Sunday, November 29, 2015

Going Broke: From Desperation to an Invitation for Innovation

As someone who has lived under, or just at, the poverty line for most of my adult life, “going broke” means something really specific: getting down to $0 in my bank account. For you, saying “I’m broke” might mean something else.

But whatever it means to you in particular, the feeling is often the same for everyone in American culture today: Panic. Our first response to seeing “broke-ness” on the horizon seems to be the thought, “oh no; why am I panicking? This panic isn’t going to lead anywhere good, I need to stop panicking, why can’t I stop panicking?!” We become panicky about the fact that we’re panicking. Then we feel frustration at the fact that we’re broke, which has led to the panic in the first place. Finally, this turns into desperation. Desperation to find money so we don’t have to be panicky anymore. We begin to feel like we’ll do anything – sell our grandmother’s antiques to the pawn shop down the street! Sell plasma! – to get the money we tell ourselves we need. And sometimes those actions leads to more panic because the next day, when we come to our senses, we realize we’ve taken out a payday loan we will never repay, or signed over our firstborn child to the Mafia, and oh my goodness, now we’re even more broke than we were before!

It’s my belief that our panic and anxiety over being broke tends to keep us from the more positive sides of the situation. Sure, your credit may be going down the drain, and maybe they’ll shut your lights off, but if you can let go of the panic and anxiety, then it’s at this point, past the point of desperation, that things will start to get… interesting in your life. You’ll start to be amazed at your own creativity and brilliance.

Here’s a very small example: I recently cancelled my Netflix account because I can’t afford it anymore. Even though I’m not much of a TV or movie watcher in any case (mostly I just like having nature documentaries with good music on), it still felt like I was losing my “cool kid” status. At 2 AM the other morning, I sprang out of bed and logged into my public library’s website to see if I could at least put some DVDs on reserve or something. It was here that I discovered that my public library subscribes to Hoopla, a website that allows you to “rent” up to twenty movies or albums per month for free and stream them to your computer. It’s also a partner with Freegal Music, too, I found out, which allows all library patrons five free song downloads per week. Is it the same as Netflix? No. But do they have my nature documentaries? Yes. Plus, free songs from Freegal, too. And instead of $8 per month, I’m spending $0. Which, it turns out, is a perfect fit to my bank account!

Looking past the panic also allows you to look at what you already have more closely. “Hm,” you find yourself thinking, “what do I have in the freezer that can go with this couscous, instead of running to the store?” “What old sheets do I have that I could make into curtains?”
Since my mind so quickly goes into the panicky zone when I see that zero, I’m teaching myself to respond in the opposite of deficit. Instead of calling up the plasma clinic, I dig around the cupboards and see what I can scare up, and then start cooking up a storm, stockpiling the freezer with veggies, burritos, homemade muffins, granola bars, and more out of whatever I have on hand. That way, it doesn’t look like I’m broke – it looks like I have a lot of choices (which I actually do!)  I take my frustration at not being able to go to the store and turn it into innovation – creating my own little store of food until my next paycheck.

Of course, we all have our limits. A few years ago when a couple I was friends with got their electricity turned off for not paying their bill, they started using their propane barbecue in their front yard as a way to heat up bath water. This isn’t something I personally could handle for very long, especially not in the cold winter. But the trick is to find whatever works for you personally – different things work for different people.

But whatever you do, don’t let panic hog the spotlight; after all, innovation is probably just waiting in the wings.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

"Level Up" on Savings!

Ay ay ay, it's been quite a long time since you've heard from me, friends! Don't worry, though, I've still been busy scoping out great deals and ways to keep my - and your - wallet afloat!

Today, I'm writing to share with you two little stories. First, this one:

When I was growing up, my grandmother had a reputation in our family as being an amazing - sometimes shockingly amazing - Scrabble player. Some of us would sit in awe as we watched her racking up 50, 60, 90 point words. "How do you do that?" someone would sometimes ask. Her advice? Don't stop at one special square. She would explain how sometimes people would see a chance to put a word on a "double word score" spot and sit back, thinking it was enough to put them ahead. But her goal was always to try and get at least two special squares in a single play - say, a double letter square AND a triple word score square, or two triple letter squares. Or even better, to add on to an existing word and get those points, as well as one or two additional special squares.

Why am I telling you this story?

Because this advice also applies to things like coupons and sales.

One sale - say, an item being 20% off - might look very appealing, just like that old triple word score square. But in the end, that's really only one "special square." Instead, every time you're purchasing something brand new, try out my grandmother's advice, and round up at least two or more ways to save on the item and then "play" them all at once! This will take you from someone who stumbled on a sale to someone who is a shockingly amazing saver!

Here's my second story, about what this looks like in action. Recently, I tried this strategy out at, and I managed to reduce my cost from $104 down to just $30, by playing several "special savings squares" all at once. Here's how that went down:

Original Costs:
Microfleece zip up sweater, orig. $36
Dress shirt, orig. $14.99
Pants, orig. $39
Shipping, orig. $13.95

SAVINGS "SPECIAL SQUARE" #1: Sales and Clearance:
Microfleece on sale for $11.99
Dress shirt on clearance for $9.99
Pants on sale for $17.99
Shipping: $13.95
Total Reduced To: $53.92

As a Sears "member" (Not a Sears Card member -- just being someone who has signed up to subscribe for their e-mail list, which is FREE), I was eligible for a special "members only" sale on the pants, which brought them down to $9.99.

Because of my free membership, I had somehow received 6000 "surprise!" points from, which meant I got an additional $6 off my purchase.

My membership also allowed me to sign up for a free 90 day trial of "Shop Your Way MAX," which gives you FREE 2-Day shipping on many items. Two of my items qualified. That brought my shipping down to just $5.35.
Total Reduced To: $32.92

Last but not least, I also found an online coupon code to enter that took 15% off my entire purchase.
This code did not apply to clearance items, so I didn't get as much off as I otherwise would have, but still, it took off a few extra dollars once tax was added in....



Plus some extra perks: My free trial of SYW MAX means I'm getting my stuff even faster than if I had paid for shipping. AND I was able to earn additional points for this purchase, which I'll be able to use the next time I decide to buy something there.

As you may be able to tell, I'm feeling pretty proud of myself - this may be one of my greatest "cheap" accomplishments to date! (Especially considering that at the Goodwill by my house, just a pair of pants without holes in them usually runs about $20 with tax. )

But this isn't a lightning strike that will only happen once. The same thing can work for you, as well! Just remember: just like how anyone can put down a word on one "special square" on the Scrabble board, anybody can find a clearance rack. But by taking an extra minute or two to create a multi-level strategy, you can "level up" to being a truly saavy shopper.

Happy savings, friends!!