Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Day 83: Accounting

Well, the last week has been fun. Music seems to be something that appeals to a lot of people. It's been a boost to the morale around Jobless Journal to get some readership.

So what better strategy than to go back to the mundane reality of unemployment nearing its 12th week?

Wait, don't go so fast!

Oh well. This morning it was time to assess the financial picture. The good news is that there is some, but not a lot, of debt. The bad news is there is some, but not a lot, of income.

At least from me.

Let's veer off on a tangent here. What is the mindset in a household that suddenly loses half of its income? Naturally it causes a little stress on both the breadwinner and the breadeater. If you're the earner, you now carry all the responsibility. That sucks. It also means you have to sometimes play the bad cop, which also might not be so much fun. In fact, fun gets put on the shelf in a lot of ways, because it's likely going to be revenue-negative.

For the jobless person in this equation, there's the stress of no income and jobsearch. This is not delightful when the job market is as bad as it's been in 30 years.

Further tangent (Inception level 3?): I remember a discussion about 30 years ago with someone who shall remain Curtis ... er, I mean, nameless... anyway at the time the Rust Belt was experiencing a severe jobs crisis and unemployment was at about 20 percent. I was ranting about this and this nameless person was apathetic. When I asked why he wasn't concerned, he said "I'm not a steelworker in the Rust Belt."

Folks, it's all connected. The loss of jobs in the Rust Belt or anywhere means competition for more jobs elsewhere. It means government assistance which means more taxes and/or fewer services. It means crime spikes as some people can't handle frustration. It means more substance abuse as people turn to the bottle or worse. It means poor overall health as people short of money neglect spending on care. It means widening the rift between classes and shrinking the middle class. It means a dumber populace as extended downturns result in budget cuts for the things that certain members of society don't place a value on, like public education or college tuition support.

You see, a poor, dumber, desperate populace is seen as easier to control because they have less mobility and are more susceptible to faux news lies... they'll believe anything that plays to their undereducated and predisposed-to-hateful views. They watch mind-numbing TV programs because it soothes their jangled brains. "Ha, my life is bad? At least I'm not Snooki/Lindsay/et al." Or, "My life is bad? It's because of the Republicans/Democrats/Muslims/et al." Piss 'em off with hate. Calm 'em down with crap.

Oy... where was I?

Oh yeah. So, because there is more stress in the cash-challenged household, I recommend the following:

* Be frugal. You should do this even in the boom times, but it's especially more important now. I could spend $3 on a delish "Shave the Planet" snow-cone every day. I could even go the cheaper route and buy the $2 cone. These things are amazing, especially given the hot summer. But you can't buy one every day. Maybe once a week? Or maybe not at all?
* Buy smart. Take advantage of deals. If you have a Sam's/Costco membership, or similar, use it, and use it wisely. We took to buying sodas at Sam's because they were way cheaper. Now, after we polish off the last of this case, we're eliminating sodas altogether for a while. Bonus! Health benefit! But, there are great deals at these places if you think about it. For household goods such as detergent, TP, toiletries, this is the best place to go. Buy things that have no expiration date. Thus, be careful with produce, bread, etc. If you have to pitch half of these items because you couldn't finish them before they go bad, waste. So, we buy a lot of frozen items at Sam's. One example: cheese pizzas. We get three Digiornos to a box for $13.48. Then we buy a small container of pepperonis... when it's pizza time, we put pepperonis on half, so both of us get the pizza we like. It winds up being less than $5 per pizza and serves as a meal. You don't overeat, and you don't overspend. WIN!
* Have fun within reason. I'm a movie lover. I could go watch movies two or three nights a week. With popcorn and a drink that could easily be an expensive treat. I looked at the 2010 budget and we probably spent $1,000 going to movies. To continue to do this is irresponsible. So now, instead of four movies a month, maybe one. And going to matinees is smarter. (On a lot of levels... less expensive, and fewer idiots dicking around on their cellphones. Cretins.) Last week we went to a concert in KC. With tickets, gas and food, the experience probably ran us about $225. Seeing as how it was only the second concert we went to this year, it's one of those splurges you have to allow. Leave monasticism to the monks.
* Plan. Near the first of the month, I'm allocating the next month's rent and car payment... those are two crucial, non-negotiable expenses. Once those are accounted for, I know that all income for the next month only has to cover food, utilities/bills, fuel, and money to support my daughter. Because it's been so freaking hot the last month I expect to get nailed when my SWEPCO bill arrives soon. I'm expecting it to be $200. And that's even though we've tried hard to live cooling as little as possible. But even if it is $200, it won't kill us because we've got some cushion. We've got a little bit saved and I don't want to touch that.
* Savings. Yeah... you need to have some. And you need to avoid touching it. You need to pretend it doesn't exist, except to add more to. I was not always a saver. And it's hard, really hard when you don't make a lot of money and the economy is lousy. Because we have some savings, we've been able to feel a lot less pressure while I look for work. Today we were tempted to dip into it, but decided that we could just tighten the belt more first and go there as a last resort. I think this is a great plan. People don't think they can build savings because money is so tight, but they can. They have to not think that they need to contribute $500 a month to savings. How about $100? How about $25 a week? In a year that's going to be well over $1,000 in the bank... probably enough to cover rent and have some left over. Do this.

OK, I'm tapped. I need to get back on that job-hunt horse. Yee-haw.

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