Monday, December 31, 2012

Best of 2012

Maybe my year wasn't quite as great as Adele's,
but close.
We have to end the year on a high note, so after completely Debbie Downering this blog yesterday, let's take a look at the stuff that happened this year that is awesome (it's a much longer list).

1. Paid Vacation!
This year, I went on vacation to Sweden, Denmark and Minneapolis and still got paid even though I wasn't working! One positive about working in the non-profits is that you may not get paid much per hour, but they give you a lot of vacation.  I started out with 21 days vacation + personal time that accrues.  It's just silly, but I am not complaining--at all.

2. Free Yoga!
This year I started getting into yoga for the first time in my life, which has made me stronger overall, and possibly slightly more flexible (though I really don't think so).  If I was paying for this yoga, I would not be able to afford it, but the studio allows me (and a few other people) to exchange light cleaning duties for unlimited free yoga!  Being in the hot room makes winter much easier to bear, and I think I'm getting some ab definition...  maybe.

3. Free Bike!
After my bike was stolen, I had the sads big time.  I still wander back behind our house where it used to be hoping that the person who took it just needed it for an emergency and would return it when finished.  Of course, that is not the case.  BUT, I put an ad on Freecycle saying that my bike was stolen and asking if anyone had one they weren't using that I could have, and someone responded!  I got a new-to-me bike that's in really good shape completely for free.  I need to take it to a mechanic for a once-over, buy a basket and some lights, but then I'll be back on the road in time for spring puddle season!

4. Walking to Work!
Not really much else to say about this one, but the walk to work clears my head, wakes me up and lets me smile at the quirky world I live in.

Walking home from work in the snow, I stopped
to make this tiny snowman and put him on a Stumpchair.
5. Bonus Money!
Though I do make less money working at only one job, I still fill in at two other libraries.  It's a bit of a grind to work those extra hours, but it's also fairly awesome because they don't expect as much of me.  Yes, that sounds really lazy, but I'm basically just a warm body who can do that job, but who doesn't have real responsibilities.  Double bonus, one of the libraries I fill in at still pays time-and-a-half on Sundays.  Bonus money gets split between my Roth IRA and my travel fund, so I know I'm not squandering it.

6. Crock Pot!
At first I was a bit intimidated by the crock pot, but now I absolutely love it and would never want to be without it.  Everything made in the crock pot tastes better--fact!  I can use it to soak beans and barley, which are frequent work staples and doing them in the crock pot is nearly effortless.  I can simmer away delicious healthy soups that not only taste amazing but also make my house smell good.

7. Home Gym!
I have broken up with my gym (though that's still a work in progress--more on that in a later post) but I have also created a highly functional home gym that has everything I need.  For the days when I don't have time to run or go to yoga, I can still get in a good workout without leaving my house.  2013 shall be the year of abs!

8. Friends!
Two of my besties came out to visit me this year for my birthday, and I'm currently making plans to go on a mini-break with two other besties in the spring.  I'm so lucky to not only have so many wonderful friends, but  also to have friends who I don't see that often, but can catch up with instantly, years later, and it feels like no time has passed at all.

9. Learning How to Live Within My Means!
It's my one-year anniversary of my job, and I now know what to expect at work, but also exactly how much I'll make and how to budget accordingly.  Setting up my budget last year was all guesswork, and I was still on a high from the excitement of even getting this job, so I wasn't making great choices.  Now, I have an entire budget from 2012 to refer back to, and nothing should really be changing for 2013 except for the fact that I should buy fewer clothes.

10. Clean(er) Closet
I'm ushering in the new year with a cleaner and better organized closet.  Yes, my closet will never be perfect, mostly because it's a narrow/ deep hidey hole under a staircase, but I think I finally have it sorted out in a way where everything has a place and I can actually find things.  Plus, I only had to spend $16.99 on a six-shelf organizer and I used furniture we already had to organize the rest.

11. Free Holiday Party + Holiday Bonus!
At my library, we have an awesome Friends of the Library group.  Many of them are there on a daily basis sorting donated books, cleaning DVDs and CD, and twice a year they have books sales that make some serious cash.  Apparently, they also give the staff a holiday bonus!  Also, the regular library patrons were coming in every day before xmas and giving us homemade cookies, truffles, donations and cards.  As if that wasn't overwhelming enough, The Progressive Democrats of Rhode Island, which is a group that regularly uses our meeting spaces, collected money from their members and gave us $100 for a staff holiday party!  This is the first time in my working life that my holiday party wasn't a potluck, and it was so nice not to have to stress about what to bring.  This is the stuff that makes it easy to love my job.  Like I always say, it doesn't pay in money, but it does pay in warm fuzzies.

What awesome things happened to you guys in 2012?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Worst of 2012

These last two days of 2012 are all about reflection.  Which celebrities had a great year (Channing Tatum)?  Which celebrities had a bad year (Lindsey Lohan)?  Etc. ad infinitum.  But, people love lists, so you have to give them what they want.  I present you with my worst financial moments of 2012.

1. Bartered Away 401k
After the library where I work received news that we were suffering a major budget cut, we did what any other library would do to avoid closing three weeks--we took it out of the employees' already meager pay. Yes, I'm still pissed about this and will remain so.  Silver lining--I got an extra week off-paid, but I didn't really accomplish anything that week.  As I've said before, I love my job, but I don't want to drop dead at the reference desk!  Save for retirement, people!

2. Less Income
I don't know why it didn't occur to me before, but by having only one, full-time job, I'm making significantly less money than I was before.  A friend asked me recently how that could be, and it all comes down to: 1. working fewer hours than before a.k.a. a normal workweek instead of 40 hours one week and 45 the next 2. Making less per hour  3. Paying for health insurance.  Being a grownup is kind of bullshit, but at least I can walk to work!

3. Wanting to go out
Now that I have a reasonable work schedule, I had/have to really remind myself that neither my waistline nor my wallet can afford to go out all the time.  Going out is fun!  Eating out is exotic!  But it all costs money, and I don't have much to spare.

4. Stolen Bike
My beautiful, tricked-out (blinking lights and basket mean tricked-out) bike was stolen by nefarious jackanapes, which left me not only bikeless, but also feeling violated and paranoid.

5. Car Repair
My stupid car keeps breaking!  The windshield wipers keep freaking out on me by not working in sync and getting stuck together.  Presently, only the left one works, but as that's the one I need most, I've been lazy about bringing it in to get fixed (again).  Also, according to the city of Providence, my 2007 Chevrolet Malibu has increased in value from 2011-2012 and will be taxed more because of it.  You stay classy, Providence.
Not my car, but this is basically what happens

6. Parents
My parents and I don't have the greatest relationship in the world, but usually they send me birthday and xmas cards.  Now that I have a full-time job, it seems that I am completely cut off.  When I saw then in September, they didn't pay for anything (usually I get a meal, maybe a little something for airfare, etc.) and this year they didn't even send me an xmas card.  Yes, I am 33 and shouldn't need money from my parents, but see point #1 and #2 above. I actually could use their help more than ever, but I'm also certainly not going to ask for it.

7. Student Loans
My student loans were outsourced to a new company this year, and getting back on Income Based Repayment was a godawful nightmare of a gong show.  All of the progress I had made in reducing my amount owed--years of progress, was basically wiped out in a matter of months.

How about you?  What totally sucked for you this year?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Clean Slate For 2013

Can you believe that it's almost 2013?  It's just weird--not that another year has passed, but for some reason 2013 just seems like a weird number to me.  It'll take me a while to get used to writing that.  Anyway, my plan for the new year is to start it with a clean slate.  I've been carrying balances on my credit cards for the past month (no late fees or anything like that, just more owed than I would like).  With my next paycheck I'm paying them all completely off and heading into the new year with nothing owed except stupid student loan debt.

I'm also doing a major overhaul of my closet and wardrobe.  Since my closet is narrow and deep, I lose things in there, never have enough room, and usually just let my laundry sit on top my dresser until I wear it again and it goes in the dirty clothes pile.  I'm working on a new scheme to organize my clothing in a way that makes it easier to find things/ put them away, and that makes me not want to scream with frustration.  I'm also getting rid of a lot of things I just wasn't wearing.  Those really nice pants from Banana Republic that have only fit once three years ago?  Yeah, they're going to Good Will and I'm just going to accept that my huge thighs are unlikely to get any smaller.  Strong is the new Skinny!

As far as my Holiday Challenges, I'm pleased to report that I've been going to yoga a minimum of three times a week, even four some weeks!  My run streak sadly didn't stick as well as I hoped.  There were some mornings when I just didn't get out of bed in time, and doing a single mile on the treadmill just became annoying--it took longer to shower than it did to run!  It's not all bad though.  I have run more miles this month than any other month this year, and I've realized that even if I get a late start in the morning, nipping out for a two mile run really makes the day better.  I used to have the mindset that unless I was running at least four miles, it wasn't worth bothering, but now I love my little two mile runs!

For my Financial Challenges, I've been limiting eating out, I've been walking to work though I wasn't able to ride my bike for reasons I'll explain in a moment.  I've gone over budget in the clothing category, but that's just because I paid my Old Navy bill from the previous month--I haven't bought anything new!  My budget is full of no-spend day stars and I'm pretty pleased about that.

The reason I wasn't able to ride bike to work was because my bike was stolen by some nefarious jackanape!
RIP, my bike that I never named
They also stole BF's tire pump--dicks.  It's not all bad though, I put an ad on Freecycle asking if anyone had a bike they weren't using, and a nice lady gave me her daughter's old one!  I need to get it looked at by a mechanic and buy a lock, basket and lights, but it's a nice bike that should last me quite a while.  I'll also be storing it indoors so no one can get their hand on it!

2013 begins with no credit card debt, a new bike and a new diet plan!  I signed up for Taylor's DietBet, which is a fun little online wager.  Everyone who wants to play kicks in $2, and then if at the end of the month you're at your goal weight, you get to split the pot!  It's a nice little incentive to do what I should be doing anyway.

Things are looking up!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays

"Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! 
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. 
What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!" - Dr. Seuss

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ten Reasons Why Buying Local is Better

I talk every now and then about the importance of buying local, but it's usually in abstract ways like: 45% of money spent locally stays in the community, do you want to live in a world where the only place to buy things is Wal-Mart, etc.  This holiday season, I have shopped 100% local, and I've had so many positive experiences that it hasn't ever seemed like work (shopping almost always seems like work to me).  I'll admit, I don't have to buy nearly as many gifts as other people, this time of year, but I'm not just talking about buying things, I'm talking about just supporting all local businesses.  Even if it costs a little more, the return you get in warm fuzzies more than makes up for it.

1. Customer Service
Obviously customer service is never a guarantee.  Sometimes people have a bad day, or are just jerks, but I have personally had some of the best customer service experiences with local businesses, and it's likely just due to the fact that they actually care.  If you work for or own a local business, you want to be there.  They're not in it for the money, they're doing it for the love, and that is just an awesome thing.  When you see people happy to be doing they are doing, that is a great feeling, and it radiates out.  Sure, local businesses want to sell you something, but they also want you to come back, and they get that by being real people and (hopefully) selling high-quality stuff.

2. Knowing where something came from
If you go to Wal-Mart, you can hazard a guess at where the stuff you're buying comes from, but likely it's just a warehouse in China and no one knows more than that.  If you shop local, you can ask the business owner where he or she purchased an item, and they will actually know.  It might be a local artist or craftsperson, or it might be a company you've never heard of that you end up liking.  Either way, it's nice to actually know what you're taking into your home, instead of just buying a bunch of random crap mindlessly.  And if you're giving something as a gift, it's nice to tell the recipient, "This came from an artist collective in Peru that only employs women who have escaped abusive relationships.  For every item sold, they get 50% of the proceeds."  Knowing where something came from makes it more valuable because value isn't really what something cost, it's how much value you place upon it.

3. Bring able to ask questions
A friend of mine recently posted on facebook that she had seen a dress in a Sears commercial but couldn't find the dress either in stores or online.  I suggested that she email Sears and see if they could help her out, but I haven't heard what happened after that, or if she's still waiting for a response.  (UPDATE 12/16/2012, I have heard, see below)  Recently, I wanted an item from a local store near where I work. They had posted a picture of the item on facebook, but by the time I got there, it had sold out.
Obviously it sold out, I mean, yeah, it's awesome!
I was upset, but the employee I spoke to told me that they would likely get more in soon.  I sent the store a facebook message asking if they would hold one for me when they arrived, and sure enough, they were happy to do so.  They messaged me when it came in, and I picked it up on my lunch break. SCORE!

4. Putting a face on a product
When you buy local, you also know who sold something to you.  It's not a random cashier at Barnes & Noble 2606 (where I used to work), who may never be there beyond the one time you saw her, or who is just punching the clock until it's time to leave (again, me).  You can go into a store and say, I bought this last week from Steve, and it broke right away, or I bought this from Steve and it's so great I need two more!

5. Giving direct feedback
Likewise, in a smaller local setting, your feedback really has the power to make things happen.  If you buy something that really sucks, you can tell the store employees or owner, and maybe they stop carrying it.  You can make suggestions, and not feel like you're throwing your words into a random void where they may or may not be heard.  Certainly the store doesn't have to listen to you, but it's still nice to be heard.

6. Local Commitment
Who do your kids go to when their sports teams need boosters?  Who supports Library Summer Reading Programs and donates prizes?  Who chips in for block parties, 4th of July parties, centennial and bi-centennial events?  Local businesses are owned by members of the community and want to help the community thrive.

7. Unique Items
See above.  You think I could get that kick ass bottle opener anywhere else?  I could maybe get it at two other stores in Rhode Island, and I'm just guessing--I certainly haven't seen it anywhere else.  Wherever I wind up in the world, I will see that bottle opener and it will make me smile and remember a time in my life when I lived in Lil' Rhody.  Do you want to have the same stuff as everyone else, or do you want something you can't get anywhere else?

8. Expertise
When I go into Target, I don't expect to be able to ask a store employee which is the best t-shirt, or if something will last.  Certainly they have people in various departments who can answer some questions, but a lot of the items in major big box stores are not built to last a lifetime.  If I'm going to spend a lot of money on something, I want to talk to someone who knows something about it.  Employees of smaller stores may not know everything about everything, but they are likely familiar with the brand and the standard of excellence that that brand has.  When you're personally choosing to buy something for your store and sell it, there's a higher standard than stores that just buying to fill a niche.  I recently was in Target with BF looking at skillets.  Apparently, both Paula Deen and Rachael Ray have their own line of cookware. I would likely go Ray because they're orange and I find that fun, but they also cost $100+  If I'm going to spend that much money on something I don't know how to buy, I'd like to have a conversation with someone about it.

9. They're Only Still Around Because They're Good
It's much easier to keep a corporate hub going.  New businesses rarely turn a profit in the first year, and for something that's just a one person or partnership operation, that means they either have to do well or sink.  Corporations can support flagging outposts on the hopes that they'll eventually become profitable, but for smaller businesses, unless they're run by people with trust funds, it's likely that they just know what they're doing and have something people want.  Why not stop by and see?

10. Warm Fuzzies
I love my silly small city despite how backward it is sometimes, and I like doing things to make it better.  This is why I go to work every day determined to help my neighbors and this is why I pay a little more for things made and sold around here. We recently went to Yelp's Merry Marketplace, which was a pop-up shopping mall that featured only local businesses and restaurants.  It was possibly the most fun night I've had in a long time.  We got free food samples from restaurants I know and love and places I've never been (but will be visiting soon); and we got to find new and exciting treasures from local shops.  We got to chat with the people making and selling goods and experience firsthand the pride they take in what the do, and the quality of work.  It was held in the converted mill building where the Wintertime Farmer's Market is, and it was just a beautiful and fun night.  I think everyone I went with managed to finish off their holiday shopping lists, and I left stuffed to the gills and slightly drunk (I wasn't driving), which was awesome.

I know there are many more than ten reasons to shop local, so leave your reasons in the comments.  My biggest reason, that I didn't add to the list, is that it assuages some of the guilt I place on myself for buying things.  I keep reading articles about CEO's rate of pay skyrocketing while their employees' remains stagnant, and thought I know that my frugal self can't make a difference in that situation, I actually can on the local level.  It's nice to feel important, and it's nice to live in a land where Wal-Mart is just one of many stores, and one that I can avoid (Wal-Mart is the worst, OMG I hate Wal-Mart).

UPDATE:  Apparently, she has had no luck so far, and posted one of her recent responses to the Sears folk on facebook.  It was too awesome not to share:
"You tell me you know NOTHING about where i can get it?! You are trying to tell me you have NO INFORMATION about a dress you displayed in a commercial trying to get women to spend money on dresses, in your store. UH- HELLO- I'M A FOXY YOUNG WOMAN TRYING TO BUY A DRESS, WHICH, I WILL GLADLY TELL YOUNG OTHER PRETTY WOMEN WHERE I GOT IT. I am simply trying to give you money and buy a dress, from you, in which you decided to put in your commercial. I am just a blue collar girl that takes pleasure in leopard print high to low dresses. So hook a girl up, for crying out loud."

I think that proves my point even better than my long list.