Bargains? What Bargains?! Deconstructing the Shopping Day…

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Last Friday, otherwise known as Black Friday, was a bit ho-hum for me.  The news just announced that 3.8% more people hit the stores, but that sales were down by 1.8%.  I’m not surprised.  I thought the stuff on offer mostly sucked.  Before I left to see what was to be had, I searched the sales papers like everyone else.  I marked a few things down and then headed out not at the ungodly crack of dawn, but at a more reasonable mid-morning start.

This is the first Black Friday where I went looking for mostly deals on things for the home as well as a hopefully good Christmas present or two.  But truthfully, I haven’t shopped Black Friday purely for Christmas presents in a long, long time.  Why?  There just doesn’t seem to be much value in it for a budget glam girl.  I guess to me, it seems as though you either need to roll in cash to take advantage of the electronics on sale, or aim for a much more modest list of possible deals for the home and *maybe* you’ll find something nice for someone in the process.  I went in search of sheet sets at a good price, and I didn’t really find any that fit my bill.  Maybe I’m too picky.  I did come away with a wonderful red quilt at a steep discount, given that one of my quilts is in tatters at this point.  A couple of clothing items, dog doodads and beauty supplies later, and I was done.  Just like that.  There are a few reasons for my shopping malaise.

First, I make a list pretty early about what I am buying for other people.  I may not put “Betsydoodle Art Kit” down for little Susie, but I will put “art supplies” or some category like that and then I look for deals.  I try to figure out what I can make (like fudge!) to help pad the Christmas giving each year.  So, when I go to the mall or other stores, I’m looking for some very specific categories.  I will browse the rest of the store, but I get overwhelmed pretty easily.  Having a list for family members helps keep me from just grabbing a sweater here, a piece of jewelry there and calling it done.  I try to put some thought into my giving and I find it helps my budget.  This year, very few things in any of my categories were on sale.

Also again, just like decluttering helped with my closet, decluttering the home helped me know what I really needed.  Do I want one more fluffy and comforting throw?  YES.  Do I  need them?  No.  But I do need a quilt and after 7 years, I can give myself permission to buy one!  So my home categories were pretty slim.  I needed a coffee maker, a quilt and a sheet set as well as a good, safe space heater for downstairs.  I *wanted* a fire pit for the yard.  My sister asked to get me the coffee pot (getting stuff for me has been trickier since I decluttered and do a lot more with fewer things), I did find my quilt, but the sheet sets were disappointing.  I got the heater and it’s wonderful, and the fire pit was 50% off, so I’m picking that up today.  Getting things for other people is trickier.  If most other people’s homes are any indication, they don’t really need one more set of dishes or towels or fluffy throws.  They especially don’t need (in most situations, at least) any stupid coffee machines or other devices that lock them into buying *other* products just to use them.  So finding stuff for others in the home area was difficult.

I don’t think there were as many things on sale this time around as in years past.  This is all anecdotal, of course, but many of my friends were commenting that they, too, were unmoved by the sales papers.  Couple this with the fact that I find many things made today to be either unflattering, cheaply made or otherwise a piece of junk, and you have a recipe for Black Friday let down.  I find many of the clothes to be too bizarre, made out of poor fabrics and poorly sewn, though the prices have climbed higher and higher.  The trends are a bit bizarre for my tastes and the color schemes I find a bit garish.  Maybe I just need to get my eyes checked…

It could be too, though, that some stores are just saving it for later.  The aforementioned art kits I noticed are suddenly on sale this week at a screaming deal (some as low as $5).  So, maybe there is more to come!  Maybe I just have no idea how to find a bargain.

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Resoling Boots & Budget Glam Fashion!

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Doesn’t it seem like everything happens to the budget at once?  If it’s not a car insurance payment and a car repair bill, it’s death by a thousand nickle-ings and dime-ings.  I am in such a budgeting conundrum when it comes to clothes.  Slowly but surely, though, I plan to solve these issues without going into the hole and not sacrificing quality (I hope!).

First, I have tried to develop a good sense of what I actually wear by decluttering the closet regularly.  Every single season I look at what I’m putting in the closet or what I’m trying to store away.  If I haven’t worn it and likely won’t, it goes.  Decluttering has the odd outcome of creating a list of things you actually need to buy.  But it’s what you actually need, not just what looks good to you at the time.  This is how I know that I need, among a few other things, a trench coat, boots, some new jeans and a pair of red cargo pants, lol.  I don’t need new suits no matter how pretty they are.  There isn’t anything wrong with the suits I have.  But until I went through my closet thoroughly, I had no idea what I actually owned or how nice some of it really was.

After getting a real list of things I need, the next thing to do is figure out how much I can afford.  The real answer is, not much.  But I’ve also learned that if you’re not careful, paying $20 when you should’ve probably paid $100 only guarantees you’ll end up buying something that comes apart in the wash.  It’s not a bargain if it falls apart, is sewn improperly, etc.  Unless you simply cannot afford anything else, I’ve learned that it’s best to wait, save that money up for the one good thing, and then get it.  OR, you can shop consignment!  I had turned away from consignment for many years, the result of my mother having dragged us through so many “nearly new” stores it would make your head spin.  The items were usually very out of date or very worn.  I’ve realized later that this was probably because of what a depressed area we were in.  Here, though, I’ve managed to find a lovely leather swing skirt jacket with a real fur collar for about $15.  There is also a store that offers designer or upscale brand items for a great price.  Jeans normally priced $100 – 150 are in the store for about $20.  Still, it pays to carefully try things on and really study it.  Sometimes people give what looks like a good item away because it fits funny.  Been there, wasted money on that!

But by far the smartest thing I’ve done for the budget and my wardrobe this fall has been resoling two pairs of boots.  In our throwaway society, I don’t think many people in my generation or certainly younger think to resole boots.  But really, that’s usually where the most damage is done.  I paid about $150 apiece for each pair of boots.  To me, that’s a lot of money.  Even with Black Friday “savings” on many shoes coming up, I stalked the stores for weeks and couldn’t find things that were comparable to what I already had.  I really liked those boots!  While whining about not being able to find comparable things, a friend suggested I get them resoled.  But good luck, she said, in finding someone to do it.  It is a dying trade, apparently, as people just chuck their shoes in favor of getting something new.  And while I did find a few people had gone out of business, I found a shop right on main street that dealt in leather goods and were capable of resoling shoes.  Resoling them cost about $30 – 40 per pair of boots.  So between the two pairs, I paid less than I probably would’ve had to for one new pair, and I’ve breathed new life into them!  They came back to me all shined up and I swear they looked like new.  The soles are actually better, I think, than the original ones.  I bought those boots at least three years ago, I’m thinking more like four or five years ago.  These new soles have bought me at least another 2 years, I’m thinking!

What a great deal and a great way to support local artisans!

Marking the Cost of Going Gray

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All 50 shades of it…. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

As I get older, the question of hair color becomes more relevant than I ever thought it would.  I used to play with hair coloring all the time as a teen and in my early twenties.  Blonde, purple, red, you name it, it was a form of accessory.  It was something I did because I wanted to, not because I felt I had to.  I expected gray hair to present itself when it did for my grandmother and mother.  My grandmother was white headed by 35 years old, nearly completely.  My mother headed for salt and pepper by then and started coloring her hair in earnest a few years later.  As she likes to say, “We don’t go gray; we go blonde.”  LOL.  Except I sort of hate that color on me.  So, I’m a little surprised that at 35 years old I’m not in the same situation.  I don’t know why, except that maybe genetics doesn’t have anything to do with it.  Who knows?

When it came to the question of having to, I was mostly against the idea.  I felt like there were not enough role models for young women about how to age with grace and power.  We’re taught to fight aging as though it were public enemy #1 (and possible in the first place).  From all the ads fighting wrinkles and “signs of aging” and everything else, I really hated the notion of treating a normal part of life as though it were a combat zone.

Of course that was before I was really starting to drift into that combat zone.

Now my hair stylist says I’m about 20% gray.  And I have a decision to make.

I’ve realized that the “vanity” option is really more than just that.  It’s not that I want to look “old.”  I just don’t want to look like I’m so much older than I feel (or am).  I don’t want to be treated differently because people perceive I’m older than I am (for example for job hiring purposes).  This is ironic, because for years people thought I was much younger than I really was.  Even still people make comments, which I’ve learned to accept graciously and just fork over my i.d. so they’ll shut up and move on.  Maybe in the dim lights they can’t see the gray.

I think that for two reasons I’m not going to start coloring my hair and just see what sort of silverback gorilla I become.

First, getting your hair colored is expensive.  My hair falls to the bottom of my shoulder blades and I have a lot of it.  To hide those gray roots, you’re looking at upkeep of every 6 – 8 weeks.  Sure, you could do it out of a kit yourself at home.  But I’ve never been a fan of many of those looks on older women.  It looks so obviously fake in many cases (and I find this to be just as true of many professional coloring jobs).  If I didn’t like it, that’s a heck of a lot of hair to grow out for a while and probably a very weird color scheme to deal with in the meantime as it grows out.  It’s not very budget friendly.

Second, there is more of a “cost,” in my opinion, associated with buying into the notion that we must all be fearful of gray hair and run from it at first sight.  It costs more in personal worry and fear than if you just accept this is a normal part of life and figure out how to rock your gray hair.  And, if I may be a bit preachy, it costs society when we as women promote that fear of looking our real age.  Now this is not to come down at ALL on women who choose to color their hair.  I’m a big fan of personal choice, and I would want no one to tell me what color my hair should or shouldn’t be any more than as a grown woman I want someone to tell me what I can and cannot wear.  I do wish, though, more women would talk about coloring their hair with a sense of pride as a fashion statement.  My mother, for example, and a close friend of mine discuss coloring their roots as though it’s a desperate secret they must maintain.  Newsflash, we all know that your hair isn’t naturally that color.

Maybe if younger women saw more models of women with beautiful hair in various shades of gray, they would get over the thought that they had to “fight” aging and turn around and fight something else that was far more important.  Like stagnant wages, or hunger and homelessness or something.

 

Small Victories: Mortgage Shenanigans

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Today I paid my mortgage payment with the start of my new mortgage payment book.  Yes, I know I can do it online.  I get a certain charge out of ripping the payment out of a book and mailing it in.  Anyway, I noticed that my payment was now about $20 cheaper per month than last year.  I think this is the result of two things, and I think it’s a small money victory!

First, my escrow was set too high.  I got a small check back for that last month.  Second, I always pay a tad bit extra on the mortgage payment.  Now, it’s only a tiny bit at this point because I cannot afford to do more, what with my other bills and savings goals.  But it’s something.  And between the two things, I suddenly find myself with an extra $20 in the mortgage to put towards it.  Whoo hoo!

I passed on a program to have my mortgage put into bimonthly payments, even though that meant it shaved about 5 years off the mortgage.  I discovered that I could essentially do the same thing by paying an extra mortgage payment each year and avoid the “one time” fee they charge to get it set up and the “small” monthly fee to debit it out of my account automatically.  When other debt is gone, I can easily ramp up this payment and meet my goal eventually of paying off the mortgage for my 50th birthday.

In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy my small victory where money just “happened” and continue to try to apply that measly $20 toward the mortgage instead of trusting myself to move it into some other account for debt.  For one thing, I’m used to the payment.  It’s a good payment, much cheaper than my first one (even more with an extra $20 thrown on top of it lol).  For another, I’m not sure I’d remember to add an extra $20 every four weeks or so.  I’m kind of money-daft.  Better for me to let the money compound on the payment, even if it’s a little bit at a time.

But hey, even if that $20 is like throwing a little snowball in the face of debt, it’s one extra snowball I have to lob!  I’ll drink my cup of tea to that!

Budget Glam’s Home for International Kiddos

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I thought it might be helpful for me to outline how I got involved in international student homestay as well as pointing out the pros and the cons of the whole thing, in case there is an opportunity for you to do the same!

I live in a university town and work at a good sized public university.  The school also offers international English programs that are not exactly undergraduate degrees, but more like the sort of thing where a person comes over for six weeks, three months, a semester, a year in order to better their English communication and culture skills.  It’s not a degree.  Sort of like how we might go abroad to better learn a foreign language in a school situation but not necessarily get college credit for it.  The university tries to place these students in local homes (the regular foreign exchange students stay in the dorms) to try to speed up and improve their English culture and language learning.  The student pays a lump sum for the whole she-bang to the university; the university cuts me a check for my part.

And what is my part?  Room and limited board.  Many programs function similarly to mine; any student who stays with me needs to have his or her own bedroom.  They need some sort of work space within that bedroom (like a desk or table).  I have to provide either breakfast and dinner or food they can have access to.  (Lunch is on their own.)  So, if I make dinner, we all eat.  If not, I make sure that there are plenty of things a student can fix for himself.  I’m not required to provide a computer.  I do provide them my cell phone for local calls, though most of them tend to get a trac-phone, which is an excellent idea.  I have to either be on a bus route, within walking distance, or otherwise ensure that the student has access to transportation.  There are some people who live out in the country who drive their students in daily.  I wouldn’t want to be so transportation dependent, so I’m lucky that my students can both walk and take the bus, if necessary.  They have to be provided with a spare key.

What makes things go smoothly:  being patient, first and foremost.  I have a Japanese student right now who would never, ever tell me if something was going wrong.  So, I have to patiently figure that out.  You can usually (but not always) tell a few things from a student’s profile submitted by the university whether the two of you would be a good fit or a poor fit.  But these things aren’t foolproof, obviously.  Having good people skills is pretty important, too.  After all, most of these students are usually younger — 19 years old, sometimes.  They don’t always do things exactly the way you’d want them to.  They’re not always as clean as you might hope they would be.  So, when your standards aren’t met, you either have to pick your battles or be able to communicate your needs to them.

I would also add that in my opinion, it helps if the house is set up so that the student (and you) do not feel as though you’re in each others’ faces all the time.  My basement is completely finished, which makes this lovely little 725 square foot house really 1450 square feet.  There is a full bedroom and bath down here, as well as a communal work/entertainment space that I’ve worked to make functional, fun and creative.  The basement door lets out onto the back yard.  Eventually, I’ll have a simple but nice deck there as well.  My students stay down in that bedroom; they virtually have that bathroom also to themselves (though that is not a requirement).  So, we don’t bump into each other over the bathroom and we can be in completely different parts of the house (even though it is a small house, really) and not feel like we’re stepping on each other’s toes.  Them living here doesn’t keep me from working or playing.

What makes things go poorly.  When the student isn’t ready to travel abroad, it can be a miserable experience for them.  That’s not really something you have control of until they’re already in your home, of course.  The homestay program I am working with would still pay me the full amount if the student left early (because that would obviously prevent me from taking another student).  In many ways, your agreement should operate like a rental contract; having no protection can be a huge mistake.  After all, this person doesn’t even have a home address in your home country!  How will you fix something they break or collect for damages they may cause?  Poor communication can also wreck this experience, whether that is with your student or with the person running the program.  Test cases to follow!

How long does this last?  Programs vary.  Usually when the university is in regular session, most homestays last for one semester.  I have yet to see one offered for the whole 9 month school year.  During the summer, however, there are all kinds of other opportunities.  This is usually when business folks travel and you may get a student who is much older.  Those programs can be anywhere from 3 months to 4 weeks.  Choosing to do a 4 week program will get you a bit of money and let you dip your toe in the experience to see if it’s really for you.  My first homestay student only lasted 4 weeks, essentially for the month of July.  My current student is here for the whole semester.  Both of these experiences have been like night and day.  Well, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic, but the experiences were very different.

Jiani from Brazil:  She was my first homestay experience and she stayed for four weeks.  I think that was about 4 1/2 weeks longer than she wanted to stay.  Even though she was 21, there were many ways in which she seemed very immature.  She came as part of a university group and her English was labeled as “beginner.”  She knew exactly two words:  hello and thank you.  When she left, that’s still all she knew.  She was very homesick from the start and really didn’t embrace the idea of trying to speak English as often as possible.  I tried to engage her in conversation and she would just laugh and shrug.  After about a week and a half, she rarely talked to me.  I’d fix dinner and she’d wave it off.  So eventually, I stopped wasting the food, given that my son was visiting his father that summer and there really was just me in the house.  We also had a communication issue that went beyond English.  She frequently took group trips and upon return simply went somewhere else.  So, I’ve driven downtown to pick her up and I’m waiting…and waiting…and waiting…only to make a few frantic phone calls and find out that she lied to her supervisor and went off with her friends.  Boy, that made me mad.  My friends and I tried to take her places, such as the fireworks for the 4th of July, to neighboring states, etc.  There is nothing in the homestay contract that requires me to do that.  We were just trying to give her a good experience and we were already going anyway.  She didn’t seem to enjoy herself.  Oh well.  Travel is what you make of it.  Still, it was a mildly frustrating experience.

Yuya from Japan:  Yuya was a very different experience right from the outset.  He was only 19 years old, but he emailed me early on to get a sense of what we liked and what he would need to do when he first arrived.  He was definitely ready to be here, but then maybe students who pick the long stay treat it more seriously.  His English is also very advanced, compared to the previous student.  He is also not very clean.  But then, he’s a teenage boy.  So, periodically I just throw his damn bedsheets in the washer and be done with it, lol.  He is not picky at all and is very polite — which has its downfalls when it comes to things he probably should complain about (such as when he might need something or feel sick).  I found out he’s a big fan of American wrestling, so WWE Smackdown is on the TV at certain times.  I try to help him have opportunities for American cultural experiences.  I try to have dinner conversation with him at least, but he treats being a student as he does going to a job, so he’s gone a lot and sometimes comes home and falls asleep after supper (which is fine).  He is very independent and self-directed, which is GREAT.

Parting notes:  Cultural differences can be important and easy to overlook.  For example, Jiani came from a place where you put the toilet paper in the garbage instead of flushing it down the toilet.  That’s not something I even considered telling her.  Yuya continues to put laundry detergent in the fabric softener slot in the washing machine and wonders why it works differently, though we’ve had this conversation numerous times.  LOL.  Wal-Mart seems to be a universal hit in the first few days of visiting America.  They want to see it for themselves and can spend hours there.  Let them do it.  It can be instructive and then you can walk the aisles together and talk about the different categories of words for stuff like food and clothing and car parts and insane people.

Search your local university’s website for English programs.  My bet is, they have a homestay program that could use a few more families!

I’m Not Paid Enough to Deal With This…

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One of my pet peeves in life right now is my coworker.  Read plenty enough about it here.  The latest thing he is doing to bug the everloving literature out of me is the phrase, “I’m not paid enough to do that.”

This irritating burr of a statement seems to follow anything that resembles a request for work.  I will begrudgingly acknowledge that in academia most people are woefully not paid enough to do…that.  I will further acknowledge that we are not paid to industry standard because we work in a poor state.  I only admit it “begrudgingly” because I have always felt that he borrows on other people’s real problems to make his seem comparable.  Compared to the adjuncts, for example, we’re living like kings.  We have a retirement plan and health insurance and a decent wage.  We don’t work in the summer (which is a blessing and a curse).

BUT.  Giant red, baboon-sized monkey-BUTs…

I’ve always felt that there are some things you should buck up on and refuse to do and some things you should just put on your big girl panties and get done.  For example, I bucked up on working for free during the summer to develop this course.  It was a brand new, never been seen before offering that she wanted to pilot as soon as possible.  There is no existing model for it.  It’s not like I’m just adapting a previous syllabus and taking course goals and assignments that were previously all thought out.  This was 100% from scratch.  That’s a lot of work.  And doing that for free is definitely not fair.  But when my co-whiner says, for example, “I’m not paid enough to figure out the fair use requirements so we can take a few selections from this book.”  Or, “I’m not paid enough to figure out how to make that marketing flier any fancier.”  Well, I disagree.

I think most jobs require that you have a little ambition about you and that you figure out how to acquire skills for yourself that you might not have.  Whether I’m making up a new course or not, I have a fair amount of control over my reading selections for my courses.  Shouldn’t fair use be something I know about anyway?  Wouldn’t it behoove me to figure out how to better use technology to gussy up my marketing materials?

I think what irritates me most is the unanswered question that hangs in the air after he bleats out his statement.  OK, if it’s not your job, then whose job is it?!  Who does get paid enough to …what?…spoon feed you the information about fair use rules?  I’m certainly not paid enough to deal with his heel-dragging on virtually everything we’re trying to accomplish, nor am I paid enough to listen to the whining about his working conditions (which are the same as mine) or his pay (which is the same as mine).

I don’t know.  Maybe I’m too much of a work horse and willing to do too much for free.  I’ve always seen many smaller tasks like learning new tech, for example, as personal and professional development and enrichment.  I don’t have to be paid to do them because I see greater value in taking on that task and learning a new skill.  What do you think?  Where is the line between what you’re paid to do and what you “volunteer” to do on your own?

Glimmer of Summer Funding/Perchance, to Dream

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So, Her Deanliness has dropped in conversation the possibility that there might be more summer funding for further expansion of this new course I’m set to pilot in the Spring.  Wah-hoo!

I, of course, have latched onto this news like a man lost in the desert chasing an oasis mirage.  Money…MONEY!!  If this is true, it means I can develop that course over the summer and have an international student — and almost cover my full costs for summer on paychecks alone.  This will enable me to put saved money earmarked for summer toward something else, speeding me along my goals for debt destruction even sooner.

Of course, I proceed as though that will never happen so that I am not both massively disappointed and caught unawares with my financial panties down.

But how much mileage do we enjoy from a little glimpse of a good prospect?  Mmmm  🙂