When You’re Squeezed For Information


Recently someone did a survey on the American public. The question was simple: could you absorb an unexpected expense of $400 without putting it on cards, selling something or asking for a loan?

The results… are dismal.

Apparently only 48% of the people can do that.

Now, consider this is me, a person who not so long ago budgeted the $8 for contact lens solution, the person who routinely tears out her hair when buying school books for younger kid. And then keep in mind the sum in question $400. Not $4000. We’re not talking replacing a car or having major repairs done on the house. $400 is a visit from the plumber when our sewer line gets clogged. (It’s a community sewer line problem. The clog is usually out of our property, but…) or it’s having to replace headlights on one of the cars. (Stupid design. You need to remove the front bumper to replace it.) or filling my gas tank five times. $400 is enough food, cleaners and consumables for a month. $400 is a vet visit if we take all the cats in for vaccination.

It’s not what it used to be, in other words. $400 thirty years ago was real money. Rent and electricity paying money. Now it’s moneyish, money to meet some expenses, money to get by, but not big money. But it makes or breaks almost half of us.

Yeah, 48% of us are that close. I wonder how close the other 50% are (2% I presume being very well off.) Are they “$1000 and it goes on cards?” Are they “$2000 and we don’t know where house payment comes from next month?” how close are they?

Reading this survey was one of those moments – like when I figured out that after April half the houses in my neighborhood went up for sale and I went “So, we didn’t hit the wall alone!”

And note that through all this we’re assured that the economy is booming. Guys, when people can’t muster $400 they’re not going to make their Christmas really special, ($400 is two laptops if you’re REALLY good at shopping) and you know the role Christmas plays in our economy. (Last Christmas the boys got socks and underwear. We don’t really need gifts for Christmas, and we don’t feel comfortable splurging on them. NOT right now. I like to get a book that I can spend the day reading, but what with all the kindle free stuff… it’s not needed.)

Of course the survey also says that Americans report they’re doing okay. They’re fine. They’re comfortable.

Of course note those words. No one says “I’m in wonderful shape.” “Things are Great!” “I’m growing by leaps and bounds.”

I suspect what is relative to is that all of us – every one of us – knows people who are worse off.

To quote Leonard Cohen:

When you’ve fallen on the highway
and you’re lying in the rain,
and they ask you how you’re doing
of course you’ll say you can’t complain —
If you’re squeezed for information,
that’s when you’ve got to play it dumb:
You just say you’re out there waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.

No, it’s “Okay” and “comfortable” but no one knows relative to what. Yes, yes, William O’Blivion will come and tell us we have full stomachs and roofs over our head and functioning infrastructure.  And he’s right.

But part of the reason we have those is that we expect those.  Let me explain: in Portugal, growing up, we’d put up with the electricity being turned off every day in summer for up to six hours.  We just stocked candles.  Here it would be considered an outrage.  Ditto with the countries which are in really bad shape.  Take Argentina — they took the slow slide down with “I’m okay.  I’m surviving.”  What they put up with by now, would frost your hair, even though they were, in every sense a first world country when the slide started.  Oh, and Venezuela.  Shortages of toilet paper, milk, water…. everything, really.

The problem with that survey is the problem with all our sources of information these days, when you read it you feel guilty and alone. You feel guilty because people say they’re doing well – so why aren’t you doing well?

Look, we’re not starving (we could use some starving around here! Well, not really, because then I can’t write, but you get the point) and if I can just get off my duff and deliver books, we’ll be okay.

I feel guilty enough for that – survivor’s guilt – when I look around at my friends in immeasurably worse straits. We’re getting by. A $400 hit means some adjustments, and maybe we sell some stuff (there’s a reason we’re selling the books) but they’re just things, right, and anyway, we want to move so we’re cutting down on stuff. And we’re okay. We’re not losing our house, at least not if we can sell it. We wouldn’t put $400 on credit. I’d just call a few people and see if they needed a short story. And I have friends who’d pay for cover design if I cleared my throat in their direction. So – we’re really okay. We’re comfortable. And the savings are recovering from April (thanks to Indie) so that we can meet stuff like that from them. We’re even planning and prepared for the dreaded College Book Season. (Apparently they engrave engineering books in gold leaf. Doesn’t look like it, but really, have you seen the prices?)

Provided another year of illness doesn’t intervene, or another hail storm, we’re probably going to be okay.

Not wonderful, but okay.

But the other side is when the reports tell us it’s boom times, and everyone is doing great an rolling in dough. And we feel alone.  And well, we shut up and don’t make a fuss, and we allow the slide to continue.

Look at the numbers. $400 means a payday loan (and a horrible cycle to enter.) And $400 could be… a new set of tires. A minor fender bender. Nothing much. The sort of accident that happens to everyone sometime.

We’re all fallen on the highway and lying in the rain. We’re waiting for the miracle. We’re waiting for the miracle, because we think everyone else is doing great, so it must be our fault.  And we’re not that bad.  We can’t complain.

Maybe it will come. We know what they say about Himself’s affection for drunkard’s, fools and the United States of America.

In the mean time, I propose a simple plan: If you’re doing okay (we sort of are, provided Indie doesn’t totally collapse. It’s taken our fat out of the fire, and now if I can deliver for Baen, we’ll be fine) stop feeling guilty. Pay it forward. You might need it tomorrow. What goes around comes around.

If you’re not doing okay stop feeling like you’re a massive failure. (And if you’re indie publishing, yep, there’s been a big dip since April. From the fact sales move massive amounts of merchandise I’m going to guess people still want to read, they’re just broke. Consider sales. I hate going KDP exclusive, but the countdowns DO help.) You’re not a failure. It’s not your fault. There are tides in economies that drown people pretty much arbitrarily.

This doesn’t mean you should stop trying, and if you already know you can’t find anything in your field/specialty/knowledge, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come up with something new to try and maybe support yourself.

Work at working.  If you’re unemployed, find other ways to make at least some money.  Learn better ways around.  Get creative. fix stuff to sell.  Do whatever fits your abilities.

But it means you shouldn’t give yourself ulcers while doing it. You should be kind to yourself. If you’re surviving, no matter how barely, you’re doing okay. You’re doing as well as can be expected. Keep trying, keep aiming for more, refuse to embrace the decline, but don’t kick yourself in the process.

And if you’re doing okay, see what you can spare and help those who can’t. It seems every other week some friend is facing something really serious. Keep your eye on your tribe. Give them a hand.

And when money comes in – those unexpectedly good indie royalties, for instance – set it aside to meet the next smack by fate.

We’re all doing okay at best. The sea is choppy and stormy. Some people will get washed overboard. Stop feeling guilty that you can’t hold your personal boat steady and everyone in luxury. Reports of luxury might not be a lie, but they’re not typical.

Adjust and make your fun in smaller ways, find happiness in different things. Learn to make your own beautiful music. Learn to take help, learn to give help. LEARN.  Learn new ways to do things around the ones that no longer work.

The people at the top wish us gone or broke or used to the decline. But we’re Americans. We won’t give them the satisfaction.

We’ll build under, build around, build despite them.

And work towards getting our would-be Aristos defeated at the ballot box.  Yes, fraud is massive.  So your involvement needs to be bigger.

The country is struggling. The American people are okay. And we’ll be better.

We will make the miracle HAPPEN.

331 thoughts on “When You’re Squeezed For Information

  1. (Apparently they engrave engineering books in gold leaf. Doesn’t look like it, but really, have you seen the prices?)

    YES!!!!! #4 son is in his senior year in Civil Engineering at Western Michigan. Though, to be honest, when I was studying Mech Engineering at UT Austin back in the mid to late 70’s, I thought textbooks were way overpriced then too. I paid over $30 for Process Heat Transfer by Kern, a book copyrighted in 1950, the only new book I bought that year. Jimmy has had to pay over $150 for some books that he could not find either used or in a pdf format.

    1. Yes. Second son. He’s in electrical and mechanical engineering. last year the books ran to about 2k in aggregate, but we also had older son in human bio and chemistry. (What is with my sons and double majors?)

      1. Double majors seem to be the new thing. (Maybe universities want more tuition?) When I finally went back and got my degree in 2009-2012, it seemed like 3/4 of my class mates were doing a double major (I was not – a full-time job and a double major were not very compatible). Either one practical and one for fun, or two complementary majors (to make one more effective in one or both fields), or two different practical majors (in case you can’t find work in one).

        Computer science and math, and physics and math, have long been popular combinations. Classical studies and archaeology, geography and archaeology or anthropology, and geology or biology and physical anthropology, were common complementary majors among my fellow anthropology majors.

        1. husband was math/computers though it wasn’t a formal major. I was languages with a minor in teaching. In the case of the boys, I think they’re trying to maximize their chances at jobs.

          1. I majored in Computer and Systems Engineering and minored in Philosophy because I could do that while knocking off my humanities requirement.

            1. I did practically the same, except that the philosophy minor (20 hours) turned into a major because I could do that with 24 hours of philosophy and 16 hours of a “supporting discipline”, and computer science counted for that. So 4 of my comp. sci. courses counted towards both majors. I also picked up a math minor because it was only one extra course on top of my comp. sci. math requirements. So I ended up turning one major into two majors plus one minor with only 8 extra hours of tuition.

              1. I think that in the retail trade they call that “upselling”. It’s a science designed to get you to spend more by arranging the price points ‘just so’.

            2. I didn’t file the paperwork to make it “official”, but I had the hours (from challenging the English GRE – at the time, my school offered 30 semester hours of credit if you got a sufficiently high score on the GRE) to qualify for a double major in Computer Science and English Lit.

              I rather wish I’d filed for it, close to 30 years later. Just to have it official. At the time, I looked at the starting salaries for English teachers and kept on with my entry level high tech job that paid about twice what an entry level English major could expect.

              The major take-away from it was to be amazed at the difference in rigor between the English Lit GRE and the Computer Science GRE I took the same year.

              Some double majors don’t really make sense in combination, or they may be a way of having at least *one* employable skill documented while still getting some recognition for fun classes.

              On the other hand, our younger daughter is waffling back and forth between declaring Linguistics a minor or a double major with Psychology – but for her, it’s actually useful (she’s aiming at a graduate program in speech pathology).

          2. Majored in Computer Science and the major requirements for a BS in Math was only an additional 12 hours, though the college required a minimum of an additional 20 hours total. Added a BS in Psychology…I had to pick up the extra hours somewhere. Got sick and tired of dealing with stupidity on campus and hit the door as soon as I was done with the CS degree. Looking back…best decision I made while in college!

        2. I tell aspiring writers who will not listen to the advice that they should major in something for the day job (a job that will not vampirize all the energy they need to write), that they should double major in whatever they think will help for the writing and in something for the day job.

          1. Yep – my work as a secretary/admin assistant jobs (and the military pension) underwrote my writing for the first few years. Now, it’s the Tiny Publishing Bidness, which is sometimes a time sink and distraction from my own writing, but fortunately it comes in waves. In between waves, I’m frantically scribbling away at my own stuff.

        3. I was triple major, Math/Physics/Computers back in the 80s. Didn’t finish, but that wasn’t because school was too hard, it was because i discovered a social life.

            1. I missed it if you said he’s already in college but if he’s just starting consider two years at a community college with they eye towards transferring. You save mucho bucks, very possibly get a better education regarding the universal basics, and you are much more mature at 20 than at 18.

              1. No, you don’t. You used to. Now you don’t. Their college doesn’t accept community college credits and makes the kids retake them. You USED to, but colleges got wise.
                He’s in his third year mechanical, second year electrical. He had some credits due to dual high school/college at discount rate. so he’s set to finish in two more years. IF he doesn’t discover a social life 😉

                1. Those greedy b*stards!

                  Well, if he’s in his third year now and made it through all the weeding-out-of-the-unserious courses, I think the big hurdle is passed.

                2. Wait a minute. What happened to “We’re all one big Colorado Higher Education community”? I had a buddy spend two years a CC then transfer to my alma mater without any issue. That was five years ago but still…

                  Calc I is Calc I is Calc I. Dang.

                  1. I suspect, if CO is like TX, too many remedial classes in the CCs were getting re-listed as regular courses, and the universities got burned. [Insert rant about public schools and literacy graduation here]

                    1. Oh, and I should add that Marshall CAN and does write sentences that make sense and if you can get him to focus he can carry on a conversation (beyond the “social” stuff which baffles him a little. “WHY are we discussing the weather?”) I’ve seen what his classmates write when they have group projects in English and OMG. I usually start with “No son of mine” and both the kids laugh, because there was a time that “you made us write essays till our fingers bled.” 😛

                    1. Five years sounds right. My friend has been out about that long. And if Mines hadn’t taken transfer credit from RRCC my ex-wife would have never graduated. Something about the Math Department teaching DiffyQ like some sodding religious mystery that the unenlightened shouldn’t know.

                      I can believe it is an out growth of the “We’re not accepting MAT030 from community colleges anymore.” Actually my sister who tutors at a CC says they won’t teach MAT 030 anymore because anyone going to college should have beyond a third grade understanding of math. No joke.

                  2. In Pennsylvania, it’s still pretty easy to do for most schools as I understand it.

                    In Florida, I think it is almost policy regarding the state-affiliated universities.

                    It’s a great idea. A kid gets certification for two years of work via an associates degree and gets to transfer his credits in pursuit of an advanced one.

                3. I can’t swear to it, but I’m pretty sure that most of the local (for certain values of “local”) universities in this part of Texas accept credit for a lot of the basic classes we teach at my jr. college.

                  Checking…yep, bunches of transferablecredits.

                  1. As I understand it, Texas has a standardized equivalency system, with core competencies or the like delineated for equivalency.

                    Courses in the equivalency program transfer 1 to 1, those outside will be evaluated by the receiving institution.

                    This allows for, as someone mentioned, calc 1 being calc 1 without forcing acceptance of a non-equivalent experimental or free-form class.

                    And that’s close to all I know about that.

                  2. They went through a riff a few years ago. Now, most CCs that have a true Calc 1, for ex, have transferable Calc 1. It probably helps that the CCs can get new PhDs to teach “advanced” courses, instead of the market capping out at MA/MS levels. [Insert rant about university hiring policies and tenure reform here] Even so, I suspect some departments and the private colleges “encourage” taking their in-house basic courses, much as they ignore certain AP credits.

        4. Double majors allow useful combinations of skills and those make for viability in the job market. When I taught college, I encouraged people to learn connected skill sets as that would get them hired or permit effective freelance work.

      2. You have no one to blame but yourself. This is what happens when you have smart kids then encourage them to develop their intellect. (Or why I started saving for the Little Mouse’s college fund before she hit her first birthday.)

        I’m not the tinfoil hat type but I’m pretty sure there is a conspiracy to keep college text book prices insanely high.

        1. What? Surely the publishers who have been convicted of collusion and price fixing wouldn’t… price-fix and collude?

          Next you’ll claim there’s such a thing as a recidivism rate.

        2. And it’s also college instructors that can force students to buy their “packets” for absurdly high prices.

          1. This. The instructors dictate which text and edition is required. And, oh, it just so happens that it’s the text they wrote, and revise every year, so used sales are discouraged … nice little gig.

            1. I only ran into this once – and it was in high school, not college. The biology teacher wrote the biology text that was used for all the biology courses. At the university level, professors did occasionally include journal articles they’d written in the course readings – but typically provided copies of them in print or PDF form.

              Come to think of it, most of the courses in most subjects had a single text. English courses usually included several. The anthropology courses I took had one (or, rarely, two) textbook(s) , usually augmented by journal articles provided in print or PDF form.

              1. No doubt I am outdated in my assumptions. I remember vividly the physics course which used the prof’s own textbook — he was an entertaining hoot (and NOT intentionally), the book not so much. I think my calculus class used a local prof’s text also. For my son, he took a class in metallurgy and it was the prof’s own text, but there is a narrow field indeed, so perhaps more justifiable, though I”m still skeptical of the annual revisions …

                And I have spent the last year working in a public high school textbook depository, so I see how the high school books are revised every year — some years it is mere window dressing — but it outdates the old books and the schools feel the need to stay cutting-edge, so … taxes continue to rise …

                1. New book every year makes it easier to incrementally revise the History, shifting emphasis subtly to make America’s sins more dominant.

          2. Depending on how the packet is put together, that’s what chipping in and photocopiers are for (many of mine were just spiral bound – easy if you know what you’re doing)/

            1. The horror! That’s a copy right violation! You might be taking caviar out of some professor’s mouth! (Wow that was lot of sarcasm.)

          3. Some universities have a policy of requiring administrative review before allowing professors to assign a text the professor wrote or contributed to, in order to prevent abuses. Some don’t. Sometimes it is very pro forma. My mother ran into such a policy at one point – her text was one of a very small number in the field, and reasonably priced, but it required the university administration to sign off before she could assign it.

        3. Oh, yeah. Each year has a new textbook, and you can’t use the old one or buy one from another student a grade ahead. I don’t think they differ from year to year at all.

  2. Two in college, and do I ever feel your pain. Thank goodness they both use Alibris et al, I’d hate to pay retail new for all the books.

    Thank you for your optimism, Sarah. Despair is such an easy trap.

    1. If this keeps up, we will have to give up calculators and learn to use slide rules. Do you have a log table handy?

          1. OK, you touched a nerve.

            What’s weird watching Jersey Shore (or whatever it is MTV is spewing now) or playing with a slide rule?

            Me, I’d say watching MTV.

            I’ll grant you that I enjoyed it circa 1983 but enjoying music is not weird. Watching human traffic accidents is weird.

          2. I learned to use my grandfather’s slide rule while in junior high. Of course, when I got to high school, they finally let people use calculators. Ah well, it’s a useful skill to have for when the power goes out. Also kind of neat to remember that we put a guy on the moon using-mostly-slide rules.

          3. Many years ago, I picked up a ‘training slide rule,’ meaning it’s approximately six feet long and was intended to be hung on a wall and used by a math teacher to demonstrate SR operation to students. Slightly water-damaged at one end (which is why I got it for ten bucks).

        1. Still have my Pickett 110-es around here somewhere. Well, in storage vile, as we’ve just moved from California to Minnesota. Where it will likely stay until we find a place to live (currently living in our daughter and son-in-law’s attic).

          Have you *seen* what some people are paying for a 110-es? I mean, I thought $25 for with case was pushing it, but some are going for $150-200 or more. Must be Japanese collectors…

      1. I’ve got two bamboo and one *glances around* iv0ry one. Gently used. And my metal E6-B, which is great for waking dozing ground school students with. (The wind slider is a wide metal strip that makes an almighty sound when whapped on the table beside a napster.)

        1. Have you seen a *classroom* sliderule? Used for demonstrating to a full room of students, about 6′ long and made of wood. I think you could also use it as a battering ram in the event of a zombie apocalypse or (more suitable for the era) barricading the classroom against Invading Rooskies.

          There were amazing things in the basement of the physics department 😉

          1. Yes, they’re circular slide rules, specifically for computing direction & heading vs. wind speed and angle, as well as trip time & fuel consumption.

            Never learned to use the standard model, can use an E6-B just fine. It’s a handy sucker, just like analog watches, for getting students to learn approximate ranges and what “looks right.” Digital equipment is very good at giving a very precise answer, but the accuracy is entirely dependent on the input. If a student doesn’t understand the range he’s shooting for, he’ll never be able to tell if he had an input error and the calculation is very precise but wildly inaccurate.

            When you’re talking about having enough fuel to fly from one island to the next, that’s pretty important.

            1. Yup, and you never have to worry about the batteries running out on the mechanical E6-B. Although bog help you if you leave the plastic part on the glareshield or rear-window shelf in July or August. Happened to a friend of a friend’s student. Really.

              1. That wouldn’t be at all related to why I have an all-metal one tucked in the plane with the fire extinguisher and spare tie-down ropes & anchors. Nope, not at all… *tries to look innocent*

          2. I’ve got three or four E6-Bs laying around (useful for a ground school instructor). I’ve also got the Navy equivalent, which doesn’t have the wind calculator sliding part…and I’m still trying to get my head around it well enough to use it without referring to the manual. (Everything’s in storage for the moment, but still…)

        2. I spent a few amusing seconds trying to figure out why you’d want to whap a table beside a file-sharing program. 🙂

      2. I still have the slide rules I used in college. But I got rid of my book of tables a long time ago…

            1. I can’t remember either, but I did find a tutorial that I printed and put with the slide rules … just in case. Of course, that book of tables would be just as important, so maybe I’ll wander over to Amazon Marketplace and see what’s available …

          1. My mental image is a micrometer, although I look and find that I HAVE seen one– my mom has one in her junk drawer. (No shock there.)

        1. My dad’s old CRC handbook of math stuff and log tables was *not* included in the books donated to libraries/schools/church when we packed up to move. Figure the 1948 version contents still work.

      3. I remember slide rules. I can’t find any of them now, but if I did I could use it. It’s like riding a bike, you never forget.

        1. …does it work other than the way it looks like it would?

          Top to bottom is a ten each– so you have 1, 10, 100, etc– and you go from left to right?

          (I know I’m weird on these things– enough so that I did amazing on the ASVAP with no study– so I really do mean the question, and no slight intended. For all I know my folks taught me before I can remember, they did a lot of that.)

          1. Sort of –

            Each row on the abacus is split into two sections. On one side, you have five markers. On the other, you have two. For this discussion, let’s assume that the five markers are on the left side, and the two markers are on the right. If the two markers are together, then the five markers represent 0-4. If the two markers are separated, then the five markers represent 5-9.

            So starting at 0, if I want to add 8, I shift the five markers to the right side, move one of the two markers to the right, and then shift three of the five markers to the left. I have a set-up that looks something like this


            If I then want to add five more, that row and the following row will look like this –


            I hope that all makes sense.

            Note that for the two markers, which side they’re on is irrelevant. What matters is whether they’re together or separate.

            1. Alright, I guess there’s multiple designs for them– the one we have is a basic row of ten, but your description makes perfect sense to me, too. Even the “move one bead and then flip three back to make 8” is perfectly sensible for calculating quickly.

              Thank you.

      4. Last class at my high school to learn to use slide rule. Actually worked as a kid at company that made first consumer electronic calculator – the Bowmar Brain

        1. I learned to use a slide rule in the gifted program classes in junior high school, so when I got to learning to use an E6B for flight planning and such later on I just had to adjust my thinking for the circular vs. linear part and then I got it.

  3. Back when I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed college student, I did co-op for two semesters. I saved enough to foot all my living expenses the last semester. Including all those textbooks.

  4. Grumble Grumble

    I’m in that boat right now and am trying to sell Mom’s house.

    I had to tell the realtor to reduce the asking price. [Frown]

    Oh, as for the “everything is ok” or “comfortable” thing, that can be “trying to avoid thinking about how bad things are”.

    1. There may also be a cultural bias. Some of us don’t like begging, or seeming to beg.

      1. I have issues with asking for help, even when I need it. Trips to hospital usually happen when I pass out or am throwing up non-stop because then other people SEE it.
        Yeah, I know it’s stupid. I’m dealing.

    2. Since I watched the Lego Movie with the kids yesterday (again), allow me to retort:
      “Everything is awesome!”

      The economy sucks. There’s a great deal of uncertainty, and nobody wants to pay attention to the sword of Damocles.
      And we’re still living a life that 99% of the people who ever lived could never even hope to see.
      As long as I’m quoting earworms, “I’ve got a roof over my head. And the kids have all been fed. While the woman I love most lays close beside me in our bed. God give me the eyes to see exactly what it’s worth. I must be the richest man on Earth.”

      Will it get worse? Almost certainly. And it’s going to suck. But the threat of reverting to the mean is vanishingly remote.

  5. I am starting to put things exclusively in KDP because– well, because. We are still floating on okay, but if I don’t do better, we’ll be in the ditch. At this point my ability to see large and small patterns, is not helping. Also when I get overloaded, I freeze. i am about there.

  6. I noticed that as soon as I dropped prices, the books started moving even more briskly. And the school I’m associated is going to more and more per-class faculty and fewer full time. I’m getting a sense that the more the .gov says “things are fine! Look at the DJI and NASDAQ!” the more cash people tuck under their mattress and the more canned goods they stash in the back closet.

      1. My narcoleptic neighbor had a “friend” stop by, while she was unconscious, and take off with her year’s supply of canned goods and some cash. In good times, nobody steals cans of veggies.

          1. There are people who will steal *anything*.

            That much food puts it into felony territory though.

          2. When my mother was growing up in Korea she saw it. The American Army had just pulled out a large number of troops after the Korean War and they hadn’t had enough room to pull out the excess food, nor was there room for the remaining troops to store it, nor a way for them to efficiently distribute it and attend their other duties. They were ordered to destroy it (for fear of riots over the stuff), but that didn’t sit well with the local troops or their commanders since there were people in the country side literally starving to death. So they gave it to the missionaries instead. Mom described their basement (and said the others in the area had similar setups with similar results). It was packed floor to cieling, edge to edge, up the stairs to the outside and then spilling out into the yard. By morning everything in the yard and on the steps was gone and there was an aisle as wide as the steps straight to the door leading up from the basement into their house. Nothing else was touched, and there was still plenty packed into that basement. As far as they know no one came into their house, either. Desperate people do desperate things.

          3. A few months ago we had a presentation from the head of my employer’s “organized retail crime unit”. There are people who will go into a store and run out with an ENTIRE DISPLAY of whatever they’re after; they resell it to a fence. Things like infant formula, detergent, diapers…

            He described a few cases — one the cash was leaving the country for Pakistan/Afghanistan, one it was headed for Yemen, and the last was high-end liquor being stolen and kept by a street gang.

      2. I saw somewhere that a guy self-published on Amazon. He set all of his books at 99 cents. I might be mistaken, but I believe he has sold several hundred thousand copies so far.

        Side note: I appreciate people dropping the prices of ebooks. When I see one priced too close to the paper version (and sometimes higher, no kidding), I refuse to buy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for free and authors should make money for their products, but the cost of producing an ebook versus a dead tree version? It’s not even close.

        Sure, it’s easy for me to say, since I’m not a writer, but from a purely economic standpoint, moving a buttload of product at a really low price seems to be smarter than selling only a few at a jacked up price.

        1. And what’s totally insane? I lowered price on No Will But His and it stopped selling. so I raised it to almost price of paperback and it’s selling again. I guess because it was traditionally published? No clue.

          1. Maybe that particular book’s subject matter means it appeals more to the Literary crowd, and they tend think a book priced below $9.99 (or whatever price point, I’m not sure) must be bad? I haven’t a clue, I’m just throwing ideas out there, but that one at least sounds plausible-ish. (Totally a word.)

            1. On some of the Amazon forums, there seems to be a perception that low-priced ebooks are almost certainly poorly written and unedited.

              I think the phrase that applies to them is “once bitten, twice shy.”

              1. They also SEE more errors in low-priced books whether they’re there or not. Kind of like people who hear I’m from Portugal and immediately hear a Spanish accent!
                which is why sales work better than permanent lowering of prices.

              2. I bought one ebook recommended here by Sarah and gave u on it after about five pages. It was impossible to follow the narrative. I think I was out $4, which was not too terrible. I would have been far more annoyed had I waited for it to arrive by mail on paper.

                  1. No Network Found, and I checked the price, it was $1.08 with tax and about fifteen minutes of lost time. I liked the concept but the quality of writing was poor, to my eye.

          2. I experimented by raising a lot of my prices to $5.99 and my sales jumped. Do some people filter by price? All I can figure is a new bunch of browsers suddenly seeing them.

        2. Nod, there’s a Randall Garrett series just out in the Kindle store that I’d be interested in re-reading but at $9.99 per book (seven book series) even if my money situation was better, I’d hesitate purchasing it.

            1. Gandalara got reprinted in two omnibuses, IIRC, back in the late 90’s or early 2000’s. Bantam Spectra, I think. Goodness only knows where I’ve mislaid my copies, though.

            2. It is the Gandalara series and it appears to be non-DRM. [Smile]

              I wish I could afford to purchase them.

    1. There are two reasons the stock indexes are doing (mostly) well. 1) Low interest rates mean there is no other place to put the money and 2) the fed is pumping money into the market.

      I hadn’t thought about it but one positive (to the gubmint) side effect of that is it makes things look better than they are.

      1. Another positive effect is that it generates tax revenue when people sell shares at a profit.

    2. Trusting what the U.S. government says about the economy? That’s a laugh.

      I saw an article last month in which a former GAO employee blew the whistle on their method of calculating the CPI. Their technique is so unscientific and arbitrary that anything the government says about inflation is simply a lie. The very claim that they know anything about it is a lie. My amateurish figuring is producing estimates as high as 7% annual inflation instead of the 1 to 2% they keep publishing. The only way to get it that low is to leave out food and gasoline in particular.

  7. I had a stroke of luck a year ago, when I was able to finally sell the tract of California land that I had owned for (mumble) a good long while. I had bought it originally with the thought of building a retirement home on it, and then came to realize that not only would I never be able to afford to do that … I had transferred my liking for real estate to the Hill Country and my state loyalty to Texas. I had hoped to buy some acreage with the money for the land … but I had to put it to use for revamping the HVAC in the current house, rebuilding the transmission of my daughter’s car, and buying out my partner in the Tiny Bidness — all of which came up in the last year. The remainder is in a savings account, of course. So I am fortunately in the position of being able to come up with $400 for a sudden emergency. But before the sale of the land, I would have had to borrow from family, pawn some jewelry, and get an advance on pay from one of my semi-frequent employers.

    We’re doing OK at this point. Our bad times were a couple of years ago, so we’re already in the cycle of preparing for them.

    1. Yes. With the bad times being the last two years, and now we’re trying to make enough to sock away for the next bad times — but not making any headway on getting to the next level, if that makes sense.

  8. I hate to say it, but a lot of it is credit card debt. There are a lot of people who buy lots of phones or expensive Christmas presents, etc. and used to pay them off all year. Now they can’t pay it off and they just pay minimum payment, and pretty soon they are in deep.

    It needs to be socially acceptable to have a small home Christmas without expensive presents. People with less money seem to feel very pressured by this.

    PS. I am almost finished with first draft of a story and want to put it out soon while I’m between temp assignments. Anyone interested in playing beta?

    1. I have never been a beta before and would like to give it a try. A polite acceptance or rejection may be sent to 77Dionysius at gmail.com

      Unfortunately, I have a lot of free time on my hands at the moment.

    2. Though I’m sure others around here are more qualified, I’d be happy to…unless it’s dino porn. If it’s dino porn, you’re on your own. 🙂

      I have to warn you though, I tend to like everything I’ve read so far by folks around here. You people have actually forced me to allocate more of my budget for books!

        1. Ohhh… I too would like to get in on this beta reading. e-mail is jfreema4 at spsu dot edu

            1. I got the e-mail, and just put the book on my e-reader. 🙂 I will start it tonight, just so long as schoolwork goes smoothly.

    3. What are you looking for in a Beta tester? I’ve never done it with copy but I imagine it’s a lot like a code review.

      1. 1. Mechanics: Typos, grammar errors, unsupported stuff that comes out of nowhere because I forgot the explanation part.

        2. Story details: Plotholes, factual errors, doesn’t work that way, seems stupid, bad joke.

        3. Story overview: You need more here, you need less there, the pacing is off, that detail is pointless.

        4. General opinion of story and characters: like, dislike, meh.

          1. Did exactly that a couple of months ago for a book Dan had just finished. Wound up with a short list of typos, misspellings, and grammar issues. About a page worth, and a short paragraph giving my general impressions of the subject matter and plot flow. Nice story, slow start, half way into it before it really grabbed me, but a good read in the end.
            Caught a glaring error in a recent book by Wen Spencer. Mentioned it on her Baen Bar cubby and got roundly cussed out by her and others.
            Now only offer input when invited with the understanding that I only provide full and honest opinion.
            Be happy to look at yours if you like. lbauer at hiwaay.net

              1. Slow start good read. I’m with Dave, kick his butt.
                What’s the absolute worst possibility? Zero sales? So, then nobody knows. Of course one seriously bad review and thousands will buy it just to make fun of him.
                Can you spell ka-ching?
                I thought you could.

        1. Free advice: Go from 3 to 1. If there are fundamental issues with 3, the writer will probably eliminate all the #1 issues in the course of writing out those problems — while introducing new ones, naturally.

          BTW, try to stick closely to the story. While it is true that you’ve probably correctly identified that there is a problem, it’s not very likely that you know what the problem is. Suggestions on how to fix, especially elaborate ones, are generally not very useful.

    4. If you’re still looking, I’d be interested.

      Eamon J C 2014 over at Yahoo. Squish it down. 🙂

    5. Thank you for all the kind offers! As soon as the story is done, I will be taking you up on it. I used to write stories off and on, but never published them outside of those in a shared world zine I did with friends. So it’s probably been ten years.since I even wrote fanfic, much less anything original.

    6. It needs to be socially acceptable to have a small home Christmas without expensive presents.

      Speaking of, can anybody suggest a learning type book for an almost three year old who knows all but a handful of the letter sounds?

      Folks are asking for gift ideas for Duchess, and I do not want any more toys… but I don’t know what to tell them she wants! At this rate I’m going to have to say something like “picture books about unicorns.”

        1. Well, another blogger that I follow noted the existence of a series of classical lit versions done for children; Cozy Classics. The story told in a single word per page, and with figures in needle felt as the illustrations. The blogger was a little bit appalled by the concept, but I thought it was kind of cute.
          Author/adapter page on Amazon, here – http://www.amazon.com/Jack-Wang/e/B009FNK0PI/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1
          You know, the bragging rights for parents are practically limitless: “Well, my little Ashley finished all of War and Peace last week … now she is getting started on Moby Dick…”
          Yes, those are among the (severely abbreviated) on offer. Me, I think they are quite incredibly creative. But then I was the one reading Asterix and Obelix comic books to my three-year old.

          1. Look into the McGuffey Readers. The selected materials are great and well-suited for encouraging kids to up-grade to later books. I forget the reading level of the primers …

      1. I *adore* “Click, Clack, Moo” and everything by the duo who wrote it, largely for the art and the beleaguered farmer. The pictures are funny enough to keep equally-beleaguered adults enjoying the books. Jane Yolen did “The Three Bears Rhyme Book”, which was sweet and wonderful. And “Dog” and “Cat” by Matthew Van Fleet are toddler-level, cute, well-photographed and funny. Those are the ones that saved my life when my kid was in the read-to-me-all-day phase.

    7. I suppose this is a terrible place to ask the same thing, but I too could beg for a bit of beta help.

      Mine’s finished, could email in two days.

      Title: “Ranger Ask Not”

      70k words. Swords and boots. Horses, crossbows, a longbow, takes place in a future SouthWest.

      Maybe a little action heavy. Meant for light reading.

      Thanks in Advance, and excuse my positioning of my question.

    8. I’d like to be a beta, too. Sort of like being a tech writer/editor (which I was for 30+ years), but more fun, since they never let me do steampunk versions of server and workstation documentation. And I’ve got time to burn for a while. If you don’t already have too many, of course: steve dot hix at waterouzel dot com

  9. If the actual military or ex-military readership will forgive me for appropriating an expression to which I have no right: Oo-rah. Well said.

    1. Each of the services has their own version of that, which is the Marines’. Except for the Air Force, who seem to feel they’re above such things. The Navy’s sounds silly, and I’ve never heard an origin. The Army’s sounds equally silly, and the joke is that it’s actually the same as the Marines’, but it’s hard to say ‘oo-rah with a … submarine in your mouth. That’s, I say, that’s a euphemism, son. [/leghorn]
      I’ve always thought the Marines’ version is the only one that sounds natural, but I wasn’t consulted, for some reason.

        1. “Hoo-yah.” Never understood why we had to play to the stereotype of the Corps’ square sibling, and always felt silly saying at RTC.

          1. And I’ve never fully understood why the Marines bark (They also look at you funny and spin many strange tales when you ask them). You could tell time by their barking from the other side of the base.

            1. Oh, yeah. At A-school, our barracks shared a grinder with theirs, and you just kind of got used to the barks and calls of “KILL” and “EAT BABIES” from their formation briefs. Now, keep in mind that this was language school. What nerds the Corps gets usually end up there, so it’s all bravado and indoctrination. I did always enjoy some random Marine yelling “Good night, Chesty, wherever you are!” at Taps.

                1. Chinese, for my sins. I have since foresworn such associations, and only use that supreme arbiter and facilitator of communication, English. Who has five thousand years of civilization and hasn’t created a bloody alphabet? *shudder*

                  1. Russian here. We were just up the Hill from your barracks. (To those reading, no The Hill is not just in Hobbiton.) I sympathize. I wanted to learn Korean, which at least has the virtue of an Alphabet. (Mostly because a King got frustrated and got his advisors together and said “One Sound, One Symbol.”) Rusty as all get out, but the current news is giving me a reason to brush up on the language. Makes it easier to read their spin on things.

                    1. I’d have loved taking Russian. Or Korean, despite the formality levels. Or anything else, really. The quota manager when I got there was an18-year PO1, and a jerk. His choices often left a lot to be desired. My roommate was a korling, so I was exposed to plenty.

                    2. Add to that the military administrative talent that places born mechanics as radio operators and yeah… As I mentioned elsewhere, my folks grew up in Korea. It’s still a language I want to learn if I ever get the chance.

                    3. The Korean alphabet is quite good. My father was waiting in the airport at Seoul once and decided to try to teach himself the alphabet from a guidebook he had, to pass the time. Took him just twenty minutes. Later on, he impressed people by reading the street signs. When his non-Korean friends asked if he was getting it right, the Koreans said, “Yep. His accent’s a little funny, but he’s getting the letters right.” Of course, he couldn’t understand any of it, but the alphabet was simple enough to pick up in twenty minutes. So that long-ago Korean king did something very right.

                    4. I’m at the “can pronounce written korean, no idea what most of it means at all, yet”. The ajummas who ran the korean restaurant where we used to live didn’t laugh too much when I tried, and would correct me as needed.

                      They also sent home extra home-made really good kimchi with us.

              1. That’s the theory. Supposed to date from the Battle of Belleau Wood, but also supposed to be manufactured by the press at the time. *shrug* I’m also given to understand that it’s become much like “shipmate” has in the modern Navy: a term frequently preceding correction by a senior noncom, to include for such dreadful infractions as hands in pockets, skylarking and general lolly-gaggery.

      1. Oh, I knew it was the Marines’ expression, but I couldn’t recall if anyone here was an actual ex-Marine; besides, I figured anyone in the forces would object on behalf of the Marines if they felt I was being presumptuous. (I have immense respect for the Marines.)

        1. There are few ‘ex-Marines’ in the world… and those are usually not individuals you want to run into. The rest just aren’t in the service any more.

            1. No worries. It’s half a joke, but they actually did a study. How long it took former military to start thinking like civilians again after getting out (one tour). Air force, we joked was 5 min. Actually was 5 years. Army/Navy averaged 20 years. Marines never thought like Civilians again by and large. And the ones that did tended to be the ones that had never really gotten the hang of thinking like Marines. /military trivia.

              1. “No former Marines; just retired ones,” is the line I’ve heard. Thinking like a civilian depends a lot on the job and experiences. Linguists, as we’ve been discussing up-thread, are an odd bunch. When DuffelBlog had an article titled, “Airman thrilled to win Nerd of the Quarter award at DLI,” I had to check that it was satire. Imagine a few thousand nerdlings, usually ages 18-20 or so, dropped together in one of the more beautiful parts of the country, and suddenly they’re getting paid to go to school. It’s an experience. Now, a 20+ year SeaBee retiree or a retired COB? Yeah, that’s going to be an adjustment back to civilian life, if it ever happens. I know a guy, retired EOD senior chief, who works for a gov’t contracting company now, and he’s pretty much the same guy with a more relaxed dress code. So another thing that’s going to influence it is how close the association stays after separation/retirement.

                1. Deployments also probably played a part. I don’t remember the survey in enough detail to say if they took that sort of thing into account. Wish I did. More, I wish I could find the paper again!

              2. Out of curiosity, how did this study define the difference between “thinking like military” and “thinking like civilians”? Was it more than simply context-relevant useful habits? (i.e. surveying a room for the exits, which is more crime/espionage than military but you get my idea.)

                1. I’m trying to remember the details, it’s been about 10 years so, unfortunately, some of the details have gotten fuzzy. Part of it was mannerisms. Part of it was how they treated tasks they were given. There were a few other points that I can’t for the life of me remember. (They’ll probably smack me upside the head at 2am and jolt me awake, and be gone again by morning. This is how these things usually go.)

                2. It’s probably more than relevant useful habits, but things folks conciously forget.

                  For example, on the day you’re inducted, you take an oath. You never un-oath. Having had a stroke, and it being 45 years since I took that oath, I can’t recall all of it.

                  But “defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic” kind of resonates still.

                  And like I said, you never do anything to make that oath null and void.

                  I’ve reminded a couple of liberal vets of that oath, as the attacks on the second amendment have increased. Kind of made them open their eyes.

              3. Correct – daughter did two hitches in the Marines, and it still sticks with her, although she got out in 2008. I did twenty years in the Air Force, and It took me about six months to get past the ‘salute-if-you-spot-officer’ automatic scan and react. Other stuff … never quite gotten over.

              4. Technically my father was AF Reserves for pretty much my entire life; in practice, he still worked at the local base and was addressed with his exit title, which was Major. Which means I got a hybridized experience of growing up with a father with many military habits (especially the punctuality) without the many moves a typical military brat has.

                Incidentally, he was not awed by rank and once was (approvingly) introduced by a superior as “The Major who cussed me out.” (He basically told the guy that a particular method he wanted to implement was stupid, and gave the reasons why—and that’s how he ended up traveling to the Pentagon once a year, explaining technical needs to non-technical people.)

          1. No worries.
            There are potential landmines, but that particular word isn’t one of them. (Steer clear of Gung Ho. It doesn’t mean what you think it means.)
            😉 Heck, I’m pretty sure I never used Oo-rah! after boot in any other fashion than “dripping with sarcasm”.

            One thing to note: among the Corps’ many unofficial mottoes is “false motivation is better than none at all”. Hearing someone burst out with a loud Oo-rah! is generally a sign that things either really suck, or are about to. Often initiated as a call-and-response. Example sentence (with minor hyperbole): “You’re going to take a handful of salt, and remove the leeches from your testicles. Oo-rah?”

      2. Given the old joke that the first thing that goes in for any new USAF base is the golf course, wouldn’t the USAF version be “fore!”?

        1. I’m sorry, Senator, we put in the facilities for the families and a gym – and a few other amenities – to keep our airmen in shape, and a good PX, and made sure all the housing was up to code. Then we ran out of money. Can we have some more for the airstrip? Hey, at least we aren’t the Navy; they want billions for another carrier.”

      3. The Navy’s sounds silly, and I’ve never heard an origin.

        On the Black Pearl we adopted “aaarr” (with a hooked finger, if a hand was free) as our version.

        1. That’s… surprising. I’ve known at least one squid who had a hard time with the pop-culture love of pirates because of the anti-piracy culture he picked up in the service.

          1. I’d guess that’s newer, or depends on where you are; we were in Japan, and only hit the Indian Ocean to support Iraqi Freedom.

            Pretty much a “make an obvious joke” level thing.

          2. Another option, it wasn’t so much an anti piracy culture of the service, it’s that he got exposed to actual history?

            I dislike pop culture pirate stuff as well- to the point of taking the Ninja side in Ninjas Vs Pirates. (Assassins vs murderous rapists that steal from you! At least some folks really do need killing….)

            1. That sounds more likely. He just brought it up in the context of “my branch of the service was created to kill pirates. No, I don’t do Talk Like a Pirate Day.”

              1. Is anyone else hearing Tom Smith’s “Hermione Granger the Pirate Queen, Pride of Gryffondor” in their heads?

      4. I forget the names involved and much of the detail, but an author of a book on the history of the Army asserted (on CSPAN’s Book TV; you know there is no lying on CSPAN) that the Army’s phrase had its roots in pre-statehood Florida and a drinking competition between Army officers and a Seminole chief, who had the habit of exclaiming Hooah (or whatever the term) after every drink. I don’t recall the exact ending of that story, as I think the author had to edit it for broadcast standards compliance.

        IIRC, which I probably don’t, the author was a regular contributor to National Review or American Spectator at the time, probably about twenty plus years ago. I think the subject of the book may have been the decline of Honor as a component in American’s personal standards.

        1. Hah – time lag between posting and remembering is still to be measured in micro-moments:
          Honor: A History Paperback – May 22, 2007
          by James Bowman (Author)
          The importance of honor is present in the earliest records of civilization. Today, while it may still be an essential concept in Islamic cultures, in the West, honor has been disparaged and dismissed as obsolete. In this lively and authoritative book, James Bowman traces the curious and fascinating history of this ideal, from the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment and to the killing fields of World War I and the despair of Vietnam. Bowman reminds us that the fate of honor and the fate of morality and even manners are deeply interrelated.


          Probably not where I heard the story, dang it.

          1. He talks more about “primal honor” (shame culture, the Mafia) than about the honor we associate with chivalry and the military academies. It’s not a bad book, just not what I was looking for at the time I picked it up.

  10. Firstly, yes books are ridiculously expensive, at least they were mumblemumble years ago when I was in school they were around 500 bucks a semester and I’m sure they’ve gotten worse since then. I was lucky (and grateful!) to have my grandmother pay for all my books in school. God rest her soul.

    Onto the 400 dollars thing. Some of this is people doing really poorly and some of this is people just really not having the habit of saving money for a rainy day. Everyone should work towards having at least 1k in the bank. I will save cash in the bank before paying down debt, personally, because it is so important to be able to write a check for an issue with the AC, a new water heater, or something with the car or what have you.

    1. To an extent, yes. You have to have an emergency fund before you start eliminating debt, or you will never eliminate debt because emergencies will happen. Proper prior planning and all.

      1. Yes, to an extent, but I know a lot of people who have cut luxuries, then staples, then emergency fund, and then have nothing. We were there in April this year.

        1. Definately. Some is people doing poorly (completely agree that the economy is not what it should be), and I know I make a bit more than some people (and a bit less than others!) and I still have trouble paying the bills. But I horde cash when I can. It is amazing how much more security a few dollars in the bank gives you.

          But there have been times in my life when I needed 800 bucks for a deposit and did not have it. I was grateful to borrow from a friend (had a bonus coming so it was a short term borrow). Last year I wrote him a letter of thanks (I’m sure I thanked him at the time but this is with the benefit of time and perspective!). It made me realize that the people without friends, without family, who they could borrow from (or handy bonus’s coming) could easily be driven to a point where they had to get money somewhere or they wouldn’t have anywhere to live. Or something else urgent. Believe me, I know I’m blessed.

          1. That said, I still think there are a lot of people, particularly young people, who never developed the habit of saving, and that’s something we should point out. That whole emergency fund thing is crucial, and it’s especially crucial if you don’t have a high income because you can’t cover everything from float.

            1. Actually it is a trained response in many of our young people. If you live paycheck to paycheck with everything on payments and your credit card close to maxed; well if an emergency comes up, you lose your job, etc. Uncle Sugar will make sure that your bills get paid. If you are responsible on the other hand, not only will you not have all the stuff you could have bought on credit, but you will have to burn through all your savings before Uncle Sugar will bail you out, and you won’t look like you need a bailout nearly as badly, because you won’t have near as many bills.

              1. I’m not denying those are around, and they’re very visible with their flash and cash (credit.) But then comes the day Uncle Sugar doesn’t bail them out, and the example is extraordinarily clear to all their peers. Also, the wreckage they leave on their kids and partners.

                But no, knowing a lot of low-wage workers, they’re the odd ones out. Most of the folks living paycheck to paycheck did not have the good fortune to have parents or role models who could teach them the basics of not spending and saving. There’s a reason Dave Ramsey is so popular, and it’s because he’s a voice crying out where the water is in a financial information desert.

                If you’ve never learned to cook, the concept of buying rice and beans and a can of spice mix just isn’t there as an option. If your parents subsisted on tv dinners and pizza, then trying to save money means buying TV dinners on sale in bulk, or bringing in ramen every day, because leftovers are something strange other people have.

                1. “Most of the folks living paycheck to paycheck did not have the good fortune to have parents or role models who could teach them the basics of not spending and saving.”

                  I guess I look at this as an extension of the trained response, as you say, the others are more visible with their flash and cash, but to me those buying a cart full of tv dinners are visibly flashy also. It is just a difference of who is doing the training, their parents or Uncle Sugar. And all too often it is a combination of both.

                  And yes I am one of those that changes the station when Dave Ramsey comes on, and wonders how somebody can host a national radio show telling people things they should have figured out by the time they hit third grade. 🙂

                2. On the cooking thing, I agree but I think it’s a matter of teaching and I think the advice people get from the ‘health experts’ is counter to financial wisdom. Each fresh, only, organic, skinless boneless chicken breasts, etc.. This stuff is the most expensive. All this is reinforced by the million articles saying you can’t eat well on a budget. I would like to see a million articles about rice, beans, spices, using frozen veggies, in season, on sale produce, whole chickens and so on. I think that would be actually helpful to people.

                  1. I have a challenge because carbs trigger eczema and eating low carb is expensive. But I have work arounds (yes, frozen veggies and tons of chicken.) I could do recipe Sunday or something…

                    1. Rice and bread pack on pounds for me. Ditto sugar.

                      Cottage cheese makes for cheap protein-loaded and relatively low sugar snacks vice the chemical supplements at roughly the same price.

                      For meals – well, the local grocery sells beef soup bones for $4.50 – enough for a couple pots of beef soup / stew if you scrounge some meat. Whole chickens are still less than $7 most places, and you can get a soups worth of meat, and two pots of stock, plus enough sundry meat picked off the bones for some chicken salad when combined with mayo and some onion.

                      There’s always the “toss a pound of Kielbasa, an onion, a green pepper, some salt, and maybe some diced potato into a frying pan…”

                      And I make an awesome chili, if I do say so myself – but while the beans are cheap (a couple pounds dried) and tomatoes not bad, and you can cut down on peppers a bit, the “con carne” part is half the cost of the meal or more even with cheap ground beef…. Still, make two pots < $25 in a batch, freeze half, and the unfrozen part is a couple or three dinners over a week for a family of 4 (son is in College)

                      There's this french bean/sausage/poultry dish I'm not bad at, and I can make up Ratatoullie as well.

                      Lunches I buy a roll of frozen burgers from walmart ($12 now, used to be $10) and a few pounds of green beans. Add some seasonings, and you;ve got something that you can easily pack that provides a week or more in lunches for < $15 for the week.

                  2. There’s not only the unhelpful articles, there’s also the $70 pie problem.

                    See, when Calmer Half had a heart attack (post-engagement, pre-wedding, in the middle of negotiating who’d switch states), I gave away almost everything in my household, shipped the spices and a quarter of the clothes, and moved down. Well, that Thanksgiving, the family across the street invited us to join them if Calmer Half could make the walk from our house to theirs.

                    I wanted to bring a chocolate bourbon pecan pie. Lovely pie, that. But Calmer Half was very much a bachelor, and his kitchen was… representative. So I went to the store, and got the pie tin, the glass cutting board for rolling out the pastry, the rolling pin, a set of nested mixing bowls, a set of bamboo utensils including spatulas, a whisk, measuring cups, measuring spoons… right down to five pounds of flour, five pounds of sugar, two pounds of butter, five pounds of pecans, and two bottles of bourbon (the first one fell out of the bag while being loaded, and smashed open in the parking lot.) All told, the pie cost $70 to make in materials.

                    If I want to make the same pie right now, I’m a little low on butter, so it might cost me $2. It might cost nothing if I have another pound of butter in the freezer I’ve forgotten.

                    I know you’re talking rice and beans. But the folks who teach themselves to cook don’t start with rice and beans, because they don’t know rice and beans. They start with from-scratch versions of what they normally eat in their hungry-man and marie callendar frozen dinners. And the startup cost to make fried chicken and mashed potatoes when you don’t have anything required in equipment or ingredients convinces them that scratch cooking is fearsomely expensive, a rare luxury.

                    1. I am vaguely anti-gadget in the kitchen, but I consider a rice cooker dang near a necessity for a busy and/or broke household, and a slow cooker not far behind. You can do a lot more with the slow cooker, but they’re not nearly as inexpensive.

                    2. That’s odd. The rice cookers I’ve seen are far more sophisticated and expensive than most of the slow cookers I see. Now, if you want one of the extra-large oval kind with a timer and an auto-shift from high to low, sure, it might run $100 or so, but a basic one will only run about $30, or you can usually pick one up at the thrift store for $5 or $10.

                    3. A really cheap basic rice cooker is $15; a really cheap basic crockpot (that’s for cooking, not dips) is, as you say, $30.

                      It’s just that a nice but not fancy crockpot is $60 and a nice but not fancy rice cooker is $90. 😀

                    4. This is true. One of the things you have to learn when cooking is adaptability. You can skip a spice, or pick something less complicated. Start small, buy spices a little at a time. But if you read a recipe in a cooking magazine, you might get scared off cooking because you start adding things up and it gets to be a lot. If you know you can leave stuff out, or only buy one spice, you can really pare it down. A lot of this is trial and error, education and building things over time.

                      I just wish people would address the actual issues here, which are mainly education, logistics and trial and error (if you make something for the first time sometimes it sucks. and that sucks if you don’t have the cash to replace it) instead of just throwing up our hands and giving up.

                      Now I’m trying to think what the bare minimum is for stocking a kitchen. A frying pan, a pot and maybe a cookie sheet? A mixing bowl. Hmmm. Crockpots are pretty awesome, too. The nice thing about that stuff is you pretty much only have to buy it once. You can cook some pretty good stuff with only butter, salt and pepper for seasonings.

                    5. I used to have a rice cooker, but I’ve decided a pot is easier these days. I think I tossed my rice cooker.

                    6. Somewhere on my wish list is one of the fancy slow cookers with the metal interior that you can use to brown things on the stove, then pop into the cooker and let it do its magic.

                    7. My slow cooker is a 70’s model that was an old roommates parents, I think, because she left it with my stuff when she moved out. It works great, though. I wouldn’t trade it for a new one.

        2. It was last year for us; I got downsized from a PT job that was bringing in $300 a month and we weren’t prepared for that. This year we were able to restructure and one of the things we did was pull enough money to take care of a bunch of deferred maintenance things, such as fixing my husband’s teeth and my car’s A/C (the latter VERY necessary in this climate; I did without all last summer but I wasn’t pregnant, either.)

          We haven’t made up the money, but the restructuring means, among other things, that my monthly student loan drain is gone, so we’re doing okay. And oddly enough, I *did* have to replace my tires this year—the three that were older started wobbling, and I correctly diagnosed incipient tire separation, so there was my (almost) $400 emergency.

  11. I hate to say it but this makes me feel guilty. Me and most of my friends are doing very well right now. Granted, most the people I’m friends with are graduates of a prestigious engineering college and work in IT. And most of them have been dirt poor at some point in their lives, have an animosity toward debt and get warm, fuzzy feelings from a healthy bank balance/investment portfolio. We all made decisions at some point to give up the typical “arts and parties” college experience in order to obtain a degree that would probably make us financially secure and then continued to work our butts off to stay current in our fields. There are a lot of people in this world who would probably consider us greedy b@stards. I know I’ve had friends and family take advantage of my financial stability and (as far as I can tell) shrug it off with “Well, he can afford it.” That has screwed up some relationships and made me a little cynical.

    It makes me wonder if my thinking “If you’re poor right now, you need to figure out how you got here and then figure a way out” is just plain mean.

    1. It’s not mean, it just sounds that way. Digging someone out of their own mess repeatedly is not helping them, it is enabling them. Sometimes even the brightest people have to be slapped up side the head with a reality stick.

    2. No it isn’t mean, it is just common sense; now when they have figured out how they got there and are trying to pull themselves up out of the hole, that is when you give them a hand up.

      1. yes, there are individual things, but when it’s THAT MANY people, it denotes something else. Let’s face it, most people are not good at planning or getting things ready but normally do better than that.
        Let’s say it’s the “no raise for five years, making car limp another year, house lost value” — there’s a lot of factors which accounts for that many people. They absolutely should still try to do something about it (the point of the article) but making them feel guilty when it’s that many of them accomplishes nothing. It’s better to acknowledge “Times are tough, all right. Now, what can you do?”

        1. Like it or not, a lot of folks use withholding as a forced savings account and depend on that refund check to “get well” once a year. What do you think is going to happen when quite a few of them see a big chunk of that get eaten by ACA penalty charges?
          Feels a lot like whack-a-mole except with one mole and multiple hammers. You’re gonna get hit, it’s just a question of what hits first.

            1. Too big a refund, nah.
              Too small, you bet they’ll demand an explanation.
              Likely with torches and pitchforks.
              Keep in mind that these are the kind of folks who will pay someone 10% or more of their return just to get it a couple of weeks quicker.
              Gives an entirely new meaning to living on the edge.

          1. IIRC, the Feds squalled at the employers who labeled the ACA “deduction” on their employees’ pay-stubs. Something about trying to hide the hit or something equally honorable and upstanding.

            1. If you really want to hear howls of outrage, imagine if all companies used “Total Labor Cost” presentations on paychecks. That one starts with the employee’s hourly wage plus the 7.65% FICA & SSI employer “contribution” and benefits, subtracts all of that and then takes off the employee “contribution, employee portion of benefits cost, employee taxes and withholding.

              People tend to not think of their labor cost to their employer, just the net wage they receive. That difference can easily be one-third.

              1. I *wish* employers would do that. I’ve asked how much my employer pays for my medical insurance (~$525/mo…which I’d much rather have as cash), and I can just double the amount of my SS/Medicare “contributions” and get a rough estimate of what my employer budgets towards my employment. Given that I don’t expect to ever receive anyone else’s money in the form of SS or Medicare benefits, I’d really like to stop paying those taxes and get my, and my employer’s, “contributions” added to my base paycheck.

                I’d also like to be rich, irresistible to woman, and have an IQ of 6,000:-P.

                1. I second all except the irresistible to women and the iq of 6000. I live with someone with estimated 180, a couple of standard deviations over the rest of us peasants. SOMETIMES we don’t have to tie his shoes for him. And communicating with humanity FRUSTRATES him. (And I’m not talking like that about my husband. It’s #2 son. “Tragically gifted.”

                    1. Yep. He’s very good in engineering, actually, but more practical everyday matters are approached like an engineering problem. You try that on table manners. “Marshall, why are you swinging your fork like that?” “Minimizes drag and maximizes– Why are you looking at me like that, mom?”

                    2. The engineering college I went to asked employers what skills the graduates needed that the college didn’t provide. The winner by a big margin was “The ability to communicate in a clear and concise manner.” Yeah, being smart is great and all but if you can’t communicate and you drive everyone around you nuts (not saying that No. 2 son does but a lot of my cohorts did) you aren’t going to last long in industry.

                    3. Younger son has an easy time communicating ABOUT engineering. It’s communicating about, oh, feelings, or everyday stuff that evades him.
                      He always has As in English, though and he writes beautifully… It’s words, out of mouth…

                    4. Sadly, when he’s in meetings and working in groups, he’s going to need to be able to present himself well. I currently have a 26 y.o. Snowflake who thinks he’s the smartest one in the room and has NO social skills. He is universally despised even by other coders.

                    5. Eh. Weirdly younger son is popular. Well, popular with other smart kids. And he’s a natural group leader. I’ve watched him, twice, convince people in a group their contributions were valued, while he did all the work himself (no, he wasn’t being special — one of the kids in the group turned in work on Mexico that started with “the Mexican word for president is Fox.”) But he still doesn’t GET people and mostly he gets hurt in social situations and drives his family nuts. (Now you’d say driving his family nuts is a prerogative of being 19. But I shouldn’t have to say “Stomp your foot once for yes, twice for no” when he gets lost in rhetoric.) ALSO he’s the epitome of mad scientist. If he is trying to solve a problem or fix something, he runs off full tilt with it and forgets stuff like eating and tying his shoes. (Which is why I bought him velcro ones!) Teachers think this is great (rolls eyes) but teacher don’t live with him. He once spent an entire sf/f con trying to solve his problem of designing a removable extra seat for an umv (it was a school assignment) and responding in monosyllables to fans who’ve known him since he was 2 and who thought he was mad at them. (Mind you fans who try to start a conversation with someone working on a laptop are a wee bit mad, but….)

                    6. Then he’ll be fine in industry. As long as he remembers to go to work if he’s thinking about a problem. 🙂

                      If I may be so bold, it sounds like he’s going to need a good woman in his life to keep an eye on him. (Good IMAO meaning “Smart enough to keep up and understanding enough to let some things go”.) Knowing there are kids like him out there gives me hope for the future.

                    7. I always thought so. He’s a lot like my dad, and my mom has issues but she is perfect for him in that she keeps him anchored in reality. That’s what Marsh needs. I’m on the lookout. Unfortunately, since he’s a caretaker personally (when he notices people) and comes across mature for his age, he is a veritable skank magnet.

                    8. Good luck. I hope he doesn’t end up like some guys I went to college with. They married the first woman who tripped them. Good people are hard to find.

    3. It is not mean. I’m been poorer because of my own choices and priorities.

      The only method that can change that meaningfully is me examining my choices and figuring out how to make different ones.

      People making excuses for things that I can change has never done me any good.

      As for guilt, don’t.

      You sound like you are young and haven’t started a family yet. If you are wise and diligent in such circumstances it isn’t that unusual to have less financial stress.

      1. I’m not young. 🙂 When I got laid off when the dot com bubble burst I had my severance check to my name and $9,000 in credit card debt. After that I said “Never again.” When I got laid off 12 years later (this time with a wife and our first/only baby on the way) I had no credit card debt and six months expenses in the bank. At this point, my wife (who is a teacher) realized why I was so conservative with money. (Well, after she got done freaking out. The lay off was with NO warning and teachers never get laid off so she was completely blind sided.)

        Nothing teaches like pain.

        1. Part of the reason we’re doing okay is that we made a decision, when first son was born on COBRA while we were paying the visa with amex. We said “We pay this off and then never put anything on credit again.” Now, we use amex at the grocery (for the points and also so I don’t have to write a check/carry cash around) but we pay it off each month.

          1. That’s basically what we do, as well, though we’re doing fairly well for two reasons. Mrs. Dave is active duty, and is a valued member of her command, and we started off living within our means. It’s frustrating, as I’d like to expand certain collections, but we’re doing fine. For now.

          2. The old saying “when you find yourself at the bottom of a hole the first thing to do is stop digging” seems to me to apply very appropriately to credit card debt. The ability to purchase items with the simple swipe of a card instead of paying by check or cash is a wondermus thing. The ability to carry charges over multiple months gradually building up an ever increasing debt is one of the most egregious sins ever perpetrated on a weak and foolish citizenry. It panders to your basest instincts, your desire for instant gratification, preys upon the poorest and least financially savvy of us, enslaves our young adults at their most vulnerable.
            When the ex and I finally split I carried away from that experience $16,000 in credit card debt, one if not the main reasons for the split. Three years later I had zero short term debt. Seven more and I owned a three bedroom brick ranch free and clear. My current vehicle is ten years old. I expect to get at least five more out of it. Bought it for cash and will do the same for its replacement when the time comes.
            I am single and likely will remain so, but I have two kids with families of their own that I help on occasion, and two grand children that I spoil shamelessly. I am also a big fan of “pay it forward.”

          3. Now, we use amex at the grocery … but we pay it off each month.

            It may still be called a “credit card”, and they will extend credit if you ever take it (by not paying the full balance each month)… but if you use it this way (as I do with mine), I don’t think it can properly be called “putting something on credit”.

            The danger is if it becomes too convenient, and you stop looking at your bank balance when you put something on the card, and eventually you go over what is wise. That’s how many people get caught.

            1. That is the way I use it also. My pay can be erratic though, and several years ago I ran a few months short (had spent a fairly large sum the summer before and then didn’t make as much as expected that fall) I knew I had a large check coming in, but was running short a few months before it would arrive. So I didn’t pay off the card for a few months, just made small payments on it, and had some fairly large charges, for what I don’t remember, now. But I do know when you receive a check that should cover six or eight months worth and immediately shell out 7K to cover the CC bill it makes a noticeable dent.

              I usually try and keep a years worth of income in reserve, because several times I have went that long between regular* income. So I considered myself overextended that time, but even then I had a couple K in an ‘absolute emergency’ fund. I just had more on the card than I did in the emergency fund, because while I knew the income was coming I just didn’t have an exact date, and some emergencies require cash, not credit.

              *I always have options for making a little supplementary income, whether it be cutting firewood, doing a little welding or fabricating or simply putting in a couple days doing grunt day labor. But those tend to be used to buy luxuries I really feel guilty about buying out of my ‘living’ income, or to replace money in the emergency fund after an emergency. Cutting firewood is a good way to make supplementary income at a rather high hourly wage, but it is a dang hard living if you are trying to use it as a primary income.

                1. Reading this it just struck me how very much indie has changed the compensation mechanism for authors. It’s not just that you are no longer under the thumb of a traditional publisher (however benevolent and generous that might be), but with the combined synergy of indie and e-book you’re lifted completely out of that old vicious cycle of advance, hope for sufficient sales to pay that off, then collect a small and ever lessening series of royalty payment. With e-books your work is always out there waiting for the next round of eager readers to find, enjoy, and then search out the rest of your works.
                  Instead of the hump and tapering tail of the old structure authors can now expect more of a blip on release then a somewhat steady state. For anyone other than that top fortunate handful, I see this as a very good thing.

                  1. Well, my “abandoned” series do pay very little, which means I need somehow to bring out a musketeer’s mystery and historical fantasy (at least) every year, while doing traditional. It wouldn’t work for people (those pampered flowers) who think a book should take five years to write. Other than that, yeah. What you say.

    4. Byron,
      I have a daughter who’s doing the same thing-picking up a electrical engineering degree. She and her husband pay cash for everything, including her school (he’s completed but going back after she’s done.)

      They’re not living high on the hog and both sets of parents help out, especially since she’s busy growing humans while she gets her degree. Right now, she’s expecting kiddo #2 – and soon please, because the semester starts in a couple of weeks.

      If can be done if you work your butt off – and the payoff happens later. Don’t feel guilty about it, though.

      1. I can’t imagine being almost to the end of the pregnancy and trying to start school. Good luck to her! I hope the grandkiddo arrives soon and healthy.

    1. This point has been made, again and again. The Planners just don’t hear it. They probably CAN’T hear it; it would invalidate their entire worldview and show them to be worthless busybodies. Their little minds couldn’t take it.

      Each generation has had its Planners. Monarchs. Pontiffs. Lords. Technocrats. They range from power hungry madman to small minded twits and back again. They seldom, if ever, actually manage to plan much beyond purely technical achievements. They’re decent at building sewer systems, not so great at dealing with the people who produce the sewage.

      If they would just build their dams and their light rail systems, and leave the rest of us more or less alone, they would be tolerable. A nuisance, but a minor one. They keep insisting on putting their noses into matters too complicated and too subtle for their tiny minds.

  12. William O’Blivion will come and tell us we have full stomachs and roofs over our head and functioning infrastructure.

    Keep in mind the context of those comments–they are generally about the nation, not the individual, and are meant to be taken as a comparison against, well, most of the rest of the world.

    I realize that lots of people are one step from the poor house (except they don’t have poor houses any more), but would still argue that even today in the US there is still *at the individual level* opportunity live a (by world standards) good life.

    Between 1 December 2012 and today I spent about 9 months out of work–and that last job was on another continent, so the expenses involved renting & setting up a new house. That put us into considerable debt. My wife stays home to raise and educate our daughter, so it’s just my income.

    But you know what, we get by. I take my lunch to work. Our newest car is over 10 years old and has north of 150k on it. Heck, my motorcycle and my car put together are almost as old as I am. Almost.

    I know there’s a lot of folks here in bad shape, but as I look around on my way to work–including up and down my block–I see a lot of new or late model cars. I see malls (like Cherry Creek here in Denver, which has Nordstrom’s and Needless Markup as anchors) that have reasonable levels of foot traffic. But there’s a lot more sales than seems healthy.

    Folks (at least some) are still spending money, but I think Ms Banshee is right–that a lot of people use their credit cards as “reverse savings accounts”.

    Heck, if I have a $400 bill I put it on the CC, but come bill paying time my wife adjusts the amount we pay to compensate. Because we’re bad about money management we *don’t* commit to getting too close to the wire.

    So I don’t think things are *good*, but it’s a first world sorta not-good. The kind where you can still overeat, and if you lose your house it’s because of foreclosure or a house fire, not rocket fire.

    1. And yes, I’ve seen the credit card coasting.
      I’ve said you were right. We’re well off compared to most of the world. Which is why this is the time to stop the slide down and reverse it 😉

      1. And one of the problems in achieving such a reversal is that TPTB including the fearless leader believe that in “fairness” we need to be brought down to the same level as the least in the world. Except for themselves of course. Their cushy jobs and special considerations are well deserved, for they care ever so much more than we bitter clingers ever could.
        Where ever has it been shown outside a crimson Marxist snake pit that bringing the high low is better that raising the low up?

    2. The local “Mom and Pop” places, restaurants especially, around Central NC are starting to see a slow down in traffic. Evidently people are not eating out as much even with credit cards.

      1. That was the first thing we cut out — but to be fair we only ate out a lot when I plain didn’t have the time to cook. Though this year, through the flu, we might have moved to Carl’s Junior. They were having their two for five sale, so the family ate for $10. Not well, but when you’re ALL sick, it’s doable.

        1. I worry for my cousin and his wife who bought an old formally popular local restaurant and opened it just recently. The U.P. of Michigan is always a bit rough economy-wise and even places with great food can be troubled and close quickly (there is a little place around the corner from me, here in Texas that has a packed lot every day at lunch and is on it’s fourth different name and set of owners). He has worked at very large hotels (he started at the Colorado ski resorts) and iirc a casino or two, and is an excellent chef, and I am sure could get on at one if needs be, but here’s to hoping he will never need to go that route any longer.

          1. Retail food service is always an iffy proposition.
            You can pick the location, you have a good bit of control over quality of ingredients and their preparation, but you’re still at the mercy of the local economy and the extremely fickle nature of the buying public.
            Ironically, I’ve seen many a restaurant go under by being too popular. Locally we see what we’ve termed the “new place syndrome” where business is very brisk simply because a place is new and offers something a bit different. So the owners assume the customer levels will remain high and add staff, expand, over extend themselves. Then when business inevitably settles back to a more steady state, they find themselves in deep doodoo.
            The secret to a successful restaurant is to start with deep pockets so you have reserves to fall back on in the inevitable lean times, offer good value for a customer’s dollar, and provide a comfortable welcoming place that people want to spend time at. Mostly the same with fast food though your focus should be more on throughput, getting folks served, fed, then moved along to make way for the next batch.

            1. I haven’t learned what their set up is yet. The place they are in was noted even as it closed its doors as a good place that made money. iirc someone either retired or died and it then closed. There was a nice diner in town that the bank ended up with somehow (the owners had used it as collateral and lost it I think), and the managers were making good money sticking with the standard biz model they had always run it by …. so the couple running it tried to by it from the bank and the bank refused to let them. It too closed it’s doors while making good profit because no one else wanted to buy it. So maybe there will be enough demand. I know his food is excellent. Up there it is usually a double rush type season there. You get one in summer for vacationers and one in winter for those doing snowmobiles and ice fishing. the second is not as big, but it is there.
              One trouble is the Michigan laws(though a bit of Granholm’s damage has been undone) and then the 0care garbage, this fine 0bama economy, etc

  13. If I wasn’t seeing how many people are squeezing the thin dimes, I’d think you’d been rummaging around in my head again, ma’am.

    Challenging times.

  14. Just did this quest last night and was struck by the dialogue (also by anyone getting humility out of Wrathion), so it was fresh in my mind when I read today’s post.

    Chi-Ji: Tell me, son of the Earth-Warder: What is the nature of hope?
    Wrathion: Hope is… a belief in a better tomorrow.
    Chi-Ji: You speak, but you doubt your own words.
    Wrathion: Great Crane. You have not seen what I have seen.
    Chi-Ji: You underestimate me.
    Wrathion: The fires that once burned the sky will return. It is inevitable. The Burning Legion WILL find Azeroth. Seas of blood, cities in ruin! Who are we – one divided world – to stand against a legion? You speak of hope. Believe me, the thinnest sliver of belief that we might somehow survive the coming devastation is all that sustains me.
    Chi-Ji: Rise, son of Deathwing. I will give you my blessing, for you need it more than any I have ever met. I challenge you not to think of hope as a vague and unimaginable future. Live EVERY day with hope in your heart. In doing so, you CREATE the future you dream of.
    Wrathion: …thank you, Great Crane.

    1. My game-lore is at least an expansion old, and I never got into most of the corollary media, but I always thought most of Azeroth’s problems could be laid at Deathwing’s feet. Despair is a sin, no?

        1. Right. Him. *sigh* My problems with Azeroth started when I started thinking about the world-building, probably during the old level 50-60 grind, waaaaay back before the Burning Legion expansion. I decided that everybody in Warcraft-land is a superhero, kinda like the Sardaukar or Fremen from the Dune universe are supposed to be. The absolute pinnacle of human (or orcish/elves/dwarven/what-have-you) potential, even before the special class abilities. How else could you survive and develop such a world?

      1. Azeroth’s issues were primarily from two different sources. The first is the Old Gods. They’re the ones who corrupted Deathwing, and they’re imprisoned within the planet. They made at least minor appearances in pretty much every single expansion. The second is the Burning Legion, which comes the Twisting Nether. They’ve been out of sight and out of mind ever since the first expansion (with a very minor appearance in the second expansion), but it looks like Blizzard is preparing for their return.

  15. Well, it’s complicated.

    My Lady doesn’t work, and hasn’t for some years. Bipolar, Chronic Fatigue, Depression, and other factors. I have worked off and on, never high on the totem pole. Our original plan was for me to be a house husband to my Lady’s Metaprogramming Guru. Fortunately, my maternal Grandfather was a very smart man, who got the hell out of the Stock Market in September of 1929, so there was money in the family. My Lady’s Father was no slouch either.
    There have been times when money was tight enough that we were looking at selling the house (whichever house) and becoming trailer park people. We also didn’t learn financial responsibility in out 20’s when most people who ever do learn it seem to; we were learning to be the kind of partners that could weather my Lady’s breakdown instead. I’ll take bad finances and my Lady over good finances and three divorces, thank you.

    Recently, money has become far less of an issue. My late Father, knowing we were financial idiots, left us a trust that should do us fairly well, and wee are learning how to budget.

    We would absorb an unexpected $400 without batting an eye (we just did; something for my wide’s treatment), BUT….

    We would put it straight on Discover, then pay it off at the end of the month. We get Discover bucks on Amazon, and as long as we can zero it out every month, that’s free money. It fuels my Amine habit, which my Lady shares to a degree (while depending on me to filter).

    We might, MIGHT, end up using a line of credit we have on the house. We bought the house for cash, but in essence mortgaged it after the fact when we were waiting for my Father’s estate to clear (it took 2 years).

    And we have budget items for quite a lot. We’re getting better at planning ahead.

    One year at a time.

  16. I’ve often been heard to say: “I have two bad habits, if I could kick those, money would be no problem.” The habits? Eating regular and sleeping indoors.

      1. My last move, the guys thought they were getting off easy because I don’t have a sofa or big entertainment center. They also didn’t believe those little boxes marked “books – heavy” were, well, heavy. And that was several years and another history book ago.

        1. Personally, I’d much rather move someone with lots of books than someone with large furniture like sofas or entertainment centers. Because people with lots of books tend to know they’re heavy, and therefore pack them considerately, in smallish boxes that can be carried by one person. Which means more trips between the house and the van, but it also means a MUCH easier time packing the boxes into the van: no need to play moving van Tetris.

          Now, not believing that a box marked “books – heavy” would be HEAVY, that speaks of massive inexperience with books. All I would need to see on the box would be “books”, and I could infer “heavy” for myself. 🙂

          1. When I move (which hasn’t been for about 10 years), I try to put the books into the boxes that reams of paper comes in. They’re rather smallish, and meant to hold about the same density, so people expect their weight.

            1. Diaper boxes. The only problem is that size three is a few inches different than size four, but you can use the differences to stack large to small.

          2. Apparently they thought “heavy” meant for “heavy for your average small woman.” They didn’t realize the difference until they got to the back room and saw my weight bench and free-weights. 🙂

      2. Our first move after having “real jobs” for 4 years — corporate move, so real movers picking up our self-packed boxes — in the middle of moving the 40 boxes of books down the stairs and out to the truck, commented “you need to get outside more often.” 🙂

        1. Hah … when I moved (courtesy of the Air Force) from an assignment in Spain, the movers had a bet going on how many boxes of books they would pack. It topped out at 64, IIRC. I presented them with a couple of six-packs of beer when they were done, at the end of the day.

          When I had moved from Athens (the move before that one) a Greek-speaking English friend of mine came to keep me company and an eye on the packers, when they came to pack-out. She suddenly started laughing, and told me that the packers were teasing the guy who had drawn short-straw to pack books, and he was bitching and moaning; “Books, books, books – there’s even books in the —-ing kitchen!”
          I told her to tell him, “Where the —- else would I keep the cookbooks, and that it was a good thing there wasn’t a shelf in the bathroom, ’cause I’d have had books in there, too.”

          1. 40 boxes – yeah, that and 4 bookshelves are at the storage places. That didn’t count the 3 bookshelves and all the other books we moved without staging at the storage space.

            Thank G-d for ebooks. And yes, we’re thinning the paper ones before the next move.

  17. A wonderful article. I practiced law for over 25 years and I finally got to the point that I had nothing left. I had discovered that I was simply not a big enough a**hole to be a regularly paid lawyer. Combine that with my wife having MS, I had to get out to keep my sanity and get my soul back. Now the money is less but more regular and I work from home doing tech support to get the insurance and my wife does technical writing and editing. We are lucky in that we moved back to my homeplace to help care for my sister, so now we are splitting expenses with her and her eldest son, who is also helping her.Her health does not allow her to do a lot, but she is researching canning and we are expanding our garden. While i don’t want to sound all tinfoil hat, but I think its going to get worse before it gets better. That said, I think its a great time to be a writer. A story is the cheapest vacation after all.

  18. Not that I’m saying that things are sweetness and light all over, but I do have to wonder about the wording of the survey.

    If I had an “unexpected expense” of $400, how would I react? Well…it depends on how urgent payment is. If it was so non-urgent that doing the equivalent of what Sarah says (contact friends and see who needs short stories) would be an option, then…well, no sweat, because then you’re talking about having days, at the absolute minimum, and more likely weeks-to-months, in which to come up with the money, and likely a reasonable array of choices regarding how to deliver it. (Hell, an obligation on that kind of leisurely timescale might even be payable by _check_! And even if they absolutely insisted on cash, there’d certainly be time to take a long enough lunch for a visit to a bank branch, to pick up sufficient cash for the purpose.)

    If, on the other hand, even having to touch a charge card puts me on the “poverty” side of the equation, then it’s really less like an expense and more like an armed robbery. “Give me $400 in cash right now or I kill you” means I die, because something very unusual has to be going on for me to have that kind of money literally in my wallet, and even most ATMs won’t dispense that much at a time. Like most people, my money is in the bank, and I spend most of it by using abstract credentials like PayPal and Amazon and little plastic cards with 16-digit numbers embossed on them. Which isn’t _remotely_ the same thing as being unable to cope with an unexpected expense without going into real debt, yet looks exactly the same on a survey like this. (Yes, technically every time I put a purchase on a credit card, I go into debt. Where I remain…until three business days after the monthly statement is issued, when my payment clears, and I’m back out of debt again. By “real” debt, I mean the kind of debt you actually have to pay interest on.)

    Make no mistake…I’ve _been_ on the “poverty” side of that equation. I’ve been broke more often than I like to admit. Twice in my life I’ve even technically been homeless…and one of those times, I’d have stayed that way indefinitely if gasoline in Georgia weren’t meaningfully cheaper than it is in Florida, because I wouldn’t have had enough money to fuel my car all the way to the only person in the entire world who was then willing to take me in, and if I’d run out of gas further from his house than I could _walk_, I’d have most likely died. That was in 2001.

    Yet this survey puts the position I was in then into the same category as the position I’m in now, where I’ve been known to send money over the internet repeatedly to virtual strangers just to make them feel better? Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and say that whatever the condition of the economy, that number doesn’t mean anything useful.

    1. Don’t think she meant folding green money on your person. Would a four hundred dollar unplanned expense have you heading for the pawn shop? Wondering how you were going to pay the rent or mortgage next week? Charging it and knowing you were going to have trouble paying the card off? Writing a check that was probably, cross fingers, not going to bounce, and the electric bill was going to have to wait for payday?

  19. Good heavens.

    I have two hundred, cash, hidden in my wallet– not because we’re well off, but because you prepare for emergencies FIRST. We’ve got more than that a safe place.

    Yeah, it’s a car payment, but we’re up on the car payment– if it’s not where it can’t be spent without an emergency, we’ll be hurting more than a car payment.

    I’ve also got a month’s expenses “hidden” in the bank, where I can’t see it on the balance. It costs us more, when I could put it on our debt– but NOT having that wiggle room would be more expensive, if we need it.

    1. Many years ago, one of my aviation mentors said, “Always have enough money on you that you can tell the boss to go to h-ll and still get home.” I’ve tried to maintain that minimum ever since.

    2. I should probably add some cash to the emergency rice and beans stash, now that you mention it. I have tried to put some in my wallet but I have a bad habit of spending it.

      1. Try the ashtray of your car (unless of course you are a smoker). Most people don’t look in their ashtrays all that often, although some use them as a change depository. Just remember about putting it there before you get rid of the car. I once had a wrecked rig and when I was cleaning it out I dismounted the CB, which happened to be mounted blocking access to the ashtray, in that ashtray was a $100 bill I had put there several years before and forgotten about, if I hadn’t pulled the ashtray out when I removed the CB that $100 would have made a trip to the junkyard.

          1. I don’t believe I have ever paid for parking except at a fair or rodeo (possibly at an airport) and would have to study a parking meter to figure out how it worked. Used to always throw change in there, however, and have filled up with it when I’ve forgotten my wallet, or been out of cash. Quarters add up fast and a ashtray will easily hold $20-25 worth of change, but that’ll only buy a 1/4 tank of gas, these days. 😦

  20. We’re waiting for the miracle.

    He helps those who help themselves.


    Iron Dome failed– it’s got a 90% success rate, but it missed a missile, twice. There wasn’t time to get another shot, they were already calling for mass casualty support because it was going to hit one of three big places– a tower with a shopping center at the base, a rail station or the Israeli Pentagon– and a wind came out of the East and slapped the missile into the ocean.

    Keep doing all you can until the miracle can get here, to rhyme with your theme.

    1. Wait until they’ve gotten the bugs out of the anti-missile lasers and rail guns; that success rate will go up significantly (and at a lower cost per missile blocked.)

  21. Hey, that happened to me today. Sort of. It was well past time for me and the kids to get annual eye exams (we specialize in having weird eye problems!) and new glasses, but then it turned out that our “vision coverage” gives us each $160 every *two* years. So today I paid nearly $400 (on the card) for eye exams and part of new glasses for the kids. I’m not going to get glasses, and I’m thrilled that they each picked $40 frames instead of the more usual $200 frames. I still owe a couple more hundred when the glasses arrive. I was horribly embarrassed when I teared up while discussing all this with the very nice glasses lady, but large sums of money like this freak me out completely these days. And we’re doing better than we have in several years–I don’t wish to complain.

    (On the bright side, I don’t have glaucoma yet and my retinas are still hanging in there! Sadly, no sign of cataracts. My 14yo is talking seriously about being an optometrist.)

  22. Sarah: The select list on your ‘subscribe’ page at http://goldportpress.com/200-2/ is broken. The value of the first two options is exactly the same, so there’s no way to actually select “Basic (get access to unedited writing) : $35.00 USD – yearly”. The same things is true for all the monthly/yearly options. Is this something you control? I’m a web programmer and would be glad to help fix it….

    1. I haven’t been really good about it — the unedited writing — mostly because not much writing/editing has happened and when I put shorts up, they go free for a week.
      No, unfortunately paypal has a mind of its own. I intend to redo the whole thing completely in the next month, perhaps using a different service. :/ However anyone who sends me more than $20 gets the password to the subscriber page — I’ve just been really lousy about updating that.

  23. File me under $400 may be doable – but $1000? I had to put off a cooling pump repair on my newest car (2002 Jetta) for two weeks. I still haven’t managed to build/buy a weightlifting cage so I can up my weights safely because every time I save the money something more important comes up (endoscopy is no fun…) – and the few hundred bucks for that is CHEAP compared to even a year of gym membership.

    1. Yeah. We drove around on shot brakes for months. Well, the guys did. I refused to. BUT the company paid for hail damage and it was enough and no, we’re not fixing hail damage on a 17 year old car. So now I have brakes. Yay.

  24. I’m not going to talk about my current finances, other than to say they’re pretty good, but there’s a reason for that. I used to have a good programming career before the tech crash in 2K – 2K1. I had more money in savings that I’d ever had (around $50K), a neglected 401K from when I worked for Apple with a mere $40K in it, and no credit card debt. My car was paid for, no student loans. I’d recently moved to my current home, and sold the one I previously had to the folks who’d been renting it (hence the huge savings).

    Five and a half years later, that was all gone. I had about two mortgage payments in the bank, and $20K in credit card debt, and someone had just stolen my car out of my driveway (It was found a week later, thank god.)

    During that time I had done everything I could to find a new job, but my software career was over. I did a little contracting building some robots, and started a small woodworking business that wouldn’t support me, but helped extend my finances a little.

    I finally got a job doing home assembly of office furniture that I got from Craig’s List, and I did really well at it, enough to kill off the cards and still live paycheck to paycheck. Then the economy tanked again, and people stopped buying office furniture (Since they weren’t hiring) and since I was paid by the piece, my income was halved. After four years I jumped ship (the first time I’d ever voluntarily left a job) and went to work for Boeing.

    But the only way I survived that 5 and a half years was that I put my head down and spent nothing. Keeping my house was the primary goal. But I ate cheaply and eked by on maybe $2K a month (Around $1300 of that being the mortgage).

    Those habits are hard to kick. They’re how I was able to get by on the furniture money, and they’re why I have some good savings now. But the attitude that I’ve never saved “enough” persists. Possibly to my detriment. I don’t go out, I don’t spend some money I should, I’m still driving a ’92 Subaru with almost 300K on the odometer (Great little car). Basically I need a crowbar to pry open my wallet, and I won’t spend the money on a crowbar.

    When I buy stuff with the credit card, it’s paid immediately, sometimes twice a month, because I hate debt so much. It even distresses me when I see the small charges add up to a couple hundred.

    This year I’m finally taking a vacation, (Going to the Reno Air Races) and the costs of everything are blowing my mind, even though they’re perfectly reasonable, and I can actually afford them. Right now I’m still angsting over the cheapest airport parking when as a percentage of the amount I’m spending it’s a trivial matter no matter where I park.

    I guess the conclusion is, if you’re poor, live like you’re poor and you may eventually become rich. If you’re rich, live like you’re poor and you may stay rich.

    1. “But the attitude that I’ve never saved “enough” persists.”

      I have found saving addictive, but sadly I have not gotten the spending side of the equation under control yet. But I will live with some debt rather than cash out my savings account.

    2. You sound even more tight-fisted than me, and I routinely (after taxes, expenses, investments, etc) wind up between $300 and $600 ahead each month (ahead of where I was the month before).

      It does exact a price on the social life, but being a fairly asocial person helps. Getting most of what socialization I can endure online also helps.

      I often wonder how much of my penny-pinching ways is learned from my mom versus genetic. My half-brother, 10 years younger than I, is a spendthrift of the first water. He actually makes more money that I do (he’s a kitchen manager at TGIFriday’s [IIRC] and I’m a librarian at a junior college), but he blows everything he earns and is probably going to party himself into an early grave.

      1. I found I need relaxation, sometimes, but I also find that a yearly membership to a museum (not counting free museums) is a great investment. And as is, much as I love the DMNS, because we live far away and it costs $40 in gas, we let our membership slide until we have some exhibit we like to see. It’s usually my birthday gift. This year will be a little later because the silk road exhibit starts afterwards.IF we move nearby, then I’ll use it as a place to museum walk (like mall walking but more conducive to dreaming) so it will be kept up to date. I think we haven’t been to a movie in… seven years? We don’t have netflix, we watch Amazon prime free. (Because I use it for other stuff, like books, it is deductible) and we have little dinky paygo phones.

        1. Yeah, TracPhone! Guys at work spend $100 a month on their iPhones, and I spend, at worst, $100 a YEAR on my phone, from 2007. And the only thing that finally convinced me to buy one was when my car was stolen, I was driving my van (Something I hate doing because of the horrible mileage) and I swear I saw it on the road, and there wasn’t a payphone to call 911 in miles.

          1. well, in our case, it’s coordinating family stuff with four people on wildly divergent schedules. But yeah, we spend, I think, around $150 a year. And I call my parents on the minutes I don’t use otherwise.

      2. I DO splurge occasionally (mmmm, GAMO Pellet gun) and when I do, it makes no sense (“If you can blow that kind of money, why are you not getting the better X” where I’m not saving THAT much on X, like say, store brand ketchup.)

  25. $400 is doable by me now. It’d be close, some rearranging and it would be no trouble (I do spend a bit more than I need lately, so I will likely rearrange some after vacation .. already thinking I wont be riding past Hoytlland on my trip). A few years back I was to the point of the payday loan and putting food on the one credit card that wasn’t maxed. The move to Texas took all my savings, and then the job was not as described, then I quit and went one month without any work. Jason pointed me to some help and 3 years later I paid the last bit of it off (oh, yeah, not long after getting work, but before any insurance, I got gastroenteritis and hit the ER with just enough in my bank account to cover the base charge). I got plenty I could sell (I really do not NEED 4 motorcycles), and I was doing fine on half what I make now so I’m not really worried …. yet

    Tires for my main bike can run a low of $174 to just over $300 to get a pair. I have been doing a cost per mile measure of my tires and it is neck and neck between the cheapest and the priciest. See, bikes eat tires. So for my $300 I got just about 10,000 miles of use, and my cheapest set got about 7,600. I ride about 22,000 miles a year so tires are a constant issue. There are some tricks (guys who ride lots of highways will “darkside” and use a car tire on the rear and a rear tire on the front. A few have claimed 20,000 miles or more .. I like twisties so I’d not get that, and the tires do not stick as well) and I was Darkside Front on my last pair (that tire is still good at 11,000 miles) but my search continues. Limiting myself to commuting to work and getting a set of bricks that would not wear fast is an option I could take to save in the long run, I’d just enjoy riding about as much as I enjoy driving my truck (with 500 mile put on it this year)

  26. There was a time, when I was about nineteen. I took a job, and if the job wouldn’t have involved working out of town, with the boss paying for a hotel and food, I wouldn’t have had money for food those first two weeks. I don’t remember how much I had (and I didn’t own a credit card at the time) but I remember I was to proud to ask for help when I figured I was going to make it. At the time I chewed tobacco, but didn’t have enough money to buy a can, Dad came by after work tossed me a can of Copenhagen (he quit about the time I was born, so he had to go out and buy something he didn’t agree with me using) and never said anything. Maybe he shouldn’t have bought me that can, it was a long time before I quit then, but he didn’t think starting a new job with people I didn’t know was the time to involuntarily cold turkey tobacco with everything else I had going on then.

    I wasn’t in debt, but the only things I owned were literally the clothes on my back and whatever had been left at my parents when I moved out. Since I had a bunch of more serious problems than money at the time, it was only later when looking back that I realized how far down that hole I was. But I had grown up being taught how to handle money, and by the time I was twenty-five I owned my own home, a decent truck to drive, four-wheeler, snowmobile, etc. all free and clear. And had quit the high paying job that allowed me to do that, in order to move where I live now. I’m comfortable financially, but only as Dr. Mauser says, because I won’t spend the money on a crowbar to pry open my wallet.

  27. Moved down from above:
    Now I’m trying to think what the bare minimum is for stocking a kitchen. A frying pan, a pot and maybe a cookie sheet? A mixing bowl. Hmmm. Crockpots are pretty awesome, too. The nice thing about that stuff is you pretty much only have to buy it once. You can cook some pretty good stuff with only butter, salt and pepper for seasonings.

    I’m working on a cookbook for exactly this reason. I’ll get it done, one of these days…. I have different sections for what you can cook when all you have is X, Y or Z.

    That said, if I had to have exactly ONE thing, I’d probably go for a rice cooker. It can be used like a crockpot, and a soup pot, etc. 30c of Ramen and 10c of frozen veggies with a 15c egg make a decent meal… if you’re not scared of it.

    There are entire websites on how much you can cook with just a COFFEE MAKER.

    For seasonings, I learned how to cook with garlic salt and lemon pepper. It goes on almost everything.

    Want to season chicken and don’t want to buy seasoning? Do you eat sour cream and onion chips? Get the little broken bits out of the bottom and pile that on the chicken, then bake for 30-60 minutes at 350 until you poke it with a fork and it doesn’t bleed pink. Works for fish, too, although I’ve only used it on stream caught fish that got wrapped in tin foil and tossed in the coals….

    1. “There are entire websites on how much you can cook with just a COFFEE MAKER.”

      Heh. If we are going that direction, why not just go with the dorm room staple of a hot pot?

      1. Never did college, I was in barracks– I got a toaster oven because we were allowed toasters and it let me make cookies. 😀

        That said, at least a rice cooker will let you do real meals.

  28. Crock pots are okay, but you do realize that you can do the same thing in you oven with a Dutch oven pot and cover? ‘Course the kitchen will get hotter, heh, heh. And rice for one or two can be done on top of the stove in 15 minutes. Lay your fish or chicken on aluminum foil, sprinkle with the basic spice mix(basil, thyme, garlic, pepper and a few pats of butter, oven for 25 minutes at 325 or so. open foil for five minutes or keep it closed.

    1. I don’t trust the wiring in my place to leave the oven on unattended for 6-8 hours while I’m at work or tied up in a research project. Crock-pot’s a different story.

    2. Harder to clean, harder to pick up, more expensive, harder to set the right temp, and depending on your stove it may not work at all. Our stove slowly heats up the longer the burner is turned on, not sure why, but I’ve had sauce boiling with a burner set to “low.” (Rental house. Oven is dying, too, which makes it hard to use the dutch oven in the oven, too. Fun fun fun.)

      Basically right, though- a crockpot is a simplified, inexpensive dutch oven with a lower fire hazard due to built in safeties.

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