January 30, 2009

Be Broke, Feel Rich

I finally saw "Slumdog Millionaire" which I've wanted to see for two months. The impoverished boys in the slums of Bombay, now Mumbai, faced such awful circumstances that portions of the film called for an X rating, in my opinion, for its depiction of atrocities to those sweet-looking, large-eyed children.

If you find yourself in a swamp of self-pity and can't shake the blues from your stagnating financial status, see this film. You will get just how far away you are from real broke-ness.

Poverty—in this movie—meant no shoes, no food, a cardboard shelter and survival on a stench-filled garbage dump. Yet they carved out a life and, being children, created play.

No one can wear more than one pair of shoes at a time. If you're like me and have a closet full of them, you are a far distance from broke, and in fact—might actually be closer to rich. At least that's how I felt upon seeing the movie. My net worth isn't what it used to be, but I'm eons from missing a meal or running out of shoes to choose from.

January 29, 2009

I'm an Aldi Girl

I used to sniff at bare-bone ALDI stores in low-rent districts, which I ignorantly presumed sold little more than pork 'n beans and white bread.

That was before I read The New York Times article about the private company's business model and its "[sudden emergence] as a major force." An Aldi snob I am no more.

I became a believer and now I drink the Kool-Aid.

Plus, the owners are just out-and-out intriguing: "...octogenarian German billionaires Theo and Karl Albrecht reportedly live on the island of Föhr in the North Sea, where they are said to collect typewriters, play golf and tend to orchids. In 1971, Theo was kidnapped for 17 days, and the brothers have kept a low profile ever since."*

What's awesome about ALDI:
  • Low carbon footprint. Not a plastic grocery bag in sight; it's BYOBag
  • Self-serve shopping carts you lease for 25 cents; refundable upon return
  • Quality foods and options well beyond dried noodle packets
    • Pure vanilla bean extract, not just flavoring
    • Hickory smoked, peppercorn or maple bacon
    • Bacon-wrapped turkey mignon
  • No bank facility, barista service, DVD rental, snack bar or floral shop: just food
  • Only one size and one selection of everything, which means I never have to think! Shopping goes so much faster
    • No decisions between brands
    • No hedging on whether to get small, medium or large
    • No mental price calculations between brands or quantities
  • Occasional sightings of Kellogg's, Welch's and Nabisco products, if you need that
  • No stylized displays by designers attempting to mimic an outdoor Tuscan market
  • No shopper discount cards to mess with; no need for coupons (Aldi offers its own brands)
  • Never inflated costs from credit card interest; cash and debit cards accepted only
  • In my experience: produce consistently fresher than at a nearby specialty chain grocer
  • Cheap: really really low prices per equivalent quality elsewhere
You know Office Depot's red "Easy" button? That's ALDI: simple, easy and smart. Locate a store near you.

*"The Allure of Plain Vanilla," The New York Times, September 6, 2008
[Photo 01-12-09, 2600 N Clybourn Ave, Chicago IL]

January 28, 2009

You Don't Know Broke

After attending an Association for Women Journalists event at ABC 7 Chicago studios tonight, I walked back to my car which was parked on Wabash Street in the Loop. It was about 9:00 p.m. The temperature was 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

I passed these two folks who had settled in for the night on the sidewalk just outside Macy's.

No, I did not stop to give them money. But last night I rolled down my window to give coin to the person toting a cardboard sign near the southbound Fullerton exit ramp off the Kennedy expressway.

Those pigeons were eating whole wheat bread scraps, btw.

The Broke and Happy Super Bowl Party Host

Super Bowl XLIII is arriving in a full-on recession, so exploit the tone and go retro with your party menu. C'mon, it's football. Your guests are not expecting molasses-braised duck legs with frizzled leeks, toasted garlic potato rounds, and winter fruit crostadas (an actual suggested menu I spotted). Just tasty, warm food.

Aldi, my new favorite store can help you with that. For chicken wings and meatballs to sausages, pizza, chips and mixed nut snacks, it's a one-stop shop. You can even pick up an "elegant" German pilsner, Holland lager and South American cerveza—beers exclusive to the international grocer that is Aldi.

Consider serving mom's meatloaf or a tuna noodle casserole topped with crushed potato chips. Recall family dinners when you were ten years old, and you'll come up with fun, kitschy menu options. Red (Cardinals fans) or yellow (Steelers fans) JELL-O salad with marshmallows, pecans or orange slices will recall an era long past. Make funky mold shapes and use whipped topping. Flaunt your menu and it may be a long-talked about hit.

Tomorrow's post will give the skinny on shopping Aldi—Broke Girl's new favorite grocer. Find Aldi locations here.

Giveaway: Autographed Book, "A Girl and Her Money"

THIS GIVEAWAY HAS EXPIRED effective midnight, February 2, 2009. Check back for new giveaways at a later date.

This blog's very first free giveaways are contributed by Sharon Durling, author of A Girl and Her Money: How to Have a Great Relationship Without Falling in Love, published by Thomas Nelson. TWO WINNERS!

The book will be personally autographed, per your request, to you or anyone of your choosing.
Do unsettling emotions surface when you pull bills from your mailbox?
Do you fantasize about how great your life would be if you had or made more money?
Does that row of numbers in your checkbook register make you nauseated?

"A Girl and Her Money" is for women like us, by financial expert and veteran shopper Sharon Durling who, like a best friend, shares empathy and an encouraging, liberating message: You deserve a happy, healthy and fulfilling relationship with money!
  • Diets don't work—and neither do budgets
  • Why women are so weird about money
  • Men are from Home Depot and women are from Macy's
  • Your money personality (and you do have one)
  • How to make peace with money
TWO winners will be randomly selected from all entrants. You may enter any of the following ways, up to three entries.

1. Leave a comment on this post
2. Subscribe to Broke Girl's RSS feed and leave comment that you did so
3. Subscribe to this blog by email and leave comment that you did so
4. Mention the giveaway on your blog with a link to this post
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6. Email your friends with a link to this post and copy us at: bebrokebuthappy (at) gmail (dot) com

Don't forget to leave your email or make available in your profile so we can contact you. You may post anti-spam, like bebrokebuthappy (at) gmail (dot) com.

Winners must respond in three days upon notification or new winners will be selected. Giveaway ends midnight CST, Monday Feb 2; winners announced Tuesday, Feb 3. Open to residents of US and Canada.

Check out other contests at Bloggy Giveaways.

January 27, 2009

Free TV

I don't have television, but not because I'm cooler than you. I was becoming a cable news show addict. I realized I would not watch it if I could not watch it, so pulled the cable years ago.

But then I discovered online TV where I sometimes watch a bit of Leno. The shows appear a day after the original air date, but that's no different from my rural childhood where the newspaper was delivered a day late because we were too far for same-day delivery. "Oh, so Nixon is no longer president as of two days ago?" (We didn't have a TV either.)
I'll watch 30 Rock, Desperate Housewives or The Bachelor. The latter, I swear—solely to track the devolution of civilization and the incredibly faulty thinking of what constitutes love, not unlike a gawker at an auto accident. Television hasn't improved in my absence.

My fave thing about Internet TV? Like TiVo, I can stop mid-show to take a phone call and finish it later. Unlike TiVo: free.

Watch ABC, hulu.com, NBC, A&E, MSNBC, CBS, Fox News, more

January 26, 2009

Energy Savings Tips from Gov. Schwarzenegger

Leave it to my cousin Chuck to send me to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's California Health and Human Services Agency website, csd.ca.gov for a list of Winter Energy Savings Tips.

First off, I think I'm offended because Californians know whit about winter chills. I shiver from Chicago, where the temps are currently a near-balmy 11° Fahrenheit, and over a foot of snow has, like an unwelcome guest, moved in and hovered for weeks. (We know better than to listen to our babbling governor who is expected to be impeached later this week—well before the snow melts.)

But I checked out the list anyway. Of the 36 tips, I scored 24, which gives me a passing grade.

1. Turn down your thermostat to 68 degrees or less during the day and evening and to 55 degrees at night or when away. 64-66 day, 62 night, 58 when away.

2. Wear warm clothing (sweater, robe, thermal pajamas, socks, slippers, etc). Wearing 'em, and sipping hot coffee, too.

3. Use lots of blankets. One big down comforter wrapped all around me does it.

4. Open drapes to let the sun heat your home during the day and close them at night to help insulate. Only sometime, but I leave the skylights uncovered all winter long.

5. Close unused rooms and the vents that heat those rooms. I close my guest room and bath.

6. Take a shower instead of a bath or take shorter showers. I take showers, but not always short.

7. Turn off kitchen, bath and other ventilating fans after they’ve done their job. Yes, but because they are not silent fans and the sound annoys.

8. Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters and radiators as needed and make sure they’re not blocked by furniture, carpeting or drapes. Clean infrequently, and they're not blocked.

9. Move furniture around so you are sitting near interior walls (exterior walls and older windows are likely to be drafty). My desk faces the coldest window in the house, so no.

10. Close your fireplace damper when not in use. It's a gas fireplace; I don't know.

11. Set your water heater to the “normal” setting or 120, unless your dishwasher requires a higher setting. I set it below normal.

12. Wash dishes by hand and fill the sink with water instead of letting the water run. I do.

13. Do only full loads when using your dishwasher and clothes washer. Don't use dishwasher unless I've entertained a crowd; yes on the clothes washer.

14. Use cold water when washing clothes. Started doing that last year.

15. Use the energy-saving control on your dishwasher if it has one. Moot, see #13.

16. Let dishes air dry. Yes.

17. Hang clothes to dry. Yes; see What Broke Girl Doesn't Use.

18. Clean your clothes dryer’s lint trap after each use. Moot, see #17.

19. Use the moisture-sensing automatic drying setting on your dryer if it has one.
Moot, see #17.

20. Keep waterbeds covered with a heavy comforter or blankets. They still have waterbeds?

21. Reverse the direction of your ceiling fan to push warm air down into the room (counter-clockwise in winter). No fans.

22. Remove window air conditioner units or enclose with an air conditioner cover to stop drafts. Don't have 'em.

23. Add plastic sheeting to windows or purchase plastic window covering kits or interior storm window kits. Won't do it.

24. Place aluminum foil between your radiator and the wall to reflect heat back into the room. That is just not a good look.

25. Have your heating equipment checked by a qualified technician to make sure it is operating properly. Every few years.

26. Clean or replace furnace filters once a month. No way. Mine are special-order, $50 each.

27. Install weather-stripping or caulk to leaky doors and windows. I'm handy with my caulk gun.

28. Install gaskets behind outlet covers. What's a gasket?

29. Wrap your hot water tank with jacket insulation; be sure to leave the air intake vent uncovered. Nope, it's naked.

30. Insulate your pipes. If I could find them; I think they are in the walls.

31. Install a programmable thermostat. Have two.

32. Install low flow shower heads and faucets. Not when I can turn down the flow myself.

33. Increase insulation in your attic, walls, floors, basement, etc. No, except for the side that was damaged last summer. I made certain quality insulation was installed under the new siding.

34. Seal leaking ducts. How would I know if they are leaking?

35. Replace your old water heater or furnace with a newer, more efficient Energy Star® model. I don't replace an appliance until it dies. Same with cars: buy new, maintain it well, drive it forever. By the time I get another one, new technologies have created cleaner, more efficient models.

36. Replace your old windows with more efficient Energy Star® windows. Yep, last year...whew, I think that just got me a passing grade

So, Cousin Chuck. What was your score? Let us know in "comments."

For more WFMW tips, visit Rocks In My Dryer.

January 23, 2009

Postponing Saves Money

Here is a tactic for alleviating the recessionary pinch without cutting back severely.

The operative concept is S-T-R-E-T-C-H, or resource expansion, kind of like adding more broth to the soup.

The idea is to postpone appointments. I have taken to stretching my hair appointments from four to six or eight weeks out, depending on how fast it grows. Plus I figured out long ago that Madonna put her stamp on the "hair roots look cool movement." And since I am of her generation, if the trend has reversed: first, I haven't noticed, and second, I don't have to.

It's okay to postpone some medical exams by stretching an annual checkup a few months beyond a year.

[BG interrupts to announce: 1. Do not skip or reduce prescribed medication. 2. If you have ominous symptoms, get yourself to a doctor.]

Ted Epperly, M.D., and President of the American Academy of Family Physicians said, of getting a routine physical, mammogram or PSA screening, “...you can stretch out those tests when you need to.”* Assuming you are in good health.

Quality nutrition, fitness and rest correlate with lower medical bills. So the net is, eat oranges and arugula, take a hike, and get eight hours. That also reduces the impact of stress from faltering finances.

I would not put off twice-annual dental cleanings; great mouth hygiene is of the essence for finances and body health. After all, periodontal disease is linked to serious health risks, including heart disease. I had a big dental bill last year. It reminded me to give more time and TLC to those pearlies, which I hope to keep a very long time.

*"Health Care You Can't Afford Not to Afford" The New York Times, by Walecia Konrad, January 16, 2009

This is a WFMW post.

January 22, 2009

"Because Eddie Told Me To!"

"Hammond boy licks light pole, gets stuck" Associated Press, January 15, 2009.

Despite his bleeding tongue, the ten-year-old was able to indicate the reason he did it—in sub-freezing temperatures—was because a friend dared him to.

I burst into the hardest laugh when I read what compelled this child to stick his tongue to the metal pole. If this boy is as smart as I hope he is, he will take this lesson a long way and never again be suckered into dumb acts by intimidation. He'll do well to learn lessons early (and keep them learned the first time around).

But sometimes acting out of intimidation turns out really well. Shanti Bansal would not have married his beautiful bride last week were he not intimidated into approaching her. Describing the day they met, Mr. Bansal said, “One of my friends actually dared me to talk to her, so I went up to her and said, ‘Hey, how do you like my party.’ ”*

Ultimately, you've got to exercise—as in practice, practice, practice—your own judgment until you get it right. Sometimes succumbing to the duress (forceful encouragement) of another is smart.

Like my parents' neighbor accused me, I can be scrappy thrifty. But I've been known to spend kinda crazy on things that would make your wallet curl up tight.

So take Broke Girl's savvy, smart saving suggestions with a grain of salt. One person might choose to have bread and water for a week so she can buy a concert ticket or an expensive facial cream. Another will opt for generic soaps or forgo home air conditioning, but never scrimp on the finest organic foods.

Broke Girl claims to be very smart, but she will never claim to "think, so you don't have to."

*"Neeru Khanuja and Shanti Bansal" Weddings/Celebrations, The New York Times, January 17, 2009

January 21, 2009

"Sale" Isn't Necessarily So

What seems quirky about this display at my corner pharmacy?

The bath tissue is discounted two cents from its regular price of $12.99. It must be resulting in higher sales of this product, else the store would not have set up the display just inside the front door. (Maybe there's a kickback from the manufacturer for this blast-vertising, not-really-a-sale display. I couldn't say, not being familiar with retail /distributor /manufacturer practices.)

Retailers and their consumer-psychologist consultants understand and thus aim to exploit shoppers' Pavlovian instincts upon seeing the word "sale." Especially in red or yellow lettering. The sign caught my eye.

Don't miss the fine print: you must present a customer card to qualify for that two-cent discount.
Some consumer psychologists would propose the visual SALE! stimulates a response in your brain. Maybe it's like pushing a little mental happy button, foreplay to getting into your wallet.

January 20, 2009

Barack Obama's First Day

Inauguration Day is happy day!

Inaugurate: "to introduce or mark the beginning." Feels a bit like New Year's Day, my second favorite holiday of the year.

If your new year did not get off to the start you'd hoped for, do take this Inauguration Day personally, and make a fresh start with a focus on what you can do for your country, not what your country can do for you.

God bless us all.

What Broke Girl Doesn't Use, #1

CLOTHES DRYER: After reading it is a home's second biggest energy-consuming appliance (after refrigerators), I decided to boycott my clothes dryer. Mostly. Only rarely do I toss in sheets and bath towels—often I hang even those to dry.

I bought a snappy little plastic thing for $1 from a charity-operated resale store. It unfolds like an umbrella skeleton, eight outstretched arms, each with two clips from which I hang lingerie and socks. Underwear doesn't go in the dryer because it destroys the delicate fabrics and shaping. And good lingerie is one thing Broke Girl believes is worth investing in. Never cut short on the construction, fit and quality of your underthings.

Anyway, I spotted the portable hanging dryer at organize.com for $5.99. I'm not endorsing this product, mind you, just posting because it wasn't easy to find. I also place a drying rack on the floor of my large shower room, perfect for hand washables to lie flat. [Thanks to alert reader Mary at 4Boys4Me, who posted in comments that this item is available at WalMart for $1.]

In addition to reducing utility expense and wear on clothing, I like the surge of humidity the clothes throw off in the wintertime—and they dry super quick. If Broke Girl were not an Urban Girl, she might hang her clothes in the great outdoors. But I wouldn't go crazy like the Amish farms I passed on a freezing morning in Indiana two weeks ago. Snow was falling and icicles were forming on the dark blue dresses, bonnets and black pants stiffly hunkered together on washday. Ow. Frozen underpants, no thank you.

With Elfa closet components I picked up for a few dollars from Craigslist.com, and the one tool a Broke Girl should never be without (corded electric drill) I installed shelving and a clothing rod over my washer and dryer from which I hang wet pajamas, tees, dresses, pants and more on plastic hangers to dry. I strung a clothesline to the opposite wall over which I drape bath towels and sheets, the latter which I have occasionally taken to ironing while still damp (with a spritz of lavender linen spray) so they press beautifully.

So when I mentioned this last week to my gal pals they shrieked in horror. Which unleashed a 20-minute conversation that ranged from perceived childhood abuse by forced ironing to the girl who had never heard of such bizarreness.

Photo courtesy Jonathan Durling Photography

January 19, 2009

If Oranges and Arugula Got Half the Airtime as Cap'n Crunch

The headlines scare. "Will Americans put on Recession Pounds?" and "Lose Money, Gain Weight?"

True, obesity is often associated with poverty. Sugars and fats are a cheap way to get energy into processed foods. And mid-century, somewhere, a woman first brayed, "You can't be too rich or too thin."

Contrary to the headlines, a tightened grocery budget can result in weight loss and the kind of belt tightening you'd die for.

At the cusp of bankruptcy but determined to avoid it, my friends Henry and Lily slashed their food budget by 1) not dining out and 2) bypassing frozen dinners, boxed snacks and ready-to-eat products to go straight for fresh produce, unprepared rice, lentils, beans, popcorn, oil. They ate tasty meals and to their utter surprise—lost weight! Dinners out had been heavier and richer. Home cooking reduced their intake of empty calories.

Fresh fruits and vegetables offer higher nutritional value per pound, per calorie and per dollar spent, because: 1) no factory processing and additional labor 2) no designer packaging and scintillating copywriting 3) no advertising expense. Imagine if oranges and arugula got half the airtime as Cap'n Crunch.

BROKE GIRL SUGGESTION: This week, get yourself to the grocery store and buy nothing over-wrapped in cellophane or glossy boxes. Low profit margin items like rice and flour come in plain wrapper. Don't fall for the teeny packets of rice with seasoned mushroom tidbits (that you can only see with a microscope) packaged in large boxes with pretty pictures and dinner suggestions. You can DIY.

Breakfast bars, chips and prepared frozen dinners are high in fat, sugar or both and stripped of nutritive content. Quick and dirty guide: If it's not in a naturally occurring texture, shape or color, take a pass. I'm thinking Cheetos.

I use fresh-frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. Canned foods may be deemed uncool but they retain significant nutrients and I appreciate the extended shelf-life.

A few months ago I bought three heavy bags of groceries at Stanley's Fresh Fruit and Vegetables at Elston and North Avenues in Chicago. The cashier said "Your total is thirty—" ...I couldn't hear the rest, but it sounded right. I said, "I'm sorry, please repeat?" as I reached for my wallet. She said, "$13.79." Surprise! Three bags-full of healthy fresh food. It seemed like a twilight zone, akin to the humongous drop in gas prices late last year.

TIP: My dear friend Hope Egan has been an excellent encourager for eating all things healthy. She has served some of the tastiest, simple home-cooked meals I've enjoyed, prepared from fresh and inexpensive foods. She releases her first cookbook this month. bsacookbook.com

Disclaimer: I am eating a sugary breakfast bar as I write. I am not proud of this. It tastes cardboard-y. All I'm saying is that I have good ideas, but neither do I claim to follow all of my advice all of the time. It's been said, "If something is worth doing, it's worth doing poorly."

January 16, 2009

Gifts From King and Lincoln at Their Birthdays

Yesterday marked the 80th birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and next month is President Abraham Lincoln's 200th.

I love to visit memorials. In a "Saving Private Ryan" sort of scenario, three sons in the family of one of my ancestors died as Soldiers of the Union. Alone one afternoon at the Lincoln Memorial, I choked up as I read:

"…we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

A few years later in San Francisco's Yerba Buena Gardens, I came upon a memorial for Rev. Dr. King that took my breath away. My chest swelled with emotion as I walked underneath its roaring waterfall and through teary eyes, read these words carved in the Sierra granite:

"I would rather die in abject poverty than live in inordinate riches with the lack of self-respect. We must rapidly begin to shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

What I'm getting is that when profits become more important than people, we can't make it. We are now in economic crisis. Can our trillion dollar problems be solved? Who knows? Take it to your microcosmic level. So do what you can do, not what you can't. The Nobel Peace Prize recipient warned we must be other-oriented. I'd bet that includes family, neighbors and strangers we don't even like. As for my micro economy, I can't reverse my 401k losses, but I bought lunch for my homeless friend Abner Daniels yesterday.

What else I'm getting is that self-respect is better than inordinate riches. This is fantastic news, my dear Broke Readers! Abject poverty—more bearable than self-disrespect (self-hate)?

Lincoln couldn't know his Gettysburg words augured his own memory, "...from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion..."

Both leaders assassinated, but their courage and the truth they each maintained are alive in the perspectives they give us, perspectives that are still saving lives, right now.

January 15, 2009

Zero Degrees and Dropping

The high temp today is -5 (Fahrenheit) and falling toward -15. Fearing my face will crack, I'm staying in.

I could set the thermostat at 72 degrees, but it's at 64. I don't need to be cheap, but I want to. Plus I don't want to be a fuel hog. I am home alone, so there is no one to argue with me about this.

I'd be embarrassed for some friends to see me, but I'm sitting at my desk with a down vest over a long-sleeved tee, a fluffy rabbit-tail scarf around my neck and a wool hat perched on my head. It's comfortable and not bulky.

Reminds me of my parents' neighbor, a great guy who did not share my sport of frugalism. He once saw me out walking and pulled over. Rolling down the window of his big shiny pickup, he grinned and shouted, "Hey, I read your book. I could never be married to someone like you. I gotta spend my money." Maybe he missed my tales of foreign travel and certain indulgent luxuries.

Believe me—I can spend money; this is called allocating resources. I'll take a long hot shower or bath tonight. If I had guests at my house today, I would crank the furnace way up long before they arrived, but I'm comfortable in my little hat, which preserves body heat so well. I keep popping it off because it's overwarming my globe. Now I must attend to the other end. I've got to put on another pair of socks.

January 14, 2009

How $20 Became a WMD

There is a lone twenty-dollar bill that could devastate the life of my friend Denise. WMDs—nothing!

For three years, Denise tended to her elderly aunt as the sole caretaker. Because Aunt Sylvia's only child had died and she disliked the surviving daughter-in-law, Sylvia called Denise, who willingly stepped up.

Then Sylvia passed away. Last week, Denise learned the will explicitly stated she was to receive $20 from an estate of several million. (Even Andrew Jackson looks dour.)

Denise and her husband don't have a lot of money. She would have appreciated some bequeathment, but didn't expect it. That's not what tore her apart.

A year before she died, Sylvia accused Denise of lying. But she had not. Perhaps the grief over her son and her advancing age provoked the 90-something woman to disbelieve Denise and cut her off.

The twenty dollars went a long way in buying Aunt Sylvia the devastating effect she sought. It was a slapdown with the potential to take out Denise, who cried for three days before calling me.

Money speaks. $50,000, or even $10,000 would have said, "I acknowledge your efforts over the years." $1,000,000 might have declared, "I am no longer upset; I was wrong," or "You were wonderful to me, and I forgive you." As for what the $20 said...it went something like [bleepin' bleep bleep].

Sylvia died an angry woman, and Denise can do nothing to change that. But the thing is—Aunt Sylvia need not have the last word.

Denise was all set to return the money to the estate attorney with an angry letter. She had zero interest in suing for a share.

So I said, "Keep the twenty bucks. Sign off all claim to the estate and get on with your life. Then the other heirs (who are also estranged from Denise) will know that you know that they know that you have been disinherited; so fine! You, however, can fend off that fiscal WMD. You cannot allow that now-dead woman and her scheming heirs to destroy your life, your happiness, your self-esteem and your marriage."

Denise is thinking about it. That it's easy for me to say is an enormous understatement, but her choice is clear: she can fuel that anger into a crazy wildfire, or allow the anger to flame out. Let it go and move on.

And my point is? A lousy twenty dollars can wield the horror of your own personal 9/11, the torture of a waterboarding, and the last straw to crack your mental stamina. You cannot allow it. The good news: you, and only you do have the power to defuse a Weapon of Mass Destruction that may be advancing your way.

Frederick Buechner penned an apt description with a different metaphor:
"Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you."*
*"Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC" (New York: Harper & Row, 1973)

January 12, 2009

The Broke But Happy Traveler

I thought couch surfing was for kids, like my 20-something nephew who, at this very moment, is en route from Michigan to Honduras. This peripatetic child has been known to friend total strangers. He once met an older couple on a 24-hour airport layover and went home with them where his temporary grandma and grandpop served him a warm square one
and invited him back again.

Well now that I think of it, I once did that very thing in Malaysia and ended up in a Colonial-era gated estate in Georgetown, chauffeured by servants who picked us up along with our just-met hosts at Penang International Airport. Maybe it's a genetic defect I share with my nephew. Mind you—I did not stay overnight.

Anyhow, was I startled to discover yesterday that friends of mine—a perfectly respectable couple in their 50s and 60s—have taken to couch surfing! Yep, Renee told me she and Ben recently crashed on strangers' futons in Atlanta, Las Vegas and Delray Beach. Further, they hosted a guy from India and didn't even come close to barely escaping with their lives. "He was great," Renee said cheerily, "and was also a Christian, just like us."

Renee says they've gotten a good feel from someone's profile and ensuing correspondence. So far, they've experienced no unpleasant surprises or massacres. "I would highly recommend [it] for people like us who love to travel but are rather strapped for money," she said. "Ben has been underemployed for two years, and I am scrambling for photography gigs in this weakened economy, so this is really the only way we can travel."

I have couch-surfed with people I've gotten to know at a conference or met secondarily /tertiarily via friends. I have also hosted same, but not yet with strangers—strangers met on The Internets. Check out these:


By the way, Renee emailed, "We actually do sleep on couches and almost always share a bathroom. This is why we take flip flops. Linens have been clean everywhere so far."

January 11, 2009

Get Yourself a Wardrobe Sponsor

How does this Broke Girl do it? I have a sugar daddy. And a sugar momma, a sugar sister and sugar brother.

I have no idea whom these people actually are, but when the wealthy denizens of Chicago bother to clean their California Closets, I am happy to stand aside, migrant worker-like, and pick up the castaways.

And that I do, at various resale shops around town. Someone else pays the bills and I (gladly) get the goods.

Occasionally a price tag still droops from a sleeve, which I take as a sign they gained weight before they had a chance to don it. Even if an item is not brand-spanking new, a run by the dry cleaner or through the washer keeps it fresh as anything I would pick up in a boutique. (That new stuff's been tried on by a few bodies already anyway).

In a gratifying trifecta for all: the original buyer gets a tax deduction, the Salvation Army raises funds, and I get new clothing at cents on the dollar.

By the way, that whole sugar daddy thing? It is not what it's cracked up to be. When you marry for money—and believe you me, I am right about this—you will earn every red cent.

January 10, 2009

What Broke Girl Doesn't Buy

Item, and (its replacement or alternative)
  • Cable television service (watch on the Internet)
  • Telephone landline (Vonage)
  • Lawn service (garden tools)
  • Snow removal service (shovel)
  • Health club membership (sneakers, bicycle, the great outdoors, see above)
  • Certain home repairs (ladder, electric drill, tool set)
  • New books I want (Chicago Public Library)
  • Mani- and pedicures; facials (DIY and supplies from CVS)
  • Taxi fare (car, bicycle, public transportation and planning ahead)
  • Netflix (redbox)
  • Pizza and Chinese delivery (pick up myself or purchase from grocer)
  • Dry cleaning (DIY with Woolite or other)
  • Clothing repairs (needle and thread)
  • Credit card interest (pay it timely, monthly)
  • Bank fees, "convenience payment" fees (pay attention, read fine print)
  • Late payment fees (keep track and on time)
  • Housecleaning service (DIY)
  • Babysitter (have no children)
  • Life insurance (no dependents)
  • Home security alarm service (excellent locks; light timers)
  • Party invitations (evite.com)
  • Disposable dust rags (old cut up cotton tees)
  • Fresh cut flowers (flowering house plants, seed packets and patience)
  • Bakery-made birthday cakes (homemade cupcakes)
So what do you not buy? And what is your replacement for said unpurchased service or product?

January 8, 2009

Being Rich *Is* All That

Turns out being rich is all it's cracked up to be.

It comes with a whole lot of responsibility, requires a fair amount of maintenance, care and oversight, and can set you up for an excruciating crash when your high-falutin' investments go south.

I spotted a news item: the CEO of a national firm was found dead earlier this week of a self-inflicted gunshot. I had had a meeting with a co-owner of this company not long ago. In undertaking my pre-meeting research, I will tell you I became envious of this (now-deceased) man and his accomplishments, industry prominence, swagger, renown, and seemingly immense wealth, confidence and successes in comparison to my own. But no more.

Being rich doesn't come all by itself. It often involves other people, like family. Frequently associated with risk and thus, unpredictability, it can be a set up for unbearable pain. In this case, it came with a family feud. The deceased had won an acrimonious civil suit against his father (who survives) several years ago, severing their business and (presumably) familial relationship. So much for fly-fishing excursions to Idaho with dad and the grandkids.

I might presume, but could not say whether the suicide is related to last autumn's credit collapse and ensuing crash of markets across the globe. Other recent deaths at their own hands include former billionaires and other-aires who left estates of now-dubious values:

New Zealander Kirk Stephenson, 47, COO of Olivant, is said to have leapt into the path of an express train in the UK on September 25, 2008 as markets melted and credit crunched.

Brazilian trader Paulo Sergio Silva, 36, shot himself in a commodities and futures exchange in São Paulo on November 17, 2008.

French financier René-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, 65, slit his wrists on December 23, 2008 in his New York office after suffering losses of tens of millions of dollars in investments with Ponzi-guy Bernard Madoff.

Three days ago, Adolph Merckle, 74, whose worth was once estimated by Forbes at $12.8 billion and ranked as 44th richest man in the world, stepped in front of a train in his native Germany.

Any my point is? The more you have, the greater the torment it is to lose it all—the fall is more terrifying from a billion dollars to zero or below. The drop from, say, a few hundred thousand or just a few hundred dollars could be considered to be—relatively—less harrowing.

Sure, nobody wants a bruising fall, but being able to get up, brush off, and walk away sure beats a bone-crushing impact.