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Dec. 15th, 2014

Living on Minimum Wage

Activism vs. Slactivism

Often those of us with limited financial means, also feel like there's little we can do to impact change in the world.  And yes, in some ways we are limited by lack of funds, but don't confuse limited with powerless. Sharing information through conversation and social media can have an impact, but here are a few things to keep in mind to keep you an activist and not a slactivist.

(Remember this blog is aimed as a U.S. audience, though there may be some international application.)

1. Be Aware. It's not realistic for any individual to track every wrong done world wide, but you can try to be aware of negative and positive things going on within your sphere of influence. Take a little time to listen before speaking. If something concerns you, take some time to learn more about it. Verify the reliability of an article or meme before rushing to share it.

For example, The Onion is a parody site, not a news site.

2. Speak up. Remember you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, so speaking with tact is advisable. Many people interpret silence as consent, so if you're aware of something wrong or in need of discussion, try to say something. You may not instantly convince others, but a message repeated, particularly with evidence to back it up, does help sway others. (Be respectful of time and place. A funeral is not the time to lecture someone on issues.)

3. Breath and try to be calm. There are some horrible, awful, upsetting things in this world. It's normal to have an emotional reaction. But balance emotion with reason. If you stay perpetually upset, people will start writing you off as a basket case instead of listening. Check your actions and words and make sure you stay on target with your message. Change doesn't always come quickly, it often requires endurance.

4. Volunteer. If you don't have money, invest time in something you believe in. If your passionate about homelessness, volunteer at a shelter or with an organization that helps the homeless. If you're passionate about education, volunteer your services as a tutor or teachers aide. You may not be able to everyone, but helping one person at a time is still a significant contribution.

5. Be Prepared. Learn first aide. Arm yourself with knowledge about how to handle emergency situations. Know when to call child services or animal rescue or 911 (and when not to). Large scale changes often take time, but there are so many small opportunities to help others that will cross your path.

6. Contact Your Elected Officials. If you're an active voter, I applaud you. But regardless of for whom or how or even if you vote, you can still influence politicians by letting them know how you feel about the issues.

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I will not go heavy into politics in this blog, but I do have an issue to bring to your attention.

The House has approved a bill that among other things would take land from the Apache to sell to a foreign company for mining. We can kill this in the Senate. Please take time to read:

San Carlos Apache Leader Seeks Senate Defeat of Copper Mine on Sacred Land

and sign the Petition:

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/stop-apache-land-grab/rnMfH0WL

and contact your Senator:

http://www.senate.gov/index.htm

Dec. 12th, 2014

Living on Minimum Wage

Healthcare.gov Re-enrollment for 2015 Ending Soon

I apologize for not getting this out Monday as I had intended. I had some trouble with my blog's website.

First off the reenrollment AFA deadline is December 15th:

"If you bought a health insurance plan through the Marketplace in 2014, you can renew or change plans for 2015.

Take action by December 15, 2014 so any changes or updates to your coverage take effect January 1, 2015.

It’s important that you log into your Marketplace account, update your information for 2015, and see all the plans and prices available to you this year. You may find plans that cost less, cover more services that are important to you, or work better for you and your family. By updating your information, you’ll be sure to get the right savings for 2015."
- From Healthcare.gov

If you have insurance that you purchased through AFA or you find that you need it, this is the time to go enroll. They haven't advertised as much this time, so hopefully the site won't crash, but you should go check it out and not trust automatic re-enrollment.

There was a difference of $20 between what the re-enrollment letter from the insurance company said I would have to pay monthly and what I ended up paying for the exact same plan through the website.

I can't begin to tell you how stressful it is filling out an AFA form if you have unstable income.  And I'm dissappointed that they're making everyone re-enroll before we get to see the tax implications.  But if you have steady monthly pay and are making full time minimum wage, you're in the group helped most by the program and should consider taking advantage of it.

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Second my apologies for neglecting this blog. I was supposed to start a new part time job in September. That fell through, so instead I ended up doing a lot of weekend fairs and conventions to sell my fantasy novel, which ate into my time but didn't give me a lot of good budgeting examples to blog about unless you count sharing a room at Imaginarium with three other people.

In other exciting news, my brother managed to buy his first house with no FICO score. I'm hoping to write up some posts on that soon. It was a long, bumpy process, so I wanted to wait and see how it all turned out.

Sep. 8th, 2014

Living on Minimum Wage

Shopping for Produce

019I think the most important thing to know when shopping for produce (fresh fruits and vegetables) is that the prices are always in flux. That can make it harder to plan your shopping trip in advance. But unless you have a recipe that calls for specific ingredients, you might consider writing some vague categories like "$5 of fresh fruit" or "vegetables". Root vegetables like carrots and potatoes tend to have steadier price points, but many others go in and out of season.

In addition to that, stores will have frequent sales on fresh products because their short shelf life means they need to be sold faster.


Second most important thing to understand is that produce is usually sold by weight rather than by piece but not always...which can get confusing. When I was young, the signs for produce really confused me, often making me think they were more expensive than they actually were.

For instance, apples priced at $1.49 are usually a per lb price. Apples vary in weight, but often range between 1/3 and 1/2 a pound (lb is short for "pound"...it's a British thing.). So the actual price per apple would be fall in the range of 49 to 75 cents.

But then some some fruits and vegetables are marked "ea" rather than "lb". "ea" is short for "each". Our local store usually prices Avacados and Watermelons this way.


Third it's important to learn to check produce for quality. There are a number of tests from smell to texture to visual examination depending on the fruit or vegetable. Some blemishes are purely surface and don't mean the food is unfit for eating. Others are signs of rot. Some of the best produce deals are for produce with surface blemishes or just odd shapes, which don't change their taste or health value.


Fourth, know that the bulk price isn't always better. I stopped by Publix the other day and noticed they had the 2 lb bags of pears pictured above priced at $3.49, while loose pears of the same type were priced $1.49 per lb. Even without a calculator, it was clear that the loose pears were a better buy. ($1.49 x 2 = $2.98)

Often there are some savings to buying in bulk, but not everyone is going to want to eat through a 5 lb bag of anything before it spoils. Freezing, drying, or baking are sometimes options, but not always worth the extra effort.
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Aug. 25th, 2014

Living on Minimum Wage

Free Reading and Reading Critically

First the positive. Open Culture has links to over 600 free ebooks: http://www.openculture.com/free_ebooks

Many are public domain, but some are more recent: samples from Neil Gaiman for example. They also have links to some more extensive sites like project Gutenberg, and I found this link through another article about the entire Harvard Classics collection now being available for free as downloads.

There are a number of studies that relate reading to all sorts of positive mental, social, and financial benefits and certainly it helps expand vocabulary. But what you read can be as important as how much you read. And whether you are reading a book or watching TV it's important to exercise critical thinking skills.

We're going to pick on 50 Shades of Grey for a moment. The book has already received a lot of criticism for portraying abusive behaviors as romantic, and a new study from the University of Michican has found:

"Young adult women who read “Fifty Shades of Grey” are more likely than nonreaders to exhibit signs of eating disorders and have a verbally abusive partner," - from the Summary Article on the University of Michigan website (or read the Full Study Report from the Journal of Women's Health).

From the article: "...kids and young adults should be taught to consume fiction, television, movies, magazines and other mass media with a critical eye... We recognize that the depiction of violence against women in and of itself is not problematic, especially if the depiction attempts to shed serious light on the problem....The problem comes when the depiction reinforces the acceptance of the status quo, rather than challenging it.”

This is true of 50 Shades of Grey. It's also true of Plato, Nietzsche, and the local news article that ran this morning. We should be hesitant to accept anything we read, hear, or view purely at face value. Fiction and news articles in particular tend to thrive on conflict and drama and often portray people doing the most dramatic things rather than the best or smartest thing.

And in this critical reading effort, I hope you include anything that my co-author and I say. While we write in the hopes of sharing useful tips and information, there are few pieces of advice that work equally for every situation. Take what is useful to you and feel free to reject what is not.

Jul. 15th, 2014

Living on Minimum Wage

Kindle Edition of Living Single on Minimum Wage is now free until Saturday

Living Single on Minimum Wage is free to download today July 15th through Saturday, July 19th.  (Correction from yesterday's post).  We hope you'll check it out and give us your feedback.

The first day seems to be going well. You can see from the screenshot below that we're #2 in free personal finance books. Hopefully that means we'll get a lot of good feedback as we prep for the second edition. Also hoping people are getting useful advice from the book.


LSoMWgiveawaystats

Jul. 14th, 2014

Living on Minimum Wage

Kindle Files Have (Finally) Been Updated

The Kindle edition of Living Single on Minimum Wage has been updated to include tables, fix a technical issue with the table of contents, and correct a few lingering typos. This took much longer than it should have, so we're not raising the price on the first edition. It will remain 99 cents. If you've previously purchased a Kindle copy, (first off, Thank you! and second) you should be able to now download the updates without any additional charge.

To celebrate and help us prep for the second edition, we will be offering free download starting tomorrow through Saturday, so July 14th-19th.

Jul. 7th, 2014

Living on Minimum Wage

Free Things to do in L.A. and a few thrifty travel tips

Early this summer, I was able to go to L.A. and Disneyland in a sort of nanny situation. There's nothing particularly thrifty about a trip to Disneyland (aside from it being a working trip that covered flight and hotel), but there are some ways to bring the costs down. While doing research for the trip, I found this list of 100 "free" things to do in L.A.:

100 Free Things to Do in Los Angeles

Not all of these are truly free as they require gas, parking, etc. But it's still a list worth checking out if you're visiting or living in L.A.

To cut down on meal expenses, I packed a lot of dry snacks and meal bars. The hotel provided breakfast, so with the meal bars, I only needed to buy one meal each day. The best purchase we made was a pack of water bottles (after arriving), which saved us a lot of money over the week. I think it was about $3.50 for a pack of 24 bottles, which we split between 4 people. Yes, reusable bottles would be better, but I did recycle most of the empties at Disneyland (they have bottle recycling all over the park). L.A. is hot and bottled waters at Disneyland and the zoo were about $4 each. So for less than one bottle at the park, we covered the whole week.

We also saved $15 each on tickets to Pirates Dinner Adventure by taking advantage of a coupon printed on a brochure we found at the hotel. It was a lot of fun and generous portion sizes on the meal.  The thrifty tip in that is it's not uncommon for attractions to include coupons in brochures (like you might find at a hotel or rest stop or tourism center).



Book Update: With luck the Kindle files will finally be fixed tomorrow, once the update is ready, we'll announce some free download days of the digital version.

May. 19th, 2014

Living on Minimum Wage

Moving from Retroactive to Proactive

Some random person sent me this quote from Goodreads today as an "aww" moment, but it made me cringe. Here's the quote (And yes, this will come back to finances.):

"If she had loved him, he would have opened windows, allowed all of that precious light of hers in she wanted! If she could tolerate him, he would have donated to every stinking animal shelter in her name, quit his drinking habits completely, and played music for her anytime she wanted! He would have gone out, faced the cruel public, and embraced their scorn just to be close to her, continued to hide in the shadows of her life until she needed him... If she had loved him, he would have done anything."

― Amanda Lance, Natural Selection


I haven't read the book and have no idea of the context, so take this as no comment upon the book or author. But there's something in this quote by itself that touches on a theme which has reoccurred multiple places this past week: essentially, a lack of willingness to put in the work to reap the reward.

In the quote you have a guy who wants to be loved.

Goal: Love (from a particular female)

You can not force someone to like or love you. It's not the sort of simple tangible goal with an easy formula to achieve. But you can take steps to make yourself more likeable and attractive. This translates most directly to finances in the area of job hunting. You can't force a company to hire you, but you can make yourself more attractive to those hiring.

No mistake, everyone needs help at some point, and there are many goals we can not achieve on our own. But waiting for a goal to magically happen by promising to retroactively put effort into it, rarely achieves the goal.

In nearly every line of this quote, the man is blaming the lack of achieving his goal for his own inaction. Instead of making choices to be kinder, philanthropic, supportive, entertaining, more open, brave, or taking steps to deal with his drinking problem, he's bemoaning that she hasn't rescued him from being a drunken self-absorbed shut in. He's also created an unrealistic tunnel vision for accepting assistance. There's quite likely other people out there who could make a better support system for him to stop drinking and enjoy life more, but he's disproportionately placed this burden on a single person, a scapegoat.

The reason I'm bringing this up on a financial blog is we sometimes take this same approach to job hunting and financial goals.

If only they'd give me the promotion I want, I'd show up on time, dress properly, and work hard.

If only I had the house I wanted, I'd be responsible with my money.

If only I was physically fit, I'd exercise more.

It's true nothing in life is guaranteed, even when you do put in the effort. But you dramatically improve your odds of achieving goals if you take active steps towards them. Conversely, sitting on your duff is likely to reduce your chance of success to zero, regardless of how much ability or potential you have.

May. 5th, 2014

Living on Minimum Wage

Leftover Couscous Recombinations

It's often more time and energy efficient to cook in larger batches than a single person will eat in one meal. Leftovers are great as far as easy preparation goes, but sometimes eating the same thing eight days in a row gets a little boring. A little creative recombination can help vary the diet and relieve boredom.

I'm currently living with family, but they often don't share my food tastes. I made up a 2 lb box of couscous the other day, and since no one but me is eating it, I've been trying to use some as part of a meal each day and as a means to eat through other leftovers. I won't bore you with every variation, but here's a few that proved edible and are fairly healthy.

Couscous & baked beans - just mix and microwave, couscous is rather bland by itself but the sauce from the beans flavors it. .... You could probably do this with most soup varieties as well, creamy or thick sauces would work best.

Couscous with Turkey Burger, Mushrooms, Spinach & cheese - This was more prep heavy. My mom had bought a box of 6 frozen butterball turkey burger patties and used 4. I cooked one of the remaining patties in the skillet following package directions, minced some fresh spinach and three whole white mushrooms hitting the end of their useful life, cut the cooked patty into cubes, added some water (maybe 1/3 cup) and butter (roughly 2 tbsp.) to a pan, and cooked the meat, veggies, and about a cup of the couscous on medium for a few minutes. While they were cooking I added some additional spices: onion powder, pepper, ginger, and garlic. I probably could have added the cheese while cooking on the stove top, but I ended up adding it afterward. I had about 1/4 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese left, so I dumped that over the rest on a plate and then microwaved until melty.

The turkey burgers had a veal like texture that worked really well with the couscous. I liked it better this way than on a hamburger bun.

Couscous & Hummus with Leftover veggies - Hummus sort of glues the loose couscous grains together. I've done several variations on this one and have added onions, spinach, tomatoes, and mushrooms in different combinations as well as different spices. One fun way I ate it was to mince and mix in the onion, tomato, and mushrooms, microwave for a few second to warm, and spoon some of the mix onto a large spinach leaf and wrap the leaf around to eat. But you could just chop up the spinach and toss it in.


Since these were meals made from leftovers, I didn't bother with exact measurements, but thought I'd share in hope of idea sparking.
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Apr. 16th, 2014

Living on Minimum Wage

Fostering a Dog vs. Adopting One

In our book, we suggest that plants are a better option than pets for people in financially tight situations. Not because we don't like pets, but they generally take a lot more money and time to care for properly and should not be used as a food source.

This article had some interesting points:
(From Daily Finance) Fostering a Dog: It's Good for Your Heart and Your Wallet

They estimate that you could easily spend $20,000 over the life of your dog. While there are many ways to bring that number down, pets often come with more expenses than owners initially realize.

If you're not in a position to own an animal but want one in your life, you might look into pet sitting or volunteering at a shelter or consider a fostering program like the one available through Angels Among Us Pet Rescue (this particular one is Atlanta based) or the ASPCA (NYC based). Before you sign up, realize that different programs offer different levels of foster assistance. The NYC program covers food and supplies, while the Atlanta program only covers vet bills (which are often where the biggest expenses come from).

Fostering does tend to be a more short term situation than adoption, which is something to keep in mind, but if you're at a stage in life where you're not quite settled yourself, agreeing to keep a dog for a few weeks or few months might be better than agreeing to a permanent situation and then discovering your next apartment doesn't allow pets.

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