March 29, 2009


One of my favorite Recession stories this week concerns a high school history teacher in Idaho who's selling advertising space on tests. This isn't for personal gain, folks, he's just struck a deal with a local pizza delivery place that's willing to provide copy paper for the classroom - as long as there's a promotional coupon at the bottom of each page. Is this appalling? I don't think so, and neither does his school district. Budget cuts are dastardly, and every little bit helps.

If you know someone who teaches in the public schools, then you know how much hard-earned cash they plunk down out of their own pockets every year, Recession or not. Believe me, there's a reason why most states give teachers a small tax deduction to reimburse for out-of-pocket classroom expenses. Here in Arkansas the deduction is $250, a drop in the bucket, really, especially for those sainted elementary teachers who likely spend that much on construction paper alone.

I've traveled the back roads of Arkansas giving poetry workshops and such, and learned quickly to bring my own chalk and markers. Nothing new around here, so my hat's off to this enterprising history teacher. He's not only stretched his classroom budget, he's teaching his students something important about financial creativity.

I wonder if he's tested those kids over the Great Depression yet?

March 27, 2009

It Must Be Tuesday. She's Wearing that Gray Skirt.

I remember moving out on my own a few (cough) years ago and my father sitting down with me to teach me monthly budgeting. His list involved scribbling down all the necessities to stay alive and a lot of math. Bless his heart, he meant well. I was young, though, and paid almost no attention until he wrote down "clothing."

The only math I ever truly learned was how to make all those other pesky columns (electricity, gas, phone, rent, food) less so I could punch up the clothing budget.

I learned a lot back then by trial and error. Yard sales, sewing, second-hand stores, careful bartering and sale-watching kept me covered well enough to splurge once in a while on something at full-price. Money was tight for sure back then, but this recession has given fresh meaning to "too broke."

There's a world of difference between 18 and 40-mumble. Children's needs come first. Actually, everything seems to come first and it's easy to find yourself at the tail-end of the budget list. Comes with the territory.

The bottom line is you have ten dollars, maybe twenty, and you've got to be resourceful. I've scoured the internet and found hundreds of sites dedicated to saving money on clothes during These Dark Times. Most of them told me what I already knew, and the rest of them were intent on appeasing my need for $400 designer handbags by catching one on sale for $200. Those folks are in serious denial, but they won't be for long.

This is going to hurt, but I must give it to you straight: You can't have the handbag. You can't even want the $400 handbag, because no act of God or mercy is going to make that handbag cost $20. You don't need it. Let it go.

The one thing you must never do is go to some discount store and buy cheap, nasty clothes just because you can. No need uglying up your closet with crap. Hit the yard sales first and Ebay second.

Yard sale buying doesn't mean you have to park your dignity at the curb. Scout out the yard sale section in the local newspaper (which has probably gone online-only now) and look for sales in the good neighborhoods. Map it out so you're not burning up too much gas. Better yet, invite a few friends and carpool. Make it a lark. Laugh a lot and carry coffee cups with lids and gossip deliciously. At each stop, be sure to hit the accessories as well as the clothing. Look for nice labels and fresh dry cleaning tags. Barter sweetly. The important thing is to arrive with $20 in your pocket and spend only that.

Ebay is a maze you must traverse carefully, but a good place to find what you want at a steal. Ever hear the one about the $140 J. Jill skirt I found for $2 and free shipping? Oh, the stories I could tell. It's all about how you set up your searches. Narrow them for specific brands, sizes, and even colors. Always be sure to check the measurements for each item, though. There's no use in buying a Jones of New York blouse just to find it won't, um, button.

Both of these methods take time, but they're fun. Isn't that a nice bonus? If you're simply too exhausted from working three jobs and creating fabulous dinners, I suggest a fashion shortcut. Buy a nice necklace. Your co-workers may still be able to tell what day of the week it is by which outfit you're wearing, but they'll be momentarily dazzled by a new set of beads. My grandmother once told me that if you walk really fast and with purpose, no one will know your pearls aren't real.

Fabulous words to live by.

March 25, 2009

Take a Vacation from the News

Some of this is residual forward-motion from the two-year, 24/7 coverage of the greatest reality show ever: the 2008 Election. We've all been free-falling into our televisions ever since to catch a glimpse here and there of just How Dire Things Are.

The thing is, there are scads of talking heads out there giving play-by-play and armchair quarterbacking the state of the Union. Keep in mind that many of these folks were extras hired to keep the chatter going after debates. If they stop talking now, they're out on the street like the rest of us living in the five-figures.

There's nothing fabulous about that kind of televised desperation. Many of the first-string news folks (to get back to my football metaphor) are talking so fast you can't even see their lips move. A good many of them are just throwing wild passes into a post-game end zone.

The important thing is to keep your objectivity and sanity nearby. The best way to do this is to take a break from all the noise. Turn. It. Off. There are so many other fabulous things to do besides raising your blood pressure over cable news. Here are a few, and none of them cost much. Some are actually free.

1) Take a walk outside. It doesn't even have to be a long one, and don't you dare think of it as scheduled exercise. It's unattractive to calorie-count and set minute/mile goals for this kind of thing. Besides, it defeats the purpose. Just take a leisurely stroll and sing old 70s songs in your head. The lyrics are still there, I promise. Notice everything and interact a bit with the natural or unnatural world (depends on where you live), because most of the time we're too busy being busy to notice what's going on out there.

2) Go to the library and check out a book. Do you have a library card? Many times these are free or almost free. Reading something you like has the ability to both slow you down and transport you far, far away from those talking heads. Inexpensive escapism is what you're looking for right now, and that murder mystery might be just the ticket. I suggest Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. Or get trash love novels with Fabio impersonators on the covers. It doesn't matter. Just find a comfy chair near a lamp or drag everything outside and read there.

3) I'll bet you have a forgotten hobby. Everyone has as least one and some of us have dozens. Go look in the garage or the back of your closet and there it is: the thing you started and never finished. No one says you have to finish it now, really, just drag whatever it is out and fiddle with it for an hour. Maybe you used to play the guitar, or you started gluing something with intricate pieces and life got in the way. Look, an hour is an hour. You can either spend it getting riled up over the news or you can spend it remembering why you liked knitting fingerless mittens. Breathe.

I'm sure you all have wonderful ideas for avoiding CNN, FOX, MSNBC, and all the networks, at least for an hour. Share a few with the rest of us.

March 24, 2009

How to Eat Recession-Fabulous

Down here in Arkansas we've been biting the bullet for a few years, so this recession is old news to most of us. "AIG" is how most of us pronounce "egg," and no one around here knows anyone who brings home a bonus worth mentioning. There used to be free turkeys at Christmas, but no one has seen those since the late 90s.

When the hiring and salary freezes started about two years ago, most folks around here did what they always do when times get lean: they planted bigger gardens. In addition, they pulled out all the old iron skillets and started eating in. No one knows how to feed a family of five on a couple of dollars quite like a Southern woman, even in these perilous grocery-bill times.

Shop Fabulous

1) If you're unfamiliar with the local day-old bread store, introduce yourself.

2) Hit the sales at local grocery stores, use the coupons, and get over your love affair with that saucy brie you usually buy. You won't miss it. Much. Instead, buy block cheese and hope for the best.

3) Grow your own. A couple of tomato plants can be a thing of joy forever. Be careful when planning your crops, though, and always check with your friends. Only one of you should be growing yellow squash. A single plant produces enough for a small city. Grow yard-long beans instead - these grow up in flowering vines and are lovely as well as crazy-delicious.

4) If gardening's out of the question, get up early on Saturday morning and hit your local farmer's market. The produce is in season, delicious, inexpensive, and you'll add a couple of stars to your heavenly crown for helping out local growers.

Cook Fabulous

Do you have any idea how much you spend eating out? It's crazy. Eat out less, cook more. Make Beans and Cornbread with a Side of Greens - All you really need are some pinto beans, some navy beans, an onion, and a ham hock. Greens come out of a garden - either yours or someone else's because we share - and the whole thing is finished up with scratch cornbread made in an iron skillet. Sure, it takes some time. This isn't fast food, it's cheap food. Make this at least once a week and keep the leftovers handy. They get better every day.

If carb-heavy, pigfat-laden Southern food isn't your thing, make a big pot of chili or soup once a week. If you freeze some in little containers, there's your portable work lunch.

What about those kids who all want something different at the same meal and fail to see the fabulousness? Well, Mama's not the drive-thru window. This is dinner. Eat it. Quit your whining. There are children starving in Mississippi who'd be glad to have that food.

Serve Fabulous

Eating in front of the television? In the car? Standing up over the sink? Most women I know are appalled by such dining behavior, but these gals still wear pearls all day long and never leave the house without lipstick. It doesn't matter if dinner is a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, serve it on a real plate. At a table. And sit down.

There's no need to go all Martha Stewart in times like these, so don't spend six hours tying ribbons to hand-printed place cards or anything. Just use candles now and then and turn off the damn TV. In addition to saving a bit on the light bill, it's delightful. Talk to each other. That's delightful, too.

How is all this "fabulous"? It's easy. Just make it trendy to be broke. I don't mean make it a fad like pretending to be a hippie by wearing Abercrombie and Fitch hoodies and torn up hundred-dollar tennis shoes, I'm talking about recreating "making do" so it's cool again. Those "Go Green" folks did it, and so can you.

(This was originally posted on on my Other Blog. I have Kathi to thank for all the fun I've had putting this together. Thanks, gal!)

March 23, 2009

Welcome to the Recession

Well, here we are smack-dab in the middle of a financial crisis. While I'm sure it took some folks by surprise, a lot of saw this coming some time ago. Remember last summer when gas was over $5.00 a gallon? The groceries went up and they never came back down. Two years ago our local school system said they'd take a hiring break for a bit, and then for good measure they decided to let a few people go home. Forever.

No one has to knock me in the head. But I'm not panicking. As a resourceful Southern woman raised in the Age of Aquarius, I've learned a thing or two about making-do. This doesn't make me an expert. If you want Hints from Heloise about Seventy Important Things You can Make from an Empty Bleach Container, I'm not your girl. You'll also find little if anything here about fixing things with tools, at least not from me. If you're having a tool-related emergency of some kind, I'm sure I could scare up someone fluent in torque wrenches to help you out.

Why Recession-Fabulous? Because in thirty years some kid's going to go to school dressed as a homeless, ex-Wall Street exec on "2000s Day" at school. Our great-great-grandchildren will be visiting us in The Home to interview us about "back then" for a history project. I think I'd rather leave a more interesting legacy.

There's enough ugly out there. Let's do something gorgeous to survive this, fabulously.

If you have any questions or ideas to share, just CLICK RIGHT HERE and email me.

And if that doesn't work, you can always find me at recessionfabulous(at)gmail(dot)com. Just be sure to use the appropriate symbols and such.

You can also Follow Me On Twitter, if you'd like. I don't recommend it, though. I have no idea what I'm doing.