Tip on the WHOLE bill

I’ve recently started a habit of patronizing Buffalo Wild Wings on Tuesdays, when wings are 45 cents each. I eat about a dozen, and the bill for me and my “wing wingman” usually comes to about $20 for food, drinks, tax. Now I know when I go any other day of the week, that bill is closer to $30…so I tip $5-6. I know people who work at chain restaurants that have deals like this, and a lot of them don’t like working on days with specials like that because the tips are lower, so they’re working a lot more for the same money at best.

I didn’t used to think like that. But now I work for a company that puts on promotions for its customers and takes on 100% of the expense. My rate of pay is completely unaffected – in fact, I tend to make more because of the increased business. Personally I think restaurants should pay staff the *real* minimum wage those days (well, actually all days, but that’s a whole other battle) – it wouldn’t entirely make up for the difference, but is certainly a gesture in the direction of fairness. However, I’m pretty sure the CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings, TGI Friday’s, etc. want to hear this.

Frugality Blogging => Enriched Day-to-Day Life

I didn’t start blogging for any reason other than to sort through my feelings and habits regarding all things financial – but wow, have I ever gotten so much more out of it than I could have possibly predicted!

1) Coupons! Shocker, right? But seriously, think about all the money you shell out on a regular basis for toothpaste, cold & cough meds, hair care, soap, deodorant, razors, aspirin/ibu/tylenol, body wash/lotion, skincare, fem hygiene, laundry & dish detergents, cleaning products, cosmetics, vitamins, cereal, snack foods. Now imagine getting all those products for no more than sales tax. Buy all that stuff on various store loyalty programs, and you can also manage to get things like coffee, milk, eggs, juice, tomato sauce, mayonnaise, peanut butter, ice cream and candy for free too. As a result, I am using better quality personal care products than before I started couponing, and I’m preparing more meals at home because my cupboards are full of tasty ingredients. And my food budget has been halved 🙂

2)  Freebies! Getting my mail is now fun because odd little “gifts”that I requested online arrive every now and then. Last week I received a Uniball pen, a coupon for a free bottle of Excedrin (my #1 headache cure of choice), an insulated shopping tote (much-needed!), and my first issue of a free subscription to Health magazine.

3)  A social outlet! Totally wasn’t expecting that. The PF blogger community is fairly small, smart, and packed with very entertaining writers. They inspired me to start Twittering, which is thankfully not the time-suck that other social media outlets are (took one look each at Facebook and MySpace and ran the other way). Anyway, for someone who works from home and lives alone, Twitterland and Blogosphere help keep me sane on quiet days.

4) Alleviating my misanthropy! First off, I’ve met a few blogotweeple – they’re so normal! And then someone sent me a sweet, sweet care package 2 weeks ago when I was dealing with a tiny spot of skin cancer. Those of you who helped with Christmas for that enormous family – wow. And then there’s a bunch more who’ve thoughtfully stepped up to supply coupons. Sorry, I haven’t linked to all of you, but I’d never finish this post if I kept at it! But I am very appreciative for the daily reminders that there are bright, big-hearted people all over the place…so easy to lose track of that when you’re in a city and a profession where everyone is trying to bleed more out of you than originally bargained for.

5)  Significant $avings!  I cut my only utility bill by over 50%. I became more consistent at looking for online discount codes and reminding my mother to do the same (easily $200+ saved there!). I signed up for eBates and Swagbucks to make the most of my online purchases. Oh — a special shout-out to all of you who signed up through my referral links – I used some of the rewards to do things like buy socks and Christmas presents for Mom-of-10’s kids.

6) Giving!  I may have had my worst financial year since becoming self-employed, but I have been able to give so much because I’ve learned so much about “freetailing” (get it? Free + Retail … got that one from Debbie). Heck, given how much cereal and oatmeal I got for free or nearly free last year, I supplied indigent New Yorkers (working poor, unemployed, welfare families, youth shelters) with 1000 breakfasts!

Who’d have thought becoming a better penny-pincher would be so enriching?

Poll: Should I lie to an inconsiderate Broke Folk?

Last summer, I gave a huge load of feminine products to a woman with a fibroid problem. She just contacted me to restock, and yes, I have plenty she could have. However, she screwed up twice in a way I can’t tolerate.

I work from home, in a business where my clients very reasonably expect a peaceful environment with no interruptions. The first time she came, she was late and I had left bags of goodies for her with the doorman. He told me later that she got a little pushy about getting him to buzz me so we could meet – even though I told her I would be with a client and informed her about the doorman arrangement. She definitely knew this. The doorman knew not to interrupt me and the problem was averted. Then she decided a couple of months later just to stop by and say hi on a Saturday afternoon. We had not been in touch, I thought the doorman had rung the wrong apartment – but no, it was her. I am sooo clear with people about my work/home situation and was pretty pissed.

So now I want to get rid of her. Do I take the cowardly way out and say that I’ve stopped doing those deals? Or do I tell her the truth – that twice she didn’t care about the potential damage to my livelihood and that was two times too many? Because I have (rarely) been interrupted before by stupid things like a neighbor who got off the elevator on the wrong floor and tried to put his key in the lock, or the doorman rings the wrong apartment with a take-out delivery. Those clients NEVER come back, even if I make up for it by adding time to their massage as an apology.

UPDATE:  Decision Made
I decided to go with the lie, but for a different reason than my commenters gave (the woman is weird but not scary). Saying that I don’t do those bargains any longer has no comeback, whereas telling someone you don’t want to deal with them opens the door for the “reasonable” argument for a second chance.

Blame it on the Paint: Lack of Posts

I really want to blog. I have a few things going on worth mentioning: an out-of-the-blue collections call with advice from my financial adviser on how to handle it, adventures in Christmas tree chopping-shopping last weekend, progress towards the $60 Christmas Challenge for Mom-of-10 (I miscounted – forgot to include the baby!), opinions on seasonal charity fundraising, and the true cost of this paint job. In the meantime, please cross your fingers that the $41 gallon of paint called Dragon Fire doesn’t come out Sunkist Orange!

Apologies for Lack of Posting

I seem to have developed friction issues with typing on my laptop – fingertips, outer edge of right hand, etc. I have no idea what I’m doing differently this week that I haven’t been doing for the 6 months since I got this particular laptop, or the year since I got the wireless router and moved to the couch, but I’m mostly giving my hands a break. I anticipate putting up a post in the next day or two with a Robin Hood coupon request, though who knows, I may get some random inspiration in the meantime.

Enjoy your Halloween!

Stockpile Distribution Etiquette

My recent post about working the drug store games attracted a very thoughtful and relevant comment from one of my readers:

The down side [of bargain-hunting] is that as much as [my mother] loves a bargain, she looks for things not only for herself, but for everyone who lives close enough to her for her to give things to them. It drives my brothers crazy, because there comes a point at which her bargains– even the food ones– are junk coming into the house that they need to get rid of or find a place for. I’m glad that I don’t live close enough to her for her to be foisting so much stuff off on me. As it is, she’s sent me a few boxes of things that–yes, they’ll be useful eventually, but I didn’t really want them at that moment. It’s not always a bonus. Even if you’ll eventually use 10 bottles of glass cleaner, you only need one for now. The other 9 are a pain if you don’t have space for them. And sometimes, the reason a person doesn’t have an item is because he or she doesn’t really want to have it. Cost isn’t a factor– desire is.

I’m not saying that your family isn’t grateful and I’m not saying that you (or my mother, for that matter) shouldn’t enjoy what you do. I’m just saying that as a sometimes recipient and as a sibling of more-frequent recipients, there are times when “take it, it was free!” or “here, it was a bargain!” can be a nuisance.

Actually, I’ve never been on the receiving end of this kind of behavior so I can’t relate perfectly. However, I have had friends who would, for example, get tired of a hair product when only 1/4 of the way through it and foist it on me with “we have the same hair type, you’ll love this”. I’d have folks clean out their closets and make like they were being wonderfully generous by giving me the dusty, unwanted crap that they never found a use for.

I caught myself going down this road early on and changed my behavior. I went CVSing with a friend who appreciates a good deal, and I got 2 bottles of contact lens solution as a “money-maker”. Well, it takes me a long time to get through a whole bottle of contact lens solution, so I gave her the other one. She started to explain that it’s not the brand she prefers and then just shut up and took it. To this day, I’m not sure if she took it because (a) it’s hard to turn away “free”, (b) she re-thought her brand loyalty and realized it wasn’t that important to her, or (c) it would make me happy. So here’s what I’ve done to make sure I don’t annoy the people I distribute my freebies to:

Mom:  She’s with me for a lot of my shopping. I spread it all out before packing it up to bring back to NYC, and she takes what she wants. We occasionally come to blows over brownie mix.

Sisters:  In addition to their silly-but-useful “color boxes” that I’m preparing for Christmas, I set aside anything I know they use. Or more accurately, anything our mom knows they use – the woman has a shopping list in her head for each of us. When she doesn’t know, she defaults back to what we liked/used in 1985.

Brother:  He likes smelly things in general and is a very happy recipient for all the free air freshener contraptions that Glade keeps putting out. He’s also something of a naive new homeowner, so anything household-y will not go amiss. Heck, unlike the commentator above, he could actually used a few bottles of glass cleaner – the house has 4 levels and a whole lotta windows.

Ayten (aka Working Poor Mom + 2 teens):  The first delivery, she was so desperate for anything and everything from unwanted laundry detergent to milk that there was just no getting it wrong. But since I’ve established an ongoing care package relationship with her, I’ve gotten a wish list and also check that she and her kids actually use/need what I give her. I told her that if I ever give her something that doesn’t suit them for whatever reason, to tell me or even give it back – I won’t be offended. She then went on to describe how several of the items I’d supplied (peanut butter, Knorr pasta sides, etc) were making life a whole lot easier for her because they were things that her kids could make on their own while she’s at work.

Friend:  I asked my best friend for a list of her health/beauty/household stuff she uses – this is the same friend I gave the contact lens solution to last year. She indicated brands, which things she was brand loyal to and which ones whe wasn’t picky about. It was kind of funny how quickly she rattled things off:  Dawn but only the blue kind, Lysol but only the orange pourable, Tresemme for colored hair (really? it’s kinda cheap…), Satin Care or really any shave gel as long as it’s girlie, any toothpaste in a whitening formula, etc. Wow, I’ve got half her list committed to memory. Now that’s friendship.

Client:  Okay, so Ms Phone Sex is really turning out to be more friend than client, but I figured the odd things I’ve given her warrant a mention. I don’t think she’s all that picky she likes a bargain – especially one she doesn’t even have to go out and get herself. And heck, she’d actually requested dishwashing liquid. I loved showing up with odd bits and pieces that she needed, like Dawn and Nivea shower gel. It firmly established a lack of pretention early on in the friendship, which is really important to me.

So there – that’s how avoid turning my adventures in de-cluttering into someone else’s reluctant re-cluttering.

Twitter: I’ve caved to the latest fad

I’ve resisted for months. I’m not really into the concept of social networking, it strikes me a serious time-suck. But…I’ve been home all day hoping to get some work and finally got bored enough to give Twitter a shot. Please feel free to add me as MoneyMateKate! And if I’m screwing up my Twittiquette (not sure if that’s an official Twitter vocab term, but it should be), tell me.

State of the MMK Union

According to the talking heads at CNBC (my commercial break channel surfing destination of choice before 4pm), that whole downturn thing is over and happy days are here again. So let’s pretend for a moment that I believe them and look at how it has affected my year thus far, as I sit here on the eve of my 39th birthday…

Income:  My income has taken a 20% hit, based on a year-on-year comparison for the Jan-April period. I predicted a percentage closer to 50%, so this is GREAT!!! I suspect it would have been higher if Feb 2008 hadn’t been so frighteningly dire in the immediate aftermath of the Bear Stearns collapse. Anyway, this means I’m making my expenses and a bit more, but not a whole lot more. And I’m hoarding it.

Career:  Looks like there will be a 2-day Rolfing workshop in June. Given the complexity of Rolfing, I suspect it’s an intro deal to market the big 300+ hour course, which bodes well for my financial future!

Investments:  GE is down 30% since I purchased it, and AIG is up 180%. And if business continues to show recovery, I just might be able to make that Whole Life premium in September (I’ll go monthly if I have to, but I feel like that’s just postponing the inevitable).

Health:  Still fighting to get my minor vascular procedure done – pain in the ass doctor won’t schedule a surgery date (it’s not just me). My weight is way up but, I think, no longer increasing…with Bridezilla’s big day looming, I really need to re-establish my good habits pronto. And thank whatever powers that be, I finally resolved the neck-shoulder-elbow pain in February…ahhh!

Home:  Re-upped in March for 18 months at an acceptable rent. In retrospect, I wish I’d shot for 20-24 months, ugh, what was I thinking. I do need to replace some dying items in here though, like a shelf unit that’s getting awfully rickety. But I tend not to get around to such things until they completely fall to pieces, which is really not a great plan when clients come to your home.

Travel:  No plans in the making, except for the non-negotiable trip to Colorado in September for the wedding. I really should do something the first week of July though, because I know I’ll be wasting my time waiting around for clients to call.

Charity::  I’ve funded several microloans at Kiva with money that had been repaid from other loans. I’ve made weekly deliveries of cereal, dairy products, condiments, toiletries and first aid items to a teen shelter and also cooked dinner there twice. My new shopping-for-free hobby has been fantastic in this respect! I’ve made one delivery, with another in preparation, of toiletries and beauty products to Bottomless Closet. I’ve done 4 ThaiForGood massages for $$ for my little charity projects. I sent a check for $80 to Thai Freedom House in February, with plans to send another $50 within the next 10 days.

CONCLUSION:  Despite the year’s craziness on a macro level (volatile markets, new president, Craigslist Killer, swine flu panic, etc), I’m doing just fine on a micro level. And you too can come to this conclusion if you restrict your news viewing to Comedy Central 🙂

Freaky Coincidence: Not dying to make a living update

Um…not 100% sure and currently looking into, but pretty sure…I have one degree of separation from the fiancee of the man dubbed the Craigslist Killer. If she is who I think she is, her brother was a classmate of mine in middle & high school. Not finance-related, but weird enough for me to feel the need to write about it.

Apartment Search, Day 3: Done??

I went to see an apartment in my target neighborhood this afternoon, and it’s the closest I’m going to get to my wishlist. I should know by Saturday if I get the place.

On the up side:

  • It’s a 1-bedroom!!! — excellent separation of church and state
  • It’s $1800/month!!! — savings of $300
  • It’s got an elevator — so being on the 4th floor is fine
  • It’s around the corner from the best pizza in the neighborhood
  • It’s within a 3-minute walk of more subway lines than I can count
  • Only a super to tip at Christmas (= savings of over $600!)

On the down side:

  • No laundry on premises (but added expense of sending it out is only a few $ more than I’m paying now)
  • Individually metered electricity — will cancel out savings from Christmas tipping
  • Above lots of restaurants…rodents likely an issue at street level after midnight
  • Entrance is poorly marked — might be able to do something about that?
  • Landlady will probably grill me about whether or not I’m a hooker (past issue with a trannie)

Then there’s one thing I can’t figure out if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. Let’s go with good…it’s not available until April 15 at the soonest. The current tenants don’t move out until April 4, then they need to spruce it up. In other words, I once again have the option to take some rent-free time off to travel. I told the agent that April 20 would be even better…that would give me 3 weeks in Africa or Thailand or wherever. The thing is, with my drastically reduced income so far this year, I’m naturally hesitant. Well, it will ultimately be up to my landlord, whether he lets me stay beyond the 31st or not. Pretty sure he will – the market heats up in Spring, so those few weeks will definitely benefit him.

So here’s hoping the search and the pity party are over. THANKS to you all for the abundance of blogo-love in response to yesterday’s post. And to answer a few of your comments… Finding a job, hah, there aren’t any to find and they pay a pittance while offering no benefits. Moving somewhere cheaper? I can’t bear the idea of starting somewhere new with absolutely no existing client base in this economy.