twice and retrieved the scary orange Department of Revenue Determination of Liability from my wastebasket: This would make the perfect greeting card for my friend, a Chicago police officer to whom I am always regaling tales of my latest run-ins with friendly officers of the law! (And I do have them.)

I folded the 8.5" x 11" sheet into quarters with the upper right quartile being the face of the card. It will go in tomorrow's mail to Officer A and his wife, both dear friends, who have been under a tiny bit of stress of late and could use a little greet in the mail. I think the inside really tops it off, but I can't show you everything!

Yes, it's terribly corny, but so!?

I sent a novelette (a concept I invented) to my sister for her birthday. It consisted of a series of six postcards pulled from my vast collection, which depicted my recent visit to her Oregon home. I mailed one each day so as to have her lurking near the postman awaiting the next installment.

I thought they were good, but she said she LOVED them (the anticipation effect really helps), and that they were the best birthday present she ever had. She claimed to show them to anyone who would pay her mind and a few who wouldn't. I can't post them but I can show you this postcard I'm mailing to Bob tomorrow, who once took me to a Jackson Browne concert. Yeah, it's an inside joke. You won't laugh, but he will love it, since we often reference that concert.

It is a postcard from the 1960s (thus the yellowing). The other side is an urban scene in Brazil. I collect scores of them so as to find a good scene to accompany my story lines. The best cards are older, though. Hard to find non-touristy ones with good people scenes anymore. I often cut and paste pictures and add balloon dialogues.

People LOVE a custom card. No time? Take a folder of blank cards and envelopes with you to the dentist, on your commute, wherever. I learned this from my brilliant and frequent-writer mother who, at 81, perhaps singlehandedly keeps her local post office afloat.

Pssst. I keep a stash of blank card stock that I buy at art and hobby stores. Strathmore is a great brand for that. The larger the card, the better (5" x 6 7/8"). But of course this Broke Girl recently picked up several dozen heavy card stock that appeared to be handmade paper from her local Salvation Army for a couple bucks. Yeah, I'm cheaper going on cheapest. A friend asked if I had made it myself. It's quite beautiful, all the better to write inspired words by.

April 15, 2009

Broke, but Silly Happy

It's not the first time I've done this. Offer a beverage or snack to the driver of a car behind or adjacent to me on a backed-up highway or at a stoplight. It's my feeling that it just isn't right to eat in front of others without first offering a share.

After three and a half hours in the salon chair having my hair altered into some beautiful woven hues of auburn, golden flaxseed and pomegranate by a colorist-in-training at Elizabeth Arden for a mere $10 plus gratuity today, I was dying of thirst. As I pulled my car to a stop at Division and Halsted, I remembered the case of Diet Coke still in my trunk, too heavy to carry in with the rest of my groceries a few days ago.

So I put the car in park, hopped out, and grabbed the case of Diet Coke. I quickly turned to make eye contact with the cab driver behind me as I held out one hand as if to offer a can. He nodded, beckoned and rolled down his window all at once. I peeled open the carton and wordlessly handed off a can to him as he profusely thanked me. I still had good time before the green, and thought about offering to other drivers, but stopped it there.

I am constantly thinking about broke-ness and happiness. I'm a little nuts (as so described in the acknowledgements of a book released this week by world-renowned Italia-phile author Todd Sinelli. See One Simple Word), but at least I'm happy. Crazy happy to share what teeny resources I have, like a can of Diet Coke that cost 31 cents, but rewarded me far more in the giving away --it being the serendipity factor that made that work, of course.
Still had plenty of time to slip the car into drive before the light turned.
Self-portrait taken at red light, Wrightwood, Lincoln and Sheffield

April 13, 2009


It seems a day doesn't pass in which I do not meet another (financially) troubled soul. An apartment building which I represent, bringing in prospective leasees, has recently lost a number of tenants. I generally do very well to keep it at 100 percent occupancy, but we've recently slipped to 88, due entirely to tenant job losses.

Two tenants are vacating to bunk with friends; a middle-aged professional lost her job and is moving in with family. Prospective tenants who have lost their homes in recent bankruptcies but have acquired new jobs are doing everything they can to ensure us of their ability to pay, offer co-signers, and pay several months in advance to accept them as tenants in spite of their recent credit failures. Others are taking in boarders and roommates.

Times are tough, but the thing is, my homeless friend Ron, whom I ran into in the foyer of the McDonald's this afternoon, is completely unaware in that he pays no mind to economic uncertainty. In that regard, he may be one fortunate guy.

I first met him a few years ago when I was tending to my container garden and heard him shoutin' kind of crazy-like from my neighbor's backyard two doors south. I grabbed five bucks from my wallet and said to myself, "Well, I guess I better go meet my Denver." And was surprised to discover his name, like Denver's best friend, was Ron.

That's when I found out it was Ron who occasionally slept in my open carport, and was the person who unscrewed the motion-sensor floodlight so as not to re-awaken himself with its beam when he turned over. I thanked him for not discarding the bulb, but just loosening it. He said, "Oh, I would never take your lightbulb." Ever since I introduced myself and we became acquaintances, he has never spent the night in my carport again. I think I remember asking him not to, and he respected that.

He said that day, "I worked 14 years for the City of Chicago, but a few years ago; well, I ain't goin' to lie to you; I went to the bottle." Yet he's cheery as ever. He has not noticed an economic downturn. I'm not sure where he sleeps, but occasionally family allow him to stay with them on super cold nights. Maybe there is a shelter he goes to.

When I ran into him today, he was same as always (except a bit more sober than usual). He still collects metal and aluminum in exchange for cash at the recycle place just west of Clybourn Avenue. It was pouring a hard rain, but his smile and hug were big as ever when he noticed me duck in from the downpour. He says he keeps an eye on my place (I'm not sure if this is good or bad, but I keep it locked up like San Quentin), and so in return, when I had new windows installed in my home, saved the old aluminums for him to cart away in his "buggy," which is what he calls his grocery shopping cart.

I think it is totally rude to take photographs of strangers (particularly of homeless people, as if they are some sort of object, a "sight" to be seen). But sometimes Ron stops to rest on my front steps, and I was compelled to take this pic of the back of him recently. I have given him permission to sit there which he does maybe once a week. If I am expecting guests, I let him know and he immediately skedaddles. I don't want visitors to be frightened or unnerved by him sitting there.

I also say, "Hey, I can see that beer can hidden behind your pack, just so you know. But I'm not calling police on you."

The Power of Regular People to Make Real Change
In unrelated news, Abigail Disney, grandneice of Walt, sold her co-op on Manhattan's West End Avenue near $7.5 million, which was a paltry 46 percent discount from her initial asking price.

I would like to see the film she produced -- Pray the Devil Back to Hell, but it's not playing in my area, although I wrote to the producer tonight in support of snagging a Chicago venue.

The documentary is the story of ordinary, yet courageous women who organized to bring peace and stand against the horrors in Monrovia, Liberia. The trailer voiceover begins: "Money. Greed. Ethnicity. Absolute power. There is nothing that should make people do what they did to the children of Liberia."

I'd chose my country's current recessionary troubles any day, a place I'd rather be than Liberia.

April 9, 2009

Get Your GroupOn

Ever since they first sprouted up in my infancy, I have seen the dentist every six months for a tooth cleaning and checkup. For the first time--ever--I've gone a bit past the six month mark. I have a fantastic dentist, whose office is in an equally fantastic plot of real estate in an upscale neighborhood. Since I have not had dental insurance in ten years, and since my dental bills of late have been in the four figures, I decided to find a less expensive, but hopefully as accomplished an oral cleaning /maintenance professional.

I was about to pick up the phone to make an appointment with a referral from a friend when I opened my email last week and what to my surprise...but my Daily Groupon appeared, with an offer so wise. (sorry, had to do that.)

So I have an appointment with a Loop-based Chicago D.D.S. in two weeks for a full cleaning, checkup and four X-rays for the sum total of $49.00. Hopefully it is more than an Earl Scheib bit of work.

The dental work is valued at $220.00. After my friend TS told me of his fondness for all things Groupon, a somewhat new concept in the power of group-negotiated services at discount, and of his own happy experience with a Groupon-offered dentist, I signed up, too.

I only know of this service based in Chicago. Here are the basics, as detailed at For our readers around the globe, consider starting a similar business in your community.

Subscribe to the daily email to discover something new to see, eat, do or buy at unbeatable prices. The rub: there is a "tipping point."
  1. Each day Groupon features something cool to do at a huge discount.
  2. You only get the discount if enough people sign up for the item offered on that day.
  3. Check back the next day for another awesome Groupon.
Just one deal a day; it lasts for only one day, and enough people must sign up by midnight for the tipping point to be reached; if so, then the deal is good for everyone who signed up.

For example, today, 8 April, 2008, the Groupon deal was (a fantastic one, IMO, but I didn't sign for it): two 1-hour massages and health consultations (a $140 value), for $60. However, a minimum of 20 people were to sign up before midnight for the Groupon to work. As of this writing, 670 groupons were purchased.

April 8, 2009

Stuff to Throw Other Stuff In

I've been feeling a bit--well, guilty isn't the right word, but concerned about or aware of my consumption of resources. There are three toilets in my home, but I can only sit on one at a time. There are two showers and two baths, and today I used one of each, lingering in the hot water of my swirling whirlpool tub to soothe the painful knot that developed in my back last week.

(Note to self: Never again bicycle long distances on a very cold day at the beginning of cycling season when not in good physical condition. Every spring I start bicycling when I've not been properly yoga-tizing my back, and every year this results in a fierce knot and several days or weeks of pain and working it out.)

So back to the topic at hand. What would an alien from another planet, or simply someone from an earlier century think of this bit of wastefulness.

I spend money just to buy a specific size of plastic kitchen bag, solely for the purpose of collecting my garbage to later toss out. Yet meantime, I frequently bring home--free--smaller grocery, department and drugstore plastic bags to simply toss away, unused. Sometimes I put them in the larger bag I've purchased just for the purpose of assembling and tossing garbage. It's crazy! (Although I no longer throw away the smaller bags, but give to my favorite neighborhood resale shop, the White Elephant. They always need them and love it when I bring them in.)

What in the world is wrong in the world when we're persuaded by advertisers of the essential features and benefits of trash bags for purchase...when it would make much more sense to use the free smaller bags we collect by the hundreds and thousands (to dispose our garbage)?

So maybe I'll go back to using a smaller kitchen trash bag.

April 7, 2009

Saving a Dollar, Sharing a Ride

Anecdote from The New York Times "Metropolitan Diary" column, 6 April, 2009.

As I was waiting to take the bus across the George Washington Bridge to the A train in Washington Heights, a couple in a car stopped to ask me if I’d like a ride across the bridge. It seems that the $8 toll is reduced if there are three or more people in the car.

Before getting in the car, I jokingly asked the driver if they were going to kidnap me.

His wife replied, “No, we barely can get by, just the two of us.”

-- submitted by Cindy Leibowitz

April 6, 2009

"Homeless In My Heart"

Great story not to be missed: A father of three who once had a wife and a job lived nearly 13 years in garages, backyards and under bridges around New York City. His story was published in the New York Times under his byline, Cadillac Man. The title: "I Loved It Under the Viaduct; Still Do."

Although he now lives in a 12' x 14' room with his girlfriend Carol, she worries that he is still homeless in his heart. He wrote of his homeless era, "Every morning, I’d get up and say to myself: Where to today?" There is some profound freedom.

And speaks nostalgically of that era: "In the street, I had freedom, coming and going as I pleased. The streets are hard but they’re my life’s blood. I even write better there, with more energy in my stories."

He seems to know rich. Although they share a bathroom with two other tenants of the single-room unit building, you'll hear no complaints from him. He cannot believe his good luck in that he can take a shower "for hours if I wanted."

I would be remiss not to speak of one of the most amazing and deeply wise persons I have ever met--a man who lived on the streets for some 40 years; but for him, it was a step up from his life as a modern-day slave. I have had the utmost privilege of meeting Denver Moore and spending a few days with him here in Chicago. He, a former slave (now 72-year-old Fort Worth, Texas resident) never spent a day in school and worked for the early part of his life at no pay for The Man.

The book he and Ron Hall wrote of the intersect of their lives has perched on The New York Times bestseller list for paperback nonfiction for many months. The story of the intersect of their lives is being produced as a major motion picture. I invited them to Chicago twice; the first time they spoke at my favorite homeless shelter, Joshua Center / Breakthrough Urban Ministries. The second, they spoke at Willow Creek Church in Barrington. Watch this video for a snippet of their story, which has since changed the lives of many people, wealthy and homeless, around the world. They are working on another book to tell of the amazing fallout /repercussions impacting people lives around the globe following the release of their first book.

Purchase the book, Same Kind of Different as Me or visit their website.

I have the entire book in PDF format (by permission from the publisher) and would be happy to email to you for your reading pleasure. Just ask.

April 2, 2009

Coupon Strategies

Yesterday I confessed to morphing into a bit of a coupon queen. (This may be why I continue to write this blog under a pseudonym, although 92 percent of my 13 readers know my identity. I admit to a residual slight sense of embarrassment about couponing, but have discovered it's not what it used to be, due to the the confluence of the 1) multiplicity of promotions for a new product's launch; 2) online social networking by moms who take the effort to figure out (and are happy to blog about) how to take advantage of such promotions.

Scene at Walgreens on Diversey yesterday afternoon: I bought $42.05 of products at Walgreens, put out $7.97 in cash, and got exactly $7.00 back in store credit for my next shop at Walgreens.

The Wags clerk looked at me in amazement, and said, "How did you do that? Really, I want to know."

"Blogging moms," I said.

"No, really; you must tell me," she said. Although there were two people in line behind me, I jotted the address for one of my key blog mom websites (see below.)

Similar scene a few weeks ago at a Walgreens on the northwest side of Chicago. I bought some Dove products for $8 using a coupon combined with leftover Wags store credit from another deal, and received $10.00 back in store coupons (actually making a teeny bit of money after tax). That clerk, a big burly guy, shook his head and said, "What in the world? How did you do that? I gotta get me some of that." I wouldn't do this all day long, but for products I use, or can give to others, it's worth it.

Yesterday at CVS I bought two bottles of "Natural Dentist" healthy gums mouth rinse. Retail price: $13.98. I used two $2.00 coupons at purchase, received $8.00 back in credit for my next purchase at CVS, and will a receive a $10.00 rebate check in the mail in the next 4 to 8 weeks or whatever. Interesting math, eh (net a profit near $8.00)? Kind of worth buying even if I poured the stuff down the drain. But it's good stuff--containes no alcohol, artificial sweetners, dyes or preservatives. So I bought four bottles, which I admit is a bit of overkill.

If you are a friend of mine, next time you are at my house, ask me, and I'll give you one. I've been giving away full-size bottles of shampoo, body wash, and toothpaste to anyone who comes by, since have been accumulating them for free at Walgreens and CVS.

In the last two days, I tripped through Walgreens, CVS and Menards and purchased the items in the pictures below. After store credit or rebate or whatever, they are essentially free. (Except the jelly beans, which came out to 29 cents/bag, but I'm babysitting the Lyday twins on Friday and we'll need some sweets.)

From Menards, got two high-intensity 14-LED bulb flashlights ($6.00 retail; free to me), two 7-piece Black & Decker screwdriver kits, two gallons of deck wash (this is not a waste; it is spring, and I, DIY-er when it comes to my deck, will use it all up) and a gallon of car wash.

(No, I don't need two flashlights or two screwdriver kits, but I may toss them in with a gift bag or make an emergency tool kit birthday gift, or give one of them to you just for coming to visit me. I will not hoard stuff just because it is available. There were more free items for the getting, like cat food, but I had no use for them.)

From Walgreens, got two packs of Mentos gum (above, free), four boxes of Quaker cereal (almost free), Skintimate shave cream (free), soy candle (free), cough drops (not free, but for my sore throat; store brand), Chapstick tropical shimmer and One-A-Day liquid vitamins (both free). [The latter tasted so awful, and had so much red dye it in that I threw it out.]

Below are my most frequented mom sites for scouting these savings. It takes a bit of time (printing coupons) and then making an actual list from which I shop, so organization and some attention to detail is required.

These blogging moms post links to sites to print coupons, then detail what store at which to spend to get the (almost always new, introductory) products at no cost except for tax. I've been doing this several years at Walgreens, to the tune of several hundred dollars in savings, but these blogging gals take it to a whole new level, so I'm following them now.

Yesterday was the first time I purchased items for full rebates from Menards, which I have been frequenting more lately anyway, having finally noticed the prices are consistently lower per product than Home Depot. (over a quarter million hits a month for this mom of two toddlers who is about to deliver her third child.)

p.s. Guys, nothing wrong with a mommy blogger working your shopping list for you. Sneak onto these sites and have them help with your home/bath product shopping planning, too.

Oh, and p.s. again: this is what my Walgreens receipt looked like:

April 1, 2009

Crossing Over

Okay, my friends. This week I have crossed the threshold. I am officially one of those coupon queens, a money-saving mama, the broke girl extraordinaire.

I have tapped into the world of free-ness. Not buy-one-get-one-free, or deeply discountedly cheap, but really free stuff and on rare occasions, after rebates, have ended up with more money than before I started buying the stuff.

I shall warn you; to do it successfully, it requires:
  • a bit of time
  • organization / attention to detail
  • Internet access
  • printer
  • convenient proximity to national chain stores
Worth it? you decide. I've gotten products over the last few years (retail value at several hundreds of dollars) in products I would normally buy and use anyway. I went full-throttle yesterday and got maybe $75 in free (rebated, or couponed or whatever) products in the last day alone.

I'll blog tomorrow on just how I accomplish this.

In addition to free products, In the last 24 hours, I rented two just-released DVDs for an average of 54 cents each. Reader warning, a rabbit trail follows:

Yes, in my ADHD-saddled manner, I am actually half-way through "Quantum of Solace" as I write this. My MacBook Pro has only a 15" screen, but there is enough room to blog via the Firefox browser and still view the film in another corner of my screen. At this moment, James Bond is knocking on the door of a villa in stunning Talamone, Italy.

So, clinging to the excuse of my need to heal a severe sore throat and laryngitis, I sponsored a personal two-day Nurse Myself To Health Movie Festival and watched "Paris, Je T'Aime" last night, followed by James Bond tonight.

Yes, anyone, anywhere can rent a movie from Redbox, free every Monday; just sign up and get the passcode. I rented the movie for tonight at the regular fee of $1.00 plus 8 cents tax.

Living large on pennies over here, folks! (Just got to remember to return that bad boy tomorrow.)

NOTE: For today only, Wednesday, 1 April, 2009, you can use this code MMM401 to rent a Redbox DVD free today (just be sure to return by 9:00 p.m. on Thursday). Movies can be rented for free, lately, so it seems, on Mondays and Wednesdays. Check for location at

March 30, 2009

Broke as Character Test, or Truth Serum?

"A Cold Season in the Hamptons," so led off the New York Times article of rueing owners and their cooling real estate values in the area very near the town Business Week recently reported to be the nation's richest: Brookville, New York.

Well this line in the aforementioned article certainly caught my attention:

"Prices were propelled upward by a tautological justification: if you were rich enough to buy in the Hamptons, you were, by definition, a superior judge of the market."

Huh? That line disgusts me more than anything I have read in a long time. My dear reader, I say emphatically and passionately: Rich and stupid are NOT mutually exclusive character descriptors. In fact, in my experience, I've often seen such adjectives accurately strung across the same person.

Second thought: When things go sour is when you find out the truth about someone. It's not when fortunes are high, the sky is blue, hopes are coming to fruition, and you are livin' large that you get to know the truth about those with whom you are in relationship. (Includes relationship with yourself.)

I read the story of a family whose home was heavily damaged by multiple sprays of a skunk that was sort of trapped and burrowed under their house. It took two years to gut and essentially rebuild the house, making it liveable and ready for the family to return. Meanwhile, the stress helped to fatally fracture the marriage. Six family members moved out; two years later, only two returned to the five-bedroom home.

Whether it is your spouse, neighbor, office mate, or junior's baseball coach, when things go badly, true natures cannot help but be revealed. Like a ferocious wind, a Katrina-strong force, ripping away the facade, true colors come forth.

Hmmm... in this way, "broke" might act as a worthy threshold or test run for a relationship. Yeah, there is an upside here...

March 27, 2009

Money Diary

Financial Observation 1: Google Saves Money in the Kitchen

I throw away far too much food—which often spoils because I forget I have it or I do not know what to prepare with it. Had buttermilk that I'd bought for some (now forgotten reason) that was still fresh; decided to use it up. Incorporated my new favorite cooking utensil, which is already saving me major $$$ by using perfectly good food before it spoils. That is: Google.

I do not enjoy cooking; I am not a great cook. I don't know which of those came first. But for the last year, my new successful kitchen trick is to input ingredients found in my cupboards in a Google search, and hoping a decent and doable recipe will appear. It nearly always works.

So I printed the very first recipe that appeared under "buttermilk" and "muffins." and voilà, soon had a batch of tasty orange-rind buttermilk blueberry muffins.

Financial Observation 2: Getting a 12" Sandwich for $5.00 is Not a Better Value than Getting a 6' Sandwich for $4.00

My mother and I went to a sandwich shop today to get lunch for her twin sister who is recovering from surgery. The plan was we would bring lunch and enjoy it with her. I ordered two subs, because there would be four of us and we would split them in two. The store associate said, "Do you want the foot-long? It's only $1 more and you get twice as much." "Sure," I said. That was smart—get twice as much sandwich for $5 as you would have for $4?

Wrong. We only ate half of the two foot-long sandwiches. The other six-inch tuna and six-inch turkey are in the refrigerator tonight and quite soggy by now. (They didn't taste so good in the first place.) I'm guessing we'll throw them out tomorrow.

Financial Observation 3: Look, Notice, Ask

Parched with thirst and 15 miles from home, I stopped at McDonald's for a medium Diet Coke. (I know, that is not an antidote to thirst, and is actually a dehydrative entity, but tell my body that on a warm March afternoon). The prices were like: Small: $0.99; Medium: $1.39; Large $1.69. So I dug around for $1.39 plus a little, knowing tax in Michigan would be less than the Chicago rate of 10.25%.

The store associate asked me for $1.06. I said, "Shouldn't I be paying you more? I ordered the medium, that is a buck thirty-nine."

"All sizes are the same price, ninety-nine cents," she said.

"Ooh," I said, "Then is it not too late for me to order a large?" And put my change back to recount $1.06.

"Of course not," she answered.

Think I'm crazy? You might be right. But I have this idea that teeny tiny financial observations; cognizance about coins, all this stuff adds up to a data input that helps your decision out-put when it comes to the big money things. Like mortgage planning and strategy, investment choices, etc. Think I'm right about this? Or totally cooked? I'd like to know what you think. I already know that a few friends of mine believe I am nuts to think this way—Shirley is one (she is a banker friend I have not seen since she relocated to Florida, but used to say that I still hung on to the first dollar I'd ever earned), and Bob, another (but I'll keep mute on Bob; he has his own highly odd fiscal idiosyncrasies).

March 26, 2009

Clothes and Morals

When one is broke, yet in pursuit of happiness, she tends to purchase more cheaply produced clothing and goods than when one is rich, in pursuit of happiness, and inclined to spend freely.

I went to a Wal-Mart yesterday to buy some tees. Yes, dear readers, I've moved from Bloomies to Wal-Mart for stocking wardrobe essentials without skipping a beat. I bought a few tees, noting they read "Made in India."

As I pulled on a shirt in the dressing room, I wondered about the girl who had sewn it. Was she young and forced into labor? Had she perhaps been raped and forced into a life of fear and servitude and given, like, stale bread for producing this? Do you think I am crazy to be imagining such things in the dressing room? I have never investigated the source of the things I buy, nor researched how to do that.

I started thinking that maybe I should not be buying this stuff. Especially after seeing Slumdog Millionaire. What about the stuff I buy that is made in Myanmar or China?

After coming home, I picked up the March 22 Parade newspaper magazine insert. Feature story: "The World's 10 Worst Dictators," which announced Nos. 4 and 6 are Than Shwe and Hu Jintao, of Myanmar and China, respectively. (Worst, China just edged out Japan as being my number one creditor. Speaking for my country, that is.)

Being a little bit or even a lot broke is an awful excuse for buying in a manner that supports immorality (or crime, slavery and poverty). But is buying something made super cheaply in another country supporting poverty-level wages?

I recently posted a Hall of Inspiration on my Facebook page of eight people who are my personal heros, beginning with John Woolman, a Quaker activist in the 1700s, to Denver Moore, a present-day 72-year-old and former Louisiana slave—during the 1960s!

A friend commented on my page, "Love your Hall of Inspiration. Now I know who John Woolman is." So I Googled to see what she may have discovered online. Indeed, I read that Woolman refused to wear colored clothing because, apparently, slaves were the producers of dye.

It would be awful to think that three centuries later, I might be joining the trend against that one little standard Woolman took. (Woolman did much more than wear beige clothing, by the way. The man has been called the father of the abolitionist movement.)

March 23, 2009


Another new (this one, a beautiful wood-paneled and modern) mansion going up in the neighborhood.

This one, across the street from a park where, just 80 yards from the front door of this single-family home I spotted a man sleeping on a bench at 7:10 this morning surrounded by a few bags that appeared to be his net assets.

March 17, 2009


Broke Girl is on hiatus until the flu passes. See you soon.

March 13, 2009

Money, Loss and Control

I mentioned that I locked myself out of my car for five hours last week.

I didn't mention how that scenario served as a little therapeutic help for a financially frenzied friend of mine.

I could have called a tow service for $55 to get me back in the car immediately. But I had an open schedule that day, the weather was sunny and warm, and so I opted for a free, but time-intensive alternative. (It is true, what they say, Time is money. I had the time, so chose not to spend the money.)

I took six subway trips. First to a girlfriend's Loop office at Major Multi-National Bank to retrieve her house keys. Then to her northside condo to let myself in, turn off alarm system, and rummage through the drawer where she kept a spare key to my house. Back to my house, where I've another car key, only to discover that hers was an old copy; my locks had since been re-keyed.

So took fourth trip to second friend's house where her au pair let me in and found that friend's spare key to my house. Trekked home, neither did it work, so took sixth subway ride back to my car.

Meantime, a friend who has suffered a series of business setbacks in the current economy called saying, "I heard you were locked out. Where is your car? I'm coming to help." At this point, I did have a solution, but it would be another two hours before that happened.

"Thanks, but you really do not have to do that. I've kind of got the situation resolved."

"No, no," my thoughtful friend said, "There is so little in my life now over which I have control. Your situation is bugging me, and this is one thing I could accomplish. It would do me well to fix something."

What a good friend. I was happy to oblige, and enjoyed the therapeutic effect myself when we finally heard the satisfying sound of that car door lock click open.

March 12, 2009

Phone revolution

Okay, well, maybe I spoke a tad too quickly. As I said, I haven't yet started up my new ALLVOI phone service because the equipment hasn't arrived.

I just read about the soon-to-be-released Google Voice, a revised version of GrandCentral, the phone manager service it acquired two years ago. I think I'll take a look at subscribing to Google Voice instead.

It could take a serious swipe at telephone companies, tech start ups and maybe even Skype. Although the latter has an enormous following and is hugely advanced in terms of video. For one thing, I'm not keen on being seen at my phone. Skype is perfect, of course, for my nephew, who lives on a different continent than his steady girlfriend. I have met her via his Skype conversations with her, so I certainly see the value. (And she is very pretty.)

VOIP Gets Cheaper, and I Get Smarter

Need to buy, rent or borrow? In a recession, everything's up for re-valuation. That's exactly what the stock market is—a re-valuation or re-pricing of the value of a company every day. And with the stock market valued lower, everything else might as well follow.

Which is why I cannot figure out why Vonage just increased my phone service cost by 20% effective April 1. To $29.63.

I have since discovered a newer, cheaper alternative, which, also being VOIP, will likely give me similarly reliable service. I signed on with* After paying $47.48 for the equipment and getting free activation, the cost is $3.99 /month for the first six months and $6.99 /month thereafter. I can't yet speak to the service, since haven't received the equipment yet. (No contract; no cancellation fee.)

I also happened into a T-Mobile retail store last week where the sales associate quoted VOIP phone service at $10/month. Once taxes and fees are added in, I am sure it is still a decent savings over Vonage. Goodbye Vonage, hello ALLVOI.

You really have to keep up with communications service providers. One year ago I discovered that Vonage was billing me for a service that I did not use. AT&T also charged my dry loop DSL service for a speed that, as it turns out, they are entirely unable to deliver in my service area! So once I figured that out, I insisted they put a stop to that nonsense!

Net, I currently spend less for the same wireless, home phone and Internet connectivity than in the past. Here is the drop in my costs for equivalent services over two years:

Monthly exp, Feb 07: $ 150
Monthly exp, Jul 08: $ 140
Monthly exp, Dec 08: $ 115**
Monthly exp, Mar 09 : $ 95**

The drop in rates over time—with the same services, mind you—has always been a result of my reviewing bills, or calling to ask about what I am charged versus what I am actually being provided. I am getting smarter, or just paying better attention, I suppose.

*I, of course, have no relationship with ALLVOI other than that as a just-signed-on customer, and receive no advantage, discount or payment for naming the company on this blog.

**Sometime in 2008, I actually received more services for my expenditures, having added email and Internet connectivity to my iPhone—
an additional $20 /month, so the effective service cost reductions are actually closer to $95 and $75 for Dec 08 and Mar 09.

March 10, 2009

Who is Rich?

Went to cocktail party at quite possibly the swankiest estate I have set foot on. (Excepting that black-tie soirée I attended in the Throne Room of King George V's summer palace just outside Lisbon on the coast of Portugal, but that was years ago.) Anyway, when I drove up to the stone and iron-gated estate to roll down my window to inter-com the butler (well, the 16-year old son), it was clear this was a party waay beyond my normal Saturday night lounge-around in the city with friends.

Indeed, Broke Girl had a gay old time, knowing she enjoys her life and presumably suffers no more (and possibly less) angst than those recently-forcefully-but-happily retired-from-their-seven-figure-income investment-banking-gig partygoers who will never have to work another day even if the stock market continues to crumble, because they have so much cash.

All in a day... and I am pretty sure that I enjoy my days of cliff-hangingly broke nearly as much as they do theirs...of hiking Kilimanjaro, Everest, and perfecting their stroke (golf and swim), stance (snowboard), back-cast (flyfish) and backhand (tennis).

Okay, forgive that overwrought attempt. But I'm not sure what those people do other than have their nails buffed every three days and call their banker to check balances.

So what did I do today? My life consists much of hanging out with the dreadfully poor or disenchanted amongst us. So after Saturday night's soirée, I today hung out with my poor peeps.

I am the adoptive mother—so to speak—of a woman whom I'll call "W". She is indigent, but there are twenty other descriptors that better describe this scrappy survivor of a woman; having lived like nobody you'll ever know on the streets of Chicago for the past 30 of her 46 long years.

I am her court-appointed legal guardian, and that is a crazy, ten-volume story for the ages. That is—our 22-year friendship which led to a graying and very Irish-looking Cook County Circuit Court Judge peering over his glasses to nearly bellow at me one day last summer, "Well—what in the world would possibly compel you to want to be this woman's legal guardian. Do you have any idea what you are getting into?" Well, yes, because I have been getting into it for the last 22 years since I met W at a homeless shelter and she glommed on to me and I never let her go.

Anyhow, I don't think our relationship is so different from my relationships with the well-to-do folk at the Saturday night soirée in Barrington Hills. I think they are great and fun people, and über rich; my "adoptive" daughter W is convinced that I am great and fun and also über rich (because I have a house and a car and well, that just makes me wealthy beyond her wildest imagination).

She's sleeping tonight, by the way, either at one of the shelters in the Uptown neighborhood (if she can find one that hasn't permanently barred her), or on the Blue Line (she likes to go to O'Hare, and "watch them helicopters take off—whoooeeee!"). Those are jets, but I know better than to correct her.

So today I picked her up and took her to McDonald's for lunch. And yes, I let her pay for both of us out of her extremely meager funds!

Sometimes that is all it takes to feel rich.

March 9, 2009

A Pictorial, Last Week's Broke Girl Budget

"What Broke Girl did this week in pursuit of a smart, savvy, low-maintenance low-waste lifestyle." Or...

"Living Legally on the Lam: Broke Girl's Pursuit of a Low Cash-Consumption Lifestyle" Or...

"Getting to Overflow on a Trickle of Cash Flow: Life in the New Economy"

(I hate the words frugal, miserly, cheap...even thrifty, so am obliterating them from my vocabulary.) But anyway, here are some of my personal financial details of last week. Visuals included for those of you who process data like I.
  • Bought Burpee seeds ($4.52 + tax); will save money by sprouting and growing my own seedlings for May planting; Used Home Depot gift card from my sister-in-law for dogsitting last autumn.
  • Locked keys in car at 9:00 AM Friday; took six trips on the subway to retrieve house keys so could get car keys from home; that plan failed; friend successfully cracked into my car at 2:00 PM, saving $55.00 service station fee. I tipped $20, so had a sort of net savings of $35.00; Time lost: five hours riding subway train, tracking friends to whom I've given a spare house key. Regularly scheduled car maintenance later that day: $551.46. Ouch, but fair pay for fair work.
  • Went to Dominick's armed with coupons and snagged 1) a free 2-liter bottle 7-Up; 2) pound of unsalted butter for $0.99; Raisin Bran $0.99; the latter two for 75% under the posted price—a darn good take for $1.98 + tax.
  • Went to movie using my not-remotely exclusive membership in the Five Buck Club with Kerasotes Theatres, saving $5.75 off the ticket price of $10.75. Be smart like me, kids! Get your club card here. Zero threshold to join, no hazing, no kissing up the frat prez or paying dues or acting like you're all that.
  • Picked up a pick rubberized case for my iPhone for $1.00 at a dollar store; looks good as the one I saw an hour later at Target for $34.99.
  • Took friend on a sort of anthropological tour of ALDI—her first trip to my favorite grocery store. She's still employed with Major Multi-National Bank, but wanting to get a head start on learning the ropes for thriving in leaner times, if / when they occur.
  • As it happened, two friends treated me to dinner, and then I attended a very lovely Saturday evening soiree in the cloistered Barrington Hills, so pretty much all the weekend eatin and dinin was free. I just brought flowers for the hosts.
Clockwise from top left: pink rubber iPhone case, $1; Burpee seeds to make own seedlings, $4.52+tax; saw movie for $5, with Five Buck Club card—get one free, never pay full fare at Kerasotes Theatres; receipt for groceries from ALDI's, $5.44.

March 6, 2009

Your Own Worst Snitch

Some women are clever enough to get away with murder...until they are stupid enough to rat themselves out.

Men have an easier time getting away with murder. As for women—as we saw in the UCLA study I wrote about on Tuesday—when we are under stress, we do not flee like the guys do; we run, and toward our girlfriends. Where we talk it out.

Which is what a suburban Chicago self-proclaimed "high-powered and refined professional" did after she committed* the perfect calculated murder. Frankly, I thought she had some pretty good ideas: practicing at a local shooting range, the boyish disguise, complex plan of renting a car, placing stolen plates on the rental and replacing them after the murder, devising a home-made silencer, and placing the murder weapon in a bucket of wet cement before tossing in a south-side Chicago dumpster, never to be seen again.

No woman is going to shoot another pregnant woman (of whom she is crazy-jealous) seven times and not get a bit stressed over it. Soon as that happens, she is going to run to her girlfriend and be her own worst nightmare—and sing like a canary.

This past Sunday, Marni Yang met a girlfriend for dinner and detailed the October 2007 shooting over a bowl of soup.

"If she kept her mouth shut, we could have been listening to her for the next two weeks, two months or six months," (Deputy Police Chief) Wilk said.

Yes--women are drawn to connect, and thus are far less likely to get away with murder. Remember that.

What in the world does this have to do with my life as Broke Girl? I dunno. But I have never wanted to kill another person. Never thought of it. I guess I'm appreciative of the bit of emotional and mental strength and health I do have whilst under the stress of being economically battered about. Personal disclosure: Yep, Broke Girl is still far too invested in equity markets (her 401k) and by now is feeling a bit too numb with uncertainty to pull the trigger, reducing her exposure.

Ah, but my future appears far more golden than supposed "refined professional" murderer girl. She should have read the UCLA study and realized that as a woman exposed to stress, she would never, ever be able to keep from spilling her vile secrets. That's why they call them laws of nature.

I said it Tuesday, and I'll say it again: Get out with your girlfriends. Sure, you're no murderer or criminal, but do it for your quality of life.

Yang's nature was such that she was fully incapable of succeeding at hiding her depraved plan which tore into all we hold dear—not to mention the 6th Biblical Commandment. This is a good thing—sort of an innate driver that was functioning properly within Yang's perverted being to smooth the jagged edges of injustice and ensure humankind would be best served by, in this case, her innate compulsion to tell all.

Our similar impulse is such that we gather with our best buddies (male and female alike) to smooth our own angst and economic fears, ensuring our ability to best serve our own circle of humankind—friends, husband, children, neighbors, the check-out clerk and the (well, for me), nice high school boy who wiped my car dry at the carwash today. We had a nice chat, and parted friends, actually.

God bless us all this week. Dow currently at 6,594. And just weeks ago at a notch over 9,000, I said to self, "Broke Girl, you ought to let a few stocks go and reduce your risk exposure..." I did not.

*Allegedly. All of this is yet only alleged.

March 5, 2009

Haiku for the Times

Receding wealth...
barely employed slacker days,
ever persevering.

Recession, crisis—
deny to identify.
Love: ever hopeful.

crisis, afford, debt, casualty;
words not for my lips.

Bailout bombout.
Printing billions of dollars
'til there's no more ink.

Today's sad headline:
Fishermen Lost Hope to Sea;
One Survivor Didn't.

Spring, how I love thee!
Crocuses, tulips, blossoms all—
June: currency for my heart.

March 3, 2009

Men Fight and Flee; Women Tend and Befriend

This just in!

A UCLA study indicates women respond to stress very differently than men. Since testing of human response to stress has always been about men, this (finally) egalitarian study is uncovering all new findings.

Because women are not men.

Gail Berkowitz reported, "It's a stunning find that has turned five decades of stress research... upside down." Didn't we know this already? I think you savvy readers already intuited these differences in stress response between the sexes in kindergarten.

Stress triggers one of two responses: a fight or a flight. But not so for the ladies. One of the reseachers, Laura Cousino Klein, PhD says when the stress-response hormone oxytocin is released in a woman, she is compelled to tend children and gather with other women. In this process of connecting and friending, oxytocin is released, creating a calming effect.

It does not work for men because testosterone buffers, whilst estrogen heightens the soothing effects of oxytocin.

So let's take this on home, broke girlfriends! Waste no time, ye financially frantic and frazzled. Get out and meet up with your gal pals, the perfect antidote to the fiscal stresses of our times…such as the all-new all-depressing low on the Dow yesterday to 6,763.

This explains my current social habits that revolve, planet-like, around the best women ever, including nine friends who have met twice monthly for years who share tales and woes, food and wine, love and loss, and who celebrate anything worthy. There is little in life that is better than that.

Anyway, should you need a reason to tell your husband or boyfriend you need a night out, share this study. Plus, think of your savings on anti-depressants and psychotherapists —and nicotine, alcohol, chocolate, Ho Ho's, or whatever your vice of choice.

I'm signing off with a feeling of gratitude to my dear and priceless friends. You know who you are. Like warm sun on spring plantings do our friendships thrive. Here's to you, C, B, D, E, G, J, K, L M, N, R and S. Well, goodness, let's just say from A to Z—and that would include my marvelous aunt Zita Amelia (real name).

To see more WFMW posts, click here.

March 1, 2009

Re-Use a Coffee Filter: How Far is Too Far?

I seriously did that this morning. I was looking forward to enjoying a new caramel-flavored coffee when I discovered I had no filters! I usually stock up before I run out, but have been brewing more coffee intra-day on these cold winter days. I had houseguests yesterday who rose before I did and kindly made coffee using the last filter, so I didn't realize I was out.

But it is snowing this morning, and I wanted coffee—now. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

I rustled through the kitchen garbage and pulled out yesterday's coffee filter, untouched by discarded orange rinds. Rinsed out the grinds, which tore a hole in the bottom seam of the No. 4 filters. Stapled the hole shut, re-filled, and brewed away. (I'll make a stop at Trader Joe's en route home from church today to replenish. They've the best price for filters. I picked up the caramel coffee from Trader Joe's parent company—ALDI's, fyi.)

It worked; no grinds came through. But it reminded me of a tightwad tip I read in Amy Dacyczyn's book years ago that I actually considered trying on first thought (but not on second). Dacyczyn detailed how to save money by re-using a vaccuum cleaner bag. I'm thinking it is not worth the risk of an old bag bursting and damaging the motor / filter system of my vac. Plus in the emptying, I'd inhale all those dust mites.

It's good to be resourceful in a pinch, but craziness!? How far is too far? I could better spend my time watching my 401(k) investments go down the sinkhole than rustle through my garbage to save 3¢. Or is it in the saving of 3 or 4
¢ that I am sated with the sense that I do have control over some aspect of my finances? Nah, I haven't gone that far—yet.

I'd love to know the craziest money-saving thing you've tried and whether it backfired or succeeded. And
would you would do it again?

The snow flurries have picked up, and I'm gonna pour my second cup.

Afternoon update: Turns out the filters cost only 1.7 cents per. Although my Miele brand vac bags aren't cheap
about $3.50 each.

February 27, 2009

Billion Dollar Ex

A friend of mine was once married to a billionaire.

One chilly evening we were enjoying hot chocolate and conversation. Or at least I was. After a retelling of the histrionics of the education planning, travel schedule and more for her sons with whom they share custody, she said, All I want is peace in my life.

I can still hear the imploring tone in her voice followed by a very deep and pained sigh.

There were no ex spouses involved; the issues did not hover on money (heck, there was so much of it). She lives luxuriously, as you might expect. They have only the boys as their mutual point of contact. But living with the sort of things that come to bear when a family is torn asunder, and your ex is miles and miles past reasonable, has left her one very unhappy and distraught (but very thin, beautiful and rich) woman.

Might one rather be broke, but happy?

February 26, 2009

Sell Body Parts for Cash

Monetize your body. Or not. You decide. I make no judgments, just reporting.*

Sell your hair. A Chicago woman hopes her 12" of fresh-cut blond tresses will net her $800.

"Donate" blood plasma for a return of $9 to $50 per session.

Cash in your umbilical cord. This would be a one-time per nine months' sale unless you can pull off octuplets. Market rate unknown. One mother said, "I wouldn't mind having more cash for my unborn child's future. Not a ridiculous amount (of money) for his umbilical cord but, you know."

Huh?..."you know" what!?

Sperm. So my friend Ted told me this story last week: A friend of his, Jeff, was really into this girl he'd just met. On their third date she said, "You are like, so perfect! Is there anything I should know about you now—something that might come up later and surprise me?" He said, "Well, there is this thing where I once earned money contributing to a sperm bank. So there's the possibility that a dozen or so biological offspring might want to contact me at a future date." The girl made instant tracks. As he retold this date scenario to Ted, Jeff shook his head in wonderment and asked, "Do you think there was something weird about this girl that would scare her away like that?"

Eggs. A "loving couple" offers $20,000 on Craigslist to acquire fresh eggs.

Womb. Also on Craigslist: up to $30,000 offered for surrogacy, but you get it back nine months later, somewhat stretched for the wear.

Well, and um, there is this true story about my friend the pimp. I mean, I didn't know he was a pimp; I lived in the same small apartment building as he (in a very upscale neighborhood, mind you). We interacted daily because he was the building engineer and I, the manager /leasing agent. This all ended abruptly with a sharp rap at my door early one evening, followed by voices from the vice squad, "Police!" It's a fascinating story; someday I'll tell more. That 'splains how the janitor got by on his quarter-time job.

Oh, and then there are those who would never, ever, ever sell a body part, but their soul? Might be negotiable.

*Well, yeah. I do have my judgments; I'm just not saying.

Mid-afternoon update: My friend Ted (not his real name) just read this blog and emailed the following to me offline:
"Actually, (Jeff) told me he did it as many times as he could over a year; so, he was probably lowballing the figure and truth be told, there are probably hundreds of his offspring running around today! Think of the movie Gremlins times ten."

February 25, 2009

Beauty Starts in the Kitchen

Beauty on the Cheap: Finding Product in Your Kitchen Cupboards (Includes a Tip or Two for the Men)*

Skin care product annual sales have hit $50 billion. Seriously, girls—do you think the beauty product industry can really deliver all that? Give these "mother nature" products a try:
  1. Exfoliate lips with brown sugar; rinse, coat with chap stick
  2. Exfoliate face with white granulated sugar and water; for extra dry skin, exfoliate with sugar and olive oil
  3. Blend a tablespoon of baking soda with shampoo to remove product build-up
  4. Condition hair with mayonnaise or a raw egg
  5. Mix one part vinegar with three parts warm water for a soft and sleek hair rinse
  6. Toss one half cup powdered milk in bath
  7. Massage face with a mixture of honey, lemon juice and oatmeal once a week
  8. Use olive oil as a moisturizing cleanser and night cream (blend with 1/2 parts water and vinegar to remove dead cells and revitalize)
  9. Soften dry elbows, cracked heels and cuticles with olive oil; it absorbs more deeply than other oils
  10. Splash face with apple cider to restore ph balance; use on face and neck as aftershave
  11. To maintain bright white teeth, snack on crunchy veges; they'll stimulate saliva production to naturally flush away coffee, tea and blueberry stains
  12. Drink more water, less caffeine; it flushes impurities, keeps a glow and is less trouble than a face lift, botox, or costly creams
Broke Girl dares you to incorporate one into your skin care routine in the next 24 hours. Have you a favorite beauty tip from the kitchen that we missed? Please leave yours here in comments.

*With a nod to master Idea Exchange tipsters Kathryn, Danielle and Diane—thanks, you smart and savvy women!

See more WFMW posts.

February 24, 2009

Frappuccinos for Broke Girl

The blogger known as, also wife and mom-schooler of eight young daughters and a son (how do these people do it? —and no, she is not the Octo-Mom) had a hankering for Starbucks Frappuccinos®. She decided, for her own personal reasons, to boycott the company and make her own frapps.

She writes, "I did this by studying the ingredients and nutrition label on the Starbucks Frappuccino® bottle. Then I did the math to figure out how much milk and sugar to use. After that, I started varying it to taste. Here's what I came up with:

12 oz milk (yes, I make them grande)
1 heaping tsp. instant coffee (use a good brand)
3 tsp. sugar continued, "Stir thoroughly (the instant coffee will be slow to dissolve in cold milk) and serve over lots of ice. For the full experience, use a straw. Of course you can vary the sugar to taste; I like mine a little less sweet than Starbucks. Yum! For variety, try adding a little cocoa or vanilla. I love to freeze these in water bottles, and pull one out when I head for town on a hot day. I sip it as it thaws, and one bottle will last 2-3 hours. I feel not a pang of temptation or wistfulness when I drive past Starbucks, sipping on my 35 cent frappuccino!"

I'll be taking a brisk walk to the grocer later today for some instant coffee, but otherwise, that hot day is a but a distant dream for me. I live at 41° latitude and 87° longitude and it is February 24th and sumpteen degrees out there.

February 23, 2009

Rich—And You Didn't Even Know It!

I've tired of the word "gratitude." I get the notion it is an attitude I must conjure up that doesn't come naturally.

At church yesterday, my pastor, who is a bit of a gourmand, made mention of gratification when describing a single perfect chocolate truffle.

Somewhere along the way, I have lost the connection of "gratitude" and "gratification"—they seem so very different. The latter is easy.

As a financial literacy instructor, I often assigned the (fiscally flustered or out-right panicked) participants to keep a gratitude journal. They were to jot ten simple things each morning that they were thankful for. It didn't matter if the list was repetitive.

Now I'm changing it from the "Gratitude Journal" to: "Simple Things That Gratify Me, and Therefore, I am Grateful For." A mouthful, but I needed to hear it that way. The aim: to be thoughtful in the present moment; notice the little things. Beats an alternative of spending your time fearing fear itself (references to FDR's inaugural address now seem to pop up everywhere).

I warn you—do this a few days and you will begin to feel rich (you probably are). The big secret that nobody seems to know? It's all in the perspective.

Broke Girl's "Simple Things That Gratify Me—and Therefore, I am Grateful For, Journal" for today:

1. morning coffee
2. spring starts in 25 days (which means summer's coming)
3. lush hair conditioner
4. very sunny
5. meeting a best bud for lunch
6. my problems are smallish (drat that feral animal in my backyard!!)
7. no terrorist bombings in my city, ever
8. iPhone—Broke Girl's living large, baby!
10. fluffy rug under my feet when I pop out of bed
11. the person who thought up Pilates
12. hot shower...
13. strong water pressure...
14. and citrus-scented suds on a cold day

I would be happy to give you the PDF file of the aforementioned journal which I assigned when teaching financial literacy (to rich and poor persons alike). I apparently cannot figure out how to attach it for download from this site. So until I do, email me directly and I'll send you the one-page template: bebrokebuthappy @ (remove spaces when you copy this address.)

February 21, 2009

Who Buys This Stuff?

Stuff that makes me go "Whaa?" I won't be buying these from a SkyMall magazine I thumbed through. I don't need more things to take up space and my time to clean, dust, change batteries, and then toss when it breaks. Who is going to repair the $59.99 paper towel automatic dispenser when it goes on the blink? I'll skip the disposable towels and use a clean rag anyway.

1. $79.95 - Burlwood and glass case displays up to 24 watches on 24 separate hand-stitched pillows
I only have one watch.
2. $75.00 - Talking remote thermometer. "Wireless belt monitor will tell you when your food is cooked from 300 feet away."
I would rather walk to the grill and look at the food.
3. $59.99 - Electric sensor-activated paper towel dispenser
It's probably easier to pull a towel from the roll all by myself.
4. $79.99 - Upside down tomato planter allows tomatoes to ripen with no danger of rotting on the ground
For $79.99, I'll buy tomatoes at an organic market and have them delivered to my door.
5. $199.00 - Mahogany and leather valet box on which to set and charge up to four devices.
I lay my iPhone on my desk while it charges. It doesn't need a little house of its own.
6. $69.95 - Electric continuous freshening drinking fountain for felines.
I don't even have an electric continuous water fountain for myself. (Nor have I a cat.)

February 20, 2009

Cheap Fit

Nah, I'm not writing about an ill-tailored suit. I'm talking about staying fit—fiscally cheaply. If you're veering dangerously in the direction of broke, drop the fitness club membership.

This Sunday the 22nd, is Chicago's 12th annual Hustle Up the Hancock, a world-class stair climb. 4,000 participants will race up 94 flights in the building's stairwells to the top of Chicago's fourth tallest building (recently edged out from third place by the new Trump Tower.)

There may be a stair climb near you. This weekend races are located at highrises in Denver, Des Moines, Grand Rapids, MI, Las Vegas, Omaha and Philadelphia. If not, simply skip the elevator for the rest of 2009 when you go to work.

Or if you live in the flatlands of Kansas, park as far away as you can from the Wal-Mart entrance. Don't use their giant carts, but carry your purchases back to the minivan. Do not get in your car and drive across the street to your bank. Lock your purchases in the car and walk there, do the banking, and then return to your car. Of course, you'll reverse that sequence if you're buying ice cream.

February 18, 2009

Dennis Miller is Funny...and So Are Scrubbing Bubbles®

Broke Girl has an EEE-normous crush on Dennis Miller. Because she thinks he may be the most intelligent, sharp-witted man this side of, well, the moon. Also she totally connects with his extreme mental agility and riffing (perhaps another ADHD or ADD victim, he?).

On yesterday morning's radio show, he started out announcing the program's lineup:

"In our next half hour, Senior Editor, ughhh god!! Aaah, this is always a—Listen! I'll just be up front with you: They made the three to two cut on The Bachelor last night and that's always an absolutely brutal day for me emotionally, so I need [to be] held up today." *

Don't know if it delivers in print, but it was the funniest line I've ever heard—his announcer voice; the self-interruption and loss of composure.

If he really does watch The Bachelor, no doubt he is simultaneously reading Chekhov, playing Wii Fit, or surfing

So I just now logged on to to see the three-to-two cut for myself. But before the show even started, what to my wondering ears did I hear?

[Ed McMahon-like announcer voice:] "Brought to you by Scrubbing Bubbles®."

What in the world!?

So these chicks and the guy go to New Zealand so we can rubberneck at the emotional and relational train wrecks the show will ultimately produce when everyone breaks up with everyone. This show costs moolah to produce. And it's financed by Scrubbing Bubbles®!!

I watched the first girl and bachelor Jason Mesnick make out in the hot tub, but my mind was still back with the ridiculousness of Scrubbing Bubbles®, so I clicked off the show mid body-groping to share this tip:

Do not spend your scarce and hard-earned dollars on Scrubbing Bubbles®, which apparently rings up a hefty profit, justifying the big advertising push that finances an entire ridiculous (except that Dennis and I watch it, but just not together) TV show. Just so you know, the bubbles aren't little workers you let loose on your bathroom as the ads portray.

You can do much better. Skip the noxious chemicals, over-packaging and whatever else goes into producing and distributing it and then, for goodness sake, get yourself a gallon of pure white vinegar.

Vinegar is healthier for you and your home (and any little ones who may eat off the floor or lick the side of the bathtub). Vinegar will clean as well as any product on the market. Use it to remove soap scum from the shower, leave windows sparkling, and when diluted, clean a hardwood floor. Set out for a day in an open bowl, vinegar will eliminate skanky odors, or just the unpleasant scent of burnt toast.

Rinse your hair in one part vinegar to three parts water to create a soft, sleek sheen. Mix one part vinegar to two parts olive oil to use as a night cream.

Forgo expensive department store toners and splash apple vinegar on your face to restore ph balance.

Have I missed anything that you use vinegar for?

Meantime, stop buying scores of unnecessary products, each marketed to fill a specific "need" when one unadvertised and healthy-for-you product will outperform by all measures (economical, ecological, and organizational—taking up scant space in your cabinet).

I am now toggling back to ABC to discover which bachelorette will be left on a New Zealand cliff (hanger), bereft of the winning object...ah, prize, er—love of her life, soulmate and future ex-fiancé.

*You can catch this segment free on iTunesThe Dennis Miller Show - 02/17/09.
For more WFMW posts, see:

February 17, 2009


I just returned from a beach holiday with two friends. We decided in advance of the trip to dial back expenses and split them equally. It worked well.

True, we had enormous advantage in that we were the (very delighted) guests of the owner of our beachfront condominium. And that she lived nearby and insisted upon hosting us for several dinners at her clubhouse.

Room with a Really Nice View

Beyond that, it was just getting the rental car. The best rate for a compact was a steep $86/day because of Presidents' holiday weekend, seasonal demand, blah blah.

So this is how we did it: we tossed all receipts into a kitchen drawer. The last day, I pulled them out to create an Excel file of total expenditures, with attribution. Then calculated amounts overpaid / underpaid by each traveler.

Best part of our plan: we never appropriated a dinner check; at each outing it was irrelevant who paid. Except the night we met up with a fourth friend on Marco Island for dinner, then we each put out cash when the check arrived. We also paid separately at the box office when we saw The Reader ($6 matinée). Here is how the rest of it came out:

Car rental - $473.74 (yikes, but best we could do,
Groceries - $47.81 (healthy eating at the condo)
More groceries - $2.00 (we forgot popcorn the first time)
Breakfast - $20.94
Ice cream - $8.00
Coffee - $16.05
Host gift - $73.48
Pizza - $15.98
Gas - $18.59
Grand Total Spent: $676.59, or $225.53 per traveler

Total paid by
Traveler A- $105.51
Traveler B - $87.34
Traveler C - $483.74

Then we evened up: Traveler A gave a check for $120.02 to Traveler C; Traveler B wrote check of $138.19 to Traveler C.

We can't wait to take another trip again. But Broke Girl, being broke, plans to stay home a spell.

February 16, 2009

Reader Question: Thrift in My Blood

A reader asks: "If you were no longer Broke Girl, but were Quite-Well-To-Do Girl, how much of your broke lifestyle advice would you still follow? I have become so, well, let's call it thrifty, I think it's in my blood and would never change."

Short Answer: I estimate I would follow 85 percent of it.

Thrift is a virtue, the quality of using resources carefully (a vital attribute in a world of limited resources).

It's not even a distant cousin to cheap, which is about miserliness and inferior quality. So should you become Quite-Well-To-Do Reader, I hope you would remain thrifty.

Long Answer, Anecdote I
At dinner last night, Tammy mentioned that she shops at Aldi every Wednesday for her family of five. Charlotte gasped and said, "I thought Aldi only sold canned goods that aren't very healthy." (Read here about the thrift that is Aldi.)

"Oh no, " replied Tammy, a very health-conscious mom, MBA, and former banker who homeschools her small brood. She and her husband own a nice but not extravagant suburban Chicago home and summer house in Michigan.

Tammy started going to Aldi eight years ago after she learned that the wife of the very successful surgeon who had operated on her young son always shopped there.

Long Answer, Anecdote II
Once, when visiting a friend in West Palm Beach, we drove her aging Gremlin to Worth Avenue to window shop. Bonnie's husband had jiggered the broken air conditioner switch so she could operate it with a coat hanger that protruded from the dashboard. We rattled up to the curb where model-gorgeous Bonnie, her baby and I climbed out of the car. To me it seemed an odd sight—a head-turning beauty juxtaposed against that bad car. But she did not seem to notice.

Bonnie sewed everything that she, the baby and her next four children wore. (Not a homeschool mom, for the record.) With no pattern to follow, Bonnie could whip up a couture-like dinner dress or little sailor suit for the baby in one evening. She had an excellent eye for fabric, drape and fit.

Bonnie was crazy about her husband who was dirt poor compared to the rich Palm Beach boy she used to date. I asked, "If you had married the other guy, would you still sew your own clothes?"

Her answer surprised me. "Oh yes! I would never pay those prices, besides, I like mine better."

February 13, 2009

Night with the Golden Girls

I am on the Gulf Coast where I just had a night out with the golden girls—which clarified for me why a Hollywood producer deemed Floridian widows' lives fodder enough to launch a sitcom.

Anyway, halfway through her second lemon-drop martini, octogenarian Ava started to talk about two friends who suffered losses in the Madoff scheme.

Then she said, "Madoff is not the first."

Several years ago, friends encouraged Ava to invest her funds with their charismatic (and, totally coincidentally, extremely good-looking) advisor. She was impressed with the consistent and above-market returns they got, but was also skeptical. If it's too good to be true, it probably is. But these friends had a lot more money than she did, and she figured they knew what they were doing.

So she invested $100,000 in a two-year contract for a 17% annual rate of return with Mr. Slick. The interest checks arrived on schedule, every month.

This got her invitations to lavish parties at his home, which housed a fish tank under the Lucite floor in the entryway. All this—his car collection and fantastically bejeweled wife—did not sit right with Ava.

The day her investment matured, she drove to the Mr. Slick's office and said she would not renew. "I want my $100,000 back."

"Oh, you have got to won't get these returns elsewhere," he said. Then, "You don't think I just have that money sitting right here, do you?"

She pushed back, her instincts fortified. "Of course I think you have the money right here," she said, pulling out her contract that stated the maturity date. "I want my money now."

Mr. Slick said he would deliver it the next morning. Because Ava wasn't going to be home, she asked him to leave the $100,000 check with her doorman—who, by this time, she trusted far more than Mr. Slick.

Ava got the check and deposited it. In an unrelated turn of events, she suffered a heart attack the following day. While watching television from her hospital bed, up popped Mr. Slick's face in that little upper right box of notoriety usually filled by a Britney or a felled politician.

Her former investment advisor had been indicted for running a Ponzi scheme. The feeds from Ava's medical monitors probably spiked off the charts—she felt as if she'd been socked in the stomach. Her first thought, There is no way that check will clear.

But it did.

Lessons learned:

  1. Do not assume that people who have more money than you, and are getting bigger investment returns are smarter than you.
  2. If it seems too good to be true, well… you know.
  3. Your instincts are there for a reason; pay attention to them.

Disclosure: I was really crazy about this guy I once dated. I thought I might, one day, want to marry him. Even though I was very young with underdeveloped instincts, something was working right for me, because I never quite made it to truly wanting to marry him.

Even today I remember a couple of innocuous things he said. Totally not a big deal. But on the other hand, maybe a really big deal. As of this writing, my own Mr. Slick is doing time in Federal prison for his Ponzi operation. Really.

February 12, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic

I laughed my way through the candy-of-a-novel Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella in 2002. Now—the movie, which releases tomorrow. At the time of my reading, I was penning a personal finance book that was published the following year, so I was rather reading the chicky fiction through that lens.

What struck me was how much the protagonist's shopping experience had elevated (or declined, depending on your perspective) to a sort of religious experience.

For the highly evolved consumer (particularly you waaay smart and savvy mommy bloggers who have stopped by—and thank you for visiting), shopping has become both art and science. Shopping, in this era, has varying degrees of eptitude—beginner, advanced, graduate and PhD.

In Confessions of a Shopaholic, shopping was a sensual experience for the fictional character Rebecca Bloomwood. She mused,

"I count out the money in tens and twenties and wait, almost shivering as [the clerk] ducks behind the counter and produces the green box. She slides it into a thick glossy bag with dark green cord handles and hands it to me, and I almost want to cry out loud, the moment is so wonderful..."

"That moment. That instant when your fingers curl round the handles of a shiny, uncreased bag—and all the gorgeous new things inside it become yours. What’s it like? It’s like going hungry for days, then cramming your mouth full of warm buttered toast. It’s like waking up and realizing it’s the weekend. It’s like the better moments of sex. Everything else is blocked out of your mind. It’s pure, selfish pleasure."

For Rebecca, the experience becomes religious. Upon arriving home, she opens the box and reverentially lifts the scarf from the folded tissue.

She says, “For a moment we are both silent. It’s as though we’re communing with a higher being. The god of shopping.” Even the book title is suggestive of sin and the booth where Catholics go to acknowledge their wrongs.