Whole Foods

I love Whole Foods. I’m talking about the store. I also love whole foods (see my food & wine blog, VineJoy, for more on that). I am so happy in a Whole Foods store. The produce is so fresh, I almost feel as if I’m picking it from a garden. The seafood and meat all look so inviting, and are all sustainably farmed or caught. The cheeses from around the world are magnificent, from crumbly and aged, to soft and stinky. The baked goods smell divine, the coffee is fair-trade. The salad bar should be insulted that it’s in the same category as regular grocery store salad bars. And there’s a sushi bar inside the store! It’s a foodie-yogi-environmentalist’s dream!

I am instantly in a happy zen-like state whenever I go into a Whole Foods. I think about the fabulous food that my family and I will be eating, and the fact that I’m shopping sustainably and my heart sings! For about ten minutes. Then another feeling sets in…Panic. I am going to spend way too much money!! It really isn’t the price of the store; everyone has heard it referred to as Whole Paycheck. But, I live in a ski resort. My neighborhood grocery store is exorbitantly priced. So, the prices at the Whole Foods in Denver really aren’t any higher than what I’m used to paying. It’s just that there’s so much more that I want!

So, how does one shop at Whole Foods, on a budget? The first step, is advice that most people who are trying to eat healthily have heard – shop the periphery. That’s where you find produce, meat, and dairy. Generally, the less processed the food, the less expensive, and the better for you. I also choose very carefully which products to buy organic. At Whole Foods, even the conventionally produced foods, are generally sustainable, free of high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats. I also look at the price per ounce; I just started doing this and it’s a pretty significant thing to do in any grocery store. And, unless there’s something I specifically plan on buying, I stay completely out of the soaps/cosmetics/vitamins aisle. I love an aromatherapy oil as much as anyone, but those little things can really add up!

I managed to get out of there without spending my “whole paycheck.” Sure, I wanted more, but when I got home and unloaded my (reusable, of course) grocery bags, I had a week’s worth of fabulous produce, fish and chicken to freeze, a tiny bit of yummy cheese, a french bread that lasted days, some great olives, and healthy school snacks.

Feeding my family well has always been important to me. No matter how little money I have, I refuse to buy processed crap. Let me tell you from experience, it is possible to eat healthy and delicious food on a limited budget. It definitely takes more work than boxed macaroni and cheese or frozen dinners, but it is worth it. Love your family! Love yourself! Eat Well!

Life is Good!

I’m afraid that my blog is having an un-anticipated consequence…People are feeling sorry for me. In the past week, my mother has sent me money, my brother-in-law has offered me a job, and two friends have told me how horrible they felt when reading my post on taxes.

Please, don’t feel sorry for me. My life is great! I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, I have a loving husband and daughter; and we are all healthy.

I love my job. I sell wine for a small distributor, made up of great people and wonderful wines.  I am making less than half of what I made at my old job, but I’m happy and that is worth a lot! I am also confident that I will soon be making much more.  I love my second job, which is teaching yoga. Two jobs that I love – how lucky am I?

I am blessed with an amazing community of friends and a fantastic extended family.

I love to cook and write, and I get to do a lot of both.

I have a cool dog.

So, you see, I am wealthy. I may not currently have much money, but I am rich in so many ways. It is hard to remember to count your blessings when there’s not enough money. Remember, gratitude and abundance go hand in hand. Practice one, and be ready to receive the other!

Taxes

I didn’t want to write this post. As a matter of fact, after hearing from my accountant last night, I wanted to bag this whole blog and throw in the towel. But, I committed to writing about the good and the bad, successes and failures, so here I go.

We were expecting a large tax return. We still owe our taxes from the previous year, but were had already arranged with the IRS for them to take it from this year’s taxes. We expected to still have some left over. You can see where this is going. It didn’t turn out as we had expected. Turns out that my employer was taking less than 1% out of my paycheck for income taxes. I haven’t spoken to my employer yet, so I’m not sure how that happened. I know that I was not claiming too many exemptions, so I will be looking into this today. Of course, it won’t make any difference on taxes owed this year.

So, instead of getting ahead, as I had expected, we’ll be adding another two (federal & state) monthly bills to those that we already cannot afford to pay. I’ll have to contact the IRS and  the state of Colorado to get on a payment plan. I hope they will agree to let me pay $20 per month, because I can’t send more at this time. Hopefully, by the end of the year I will be able to send more.

I’m trying not to let the frustration get to me. I feel like I’ve been so responsible and taking all the right steps. But, it just seems to be one step forward, and three steps back. I feel like we’ll never get out of this mess.

There is a lesson in this story too. Staying on top of your finances means staying on top of everything. That means looking at your pay stub regularly and making sure you are comfortable with the amount of taxes being withheld. It’s not a complicated procedure. Simply look at your pay stub, see what is being withheld, multiply that by however many paychecks you get per year, and compare that to your tax bracket, to make sure you are within the ballpark. Don’t know what income tax bracket you’re in? Time to figure that out.

Sorry to be a downer today, but I did say I would share it all.

Teach Your Children Well

I don’t think I’m alone, when I say that my parents didn’t teach me about money. Their parents didn’t teach them about money. Beyond, “No, that costs too much,” money was not really discussed. I also didn’t learn about money in school. Sure, I took Economics 101, and learned about Adam Smith, and John Kenneth Galbraith. Interesting course, but it taught me absolutely nothing about managing my own finances. Is it any wonder I’m in a financial mess? If most people got a similar financial education, is it any wonder that the economy is in a mess?

I am hoping to save my daughter from the same fate. She just had her first financial lesson, and I am very proud of her. Stella is six, and has been asking for a Pillow Pet for ages. With her birthday and Christmas both many months away, I decided to take this opportunity to teach her to save for something she wants. The pillow pet costs $20. I told her that if she saved half, I would give her the other half. I started giving her an allowance of $1 per week. I told her that she could keep any spare change that she found in the house or the car. (I made it very clear, however, that this did not mean going into Mommy’s or Daddy’s wallets and taking money!) It took her about seven weeks to save, and last week, we ordered the Orca Pillow Pet, and are anxiously awaiting its arrival. I was a little bit concerned that she would not be happy about turning over her money, but, she happily took it to the bank, and made her own deposit! She was very proud of herself, and so was I.

I’d like to put in a plug for the Moonjar. It’s a bank, specifically designed to teach children about money. It has three parts: Spend, Save and Share. Spend is where we put the money for the Pillow Pet. Save is for long-term savings, like college, or a car. Share is for giving. We are working on the Share section now. We’ve talked about what charities do, and the different groups they benefit, including hungry children, sick people, wild animals, abused horses etc. Stella has decided that she wants to give to a charity that helps dolphins and whales. So, we are concentrating on putting money in the Share box, we’ll research dolphin and whale charities, and decide on an amount, and send a check.

Of course, you don’t have to buy the Moonjar. Three jars of any sort will work just fine.  The best part of this project is that Stella is finding that dealing with money is fun. And I am having fun with her!

I’m on the Radio!

I’ve been telling everyone to listen to the Own it, Sister! podcast. If you haven’t yet, maybe, this will get you to….I’m on it! After my post about the Sisters, I got a nice note from Whitney, one of the founders, asking me if I’d be willing to call in and share my story. So, I did, and they played it on this week’s show. Pretty funny, to hear myself on the radio!

Is it Ever OK to be Selfish?

In the old days, when money was in good supply, I spent freely. No, I wasn’t a shopaholic; the actual act of shopping never excited me. But, I was making money, working hard, and figured I deserved whatever I wanted. (That was mistake # 1, but that’s an issue for another post.) I had nice stuff, took vacations, and went to yoga retreats. Actually, my yoga teacher-training was expensive, but something I absolutely don’t regret spending the money on. I want to continue with my yoga studies, and this will bring me to the subject of this post, in a moment.

Times have changed. I rarely buy more than food, gasoline, and pay bills. Our last splurge was ski passes for the family. That may sound excessive, if you don’t live here. But, here in the mountains, it’s a way of life. We ski every weekend. It’s what makes living in the land of eight-month winters bearable. I have been putting aside money to attend an Anusara Yoga event in September, in Colorado. In the past couple of years, there have been a number of yoga events, workshops and trainings that I have wanted to attend. In the old days, I would have gone to all of them, using my credit card, if I were low on cash. Months ago, I decided to choose one, and save up for it. I’ve got more than half saved, and having the rest by September should be no problem. But, there is a problem. I just realized that registration opens April 28. It sells out fast. So, now, if I want to go, I’ll have to pay in full in the month that I make the least money.

Do you see my dilemma? Maybe it’s not a dilemma at all. How can I justify spending money on myself when we are so short on cash? But, I thought I was being so responsible in saving up for this. It’s an event that only comes around every other year, at the most. It will be a big step towards my goal of becoming an Anusara-Inspired yoga instructor. Am I rationalizing?

I would love to hear your opinions. That’s why I started this blog, after all, so I wouldn’t be going through my financial journey alone.  Thanks, as always, for reading.

Let’s Make a Deal

I have shared the fact that I am behind on my payments to my Home Depot card. As anyone who has ever been behind on a credit card payment knows, they call every day. And every day, I answer the phone, tell the representative that I am having financial difficulties and ask to work something out. For weeks, my efforts have been in vain. One representative offered me a special payment plan, that would bring my monthly bill to $139 a month. He couldn’t understand why I didn’t think that was a good deal, considering that my monthly payment is generally under $100 a month! He said that it was the best offer he could give me since I was a month behind. So, I asked what kind of payment plan he could give me if I brought my account current. His response… “Well, if you’re current, you won’t be eligible for a payment plan.” AARRGH!

This went on for a few weeks. Every day I’d have a conversation with a different collections rep, and every day, I would have no luck. All that changed on Thursday. I spoke with a very nice man, who told me that if I paid $389, and brought my account current, that they would match my payment and give me a credit for $389. Seriously? Yes, he told me, these offers come around periodically, nobody knows when or how long they’ll last. So, I pondered for a few minutes; $389 is a lot for me to shell out in one lump sum. But that, along with a matching credit, will literally cut my Home Depot bill by a third. So, I went for it. He gave me a confirmation number, but I haven’t seen the credit in writing yet. It seems legitimate; I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

The point I am trying to make with this post is, if you have issues with creditors, don’t ignore the phone. Answer it every time they call, tell them your situation, tell them you want to pay, and at some point, they will make a deal. Why won’t they do it in the first place? Who knows? Just remember, persistence pays, honesty is the best policy and facing a bad situation is always better than sticking your head in the sand!

The Sisterhood

Almost simultaneously with my decision to stop being a victim of my financial situation, I stumbled upon a podcast called Own it, Sister! It has turned out to be one of my greatest inspirations in my financial journey. Started last October, by three women in Boulder, CO, the podcast’s mission is to help women,  “Embrace your worth, embody your wisdom and claim your wealth.” Isn’t that great? Does it speak to you, the way it speaks to me? They created their show to help women get strong and smart about money, as well as all aspects of their lives. Every week, they feature fascinating new guests, spiritually and financially strong people, like Barbara Stanny, Kristen Morelli and Douglas Brooks. (If you don’t know who these people are, you can listen to the podcast archives in i-Tunes).

They have a great website, too. They offer a free download, called the Prosperity Purse, filled with tips on getting your finances in order. You can also get a free phone consultation. I had one with Whitney Wogan, and it was great. Let me also stress, this is not just a show for people who’s financial lives are a mess. It is an enjoyable and inspiring show for anyone, female or male. And, like all podcast subscriptions, it is absolutely free. The link to the website is also on my blogroll. I am passing along Own it, Sister! to all of my friends. I hope you will, too.

Wisdom of Retirement

Is it crazy for me to consider opening an IRA when I can’t pay my bills? Initially, it would seem so, but I am not so sure. And, it appears, neither are the experts. One school of thought says to pay off all debt before thinking about saving. Another says, pay yourself first. Conventional wisdom says to get rid of debt and stop paying interest, or saving makes no sense. But I am learning that financial wisdom is anything but conventional. So, I’m asking myself some questions, considering the differing opinions and trying to come up with answers….

  • Is developing the habit of saving as important as the amount being saved?
  • Am I more stressed about my debt, or the fact that I have no retirement savings?
  • Which will benefit me more in the lang haul – paying off debt or starting the IRA?

I really don’t have that much unsecured debt, well below the national average, but I am struggling to make the monthly payments. I am trying to negotiate with my creditors, but am finding it surprisingly difficult. I guess you have to get a few months behind on payments before they will negotiate with you. Seems counter-intuitive, but I may have to go that route.

I once had a very nice 401k. After losing my job, I cashed it out. Of course that flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but I don’t regret doing it. It allowed us to pay off the majority of our debt and pay our monthly bills for a while. I also justify my actions with the knowledge of how the market tanked shortly afterward…maybe the money would be gone anyway? I know that is major rationalization, but I’m good with it.

Maybe it came with turning 45. I am more concerned with the fact that I have no retirement savings than I am with my struggle to pay my debt. The debt will eventually get paid. My credit score will eventually recover. But, if I don’t start saving now, I may never be able to retire.

I think I’ve just worked my way to a decision. I am going to open an IRA as soon as I can. There are some discount brokerages, such as E*Trade and Zecco that do not have minimum required deposits. I need to consider fees and commissions as well. It does seem that I can start an IRA with as little as $25 or $50 and put in $5 or $10  a month until I can afford more.

I admit to having no expertise in this area and would love to hear your thoughts. Have I made the right decision, or a totally stupid one? Tell me what you think.

Fear

When there is not enough money, fear becomes a pretty familiar companion. From the very specific fears of losing one’s home, or not having food to eat, to the vague, nagging fear that lurks in the back of consciousness, some type of worry or anxiety seems to be a constant. It’s not a good feeling. This is a particularly scary month for me; as my job transitions from a salaried position to a commissioned one, I have the potential to make a lot more money in the long run, but it leaves me essentially without a paycheck in March. This is a scary situation for someone who has been living paycheck to paycheck.

So, what to do? The key, I believe, is not to let the fear be paralyzing. I am going to continue to look at my bank balance regularly. I am going to continue to budget and forecast. I am going to prioritize. Mortgage, food, gasoline, get top billing. If the Home Depot card has to wait, so be it. Yes, I am trying to repair my battered credit score, but I have to be realistic. Keeping our home, feeding my family and driving to work are the most important things right now. We’ll have plenty of time to get the credit score back up.

Fear takes a lot of energy. It saps your strength. If you are not careful, it will take ownership of you. Or, you can choose to own it. Face it, embrace it, and let it go. It can be very empowering. I remember being on a winery trip in Santa Barbara several years ago, and the afternoon activity was flying solo in a glider. (Yes, that is a plane without an engine!) I was petrified. But, I did it, and the high I got from being scared and doing it anyway was amazing!

I am not making light of fear. In tough financial times, fear is very real, and very legitimate. It can also be a great motivator. For  me, it has motivated me to get my writing published. I have also increased the number of yoga classes I teach every week and am heading the running club at the rec center where I work. So, if you are afraid, use your fear wisely, make it work to your advantage. Who knows, maybe you are a budding entrepreneur!