Category Archives: Cents and Sensibility

St. Valentine is not the Patron Saint of Debt

Awwww new love!

Editor’s note – this is a “from the vault” release that never stops being relevant for you, your loved ones, or Valentine’s Day…enjoy!

Here we are again. Valentine’s Day has come back around and if you’re like me, the status of your love life is directly proportional to how you feel about the holiday. Lucky for me, I’m now happily married to a great guy. This year I have some conversation hearts in a jar on my desk, a pink and red wreath on my office door, and heart wallpaper on my cell phone. Heck, I will probably even wear red on the actual day. Love is grand! But this hasn’t always been the case. If I were stuck back where I was eight years ago, single and somewhat bitter about love (when I spent Valentine’s Day with a guy friend eating wings at Hooters), I’d probably be tempted to pelt a few snowballs at any happy couple that wandered into striking distance. I will sheepishly admit that in my “loveless” years I may have crudely referred to the holiday as VD.

I’ve heard many times that Valentine’s Day is just a made up holiday to line the pockets of candy and card makers. I can understand why people would say that but I also think they’re missing the point. Is there anything really wrong with taking one day to focus on telling our loved ones how we feel about them?

The key is not to get carried away with overspending and to focus on the point of the holiday, which is to show someone that you love and appreciate him/her. Choose carefully how you share the love. According to my friend Carla, her husband had better not even consider getting her that footed pajama thing she keeps seeing ads for. Apparently, she is not buying the claims that “it feels like a hug”. Even if you can’t afford a giant stuffed bear, Godiva chocolates, jewelry, and two dozen roses for your sweetie, there are still ways to show that you care without going into debt.

Continue reading St. Valentine is not the Patron Saint of Debt

Joe’s Mojo

Joe Hartin’s eighty year-old knees popped five times as he kneeled down to meet my five year-old stature. His bloodshot eyes looked massive through his prescription eyeglasses as they sized me up with a long gaze into my face.  I squirmed, terribly aware of the drooping eyelids covering half his pupils while the other half bored a hole through my early childhood psyche. The eyelids fluttered while his brain worked on the next sentence to come out of his mouth.

“Well, well…you knew quite a few Bible verses. I’ll let you choose a coin for a reward.  Which one would you like?”

It was 1967 and any one of the “monies” in Joe’s open, weathered hand was fascinating.  “I think that’s a dime,” I thought to myself as I stared into his palm full of coins.  “I think a Hershey bar is a dime.  Maybe I could eat one square for twelve days if I took that coin.”

I was hesitating for too long as I thought through my options.  I looked up at Joe’s face and saw him grimace, then slightly shift.  He was hurting and I needed to choose.

I took a breath and said, “I’d like THAT one.”  I timidly reached out and touched the biggest silver coin in his hand.  I didn’t know its value; I only understood its size in relation to the others

A few too many seconds went by before a smile broke across Joe’s face.  He looked up to my father who was observing the scene, then shakily stood back up.  With his other hand, he carefully picked up “THAT one” and handed it to me, patted me on the head and walked away chuckling.

I still have that half-dollar in my jewelry box and I’m never going to spend it.

Predicting Your Financial Future

As a kid, I loved to play with a Magic 8-Ball that was supposed to hold legendary fortune telling power. I’d sit around for hours asking it exactly what the future would hold for me. Would I be rich? (Outlook not so good). Would I marry the man of my dreams? (Reply hazy, try again). Would I be happy? (You may rely on it). I think we have all wished that something or someone could tell us exactly the type of future that we can expect. Amazingly, some of those magic powers possessed by the 8-ball must have rubbed off on me because I am about to accurately predict your financial future. I won’t even charge you $8.99 per minute or speak in a bad Caribbean accent. Are you ready?

Your car is going to need repairs and tires every few years. You will need to buy new clothes for you and your family. Your air conditioner/appliances/roof will need replaced or repaired. The cost of living will rise. Your pet will need to go to the vet. You may lose your job. You or a family member will get sick and need medication. Medication will continue to be outrageously expensive.

So, am I really psychic? (Don’t count on it). However, my predictions are right on the money. Most of us go through life with our fingers crossed, hoping that nothing goes wrong. Even if you are the luckiest person alive, something has to go wrong sometime. When it does, it’s probably going to cost you. If you just accept the fact that something is inevitably going to happen that wasn’t planned, you will be able to deal with it much more effectively. Here’s how: Continue reading Predicting Your Financial Future

Little Green Lies: Fibbing for Budget’s Sake

**Editor’s Note: I chose this for another “Throwback Thursday” post ~ great reads from last year I’m not ready to archieve w/o one more pass. Enjoy!

I’m an honest person. In fact, I hate lying and am usually terrible at it. I’m the kind of person you should never ask “if your butt looks fat” in those jeans. While I wouldn’t be heartless about it, I’d probably say that we “can find a more flattering style.” So knowing this about myself, I was shocked and appalled by my recent behavior on a shopping trip to a local specialty store.

My friend Cristy at work has the coolest little loose leaf tea pot. I fell in love with it as she kindly made me a cup of tea one afternoon when I was feeling under the weather. So, after some internal deliberation about spending money for something that I wanted but did not necessarily need, I knew that I simply had to have one, too.

Before I went shopping, I estimated that I would probably spend about $30 on a tea pot and a couple of ounces of tea. I knew from the moment the sales clerk opened his mouth that my carefully planned budget had met its match. This guy knew more about tea and tea accessories than Bob Barry knows about Sooner football.  He was simultaneously incredibly helpful and terrifying.

I was firm on only spending a set amount in this store and he was the czar of cross selling. I picked out the tea pot and then moved on to tea. I already knew which type I wanted so I asked for two ounces. He reminded me that you ‘get a better price break if you buy four.’ I was still feeling strong at this point and stuck to my guns. “No, I’ll just start with two ounces, thank you,” I said.

Then, he threw the first curveball my way. “You’ll need a tin to store it in. Otherwise it will rot. Would you like the small one or large one?” My mind started racing. Rotten tea? Well, I can’t have that! I had no choice but to buy the tin, right? So, I weakly said, “I’ll take the small one.” Score one for the tea king. Continue reading Little Green Lies: Fibbing for Budget’s Sake

Going to Plan Z: When the Last Thing You Expect to Happen Happens

Mom and dad during their dating years.

My dad, George, has always been the hardest working person I know. I remember getting up every morning for school when I was a kid. My mom, Sue, would do everything she could to wake me up nicely: play music, talk softly, and turn on the bathroom heater for me so I wouldn’t be cold. She’d always end up practically dragging me out of bed because I just didn’t want to get up. I’ve never been a morning person. My dad was never there on those mornings.

He was already at work, leaving before the sun came up while I was still nestled snugly in my bed. I don’t ever remember him missing work for any reason. Ever. Snow, sleet, sunshine, sickness- nothing would keep him from working hard for his family.

My parents looked forward to their retirement years. They had always wanted to travel. When they got closer to retirement, their plan was to work a few more years, retire and see the world together. This was the “Plan A” they envisioned. They were only a few years away from this anticipated retirement plan and were really on the downhill slope when suddenly, in one single moment, everything changed. Our entire immediate family’s lives were irreparably altered.

I will never forget February 7, 2005. It was the morning after the Super Bowl. I was a little tired on the drive to work because my brother, Keith had hosted a family watch party the night before. Just as I arrived at work, my cell phone rang and it was Keith, who never called me in the mornings. He said they were taking dad to the hospital. He had passed out at work, had not regained consciousness, and they didn’t know what was wrong. Continue reading Going to Plan Z: When the Last Thing You Expect to Happen Happens

When Divorce Turns Prince Charming into Attila the Hun

When I was a 23 year old college student planning my first wedding, I knew exactly what my bridesmaids would wear, the color of the flowers, where we would spend our honeymoon, where we would live after the wedding, and what our dishes would look like. What I did not plan is that we would be divorced eight years later.

Several years were spent building a “we” life, enjoying time with our couple friends, merging bank accounts, buying a home, and eventually beginning a family. When it became apparent that we were not right for each other, there was nothing left to do but to deconstruct that life and go back to a “me” life. It’s a delicate surgical process that doesn’t come with anesthesia.

This deconstruction process was by far, the lowest point in my life. The “we” that we had carefully built was ripped into “yours” and “mine.” Friends who I thought would always be in my life, chose sides and many walked away from our friendship. Thankfully, I had maintained good relationships with my closest girlfriends and they became my rocks (Thanks Marcy, Carla, Alison, and Amy). Divorce is definitely a time when you find out who your true friends are. Bank accounts were separated. The home we had so carefully decorated and landscaped was sold. A joint custody arrangement was reached for our 2 year old. My ex took the stuff that he had entered the relationship with, I took mine, and we evenly divided the rest. I have never felt more lonely, sad, scared, confused, or hurt than I did as we dismantled the dreams we had started together. Continue reading When Divorce Turns Prince Charming into Attila the Hun

Financial Ed 101

There she is, in all her high school senior Glamour Shot glory, in desperate need of "Financial Ed, 101." Champagne taste and a caviar budget!

When I was a teenager, I could not wait to get my driver’s license. I had glorious visions of myself: sunglasses-clad, stereo blasting, out on the open road with the wind whipping through my hair, free at last from the confines of Mom picking me up and dropping me off. However before I was allowed the luxury of driving, I had to take Driver’s Education Class. Our dauntless high school football coach would load several of us into the car each week, put his life into our sweaty palms and let us practice our lane changes and three-point turns. Of course, if we started to swerve out of our lane, he was there with the brake on his side of the car to keep us from crashing. I was forced to read driving manuals and watch graphic movies about the horrific results when bad driving happened to good people. Finally, after hours of practice and study, I made my way to the DMV to take the ever-important driving test. My examiner was kind and I was well prepared so- except for a failed parallel parking attempt- I passed. All of those hours of learning to drive left me pretty well equipped for whatever came my way.

Not too long after I became master of my driving domain, I started receiving credit card solicitations in the mail. I had glorious visions of myself: sunglasses-clad, stereo blasting, out on the open road to the mall with the wind whipping through my hair, free at last from the confines of having to pay cash. To my relief, there was no Credit Education Class that I had to take. No manuals to read. No movies to watch about the unfortunate souls on the brink of financial ruin. No coach to put on the brakes before my spending swerved out of control. No ever-important credit education test. No examiner to make sure I knew when to park my credit card. I had a license to charge and I had never been taught how to avoid crashing. Continue reading Financial Ed 101

Fiscally Fit Bootcamp Whips Your Wallet Into Shape

I guess that you could say that Billy Joel and I have a little something in common. No, I’ve never married a supermodel even though my husband Justin is pretty hunky. All I can play on the piano is “I dropped my dolly in the dirt” so there’s no similarity there. But, just as the chorus in Billy’s hit song “I Go to Extremes” says, apparently Billy and I both go to extremes and neither of us knows why.

In the summer of 2009, I had an 8 month old baby boy and 17 pounds of baby weight that didn’t leave my body when the baby did. Instead of slowly starting a workout regimen to walk off the pounds or enrolling in a nice, leisurely yoga class a few times per week, I got an extreme idea. I guess it was the Piano Man part of my personality breaking through.

I had been driving around town and kept seeing these little signs stuck in the grass called Operation Bootcamp. I went to the website and watched all of the video testimonials. Operation Bootcamp is a 30 day outdoor workout routine held locally in parks. Did I mention that I signed up for the June/July session and that it is outdoors?  Did I also mention that it involves running (which I hate), push ups face down in the grass, sit ups (which I could not even do at the time), bear crawls, and some monstrosity called a “mountain climber”? Continue reading Fiscally Fit Bootcamp Whips Your Wallet Into Shape

N.U.T. #3 – I live below my means.

In the not too distant past, there used to be a fairly tried, true, and tested piece of advice for financial stability. If you wanted to be financial stable, all you had to do was live within your means. Or, as my favorite double negative phrase of all time says, “DON’T BUY CRAP YOU DON’T NEED WITH MONEY YOU DON’T HAVE!”

Just a few short years ago, this timeless piece of advice was enough to keep just about anyone in just about any financial situation above water if they were willing to put it into practice. Sure, sure… there were and still are other more sophisticated financial axioms for people who really wanted to get ahead, but if you just wanted to be financially responsible, all you had to do was live within your means.

And up until sometime in late 2008, that was good enough. But then the markets crashed here in the U.S. and around the globe, and like most pieces of conventional financial wisdom, the idea of living within your means went from being a great financial axiom to being not quite enough. In fact, after 2008, most people (myself included) stopped believing in the idea of financial stability completely.

With the events of the last few years as context, I (likely along with millions of other people around the world) started reevaluating my finances a little over a year ago. Continue reading N.U.T. #3 – I live below my means.

Finding Your “Want To”

"Have a Coke?"
"Or.....have a bikini?"

I’d love to lose 10 pounds. I’ve actually been saying this for a couple of years now. Everyday, I wake up, get dressed and depending on what the scale says and how my clothes fit, I usually think, “I’d love to lose 10 pounds.” Some days it’s 15. I adore cooking, enjoy eating even more and don’t really like to exercise. That’s pretty much the trifecta of doom when it comes to a productive weight loss strategy.

In my mission to wear a bikini in public again, I have armed myself with some pretty amazing tools to help me take off these stubborn last few pounds. We bought a used elliptical machine and placed it in our bedroom. I have at least 10 DVDs of numerous workouts ranging from kickboxing to stress relieving yoga. I bought a daily deal for 10 Zumba classes. For Christmas, I asked for “Just Dance 2” on the Wii so I can shake my groove thang while burning calories. I even got Zumba for PS3 so I can pretend that my groove thang is Latin when I want to switch it up.

Strangely, even after arming myself with all of these amazing weight loss tools, I have not lost more than a pound or two. The ugly truth is this: Until last week, the elliptical was a great place for my husband to hang his laundry. The workout DVDs are gathering dust under the DVDs of Baby Einstein that see a lot more action these days. I went to two Zumba classes with my sweet friend and neighbor Berween but our schedules got busy and we have not yet been back. I have done “Just Dance 2” a few times but the Zumba PS3 game is still in the package. Continue reading Finding Your “Want To”

How Buying A Car is Like Watching “The Bachelor/ette”

Chris Harrison accompanying "The Bachelorette" Jillian Harris to her next scene.

When the Bachelor/Bachelorette started all those years ago, I tuned in just out of curiosity. Well, that and because I went to college with the host Chris Harrison and wanted to check out his new project. Over the years, I have watched every season. Some were obviously better than others. I cried along with the fairytale of Trista finding her Prince Charming in Ryan. I laughed at Bob’s goofy antics but was pretty grossed out as he mugged down with every female in close proximity. I was bored to tears as Prince Personality searched for his princess. I wanted to gouge out my eardrums as Wes sang his “special love song” to Jillian for the 437th time. I screamed at Jake through my TV and begged him not to pick Vienna but he wouldn’t listen! Now, with Brad in his second turn as the bachelor, I am firmly hooked once again.

If you untangle yourself from all of the drama and take a step back, you will see that the Bachelor/ette concept is also a pretty interesting social experiment. During the Bachelorette, the men are certainly no angels. They remind me of the many National Geographic shows I’ve watched about animal behavior. You know the ones where the little tiny bird puffs up and swaggers around, his magnificent feathers on full display as he proudly and somewhat desperately struts around, trying to get the attention of the female.

Continue reading How Buying A Car is Like Watching “The Bachelor/ette”

The Truth about Santa (Spoiler alert)

Kyle at age 2 and "some strange old dude"

Editor’s Note – Because this is a holiday week, our Relationships post has been written by our Sense and Centsibility author, Jenn Wallis.  It’s a Christmas parenting story. About Santa.

For years, we went to great lengths to make sure my oldest son Kyle kept believing that Santa is real. After he would go to sleep on Christmas Eve, my husband Justin would get out one of his Doc Marten’s boots from the 90’s (that he still wears – but that’s fodder for another blog) and imprint the sole into the fireplace ash and on the hearth, as proof that Santa had come down the chimney.  Justin would even go out into the driveway and make a few muddy reindeer hoof prints.  We’d take bites out of the cookies and pour out a little of the milk to look like Santa had sipped it (it had been sitting out for hours, after all).

Continue reading The Truth about Santa (Spoiler alert)

Jenny’s Got a Gun: Budget Sharpshooter Bags Bargains (No animals were harmed in the making of this blog)

You won’t find a glassy-eyed 10 point buck blankly staring down at you from the walls of my home. I’ll never be found in a deer stand at 4 am, covered in doe urine, peering through the scope of a bolt-action Remington. You’ll never peek into the bushes to find me laying there in head-to-toe camo, with grease paint on my face and a branch on my head blowing softly into a duck call. If I do happen upon an animal in the woods, I may yearn to pet it or at the very least feed it. Shooting it isn’t on my agenda. But, make no mistake. I’m a hunter, through and through.

When you walk through my home, you’ll see my hunting trophies scattered around but none of them have been freeze dried or mounted. I’m a bargain hunter and I rarely pay full price for anything. Among the bargains I have conquered, you’ll see our last name artistically displayed on the wall in the entry way. I saw the concept of vinyl lettering on the wall in a decorating magazine. The company had beautiful ideas but their prices were far above what I was comfortable paying. So, I found something very similar in an E-Bay store and had them custom make my idea for about 10% of the cost.

In my kitchen, you’ll definitely notice my cobalt blue KitchenAid stand mixer. This particular bargain was a real fighter. I had to track it for months before I finally bagged that beauty. You see, it has been my dream to own a stand mixer ever since I started tuning into the Food Network years ago. I just couldn’t get past the cost. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t justify to myself spending that much money on something I wanted but did not need. So, last year, I grew tired of just stalking stand mixers and decided to pull the trigger. I studied the migratory habits of stand mixer sales and learned which store had the best price on the color that I wanted. Then, I asked my family for gift certificates to that store for Christmas. I gathered some additional store credit and scouted for online promo codes. Locked and loaded with my own personal brand of ammo, I hunkered down and waited for that big sale to come along. When it did, I sprung into action, redeemed all of my credits, gift certificates, promo codes, and rebates. Before that stand mixer even knew what hit it, I scored it for the grand total out of pocket cost of $35.

"In my kitchen, you'll definitely notice my cobalt blud Kitchen Aid stand mixer..."

The secret to big game bargain hunting is to never buy something simply because it’s on sale. If you didn’t intend to buy it, don’t need it, or can’t afford it, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. The biggest thrill that I get is from saving money on something I need or plan to buy anyway. So, I’ll share a few tips to get you started on your own shopping safari but promise me that you’ll be careful. I don’t want anyone accidentally shooting themselves in the foot by overspending.

If you’re making a considerable investment in an item, a little reconnaissance can’t hurt. Once you decide on the item you want to purchase, make sure you will be getting the best price and brand. I like www.amazon.com to check out user reviews and ratings.

Before you buy anything, check out sites like www.retailmenot.com and www.couponcabin.com. These sites have both free printable coupons for in-store expeditions as well as online promo codes that you can redeem for online shopping. I check them every time I am ordering online and almost always find something that saves me a few dollars. A great local site is www.consumerqueen.com.

Sometimes it’s nice to sit back and let the bargains come to you. Limited time sales are hot right now. You can sign up to have daily offers e-mailed to you. Websites like www.Groupon.com and www.livingsocial.com offer limited time deals in your area and some are just too good to pass up. I recently scored a manicure/pedicure for $25 and gave it to my friend Christy for her birthday. I also bought 10 Zumba classes for $10 and a professional housecleaning for $49, which I plan to use around the holidays.

Other sites offer sales that may last a few days such as www.ideeli.com for adult, kids, home items, and travel deals. Ideeli has many great sales on designer items that you may not be able to afford otherwise. For special kids’ deals, www.totsy.com is a great place to find everything from clothes to toys. All of these sites are free to join.

I don’t want to see any of you on a future episode of “Hoarders” so it’s important to only buy things you need and don’t get carried away with the high that bargain shopping can give you. While it’s fine to be proud of scoring a sweet deal, I have realized that I need to dial back on my tendency to “over share”. Now when someone says, “Cute skirt!” instead of “Thanks, I got it for 75% off at Kohl’s!” I just smile slyly to myself and simply say, “Thank you”. How much (or how little) I paid can be my little secret.

Now get out there, bag some bargains, and save a few bucks!

Hey, Hecklers: Common Sense May Not Equate with Comment Cents

Editor’s Note – I’d like to welcome guest contributor Jennifer Wallis to the Red Dirt Chronicles this morning.  Personal finance is an important area of our lives, and having someone like Jennifer around will be a great asset for both the readers AND contributors to the RDC.  Jennifer, I used “asset” as a word…can you tell I just read your post? –

Red Dirt Kelly

Most days, the audiences I teach in our financial education classes are open-minded and eager to learn. But, every once in while, I come face to face with that person sitting in the back of the room, arms folded, head tilted, apparently being held against their will who asks smugly, “Isn’t it just common sense to spend less than you make?”

This question conjures up feelings from long ago Trivial Pursuit games with one of my best friends, Marcy. While I love her like a sister, she has a white hot competitive streak. The girl hates to lose. I discovered her love for winning the hard way. Back in college, we were playing Trivial Pursuit and it was her turn to ask the question. She would look at the card, read the answer to herself and scoff, ‘Oh my gosh! This is SO easy!”  The question would invariably be something that I could never answer even if all of my brain synapses were firing perfectly.  “Who became the President of Kazakhstan in 1991?” she would ask as she rolled her baby blues at me. Of course, I would have no idea. She would then exclaim, “Wow! I can’t believe you don’t know that! It’s obviously Nursultan Nazarbayev.” Yes, of course, Nazarbayev. I can’t believe I didn’t get that one…

It’s something that we laugh about now. But, after her competitive trivia streak was revealed, we decided that for the sake of our friendship, Trivial Pursuit may not be the best idea. While I won’t kick the smug person out of their back seat in my financial education class, I do have a message for him/her.

First of all, saying that spending less than you make “is just common sense” implies that anyone living in debt has none. If you happen to be one of the Americans that owe a chunk of the $950 billion dollars in credit card debt or if you are one of the 17,787 Oklahomans that filed bankruptcy last year, you know that common sense has little to do with it. Those living with the dirty little secret of debt are probably already beating themselves up about it and they don’t need anyone kicking them while they are down.

The answer to any question is obvious when it’s written on a little card in your hand. Money management may be easy when you know how to do it. So, for those great money managers out there that have never struggled with debt, paid a bill late, or overdrawn their checking account, I say, “Way to go!” A truly an amazing accomplishment.

But, for the rest of us with whom money management does not come easy, let me say this: Your view of the financially challenged as unintelligent or lacking in common sense really doesn’t help. If someone takes time out of their life to attend a money management class, learn to budget and develop a plan to become debt-free, they should be commended. The easy thing to do is to go into ostrich mode, bury our heads, and ignore the mounting pressure of debt. But, if someone admits that they need more information and tries to make a life change, they need support – not contempt.

Everyone’s financial life consists of stages. Needs in college (pizza, beer, books…check) are quite different from those when you get married (buy a house, have a baby, have another, plan for retirement and put your own kids through college). It isn’t easy to navigate those changes without some additional support and education. When life throws in other factors like illness, divorce, job loss, the death of a family member, or an unpredictable economy, it can be downright impossible to make your income stretch in order to cover it all without some help. Yes, let us not forget that some do wind up in debt by their own poor choices and failure to plan. But, it’s never too late to change the road you’re on.

So, if you’re financially secure, let me challenge you. Instead of telling the debtors in your life that they have no common sense and that money management is (eye-roll) easy, try to remember that you probably don’t know all of the financial challenges they are facing. Try to help, offer support, encouragement, and accountability to anyone trying to make their life better.

If you are struggling financially, please know that your money management skills are indeed something that you can always improve. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be too ashamed to seek it.

Common sense doesn’t always translate to managing dollars and cents.