Monday, March 7, 2016

Oh, shit! I did not just do that...

Remember the days of Netflix when you would actually get a DVD in the mail and then drop it back in any mailbox to return it? Turns out, you can't do that with Red Box movies. 
I had a letter to mail and a Red Box movie to return the other night. I grabbed both and headed out the door with my hubby. He drove up to the mailbox on the side of the road for me to jump out and mail the letter and then we would continue on to the store up the street to return the Red Box movie. I jump out, open the mailbox, drop my stuff in, get back in the car and it hits me. Oh shit, what have I done? I just dropped the Red Box movie in the mailbox!
  
I immediately get on the phone with Red Box to find out what will happen because I can't be the only person in the history of Red Box to have done this. I expected the lady on the line to laugh and say, "oh this happens all the time, the post office knows to just automatically deliver those back to the Red Box office." Nope. She was not nearly as amused as I was and told me they don't "have communication with the post office" so I would be charged daily for the penalties along with a charge to "own it" after 30 days or something like that. This is not a good financial time for us, so I start to freak out.

I scramble to find a piece of paper in my car. Thankfully there was 1 blank sheet in the back of my owner's manual. I write a big note that says "I accidentally dropped a Red Box movie in here, if you find it please call (my phone number) Thank you, (my name) smiley face. I drop that in the box hoping that it will float down land right on top of the movie and tomorrow morning when the postman opens the box it will be right there on top. I take pictures of all the info on the mailbox and we head home where I continue to beat myself up all night for wasting money at such an inopportune time in our lives.

The next morning I try to call my local post office, but I can't find a number for them. I have to call an 800 number and go through the hardest phone tree fortress to unlock in the history of phone trees. The recorded lady wants to know my issue and apparently "I accidentally dropped something in the mailbox" isn't one of their options. I keep trying different options and they all want info I can just plug in, like tracking numbers and change of address addresses. I keep getting to a point where I can go no further, hang up and try a different option. The usual go-tos don't even work: pound key, star key, saying "I need to speak to a representative." None of them work. The recorded lady needs to know my issue before I can speak to a representative. Ugh. I'd like to tell you which option I finally chose to get to a live person, but I lost track.
 
A lady answers and I laugh and tell her what happened. She doesn't laugh back and tells me I need to call my local post office directly. No shit, lady. That's what I wanted to do in the first place. She gives me the number, I dial and prepare to be stuck in another unpenetrable phone tree. Holy shit, someone answers. A live person, no recordings, no phone tree. I tell her what happened and she's very kind, takes my info and says she'll alert the postman on that route. I tell her that I have also dropped a note in the box and she chuckles. Thank you. Finally someone with a sense of humor about it.

Later that afternoon, I am texting back an forth with my husband and just as I hit "send" on a text, I realize a call is trying to come in and my hitting send hangs up the call. Shit! That was probably the post office! Thankfully, I must have only sent the call to voicemail because sure enough I get the little alert, listen to the message and by golly, they have my movie!

After work, I drive home, pick up my husband, write out a little thank you note, tape $2 inside for a Red Box rental and head to the post office. I get there, tell my story once again and the lady goes in the back to talk to Al who had left me the voicemail. She returns from the back with my Red Box movie and my car manual page note taped to it. My epic Lord of the Rings-type journey has come to an end. Exhale. I hand the movie to my husband so that he can make sure it ends up in the proper place as I can no longer be trusted with such tasks, lol.

I can't be the only one to have an "oh, shit what have I done!?!" moment. Share yours in the comments.

Peace.
Karen

Friday, March 4, 2016

Grocery shopping on a budget

In my last post I said I would go over our grocery shopping habits. Keep in mind this is for 2 adults who try to eat relatively healthy. Oh, and I hate to cook so I'm not spending a bunch of money coming up with any masterpieces in the kitchen. (Yes, he knew that when he married me.)


First piece of advice: Always, always make a list. And stick to it. I'm not talking about a mental list on your way to the store. Stand in your kitchen when you make your list and go through your cupboards and fridge to see what you have and what you need. (This is also a great time to throw out any past-its-prime food, bags of chips with only crumbs left, ketchup with less than a squeeze left in it, etc) And everyone knows not to go to the store when you're hungry, but also do not go when you're overly full. When you're full, nothing looks good and you may make some poor decisions cause the last thing you want to think about is another meal right then.

We do half of our shopping at the "regular" grocery store and half at Trader Joe's. We'll start with the "regular" grocery store. When I say "regular" grocery store I'm talking about Ralph's and before you say, "Ralph's is one of the most expensive stores!" I'll tell you, yes, I know. But, we live in an expensive area (we're the cheap apartments in that area, but the area is still expensive) so we don't have a lot of choice unless we want to drive across town for groceries, which we don't. Grocery shopping is not fun, we don't want to turn it into an all day excursion.

At Ralph's, we buy anything we can generic. We have found very few generic things that actually taste/work inferior to their brand name counterparts. In fact, I will only use generic creamer in my coffee, I just prefer it. Anything we don't buy generic, we try to stock up on when it's on sale. Also, make sure you sign up for club cards when they have them. It's easy, you don't have to carry around a lanyard full of those stupid little cards anymore it goes by your phone number, and they send you coupons in the mail. Like real coupons that you'll actually use cause it's based off your purchase history. Yeah yeah, Big Brother, blah blah. I'll let the store track what groceries I buy if it saves me money.

Breakfast:
  • Coffee ($7.99 at Trader Joe's about every 3 weeks)
  • Creamer ($2.75 generic at Ralph's)
  • Granola bar ($2.50 a box at Trader Joe's)
  • On weekends, 1 packet of oatmeal instead of the granola bar ($2.50/box Trader Joe's)
Lunches:
  • Trader Joe's wraps - They're in the cold section and I can't say enough good things about these. I have turned everyone I know onto them (about $4.00 each and I eat half of one each day for lunch, then my hubby and I split one for day 5)
  • Mandarin orange slices (individual cups from Ralph's, 10 pack box/$10. That's $1 a day)
  • Plain old filtered tap water in a reusable glass bottle (FREE!)
  • On weekends we have Lean Cuisines (about $3.00 each x 4) I know they're not the healthiest thing, but I justify it by saying it's still healthier than fast food, so there)
Dinners: (my husband loves to grill, so that's our main go-to)
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breast (frozen bag at Trader Joe's $8.99) they're so big, we share 1
  • Frozen veggies ($1 a bag at Ralph's)
  • Boneless, thin cut pork chops ($5.00 for a pack of 5 at Trader Joe's, that's 2 meals for us)
  • Tater tots ($3.00/bag at Trader Joe's about 4 meals) 
  • Applesauce (about $3.00 a jar, lasts about 6 meals)
  • Trader Joe's chipotle flat iron steak. If you haven't had it, you're missing out. ($9.00 for 2 steaks, we share a steak so it's 2 meals for us)
  • Mashed potatoes (frozen, $3.00 a bag at Trader Joe's about 4 meals worth) 
  • Bertolli frozen skillet meals ($7.99 per bag, Ralph's - a way to get shrimp dinner on the cheap)
  • Frozen pizza Fridays (varying prices at Ralph's, but you can always find one on sale. I really like the California Pizza Kitchen, they're pretty close to "real" pizza) We used to go out for pizza on Fridays, this saves us so much and we still get pizza!
  • We have salad every night (2 bags romaine blend $5.00, 1 bag croutons $2.50 each week) 
  • Salad dressing ($3.00 per bottle, lasts about 2 weeks) 
Snacks: (cause you still gotta live!)
  • Crunchy curls from Trader Joe's are so good! You get like 30 of them per serving and they're $3.00/bag
  • Veggie chips are also good ($3.00/bag)
  • Hostess cupcakes or coffee cakes ($2.50/box at Ralph's)
  • Bananas ($.19 ea trader Joe's)
  • Navel Oranges ($4.00/bag at Trader Joe's) 
And there you have it. It keeps us under 1500 calories a day and about $100 - $125 a week.

Do you have any grocery habits/ideas you'd like to share? I would love some new ideas for cheap and easy meals!

Peace.
Karen

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Living on a budget

Where were you all year? Oh wait, it was me that was missing. I can't believe I didn't write a single post in 2015. It's been another, shall we say, interesting year... but aren't they all?

My husband and I were yet again the victims of a lay-off. This time was different though because it was only my husband that lost his job when the company he was working for tanked. The last 2 times we went through this we were both out of work, so this is actually an improvement. Anyway, seeing as we're now pros at this sort of thing (yay us?), I thought I'd share how we make it from day to day. If you've lost an income and need some money saving advice, or even if you have a job but you have no savings (start saving NOW, you never know when your world might turn upside down), this is for you. I'm not saying this is the only way to do things or that this method will work for everyone, but it works for us and it's at least a place where you can start thinking about what will work for you.

 

First piece of advice. Set up multiple bank accounts (we use 2 credit unions). We have 2 checking, 2 savings and 3 jars (yes, actual glass jars... they come free with pasta sauce and pickles!) Here is how we utilize them:
  • Checking account #1 is used for all of our bills. We know how much we have going out each month so we make sure there is ALWAYS enough to cover them in there. I was raised with the "bills come first and everything else comes after" mentality. (Thank you, mom and dad!) It's true. Do it. You can eat Top Ramen and carpool a ride to work, but those bills just keep coming. Don't get behind, it's hard to catch up.
  • Savings account #1 is tied to our checking account #1. Since we've been through this before we have learned to save in the good times. We actually have a healthy savings account, so we have that tied to our checking account #1 just in case something comes up and our account is short that month, we have overdraft from the savings account. (I also use this savings account for my schooling.)
  • Checking account #2 is for groceries, cat food, gas, entertainment, all the rest. Again, like with bills, groceries and gas come first and the rest is for playing with or rolling over to the next month. We spend about $100-$125 a week on groceries and, since my husband isn't working and we don't have to gas his car, about $25 a week on gas (we both have economical Hondas). The grocery bill includes toiletries: TP, paper towels, cleaners, etc. We are fortunate in that we have no children, so we can get off pretty cheap in those areas. I'll break down our grocery list in another post.
  • Savings account #2 is tied to checking account #2 and is for gifts, clothes, and big goals like vacations (hey, we can dream!) It's also for transferring money into checking account #2 if we fall short. Sadly, it's usually used for the latter, but we're happy to have it when we need it.
  • The 3 jars are for: pennies, silver and paper. We try to withdraw and use paper money when we can and any coins we get go into the jars. If we've taken a $20 out of the ATM and have a couple dollar bills left over at the end of the day, those go in the paper jar. Every once in a while we slip a $5, $10 or even $20 in there! Crazy, I know. lol. This can be used for just saving, or for going out to sushi or pizza once in a while, or grabbing a few bucks to treat yourself to a coffee on the weekend.
So, you may have read the line about us not having children and thought, well, they have it easy. No wonder they can make it. We do however, have a mountain of student loan debt from my husband's degree (which we are not deferring because we want to pay those bastards off as soon as we can) and I am currently going to school as well. We are able to pay for my schooling as I go because, since I work full time, I am only taking 1 class per semester. (But, have you seen the prices of books and their new "companion codes" lately!?! Ouch!)

Again, this isn't a "this works for us, so it will work for you" post. It's merely a "this is what works for us, maybe there are some things in here that will work for you too" post. I hope it inspires you to come up with some ideas of your own, start a savings account if you don't already have one, and think about what you would do if you ever found yourself in an unemployed situation. It happens. And it sucks. But keep your chin up and keep on keepin' on.

Leave me a comment with some of your own money savings tips. I'd love to get even more ideas!

Peace.
Karen

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Thomas Times 2014

I realize this may be hard to read. 
If you want to see the plain text version, scroll down past the newsletter.
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So, this time last year I was writing to tell you that Damon and I were once again gainfully employed. A year has gone by and we’re still with the same companies. A few years ago, it wouldn’t seem like a big deal to hold onto a full-time job for a year, but these days, we are thankful for it everyday. (Some days more than others, lol.)

It has been an adjustment. Probably more so for me than for Damon. He has had 2 different jobs since we moved back from Oregon, this is my first since we came back. It was tough transitioning back into sitting behind a desk for 8 hours a day. I really loved my dog walking business, but I am a terrible salesperson, so I was never able to really get it off the ground.

I have also had some trouble learning to work with my new boss’s, shall we say, “strong personality.” I’m so quiet and try not to complain too much, she is 180 of that. I’ve had to endure yelling and slamming and constant complaining about anything and everything. She and I share a small office within the company’s larger office, so I realized, for my own sanity, I was going to have to figure some things out.

And that’s not to say she’s a terrible person. I’ve learned a lot from her and she really does have a good heart, we just have very different personalities. I probably drive her crazy with how quiet I am. She’s probably thinking, “yell, slam something down, you’re too quiet!”

But, there were days I would drive home from work crying, asking God why I was placed in these close quarters with this boisterous negativity. Then, I figured it out. This situation has made me realize I need to not take everything so personally. If she is yelling and slamming things around, I have to tell myself it’s not directed at me. That hasn’t been easy. I’ve always taken everything to heart and as a personal attack. So, for learning to let things go, I am grateful. It’s freeing.

My favorite thing I’ve found online this year is a perfect mantra (especially since I’m part Polish.)
It just isn’t my problem. My job is to do the best I can do, anything other than that is out of my hands.

In other good news of the year, Damon and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary! It’s so nice to be able to say, even with all the shit we’ve been through, that these have been the best 10 years of our lives. Because no matter how much we go through, as long as we do it together, it’s OK. We love each other more every single day.

We took a couple of days off work and went out to Palm Desert for a quiet, long weekend. I know, I know, Palm Desert? We kinda thought the same thing, but I knew I wanted to go somewhere warm (It was October and I wasn’t ready to give up on summer yet) and we had a great time.

First we went to the JW Marriott resort. You know, the one where Jesse’s dad got married in Saved by the Bell, lol. It was beautiful! They have tons of birds, so I thoroughly enjoyed that. Flamingos, herons, ducks, coots and egrets outside and some beautiful, tropical birds in big cages in the lobby. They also have a little man-made stream that flows around the resort and into the lobby where you can take a free gondola ride!

The next day we took the tram up the mountain in Palm Springs. I had never been up there before, it was fun. It was especially neat because since Damon used to work the Skyway at Disneyland, he was able to explain to me how it all worked. He even noticed that it was made by the same company as the Skyway. Here we are at the top.
Our final day there we drove to downtown Palm Springs and drooled over all the mid-century modern architecture and antique stores. We love anything mid-century modern, so we were in heaven! Of course it was all well out of our price range, but we still had a good time window shopping.

The other big news in our family this year was welcoming our first nibling! Yes, nibling is an actual word, even though my spell check is telling me otherwise right now. A nibling is a niece or nephew, ours happens to be a nephew! 
Damon’s brother and his wife brought little William Verne Larson into this world on October 11. He was 7 lbs. 10 oz. and 20.5 inches long. We fell in love immediately and we are already thinking about all the fun things we’ll get to do with him as he grows up. You know, all the things his mom and dad won’t let him do, hehe.

So, that’s our 2014. It’s the best year we’ve had in quite some time and we pray we can continue on this upswing in 2015 and beyond. We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year! 
Love and hugs, from the Thomases.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

extra! extra! read all about it!


when i was a kid, my dad worked nights for a newspaper as a pressman. every wednesday (back when people used to get paid every week) he would take me down to the paper so he could pick up his paycheck. i got to experience the giant presses, the smell of ink (oh, how i love the smell of ink!) and the comradery of working there from a young age. my dad would walk me around and show me all the different departments and i decided i, too, wanted to work there one day.

when i was 18, after i graduated from high school, my dad brought me home an application for the news paste-up department. i was so excited, that was the department i had fallen in love with during our tours. i applied and the day before my 19th birthday, i started working the swing shift in the news paste-up department at the press-enterprise newspaper.

it was all so fascinating. the big wooden banks covered with plexi-glass sheets with all the newspaper boards lined up by sections waiting to be decorated with the day's happenings was so beautiful to me. grabbing stories as they came out of typesetting machines in galley strips, running them through a melted waxer to stick them to the boards and cutting the galley strips down to size with xacto blades. there was skill, there was precision and there was artistry.

i learned everything i could, i couldn't get enough. i would even go over to other departments to learn what they did and help them out if we were slow. i loved it!

but, as much as i loved the work, what really made it was the people. some of the people i was now working with i had known since i was born and some from my dad walking me through on payday wednesdays. so, automatically, i was surrounded by not only co-workers, but family.

i'm not going to pretend it was all peaches. like any job it had it's not so good moments and like friends and family we didn't all always get along like happiness and rainbows and remember, i started when i was 19, i still had a lot of rebellion to go through. but, all in all, my memories are the good ones.

today, i got to see a lot of those people again. since we are all so close, we do keep in touch on facebook and we've seen each other at a few funerals, but today was different. today was to celebrate something we all had in common. a love of the newspaper business. the old newspaper business and the people that made it all happen.

we laughed, we cried, we fell back into old times. we all know so much about each other and each other's families, it was great to catch up with everyone and to be in a room full of familiar faces, laughter and love.

i just keep thinking about that line from the movie stand by me...
"i never had any friends later like the ones i had when i was 12. geez, does anyone?"
but for me, it's coworkers and i was 19-30 years old.

when i left the newspaper, i didn't realize what a great thing we all had. since i was so young when i started, i guess i thought every job would be like that. it's just not. we had something special and i'll always cherish those years and the relationships i was able to form because of them.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

love. give it, get it, spread it, share it. be it.

so, i haven't had a blog post in quite some time. since christmas to be precise. i've been in a bit of a slump. i last wrote about getting a new job, which at the time i was so happy about. in the following months i had some real struggles with how i felt about it. i had such a bad experience in oregon, i kind of felt like i had sold myself out and landed right back where i was. i was having a hard time conforming again. after all, i had just been unemployed for over 2 years and could do what i wanted, when i wanted. i had a dog walking business which i absolutely loved, but i'm just not a self-marketer, so my client base was tiny. loyal, but tiny. all i thought about all day while feeling like i was chained to a desk again was, i could have made my business work, i just needed more time. i talked to my husband about wanting to leave my job and try my business again, but being the sensible one who lives by logic rather than feelings, he gently persuaded me to stay with the full-time gig. so, i would get teary-eyed on the way to work, and then take a cry break at noon in my car while i ate lunch and listened to comedy podcasts to try and get my mind right to get through the rest of the day.

i was also having terrible feelings of self-doubt in my field. i don't have a college degree. i have been in this industry for over 20 years and have taught myself everything i know, but i don't have the paper to back it up, so i was feeling inferior. my boss never hesitated to mention her college degree and in my way of turning all things into negativity toward myself, i took it as a jab at my lack of one.

since then, i have enrolled in school (i got an A in my first class!) and am working really hard to not take it all so personally and seriously. i've decided not to be a shrinking violet and speak my opinions, in a kind and flexible way of course, and i'm finding people respond to it. it's kind of cool.

i have also recently turned 40 and although no birthday number has ever bothered me before, this one got to me. it hurt because i felt like i'd wasted and screwed up a lot of my years. my mom talked about how she was ok with 40 as it was around the time i was graduating from high school and she and my dad were getting settled into 2 incomes after my mom taking time off to raise my brother and i and feeling comfortable in where they were in life. i had none of that. i do have a wonderful husband whom i thank God for every single day, but what else did i have? no degree, no children, no house, no long-term employment where i was making a decent amount of money to feel comfortable in where i was in life. what had i done with it all?

well, i had tried things. granted a lot (or even most) of those things didn't work out as i'd hoped, but at least i tried. i never wanted to be the person to live in one place my whole life and raise kids. it wasn't in me, so to look back now and feel like i missed out was ridiculous. i didn't miss out, i chose to go a different route. i can't have it both ways. i chose to get out of town and live and i did. it may not have turned out exactly as i thought it should, but really what do i have to complain about? in the grand scheme of things what is it that matters? is it money? no. possessions? no. a piece of paper saying i have a proper education? no. in the end, all that matters is how much love you have given away. "and now these three remain: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love - 1 corinthians 13:13" that's it. that's the only thing that matters. it is the only thing that will live on after you die. it is the only thing that fulfills those empty places in your heart. that's it. and as soon as i figured that out. i was ok with turning 40 because i really think there are more people in this world that would call me kind and generous than people that would call me an uptight bitch. and to the people who would call me an uptight bitch (because i'm sure they're out there) well, you know what? that's their problem.

here's an example: my brother and sister-in-law and my husband knew 40 was weighing heavy on me, so they all decided to give me the most epic weekend i could imagine. my brother and sister-in-law drove all the way down from san francisco and my husband got us all tickets to a comedy show for friday night and tickets to disneyland for saturday. i was surrounded by love and support. were they all talking about what a fuck-up i was and how they couldn't believe i didn't have a degree, a house or a pile of money? no. we talked about how much we all loved and missed spending time with each other and how lucky we were to be such a close-knit family who would do anything for each other. that's where i'm rich. i'm rich in love. i've seen a quote online that sums it up. it says, "some people are so poor that all they have is money" it's the truth. you can't buy love. you have to make it and earn it. your job every single day is to live simply and try to help others in any way you can. once you figure that out, everything else has a way of sorting itself out.

so, go out and love without hesitation. hug someone and feel the hug back. there's electricity there. it mends and heals and grows. that's when you'll realize just how rich you really are. i know i did.