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!? ...as 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 http://groupon.thepoint.com. 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.

http://www.moneysavingmom.com (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 redbox.com.