I had a really random, and vivid dream last night. Hubby and I were out jogging, which is the main event that proves none of this actually happened. We jogged past Snoop Dogg, and saw some guy walking around with his pants hanging down below his butt, and his underwear hanging out.
Me: “I can’t believe that is still a style. You’d think it’s been going on long enough that someone could make underwear with a design you’re supposed to see, instead of just ratty underwear.”
Snoop Dogg: “That’s a good idea, I’ll do that. (In my dream he has his own clothing line, which I’m not sure really exists) You know what? I own Blockbuster, too. Why don’t you go over there and let me know if you have any ideas to fix it up?”
In the dream, Hubby and I jogged on over to a Blockbuster and immediately saw several problems. There were 6 or 7 employees just sitting around with nothing to do. The store was tiny, and yet had almost no stock at all. In an effort to save the company, the higher-ups had decided to branch out into selling sneakers and electronics, both of which were packed in styrofoam take-out containers for some reason. I told one of the employees “Look, this place is going out of business, regardless. You should focus on finding yourself a new job.” She started crying.
When I woke up, my brain was still whirring with the task set to me by Snoop Dogg. If I owned Blockbuster, what would I do to try and turn it around?
Option 1: Turn it into a movie hang-out: build in a coffee/snack shop, have a large screen at one end and show movies while people hang out. Have movies for sale at the other end of the store. This option would obviously cost a lot, since all remaining locations would have to be heavily remodeled. They could have evening events though, when they played student films, localling made, indie movies, and old classics. I would hang out there for sure.
Option 2: Turn into a used movie and video game store. This is risky, since the big companies are trying to make their video games non-resellable, and I’m sure movie studios will try to go the same route. Also, media is heading more and more into the exclusively digital sphere, so this still might be untenable. Where I live we also have Half Price Books that resells movies, music, and video games, so depending on the market, they could have stiff competition in place. However, they already have all the equipment in place in the stores they would need, so the costs to change would be almost exclusively marketing. I also wonder what happens to all the DVDs from Red Box once they’re done with them? This could be a cheap source for inventory.
Honestly though, Blockbuster is probably a remnant of the past. They waited too long to change, and at this point any action would probably just be delaying the inevitable. I honestly don’t know if they’re even still open, but I found it amusing how methodical I was being, even in dream-land.
Some of the hardest spending to avoid is spending with friends. There can be so much social pressure to buy a round of beers, get dessert, go skydiving in Russia, etc, and not necessarily in a negative way:
Friend: “Hey, Rodger and the Donkey Bears are in town, and we’re all going! Do you want to go?”
Trying to Save Money Person: “Yeah, sounds cool!”
Friend: “Awesome! It’s only $80 each, and we’re going out to dinner at $uper$wank beforehand, and then sharing a limo to the show, and I’m having commemorative T-shirts made, so it’s only like $3,000 each!”
It sounds like fun, and you honestly want to go, and everyone just wants to have a good time, which is why it’s so hard to rain on a friend’s parade and say something like “That is way too pricey!” or “Oh, I forgot, my Grandma will be dying that day”. For this particular event, I would recommend simply meeting your friends at the venue, thereby avoiding all costs aside from the concert ticket. And even then, look online for groupons, student, military, or senior discounts, or any other promotions that might be running.
Some places will give a discount if you bring a canned good or a specific soda can (obviously check online before showing up with baked beans in your pocket). Look on ticket sales website for people reselling tickets at a discount, and check Craig’s List. If you really love the band, that is. If you’re not that into them, just make plans for brunch the next day, or meeting for dinner only, or drinks afterward.
If these types of things happen to you frequently, consider taking control of the situation by planning an event or two of your own. Frisbee golf, doggy playdates at the dog park, movie marathon night with theme snacks, or craft night can all be free/cheap events. You’re friends with these people because you have something in common. Figure out what that is, and use it as a jumping-off point to plan some events. Odds are your buddies will be glad for a change of pace, rather than just going to the movies all the time, or constantly skydiving in Russia.
You can also just be straight forward with your friends *GASP* I know! Especially in this economy, reduced spending has become much more common. “But Clever Chick! I don’t want people to think I’m POOOORRRR!!” You whine, which is why I never answer my phone. That is abrasive, you should have grown out of it by now. Here’s the thing, being poor is not bad. That’s a whole ‘nother rant, but lots of people save their money. How do you think Bill Gates got started? He had money to INVEST. He didn’t spend it on flashy clothes and $10 haircuts! He saved it, so he could do something better with it later.
If you are still concerned with social stigma, say something like “I’m trying to save up to pay off my car” or put a downpayment on a house, or clone Velociraptors, whatever your goal is. This puts your activities into a positive light and makes you look responsible/evil scientist-y, depending on your goal.
You might be surprised by the reaction you get. Often, friends who I considered to be rather spendy said something like “That’s great! I saved up for our jetski by only shopping at Cheapy Cheaperoo’s grocery store. They have amazing sales every third Wednesday!” Look at that, you just opened up a whole new topic of conversation with your friend, became closer, AND found a new cheap place to buy groceries! (And I made myself sad because I imagined a fantastic secret grocery store filled with bargains, but it doesn’t exist. Just like my cloned pet Velociraptor).
With any situation regarding money, try to take a step back from the emotions involved, and think outside the buck for solutions. (Get it? Outside the buck?? I hope I haven’t killed you all with laughter!)
Our culture and everything around us are constantly pressuring us all to spend money and buy things constantly, whether we’re conscious of it or not. It can be something as obvious as a screaming, obnoxious radio ad, to something as subtle as the arrangement of the grocery store. Companies spend millions figuring out how to get you to spend millions, so this can be a huge challenge to overcome. This post is going to focus on “frivolous” spending, or spending you yourself have decided you don’t need to do anymore.
Now that you’ve done your budget, and figured out where your money is going that it shouldn’t be, you probably have a clearer picture of what you need to avoid. On most money-saving articles, they use the example of Starbuck’s, and damned if that isn’t a perfect example. Those place are everywhere! So I’m using that example, too. I tried to branch out, but faberge eggs just aren’t as prolific.
So let’s say you go to Starbuck’s every day, or several times a week, and that’s one of the line items you’ve decided to banish or reduce in your budget. If you have a habit like this, you may have trouble quitting cold-turkey. Certain actions become automatic in our natures, like me telling people how to live their lives (not that I’m stopping), so you need to figure out what triggers you to want your Starbuck’s. It could be as simple as seeing the location.
Changing up your routine can help you stop these automatic processes. For instance, you could take a different route to work, sleep a little later so you don’t have time to stop, and/or make your own fancy coffee at home (which would probably be healthier, if you’ve been buying those mocha-caramel-diabeetus milkshakes they call coffee). Maybe you just can’t bear Mondays, so cutting back to once a week to make Mondays bearable might be acceptable in your budget.
As you all know, I have a thrift store fixation. I love digging through racks and bins for hidden treasures and horrors. Thrift stores are very helpful at cutting expenses, but just because something is cheap doesn’t mean you need it, and a bunch of cheap crap still adds up to too much spending. I had to learn to be MUCH pickier in my picking, especially with clothes. It also helps that my favorite thrift store moved 45 minutes away from me. Limited access means limited spending also.
Do you do too much online shopping? That, to me, is insidious, because it’s so easy to fill an imaginary shopping cart with infinite capacity. I’ve been known to utter “Just $5 more for free shipping!” just like anyone else. Depending on your issues there are a few different strategies you can employ: have a friend put parental controls on the websites you frequent most to lock you out of them, and don’t let them tell you the password; limit yourself to a certain number of items per month, a certain dollar figure, or one shopping day per month. If you aren’t staring at all those adorable things all month long, you’ll have much less pressure on you to buy.
Again, you know your habits, and can hopefully figure out what circumstances exist that are spurring you to spend, and what you can substitute instead. Like when I feel like snacking but I’m not hungry, I chew gum instead. Try reading blogs about puppies instead of shopping. (You should also probably try to reduce the number of ads you see online, because they are targeted toward you and your habits. Here’s an article by someone much smarter than me in this subject).
Simply avoiding the places you spend too much money can reduce your overall spending significantly. Find ways to substitute cheaper or free activities (like reading my old blog posts!), or distract yourself from your impulses. The main trick is being self-aware and honest. We all have those little voices in the back of our heads saying “Just order pizza for dinner”, or “You deserve some new shoes/tech gadget!”. The more you get out of the habit of spending, the quieter those voices get, so there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Some of the hardest spending to avoid is with friends, but this post got too long, so that’s a separate post. Until next time, stay thrifty my friends! (<—-See what I did there?! I hope no one breaks a rib laughing at my wit!)
I have written several posts, and read dozens more, about how to save money. So many articles seem unsatisfactory to me, so I’m writing my own little primer here, starting with budgets.
The first step, as almost anyone will concur, is to know where your money is going. Until you know what your costs are, you can’t tell what to target. There are a few ways to do this: take your debit or credit card statements and add up your different expenses, or, if you live on cash, keep your receipts for a month or so and add everything up.
The categories you use in your budget need to make sense to you. Maybe you need one called “Road snacks” for when you stop at Starbucks, gas stations, or Jack in the Box while driving. Some people have a broad category called “Automotive” which includes car payments, gas, insurance, and maintenance. I, even as analytical as I am, only have our budget broken down into about 10 categories. One is called “Legit Other” which includes anything from car repairs to doctor visits, and another is “Extra Other” which means “crap I shouldn’t have spent money on”.
Let’s say you’ve made a budget before, but you couldn’t stick with it. Try to figure out what you didn’t like about it. Was it hard to read? Was it too detailed, too time intensive? Maybe you need to physically write it out on paper, maybe you need an app to help you. This process can be fluid until you find out what works best for you.
You can also build your budget from the ground up: list your costs like rent, car payment, utilities (I usually use a number a little higher than our average), gasoline or transportation, credit card payments (if applicable), and food. Hubby and I also each have an “allowance” of spending money to keep us sane. I can go buy crafty things without impacting the house budget, and he can buy action figures or pirate swords. Figure out your total basic costs, subtract this from how much you earn, and the left overs (assuming there is any) can be used for goals or fun.
Prioritizing your spending is a whole other blog post, but keep in mind that you’re tracking your spending because you have a goal you want to meet. It can be paying off debt, saving up for a car, a home downpayment, a van to tour with your band, or just to have an emergency fund so you don’t charge up your credit cards.
You need to come up with an amount that’s feasible for you to put toward your goals. Beware of over-enthusiatically budgeting for 100% of your excess income to go toward your goals. Living like a monk gets tiresome fairly quickly, and you can’t actually live on Ramen noodles. At the same time, don’t run the opposite direction: “All this leftover money is for fun! I’m off to Spain!!” (I mean, unless that was your goal, but still).
If you need a “rule” dedicate at least 75% of your after-necessities money to goals, and 25% to fun, like eating out and movies. If that is sustainable after a couple months, try increasing the amount going toward goals. If it’s making you insane, and driving you to throw the whole system out the window, ease up a little until you can handle it. We’re trying to build a system you can live with easily, without thinking, so you can meet your goals.
If you can’t bear to face your expenses, you can also look at your statements or receipts and just tally the number of times you went to a specific place last month. Did you go get a fancy coffee 20 times? What you may be considering a “rare treat” may actually be much more common that you are aware. Keep in mind, knowing how much you were spending gives you a fantastic starting off point to work from. Knowing you immediately cut your expenses by 10% or more is very motivating. Don’t be too scared or ashamed of the numbers.
That’s all for today, kids. To sum up, figure out where your money is going so you can have more control over its destination in the future.
My dear friend Kornberg is going through an insane level of purging her house: she’s getting rid of almost all of her books. While I think this is nuts, I profiteered from it guiltlessly. She gave me at least 30 to 40 books I’ve never read before, and I can’t wait to dig into them! The first one I read was “Alas, Babylon”, by Pat Frank.
This novel, from 1959, is about a small group of people in Florida who survive World War III. The Russians nuke the US almost into oblivion. We then follow this group through the immediate panic, and later privations and difficulties of survival.
The characters are very well-written, and do their absolute best in a tough situation. I’m often frustrated with books like these because the plot seems to be driven forward by the main character doing something stupid: “I should really call someone and tell them I’m going to investigate this abandoned mine shaft….no, they’d just tell me it’s a bad idea. Down I go!” This book had none of those problems.
This book very realistically portrays what would happen if the infrastructure of the US was destroyed, and it all holds true today. It made me want to start hoarding canned goods and medical supplies. I highly recommend it, and this is one I’m definitely keeping.
If you loved the 80′s, you will love this video. It is epic:
Mangos can be a tricky fruit. Generally, when you buy them they are rock-hard, days away from ripe. You leave them on the counter, waiting for a juicy, delicious state to be achieved. You check them constantly, only to be rebuffed by tooth-cracking firmness. Suddenly, *poof* they’re far too soft to eat. Thwarted again!!!!
Or are you??
I’ve got your back, so those tricky mangos can no longer avoid being eaten. There are a couple things we can do with these sneaky fruits. Mangos can also be fickle with flavor, so usually anytime I cut one open, I try a tiny piece to see how it is. If they are too tart, or bland, the same rules apply as to over-ripe. The freezer is going to be our best buddy here, again.
So you have your (for a variety of reasons) “inedible” mango. This is generally only inedible raw; you can still use them in smoothies, pies, or fruit bars. Keep in mind, if it is straight-up rotten, chunk that thing. The freezer cannot un-rot fruit. It’s not a time machine. Don’t climb inside to try and go back to kill Hitler. You’ll just end up with a runny nose and broken dreams.
Peel your mango, cut into chunks, store in freezer. There! You’re done!
Non-meat-eaters beware! Carnivorous recipe incoming!!
Sometimes, you just end up with an overstock of an ingredient. Whether you yourself accidentally bought extra, went a little crazy at a sale, or had a roommate leave ten pounds of chicken when they moved out, you need to do something with it, right? I mean, you can’t just throw it out!
I had boiled and shredded a ton of chicken, like I tend to do, and I tried an experiment. A bunch of it went into the freezer for soup later, but some went into the freezer packed in bar b que sauce (of course I labeled it to avoid a soup disaster). I stirred bbq sauce into the chicken (use your favorite brand), put it in a tupperware, then added a bit more sauce on top, and put it in the freezer. A couple weeks later, I moved the bbq chicken to the fridge to thaw for a couple days.
To reheat, spray a glass baking dish with baking spray, then spread your chicken out in it. I used a 9×9 pan, but it depends how much chicken you’re making. I sliced up an onion into large strips and mized it in with the chicken. I added a bit more bbq sauce, and a little water so everything would be nice and moist.
It tasted great! We ate it on sandwiches, and solo, and I loved it both ways. This is a great way to eat breast meat, which can be dry in my opinion, and a less-bad-for-you substitute for shredded pork.
I love to try new things, and by “things” I mean food. I had one adventure with Asian fruits, which went well, for the most part. I have been trying to find dragon fruit since then, and have just now succeeded. This thing was surprisingly large, the equivalent of a medium baking potato.
What amazing pictures, you say! Why thank you! I took them in daylight, instead of the usual nocturnal-cave-view I usually use.
The fruit is lightly sweet, and the seeds crunch like kiwi. The flavor was similar to a very mild kiwi flavor, actually. It was kind of expensive though, $6 for one fruit, so I won’t be adding it to our normal grocery list. It is definitely worth trying, though.
It’s important not to let food sit in your freezer too long: it can get that weird “freezer air” flavor after a while. Or, if you’re like my mother, it can thaw and re-freeze repeatedly during several power outages (she lives in a hurricane-prone area), get buried in the back of the deep freeze, and horrify your children when they visit.
You can also avoid going to the grocery store by eating what’s in your freezer. It’s a win-win! Cleaning out the freezer doesn’t necessarily mean you have to make soup (although you definitely can). This time I’m making smoothies. Am I making a paltry one-at-a-time? Of course not! This is smoothie mass production!
As you probably know, I hate getting anything dirty more than once, so I decided to make a ton of smoothies in my food processor all at once. My ingredients were bananas, strawberries, a little chocolate almond milk, a little chocolate syrup to enhance the chocolatiness, and (this may sound weird, but I promise it’s good) avocado. The avocado makes it super smooth and creamy, and you will probably not even taste it.
I am terrible about eating bananas before they get brownish. The solution? Peel them, and chuck them in the freezer. You can use them for baking or smoothies later. My issue is that I had, literally, a plethora of bananas in my freezer. I said I was terrible about eating them! That, plus my hoard of strawberries, was hogging too much space in my freezer. So I threw all that stuff into the food processor (in batches so it wouldn’t ooze everywhere), then ladled it into freezer bags.
I ended up with 4 bags, plus 2 smoothies for me and Hubby to drink (eat?)immediately. You can also store them in tupperware, which would be more eco-friendly (which I also didn’t really think about until later), but that would take a bit longer to thaw out.
Avocados are full of all those good fats that help your brain function, and are used in sweet dishes in lots of Asian countries. Just try it, at least once.
This is a great recipe for this time of year, when avocados are super cheap, and it can be waaaay too hot outside to eat real food.
Sometimes you just get fed up to your eyeballs with work and need something to help you power through. Here are some of my favorite songs for that situation:
The Flaming Lips – Bad Days
Weezer – The Good Life
Franz Ferdinand – Jacqueline
Not related, but awesome music video: Daft Punk – Around the World
Apparently my knowledge of music completely ended in the 90′s. That’s what happens when you listen to nothing but NPR. You guys have any updated selections for me? Please?