April 30, 2010

Do Mother's Day Differently

Moms pay it forward. That’s just the way it works.

Mama ducks give new hatchlings one day in the nest before chucking them out to swim. Human parenting once ended in mid-teens but now lasts to 18, 21, 26 and beyond. Since my mother is still nurturing me in her eighth decade, I’ll never come to an end of thanking her.  (Yes, these are turtles, but I have no ducky photos with rights to publish...and aren't they cute?)

No amount of jewels, flowers or chocolates can adequately express my appreciation.

Two things tell me mothers want words—some form of communication—more than anything else. One, Mother's Day is the highest call-volume Sunday of the year. Two, my unscientific Facebook survey indicated that more than flowers, jewelry or dinner, moms want a card with a personal note.

Mother’s Day spending hovers around $14 billion in the U.S. The numbers break out like this: flowers, brunch or dinner, then jewelry and other. The average spent per person is $125.

This is my thinking: I’ll create a card posting mom’s top-ten qualities or five most valuable things she taught me. At $3.99 for the card and $0.44 postage, that leaves $120.

So then what? How could I possibly pay forward my mother’s awesomeness in a way she could appreciate now? If everyone enjoyed half the childhood I did…I’m not saying we’d have global peace, but there would be a big drop in enrollment at suicide-training workshops.

As a financial person, I monetize things. The flowers will be set out in next week’s garbage, the chocolates with coconut centers will be tossed mid-August, and there goes a relatively unproductive $14 billion of economic muscle into the ephemera. (True, the delivery driver gets paid and all, but still.) That’s $14 billion spent as cover for real or false guilt, bad behavior, or stunted emotional development—the inability to say, “I love you,” or “It wasn’t your fault.”

A quick Google search uncovered this unsurprising line: "Tapping Into Customer Emotions Drives Mother's Day Sales."

After viewing Oscar-nominees “Precious” and “The Blind Side,” it has become clear that mothering skills cannot be taken for granted. They come naturally to ducks; not so much to humans.

And children of teen moms are most at risk when their mothers don’t finish high school and can’t get a job. Doesn’t every child deserve half a chance?

So that’s where I’m placing my Mother’s Day money. Specifically, with this cause: Teen Mother Choices International (TMCI). They’re launching an expansion across the U.S. to teach the model that has successfully graduated 450 teen moms into skilled and productive lives. Teens learned how to feed and diaper their baby, find daycare, finish school, get a job, teach and love that child, and be responsible, yet interdependent in the community of man. From that example, the well-nurtured child will learn to parent well, and so on.

Oh, some of the best ideas aren’t new. More than a century ago, Ghanian scholar James E. Kwegyir Aggrey said, “To educate a man is to educate an individual; to educate a woman is to educate a family and a nation." Thanks, mom, for showing me how to pass it on. You really are a nation-builder, and I love you for that! Happy Mother’s Day.

My suggestion: Honor your mom and / or other women in your life by paying it forward. For a $25 donation to TMCI, she’ll receive a Mother’s Day card with your personal message—the one thing moms want most. Meanwhile, you’re doing your part to leverage $14 billion for the next generation of moms.

April 29, 2010

Shopping for Pennies on the Dollar

I was three years old when Grandpa Harold Durling passed, so I remember little of him. But I do remember what was oft attributed to him. Folks quoted his adage, "It ain't cheap if you don't need it." Which surely was true while supporting his family of six children, his wife, a mother's helper, an orphaned nephew and occasional hobos who arrived via railroad, all during the depression.

But I considered that invalid a few days ago when I went into CVS to buy a razor and Wheat Thins using coupons I had. But upon leaving the store, I had purchased--retail value--$188.38 in items I never intended to buy and didn't exactly need. Such a great deal, I returned today and purchased another $46.37 in items I didn't need. But the fact is, the items were so cheap, I decided to buy them anyway, and will give to friends, some as nice gifts.

Because as you'll see, I spent $37.20 in products while saving $151.18 on April 25th. On the 28th, I spent $6.03 on products, saving $40.34. How so?

Note: The check-out clerk was so thrown off by my large purchase that he made an error, which I pointed out to him immediately. For some reason he continued with the charge, and then created a separate refund slip for $10.88. So receipt on the right was corrected for purchase of $37.20 for just with savings of $151.18

I've discovered that CVS stores occasionally purge the store of certain products that apparently they no longer want to carry, are not selling, or whatever reason, are just pushing out the door. Many items are sold at just 10% of original list price.

So that's how I picked up eight sets of Burt's Bees products and eleven tubes of citrus coconut hand cream purchased at 25 cents each, a total of $2.75, saving $24.64.

I am no crazy hoarder. These beauty products won't be for long in my house. I have a shelf in the pantry set aside for just these finds, and have been known to send friends home with a few shampoos, disposable razors and toothpaste tubes of their choosing. Any ideas for a term or name I could put on this pantry closet shelf thing which I use as a sort of "gift bag" for visitors and overnight guests--and even my plumber?

I started a trend with my girlfriends' birthday outings a few years ago. We often meet for dinner and have a great evening out, sometimes bringing gifts for the birthday person. One year, I chose a hot new West Division St restaurant for my birthday outing. We were given seating in the upper mezzanine of the restaurant and had it all to ourselves.

That year, I had the novel idea to bring gifts to give to my friends -- to celebrate and mark my birthday with thanks and gratitude and love for all they contribute to my life. It was soooo rockin fun to pull out the gifts to pass down the table to each girl. The fun first started when I opened a few gifts from them, but the noise volume went way up, and the party took on a whole new vibe when my friends realized I was doing it differently and surprising them with gifts for my birthday.

Btw, not everyone brought me a gift; we don't have gift exchange rituals or expectations. Some will bring a card, others nothing at all. That's a fun part of it--no expectations, no one really cares. The real takeaway is the enjoyment and blessing and fantastic evening of really smart, sharp, witty women who love and appreciate and bring out the best in each other.

So these $15.00 (retail value) Burt's Bees packs and $2.49 citrus coconut creams just might make it as my doing-it-backward-birthday gifts this year. So fun to buy for pennies on the dollar. So fun to have a stash of little gifts to give my visiting friends. I held back to buy just one of the $20.00 value mani-pedi fake croc clutch kit sets for 69 cents. It's not something I would carry, but I figure I'll find at least one friend who would.

For an upcoming post...how it is that Broke Girl seems to frequently stumble across these "spend-a-coupla-dollars-and-save-a-hundred" in her shopping trips? Some of it is luck, but there's a bit of smart shopping savvy involved, too.

April 26, 2010

Broke Girl's Shopping Guide, Part I

“Sale” Does Not Mean “Buy”
You are no Pavlovian dog, so stop barking like one. Some of us instantly salivate upon seeing or hearing certain terms, nearly always posted in the colors yellow or red: sale, discount, overstock, rebate offer, clearance and so on. And then there's the lingo for you powershoppers among us. It goes like this (and for those of you who don't know, just imagine what these terms might rouse in a girl on a money-saving mission): blinkie, BOGO, catalina, eSaver, inserts (RedPlum and SmartSource) peelie, printable, tearpad.

It is easy to fall victim to retailers’ elaborate and savvy marketing strategies—no wonder, because they’ve spent billions in research dollars just to get us in their front door or on the home page. And they work even harder, and smarter than ever to seduce the last coin out of your (genuine or fake) Louis Vuitton handbag.

Broke Girls' tip for the century: Start at the other end. Begin at zero dollars and work up to what you believe to be the item’s true value and your true need and appreciation for the item--not the discount from the arbitrarily assigned retail price.

Start at Home: Shop in Your Own Closet
One of the most delightfully surprising places you can shop is in the quiet comfort of your very own home. And that's even with your computer in sleep mode! Those oversized, overstuffed closets, bins, baskets and drawers (and possibly a storage space you've been renting) are not only overflowing--you likely couldn't name what's inside many of them. The stuff you’ll discover in the back of closets, drawers, and shelves -- will amaze!

There’s that cute sweater you’d worn once but forgotten because it got shuffled under some other things. The new lipsticks that rolled to the back of the drawer, never opened. The scarf you’d bought as a gift several months before your friend’s birthday, but forgot, or couldn't find when the time arrived, so you bought her something else.

Yes, my fellow broke friends: your own home is a chic boutique just waiting to be mined. And you know what comes next: Give, toss, recycle, loan or sell what is left. More to come, my fellow broke but happy reader.

April 15, 2010

Tax Day Freebies, from Starbucks to a Million Dollars--for REAL!

It's tax day, and I was all about the free stuff that sympathetic (READ: opportunist) businesses were offering. First, I posted a reminder on my FB page to take your to-go mug into Starbucks for a free pour. And said I planned to head out to the three in my neighborhood until I found one that was participating.

In the end I found it easier to brew coffee at home rather than shuffle from store to store in my slippers and robe holding forth my empty mug. I probably could have collected a lot of coin, however, and made several new friends in my local homeless community.

By 11:00 a.m. I was starving, so I printed the coupon for a free taco at Taco del Mar, having found one in the city of Chicago! It took forever to get there, but darn it, it was free and seriously tastier than if I'd paid for it. Admitted: my pursuit of freebies today was mostly a head game.

But folks, I did take advantage of the one remaining *truly free gift* that Uncle Sammy still hands out to taxpayers. And this is probably because the U.S. Senate simply has not yet figured out--or has no idea--just how much money they are giving away. And it hasn't helped that the OMB guy has been so tied up impregnating and marrying (different) women that he hasn't noticed how much in potential taxes is leaching off from future potential income from the masses.

Knowing I was heading for a mighty low tax bracket this year; knowing that my nation will be forced into imposing increasingly higher tax rates, I made one phone call from my desk to put hundreds, perhaps thousands of free dollars into my own pocket. Legally, and as encouraged by the late Senator William V. Roth.

Some people like fast, but very low odds money: "Deal or No Deal?" Have never seen it, but pooh. "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" Meh.

Even better than a TV show: I moved assets from my regular IRA to my Roth IRA, and paid such low taxes on it (given this year's rate for which I qualify), that it was like, no taxes, and every penny of interest, dividends, and /or capital gains of which I earn from those assets until the day I spend them, will be tax FREE to ME.

It may not be too late for you to take a look at your tax rate (one upside to unemployment, lower commissions and reduced earnings), and contribute or transfer some IRA monies within your 2009 year. It probably is; I'm not claiming to be Tax Girl. But keep this in mind for 2010. Most of my career I earned income via commission, fees, bonuses, etc. As my income and tax brackets have swelled and receded year to year, I've adjusted my tax strategies accordingly.

What am I talking about? United States Senator Roth -- may he rest in peace -- came up with an even sexier version of the standard IRA. It goes like this:
  • Pay taxes on your earnings.
  • Then put some post-tax money into a qualified account. (Called a Roth IRA)
  • Do some basic, unsophisticated asset allocation with index funds.
  • Decades later, your withdrawals may likely make those TV game show winnings look like bubble gum money.
  • Never pay taxes on earnings (interest, dividends and capital gains) from that account.
You heard it here.

Tomorrow, April 16, it may be too late to re-work your IRA two-step for 2009, but you can still cash in for a free taco. Quick -- to El Pollo Loco to print your coupon for a free taco. Good through Sunday, 18 April. By then you should be recovered from the taxpaying trauma of this week.

Adiós tasar día. Para otro año. (One taco and I'm all Mexican Girl.)