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 InAShoe.com, 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

InAShoe.com 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 @ gmail.com (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 politico.com.

So I just now logged on to abc.com 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-fiancĂ©.

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

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, kayak.com)
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 reinvest...you 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.

February 11, 2009

I Had a Dream

I had a dream last night: I was on a road trip in the country when I got the notion to turn off a side road for a variation in scenery.

I drove to a bucolic village out of which stretched an extremely steep and curved road. I stopped, backed up, and then gunned the little car I was driving and just barely chugged to the top.

Once there, I saw I had come upon a steep ravine. The road extended onto a bridge over a deep valley with two or three rivers below. But the bridge was not solid. It consisted of a narrow strips of iron grating that looked like open netting—simply impassable. But then I saw it was possible to cross if I made certain the tires balanced on two narrow, framed-out grids. It looked treacherous, but I really wanted to be brave. I wanted to do it.

I took several minutes to assess, took in a big breath and proceeded. I did not look down. I made it across. Once there, I drove back. The second time across, I dared myself to look down, with nothing but air (no protective rails or safety anything) between me and the open canyon below.

That's the end. I awoke, glad I conjured up the nerve to traverse the old bridge. (I do not frequently succeed in my dreams.)

Today I clicked open my favorite rag to read Floyd Norris' NY Times blog
headline: "Job Losses Are Scarier Now." I studied his analysis, "...why consumer fears can be much greater than they were when the overall unemployment rate was higher."

I decided not to be afraid. That's it.

February 9, 2009

25 Random Things About Money

  1. May or may not buy happiness; the debate continues...
  2. Is a representation of energy and a promise to relinquish some of that energy
  3. Implement wielded by Madoff to cut swath of mass destruction
  4. Has no more power than you are willing to give it (but if you do give it power, it can reciprocate by driving a sane person mad; from panic to joy, hope, despair, and suicide)
  5. Is extremely busy; is multinational, multilingual, never goes on vacation, never sleeps
  6. Is the driver of a steep divorce rate
  7. May make you more popular, prettier and smarter-appearing
  8. Is neuter, thus innocent in and of itself
  9. Is neither religious, moral, immoral, right, wrong or evil
  10. Is not the measure of a woman
  11. Is rumored to be the root of all evil
  12. Is, truth be told—not the root of all evil
  13. Is verrrrry sexy (depending on the beholder)
  14. Compelled Mark Antony to marry Cleopatra
  15. Is what Judas got for selling out Jesus
  16. Had an ugly role in racial history as an object of exchange for humans
  17. Yet—is only a number in your head
  18. Can reveal true friends (when making itself scarce)
  19. Creates celebutantes and deranged governors
  20. Is, in capitalism, commonly used as a standard unit of measure of one's intrinsic worth
  21. Hides (but not so well), between the lines on many a list of "what I want in a prospective husband"
  22. Has been known to buy freedom and justice
  23. Is powerless to save you from a terminal illness, plummeting airliner or terrorist attack
  24. Drives my emotions more than I care to admit—so I won't
  25. Has no value of its own
And another: Plays hard to get, but will leave you in an instant without so much as a look back or a teary farewell.

February 7, 2009

Broke Girl Goes Shopping

Now through early 2010, get a 13-oz Organix brand shampoo or conditioner, free with mail-in rebate (up to $6.99). One per household. Check for the little tag on the cap; they don't appear on every bottle.

Best part? The varieties are yummy: cucumber yogurt, grapefruit mango butter, lavender soymilk, pomegranate green tea, passionfruit guava, mocha espresso, teatree mint, shea butter, coconut milk, mandarin olive oil and vanilla silk.

I picked these up at CVS, but the products are distributed to scores of retailers nationally. Go get one.

February 6, 2009

Back When Problems Were Not

What a beautiful thing a problem is.

I just clicked on my favorite bookmarks tab to take me to The New York Times and was thrilled to see the home page feature story (as of 8:00 pm) about yet another pressing civic issue.

It was like back in the day! Back when you did not open the newspaper to discover 20,000 layoffs here; 5,000 early retirements there, and fifty-two shuttered Starbucks over yonder.

God bless the reporter Sam Roberts who uncovered this pressing story and strong-armed an editor to feature it:

"How Long to Fix a New York Streetlight? A Year, if You’re Persistent"

"At first, Martin Daniels let it go. Hey, streetlights die all the time. But after a few days, with the light on East 96th Street still out, he could no longer help himself. On Jan. 22, 2007, he called 311...

...Everyone agrees it was finally fixed on Jan. 23, 2008 — a year and a day after the first complaint."

It is reassuring to see the little problems getting ink.

Meanwhile, I should be extra grateful that when I recently called 311, the graffiti-control team responded, quickly (nearly fast as a NY minute), painting over the tag on the light post in front of my house.

And when someone tossed a lit cigarette into my city-issued garbage can, burning it down to a little black puddle, a remnant of which is still affixed to the cement behind my garage, my alderman got me a new one within days! [A shout-out to Vi Daley!]

Yea for the City of Big Shoulders, the City that Works. Maybe I shall call a reporter to feature my tale in The Chicago Tribune.

Yes, good little problems are sweet.

So—what's a little problem that almost makes you glad?

My beautiful new (rat-resistant design) garbage can. I leave soda cans on the lid for the homeless guys who collect them for cash. I hate to have them dig through garbage; it makes their workday a little bit easier.

See neighborhood worker I spotted last week, cans in blue bag on left. No, that's not his van. Under that big pile of stuff is his mode of transport, a grocery cart.

February 4, 2009

Obama and Broke Girl Call for Common Sense Executive Pay

We are in deep doo-doo. I have never before used that childish term; had to look up Webster's to get the correct spelling, and yes, I am sorry to say—there is one.

[I started this blog last night. Clearly, President Obama got his hands on it sometime this morning because this afternoon's headlines read variously: "Obama Calls for 'Common Sense' on Executive Pay" and "Obama: Big Exec Paychecks in 'Bad Taste'."]

I've long considered myself a capitalist (in a good way), and twice waded through Free to Choose, the book by free-market proponent and Nobel-winning economist Milton Friedman and his equally formidably smart wife Rose.

But when all roads lead to coin, something's gotta give.

Money is the currency by which wrongs are righted, justice is purchased, the ridiculous is normalized, and in my city, politics is conducted. (McDonald's coffee lawsuit, O.J. Simpson, Wall Street bonuses after TARP, Blagojevich.)

Please don't be offended, but I ask: Are you a prostitute? I use the term "prostitute" per Webster's definition: "to put oneself or one's talents to an unworthy use or purpose for the sake of financial gain."

Posited a little more nicely, Is money usually the final and ultimate determinant when it comes to making choices about time, family, marriage, education and your job? I'm not in the judge's seat, by the way; I am thinking this over for myself too.

Ridiculously high pay to CEOs is lame. Nate Baumgart stated it well in this editorial letter:
“...the question has been asked, 'Without the most significant of financial rewards, how will we attract the very best to occupy these lofty [executive] positions?' The implicit assumption of this statement is that society’s very best can perceive no higher value than the dollar.

High compensation doesn’t attract the very best. It attracts the greediest."

So let's bring this on home: Is your day-to-day living and larger life purpose driven to accumulate the most money possible? If so, your mood, marriage and motivations are at the mercy of a whole lot that's out of your control.

Baumgart continued,
"Those whom history has judged as great often came from less and strived for more than wealth."

Best, greediest, best, greediest, best, greediest. Which would you rather have in your epitaph? Which is more likely to fill you up here and now?

Easy to voice outrage at CEO compensation, but not so easy for Broke Girl to give thought to what she would do or is now doing for the love of money.

Financial Goals...Borrring

Borrring, but imporrrtant.

I started this blog in 2005. After keeping up my hectic schedule of posting once a year I decided to kick it up a notch in 2009. So along with this start, it's time to pull out the maps and assess where we are.

Did you make new year's resolutions? Me neither. I hoped to lose five pounds in 2005. However, rather amoeba-like, those pounds replicated by binary fission into 25 pounds that I could lose in 2009. So having a resolution just sort of jinxes things, right?

Conversely, it has been said that if you don't write down your goals, you won't make them happen.

You need to see it and hear it in black and white and noisy all over. Like, if you don't have a destination for your travels, how will you know when you've arrived? Sometimes I would rather drive around and discover things without a fixed agenda. But 2008 wasn't so kind as to offer scenic byways and fun little jaunts along my road to financial freedom.

Did you set financial goals for the year? I didn't. And hey—I guess I achieved them.

For the financial blogger philosopher that I portend to be, I'm coming up short. After getting a good wallop by the financial markets last autumn and most days since, it's time to get out the map and articulate the goals that once drove my pocketbook and nest egg. How about we team up...here are some suggestions for '09. Pick three and get on with it.
  1. Stash ___ % earnings in a retirement plan
  2. Give ___ % earnings to charity
  3. Meet at least once with a financial adviser (who charges a fee, not commission)
  4. Review each insurance policy at least once for appropriate coverage and premiums
  5. Check com plans (phone, cable, ISP) to ensure best for the buck
  6. Save $ _____ by [date] ________ to spend on [item] _________
  7. Set up separate folders for all financial statements, receipts, paystubs, etcetera
  8. Read __ financial columns or journals ____ times per week, or
  9. Read [personal finance book or workbook titles:] ____________
  10. Review all finances (with partner if you have one) and set monthly, yearly, 5-yr, 10-yr and lifetime financial goals
  11. Pay down $ ______ of [credit card debt, mortgage, auto loan, ed loan] ____________
  12. Reassess career goals; strategize position in the job market
  13. Pay back $ ______ that I've borrowed from friends, family
  14. Keep notebook of all expenditures for one month; assess spend trends; re-engineer budget as needed
  15. [Fill in the blank] _______________________________
Meet you back here in 2010.

Five Buck, One Buck and Free Movies

Some weeks ago I watched my first free movie from my 15" laptop at hulu.com. It's not the finest resolution but once you get engaged with a film's story, I think enjoyment of it has little to do with whether you're viewing it on a massive HDTV or iPhone. I mean, a good movie is a good movie, right?

Broke Girl is a movie buff, but won't pay full fare at the theaters. Kerasotes Theatres issues a Five Buck card—you can see first-run movies in the theaters a few weeks after opening date for only $5.00, even cheaper than matinees.

Redbox offers the cheapest DVD rentals at $1. The free-standing kiosks are at sites like Walmart, Jewel, McDonald's and Walgreens. Find a redbox location near you. Overhead is low because the kiosks are self-serve, operating somewhat like a soda machine. Get the code for your first free redbox rental here. You can also sign up to get the code for a free movie on Mondays. Beat that!

Or get your first redbox DVD rental free by entering the promo code "breakroom." (As of this writing, anyway.) You must slide a credit or debit card in the reader to register your identity / information. Because if you don't return the DVD within 24 hours, you will be charged $1 per day thereafter.

February 3, 2009

Giveaway Winners

The two winners of our giveaway—autographed copies of A Girl and Her Money are:

Kristin (kmc.love)
Terra H. (partymix25)

Winners were selected via random.org. If you are a winner and failed to receive the notification email, contact BeBrokeButHappy(at)gmail(dot)com.

The book will be autographed as you request, and mailed right away. Thanks to everyone who entered the drawing.

Winners must respond within three days of notification or new winners will be selected.

February 2, 2009

The IRS is Here to Help

The Internal Revenue Service announced that 12,000 sites will be open to offer free tax prep services. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free help for people earning under $42,000. To locate a VITA site near you, call 800-829-1040. So even if you had a six-figure salary, if you were laid off sometime last year, you might qualify.

If your income is under $56,000, you may access free online federal income tax prep and electronic filing here. Brought to you by a partnership of the IRS and Free File Alliance.

Find out here if you are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, dependent on your filing status and income.

February 1, 2009

When Your Rich Man Goes Broke

As Wall Street plummets and, avalanche-like, takes out the jobs and wealth of so many bankers, so plummeteth the hopes and (self-absorbed) dreams of certain girlfriends.

It has become so horrific, that said girls have resorted to forming a Dating a Banker Anonymous group, according to an article in the The New York Times.

Said one newlywed bride of a private wealth banker whose fortunes have turned, "It's not what I signed up for." Apparently she excised the portion of the classic wedding vows where it goes, "for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer," at her November 2008 wedding. Or if she didn't, she has a faulty memory.

Check out the blog that welcomes you to join in their pain “if your monthly Bergdorf’s allowance has been halved and bottle service has all but disappeared from your life...” Hmm, could that include any of my faithful readers (all seven of you, not including my cousin Chuck.)

What do you think? Has the financial crunch forced you to harken back to your wedding vows of "worse," and "poorer." And how is that going?

This single Broke Girl is hoping for the best for her married gal pals; that any Wall Street quakes that have reverberated their way serve only to drive honest communication and commitment to survive and thrive together. And to let no man, nor Wall Street prices "put them asunder."