Debt Free(dom)

cutting up cardLike a recovering alcoholic sampling the taboo taste of a beloved beverage, I handed the cashier my plastic. The ease with which I did so, accompanied by my effortless smile gave absolutely no hint to the hesitation lurking just beneath the surface. Though the purchase was justified and the actual money in the bank, there was a tiny place inside of me that still remained uneasy.

Once you’ve climbed out of the deep, dark hole of credit card debt—finding yourself back in the black—the former aches and pains of actually digging that hole occasionally come back to haunt you. I am not proud to admit that I was in debt — having only recently brushed the remainder of that dirt off my less-than-stellar credit report. But I am relieved to say that those days are behind me.

Sifting through stacks and stacks of old mail over the weekend reminded me of those darker days. Except that while I was living them, I technically didn’t know they were “darker.” It would be awhile before I actually realized how deep I had dug. I was in fact, living it up back then! I was happily buying new furniture, clothes and shoes, paying for manicures, pedicures, salon visits, gym memberships and housekeeping services.

A close friend did occasionally ask me whether or not I should be spending so freely. But I brushed it off as them being too “conservative” with their own money and “fearful” of bad things that would “never happen.” I was gainfully employed, single with no dependents and the proud owner of a seemingly endless supply of credit. It never occurred to me to be concerned because I was always able to keep up with the payments. If I could pay the bills every month, then this was all stuff that I could afford. Until it wasn’t.

Being young and stupid, I never gave much thought to all of the uncertainties out there. I’d done my homework, gotten a degree and been blissfully employed since graduation. Things like personal illness and the company you work for going under weren’t even on my radar. Until they were.

Back then—during this hedonistic time of living like some kind of entitled Hilton or Kardashian—I fell ill with a serious case of pneumonia. On top of that, just prior to the pneumonia, I’d left the security of a lower paying government job to accept an exciting new position at a rapidly-growing publishing company and had zero sick leave in the bank. On doctor’s orders, I missed an entire month of work and wages. Suddenly making those bills was a little bit harder.

And then the “rapidly-growing” company folded. Making paying those bills all but impossible. I managed. I didn’t file for bankruptcy or anything, but I did have to move 2,000 whole miles back east to live with mom and dad, working a minimum wage job until I could find a better one. Going through the ancient mail was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. First there were the bank statements, bills and invoices… a.k.a. Evidence of All the Fun. Followed by a trickle and later a heavy stream of medical bills, debt consolidation packages and various hand-written notes of lists I’d made inventorying all of my debts and monthly bills.

But it was good for me to see how the entire ordeal had actually unfolded. What started out as a simple housekeeping exercise wound up being a true moment of reckoning. I’d often wondered, through the years, as I struggled to pay down the balances on these debts: How did this happen? How did I rack up all of this debt? And now I know. I can see it all from a distance. It was as though it had happened to someone else… because in a way, it did happen to someone else. I am no longer that person.

Thanks to the support of my parents, a couple of really good friends and an extremely fiscally responsible soon-to-be husband, I am learning the value of having money IN the bank before I have any fun with it. I still love furniture, clothes, shoes, salon visits and travel and I would LOVE to pay someone to do all of the unpleasant, laborious tasks that accompany adulthood. But since I’m neither a Hilton nor a Kardashian, I’ve lain to rest my Visa Gold & Mastercard shovel and am enjoying the freedom that comes with “living it up” — within my means.

Are These… MOM JEANS!?!?

MomJeans I have this terrifying feeling that I may, in fact, be in possession of a couple pair of (gulp) Mom Jeans. Yes, that’s right. I said it. And I shudder at the thought. My fingers are trembling even as I type these words. And no, these aren’t jeans from the mid-eighties that I’ve managed to hold on to or a pair of jeans that my mom (or anyone else from a previous generation) just so happened to pass down to me that I—in order to be polite—quietly accepted and later planned to burn.

These are relatively new (purchased within the last year or so) and currently (gasp) in the wardrobe rotation! I know, I KNOW! You are probably wondering, as am I, how such a horrific thing could possibly come to pass. Especially when not two years ago, I wrote a post here about how I will NEVER, I repeat NEVER be caught dead in a pair of mom jeans.

For those who don’t know… Here is a definition of Mom Jeans: Mom jeans are a style of jeans consisting of a high waist (rising above the belly button), making the buttocks appear disproportionately longer, larger, and flatter than they otherwise might. It also tends to have excess space in the zipper/crotch and leg areas. The jeans are usually in a solid, light-blue color, with no form of stone washing or fading. Other attributes of the style often seen are pleats, tapered legs, and elastic waistbands. The style is frequently accompanied by a blouse or shirt that is tucked into the jeans. This style was popular with women in the United States until the mid-90s, when lower rise jeans started to become fashionable.

See? Most of you can relax now. Just being a mother, does not a mom-jean-wearer make. I know my own mom was scared when I first uttered the phrase “mom jeans” in her presence. I mean, you don’t even need to be a woman for this crime of fashion to happen to you. Mitt Romney was often spotted (and ridiculed for) sporting mom jeans on the campaign trail…

Mitt Romney - mom jeans

But alas, I suspect I may have fallen victim to the lure of comfort… and marketing. Yes marketing. It’s not like the store is going to place a neon sign over a rack of women’s jeans flashing the words: “GET YOUR MOM JEANS HERE!” No, they are going to place the denim abominations in amidst the rest of their latest offerings and label them “relaxed fit” or “slimming” or some other load of persuasive crap aimed at us women trying to find something akin to fashionable that will not squeeze the ever-loving-$#it out of us OR sit so low on our person so as to produce “muffin top” or cause us to have to buy a whole new batch of low rise Victoria’s Secret underwear lest it show every time we sit or bend.

So in the name of fashion AND comfort, because yes—somewhere between the ages of 32 and 38—a gal decides that it IS worth it to not only look good, but also continue breathing or consume bread and wine in a restaurant without feeling like a human sausage casing. We want to enjoy a nice meal absent of the fear that we could potentially cause serious bodily injury to fellow diners by suddenly popping our rivets, raining zipper teeth down like shrapnel. Therefore we shop. And we shop with laser-like focus for a pair of jeans that accomplish all of the above AND… are anything but mom jeans.

mom-jeans

But occasionally, as I may be experiencing, due to the combined needs for comfort, coverage and style… a pair of (yikes!) mom jeans could possibly slip in without us even noticing… until it’s too late. You’re standing in front of the mirror one morning, taking a final glimpse at your reflection before heading out the door and it hits you. A thought that has never crossed your mind before suddenly looms large: OMG! Are these MOM JEANS!?!?

And the terror grips you. The clock says it’s time to go, you look OK from the waist up and yes, your footwear is adorable but aside from the shoes, your bottom half looks like you should strap a fanny pack to it and head to the casino for a day of fun with Madge and the rest of the bridge club gang. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN!?!? Why didn’t I see it in the store? Can I actually go out in public looking like this? What other questionable decisions have I made in the last year? The list goes on and on.

At this point I’m not sure what I’m going to do about the denim conundrum. But there is one thing I DO know. I can’t even begin to think about my potential relationship with skinny jeans. That’s a whole other subject. One that perhaps I’ll tackle… when this fashion crisis has passed.

Merry Christmas! I Love You Thi$$$$ Much!

price tagsWell, it’s descended upon us again hasn’t it? The traditional, commercial Christmas is practically here. That magical time of year when we all gather together after rushing madly hither and yon in search of that perfect gift that lets our loved ones know just how very much we love them. Literally.

For example: “Here, Aunt Nancy… here’s a lovely plaid scarf. I know it’s wool and a little scratchy but it matches your eyes. Don’t you think? They did have cashmere, but you see… My love for you is not a cashmere kind of love. My love for you is a woolish kind of love. In fact, I love you around $11 worth.”

See what I mean? Without realizing it, we often divide those we care about into categories, defining our love for them by assigning dollar amounts. Now I know you might argue with me that it is all about budgeting and how can you possibly spend more on Cousin Stuart after dropping less than 20 on Aunt Nancy’s hideous scarf… but we ought to admit that on SOME level it is true.

The math goes a little something like this (Feel free to add a zero depending on which “percenter” you are)… There are those who fall into the $5 category. They are the ones most often occupying the fringes of our lives… Those we HAVE to see on a daily basis but would not necessarily interact with were we not forced to. And those we place into the $10 to $20 range… People with whom we choose to spend time but are not related. And then there’s family. Family eats up most of the budget either out of necessity, obligation or affection.

And this is where the real fun begins. You consider what THEY got YOU last year and thus what type of gift should be given this year. This sometimes breeds a healthy bout of one-up-man-ship or at the very least a breaking even. I’ve often wondered whether or not we should all just keep the $50 or $100 since we’re essentially handing it back and forth year after year. But what would be the fun in that?

Then I remember that it isn’t really about the money. The money is the necessary evil by which feel we must express our gratitude or love this time of year. It’s really all about recognition. Recognition of the people we COULD not or WOULD not live without whether they gave us a faulty, small kitchen appliance (with or without a warranty), a gift card to a place we hate, a too big pair of pajamas or a hideous pair of slippers last year.

Merry Christmas everyone! May you give and receive lots of love to and from your 5, 10, 20 and 50-dollar people this holiday season… no matter what form of currency it comes in.

It’s Not Me… It’s You

the_jerk_store-208x300In 37 years I still haven’t managed to figure out that some people are simply NOT worth my time or energy. They will never be kind no matter how many cheerful “Good Mornings” or “Hellos” I waste my breath on uttering day after day after day. Being a friendly and outgoing person myself, I offer everyone I meet the benefit of the doubt by being nice to them. Call me crazy — that’s just how I was raised. However, as I age, I am learning (not nearly fast enough) that there IS a limit. Or at least there SHOULD be a limit on the quantity of niceties I offer up to someone who is—for lack of a better, KINDER term—an @$$hole.

As was discussed recently on a CBS news program, @$$holes are growing in number. I’m sure this doesn’t come as a shock to you wherever you are. I’m sure that in the last seven days you have most likely crossed paths with an obnoxious tailgater or cutter-offer in traffic, a jerk who line jumped you at the register when your arms were busy juggling 12 cans of cat food, a value bottle of shampoo and an unusually large loaf of frozen garlic bread, or an office mate or acquaintance who could not return a greeting to save his or her miserable life. If you’re out there in the world, then you’ve most certainly run across one if not ALL of these characters at some point in time.

There will always be jerks in the world. I get that. But the one thing I truly have a problem with is dealing with the @$$hole(s) who KNOW you and yet REFUSE to be civil. When nothing bitter, sour or otherwise distasteful has transpired between the two of you—how can it when you’ve never even spoken?—yet you’re the recipient of endless cold shoulders, dismissive actions and downright rudeness. What do you do with THESE people? Seriously. I’m asking. Inquiring minds want to know. I want to know what others of you do when dealing with this particular individual in your own lives.

I know the whole “It isn’t you, it’s them” routine is the standard issue response to this question, generally. So please don’t give me that one (plus I already used it in the title). Because I can repeat that to myself until I’m blue in the face, pumping up my morale momentarily and feeling all I’m OK, You’re OK about the whole thing… that is until the very next time one of us veers into the other’s world. And I am dumbfounded once again at their blatant disregard for the other human being in their midst. “HELLO!?! ARE YOU BLIND!?! WERE YOU RAISED BY WOLVES!?!” I end up screaming inside my brain before rolling my eyes and muttering obscenities under my breath as I stomp off in the opposite direction.

I am not asking to be best friends. I don’t want to know what you’re buying your kids for Christmas or what color ornaments you hung on the tree this year. I don’t even want to know whether or not you’re having a good day. All I’d like is the simple acknowledgment that you and I are indeed occupying the same space on this spinning blue marble called earth at this very same moment in time. A nod, a smile, a simple return of my greeting… Is that too much to ask? Hell. I’d even settle for a grunt of recognition. At least then I’d know you had a soul.

Limping To The Finish Line

Some of the pundits tell us we might be in for a longer haul. It may not be over tonight as was originally advertised. But whether we have a clear winner come Wednesday morning or the presidential election remains too close to call — we will have survived the political storm largely intact. Well, most of us anyway.

Yes, there will be some licking of wounds and necessary rebuilding of morale depending on which camp you’ve staked your tent these final weeks and months. Some of us will have fewer “friends” on social media and perhaps fewer friends in real life too. However, after the red and blue smoke eventually clears and the elephant dust and donkey dander settle, what we’ve suffered as a society should not be minimized.

Let us not forget all that we have collectively endured: We have weathered the primaries, the campaign speeches, the conventions, the debates, the yard signs, the “friendly” disagreements with our peers, family members and neighbors, the seemingly infinite supply of television ads, the attacking, the dodging, the whining, the scaring, the robo calls, the constant-and-ever-shifting “latest” polling numbers, the charts, the graphs, the talking heads, the morality arguments, the ignorant, misinformed, uninformed and enraging Facebook posts, status updates and tweets, the rhetoric, the apocalyptic theories, the partisan politicking and the endless “what-if” scenarios.

I’m tired now. Aren’t you? No matter the outcome, after today, our part is done. We will have (hopefully) drug our bruised and battered bodies to the polls and freely exercised our right to choose a leader — a right that I am no less grateful for no matter how much I complain or how worn out I may actually claim to be. But now I think it’s time we return to our regularly scheduled programming… complete with those good, old-fashioned commercials for antidepressants, erectile dysfunction, indigestion and Black Friday Doorbuster Deals.

Sometimes, Appearance IS Everything

Despite the fact that I do not have a “boutique” bank account, I do enjoy occasional boutique shopping. Every now and then—even for a Budget Boutiquer like me—I find that they are often the perfect place to find well-made and unique items to spice up the wardrobe.

But boutiques can be tricky. Not because of their shameless overpricing but rather their interesting employee/customer dynamic. Just ask Julia Roberts’ character Vivian in Pretty Woman. Do you remember the iconic scene? She arrives in her (a-hem) “street clothes” at a high-end boutique on Rodeo Drive with Richard Gere’s limitless credit card in hand, only to be swiftly sized up and turned away by the store’s snotty staff.

Of course, the joke’s on them (and their commission checks) later in the day when Vivian returns to the same boutique dressed to the nines in couture and loaded down with bags and boxes after spending obscene amounts of money at OTHER retailers… showing (and telling) them what a HUGE mistake they’d made in judging her earlier.

Now, I don’t own an outfit like Vivian had at the beginning of the movie. Trust me, no one wants to see THAT on ME anyway… but I have experienced a watered-down version of some similar treatment. A year ago, I visited an adorable boutique in a nearby small town. And while I browsed, dressed in jeans, sneakers and a fleece pullover, gently sifting through the $400 cashmere sweaters and equally expensive accessories… not one person in the store spoke to me. I left without buying anything.

This past weekend my parents came for a visit. On one of our excursions, I decided to take my mother to the boutique. Although the items inside were far more expensive than she or I would normally spend… I thought she might enjoy picking over the pricey offerings. After all, it never hurts to browse and one never knows what one might find hiding on the sale rack.

However, before we went inside I warned her that, in my experience, the sales staff was not so friendly. “Apparently,” I told her, “I didn’t fit their ‘idea’ of who should be patronizing their business when I showed up the last time. Don’t be surprised if you feel like Julia Roberts when you go in here.” My mother just shrugged. Now that she’s retired, she doesn’t let things like the obnoxious dissing by snobbish retailers bother her. One can only hope that such an attitude will rub off on me one day.

Much to my surprise, when I walked through the doors of the place (bracing myself for another cool dismissal) the sales woman practically tackled me once I was inside. I was looking at some colorful, all-weather, rubber boots and admiring them when she pounced. She asked what size I wore, demanded that I remove the boots I was wearing and try these new ones on. “They’re Danish, you know.” She said launching feverishly into her sales pitch while jamming my stocking foot into one of them… “They are VERY well made and worth every penny!” And she went on and on pointing out all of the features of these super trendy boots.

“Uh-huh…” I muttered while half-listening to her and subtly turning a pair over in my hands to get a look at the price tag on the bottom. $300. Yikes. I thought. “That’s a little too rich for my blood. Especially for something not made from an animal.” I admitted to her, setting them back on the shelf. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder… What in the world was the difference between my treatment a year ago and today? And I continued to wonder… that is until she inquired about the boots I was currently wearing.

“Well, what kind of boots are THOSE?” She asked, accusatorily and aggressively thrusting her pointed index finger toward my feet. Even as I KNEW that SHE already KNEW what kind of boots I was wearing.

To which I sheepishly replied, “UGGs.”  Referring to my somewhat costly, tall, fold-over, cable-knit sweater boots. They are my favorite fall and winter wardrobe item — a brand name splurge I afforded myself last season and by far the most expensive footwear I own.

Irritated that I’d turned her down, she smacked her lips and quickly snapped at me with the following… “Well, if you can afford THOSE boots… surely you can afford THESE.” It was precisely at that moment that I walked away from her, stunned at such a brazen attempt to get me into her fancy, Danish rubbers! How dare she try and bully me with my very own boots.

I guess I learned what the difference was. No matter your backstory… Appearance (to some people) is not only everything… It is the ONLY thing.

Online Survey Says? You’re Wasting My Time.

Leaning across the table the Applebee’s server lowered her voice as well as her gaze. She wanted us to know how very serious she was. “Listen.” She began. “I am this close to winning the contest around here for the most customer surveys completed and I just need a few more.” My friend and I looked simultaneously at one another in shock and disbelief that this woman was actually attempting to strong-arm us into taking an online survey like this.

“Pleeeeeeeze…” she continued. And I honest-to-God kid you not, this is actually what she said next: “Go online and fill out the survey on the back of your check and you will receive a free dessert on your next visit! Though, more importantly(insert lengthy pause for added drama) … you will be helping ME receive a cash bonus when I win!” She gushed while silently making a clapping gesture with her hands.

I wanted to make a hand gesture of my own, but refrained. Instead, once she turned her back, I crinkled the check into a little paper ball, stuffed it in my purse and said in awe: “Okaaaaay. So THAT just cemented the outcome of the already slim odds of my EVER filling out that survey. How about you?”

Remember when online surveys were something that happened occasionally at the register in retail stores when your number came up? It started out being a “special” thing in which you were “randomly chosen” to participate and you “might” win $50 worth of store credit or something like it. It was actually kind of worth the effort back then.

Now it seems that EVERYONE is doing it EVERYTIME you go to the register ANYWHERE. (And yes, I DO feel the need to use an excess amount of superlatives here.) Retailers, casual dining establishments, fast food restaurants and auto shops (to name few) offer surveys that pretty much guarantee you WILL get something for free if you sacrifice the time to go online and take them.

I never take them.

Much like my previous post, perhaps it is the sheer inundation of these things that makes me dig in my heels in refusal. It’s annoying enough to get one piece of paper handed back to me with my minor purchases… what am I supposed to do with two or three random slips of paper? For crying out loud, if I saved it all, I’d have enough survey paper to cover my living room walls.

How about, instead of giving me a free dessert, car wash or $5 coupon — you save us both some time and a couple of trees in the process. After all, if I had oodles of time to sit down, log onto your website and take endless online surveys, why am I showing up at your speedy and convenient drive-thru window?

What’s next? I can’t help but wonder. Perhaps hospitals will begin offering a free angioplasty with a completed survey for every $10,000 you or your insurance company spend? You laugh now. But somewhere, as you’re reading this… someone is getting paid to figure out just HOW to make that work.