Category Archives: Advice

Frugal Substitutes: The Master Chart

The idea of finding frugal substitutes for expensive wants turned from a comment, courtesy of reader and commenter Debbie M, to a full-fledged post at grumpy rumblings.

Here’s the excerpt from that comment, and I’m called out to name my list of frugal substitutes, an idea inspired by the book “Your Money or Your Life.”

Debbie M says:

“And then there’s also strategizing about what makes you happy. If you want to feel pampered, do you need to visit a tropical island? Or would you be just as happy with an in-town spa or fancy hotel, a massage, a facial, or, in my case, fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies and a good book?”

…And maybe oilandgarlic can share a list of Frugal Substitutes! We can always use more of those!”

And I said:

“I’ve been meaning to respond with my frugal substitutes but I could probably do a whole post. The gist of it is that I try to figure out WHY I want the big indulgence. Am I stressed? Do I want to try something new? In the past, I would assume that the best way to satisfy my want is a spa day or travel. Now I realize that I can satisfy that need for pampering in multiple and often cheaper ways. I could do a at-home facial. I could buy flowers and put a slice of lemon in my water. I can put on relaxing music. I could convince my husband to give me a massage.”

So without further ado, here’s my handy dandy chart (sort of tongue-in-cheek), and please feel free to share your own frugal substitutes:

substitutes

Advertisements

I Had A Post About Working Mom Guilt

I’ve written about working mother guilt countless times.  And I like reading and commenting on posts and articles on that issue, too.  I feel it’s important for women to stop beating themselves over choosing or having to work, as their contributions to the family are just as invaluable as staying home in my not-so-humble opinion.  Finally if you have to work or want to work,  guilt is just a waste of time and people who try to make you feel bad about it are a waste of time.

So in my typical fashion, I felt the urge to dole out advice.  Since my concrete tips for not being bitter at work seems most useful to people, I thought it would be helpful to offer real suggestions for reducing motherhood guilt as well.

After re-reading my own post, I trashed it.  I realized it seemed a bit sanctimonious, as if my way for guilt-free motherhood was the best way.  I also realized that my concrete tips may not work for different personalities, nor should I dictate the best way to spend “quality time” with your kids (and kids all have different preferences and personalities anyway!).

So for now I am giving my best tip, which is not concrete nor necessarily easy to follow, it’s all really mental. If you create a mental image of perfect motherhood or set up some unattainable ideal, or compare yourself to a mom who seems to be doing it “right”, then you’ll feel guilt.  If you truly believe you’re doing your best and your kid is fed, sheltered, loved and happy, then you’ll stop wasting precious time on feeling unnecessary guilt.

An Extra Hour Per Day!

As a result of our move, I’ve gain about an extra hour per day — half an hour in the mornings and half an hour in the evenings.  Even though we moved over a month ago,  I haven’t done anything concrete with that extra time, other than unpacking and decorating, but I would love some advice.

I know that some super-motivated time management gurus would suggest exercising or tackling a major project in the mornings.  After all, sleeping in isn’t really taking advantage of that extra time. However, I’m going to say now that sleeping in is my plan for the extra morning half hour.

What I am asking for is advice on what to do with the other half hour, after work. I really don’t want to waste it on watching TV or surfing the web.

Here are my ideas:

Nurture Relationships: Having more time and energy for kids and husband is always a plus. I want to really enjoy this extra time.  I promised my husband I would be less grumpy..now that can be a hard resolution to keep…

Career management: I can update my C.V., browse websites for job opportunities, update my Linked In profile, read career-related materials (which can also be done at lunch), attend networking functions.  I would love specific action items / tips.  BTW, here are some great career-building tips from Cloud/Wandering Scientist.

Exercise: At least once per weekday, I plan to take a class.  I’m also taking walks around neighborhood and can go to the park more often.  Now I can get home and take a nice walk with the kids in the time it used to take me to drive all the way home!

Cook and Plan Meals: I’ve slacked off in this area and would love to start planning healthier meals on weeknights, rather than relying on Trader Joe’s.

Chores…Ugh: I want to do some smaller chores on weeknights rather than saving them up for weekends.  With a long commute, I was tired and short on time. Now I guess I could pick up a mop once in a while. There are two almost opposing challenges to this idea. I hate chores YET I also worry that I’ll use my valuable “extra” time to doing chores.

What would you do with an extra half hour per night?  

Has A Comment Ever Changed Your Final Decision?

When you blog regularly, it’s common to ask readers for advice for everything from financial to purchases to travel decisions.  Is crowdsourcing the term? I’m too lazy to look it up.

The reason I’m asking is that I am tempted to ask for advice  from time to time.  I hesitate only because I wonder if I or anyone ever follows advice from their readers.  Oftentimes it seems like the person receives a lot of good advice but makes the opposite decision, or actually has their mind made up anyway.  I believe there’s science behind this, too, called “confirmation bias” (scholars, correct me if I’m wrong!). From my understanding, this means in general people simply pay more attention to views that confirm their own beliefs.  Example: If you think all Asians are good at math, you will notice if an Asian person wins a Nobel prize for mathematics.  If you have an Asian friend who is bad at math, you’ll assume that’s an exception to the rule.  I’m sure there are many more and better examples of this in the political arena, of which I stay far away from!

I still remember a debt-blogger who asked readers if she and her husband should join her family on a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip to Europe.  They did not have ailing relatives. Everyone else in her family was financially stable but did not have enough to subsidize her tickets/travel expenses.  They would probably have to spend on higher-end hotels than if they had gone on their own. I would say that the answers were sort of split.  Many people said “go for it” which in my mind is very easy to do when it’s not your money! A lot of people also advised her not to do it until you’re out of debt.  I felt that those who were against it made better arguments.  After all she had racked up debt due to lifestyle choices, not education loans or medical debt.  To me, they had spent to enjoy their early 20s and should pay for it before going into debt for another fun adventure.   This is tough for me to say because I love traveling and I also believe travel is worth the money; however, paying off a trip for years didn’t make sense even to me.  Of course you could say that she followed the advice since most people said to “go”; however it was pretty clear that she had made up her mind before even asking the question.

As for me, my question would have been about whether moving to another rental house that is out of our real budget range but closer to my work is worth the trade-off (the classic time vs. money).  I haven’t written about the move yet because I’m tired and a bit embarrassed by my/our bad financial decision-making skills.    If I had asked, I’m sure I would have gotten good advice and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have listened either.   Maybe someone would have suggested a compromise that would save time and also reduce the hit on our budget.   However,  we made the decision based on “wants”.  We wanted to save time, but also wanted a larger house with a yard.  We didn’t want to share walls.   In other words, I didn’t think that the best arguments in the world probably would have swayed me.  Of course two years down the line I might regret this move!  Once I’m recovered from moving, I may write more about it.

Have you ever asked readers for advice and actually read a comment or comments that truly affected your final decision? I’m especially interested if you changed your mind on BIG decisions, like a job choice, moving, finance etc…

Most Useful Chore Advice Ever

Recently, in separate conversations with two different friends, the subject of laundry came up.  I mentioned that my husband and I both do our own laundry.  One woman was amazed that I had somehow convinced my husband to do this.  The other looked at me as if I had told her the meaning of life. She had tears in her eyes as she went on and on about how much laundry dominates her life. Granted she is very traditional and Martha Stewart-like so I suspect much of the load is self-imposed.

However, after revealing more details, and yes, they seemed interested in how I achieved this magical feat, I thought I had to share this bit of advice.  Maybe most of my readers have already seen the light. However, given their amazed responses, I thought I better spill in the hopes that more women gain hours of their lives back just by letting the guy do his own damn laundry.

First, I admit that we did not have a big, serious discussion about this split.  It sort of happened. He had his own laundry bag and I had a hamper. We kept it separate when we had to haul our laundry to the laundromat.  Years later, when we bought a washer and dryer, we kept it separate.  That’s not to say that this separation is etched in stone. If I have a light load, I’ll grab lights or darks from his hamper.  However, this division of labor works very well on so many levels.

In the “chore wars“, whoever blinks first loses. In laundry-speak, this means whoever notices the overflowing hampers or needs a favorite item first ends up doing the majority of the laundry. The other lucky person gets used to receiving clean and folded laundry as if by magic.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which gender typically wants clean stuff first.  Since we keep our loads separate, I can get by with one load per week or even every two weeks if I’m not exercising regularly.  I do tend to launder the towels and linens.  In addition to time saved, there’s a practical aspect to this. When I do my own laundry, it’s very easy for me to “keep track” of my clothing needs and I don’t have to launder a giant pile of darks and lights just to find my favorite items.  If you do your spouse’s laundry, you’ll likely to do several loads if your favorites happen to be at the bottom of the hamper.  I also don’t have to worry about my helpful husband doing my laundry and ruining delicates. Note: He’s pretty good with laundry but I’m particular about certain favorites.

Some women might object and say it doesn’t really take that much time to throw in his stuff (and I assume you probably fold his stuff, too?) but over time, this takes up valuable time.  At the very least, throw his stuff in a basket and let him fold it (or grab stuff out without ever folding any of it).  Once children are in the picture, you will rue the day that you took on his laundry. Baby/kid laundry are endless.  You’ll thank me once kids are in the picture if you take my advice NOW. As a bonus, if your spouse is used to doing laundry, he’ll pitch in with the kid laundry, too.

My advice is less applicable if you’re the stay-at-home spouse and female.  I don’t think stay-at-home husbands are as likely to do all the laundry, but let me know if I’m wrong.  However, I would advise SAH-wives to delegate laundry and other chores once the working spouse retires.  So many women I know continue doing it all just because they used to be the one with more time at home.

Do you do your spouse’s laundry?

Useless Financial Advice

The June 2012 issue of Smartmoney magazine featured two popular types of finance articles – a how-to piece about saving money on health care and an interview with a policy expert about rethinking retirement.  Both of these are big topics in the world of finance; after all rising health care costs and inadequate retirement savings are two things that affect each and every one of us at some point.

I admit that the health care article was thoroughly researched.  In addition to standard advice about negotiating with your doctor and finding cheaper meds via mail-order or getting generics, it has some tips for questioning tests ordered by your doctor, going to physical therapy and timing your dental work in one calendar year to save on your federal tax bill (provided your medical bills exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income).

The interview with psychologist Laura Carstensen, an expert on aging, focuses on making the most of retirement.  She offers several “solutions” for overburdened social security system, from increasing the retirement age to creating a “phased retirement” based upon a moderately paced career path with more flexible schedules (assuming this will cause less burn-out and allow us to enjoy work longer).

In my opinion, these types of advice articles, and there are many similar ones that periodically crop up in print and online, are practically worthless because they ignore real solutions that would actually help the majority of people. 

I understand that there are times you can negotiate with your doctors and hospitals.  However, when you’re really, really sick or your loved one is truly sick and facing astronomical costs, are you in a frame of mind to negotiate care and bills?  Most people are not and should not have to. When my European friends have to undergo major surgery or treatments, all they have to focus on is getting better or caring for their loved ones.  When you’re scared and facing new and complex medical terminology, the last thing you want to think about is how you’re going to pay for care.   These types of articles ignore the human side of things, as if it’s negotiating for medical care is the same as a cable bill!  You can throw all the great advice about getting a detailed bill and scanning for medical overcharges but who the hell wants to deal with that during a time of crisis? (And while I’m ranting, who the hell has the time to figure out if their anesthesiologist is also “in network” like their doctor or hospital?)

A friend had a child in intensive care, racking up hundreds of thousands in bills.  Although she had insurance, she still had to pay quite a lot out of pocket.  The worse part is that she did not bring home a completely healthy child.  As she received mysterious bill after bill, she also had to focus on caring for her sick child.  I’ve read similar stories of parents desperately fundraising for their child’s care.  I can’t believe that anyone should have to worry about finances at a time like that.  It’s fine that some people pay more for cable or airplane tickets because they’re bad at negotiating or comparison shopping.  However, this should not be a consideration when it comes to essentials like health care.

In the retirement article, one key point is that we must work longer to make our finances last longer.  The interview states that 88% of people 65 to 74 are healthy enough to work.  Great advice, in theory.  The reality is that the majority of older people who want to work longer simply can’t.  While some climb high enough up the ladder to enjoy respect or can jump into consulting, many more people face age discrimination and are the first to be laid off.  It’s great that 88% of older people could work; however, how many companies are eager to hire these people? The expert also states that longer careers would be possible if we all didn’t work so hard in the “middle” years.   While  I do know people who have opted out to go back to school, which is not really a break, or to travel, most people who ramp down or opt out of work do so to care for kids or parents.   The majority of these people don’t find great jobs after their “break”.  I’m not saying that we can keep the current retirement age or benefits as is, but the typical solutions given in money magazines are not very realistic either.

The lack of reality is what bothers me most about discussions addressing health care in the U.S. and retirement.  They seem to be made by the upper echelons who have little or much less to worry about in terms of finances, with little regard for how the majority of people will be affected.

I’m even more bothered that many regular middle-income people I know seem to feel the same way, especially if they haven’t been personally affected by serious health issues or reached retirement age.  I want to know if they will feel the same if/when they face a serious illness or if they have a sick child.  And when they reach age 70, I wonder if they will re-think how great or easy it will be to work longer….maybe they’ll get lucky and Walmart needs a greeter.

How To Be Unhappy

I can’t write much about being happy, as my normal state is definitely not upbeat or cheerful.  However, after reading the fantastic and funny “This is How” by Augusten Burroughs, I was inspired to write about the elusive state of happiness.

In one chapter, Burroughs writes that the pursuit of happiness can have the opposite effect. This “goal” can make you frustrated and unhappy because that’s not your natural temperament.  However, he doesn’t use that as an excuse to live in a perpetual state of depression and unhappiness. His point is that it’s ok to feel just OK.

Right now, I feel surrounded by unhappy people.  I’m not excluding myself from this unhappy lot entirely.  However, after reading “This is How” and a slew of self-help articles, I do feel like an expert not about happiness but how to be unhappy.

This is how you can be truly unhappy:

  1. Dwell on things, especially on past events.
  2. Spend too much time on Facebook.
  3. Compare yourself to others.
  4. Lie to yourself.
  5. Regrets.  As Augusten Burroughs said, you can only live in the present.
  6. Worry about what others think.  This also contributes to financial problems!
  7. Hold on to grudges and what others have done or not done for you.
  8. Trying too hard to change others.  Most people won’t listen and you just get frustrated.

Do I have answers on how you can stop doing all of the above things?  No way.  I think the main reason I feel OK right now is that I’m trying to live in the present and not dwell on “what ifs”.  I have good days and bad days in terms of happiness.  I’m also not trying to be happy; feeling content with what I have and where I am is more do-able for my personality.  That’s not to say I don’t experience great moments of happiness, especially around my kids.

Of course age has something to do with my current attempts at being OK with my self. At some point, you just got to accept yourself and your life.

What do you think are the keys to unhappiness?