Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Does It Matter if it's Made in America?

Until recently I confess to being an imported car buyer. My dad didn't like a lot of American-made cars except for Chevys and extinct ones like the Edsel and De Soto. Being a dutiful (?) daughter and completely ignorant about any car, his attitude became my attitude. My first car was a 1950 something German Volvo that was given to system failure at any moment (usually after midnight). From there I went straight to VW's with two buses and three versions of the Golf. There was an interlude with a baby blue Camaro, but after a year I traded it in for a VW because I couldn't put big stuff in the trunk. Being a Cub Scout mom and do-it-yourselfer, I needed more hauling space. My current ride is a used 1995 Ford Ranger pick-up truck with a camper shell, but that's another story. Supporting Americans by purchasing American-made items didn't come to my mind until the economic crisis starting smacking us around.

With good intentions I went shopping for a new battery-powered toothbrush and chose the nationally known brand instead of the house brand. Good intentions thwarted, however. They're both made in China! Economics Class experiment: if I gave away all the products not made (and assembled) in America in my living room would I have anything left?

Canada: VCR player ($500 - 12 years ago)

China: printer ($90), computer screen ($130 on sale), computer ($600 on sale),Christmas decorations ($60 - some from thrift shop), computer components (Value-?),computer desk ($50), lamps ($200), one end table ($90 on sale), credenza ($60), book shelves ($120), plant basket ($5), computer speakers ($19), television stand ($120), headphones for the t.v. ($90), Calculator ($1), and a lot more small stuff.

Germany: Photograph paper ( $30)

Ireland: Computer ink ($16)

Japan: Camera ($350)

Malaysia: CD Player ($50), telephone system ($100)

Mexico: Cable box is licensed to manufacture by an American company to a Korean company who outsources to Mexico. (Value? We rent this from the company)

Taiwan: Television ($998 on sale)

U.S.A.: Some assembly of the computer in America - parts made in China, one old end table whose company now outsources to Mexico($100), tiny copper pot (Value? Bought at thrift shop), three planters ($20), computer paper ($4), various computer stuff ($20), two old recliner-type chairs, likely made in the U.S.A., but newer chairs are manufactured in other countries (Value ? given to us by friends), one couch (We bought it at a yard sale; it was made in Tacoma, WA by a company that no longer exists.)

The contents of my living room if I kept only made-in-America items: three plant pots, computer paper, some small computer stuff, an end table, and two really old and well worn chairs and couch. Since we are about to replace our living room furniture (the cat is almost finished clawing them into oblivion), we'd have no furniture at all. Check this out for some interesting info about which furniture manufacturers outsource:

Could I restock my living room with American-made items? I'm on a fixed income and am concerned that I couldn't afford to buy American, but that may not be true. How about if companies that outsource production are misleading us? After all, these American-based companies that have moved jobs away from the U.S.A have to make a profit. Do I really need to buy at that Big Box store because I can't afford American? Does the item need to be completely manufactured and assembled here to be supportive of the U.S. economy? The answer to this last question turns out to be extremely politically complicated, so what do all those numbers actually mean? I'll let you know if I ever find out.

I intend to buy as many products made in American as I can. Check your particular state for items made there. You can find nearly anything you want by looking at your state's list and the ones below. I've verified all of the ones I provided, but as always, if your computer screams "virus," don't open the site. There are plenty of others that will be just fine.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Let's have some frugal (not cheap) gift giving

Have we heard enough about hyper-commercial holiday gift giving and how most of us can't really afford what we'd like to buy for people? It certainly takes some of the fun out of the season. I was surprised that sales for Black Friday 2011 were up from last year and shaking my head about the commercialism of it all until I realized that folks were staying up all night to be frugal. That determination is admirable, unless you pepper spray someone to get an edge on the crowd. (Seriously, this happened!) Again, let's remind ourselves that being frugal does not equal cheap or miserly or a sign of neediness. Frugality is a way to stay solvent, in control, and sane during these unpredictable financial times.

Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Christmas are all celebrated around winter solstice, so we can use many ideas for each feast interchangeably. So, let's tackle the holiday gift challenge wisely. The week of November 28, 2011 (and likely beyond that) is "cyber shopping week," which means that Black Friday gets an extension, at least on line. (A person's financial situation can mean that s/he has no personal computer or internet access. Family and friends: please offer yours. If not, most libraries have public-use computers that "forget" your personal information after you log off. A person can use their ATM card number instead of a credit card.)

I've found several sites to share with ideas ranging from coupons, to what to get a guy, to make-it-yourself ideas, and beyond. Some online shopping sites are offering free shipping this week - like
Check out this site for more stores participating in free shipping. It's an article from Time Magazine - just close the ad and the article will be available. (Whoops about the inability to link from the sites in bold. Copy the site to the web or copy, right click and choose "open link.")

offers free shipping all year if you order at least $25 worth from the Amazon stock. It's a good deal even though Amazon's stock items are more expensive. (I'm not shilling for Amazon! Their shipping deal is good - and a bit complicated.) Instead of me trying to paraphrase Amazon's policy, I've copied this from their site:
To take advantage of FREE Super Saver Shipping:
1. Place at least $25 of eligible products in your Shopping Cart. (Eligible items will display "eligible for FREE Super Saver Shipping ..." next to their price.)
2. Proceed to checkout.
3. Ship your items to a single U.S. address.
4. Select "Group my items into as few shipments as possible" as your shipping preference.
5. Select Super Saver Shipping as your shipping speed. Your order will be delivered within 5-8 business days.
6. (I did paraphrase this exception: if you order items not eligible for free shipping, you will be charged shipping for those items.)

Be sure to order early enough for delivery!

Back to frugal gift ideas: check e-Bay for possible gifts and be sure to note the customer satisfaction level for that seller. I don't usually order used items, but have when the item came with enough guarantees. I also searched for frugal Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas gift ideas 2011 in general, for kids, for men, make-it-yourself, for women, coupons, etc . Enjoy the search and enjoy your holiday giving! There are ads on most of these sites, so ignore them if you wish. Here's a great site for parents of young children. Rent the toys for a month or two - if you like the toy, you can buy it at lower costs. I wish I had this when my kids were little! This is a good idea for only some of my family. Intriguing ideas. Save the budgeting ideas for next year and scroll down for good ideas.
Scroll down past the ads to the ideas.
I wouldn't have thought of some of theses gifts. Thanks, guys!

Fair Trade goods are, well, fair to producers in developing countries. This movement provides better trading conditions and promotes sustainability as well as fair compensation as directly as possible to the producers. Many products are great frugal gifts. Here are just three of the many web sites dedicated to fair trade.

MORE HOLIDAY SITES: This may not be a free download for long. This is a free download. Kwanzaa books and gifts for kids.


Happy Holidays and Holy Days to you all!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Now for something lighter

I don't know about you, but sometimes I need to do something really cheerful and unrelated to my situation. Let's have some fun and lighten up!!! (Message to myself as I'm tempted to let my life get me down). Having fun always gives me more energy and optimism. While I can afford some entertainment, it's way more satisfying to have fun for free or at least cheaply.

Check out your library. Even though I live in a really small town, our library is fabulous: free books, free music, free movies, free lectures and programs, and notices of local events. Don't forget to check for discounts for any reason, like being over 50 or being in the military.

This is a UK site, but the concepts work fine for the U.S.A.

Even if you don't have kids, try some of these out for the kid in you.

Does your little one need some free fun? Here's a great site.

I'm a history geek and archaeologist wannabe. Volunteer at places that interest you. For me, that would be our small, but cool historical museum. Search for your wannabe free fun possibilities.

This site is for Washington, D.C., but if you search for fun for free (in your city) you'll see lots of activities. I looked for "free fun" in my little town and the city where I used to live, but not much was there for free so I looked for cheap fun (in your city).

This is a "cheap fun" site for states and cities. Your city could be on their list, and you can also share what you've found to do in your area.

My cheap exercise is walking, riding my exercycle, or jumping on my little trampoline. Here's some more ideas for everyone.

I really enjoyed this site!

Are you an Avatar (the movie) enthusiast? Try this photo altering site for fun.

I offer this free e-books site with some misgivings since free things that usually cost money make me wonder what the catch is. But don't let my attitude stop your explorations.

Same advice as above for free music downloads.

Just to see what would come up, I searched for free travel 2011. Interesting. Check it out.

I know you're too savvy to be conned, but as a rule, if a site wants you to register with your email address, street address, or any other personal information, be wary.

Be entertained by your own creativity! Try something new. Life will still be there when you get back from your fun break, but you'll have more energy to deal with it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Medical care for the Uninsured: A Resource

For the first time in over eight years I have adequate medical coverage. However, about the time I began Medicare, my husband, a newly diagnosed diabetic, lost his exceptional and affordable medical insurance. Well, we almost had adequate medical care for both of us. Fortunately, there are two excellent free clinics in our area, but if he needed to be hospitalized….

Despite tight money there are options for anyone without medical insurance. PLEASE do not neglect your health by not having appropriate checkups! Look for your state's free/low cost medical care and if you have a particular condition, search for help with that. For example, if you have a history of breast, colon, or prostate cancer, or any other medical condition there are organizations dedicated to those issues. I found it more useful to search for free screenings in a particular area or state, Seattle, WA for example.

Directs you to sites that can help you, particularly if you have a diagnosis of breast cancer.
Another good search site for help. Click on "Find a Screening Provider."
Does breast and cervical cancer screening. This is where I got all my "well-woman" exams for the last 8 years. Check also if they provide free/low cost mammography. Go to "Find a Health Center" and type your zip code.

This is a mobile clinic. Go to "Free Testing" at the top of the page. Check their schedule for a stop in your area.
Go to the bottom of the page for screening site locator.
Good information about prostate cancer. Go to "Understanding Prostate Cancer" and then to "Helpful Resources." There are several useful connections there.

Look for screening sites in or near your city.


This is the most useful site for free clinics I've found so far.
Go to "search" at the top of the page and type what you are interested in such as free dental or medical services. Another great site for finding affordable health care options
Look for help in your state: http://www.coverageforall.orG/our_services.htm#apps
Look for Community health centers about half way down the page. These are often low/no cost clinics.

INSURING KIDS What is CHIP? The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provides free or low-cost health coverage for more than 7 million children up to age 19. CHIP covers U.S. citizens and eligible immigrants. CHIP Is Available in Every State. In general,children in families with incomes up to $44,100/year (for a family of four) are likely to be eligible for coverage. In many states, families can have higher incomes and their children can still qualify. What does CHIP pay for? Each state designs its own CHIP program, including eligibility, benefits, premiums and cost-sharing, and application and renewal procedures. States can decide on the benefits provided under CHIP, but all states cover routine check-ups, immunizations, hospital care, dental care, and lab and x-ray services. Children get free preventive care, but low premiums and other cost-sharing may be required for other services.
To get started, make a free call to 1-877 KIDS NOW (1-877-543-7669). When you call the free and confidential hotline, you’ll be connected directly to someone from your state who will help you apply. Families will need to complete an application and provide some documents. Depending on the state, you can complete the application through the mail, over the phone, or even online.

Mainly a research organization, but provides dental information as well. Go to the bottom of the page to "Related Links" and then to "Finding Dental Care"
Go to "search" at the top of the page and type what you are interested in such as free dental or medical services. You can find dentists here, but check your area for free dental clinics.

Information about medical insurance rate quotes: you likely already know this, but if you don't, many sites offering medical insurance quotes for low income and unemployed are actually regular insurance companies looking for new business. If you see offers of several medical insurance quotes at once, this is not likely to be helpful if you have little or no money. If you post your home address, email address and/or phone number, be prepared to get calls, emails, and/or written material for an indefinite amount of time. I chose my Medicare supplemental insurance plan in April and in November I still get phone calls, snail mail, and email from agents and insurance companies.

This site lists the states participating in "drug buying clubs." Several states enter into deals as a group with pharmaceutical companies for better prices. Check your state's official site for information or call the number listed. For Washington State, there was no needs qualification. Your state may be different. This plan is what I (gratefully) used for the last eight years and what my husband uses now.
Looks like a good site for finding assistance programs for prescription drugs. Go to the bottom of the page and click on "Patient Center.""
Has a huge list of prescription drug assistance possibilities including importing non-controlled prescription drugs from Canada.

Disclaimer about imported drugs: the FDA, due to the current state of their regulations, has taken the position that virtually all shipments of prescription drugs and certain other products imported from a Canadian or other foreign dispensary by a U.S. consumer will violate the law. Many legal experts, however, disagree with this position. These legal experts have observed that such importation is permitted under federal law as practiced. The FDA itself provides guidance to the public on how to accomplish such importation and no individual has ever been prosecuted by the FDA for importing non-controlled prescription drugs for personal use from a certified member of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association.

And lastly: The Affordable Health Care Act may be controversial because of the mandatory participation clause, but please consider this. If my uninsured husband is admitted to the hospital, that hospital will have to wait a long time to be completely re-paid. His hospitalization costs will be passed on to the community making everyone's insurance premiums go up. If he had medical insurance we could afford, everyone's costs could be kept down. Having said that, read this:
A descriptive timeline of the benefits provided by the Affordable Health Care Act.
This site shows specific benefits for preventive health care for everyone in your family.

If you know of other resources, please share and I will add them to this blog.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Thanks, but no thanks

I have three friends who are chronically chirpy, meaning they never seem to be in a fussy mood or have a crabby day. Being around them is like basking in a warm sun, and I appreciate them … when I want to bask. The rest of us live somewhere between "Good morning, God!" and "Good God it's morning." Nothing against my sweet friends, but I'm not sure I want them around when I've had yet another bad night and can't imagine how I will make it through the day. In my experience excessively cheerful people are uncomfortable around those of us with troubles. They want to fix us and seem to assume that we haven't been working on whatever it is that has derailed us. There's nothing like a list of recommendations you've already tried to cheer you up.

There's a web site that I've already included, but this topic kept coming back to me: useless advice for the laid-off. (I sincerely hope that any information I share doesn't contribute to someone's pain!) The author of the site believes that the person who wrote this stuff had to be currently employed. Sure, I want advice about my frequent bad nights and the resulting trashed days from someone who rarely experiences that. What would I appreciate? First, assume that I've tried lots of remedies, and second, give me a hug. Most of us with serious problems want our distress to be acknowledged first. Then we can explore possible solutions.

I'll list the topics here, and if one appeals to you, go to and check out the site he mentions.

1. Just get over it approach "If you're laid off, you'll need to overcome the initial shock and demoralization and move on quickly and confidently."

2. The laughingly unrealistic "Do things that will get you to be recognized as a world leader in the field you want to be in."

3. The glaringly obvious "Review your financial situation. You may have set aside what seemed like a reasonable amount for a rainy day, but if your unemployment goes beyond a month or two, you may need to make some lifestyle adjustments." (Add a big "DUH" here)

4. The out of touch "If your feelings of anger, sadness or helplessness persist beyond a few weeks, consider getting short-term therapy for depression."

5. The outright dangerous This needs some explaining. The offending site offers this: "You need to get your mind off losing your job and get out of the house and meet people. If you're single, there's no better way than dating." Yes, like you're going to make good decisions about new relationships when you're feeling sad, angry, and depressed.

6. The wishful thinker "Now is the time to pick up a hobby you've always wanted to do but never had time for. Diddit is a relatively new social network for finding people who are doing the things you want to do. Use it to learn more or just find partners to go skydiving with." (Hmmm. This is uncomfortably akin to my suggestion that you consider where you might want to work that is different from your previous profession. I hope this wasn't wishful thinking. Well, if it is wishful thinking for you, ignore that piece of advice.)

7. More from the Pick-Yourself-Up-by -the-Bootstraps Useless Bucket "But don't let your layoff get you down. Be sure to take care of yourself, both physically and mentally. Stick to a regular exercise program. Get involved in outdoor sports. You need to look sharp when you go to job interviews."

8. The Too-Little-Too-Late "Take a few minutes to connect with everyone before you leave the premises. Get everyone's contact information and future plans. You never know if you might need them."

9. More Don't-Be-a-Freakin'-Wuss "Don't be a victim. Don't whine. Don't let people whine to you. Get busy on the next phase of your life."

10. The Golden Opportunity "This is the time that you can spend Organizing Your Life! Remember when you said to your friend, 'One of these days I am going to get everything in my house organized.' Well, today is the day to start!" I have to include this commentary from the author of the "Useless" website: "I'm not a violent person. But I'd like to slap silly whoever wrote this. Especially for the exclamation marks."

11. The I'd-Rather-Beat-My-Head-Against-a-Wall "See if you can keep coming into the office. " Riiiiiiight!

When someone with good intentions offers you any of the above advice, just smile and say "Thanks." Or you can set them straight.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Is "frugality" just a four letter word?

Is "frugal" a four letter word? OK, it has five letters, but you know what I mean. We all have understandings of "frugality," so to see what yours might be, try this short, informal review:

1. Only those without enough money have to be frugal. Yes___ No___
2. I have all that I need and use my money the way I want to. Yes___ No___
3. Being frugal means I win the advertizing battles for my money. Yes___ No___
4. I'm being punished for having too many debts, so I have to be frugal. Yes___ No___
5. When I am being frugal I feel deprived. Yes___ No___
6. Being frugal means I can have anything I want when I choose to. Yes___ No___

Until the last three years of 180 degree life change, my gut feeling about frugality was that it meant deprivation and punishment. Not much of a motivator for getting out of the large credit card debt I had. The more I tried to be frugal, the less I succeeded to pay it off or to save money. I'd like to say that virtue won and I bravely chose frugality. What really happened was that not being able to go places to shop and little inclination to buy on-line, I became frugal by default. Big surprise: I don't feel dis-empowered or deprived. How did that happen? Like any intervention, being away from your drug-of-choice means you don't feed your addiction. I was at the "rehab center" provided by being sick, and when I felt well enough to go out, the addiction was gone. I've paid off my debt and recently bought a big-ticket item we wanted - with cash. That is enormous progress for me!

Opportunities for attitude change can come from anywhere, but if you're struggling with accepting frugality as a life-style, try these web sites. For them frugality is a fun game they are winning. I enjoyed checking into many of them and am recommending a few to you. Look for "frugal blog" on the web - there are A LOT of them out there. All of them provide ways to make your money go farther. My new favorite word: frugalista.

A Momma and the Boys Living on a Budget : printable coupons (I don't usually buy name brands, but will if I have a coupon.) lots of freebies lots of topics - search for one you're interested in More topics good advice about student loans and other helpful topics getting out of debt and other topics shopping ideas and personal finance good advice and good reader stories (you can post your own story here.)
: Excellent!!!

Be careful when you choose a blog. Only go to the sites with some indicator that the web connection has determined it's virus free. When I went to "Ask the Frugal Decorating Diva," my virus alarm went crazy!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What did we do wrong?

Hey, folks, haven't we been good purchasers? Haven't we admirably carried out our part of the consumerists' contract? Then, why have our jobs and all those benefits disappeared, sometimes even our homes. Not wanting to be seen as whiners, we've been sucking up our personal pain like injured ball players not wanting to be taken out of the game. As good sports we're supposed to cheer for the person who makes the game winning play even though we've been side-lined. Right? Then we find out that the "hero" has been taking steroids.

I understand that by taking myself out of the game (meaning I have a LOT less money than I used to and less inclination to spend it) I could be seen as letting our side down. If I don't shop like I used to, how is the economy going to recover? It's possible a lot of us are headed for simpler lives since many of us have less disposable income. So, if we get happier with our lives and need less expensive distractions (see the first entry), how can our economy grow? We've been told this must happen before we have any chance of recovering what we had.

I think there's something wrong with this whole economic growth business. If our consumption and output are supposed to grow every year, isn't what results a big, fat bubble - maybe like right now? Despite how it looks sometimes, this planet has limited resources. I don't see how we as Americans can keep consuming and growing as we have been. This boom and bust business is making us suspicious of our "pull yourself up by your own bootstrap" culture - and it should.

Having some time to think about our place in all of this, consider again that we may not want to look for a job that puts us right back in the same position where we needed all those (expensive) distractions and contribute to the next bubble burst. In the last entry I offered some re-training ideas. If you still want to be in your profession, consider sharing one job with another person. Here are some web sites that could help you sort this out.

Pros and Cons of Job Sharing -

How to present your job share proposal to your boss -

How to find someone to share a job with (the information is free, but actual contacts will cost a small fee)

For teachers, check with your district's HR department. They may have a list. If they aren't actually anti-job sharing, but don't have anything in place, write a proposal for them. See above web site for help.

Google: job sharing (your community and year, like Seattle job share 2011)

This addresses the concern about unsustainable growth and job possibilities

These folks are excited about job sharing and making a sustainable economy -