Friday, February 29, 2008

Schooled by Jealousy; 6 Lessons from Envy

Do you ever feel as if life is passing you by? Do you ever suspect that friends and co-workers know secrets about life and money that you don't?

After a rash of immature decisions in my late 20s, I felt relegated to the ranks of the clueless and broke. I envied friends with partners, families, real estate and emergency funds. But ultimately, I brokered envy into profit by listening to the lessons of my discontent.

1. Find the hidden pattern: Sometimes downward spirals are prompted and enabled by a hidden pattern of self-sabotage. For example, when I constantly missed deadlines, arrived at work late or deliberately axed promising relationships, I realized that the envy I was showering on friends was a reflection of my own discontent and lack of direction. In the book, Why Women Earn Less by Mikelann R. Valterra explores the different ways women (and men) sabotage our lives. Related post: Are You Frugal or Just Downwardly Mobile, in Denial or Just Poor?

2. Find mentors: Friends with savvy skills are often more than happy to share their how-we-did-it stories. From financial management to industry networking, I've gained a lot by swallowing my pride and asking for honest tips and feedbacks. Friends, family and other mentors have also provided valuable insights about areas where I can stretch and grow.

3. Learn patience: Sometimes envy is a veiled lesson in the need for more patience. In following the trail of envy, I've often reached the conclusion that I just need to be more patient with my acquisition of skills, knowledge and assets. Life is not a one-size-fits-all adventure. I've learned to respect my personal timetable.

4. Time to Upgrade: Do I need to take a class, seminar or workshop on finance, technology or some other area of personal development. Is life passing me by because I have fallen behind in my skills? Trent at The Simple Dollar has written a great series on self-investment: Investing in Yourself: Personal Growth

5. Honesty required: Am I in the right industry? Do I need to rewrite my resume? Should I cancel my annual trip to Paris in order to pay for groceries? Sometimes in a fit of envy, I've been forced to ask myself very difficult and uncomfortable questions. The answers weren't pretty, but through envy I have often found a path to improvement.

6. Try gratitude: In one of my poor-little-me moments, I once complained to a woman, who I thought had it all: luxe car, huge house, elaborate vacations. But she nodded and disclosed that she was also caring for a dear, but ailing relative. Faced with the poor health of a loved one, she would have traded the keys to her car and home for my healthy family. I took the hint and focused less on my deficits and more on the tangible and intangible assets in my personal accounts.


Former Random House Editor & Del.icio.ous Maven Create Free Online Book Service

Want a free copy of Moby Dick, Pride & Prejudice or The Prince and the Pauper? Those titles are available free online through a new service launched by a former editor of Random House and a former guru at, the "social bookmarking site." Classic titles are delivered via plain text emails in serialized installments. The service also includes a fee-based subscription for new titles, but books in the public domain are free and there are lots of them, including many titles on school reading lists.

Called DailyLit (, the service was recently launched by Susan Danziger, a former Random House editor and her husband Albert Wenger, who used to run The service was featured in the latest issue of Poets & Writers magazine (an excellent magazine). Readers can receive installments via "computers, cell phones and Blackberry handhelds and other tech devices," according to the article in P&W by Kevin Canfield. You pick the frequency of the emails. You can even opt to read far more than the daily portion.

This is how the service started, according to a statement on the DailyLit website.

"We got the idea for DailyLit after the New York Times serialized a few classic works in special supplements a few summers ago. We wound up reading books that we had always meant to simply by virtue of making them part of our daily routine of reading the newspaper. The only thing we do more consistenly than read the paper is read email. Bingo! We put together a first version and began reading "War of the Worlds" and "Pride and Prejudice". We showed it to friends, added more books and features at their request, and presto, DailyLit was born."

Here's how the service works, according to the FAQ section DailyLit:

"Why read books by email?

Because if you are like us, you spend hours each day reading email but don't find the time to read books. DailyLit brings books right into your inbox in convenient small messages that take less than 5 minutes to read. This works incredibly well not just on your computer but also on a Treo, Blackberry, Sidekick or whatever the PDA of your choice. In the words of Dr. Seuss: Try it, you might like it! (Oops -- it would appear that the actual quote from Green Eggs and Ham is "You do not like them. So you say. Try them! Try them! And you may.")

How long does it take to read a book?
That depends on three factors. First, on how many installments are in the book (shown when you browse for books). Second, on how frequently you choose to receive emails. Third, on how often you read more than one installment (by using the "send me the next installment immediately" feature). So here is a typical example. I am currently reading Dracula, which has 187 installments and I am receiving installments on weekdays, i.e. 5 days/week. So at most it will take me 187/5 = 37 weeks. But when I am on the train or waiting, I often read more than one installment, so I usually wind up reading about 10 installments/week. This means I will finish Dracula in about 19 weeks or 5 months. If that seems long to you, try something shorter!

Sounds great, how do I get started?
All you need to do is pick a book (browse the collection or use the search box), select how often and when you want to receive messages, and provide your email address. Click on the big Subscribe button. DailyLit does the rest.

How much does it cost?
Public domain books on DailyLit are free in their entirety. Most copyrighted books require payment after some number of free sample installments (some copyrighted books are free). The price for a book is displayed clearly on the book detail page. We encourage you to try out paid books -- you only pay if you like the free sample installments and want to continue reading."

source: FAQ for DailyLit

Here's a small sample of the extensive list of free titles:

Popular Titles (all free)

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Many Thoughts of Many Minds (Quotations)

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Don't Insult, Poison or Overcharge Me: An Open Letter to Consumer Products Companies

As the economy and the capital markets stutter with recession fears, there's a lot of talk that some companies and retailers in the consumer products sector are recession proof. Maybe, but I won't be wasting my dollars on companies that insult, poison or overcharge me. Here's my list of gripes:

Dear Consumer Products Companies:

These marketing, production and packaging trends are troubling and could hit your bottom line during a slowdown:

Poison Cosmetics: It's like a nightmare from Catwoman (2004) starring Halle Berry. The plot line: Cat Woman discovers that her employer designs and distributes skin care products that disfigure women and create long-term health problems. It's not such a far-fetched fantasy. There are many dubious cosmetic products on the market. see: Think Before You Pink

I am personally boycotting beauty products with parabens, leads and other harmful chemicals. Even some of my favorite frugal products are on my Do Not Buy list because the merchandise contains dyes. (For example, there is a line of hair conditioners for $1 a bottle that is packaged in a rainbow of colors and scents. The conditioner is cheap and works. But why do I need to put extra dyes into my system?) I will actually spend more for organic or natural products that make me look prettier without killing me.

Dangerous personal care products: Some ingredients in anti-perspirants and lotions are awful. I'm looking for alternative products that won't harm my body. Let me sweat and live in peace.

Insulting ads: Stop filling magazine pages, cyberspace and television airwaves with advertisements designed to make me feel needy, greedy and inadequate. What's wrong with fine lines around my eyes? I've laughed a lot. I've cried plenty. And I'm glad to be alive. I'm not going to spend money on companies that suggest I should apologize for showing signs of life.

What's more, I refuse to buy products for companies with ads that suggest my life will be better with a new shade of hair, a new layer of skin and whiter teeth. Nothing in a bottle can address my real problems and issues. Don't insult me with quick-fix pitches.

Flavor-of-the Month clothing: I hated those tiny bust-hugging, wallet-breaking jackets/sweaters from two or three seasons ago. OMG! Adult women looked as if we had purchased outfits in the children's department. With a few exceptions, the look was very unflattering. Against my better judgement, I purchased two of those jackets at an end-of-season sale. Even at a 75-percent discount I wasted money. My experience taught me to avoid trendy fashions that look dated before I even unwrap the tissue paper.

Manipulated prices: The truth: Most sales aren't really sales. Suggested retail price is a joke. What's the value of 75 percent off, when a garment has been marked up by 500 to 1000 percent? Sorry, I'll keep the change.

Shoddy merchandise: I don't want computer program systems that need urgent patches and I don't want shirts that need instant button repairs. If you sell me something that immediately falls apart or malfunctions, I won't come back. I'll spend elsewhere.

Packaging: It's simple: Save the trees and charge me less. I don't want merchandise packed in air and paper. Just give me my stuff, charge me less and downsize the wrapping.

Celebrity endorsements: Save money; cancel the big-ticket celebrity contracts. I love the Dove "real women" ads (Campaign For Real Beauty ) because there are no airbrushed super models or actresses. I'm 5'1 and 110-115 pounds. I used to weigh about 90 pounds or less, but I've stopped starving myself and I'm not going to buy products from models who make me feel as if I should waste away, skip breakfast or throw up my lunch. I work and eat for a living.

Thank you for listening,

Articles of interest:
Recession Proof Your Life
Recession-Proof Your Marketing
Hackett: Business Finance, ''How to Recession-Proof Your Business''
Is Blogging Recession Proof?


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Quote of the Day: Wisdom from a Fortune Cookie & 5 Lucky Numbers

"Treasure what you have." -- Fortune Cookie Wisdom

That's the word from one side of a fortune cookie slip of paper, which is sitting next to my keyboard: Treasure what you have. On the other side, there is a bit of related advice: "Be Full," with a translation in either Chinese or Korean and a phonetic key. (bao)

The Message: Enough already! Sometimes in the drive for fame and fortune, I want more, more, more. And in that push for wealth and acclaim, I forget that I have already been blessed (Thank G-d) with so much: good health, children, a great family (immediate and extended), a comfortable home and food. Don't be greedy and enjoy what you have. That's what the fortune cookie says to me.

In addition to that bit of wisdom, the fortune offered five lucky numbers: 4, 7, 11, 12, 35, 38.

Lottery numbers? Hmmmm. Message: Count your blessings, dream of jackpots and take calculated risks.

Low-Cost Stress Busters: 15 Ideas

Emotional spending and expensive junk food binges -- budget busters -- are often triggered by stress. Here are a few ideas for diminishing stress without spending a lot of money.

1. Cup of tea. A hot cup of tea is a low-calorie comfort food. Additionally, the process of fixing a cup of tea is a ritual that can halt negative worry cycles. Even sipping coffee can have a calming effect. A Harvard study about coffee drinking habits is quoted in a recent (Feb. 4) issue of Woman's World magazine. The survey findings: coffee drinkers are "less likely to be seriously depressed than non-coffee drinkers," according to Woman's World.

2. Repetitive Activities: Sewing, knitting, puzzle solving are a few activities that lower blood pressure and liberate us from the stress chamber. Boggle, jigsaw puzzles and other problem-solving puzzles can provide short-term relief from anxieties. Sometimes, I stumble upon the answer to a pressing problem while tinkering around with a puzzle or a word game.

3. Housekeeping: Washing dishes, sweeping the floor and other house-cleaning chores release pressure. Ironing out wrinkles from a shirt or skirt can also release tension. Cleaning can be a form of meditation. Deleting email files also has a soothing effect.

4. Music break: Classical music, in particular, can be very calming, according to Woman's World magazine: "Oxford University scientists say listening [to classical music] can decrease your heartbeat to a meditative, relaxing rate almost instantly."

5. Write: Picking up a pen to write a letter, a journal entry or a short note may help to break the negative spin cycle.

Other low-cost stress busters:

6. Exercise: dancing, walking, running and stretching release tension stored in muscles.

7. Make a list: Creating a list (blessings, groceries needed, tasks to be completed or other agendas) gives me a feeling of control. With a greater sense of control, I feel more relaxed and more productive.

8. Do a good deed: Doing something nice for someone else helps me to be less self-centered and in the process, I move far beyond inner circles of worry.

9. Take small steps: Breaking a large project into smaller goals can make the task seem less overwhelming and more do-able.

10. DIY aromatherapy: Small bottles of fragrant essential oils --lavender, grapefruit and other scents -- provide an anti-depression lift.

12. Toss out clothing: Purging the wardrobe provides a mental purge as well. It's like clearing space on the computer hard drive. Donate the extra clothing to charity and get a tax deduction.

13. Color or doodle. Test-phobic children should doodle a bit to relax before taking a test, according to one research report. The process may also work for adults.

14. Read: A novel or a poem can provide a lift into a stress-free zone. Even a short reading break helps me snap out of a funk.

15. Take a short nap: Fatigue is often the enemy. Many corporate rainmakers use short daily naps --5 to 20 minutes -- as a profit-producing tool. The logic: a well-rested mind is a revenue-producing mind.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Favorite Picks from the Festival of Frugality at No Credit Necessary

Consumer brand-loyalty traps, frugal exercise and an excellent primer about buying a frig. Those are a few of the great posts featured in the Festival Of Frugality #114, which is up at No Credit Necessary.

Thanks to the host for putting together such a great carnival. Thanks for including my post in the mix. Here are a few articles that caught my eye:

Free From Broke: The Frugality of Our Feet. Walking is a healthy, frugal and entertaining activity. I enjoyed this post.

Cheap Healthy Good: Food, Frugality, and Fighting Brand Loyalty A behind-the-scenes look at the costs of brand marketing from a media professional. This post made me think about my buying habits.

Chief Family Officer: We bought a new washer and paid 35% less than MSRP CFO purchased an energy-efficient washing machine at a discount. Her post includes helpful links, research insights and a purchase action plan.

Thanks again to NCN for being such a great host!


Monday, February 25, 2008

Daily Quote: Leo Buscaglia on Worry

"Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorry, it only saps today of its joy."

--Leo Buscaglia, author and teacher

I'm a worrier. But my worries are often paralyzing and self-defeating. What's more, negative wheel-spinning anxieties are a form of self-sabotage. Therefore, almost every day, I read a book that helps me spin less and work harder, namely: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie.

I've actually earned more money since I've started using Carnegie's anti-worry strategies.

Related posts:
I Earned 20% More After Reading This Book

Say Sorry and Save Money: How I'm Shedding Emotional Debt in 2008


Chronicles of an Unpaid Babysitter: Why and How I was Schooled by a Toddler

Today I had a play date with a three-year-old. He provided important lessons about manners, money and bathroom etiquette.
But why was I babysitting and why wasn't I paid for my time?

With a home-based office, I often babysit for my friends' children. It's a common request: Due to a doctor's appointment, a parent-teacher conference or some other event, friends will often ask me to watch their kids for a few hours. Usually, I say yes. Here's why:

1. The grocery store business: "Can I borrow some sugar, foil, ketchup or your life?" That's a common request that I make of neighbors and friends. Given the constant requests that come out of my house, I feel guilty denying a friend a few hours of my time.

2. Returned favors: Last night a friend watched my youngest daughter. How can I can not return the favor? It's a great informal barter system.

3. The Lessons: My kids are teens and tweens. They teach me a lot about life, but pre-schoolers can really take you to school. Here's what I learned today from my little buddy:

  • Conquer your fears: During past visits to my home, my little pal has been fearful of our family dog, a mid-sized mutt. Usually, other children are around to serve as buffers and body guards. But today it was just the three of us: the dog, the three-year-old and me. And a miracle happened: The little boy conquered his fear of my dog Scruffy. Watching him interact with my dog, I realized that I can overcome my fears of driving and assorted financial phobias.

  • Don't be embarrassed to ask for help: When he needed assistance with his potty duties, the three-year-old was not shy or embarrassed to ask for my help. In contrast, as an adult, I've often been reluctant to ask for help with messy finances, education or some other sticky situation. But if I don't understand a financial term, concept or computation, I should not be embarrassed to ask for help.

  • Don't be wasteful: I made a snack for myself and asked my guest if he wanted something to eat. His response: "I have food at home." Priceless: When I'm at the mall, at the drugstore or at the movies, I will remember him and tell myself: "I have food at home....I have food at home."

  • Accept the Universe as-is: Briefly, my toddler friend considered a game of throwing a tennis ball to my dog while playing on the balcony. I shook my head and the toddler looked at me and said: "The ball will fall over the wall." I pray for such clarity and acceptance in other areas of my life. In other situations, I have chased balls and dogs over walls that I have refused to acknowledge. I have beaten my head against walls. Now --when faced with unmovable objects or difficult realities -- I will tell myself: "The ball will fall over the wall." That's my new mantra.
  • Be respectful of other people's property: Before playing with our action figures, toy swords or other trinkets around my home, the three-year-old asked for permission first.

  • Listen to the ocean: We have a huge conch shell in our living room. It was a gift from a kind vendor when we were on vacation one summer. The shell is pretty, but I don't pay much attention to it. I noticed, however, when my young guest picked up the big (and fragile) shell. "You can hear the ocean," he told me. I took the shell from him and held it to my ear. And yes, I could hear the ocean.


Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in June of 2008 by DPL Press.


Shocking Results from My Free Energy Audit

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the huge difference between my high electric bill and a neighbor's despite our similar lifestyles and apartments. (Our monthly tap was twice as high as my neighbor's bill.)

I subsequently arranged an onsite home audit, a free service FPL offers to its customers. The energy specialists examine your home, analyze your bill and target areas where you can save. It was definitely worth the time and effort.

Here's what happened: Raudel Valdes and Gabriel Palacios, FPL energy management specialists, arrived at my home carrying a laptop and printer. The central air conditioning/heating unit immediately caught their attention.
On the warm winter day the FPL team visited, the specialists calculated we had an hourly electric bill of 50 cents, including 40 cents to power the air conditioner.
After a thorough examination and a series of tests, the team offered these conclusions:

Beware of dust: Particles near the thermostat, on the AC pipes and near the air ducts seriously compromise the unit's efficiency and accuracy.

Repair damaged coils: Disfigured coils on the main AC/heating unit caused the air conditioner to run longer to reach the desired temperature.

Fill the gaps: Space around the air conditioning pipes and the gap between the ceiling and the air duct force the AC/heating unit to eat up energy.

Insulate the water heater: To save space, our water heater is directly below the air conditioning unit. The heat from the water heater forces the air conditioner to work harder. The FPL team recommended insulating the main copper pipe that leads to the water heater. This step will contain heat coming out of the water heater and improve cooling system's efficiency.

Shop for a replacement: Our aging air conditioner/central heat unit is an energy hog. We could save a fortune by asking the landlord to replace the model. ''With age, every appliance starts using more power,'' Valdes said. FPL offers rebates to consumers installing approved AC systems at

Other tips:

1. Take shorter showers.

2. Replace or fix the aging stove, which is also an energy hog.

3. Don't use fans in unoccupied rooms. Ceiling fans can cost as much as $8 a month (per fan) to operate if left on 24 hours a day.


This is from my latest column in the home & design section of the Miami Herald.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Cutting More Fat From a Lean Budget: 12 Ideas

I've turned off the lights, cut back on take-out pizza and given up soft drinks. Is there still more fat to be cut from my budget? I think so. Here's what I'm doing.

1. Re-examine assumptions. I shop, spend and save with a pre-set list of principles. But I'm learning to question assumptions. For example, I was surprised to discover that loose tea from a specialty store is cheaper than my favorite grocery store brand. (Friday Freebie Tip: My Inner Diva Sips Free Tea at the Mall.)The Lesson: Carefully study spending patterns, assumptions and choices to look for greater potential savings.

2. Find new uses for old items: With two bags of loose tea and one small tea infuser ball, I was about to purchase a vessel that would enable us to make larger quantities of tea. And then I took a second look at our French Press coffee maker, which we don't use as much. Wow! The French Press -- designed for brewing freshly ground coffee -- works great for making a pot of loose tea. This discovery has saved me money. Tea infusers, tea-filter systems and tea makers cost between $17.95 and $99.95. I spent $0 because I recycled our French Press coffee pot. I'm looking around my house for under-used appliances, vessels and gadgets with a second or third use.

3. Chart your spending: Even if you've already tracked and charted your spending patterns, you may be surprised by crunching the numbers again. Backsliding or new bad habits can sidetrack a budget. For example, I re-tracked expenses and was surprised by how much was spent on junk food. On an annualized basis, I was spending about $1,000 on food that was bad for my health. Related post: Saving $1,000 by Giving up Sugar

4. Learn from others. I learn so much by reading blogs, books on finance and magazine articles about frugal living. One of my favorite reading destinations: It's a great news aggregate for personal finance blogs.

5. Re-use before tossing: I'm working on getting more use out of items -- paper towels, paper bags and other so-called disposables -- before tossing them away.

6.Tap into freebies. There are free programs and other give-aways at the library, the recreation center and other community centers. Note to self: Use the library more.

7. Get an energy audit. I did and I was surprised by the results and the suggestions offered by our local electric company. More on this tomorrow.

8. Pay more attention to daily habits: Moments of mindless waste sabotage the budget. For example, I've applied far more hair conditioner and skin cream than needed. The excess is often smeared on a paper towel, which gets tossed. I'm working on being more mindful as I use personal care products.

9. Use office supplies with more care. Recycle computer paper. Get more mileage out of different supplies. Don't be wasteful.

10. Study bills for extra fees or services that are not needed.

11. Use gift cards, coupons and certificates. For a holiday gift, someone gave me a certificate for an online bookstore, which I still have not used. Additionally, I have a certificate for a six-month magazine subscription, which I have not yet redeemed. Letting it sit there is a waste, especially since I've purchased copies of that same magazine on the newsstand.

12. Find additional sources of income. Let's be honest. How much more can I really squeeze from pennies? Maybe I also need to earn more dollars and look for additional sources of passive income.
Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in June of 2008 by DPL Press.

House Swapping: Don't Buy; Don't Sell. Just Swap

The new trend in a soft housing market? If you can't sell your house, trade for a home in the market of your choice. The house trading market is outlined in this story: House swap

"The Sawtelles wanted to move to Georgia to live closer to their grandchildren. The Farrs needed to move to Parhump because of Amy's new job. Frustrated, the two couples found each other on an Internet web site specifically dedicated to people looking to swap houses. "--House swap
Here are other proposed markets for trading:

1. Clothing: I once wrote a story about teenagers who traded back-to-school clothes. They went to different schools and by trading clothes, they were able to double their back-to-school wardrobe and save money.

2. Toys: The boy next-door periodically swaps toys with my kids. At other times, his mother puts out bins of toys and games with which he's become bored. It's a great way to stretch a toy budget and to recycle.

3. Books: My parents live in a community with an informal library. The system works like this: Take-a-book or leave-a-book. It's a great way of finding new titles and putting used books back into circulation.

Weekly Reading: My Favorite Links

From financial security to bill-paying options, personal finance blogs offered plenty to read this week. Here are a few posts that caught my eye:

From Dreaming of Money: What is Financial Peace for Me?
I was working every day from 8 in the morning until 9 in the evening. I was working half a day on Saturdays. What good would it do me to have all this money if I never had any time to enjoy it? I quit after a couple months and searched for something with less hours.

The New York Times article: Moving Soon to an Apartment Near You profiles 38 year old playwright Brooke Berman who has lived in more than 30 apartments in 20 years in New York.
While I still have a day job that I do for about 25 hours a week, I realized
that depending on only my weekly paycheck could be a recipe for disaster, so I
started thinking of other ways I could make money, and this is how I do it.

You’ve got too many bananas, mashed potatoes, eggs or zucchini, and the excess
is threatening to rot in your kitchen.

From Single Guy Money: How do you remember monthly bills?

I've been looking for a better way to remember when my monthly bills are due. I don't like having anything automatically deducted from my checking account and would rather keep track of when the bills are due and then pay via billpay or pay directly at the billers website.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Daily Quote: Ralph Waldo Emerson on Letting Go

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day and you shall begin it well and serenely.

I've compounded some of my worst blunders, (professionally and personally), by replaying old soundtracks and trailers over and over in my head. The outcome: past errors have kept me trapped in a cycle of under-earning and under-achieving.
Learning to close the book on the past is a great skill for moving forward and letting go of old baggage and failures.

8 Money Management Tips for Married Couples from Eric Tyson

Separate bank accounts for married couples? I believe in a mix of separate and joint accounts, but think again, says Eric Tyson author of the new book Let's Get Real About Money! Profit from the Habits of the Best Personal Finance Managers (FT Press, December 2007.

Tyson offers eight financial tips for marital bliss. Here are the tips from a news release. The tips about the importance of words and communtications (#1, #3 and #8) hit home with me.

"1. Start talking about money now. Most people are raised to believe that it's impolite and inappropriate to discuss money with others, and are taught that it's a private, personal, and confidential matter. The result is that most couples never seriously talk about money. While dating, they are in denial about the importance of all things financial, even though it's a huge issue looming on the horizon.

"If you avoided talking about money while you were dating—and chances are you did—don't keep putting money talks on the back burner now that you are married," says Tyson. "Take the risk to discuss your feelings, attitudes, and beliefs about money and be ready to respectfully listen to your partner's approach. Work at understanding your differences and decide on a process for negotiating agreements when conflicts inevitably arise. This will help minimize small problems mushrooming into big ones but, of course, doesn't guarantee a lifetime of trouble-free financial bliss."

2. Understand gender differences as they relate to money. Throughout his years of financial counseling, Tyson has observed that men and women often deal differently with money. "Women are more likely to ask for help and admit gaps in knowledge than are men," says Tyson. "Men's egos more often get in the way of seeking assistance and education. Men are much more likely to plow ahead, even when they lack sufficient information and background on a money topic.

"When it comes to investing, men are more willing to take risks," he adds. "That's not necessarily bad. Although they may get themselves into trouble by relying too heavily on the investment vehicles that occupy the highest ends of the risk/return spectrum or leveraging themselves with borrowed money, for example, men are more likely to take the necessary risks to generate healthy long-term returns. Being aware of these differences as a couple can help you when approaching how you should find solutions for your financial management problems."

3. Words matter when broaching money concerns. When discussing the spending habits of your spouse, it's important that you don't bring up the subject using an accusatory tone. A little tact and sensitivity can go a long way. "When concerns are raised, you dramatically increase the likelihood of your partner hearing, listening to, respecting, and positively responding to your point of view if you present it as your feelings on a topic rather than a criticism of the other person's financial habits," says Tyson.

"So, instead of saying, 'You're a reckless over-spender,' phrase the issue as, 'I'm concerned about having enough money saved for retirement so that I don't feel chained to my job,'" he advises.

"Try, 'I'm really stressed that we haven't been saving enough to buy a home. Having a place of our own is important to me. Can we talk about it?' not, 'It's time for you to grow up and act like a responsible adult.' Having one talk isn't going to solve your money problems, but it will get the ball rolling towards a more pleasant financial future, so make sure you plan how you are going to broach the subject."

4. Respect each other's differences. Finding it in yourself to appreciate the ways your partner's money personality differs from yours is vital. Try to think openly about the situation for a minute. If you're a penny-pincher and you'd married another miser, you'd likely never enjoy the fruits of your hard work! Yes, a miser/spender marriage may produce fireworks on financial issues, but with open minds and communication, such a pairing can also produce positive results, as both partners move away from their extreme polar behaviors to a more balanced and fulfilling position.

"Misers can learn that they can spend some money 'frivolously,' enjoy the experience, and not end up in financial ruin," says Tyson. "Chronic over-spenders can experience how good the sense of financial security feels that accompanies living more within one's means, paying down consumer debt, and beginning to see growing investment balances. The root of successfully and happily managing money as a couple is to compromise."

5. Share the money responsibilities. Because married couples have a seemingly endless supply of financial tasks to tackle, Tyson encourages open communication and shared responsibilities. (It's not fair for one person to bear the entire burden alone.) Take advantage of each partner's talents by matching tasks based upon interests and skills. Start by developing a list of responsibilities, such as paying bills, shopping for and managing insurance issues, and handling investments.

"Decide who will take care of each task, the level of consultation you're both comfortable with for that assignment, and how often the task will be performed," says Tyson. "Put it all on paper so that you both know who's supposed to do what and when and to minimize the potential for misunderstandings down the road."

6. Rethink your bank account structure. Is your money still in separate accounts, joint accounts, or a little of both? If for some reason you or your spouse has been holding out on getting a joint account, know this: State divorce laws generally treat a married couple's assets as pooled and divide them up upon divorce accordingly, even when they're in separately titled accounts. For many couples, pooling and sharing of accounts works fine, especially when communication is open and problems are productively addressed.

"Separate accounts and finances often lead to friction in marriages, especially if one person cuts back on work outside the home to be with the kids, or if wide pay differences exist between the partners," says Tyson. "I've also observed a tendency toward increased secrecy and related problems with separate accounts if spouses keep much of their spending habits private. That said, a combination of joint and separate accounts is a workable compromise for some couples. The key to making this arrangement work is setting a discretionary spending limit. For example, you must consult your spouse on purchases of more than say $50 or $100."

7. Educate yourself. The best thing you can do to improve your finances is to educate yourself about personal finance. Sign up for a personal finance course and pick up a few good books. You might also consider seeking financial advice, but be careful who you ask, says Tyson—some professionals aren't really qualified to give the right advice and others have a self-serving agenda.

"Attorneys generally lack the training and related perspective to adequately analyze your entire financial picture," says Tyson. "Most financial advisors sell products, not their time and service. Consulting with a good tax advisor is worthwhile in some cases, as there are a number of opportunities for married couples to save, particularly in regard to tax breaks that they may not be aware of."

8. Set some financial goals. The best way to save for the future without nickel and diming your way through the present is to work out a budget that you can both agree to. Analyze your past six months' worth of spending. How much of your income are you saving? Not enough? Now go through the various spending categories—dining (meals out), groceries (meals in), entertainment, taxes, car payments, and so forth—and set targets that cut your spending enough so that your rate of savings increases. That's what budgeting is all about.

"There is always some place to cut spending," says Tyson. "The most common problem couples run into is that those spouses who have difficulty saving money think of everything in the budget as a necessity. But try to be realistic: Starbucks every morning is not a necessity. All those channels on your cable bill aren't a necessity. Neither is a brand new luxury vehicle with all the bells and whistles. These are places you can cut that shouldn't cause too much pain. And remember that you can always budget in fun things—like the occasional weekend getaway—so that the spender in the relationship doesn't feel like the budget has zapped the fun out of everything in life."

"The biggest lesson to take away from all of this is that marriage and money can and should go together harmoniously," says Tyson. "So many couples simply try to ignore their problems or avoid dealing with them when they realize what's up with their newly joined finances. They just need to realize that just a few simple steps can get them on the right path. By taking care of their money problems, they can ensure a happier future together."


Friday, February 22, 2008

Daily Quote: Milton Friedman on Freebies & 5 Free Merchandise Traps

"There's no such thing as a free lunch." -- Milton Friedman

Beware of free samples. Many so-called give-aways are gift wrapped with lots of strings.
Here are 5 Traps to Avoid When Considering Freebies

1. The Guilt Factor: The sweet salesperson with a tray of free ice cream samples smiles as you take the free treat and perhaps a second or third taste. You feel guilty and make a purchase. Consider this post: Friday Freebie Tip: My Inner Diva Sips Free Tea at the Mall

2. The Free Makeover/Free In-store Lesson: Your favorite store offers a free makeover or a free lesson about bathroom renovations. There are no strings attached and no purchase is necessary. But after the demonstration, you feel obligated to buy something.

3. The Free Restaurant Coupon: You have a coupon for a free entree. Because you don't have to pay for that part of the meal, you really, really overspend on beverages, desserts and side dishes. When the bill arrives, your so-called free meal costs a large fortune.

4. The BOGO TRAP: Buy-One/Get-One Free offers are often alluring. But what's the point of getting a second set of sunglasses/sweaters/pants for free when you have to pay way too much for the first item?

5. The Spoiled for Life Snare: I was fine without a weekly French manicure for my nails and then I received a salon manicure as a gift. Wow! The sight of my buffed and painted fingers became an expensive addiction. I wanted a steady 10-finger fix. It took me nearly two years to kick that addiction. Fortunately, I found a frugal kit for DIY French manicures and then I just surrendered to the as-is look.
Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in June of 2008 by DPL Press.

Friday Freebie Tip: My Inner Diva Sips Free Tea at the Mall

Teavana, a national chain that sells tea, is a great place to go for free samples of hot tea and iced tea. You're encouraged to try small cups of brewed teas with exotic names like Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls and Rooibos Tropica.

How do I know this? A few weeks ago, I followed my daughter, age 10, into Teavana while we were in the Aventura Mall to see the Hannah Montana 3-D concert movie. While we were at the mall, my daughter kept raving about the free tea at Teavana. I was clueless. I limit the spending power of my Inner Diva, by avoiding malls, which give me headaches anyway. My children, however, are regular free-tea sippers when they visit the mall. They drink and drink the free tea.

Once I found the shop -- which smells great and has a blissed-out Zen energy -- there were several canteens filled with delicious, lightly sweetened samples of hot and warm tea. What's more, the staff was friendly and encouraged us to sample more. (They could feel the spending vibe emanating from my Inner Diva.) Lingering is encouraged. We really liked the Blueberry Bliss tea, which was served cold. We drank a lot of free tea.

Of course, I purchased a few ounces of loose teas in two different flavors for a total of $17 (not cheap). The two flavors were brewed together as one of the featured samples. We purchased 2 oz of Rooibos Tropica for $4.80 (excellent frugal choice) and the Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls (2 oz for $12), not a thrifty choice.
At first, I winced at the resurgence of my Diva spending self. This is why they give you the free tea, I whisper shouted to myself, so that you'll be foolish enough to buy a lot of pricey tea. As the saleswoman packaged my loose tea in pretty foil bags, I wondered about the wisdom of even going into Teavana in the first place.
But when I got home, I compared prices. Our favorite herbal tea is about $3.50 for a box of 20 teabags that weighs less than one ounce (total), including the cardboard. A comparable amount of the pre-pacakged tea would have cost about $7, versus the $4.80 that I paid for the Rooibos Tropic, which was fresher. And even when my favorite grocery store brand is on sale, the Teavana Rooibos is a better deal and tastes fresher. I've compared the two in an informal taste test.
The Jasmine tea was yummy, but a little rich for my budget. In hindsight, I should have saved my $12. My kids love the Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls, (little balls unfold like baby dragons in hot water), but I'm a little annoyed that I busted my budget to buy that tea. Maybe it was just good Karma to buy it because my kids have consumed and will consume gallons of free tea at Teavana. I don't think the company had my tea-loving children in mind when they offered unlimited samples of free tea.
Besides, having the tea around the house during the last few weeks has helped me to sustain the frugal push to limit soft drink purchases. The kids are drinking more teas, which are pennies per serving. And packed with fresh minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants many of the teas are healthy. What's more, due to the bright natural flavor, the teas taste great without sugar or honey.
Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in June of 2008 by DPL Press.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Daily Quote: Thomas Edison on Failure & Experiments

"Many of life's failures are experienced by people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." --Thomas Edison

Hitting the target is important. But failures, near-misses and far-off-the-mark shots also have value.

Each so-called failure contains lessons and opportunities. And it's important to keep trying. Thomas Edison --the legendary inventor -- faced over 10,000 failed tests before successfully creating a battery of nickel and iron, according to Bo Bennett, author of Year to Success.

Sorry About the Pop-up Ads: Lessons in Advertising, Money & Life

Word on the Cyber Street: There are annoying pop-up ads on my blog. My response: Sorry! My bad. I didn't realize that the ads were so intrusive, annoying and consistent. (Two fellow bloggers kindly sent me emails voicing complaints and community grumblings related to the pop-ups.) Thank You!

Here are the life lessons that I've retrieved from pop-up blunder:

1. Consider contracts carefully: I should have paid more attention to the visual impact on my blog and the annoyance factor. I've cancelled that portion of the contract. (I hope the change won't take too long to show up on my blog.) Likewise, as a buyer, seller or business partner, I should be more heads-up about future contracts involving merchandise, services or other financial arrangements.

2. Don't lose sight of the big picture. Duh! I started writing a blog to reach others, but if ads detract from my goal, then I'm working against myself. It's a pattern. From personal to financial goals, I've periodically fallen into traps of self-sabotage. Or I let myself get sidetracked by minor opportunities. Keeping sight of bottom-line goals will help me stay focused on the right path.

3. Move quickly; Move on: I received the complaints this afternoon about the pop-ups. Immediately, I altered the contract, thanked the fellow bloggers and wrote this post. I've learned a lot from past mistakes related to money, love and work. When I make mistakes --which I have--it's best to quickly correct the situation and then move on.


15 Financial Strategies for Tough Times:

Track your purchases and then "brutally" cut unnecessary purchases. Watch your back at work and start networking for a new job. Those are three of the 15 tips offered by in the article: 15 Money Moves for Tough Times By Dana Dratch

From that list, (featured below) Tip #1 -- cutting back on nonessentials -- speaks to me. Here are a few non-essentials that have hit my chopping block:

  • Bottled drinks from stores. (This includes bottled water, sports drinks and sodas). Why spend $2-3 for 16 oz. of beverage, when I can drink free tap water (filtered!) or make 64 oz of iced herbal tea for pennies per serving? When traveling on road trips, we've even started to pack our own DIY drinks and snacks, rather than pay high prices at gas stations, vending machines and convenience stores. On Monday, however, I purchased a soft drink for my daughter for $1.49. I should have saved the money.

  • Make-up: With a few exceptions, I've really cutback on cosmetics and grooming products. I've started making my own day-spa facial products. It's about health and money. I've become very suspicious about the content of some of my favorite store products, including a lipstick that may contain lead. I'm checking it out. I love the long-lasting color, but I don't want to eat lead. I'm also wary of the preservatives that are found in many personal care products. Some are linked to breast cancer and other illnesses.

  • Clothing: No new clothes! The clothes budget is gone, gone, gone. For special events, I will shop if needed. But it'll take a major event and a great sale to get me to spend more money on clothes.

  • Junk food: I'm purging.( Saving $1,000 by Giving up Sugar) I feel better, look better and save more when I eat less junk. also stresses the importance of tutoring our kids on the difference between wants and needs. My kids, normally great about spending and saving, have been hit with recent cases of the gimmies. I backslide also. For kids and adults, it's a constant process of education and self-awareness.

Tip #4: "Safeguard your current job" offers this suggestion: "network, network, network." It's also important to stay plugged into the latest technology and trends. Also: Watch your back on the job by staying visible and productive. Work hard and document your value.

Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in June of 2008 by DPL Press.




I'm Embarrassed: $1.49 in 3 Days! Frugal Sweatpants & Shut-in Shame

I'm not proud of this. I've spent only $1.49 since Monday. Due to deadlines, vanity and laziness, I have not left my house in days. The upside: I have had fewer opportunities to spend money. The Downside: I have had fewer opportunities to make money or to collect new experiences.

The scenario: After attending a mother-daughter event on Monday, (Working Parents' Conflict: Paycheck vs. School Performance ), I was behind schedule and my seven-day calendar was packed with deadlines. As such, the excursion to my daughter's school and a quick trip to buy an Arizona tea ($1.49) for my daughter represented the last time I have left our apartment building since Monday. Every day I've showered and changed into clean sweat pants, but I've stayed indoors.

Here are the perks of my frugal sweatpants wardrobe:

1. The Worker Bee: I've cranked out several articles.

2. The Reader: I've read 75 percent of The Light Bearer, a 1011-page book by Donna Gillespie about a female warrior during the Roman era. The attraction: If I'm not getting exercise, I can at least read about a woman who stays fit and taut.

3. Ms. Thrifty: I've spent very little money.

4. Vicarious Gladiator: I've watched the American Gladiator championship finale hosted by Laila Ali & Hulk Hogan on NBC via the Internet. The attraction: If I'm not getting exercise, I can at least watch well-trained men and women run around and battle for a title. The physical tests are also inspiring.

5. Anti-Aging Skin Model in Training: My skin looks great. I've given myself frugal facials using honey, tomatoes, garlic, and citrus juice. I slathered on the homemade goop and then continued typing on my laptop while the assorted mixtures worked wonders on my 49-year-old skin. (Today I'm going to smear pulp from an Aloe leaf on my face.)

6. Sugar-free Dieter: I've avoided sugar. With little opportunity to purchase candy, donuts or ice cream treats, I've remained on my no-sugar diet. (I make, of course, an exception for the sugar in my morning coffee).

7. Ocean Breeze: I've enjoyed the ocean view from my porch.

Here's the downside of my self-imposed shut-in status.

1. The Flab Seeker: I missed the weekly Yoga class with the personal trainer that I share with a group of women. Not a smart move: The financial and health costs of neglecting exercise are great.

2. The Flab Seeker, The Sequel: I've also skipped my regular routine of long walks. I have not even gone out to walk my dog. I'm now really terrified to face the scale at the grocery store. Maybe I've stayed in sweats because I don't think that any of my real clothes fit anymore.

3. Dumbstruck: With less contact with the world, I've had a drought of story ideas.

4. Disconnected & Disenfranchised: I've had less opportunity to network. The last time I was in a CVS drugstore, I bumped into a television reporter with whom I am sort of friendly. (We took a non-fiction writing class together through Miami-Dade College.) I was pleased to see her again and I will send her a copy of my book when it's published). I usually meet fun and interesting people when I go out into the world. These contacts usually yield either short-term or long-term benefits or just a friendly smile. But stranded in sweatpants, however, I'm too embarrassed to be seen.

Reality Check & Balance: I'm not really proud of my low spending tally. It feels fake. And I'm not really living frugally if I take cheap shortcuts that diminish the long-term quality of my life. I need to discard the sweatpants, jump back into the world and get some exercise. Meeting deadlines is not important if I sabotage my health.

Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in June of 2008 by DPL Press.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Daily Quote: Oscar Wilde on Theft-Proof Wealth & 10 Things That Can't be Stolen

"Ordinary riches can be stolen; real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you."
~Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism, 1891

My list of stuff that can't be stolen includes memories of:

1. Jumping into a pile of autumn leaves in Philadelphia.
2. Watching my kids dance.
3. Listening to my father -- during my parent's 50th anniversary party -- tell the story of how he met my mom.
4. Eating turkey, collard greens and pumpkin pie with my extended family on Thanksgiving.
5. Riding bikes on the Old Atlantic City boardwalk during the pre-casino era.
6. Smelling rain rise from concrete sidewalks
7. Riding the Staten Island Ferry at sunset.
8. Watching my favorite teams win championship games.
9. Ice skating at Rockefeller Center.
10. Cruising in the Caribbean (with friends and family) in honor of my Mom's 70th birthday.
I could go on, but that's enough for now.

The Boogey Man in My Wallet: Fighting Financial Phobias

Forget about the fabled boogey man in the closet or under the bed. Those are just dust bunnies. The real shadow creatures are the financial phobias that haunt my wallet and bank account.

"Identify Your Money Phobias." That's the sage advice from the February issue of Town & Country magazine, which has an excellent 12-page section on "Women and Wealth."

The article features the book "The Money Mirror," How Money Reflects Women's Dreams, Fears, and Desires from Allworth Press. Written by Annette Lieberman, a therapist from NYC, the book discusses women and our fears related to money. Many of the issues, however, are gender-neutral IMHO.

Here's Lieberman's rundown of popular money phobias held by women:

  • Money-blind: I call it willful financial blindness. When I exhibit these symptoms, I become clueless about my bank balance, credit card status, credit scores. In this state, I pretend that any grim financial news will go away if I ignore it. The cure: daily balance checks, weekly planning and baby-step goals.

  • Financial allergies: In this state, we view money as distasteful. Some women leave the nuts-and-bolts of finances to husbands, fathers, brothers and sons. Why worry about petty cash? (Women in this category believe that an interest in money, is "greedy or vulgar," according to the T&C article.) By the way, I know men who leave all household budgeting to their wives. The cure: Unfortunately, insight usually arrives with a rude hard knock. For example, the T&C wealth section includes tales of women who have been swindled out of investments, inheritance and other assets by "trusted" brokers, friends, husbands and other family members.

  • Money Deniers: Closely related to the "money-blind" phobics, this group includes women with rescue fantasies. Prince Charming can be anyone or anything: a man, lottery fantasies, inheritance anticipation, real estate sale expectations or other dreams of sudden wealth. The cure: Okay, I claim this phobia. I once believed in Prince Charming and I've had fantasies of sudden fame and quick wealth. But a string of personal and financial failures chased away my Prince Charming fantasies. I'm grateful. Failure is very instructive because by failing, I learned to stop waiting for pots of gold and rings of gold. I now have faith in hard work, frugal living and personal savings.

Other Financial Victims:

  • "Money-Folly" Spendthrifts: The emotional spenders.

  • Money-Paranoids: Obsessed about money, these women use wealth "as a fortress to keep themselves protected and insulated" from others. This is soooo not my issue.

This T&C list of phobias could be easily expanded. In fact, Mikelann R. Valterra, the author of Why Women Earn Less has another list of common financial phobias/patterns. Her list includes:

The Starving Artist: Summary: Don't be a sell-out. Stay poor; stay creative.

Noble Poverty Scenarios: Summary: Money is evil--"It is better to be good and poor, than rich and evil."

Related Posts:

Are You Frugal or Just Downwardly Mobile, in Denial or Just Poor?

10 Signs of Secret Debt: Borrowing Money, But Denying Reality

Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in June of 2008 by DPL Press



The Frugal Duchess Booktique
The Frugal Duchess of Beauty Store

Book Shop of Fear
The Poetry & Drama Queen
Frugal Jazz & Blues
Frugal Comic Book Connection

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Quote of the Day: Peter Drucker on Commitment

"Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes...but no plans."
--Peter Drucker, management consultant and writer.

When I'm committed to a savings program, an education plan or a new job search, I usually see concrete results and real progress. Unfortunately, my personal balance sheet also includes a few false-starts, abandoned financial programs and half-hearted efforts. Bottom Line: I could be wealthier and more accomplished if I'm more committed to improving my personal accounts.

Here's how I plan to be more committed:

1. Set realistic goals: Over-reaching is a recipe for failure. When I try to do too much, too soon, I often fail to hit targets and that failure causes me to backslide in efforts to save money and slash debt.

2. Progress reports. At the beginning of each week, I'll establish a few weekly minor financial goals. At the end of each week, I'll review that performance. Progress reports (with baby steps) will build momentum and provide a weekly renewal of commitment to financial goals.

3. Streamline: Simplify! Complex budgets and money tracking systems fry my brain. In contrast, I'm more likely to use a low-key system. With consistent tracking, I'll have a better chance of staying focused on goals.

4. Recruit the family: Getting the kids to really buy into financial goals will reduce the temptation to order take-out pizza or to buy the latest trinket. My kids are really great, but everyone will benefit if the kids have a better understanding of our long-term financial goals.

5. Maintain a diet of self-improvement: A daily program of self-improvement (clutter busting, anti-procrastination, stress reduction, etc.) will enhance the commitment to financial goals.



The Frugal Duchess Booktique
The Frugal Duchess of Beauty Store

Book Shop of Fear
The Poetry & Drama Queen
Frugal Jazz & Blues
Frugal Comic Book Connection

Working Parents' Conflict: Paycheck vs. School Performance

It's a tough call: work assignments versus family commitments. Sometimes in the race to earn a living, I forget to live or forget why I live. That's how I felt yesterday as I raced off to my daughter's school for an Open House visit and a school performance.

The Scenario: I faced pressing work deadlines. But on the other side of the balance sheet, I was pulled by my 10-year-old daughter's pressing need for my presence at a special mother-daughter event at her school. Is it possible to do everything I need for work, while still being a hands-on parent?

The Options:

A Laptop Solution: Someone suggested that I show up in the classroom with my laptop. I could sit in the back of the room with my computer. In that pose, I could periodically smile and nod, while typing away at a work assignment.

  • Pros: I could multi-task. My body and smiles would be in the classroom, while my mind surfed the Internet and typed. Win-Win Scenario?

  • Cons: Who am I kidding? I wouldn't really be working. I wouldn't really be in the classroom or with my daughter. Other people are good at multi-tasking, I'm not.

  • The Reality: I left my laptop at home to avoid multi-tasking temptation. That was a smart move, because during the Open House portion of the day, every parent was instructed to sit next to their child (No hiding in the back of the classroom!) My typing fingers and wandering mind would have been discovered.

Plan Ahead: When I calmly reviewed my work calendar, I realized that while I faced a calendar full of deadlines, only one story was really due at the end of that business day. (The rest are due today and later this week.) I organized my thoughts and did as much research as I could before the presentation/Open House.

  • Pros: Planning ahead is a good strategy regardless of the occasion. I have a regular calendar of work commitments and deadlines. Advance planning will help smooth out my work schedule in any situation. And I have to admit that I knew about the event for a week and I could have done more to ease the time crunch.

  • Cons: Who am I kidding? When it comes to professional duties, advance planning can not take the place of real-time, face-time. In many situations, advance planning only creates the illusion of control.

  • Reality: I completed as much as I could before and after the event. I submitted the required article on time, but my other assignments (due later this week) lagged.

Consider Long-Term Values: When my kids are grown up, I will remember their school performances, but I won't remember the titles of all the articles I've written. That's true. I'll also remember how happy my kids were to see me in the audience. The right decision should be a no-brainer: Go to the school event.

  • Pros: Full participation in the lives of my children is a priceless activity. They are the reason that I work so hard in the first place.

  • Cons: Who am I kidding? Be real. Paychecks underwrite priceless moments. Groceries, dentist visits and soccer fees require money. Being responsible requires difficult choices, including staying at the keyboard to hammer out an assignment on deadline.

  • Reality: Balancing home and work commitments is really a case-by-case decision. There's really no one-size-fits-all answer. Face it: Sometimes I'll have to miss an important school event in order to earn money for my family. But on other occasions, I'll have to pull back on professional commitments in order to provide my kids with emotional support. And sometimes, I just need to relax and have a good time with my family.


  1. Can the work assignment be delayed, rescheduled or delegated?

  2. Is there another family member who can go to the school event in my place?

  3. How important is this event to my child?

  4. Will my kid be one of the few students without a mother or parent in the audience?

  5. If I can't make alternative work arrangements, does the child understand why? Do they realize how much I care?


Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in June of 2008 by DPL Press

Monday, February 18, 2008

Saving $1,000 by Giving up Sugar

My sweet tooth is an expensive addiction, costing about $1,000 annually on sugary treats. I tracked my money leaks and was stunned by the amount spent on junk food. This realization is especially shocking because I am a yoga-contorting, tofu-eating health nut.

I consume flax seed, vitamins and green tea. But my shopping list also includes double chocolate muffins, cappuccino ice cream and sports drinks packed with calories.

The new frugal diet: Less sugar on weekdays with the goal of saving almost $1,000 in candied treats during the next 12 months. I'm serious: From Monday through Friday, I will not eat: candy, soda, sweetened power drinks, muffins, donuts, cakes, Danishes and other treats. Even dried fruit -- especially the candied variety -- is on my Do Not Eat (DNE) List.

The calculations are stunning. On a real sugary week, breakfast sweets and other treats really take a bite out of my budget. I spend up to $20-$25 a week, $80-$100/month or $720 - $1,000/annually on junk food. Think about it: my favorite muffins (600 calories per serving) are $3.50 each. If I have one muffin each morning before work, that's $17.50 a week, just for breakfast treats.

Despite my initial denials, the evidence was hard to ignore. As I studied the numbers recorded in a small notebook, I realized that sugar was eating away at my health and my bank account. So as a fiscal and physical fix, I've begun a new get-rich, get-healthy diet. I'm in Week #2 and here are my rules.

1. No after-dinner desserts or breakfast treats or midday sugar snacks during the weekday.

2. Cut back on processed food with high sugar content.

3. Read labels and avoid sugar substitutes such as corn starch, maple syrup and fructose.

4. Drink lots of unsweetened herbal teas. Sugar in coffee is allowed. Drink lots of water.

5. Limit fruit juices. When I do drink fruit juices, I've been diluting the OJ and cranberry juice with water.

6. Desserts and treats, however, are permitted from sundown Friday night until Sunday night. Weekend luxuries are permitted as a perk for good behavior during the week.
Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in June of 2008 by DPL Press