Parking Space Stalkers

21 02 2009

Parking space stalkers, I abhor and despise you. 

It really annoys me that you drive around and around the parking lot looking for the closest spot.  You could have already made your purchases in the time you spend picking out the prime spot. 

It is exasperating when you follow me to my car and wait behind me as I put my groceries away.  Honk and I will sit in my car for a few minutes before deciding to go back into the store. 

How maddening it is when you hold up a line of cars behind you as you wait for someone to leave a restaurant.  How it rankles me that you wave at me to back up because you are blocking a departing vehicle into the space you want.  What if there’s another car behind me?  Should I back into it like the inconsiderate Howard E Gregory (and later for insurance purposes claim that the car hit me)?

Don’t be so inconsiderate to other people.  If you have a medical problem get a handicapped placard.


#9 – The Light of Day by Graham Swift

21 02 2009

I finished The Light of Day by Graham Swift over one week ago.  My extreme dislike of this book turned me off of both reading and writing.  For the past week it seemed as if my brain cells were better off being rotted by the television. 

Swift’s writing style takes a bit of getting used to, but that wasn’t the cause of my aversion.  It almost seemed as if Swift was telling a different story than I was reading.  The reader is made to think that they will discover why a murder occurred at the end of the book; a murder that is the central plot of the book.  There is never any question as to whodunit, the question is why.  But the reason is never revealed and the reader is left wishing they’d never picked up this book to begin with.

This book should be removed from the list of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.

Do NOT put any pickles ANYWHERE on my plate

13 02 2009

“I’ll have a bacon cheeseburger, plain.  Bun.  Meat. Cheese. Bacon.  And fries.  Don’t put any pickles anywhere on my plate.”  This used to be a typical order for me. 

Certainly my pickiness did not endear me to those who had to wait on me.  Pickle juice could flow unrestrained and taint my burger and fries.  Then I would need a fresh meal.  Really, I was just trying to help restaurants conserve supplies. 

A few weeks ago, I heard Dr. Oz on Oprah XM talking about picky eating in the adult population.  He stated that children have very strong taste buds, an evolutionary trait that helps our young to avoid eating poisonous things as they often taste bad.  As we age, this trait goes away and our palates should be able to tolerate and enjoy a larger variety of tastes.

It didn’t take Dr. Oz to make me see the error in my ways.  It was the fact that my pickiness was keeping me from enjoying things that others raved about.  I think it made me appear to be very uneducated about food. 

About a year ago, I implemented a new policy into my diet.  I will now try anything as long as it doesn’t include pickles or a lot of peppers.  Interestingly, I have liked everything I tried. 

The other day I had cheese soup for the first time – I will definitely order it again.  I now put sour cream on my baked potatoes.  Ranch dressing = yum. Broccoli and cauliflower are now two of my favorite vegetables.  This list goes on and on.  I even like agar agar. 

The list goes on and on.  I am really looking forward to trying many other things and sending my tastebuds on many grand adventures.

A Likely Boring Post In Which I Review All Aspects of My Monthly Budget

12 02 2009

In light of our current financial situation, it is once again time to review our expenditures to determine what could be reduced or eliminated. 

My husband knew that things were not going well for his former employer, so we started doing a monthly budget in January.  Before the first day of each month, we write out our income and expenditures spending every penny on paper on purpose (using the monthly cash flow form included in  Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover).  This simple task has been very eye opening.  We should have a LOT more money in savings.

Where did it all go?  We don’t have any elaborate collections – no snow globes in a curio cabinet, no dream-catchers adorning every window.  Its not a nasty drug or alcohol habit – Mr. Beam and I are not on a first name basis; our spoons remain unburnt.

There are three full pages of categories on the monthly cash flow plan.  My favorite part of the form is that I get to put a big fat zero in most of the categories.

Before the permanent layoff, we planned to use the following categories in February:  first mortgage, electricity, water, cell phone, home phone/Internet, cable, groceries, restaurants, pet food, car payment, gasoline, car insurance, clothing, life insurance, hair care/nails, office supplies, subscriptions, blow money and entertainment.

Our house payment is what it is.  We have a good rate on a fifteen year mortgage.  Our bank will lower the monthly payment if you are $5000 or more ahead on your payments but that is not the case with us.

We are on the level payment plan with Ameren CILCO.  This makes budgeting for electricity very easy as the expected payment is the same every month.  I’m not sure what steps we could take to lower our electric bill.  IN warmer weather we rarely use the air conditioner.  We love to have the windows open and use our whole house fan if it gets too hot out.  We need to make a more concerted effort to turn out lights when we leave the room and to unplug things that we are not using.  We haven’t shut down our desktop computer since November.  I’m sure that the 22+ hours a day that it is not in use has made our carbon footprint look as if it were left by Sasquatch!

Unless we start taking military showers (turn the water off while soaping and shampooing) I can see no way to reduce our water consumption.  That is one desperate measure that I will not be considering at this time.  I really enjoy my morning shower.  It helps to wake me up.

Our cellular package is the lowest priced option.  We don’t text message and we don’t carry the insurance despite my recent washing machine snafu.

Our home phone is at the bare bones minimum.  We simply have a line.  We don’t have any extras – no caller i.d., no call waiting, no voice mail, no line backer.  We have the least expensive DSL package.  Our long distance is through ECG, which charges 2.5 cents per minute – no monthly fee, no hidden charges.  We’ve used this service for a long time.  At the time we chose their service, it was the lowest available price.   I highly recommend ECG.

Due to my deep seeded hatred of television, we subscribe to the lowest available cable package.  It is $15.79 a month.  If it were up to me we would have no televisions in our house, but that is not an option for Craig.

I budget about $100 a week for grocery items.  Unless there is something on sale that I want to stock up on, I rarely spend that much.  I clip coupons and participate in coupon trading via afullcup.  Ninety percent of my purchases are items that are on sale that I can apply a coupon to.

We have really cut back on our restaurant visits.  I eat out at my weekly Rotary Club meeting and Jennifer, MarySue and I do lunch after our weekly spinning class.  I am trying to get used to ordering water.  I have a couple of mystery shops lines up at decent eateries later in the month.

We can’t cut back in the pet supplies area.  Our cats require only food, water, litter and love.  They eat Science Diet Light which is a higher priced food.  Everything else has made them vomit, which we’d rather not be cleaning up all of the time. 

Our car payment is $244.00 a month.  We are $7,000.00 ahead, since I’ve been working very hard to pay it off.  I contacted the bank to see if the payment could be reduced.  They offered me a new payment of $171.00.  The woman I talked to told me that even though I owe them a payment each month, I can stop paying.  She said that although it would show that I had missed a payment, it would also show that I was $7,000.00 ahead.  She didn’t think there would be a problem, but cautioned me that I shouldn’t mention her name if there was.  I don’t think I will try this.  I don’t want to negatively effect my credit.  It is not a problem for us to make the payment, though it would be nice to squirrel away as much money as possible during the interim.  Perhaps when Craig gets a job we will have saved enough money to pay off the car.  I truly hope to only pay cash for cars in the future.

Since I drive 49 miles each way to work our fuel consumption is higher than the average family’s.  I am grateful to have an economy car and that gas prices are below $2.00 a gallon.  We try to combine trips and carpool when possible (Thanks, Jennifer…  It’s my turn this week!).

We paid our car insurance through August earlier this month.  We have a high deductible and each time I pay the insurance I review the policy to ensure that our coverage is where we want it to be.  Two very inexpensive extras that I don’t scrimp on are towing and rental car coverage.  Each are literally less than $1.00 a month and have come in very handy in the past.

We don’t need any new clothes right now, so I reduced that category to $0 for February.  If I don’t lose a little weight, I may have to buy a few new items in the summer.

We both have a small term life insurance policy, enough to pay off the house if one of us died.  Twenty dollars a month is a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Until Craig gets a job, I have given up getting my nails done. Twenty-two dollars twice a month adds up over the course of a year (precisely $572 is the cost of this vanity).  Its back to polishing them myself.  Craig gets discount haircuts and I only get my hair cut every twelve weeks since I am in a growth phase.  I know a lot of people cut their own hair, but that is not an option for us.  I will start plucking my own eyebrows instead of paying to get them waxed.

We purchase minimal office supplies – just stamps and the occasional ink cartridge.  I’m still working on my sheet of Edgar Allen Poe stamps. 

The only subscription that I pay for each month is for The Peoria Journal Star.  We get it on Sundays only.  This is where I get the ads from which I make my grocery lists, so in order to save money on groceries it seems necessary to get the Sunday newspaper.  We receive some magazines, but I’m not wild to renew any of them.

We have been trying to partake in free entertainment, like board games and exercise.  My dad gave us some tickets to a Bradley game at the end of the month.  We are going to plan a party. 

We both have a small amount of blow money – this is what I use to finance my lunches with the Rotary Club and my weekly lunch-date with Jennifer and MarySue.  Also if there is some small thing that I’m just dying to have, I can get it.  The other day it was a bag of Laffy Taffy.  There has to be some room for fun otherwise it would be very hard to keep a budget.

Going over all of this has really helped me to better understand our budget.  I think we already live pretty frugally.  We could get rid of our cable, Internet and cell phones but our cost for each item is minimal and they do add to the quality of our lives.  If we were desperate, I wouldn’t hesitate to eliminate them, but it would be going overboard at this time.

Attempting To Conceive An Ebay Business Is Probably Not As Fun As Attempting To Conceive A Baby

11 02 2009

With my husband’s current lack of employment, loyal readers of this blog should expect to see an increase in the number of posts related to personal finance, increasing income and lowering expenditures.

I previously mentioned that Craig is very interested in starting a business selling items online.  In doing so, he first needs to determine what to sell and where to obtain said merchandise.

In my job I come across a lot of ebayers.  I always enjoy learning about their business.  One of my customers makes a tremendous amount of money selling things she buys at Walmart on  She ships more than 100 packages a week.  She says that she makes her living “catering to the lazy”.  The good thing about this business model is that she is able to return her unsold inventory.  One gentleman I met when working in the booth at the Illinois State fair makes his living selling customized sports calendars in ebay.  He prints them from his own computer. 

                                                                  It woulvintage handkerchiefd be nigarden gnomece if Craig could discover a niche.  He could corner the market in vintage handkerchiefs or acrobatic lawn gnomes.  Until that happens, our current plan of action is to search for things to sell at thrift stores, garage sales, clearance departments and library book sales while continually researching what other online stores are selling. 

Our initial investment will be $200.  We will use our earnings to purchase more merchandise. 

So, loyal readers, give me your input.  Do you know any sucessful online merchants?  If so, what are they selling and how are they getting it.  If you were going to start your own online business, what would you sell and how would you get it?

God’s Money, The PMG and Honest Abe

10 02 2009

Yesterday, the four new stamps chronicling Abraham Lincoln’s life were dedicated at the Old State Capital Building in Springfield, Illinois.  My boss asked me to assist with the postal operations that were planned for the day.  This consisted of selling the new stamp, commemorative first-day covers and various Abraham Lincoln memorabilia including tote bags, mouse pads and note cards.  I also did a brief stint in the philatelic room applying the special cancellation to various items brought in by philatelists.

It was a very busy day.  There is definitely not a recession when it comes to Abraham Lincoln memorabilia!  One man spent over $700 – he got 10 of everything! 

For the most part the customers were friendly and fun to talk to during lulls.  But every large group of people has a few strange ducks.  Most memorably was the woman who wanted the special cancellation on some envelopes she bought from the Historical Society.  She kept insisting that I make the ink darker.  I did as she instructed and ended up with a mess.  Then she made a huge scene and the postal service had to replace three of her envelopes and stamps.  Her husband was so mortified that he wandered away during all of the commotion.  She waited at least 30 minutes for the philatelic clerk to return from lunch, all the while complaining about my poor postmarking skills.  During this interaction she made me so upset I had to walk away from her in order to remain professional.  This is very unusual for me.  I can deal with any manner of customer, from the woman who had changed her address 33 times in six months and couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t getting her correspondence to the man who tried to pay for postage with soda can tabs. 

My mood brightened when I encountered a certain customer who wanted to purchase a sheet of the Abraham Lincoln stamps.  I told him they would be $8.40.  At that point he took a small notebook out of his breast pocket and consulted his scribblings.  He informed me that all he had left was “God’s money”.  He had spent all of his own money and couldn’t afford the stamps.  He wandered away.

After the ceremony, the Postmaster General approached all of the employees working in the retail area and thanked us for helping out.  He shook our hands and autographed our ceremony programs.  As a Postmaster, it meant a lot to me that the leader of my organization was so personable. 

On a side note, I had lunch at a great restaurant.  The Feed Store is just across the street from the Old State Capital Building.  Their menu offers a variety of soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts.  I had the cheese soup and a turkey sandwich (it came with sprouts – yum – sprouts are why I love Jimmy John’s so much!).  If you are ever doing the downtown Springfield touristy thing, The Feed Store is a great place to stop for lunch.

#8 – Marya: A Life by Joyce Carol Oates

9 02 2009

I have long been a fan of Joyce Carol Oates and have read many of her works.  When reviewing Boxall’s suggestions of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die I wasn’t surprised to see that four of Oates’ books made the list.  I was surprised that I have read none of the four.  When making a list of books to check out from the library, I was sure to add Oates’ works to the list.

Marya: A Life was available when I last visited the library.  Written in 1986, this is the tale of Marya Knauer’s life from early childhood to her mid-thirties.  It follows as she grows from an abandoned child to an accomplished adult. 

Although I enjoyed this book, it is not, in my opinion, one of Oates’ best works.  Certainly she has grown as a writer since 1986.  Marya: A Life holds a glimpse of the wonderful author Oates will evolve into.  It is worth reading, but if you haven’t read Oates before pick up We Were The Mulvaneys or The Falls instead.