Sunday, January 15, 2017

Due to Budget Constraints, No Sardines Will Be Purchased Until Tuesday

I have a budget, which is big talk from someone without any money. But now that I have a budget, I'm counting on the money to follow. 
Graphic: Copyright, Teece Aronin
My budget is calculated by taking each bi-weekly paycheck and setting aside at least half of what I need for each fixed monthly expense. Then I pull out what I need for groceries and personal care expenses for the kids and me and put it in envelopes. This keeps me on the straight and narrow and curbs the temptation to buy three shoes instead of two - you know, like people do. 

Sticking with a budget also means sticking to your guns. When the kids beg, "Please Mom, can't we have cake and chips for this weekend?" I calmly explain that they must then decide what they are willing to give up: toilet paper or heat. Notice the flexibility I employ in my willingness to dip into the fixed monthly expenses allotment in order to buy the cake and chips as long as they are prepared to sacrifice a bit on their end. I think this helps them to better appreciate the value of a dollar and to respect their mother's financial agility. 

If nothing else, they know that a woman with budget smarts and determination is in charge and that gives them a sense of safety when it comes to money. 

 My own personal finance hero is a woman I know who double checks the cost of what's in her cart before getting into the check-out line. If she's over budget, she swaps out or puts back items until she's at her limit again. She doesn't feel depressed or deprived over it because she knows the greater good is being achieved by being in control of her money. 

Being careful with my expenditures allows me to funnel more money into my vacation and entertainment accounts, and the kids appreciate that too. No more staying in independently owned hotel franchises with no elevators, no coffee and no door locks. This summer we'll be checking into a Holiday Inn, baby, and won't it be fine? 

Ah yes, the best is yet to come. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Michigan's Really Cold

I don't know where you are right now, but I'm in Michigan. And I don't know when you're reading this, but I'm writing this in January on yet another day when the temperature failed to reach 20 degrees. 

It's been this way for days. One day last week was so bitterly cold that as I was crossing a parking lot on foot I couldn't stop sputtering the F-word over and over into my winter scarf followed by the word me.   

It was the kind of day where even snowmen throw their branch arms into the sky and scream, but we can't hear them under our ear-muffs. 

The parking lot was large and there was no one around and it hit me that if I fell, I could be one dead little mitten before anyone found me - a sorry metaphor for the state in which I lived and now had died.  

As to me swearing my way across that parking lot, I'm not proud of that; I like to think I can "use my words" better than that. However, on that particular day there didn't seem to be any way around it. Spewing "F me" all the way across that empty lot felt like the only way to propel myself fast enough to out-shuffle Death should he happen to be after me, which it seemed he was. But here's the good thing: it was so cold that if Death was stupid enough to get out on a day like that, he would be shuffling too, so I felt relatively safe provided I didn't fall. 

This morning I woke up and checked my Facebook feed. In it was a post from my friend Pat, who lives in Australia. It read: "Today it reached a high of 95. We have a beautiful breeze that comes in through our front windows. No need for the air conditioner."

I replied, "And I thought you were my friend," then wished for a plague of kangaroos to stomp all over her Bloomin' Onions or whatever it is that grows in Australian gardens in the summertime. 

I grew up in Michigan; I knew what I was in for when I moved back here from Maryland a few years ago. Still, shortly before my return I had a nightmare about Michigan in the winter, one where I was trapped outside surrounded by nothing but frozen tundra - assuming there's any other kind - and asking myself over and over, 'Why am I here?' It was a rhetorical question obviously but it does have three good answers: Michigan in the spring, Michigan in the summer and Michigan in the fall. To get to them, you've got to get through Michigan in the winter. 

So, despite all my cursing I am at peace knowing that spring will arrive in roughly 70 days, four hours and 27 minutes. And that it will take at least half that amount of time to thaw me out again. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Estrogen in the Water

Let me provide some background first.
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I was born in Pontiac ("the yak"), Michigan, a fact for which I hold a sort of scrappy pride. Pontiac suffered a fate similar to Flint, Michigan's when the car industry backed their cars out, left town, and the neighborhoods declined. 

The last time I drove down my old street, there were boarded-up houses and empty lots where homes had been demolished. The street looked like the grin of a gap-toothed skeleton. I sobbed all the way home. 

But people still live on that street, some of them my old neighbors, and where there's life there's hope. I still love Pontiac. I would never have had some of my best memories and many of my best friends without it. 

The other day I was loading groceries into my car when a woman who was parked nose-to-nose with me yelled, "Hey! Excuse me!" I walked toward her. She was a black woman, middle-aged, with glasses and a not quite trusting smile.

"What's that mean on your windshield?"

I looked and saw that she was talking about the decal at the top which read: IMPORTED FROM DETROIT. It was there when I bought the car, used, a year or so before. The salesman explained that it was intended as a point of pride about the car being as good as any import. Once he said that, I didn't give it a second thought. 

"Oh!" I smiled with the suburban white bread naivety of Mary Tyler Moore's sitcom persona. "It was there when I bought the car. I think it's just a little poke at the imports."

"You sure it doesn't mean Detroit's no better than a third-world country?" 

I stopped dead and stared at her. She didn't look like someone trying to pick a fight. Instead, she seemed to be trying to sort something out with me, something that clearly had the potential for making her ready to fight.

My eyes got very wide. "Honestly, ma'am, I never took it that way at all, and if I'd thought that's what it meant, I would have had the salesman take it off. I bought the car used and it was already on there. I always took it as pro-Detroit, not anti."

"Oh!" she smiled. "That sounds better to me. You see, I'm from Detroit and I was just about to go a few rounds with you if that was your opinion."

I smiled back. "Well, ma'am, I'm from Pontiac, and I think people like you and me ought to stick together."

"I think you're right!" she laughed. "You have a blessed day now!"

Life would be a lot better for everybody, and maybe last a lot longer for some, if we talked things out before jumping to conclusions. 

I know that two men could have defused this tense situation just as amicably; still, I think it's a good argument for pumping estrogen into city water supplies.