Friday, October 30, 2009

I'll bring home the bacon, but you have to cook it

The other day, I read an article that was in no way a surprise, but interesting nevertheless. It was about how women are increasingly becoming the primary income earners in their households.

To summarize, the number of wives earning more than their husbands has been on the increase for several years, but this trend has jumped significantly since 2007, largely as a result of the recession. One reason for this change is that men have been impacted much more than women by the waves of job losses over the past year. Women now make up half or slightly more than half of all adults employed in the United States.

So where does this leave the men?

In many cases, still job-hunting. Other men are starting their own businesses. Some men are embracing domestic duties, taking a leading role in chores and childcare. Although the situation of wives stepping up to be the primary income earner doesn't necessarily sit well with everyone, poll evidence suggests that more and more couples are becoming increasingly accustomed to and comfortable with the idea of women being the family breadwinner.

One reason why women may be impacted less by layoffs than men in the United States is that women still earn less on average. One unintended consequence of women being the family breadwinner is that many families are making do with less income, leaving them more vulnerable to financial disaster if something happens to Mom's job.

Personally, I haven't seen this situation much in either my work life or among my friends. I work predominantly with men, most of whom either have wives who work part-time or stay home with the kids. Among my married and cohabitating friends, both partners generally work and I don't have a clear idea of who makes more. In the rare cases where one partner works part-time or is out of work altogether, it's usually the woman. (For what it's worth, I'm only referring to straight friends in this last instance. I haven't seen this situation with my gay friends to date.) According to some of my friends, however, many of their colleagues are women with male partners who are stay-at-home dads, to everyone's apparent satisfaction.

If you're married or living with someone, who is the primary income earner in your household? Are you happy with the way things are, or would you rather change? Why?


Thursday, October 29, 2009

We have a winner!

Thanks to the good people at, we now have a winner for the UPrinting Postcard Giveaway. The drawing went like this:

I assigned a number to each comment, where the first comment = 1 and the last comment = 7. I then used a random number generator to produce a random number between 1 and 7, inclusive. This was the result:

Comment #3 belonged to Songbird. Songbird, please email me as soon as you can and I'll hook you up with your prize.

Check back tomorrow for a new post. In the meantime, I hope to have another giveaway up in the next couple of weeks.


Monday, October 26, 2009

There's gold in them thar beads

This weekend, a Michael's craft store (the only one, as far as I'm aware) opened in Manhattan. I had heard about Michael's from other bloggers and was curious to have a look, so I scooted on over late in the afternoon.

The place was a madhouse, which I suppose is more or less status quo for opening day, but I noticed a few things:

1. The place was full of all kinds of craft supplies, from framing to scrapbooking, knitting, baking, candlemaking, beading, flower arranging, and jewelry-making, including pendants to celebrate just about everything (nothing for running or marathons, though).

2. Everything was really, really cheap.

3. Stuff of every kind was flying off the shelves. I never knew there were so many people in New York who are into crafts!

I couldn't believe the prices. They must depend on being a volume business. I mean, what serious crafting person stops at five dollars' worth of ribbon and beads? I know I wouldn't.

I deliberately didn't take any money or credit cards with me when I went because there's not a thing I need, but as I walked through aisles and aisles of domestic arts, my nesting instincts kicked in big-time. There's a big part of me that is very home-oriented, and I'd like to be the kind of person who could make nice wedding favors or fancy cakes.

The only problem is that I'd be buying things for a life I don't live.

I can knit well but I don't have the time to do it, or the patience anymore. I studied Japanese flower arranging for two years, but fresh flowers aren't on my shopping list right now and won't be until I'm a little more certain about my job situation. I can sling a pretty good dinner on the table for friends, but I only manage to pull that together once every six months if I'm lucky. In a perfect world, I'd do all of those things and more, all the time. In real life, it's not going to happen very often. As far as other crafty things go, I pretty much suck at it. Learning them would be fun, but it's not a priority at this point in my life.

At least accepting that I can't do it all helps money stay in my pocket.

What do you want to do in future that doesn't fit into your life or budget today?

Want free postcards printed with the design of your choice? Enter the drawing here by noon EST on October 29 for your chance to win!


Thursday, October 22, 2009

More free stuff, for one week only

The good people at UPrinting are back with some more neat stuff to give away. One lucky reader will receive one hundred free postcards in the design of his or her choice with free ground shipping in the US. (Canadian residents, you are also eligible to win but unfortunately you will need to pony up for shipping and taxes.)

The postcards are size 4x6 on 14pt cardstock gloss with full color on both sides, and you can use them to advertise your business or anything else you like. I'm receiving a batch for posting this offer, and I'm planning to get them printed with either a picture of a flower I took at a famous West Coast rose garden this summer, or possibly a monkey. I'll send them out to friends and family over the coming months, and hopefully they'll bring a smile or two to the recipients.

This contest expires at noon EST on October 29, so if you want a chance to win, please leave a G-rated comment below detailing what you would do with a hundred free postcards. If you post this link on your own blog, drop a comment to let me know and I'll give you a second entry.

Good luck, and I'm looking forward to seeing your ideas.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Food is love

I blew in Tuesday night from San Francisco, and what a fantastic trip it was. A week of rest from running actually made for a good half marathon, despite the horrific lung clearing I did all the way through. I crossed the finish line about five minutes slower than my normal finish for a half marathon in New York on a significantly more challenging course, so there was definitely nothing to complain about. I don't know exactly how many people competed in the half marathon (there were about twenty thousand including about three hundred men in the half marathon and full marathon combined), but I'm pretty sure I finished in the top three or four percent overall for the half, and maybe even a little bit better than that.

Lest that sound more exciting than it actually is, there were a lot of walkers on the course.

Best of all, the finishers' medal wasn't a medal as such: Instead, the giveaway at the end of this race was a really, really nice sterling silver Tiffany necklace. It was fun seeing how many necklaces we spotted throughout the city in the couple of days afterwards.

We ran in the mornings every day we were there, but the rest of the trip was mostly about the food: We hit the farmer's market and sampled tamales featured on Cheap Eats, drank many, many cappucinos and lattes, visited Saulsalito and the wineries in Napa Valley, and finished up with a really wonderful dinner at one of Thomas Keller's restaurants.

My friends are a little more normal about money than I am, and I decided that as long as I stayed within my planned budget, I wasn't going to worry about where the money was going. I budgeted $700 for everything excluding the flight and was pleasantly surprised to come home with $93.

Here's where the money went:

Hotel: $248
Organic dried fruit from the farmer's market: $10
Gift chocolate for a dinner party next week: $10
Candy for SO's kids: $14
Gourmet honey for SO: $16

The rest went towards car rental, trips to and from the airport, and food. Didn't track a cent of it.

I feel totally recharged from getting away from all the stress and worry, and I wouldn't change a thing about this trip. I'm not sure I want to get back to reality, but reality looks just a little bit better than it did last week.

Will catch up with comments later this week; thanks for your patience in the meantime.


Monday, October 19, 2009

How many shopping days left until Christmas?

No, I'm not thinking about Christmas shopping already. There is a little bit of retail therapy that's been on my mind lately, though, and I thought I'd share it with you.

When I get stressed, lots of ugly physiological things happen. One that bothers me the most is that I get horrendous knots (tissue adhesions, I guess) in my back. I don't know the exact cause, but I do know that I get them more when I'm carrying around a lot of worries. Professional massage is one very effective way to get rid of them, but as much as I'd love to make a habit of massages (I've only ever had two), it's not going to happen in the foreseeable future.

When I was was going through nine months of physical therapy for a running injury in 2007, I remember having a terrible, painful knot on my back. While I was waiting for the physical therapist to start working on my injury, I sat perched on a table, craning my elbow around my neck to self-massage the sore spot with my fingertips. My PT saw me doing this and asked what the problem was. I told him, and he said Wait one minute. He left and then came back carrying . . . well, this:

This is what's known as the Back Knobber 2. It's a plastic hook with a ball on each end, and it's meant to hook over the user's back so he or she can effectively self-massage a knot out over the course of a few days. I tried it for five or ten minutes before each of my sessions that week, and in just over a full week the knot was completely GONE.

I have a really large, painful knot on the right side of my back right now, and I'm sorely tempted to order this doohickey. It retails for around $30 on Amazon and is often (but not always) available with free shipping. I've had trouble getting myself to order it because I don't think I'll use it that often, but right now the knot I have really hurts. If it's still bugging me after a weekend of fun in San Francisco, I'll probably end up buying it.

What's on your mind to buy right now? Are you buying it now or waiting, and why?


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Not attracted by the Law of Attraction

Okay, a couple of caveats up front: First, I've never read The Secret and I have no plans to read it. All I know about the so-called Law of Attraction is what I've read on Wikipedia. Aside from being my favorite resource for playing Where are they now? with 1970's TV stars, I realize that it's hardly an authoritative source about anything, especially since this particular article is already flagged as being problematic in its current form.

Having said that. . .

I think this Law of Attraction stuff is a load of hooey.

According to the Wikipedia article, proponents claim that the roots of the Law of Attraction lie in quantum physics. Under this theory, thoughts contain energy, and this energy attracts whatever it is the person is thinking of to draw it nearer. In order to control the law of attraction, practitioners must do the following:

1. Know exactly what you want.
2. Ask the universe for it.
3. Feel, behave and know as if the object of your desire is already yours (visualize).
4. Be open to receive it and let go of (the attachment to) the outcome.

Following this line of thought, thinking of things in terms of not having them becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To me, this is a dressed-up version of closing my eyes and wishing really, really hard for a pony. Believing that wishing will provide is natural for little kids until they figure out that it doesn't actually work, but I have a very hard time believing that adults willingly buy into this.

I think there's a much more reliable way to attract success and make all your wishes come true. All you have to do is:

1. Set S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) goals
2. Work hard, but only at the right things (i.e., don't waste time on busywork)
3. Know what finished work looks like and deliver it only when finished
4. Follow through on commitments
5. Mean what you say, say what you mean
6. Use tact and good judgment
7. Respect others
8. Make friends wherever you go
9. Rinse and repeat

If that doesn't get you on the road to success, you can see this video for a backup plan. The key words that brought it to mind were If you vote for me, your wildest dreams will come true:

(In case you're wondering, thanks to this, Pedro beat the popular girl and won the election for school president. It's all in good fun, folks.)

What do you think: Am I being too judgmental about the Law of Attraction?


Thursday, October 15, 2009

It's got to be midnight somewhere in the world

I realize it's a few hours early, but since I have to be out the door at 5:30 a.m. and it's been a while since anyone entered the banner giveaway, I took the liberty of ending the contest at 9:00 p.m. EST and drawing a random winner. The winner of a 24" x 36" vinyl banner from Uprinting is Cat!

Cat, please send me an email at frugal (dot) zeitgeist (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll tell you how to claim your prize.

In the interest of full disclosure and in accordance with a new law passed a couple of weeks ago, I must also tell you that Uprinting is also giving me a banner for hosting the giveaway. I'm having a Canadian flag printed on it in anticipation of my citizenship party next summer.

I've pre-written a couple of posts that will publish while I'm away, so keep on checking in. I'll be back to answer comments after I get back from San Francisco.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Still sick, but things are looking up

I'm better than I was on Monday, but the crud settled deep in my chest and the timing could not be worse: I'm leaving on Friday morning for a long weekend in San Francisco. I'm going out with some friends to run the Nike Women's Half Marathon, and we have a full itinerary that includes a trip to wine country, dim sum in Chinatown, and dinner at one of Thomas Keller's restaurants.

I seriously thought about cancelling the trip once job stability went down the crapper and my closest colleagues started disappearing, including the best boss I've ever had. In the end, however, I decided to go regardless of what happens. It's not going to be cheap as long weekends go, but the money we'll spend over four and a half days is not going to make a bit of difference in the big picture, even if I get laid off tomorrow. Too much of my energy has gone into stress and worry lately, to the point where one of my friends scolded me the other day for being a Debbie Downer. Fair criticism or not (and I think it probably was, although the delivery could have been better and she ended up being very apologetic), I think the way I've been letting the work situation affect me certainly helped me get sick. It's not really necessary: Even if I'm not quite as prepared as I'd like to be, I wouldn't go broke tomorrow.

In addition, the job situation looks more stable than it did a few weeks ago. There's an org chart and my name is on it, with a defined area of responsibility and a team of six. In my extended group, I also got flagged as the lead for counseling and performance management for my region (there are three) because my new boss heard that that's one of my strengths. I'm not looking too far ahead, but so far all signs are pointing to surviving the upcoming layoff tsunami - and that's all the more reason to get my perspectives in perspective and celebrate.

Are you celebrating anything right now?

LAST DAY! Advertise your business, a special event, or just yourself: Win a custom-printed 24" x 36" inch banner printed with the design of your choice. Enter before October 15 for your chance to win!


Monday, October 12, 2009

Feeling in the pink

I'm not feeling in the pink just now: I'm sick, so this is going to be a short one.

Does buying pink products or pink-ribboned items make you feel good because you're supporting the fight against breast cancer? This article suggests that you should do your homework before spending your money: the support you think you're giving may not be exactly what it seems.

Does ribbon-branding (whether it's pink or any other color) make you more inclined to buy a product? Why or why not?

Shuffling back to bed now. See you when I'm over the crud.

Advertise your business, a special event, or just yourself: Win a custom-printed 24" x 36" inch banner printed with the design of your choice. Enter before October 15 for your chance to win!


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Frugal blog network: The marathon edition

Mea culpa and apologies to my friends at the Frugal Blog Network: I missed not one but two monthly roundups.

I haven't been reading or commenting on many blogs much lately, and if you read regularly around here, you might have noticed that I haven't been posting as much. In addition to all kinds of exciting things related to staying employed, I'm in marathon training crunch time. At six weeks before liftoff, I'm approaching peak mileage and feeling every step of it. Nevertheless, it's not nice to neglect one's friends and obligations, so without further ado, here are some interesting links from other members in the network:

--Oh, the horror: Kelly from Almost Frugal just moved and lived to tell the story

--Frugal Babe has a lot of love to give, but she doesn't waste on things that won't love her back

--For The Frugal Duchess, ironing and finances have some striking similarities.

--Not Made of Money covered a topic close to my heart (which apparently lives in my stomach) when they posted about tasty casseroles that won't break your budget.

Tight Fisted Miser is thinking about spending part of each year living abroad.

That's it for this month's roundup, and boy howdy am I looking forward to tapering down the mileage in a few weeks.

Advertise your business, a special event, or just yourself: Win a custom-printed 24" x 36" inch banner printed with the design of your choice. Enter before October 15 for your chance to win!


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Family values

Today, Brooke Astor's son Anthony Marshall was convicted of fourteen charges relating to defrauding his mother of millions of dollars as she sank deeper and deeper into Alzheimer's.

This case, which I've followed with horror and fascination since the story broke, brings to light two important issues: elder abuse, and the sick ways that greed can twist family relationships.

I understand that greed has a terrible warping effect on character. As shocking and awful as it is for fraudsters like Bernie Madoff to commit fraud against friends and acquaintances, though, defrauding and taking advantage of family (especially family that is particularly vulnerable because of decline or disability) is a whole other class of crazy. My sibling and I are actively involved in my mom's finances to look after her well-being. When my dad was alive, we were even more protective because he was so physically, mentally, and emotionally fragile in the last ten years of his life. I can't imagine doing anything different, and this is one of those situations where I simply can't put myself in the other guy's shoes to even attempt to understand his motivations.

Have you dealt with a fraudster in the family? If so, what happened and how did you deal with it? If not, is there someone you're actively working to protect from fraud outside the family, and what are you doing to protect that person?


Sunday, October 4, 2009

If you're anxious and you know it, clap your hands

The New York Times had a fascinating article in the weekend magazine about anxiety. According to research, children who are naturally anxious and afraid of new things as babies commonly grow up to be anxious adults. Many of these adults are social, stable, and high-functioning, but deep inside they see themselves as little more than a mass of nerves. Anxiety can increase to the point of becoming a debilitating clinical disorder.

According to the article, severe anxiety is often correlated with hyperreactivity in the amygdala, a part of the brain that processes perceptions of novelty and threat. As a result, chronic anxiety is becoming recognized as at least partially an inherent, inborn trait, albeit one whose effects can best be mitigated by early intervention and treatment.

Personally, I don't know my amygdala from a hole in the ground. I do know that I have a mild but definite tendency towards anxiety, though, and there have been one or two brief periods in my life where it threatened to become debilitating. The best way I know to manage it is to reach out and take ownership of whatever's freaking me out. I suspect that's one reason that I'm a martinet about personal finance and minimizing my exposure to bad financial situations: If I'm adequately prepared, there's a whole lot less to worry about if something bad (like a layoff in the next couple of months) actually happens.

Do you think of yourself as naturally anxious? How has your natural anxiety (or lack of anxiety) influenced how you manage your money?

Advertise your business, a special event, or just yourself: Win a custom-printed 24" x 36" inch banner printed with the design of your choice. Enter before October 15 for your chance to win!


Friday, October 2, 2009

Home repairs from hell

I've just spent the last two days dealing with the worst mofo backed up kitchen sink you can imagine. Last night, SO and I stopped up the garbage disposal and attacked the main sink with a plunger. We brought up some interesting gunk (I've lived here eight years and my hair isn't black, so that was pretty gross) but despite all our efforts, the almost complete stoppage remained.

Today I attacked the sink with three separate sessions of Drano. I don't like using chemical drain openers because they're so environmentally harsh, but the situation was getting pretty desperate. I also plunged again before and after each application, which you should NOT do because if chemical residue is in the pipe, it can splash back up and cause injury. (This didn't happen to me, but you still shouldn't do it.) Finally, I gave up and consulted the Google.

Most of the advice I saw was standard drain opener-plunger-snake-call the plumber, and I was just about ready to give in and pay for a professional. I tried one more site, though, and am I ever glad I did: I found an article noting that in modern homes, the dishwasher drain is usually linked to the sink drain, so plunging a sink without blocking the dishwasher drain usually doesn't result in enough pressure to move a clog because the water simply backs up into the dishwasher.

I opened the dishwasher, and sure enough: NASTY WATER!

Nas. Tay.

The article went on to say that if you have a sink and garbage disposal whose drains are attached to a dishwasher drain, you should do the following:

1. Block the sink drain
2. Run the rinse cycle in the dishwasher (I just opened the drain, since it was already full of nasty water)
3. When the dishwasher is draining, run the garbage disposal

I did that, and the clog was gone in seconds. I'm out $15 for Drano (but I can get up to $8.75 back by sending in a claim against their money-back guarantee since it didn't work). Nevertheless I decided that fixing the problem myself without having to pay for a plumber just might be the best feeling in the world.

For some truly horrible images of home repairs and other DIY's gone awry, take a look at this site: There, I fixed it.

Do you have any good home repair tips to share?

Advertise your business, a special event, or just yourself: Win a custom-printed 24" x 36" inch banner printed with the design of your choice. Enter before October 15 for your chance to win!


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