Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Great Piggy Bank Adventure and The Office Solution

Normally, I don't comment much. The work of GRS speaks for itself. However, this time I have to chuck in my tuppence. I love the idea of this game, especially since there's an online version. This is the way to teach children about fiscal responsibility in a way they can understand. I wish I'd had this when I was young! Learning the hard way was difficult!
I also wanted to comment on the leasing an office. I admit, I've toyed with this one. Prices here locally are about equal to what he pays, so he did make a nice frugal choice. I too have trouble separating home life from work life, and have longed for an office where I'd walk in with a briefcase full of my WIP, and leave with plans for a bit of reading or gardening. With the benefit of a tax deduction, it's almost worth it. Perhaps there's an author or two who'd like to share?
Please keep reading below.

Get Rich Slowly
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The Great Piggy Bank Adventure

Posted: 28 May 2009 05:00 AM PDT

"If we're going to have a free-market capitalist society, we've got to give people the tools to not be victims" — John Cammack, T. Rowe Price

I get a lot of e-mail from PR firms. I ignore most of it, but occasionally something stands out. One recent message invited me to make a trip to Orlando for the debut of The Great Piggy Bank Adventure, a new financial literacy exhibit at Walt Disney's EPCOT Center.

At first, I was skeptical of the offer. As I've mentioned before, I'm wary of crossing the line to publishing advertorials. But after verifying that there were no expectations of coverage at GRS, I agreed to attend the launch. I'm a huge advocate of financial education, and this seemed promising.

"If I like the game, I'll write about it," I told Kris before we left. "But if I don't, I won't."

I liked the game.

The Great Piggy Bank Adventure
The Great Piggy Bank Adventure is located in the Innoventions pavilion at EPCOT. Innoventions features exhibits that explore the practical applications of technology in everyday life. Each exhibit features a corporate sponsor. (Waste Management sponsors a recycling exhibit, Liberty Mutual sponsors a fire-prevention exhibit, etc.) The Great Piggy Bank Adventure is sponsored by T. Rowe Price, one of the "big three" no-load mutual fund companies, and a long-time supporter of financial literacy.

The Great Piggy Bank Adventure features five stations, each of which allows kids to play on their own, or work as a team with other kids or adults. (We saw lots of parents and grandparents joining the fun.)

Setting goals
You start The Great Piggy Bank Adventure by interacting with P.I.G. (your Personal Investment Guide) via a touchscreen video monitor. This animated porker asks you to set a savings goal (vacation, college, retirement, etc.), after which you open a drawer containing a physical piggy bank. This is a clever move on the designers' part; people seemed to love carrying around their pigs.

Saving and spending
You carry your pig to the second station, place him inside a cubbyhole, and then play the first of a series of three videogames. The initial game explores the notions of saving and spending. Coins (representing your "income" from allowances, etc.) fall from the top of the screen, bouncing down from seesaw to seesaw before dropping into buckets at the bottom. These buckets contain labels like "outfits", "mp3s", and "savings". Your goal is to direct as much money as possible into savings.

Meanwhile, your nemesis — the Big Bad Wolf — sneaks in and switches the buckets. The money you thought you were routing to savings might end up in the "outfits" bucket instead. You have to do your best to avoid the unexpected. When the game is finished, your physical pig appears on the other of the game console, "filled" with the virtual money you saved.

The next game addresses inflation. (Inflation! In a children's game!) Your pig climbs into a hot-air balloon, which you pilot around the screen, rising and falling with the air currents. As you move, you collect coins — but you have to work quickly. Again the wolf is your nemesis, and he's decreasing your purchasing power with his evil coin-shrinking machine.

When this game is finished, the total you've collected is added to the amount you earned in the first game. You grab your pig and move to the next station.

The final game tackles one of my favorite personal finance concepts: diversification. This is the best of the three games. It's fun and it conveys the concept well.

Your pile of earnings is placed on the floor in the middle of a bedroom. Your goal is to hide the coins around the room: under the bed, in the drawers, behind a picture on the wall, etc. Each location is labeled with a multiplier (x2, x3, x4, etc.) that indicates how much your stash will increase — if it's not stolen.

After a few seconds, the big bad wolf sneaks into the bedroom, cackling gleefully. He looks around and then chooses two spots to steal coins from. After he's left with his loot, your remaining money increases based on the multipliers for each hiding spot. This process occurs three times, and then whatever is left is yours to keep.

Achieving goals
When the diversification game is finished, you pick up your P.I.G. one last time and carry him to the final station. You place him on a platform (from which he is whisked back to the beginning for somebody else to use), and then you receive an evaluation of your progress toward your goal.

I'm sorry to say that Kris and I made multiple attempts to meet financial goals, but always came up short.

Note:As you start the game, you're asked to choose your language, just as you can for many Disney exhibits. But in this exhibit, you can choose pig latin, which Kris and I found hilarious: iversificationday!

Behind the Scenes
During the opening ceremony, I spoke with several representatives from T. Rowe Price and Disney. In fact, during our first pass through the game, Kris and I were accompanied by Stuart Ritter (a T. Rowe Price assistant vice president as well as a certified financial planner), who talked to us about the process of developing The Great Piggy Bank Adventure.

"How did you decide to do this?" I asked.

"Disney reached out to us and asked if we had a story we wanted to tell," Ritter said. "That was over three years ago. We had to sit down and decide what fundamental financial concepts we wanted to convey to an audience that was between 8 and 14 years old."

Ritter's colleague, Edward Giltenan, chimed in. "The idea of investing is not just to make money. How much you save has a much bigger impact than anything else. What you invest in isn't as important as that you invest. Everything matters, but some things matter more. One thing that will always always affect your outcomes is saving more — and that's something you can control."

Ritter and Giltenan explained that the goal of T. Rowe Price was to produce a game that would introduce children to these concepts, and to spur conversation between kids and parents.

"Did T. Rowe Price actually design the game?" I asked.

"No," said Ritter. "It was a collaborative process. Once we understood the concepts of the story, we began to work with the Disney Imagineers to figure out a way to convey these ideas."

To learn more about the design process, I spoke with Anne Kelly, the Walt Disney Imagineer who led this project. Kelly, who trained under Randy Pausch, explained how her group tried to convey complex subjects like inflation and diversification.

"We tried to follow the fun," Kelly said. "We asked ourselves how we could take an abstract concept like money and make it tangible and hands-on. For example, the wolf represents something different in each game. In the savings game, he stands for impulse purchases. In the inflation game, he's, well, inflation. And in the diversification game, the wolf represents risk."

I've encountered a lot of financial education products, but, to be honest, most of them seem rather lame. That's not the case with The Great Piggy Bank Adventure. I think that T. Rowe Price and Disney have done an excellent job of introducing complicated subjects in a way that makes sense. However, I'm not sure they've reached their target audience. Over two days at EPCOT, Kris and I had a chance to watch many families play the game. Few of these families contained the targeted 8-14 year olds. Instead, the game appealed to younger kids. (These kids loved carrying their pigs.)

While these children are too young to understand the concepts explored in The Great Piggy Bank Adventure, Kris and I did observe an interesting side-effect. As the parents helped their youngsters play, the adults were gleaning information. (The diversification game, especially, seemed to cause some flashes of insight.)

"So is the game just a big pitch for T. Rowe Price?" our friends asked us at brunch last weekend. They were skeptical of the concept, just as we had been at first. "Are they just trying to get parents to buy T. Rowe Price products?"

"Actually, no," said Kris. "In fact, I don't remember seeing much about T. Rowe Price at all."

"There's a little bit of branding here and there," I said, "but really it's innocuous. You know how much we hate advertising. But we actually thought Disney should have been selling T. Rowe Price piggy banks or something."

"Yeah," Kris said. "EPCOT is filled with so much other merchandise. It would have been good to see kids buying a T. Rowe Price piggy bank instead of mouse ears or Goofy shirts. They're missing a huge opportunity there. People who played the game loved carrying around their pigs!"

I had some trepidation about making this trip. I don't want to cross the line to advertorials. Ultimately, I had to ask myself: "How would I have felt about this exhibit if I had stumbled upon it at random during a trip to EPCOT made at my own expense?" The answer to that is easy: I would have been delighted to find a bastion of financial common sense in the midst of this merchandising machine, and I would surely have written about it.

For more info on this new exhibit:

If you plan to be at EPCOT this summer, head over to Innoventions and check out The Great Piggy Bank Adventure!

Related Articles at Get Rich Slowly:

Un-Broke: What You Need to Know About Money

Posted: 27 May 2009 05:30 PM PDT

I don't watch much television; I'm more of a books and magazines and newspapers kind of guy. But I'll make an exception this Friday. ABC will be broadcasting a special entitled Un-Broke: What You Need to Know About Money. According to the website:

Schools teach us almost everything, but not "Money 101." For the basics on finance, turn to UN-BROKE: What You Need to Know About Money. It's an unconventional look at the fundamentals of everyday finance with all the facts about credit cards, mortgages, stocks and bonds, investing and 401(k)'s, in a fresh new format combining information and humor. The one-hour special airs FRIDAY, MAY 29 (9:00-10:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.

The special's take on basic money sense includes:

  • Will Smith, who gets down to basics with a boardroom full of corporate finance executives.
  • Samuel L. Jackson, who appears as a bestselling author of self-help books and who is "Broke as Hell and Not Going to Take it Anymore!"
  • The Jonas Brothers, who teach screaming teenage girls the mysteries of the stock market.
  • Seth Green, who explains the fundamentals of a smart mortgage from his "crib".
  • Cedric the Entertainer, who talks back to credit cards.
  • Christian Slater and Rosario Dawson, who visit an office workplace to explain the importance of investing in a 401(k) retirement plan.
  • The E*Trade Babies, who meet host Mellody Hobson for an online chat from their high chairs.

Here's a preview video:

There's some good info there, but the video seems a little, I don't know, frantic to me. But who knows? If the message of fiscal responsibility can reach a few more people, it's all good.

Update: Rumor has it that some folks will be watching this and commenting via Twitter using the #unbroketv hashtag.

[Thanks to Tyler K. and Mrs. Micah for the tip!]

Related Articles at Get Rich Slowly:

Office Space: Why I Rented a Place to Write

Posted: 27 May 2009 11:00 AM PDT

I recently leased office space for Get Rich Slowly.

For about a year, I'd been working out of an office I'd created in one of our spare bedrooms. This seemed like an ideal solution: I was able to work from home (with my cat companions!) while utilizing empty space.

In reality, this arrangement proved a blessing and a curse. Yes, it was convenient to have a home office. But I also found that the boundaries between Work and non-Work began to blur. I was working all the time. I wrote 10, 12, 18 hours a day — nearly every day. I love my work, but still…I had created a lifestyle that was anything but "rich".

Last winter, Kris and I discussed the possibility of finding a writing space for me, but we never followed through. I thought it was crazy to spend a few hundred dollars per month to rent an office when we had plenty of room at home. It felt like a poor financial decision. So I continued to work long hours. This website consumed my life.

In February and March, I did a lot of soul-searching. I began to study George Kinder's notion of "life planning" and to develop my own philosophy about the stages of personal finance. I realized that although keeping a home office made me richer financially, it actually made me poorer in every other sense.

So, at the end of March, I gave in to my gut, and I leased a small office in a commercial building at the top of the hill. It was a mental struggle to move stuff up to the new space. I felt like I was kicking a grown child out of the house. (Part of the process was fun though: I used a little red wagon to haul books, and I carried a couple of the office chairs on my shoulders.)

Hard at work in my new office. I look old! Note the piggy bank watching over me.

I've been in the new office for two months now, and I have to say: this is one of the best decisions I've ever made. Yes, I'm spending $335 a month for 145 square feet of office space, but it's a business expense. (Translation: I'm not losing the entire $335 from my personal bottom-line.) Better yet, I'm much more productive here. When I come to the office, I come to work. I've created physical and mental space by moving out of the house.

Meanwhile, I've (mostly) been able to reclaim my time at home for other activities: reading, gardening, spending time with my wife. (I've done more pleasure reading in the past month than I had during the entire previous year, I think.) My life is much richer for having made this choice.

It's not always possible to know the outcome of a financial decision before you make it. Sometimes the option that looks best on paper is actually a poor choice. And sometimes it makes sense to spend a little extra money to obtain peace of mind.

Related Articles at Get Rich Slowly:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lena's Writing Music

What do you write to? Is it music?
I'm a "mood music" writer, so I go for instrumentals, the classics, and nature sounds. For instance, when I wrote Coyote Non Grata with its underlying Native American theme, I played Sacred Spirit.
When I want spooky music, I play Creepy Classics. 
When I write "witchy" stories with magic and myth, I play Celtic Treasure.
When I need a deep, contemplative work or something calming, I play Gregorian Chants.
 When I want funny and upbeat with a paranormal slant, I listen to Loreena McKennitt's The Mask and the Mirror .
Dante has given me over the years many classical CD's. My favorite of all is this one: Distant Memories. It covers all my moods, in nature sounds.
Ah, music!

That Which Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us Stronger

It's been a stressful two months with my husband out of work. We saw financial ruin at every turn and panicked daily at 3 AM. I'm a stress eater, and for awhile there I tested my band and hovered at gaining weight despite a band with close to 9 cc's in it. I gained and lost, adding more unnecessary stress to my life. Even when I thought I was watching my carbs, I refused to keep a food log. I truly believed I was limiting my stress by allowing myself some freedom. (Self-delusion time! Call me Cleopatra, Queen of Denial!)

This weekend, I decided "enough is enough" and went back to my doctor's advice about keeping a food log. Immediately, I got results. The two pounds I'd gained dropped off me, and I was shocked to discover I once again –quite deservedly, I might add!-- had to go through with withdrawal from my carb addiction.

I'm now back on track and less than one pound away from where I was when all my troubles and stress began. I now know the value of my food log and I will not stray away from it again. Someday, perhaps in the not-so-distant future, I'll be able to maintain a decent weight without logging every morsel I put in my mouth, or perhaps occasionally forgiving myself for a slice of birthday cake on my birthday. But today is not that day, and I love my smaller body size and healthier lifestyle too much to consider a quick stroke of a pen a hardship.
Lena Austin

Saturday, May 23, 2009

PROMO ADULT Excerpt: Paws to Heal by Lena Austin GLBT, Shifters, Menage

Heat Stroke: Paws to Heal by Lena  Austin
Heat Stroke: Paws to Heal
by Lena Austin
cover art by Reneé George
ISBN: 978-1-60521-019-3
Genre(s): Paranormal, Hot Flashes
Theme(s): Ménage, Werewolves
Series: Heat Strokes Multi-Author
Length: Hot Flash
Two were-dogs welcome the return of their former lover back into their arms after being enemy packs for so long. Duke, Katriena, and Eduardo must pause to heal the breach and bring the were-canines and lupines together.

This e-book file contains sexually explicit scenes and adult language which some may find offensive and which is not appropriate for a young audience. Changeling Press E-Books are for sale to adults, only, as defined by the laws of the country in which you made your purchase. Please store your files wisely, where they cannot be accessed by under-aged readers.


The two Alphas circled each other warily, hackles raised and eyes gleaming golden in the moonlight. A beautiful female, her eyes demonically red, lounged casually in the hollow of an oak's roots. This wasn't her fight. They'd have to work their differences out on their own. Then, it would be her turn. She knew she was the prize.

The large, graying wolf stepped carefully in the sand. He was new to this idea of sharing power, after managing his pack alone for over thirty years . His muscles bunched and moved fluidly, something the female appreciated.

The brown Chihuahua curled his lip and kept an unflinching eye on the wolf, no matter how the big fellow paced. He would not give up, despite the size difference. There was more than his love life at stake here, as far as he was concerned. He didn't like sharing.

Katriena studied the two with an indulgent smile. Tonight was her night, and she reveled in the anticipation. Still, she had to teach the males their place. "Oh, get on with it, you two! I'm perishing for a cup of coffee while you two get off on your testosterone poisoning."

Both males leapt into the air, whirled, and came down side by side. They studied her, now in naked human form, an enticement despite being past her prime by a few years. Her breasts were still lush and full, her flat belly showing no sign of any litters past, though all knew there'd been some. Katriena prided herself on keeping in shape. Her black hair, ice blue eyes and white skin celebrated her true form -- that of an exotic Siberian Husky.

The Chihuahua shifted first, revealing a short, naked man with brown skin, thick black hair, and large brown eyes. He crossed his burly arms over his chest. "Sorry, baby. I'm still not used to sharing."

"Nor I." The big gray wolf had shifted to a tall, naked man with a lean body and a mane of black and gray hair.

Katriena rose gracefully from her improvised throne and sauntered over to take a firm bicep of each male. She hid her shiver of delight at the quivering male flesh and gave both of them a mild shake. "This isn't about us, you morons. Let's fuck and seal the breach between our packs." A jerk of her head indicated the luxuriously large campsite awaiting them.

Eduardo, the short man, reached out and pulled her to them both. He was the first to bury his face in her right shoulder and nibble. "I'll try."

Not to be outdone, Duke wrapped one arm around Eduardo for balance and pulled Katriena closer to him as well. Deep pain welled up in his voice. "So long. It's been so long…"


Lena Austin


Friday, May 22, 2009

Contests and Prizes-- The Author's side of the story

I'm very disheartened today. I learned of the existence of reader groups specifically set up for those who want to win author contests. Rumor Control has it they have yahoo groups set up where when they hear about an author contest, they share the info on how to win. For instance, if the author holds a scavenger hunt where entrants must post links to certain excerpts on the author's website, the links will appear in the yahoo group for everyone to use. Then the winner has to share the ebook prize with the group, negating even the author giving out gift certificates. The winner buys the books and still shares with the group.

If we hand out physical prizes, we often end up with huge postal fees far in excess of any money we might earn from royalties. I ended up shipping a $10 teddy bear to the Philipines and paid $30 for the shipping. International shipping is very painfully priced, but if an author doesn't cough up the prize to the non-US winner, the author is seen as stingy (or worse.) The really hard part was that handmade $10 bear, with my hand-embroidered signature, ended up on Ebay less than a week after I got the delivery confirmation. It was listed for $40, and I was so hurt, I didn't even keep up with the bidding after that.

Authors hear this sort of thing and don't want to give out prizes anymore. If the above is true, the "fair and equitable" handing out of gift certificates or ebooks actually hurts us badly. As if those who pirate and participate in file sharing sites weren't harmful enough.

Do they really think I make a living off my writing? I'm blowing the whistle and breaking the "rule" of not saying what I earn. I'm considered moderately successful, and on a good month I can bring in $400, but you can't live on that kind of money. Right now, with my DH out of work, I'm trying to pay the bills with my royalties and failing. Does this sound like I can afford to lose royalties and hand out expensive and unappreciated prizes?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Re: [ChangelingPress] Memorial Day Holiday in the USA

*grins* This sounds like a fun weekend for Nancy and the kids. :)
We are staying vlose to home, kids are campingout at Grams ofromt omorrow night to Sunday (YAY Date night for Dh and I) and a picnic is planned at my mom's  on Sunday. :) Monday we are in the words of DH..."sitting on our ass and doing nothing!". *snorts* I told him he has to get up sometime because I am not making him any food in bed. LOL

 From the heart of a friend- "May good fortune be yours, May your joys never end."
LR Cafe is closed for new 2009 chat dates.

--- On Thu, 5/21/09, Lena Austin <> wrote:

From: Lena Austin <>
Subject: [ChangelingPress] Memorial Day Holiday in the USA
To: "DepravedDuchess Blog" <>, "Catitude" <>, "Changeling Reader Loop" <>, "LooseId Community" <>, "AMP_Community@yahoogroups. com" <>, "Aspen_After_Dark AMP YG" <>, "KateBug YG" <>
Date: Thursday, May 21, 2009, 10:56 AM

My friend Nancy sent this on her blog. I had to share.
My kids are off school for the next 5 days. Boy, that huge mulch pile arrived at just the right time…coincidence? I've been thinking, many of you are probably taking trips for Memorial Day weekend. Yes, the mulch pile has my name on it, but you're headed to better places...probably involving a beach chair and a cabana boy. I'm happy for you.......really I am.

Now you know the traffic is going to be crazy and I want my LBT friends to be safe out there. Please drive safely people and pay attention to the street signs as you're driving new routes through unfamiliar streets!

Pay close attention to the speed limit signs.

And I'm sure you know better than to speed lest you spend your long weekend in the pokey (no cabana boys there, but maybe some cute boys in uniform).

Children have the weekend off too. Remember my kids are off starting today, so please don't hit them...I can't make any more...and that mulch pile has their names on it too.

You might want to wake up the person riding shotgun when you need some help navigating and fly by signs like these at 45 mph.

...and when in doubt, just STOP and get your bearings.

Have a great vacation...and if you have no plans, no worries, you can always PM me for my address...we've got some crazy fun times planned involving wheelbarrows and pitchforks. I'll SIGN you up...I'm even taking long haired freaky people!
Lena Austin


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Memorial Day Holiday in the USA

My friend Nancy sent this on her blog. I had to share.
My kids are off school for the next 5 days. Boy, that huge mulch pile arrived at just the right time…coincidence? I've been thinking, many of you are probably taking trips for Memorial Day weekend. Yes, the mulch pile has my name on it, but you're headed to better places...probably involving a beach chair and a cabana boy. I'm happy for you.......really I am.

Now you know the traffic is going to be crazy and I want my LBT friends to be safe out there. Please drive safely people and pay attention to the street signs as you're driving new routes through unfamiliar streets!

Pay close attention to the speed limit signs.

And I'm sure you know better than to speed lest you spend your long weekend in the pokey (no cabana boys there, but maybe some cute boys in uniform).

Children have the weekend off too. Remember my kids are off starting today, so please don't hit them...I can't make any more...and that mulch pile has their names on it too.

You might want to wake up the person riding shotgun when you need some help navigating and fly by signs like these at 45 mph.

...and when in doubt, just STOP and get your bearings.

Have a great vacation...and if you have no plans, no worries, you can always PM me for my address...we've got some crazy fun times planned involving wheelbarrows and pitchforks. I'll SIGN you up...I'm even taking long haired freaky people!
Lena Austin

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Threadbanger-- Funny FREE knits and crochet patterns

I had to share these when I found them.
You have just got to see these to believe it. I laughed. Which do you like best? I'm trying to decide between the crochet thong, the shark hat, or the adorable toilet paper.
Just click on the words in brownish-orange to be taken to the patterns.

Lena Austin


Friday, May 15, 2009

To all my friends-- A Morning Coffee jolt

-Ode to Coffee-

Your blackness,
Your bitter taste,
Our reunion is over-due!
Coffee, how I've missed you!

Your hot steam,
Your swirling goodness,
My second cup is at an end!
Coffee, my best friend!

Your feeling of euphoria,
Your aroma in the morning,
Better than an alarm clock at dawn!
Coffee, your magic powers go on and on!

Happy Friday! Have a great weekend all!


Lena Austin


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tastes Just Like Chicken?

I HAD to share.
tastes like chicken... ??  (In case you can't see the artwork...)
Margaret Riley

Lena's red glad

Fw: We're Having a Contest!

Will you say something nice? Just friend Changeling Press and say something to us. Let us know you're out there.


We're having a contest!

Come join our Facebook fan page.

You get one entry for joining and an additional entry for writing a post about your favorite CP book.

First prize! A $25 CP gift certificate

3 Seconnd Prizes! One ebook of your choice!

Contest ends May 31st!

Dear Reader, Let Me Seduce You . . . Love, Selena Illyria:,

Out Now at Loose-Id: Blood Claim: Prelude
Out Now, Tease Publishing LLC., : Catering to Hayley
Out Now at Changeling Press: Tartan Twins

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Coyote Non Grata earns 4 Stars from Rainbow Reviews

I am so proud! Thank you to British Bull Dog!

Quick Quote: "Rody is wonderful. A mixture of exotic, needful, innocent and pure. Jeff fulfilled the protector role perfectly. He was kind, understanding and knew when to be gentle and when to assert himself... "

Read all of it here:
Lena Austin

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Going Unplugged

In mid-March, I received a devastating phone call -- my DH had lost his job. We did our best to prepare for a long drought even before that. We'd begun a small garden to supplement our groceries, stocked up on certain foods like coffee, and -- this is the biggie-- we unplugged our lives.
What do I mean by "unplugged" and how is that possible? Unplugged means that we started to unplug certain appliances and modern conveniences. One of the first to go was cable television, followed closely by a land line phone. Let me explain.
The cable company had us in a vise that was squeezing us bloodless. We had not only cable television, but also cable internet and "digital voice" phone service. This cost us a whopping $170 a month. Others tell me that's not such a bad bill, and proudly tell me they have bundled services that cost them over $200 a month. This is something to brag about?
I disagree. So, we cut the cable television and phone service. Yep, just turned them off. Do we miss the television in the evening? Yes, and no. If I want to watch the news, I can watch streaming video from my favorite news channel's website. If I want to watch a TV program, many are available on . If I want to watch a DVD, it's probably available as a "watch instantly" on for $10 a month, and that includes unlimited access to DVD's sent to my home as well.
Because of all this and my job as an internet author and marketing coordinator, we have to keep a high-speed internet service. That means cable. However, we cut our bill down to a mere $60 a month, and if necessary I could probably cut it more. I'd rather not.
Is it easy going unplugged? No. There are times when I wish I could just simply flick on the TV remote and go brainless in my comfy recliner rather than look guiltily at all my undone work piles while watching "tv" on my computer monitor.
Would I prefer if my DH found work so we could restore our lives to some semblance of normalcy? Yes. However, I may stay unplugged. I'm beginning to like it.

Lena Austin


Monday, May 4, 2009

The Frugality Fad hits the Big Time

This article from my favorite GRS really hits home. It's like the poor are suddenly the arbiters of fashion, and my Depression-Era grandmother's recipe for Pot Liquor Stew is big news. Making mayonnaise from scratch is "in" and "going green" instead of tasty and fun?
Huh? How about those of us who always hung our clothes out on a clothesline and grew our own food in a garden? Is it really finally fashionable to embellish thrift store clothes or (gasp) sew your own? Candles aren't just for romance or "atmosphere" but a way to actually light the way?
Hey, I'm suddenly fashionable!

Get Rich Slowly

The New Age of Thrift

Posted: 04 May 2009 05:00 AM PDT

Over the past few months, the mainstream media has been filled with stories about the New Frugals and the return to thrift. People who once lived beyond their means, financing their lifestyle with debt, have "found religion". They've begun to embrace frugality, and have discovered the joy that can come through spending less.

The new age of thrift
Not everyone is happy about this. The March issue of Redbook contained an article called "The Upside of Living on Less", which profiled how four women are coping with the recession. The story prompted the following letter to the editor in the May issue:

While I love Redbook, something in your article "The Upside of Living on Less" rubbed me the wrong way. When describing the economic crunch, after rightfully blaming the banks and consumers who were charging more than they should have, the author wrote "Basically, we'd all been spending way more than we could afford." I don't appreciate being in the same category as overspenders. I am frugal with every cent, and I use every item to its utmost capacity simply because I don't believe in waste of any kind. I always will be like that, regardless of the economy. Even though we're all in this together, not everybody contributed to the country's financial mess. — Darcy Bailey, Mount Holly NC

I've heard similar sentiments from GRS readers — and from my wife. To a degree, I sympathize. None of us wants to pay for the mistakes of others. When people make poor choices, they ought to face the consequences.

Still, I'm happy to see so many people discovering frugality. It's an opportunity for us to spread the gospel of thrift. I don't think it's productive to spend time judging people for their past mistakes. If someone has a sincere desire to change, then I'm happy to help them do so. If these New Frugals possess the zeal of recent converts, perhaps they'll spread the word to their friends and family, and maybe we will see a fundamental shift in American values. I believe that this country needs more frugality, not less.

Those with long-time habits of thrift should relish the current economic climate. Our smart choices will help us to weather the storm. Meanwhile, we should be glad to share what we know with others. The more people we can welcome to this way of life, the more likely it is to stick, to become a permanent part of our culture.

Gleefully frugal
A recent New York Times article explores this notion. Matt Richtel writes:

Millions of Americans have trimmed expenses because they have had their jobs or hours cut, or fear they will. But a subset of savers are reducing costs not just with purpose, but with relish. These are the gleefully frugal…The gleefully frugal happily seek new ways to economize and take pride in outsaving the Joneses.

One of the "gleefully frugal" profiled in Richtel's article is GRS-reader Katy Wolk-Stanley, who writes a blog called The Non-Consumer Advocate. Katy's goal is to help people learn to live on as little income as possible. She follows some familiar frugal practices (like hanging clothes to dry), and she tries to buy nothing new — except for underwear. I asked Katy how she feels about the New Frugals.

"I am seeing a profound increase of interest in frugality, which I welcome with open arms," she told me. "Very few of us have exercised complete financial responsibility from day one, and sometimes it does take hitting rock bottom before we embrace change. Frugality is not just for the chosen few, but for anyone who wants to take control of their lives. Just because a person has been frugal for years doesn't mean they're more deserving of kudos than someone whose frugal journey just started.

Katy made an interesting observation: "I've noticed that the mainstays of my frugal life have increased in popularity. The library lines are longer and the thrift stores are consistently busy, but I don't resent this. I'm happy to share my non-consumer tricks with whoever is looking to ratchet down their lifestyle. Frugality is for everyone."

She also pointed to a piece over at The Frugal Girl about the "unriveting story" of a woman who was always frugal and never got into debt.

Why thrift matters
Now that we're about a year into this recession, we've had time to see how people are responding. Honestly, I've begun to suspect that there won't be a permanent shift in American values. I wish our culture would embrace frugality and the do-it-yourself economy, but I don't think it's going to happen — not on a large scale. But I do expect that some people will change for good, and that many people will at least try their hand at thrifty things like:

  • Growing their own food.
  • Shopping at thrift stores.
  • Building and repairing things.
  • Making food from scratch.
  • Mending clothes.

If enough people do these things, if enough people see the benefits of these changes, if enough people retain a few of these skills once the economy improves, we'll all be better off. I think frugality and thrift are about more than just saving money. They offer a chance to re-examine our lifestyles.

  • Thrift teaches the value of things.
  • Thrift provides for the future.
  • Thrift allows you to focus time and money on what's important.
  • Thrift reduces consumption and waste.
  • Thrift imparts a sense of accomplishment.

Thrift matters to me because it is a skill that I can use every day in many ways, big and small, to maximize the value of my money. But it's not the money that's important. It's what the money represents, which is freedom — the freedom to write. This is why thrift matters to me: By being a wise steward of my money, I am able to pursue my dream of writing full-time.

Making frugality personal
In my own life, I'm delighted to see the changes in my friends. Smart personal finance has been a personal passion for me over the past three years, but I try not to evangelize outside the blog. Perhaps I don't need to.

Last weekend, a group of us gathered for our annual trip to central Oregon. Every year, the women go shopping at the big-name chains: Old Navy, The Gap, etc. This year, however, some of them joined me and Kris for a trip to Goodwill. They had so much fun that they went back to do more shopping the next day!

This is just a small example — and I have others — but I think it's telling. I applaud people making small changes like this. This is how we learn to be frugal, how we learn to embrace an ethic of thrift. We try one thing. Then we try another. And another. I don't think that people can maintain habits when they try to go cold turkey. I think that it's better to make incremental changes to your lifestyle.

How do you feel about the New Frugals and the return to thrift? Do these new converts bug you? Are you glad to see them? Do you think the do-it-yourself economy will last? When things turn around, do you plan to practice the new skills you've found? Or are you eager to return to the way things were?

For more on this subject, check out the following articles from mainstream media:

[Thanks to Nancy, who asked me to write about this subject, and who pointed me to the Redbook articles. Goodwill photo by Scurzuzu.]

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Daily Links: Yard Work Edition

Posted: 03 May 2009 05:10 PM PDT

It's that time of year: Kris and I spent most of the weekend working in the yard. We planted out the vegetable garden, but most of our time was spent pruning seemingly endless shrubbery. I'm not complaining — the end result is a lovely yard during the summer — but it's daunting to realize that we're barely a quarter of the way done. Thank goodness for quality tools.

Speaking of quality tools, that's a good way to start of this collection of personal-finance links from around the web:

Popular Mechanics has compiled a list of 50 tools everyone should own (with tips!). Though I think 50 tools seems like a lot, I admit that I can't find fault with any of these choices. I just used my pick to tear out an azalea this afternoon!

Elsewhere, CBS News has a story about how supermarkets lure you to buy more. We've covered these ploys many times before (such as in this list of 15 great grocery shopping tips), but it never hurts to review.

After Richard Barrington's guest post here at Get Rich Slowly last week, I've been checking out his work over at MoneyRates. There's some good info there, including his recent list of six retirement investment mistakes. Are you making any of these?

Finally, here's my favorite blog post of the week. It's been a while since I linked to something from Philip Brewer at Wise Bread, but he just wrote about trying to reverse-engineer the best time of your life. "Why should the best time of your life be some time in the past?" he writes. "With some clear thinking and some effort, you can recapture what was great then for today." What he's really talking about is Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's concept of flow. It's a powerful thing. I should write more about it in the future.

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