Monday, November 26, 2007

Surviving (and thriving) on $12,000 a year

This was an interesting article found on the Sympatico website about a woman who has returned to university at the age of 48, and how she does it financially. It's a testament to our abilities to survive with less.

By Donna Freedman

I'll be living on just over $1,000 a month this year. That doesn't sound like much -- and it isn't -- yet I plan not just to live on it, but to build a savings account.

My 2007 "income," the money I can actually count on, will be $12,084. I know this because it consists of alimony and a portion of a school grant. (I went back to school last year; the grant covers tuition and books with a little left over.) I already know my big-ticket annual costs, too: rent of $6,300 and $1,200 for car insurance. Subtract these from my income and I'm left with $382 a month for food, utilities, clothes, medical deductibles and co-pays, gasoline, renter's and life insurance and any help I give my daughter, who lives on even less than I do.

Make no mistake: I'm poor by choice, because I needed to change my life. I chose to leave my marriage, and I chose to become a student. I can live this way because I know it won't be forever. I'll have my degree in two more years, and I'll go back to work.

I survive on economies large and small. I bring my laundry to baby-sitting jobs (yes, I ask permission). I brown-bag my lunch every single day. I combine coupons and rebates to get items for free (I haven't paid for toothpaste, shampoo or other toiletries for years). I drink water, not soda.

But in order to thrive, you have to hustle, too, always looking for ways to save a dime or to make one. I exchange spent ink cartridges for reams of printer paper at Office Max. Whenever I see a candy dish, I put a piece in my coat pocket; if my energy flags midday, those toffees and peppermints keep me from buying snacks. After I won a basket of specialty coffees at a school event, I immediately sold it on; I sold a "free after rebate" phone that way, too.

If you've never been really broke, all these desperate little economies might seem silly. You're probably thinking, "Why not have a soda? It's only a dollar." Because I've got just 382 of those dollars each month, that's why, and those dollars have other places to go. The insurance runs out in May and I'll need to get student insurance, at $389 per quarter. The car needs a 60,000-mile check-up. My share of a dental crown is going to be $486; I will ask for a discount if I pay in cash.

Jill of all trades
Last year I survived on a number of here-and-there gigs: freelance writing, work-study, baby-sitting, mystery shopping, resident manager (read: janitor and handyma'am) of my apartment building, paid medical research and writing for the community-college newspaper. (I was the oldest living cub reporter.)

There was little downtime; when I wasn't working I was studying, doing homework or writing papers. And I was perpetually weary and frequently ill all year long. Fact of life: A 48-year-old college student simply doesn't have the energy of an 18-year-old college student.

This year I'm dumping most of the part-time gigs. I'll still freelance and baby-sit, but very selectively. My new school means tough classes, a long bus commute and lots of reading and studying. More to the point, it's a great opportunity, and I'd like to take full advantage. So I'm choosing to work less in 2007, focusing instead on getting healthy and getting my education.

That means careful money management and a fair amount of sacrifice. I'm willing to do both. As a freelance writer and recent divorcee, I'm accustomed to lean living. Here are some of the mantras that have kept me going thus far:

It's not what I have, but how much of it I can keep. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, every dollar I don't spend is a dollar I have earned. So when I think I need something, I ask, "Can I do without this?" Often I find I can. If I can't, then my next question is...

How can I get it free, or almost free? The obvious answers are sites like and thrift shops, especially ones like Value Village that offer coupons and half-off sales. My 99-cent clock-radio wakes me up every morning just as efficiently as a high-tech alarm from The Sharper Image. Rummage sales are swell, too; my church has an annual sale called "Superfluity" (I love that name) at which I bought my desk for $4 and a small chest of drawers for $1. I also buy Christmas and birthday gifts at Superfluity and an annual "500-family" rummage sale. No one has to know that that hardback bestseller under the tree cost you only 50 cents.

Enough is as good as a feast. I love to eat. I don't love paying for it. Because I don't have a "regular" job of at least 20 hours a week, I don't qualify for food stamps. So I shop very, very carefully, and I go to the food bank. Most weeks I can count on potatoes, apples, bread and a can or two of vegetables. Some lucky weeks I get milk, orange juice, pasta, tomatoes, rice or a small package of meat. I cook a lot of beans and stews, and I'm adequately fed -- maybe not as richly or as conveniently as I'd like, but well enough to keep me going.

Every day is casual Friday! When my jeans are in tatters I buy a "new" pair at Value Village (one pair cost me just $1.63, and it was new -- still had the department-store tags on it). I spend $15 or less on running shoes from clearance tables. I've bought a couple of thrift-store tops, but mostly get by with shirts I've had for ages. (Hint: The clothes dryer takes years off the life of your duds. Get a drying rack.) Some days I wish I looked nicer. Most days it doesn't bother me, and I doubt it'll bother anyone else, since students at my school have been known to wear flannel PJs to class. Bonus: When you dress the way I do, panhandlers hardly ever ask you for money.

Announce my intentions. Time and again I have found that when I need something I should "put it out in the universe," which is also known as "prayer." One night last fall, squinting over my homework, I realized I needed more light in the apartment. A day later, a halogen floor lamp landed in the Dumpster outside my window. Recently my umbrella got cranky about opening. The next week I was given a high-quality bumbershoot as a thank-you gift for helping with a campus blood drive. Coincidences? Maybe.

$20 to feel rich
I've decided to increase my monthly church tithe to $20. Sure, I could use that extra $240 a year. It just about equals the university registration fee, or the money I promised my daughter toward the price of her wedding dress. It also represents almost half of the car insurance premium heading my way in April.

But giving that money away makes me feel rich. No matter how straitened my circumstances, I can be a part of services the church provides for the homeless, the impoverished elderly and those living with AIDS. In other words, tithing reminds me that there are lots of people worse off than me, people who'd love to have my so-called "problems."

That's not to say that I wouldn't like to have more cash. It would allow me to help my daughter, to secure my future, to buy more roasts and fewer pinto beans. But I figure I won the cosmic lottery just by being born here, a country where I can not only work on a degree at age 48, but also find scholarships and education grants to help me pay for it. I have a roof over my head, food every day, family and friends, and occasionally even a $10 student ticket to the symphony. Some days I feel like the luckiest person in the world.

If I really am lucky, then I'll make it through 2007 with a positive bank balance. Check back with me next December and I'll let you know how I did.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Analogies and metaphors

Every year, English teachers from across the USA can submit their
collections of actual analogies and metaphors found in high school essays
in order to have them published and sent out for the amusement of other
teachers across the country. Here are some recent winners:

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides
gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled around inside his head, making and breaking
alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the kind of wisdom that can only come from experience,
like a guy who goes blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without
one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country
speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse
without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli, and he was
room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like the sound a dog makes
just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated
because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge
at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a
bowling ball wouldn't.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled
with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie,
surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and
Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots
when you fry them in hot grease.

14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across
the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having
left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling west at 55 mph, the other from
Topeka at 4:19 p.m. traveling east at a speed of 35 mph.



Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunday, November 04, 2007


and now, some good stuff...

[heard] Verve//Remixed (Deluxe Box). What happened when hipster DJs take on standard classics in the world of Jazz and Blues? Well some traditionalists cried, “sacrilege!” But while they were busy crying over their tired sax licks, the rest of us were grooving to amazing new approaches to mixing and sexy beats that saw our hips gyrating. Is there is a better way to honour the great voices of jazz (think Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, and more) than to breathe fresh life into their contributions to music history? I think not.

Check out any of the three Verve//Remixed albums, or by the Deluxe Box if you want to marinate in the wonderfulness of it all.

[read] The Walrus. Sometimes Wikipedia can sum it up best...

The Walrus is a Canadian general interest magazine which publishes long form journalism on Canadian and international affairs, along with fiction and poetry by Canadian writers. It launched in September 2003, as an attempt to create a Canadian equivalent to American magazines such as Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly or The New Yorker. The magazine's mandate is to "be a Canadian general-interest magazine with an international outlook. We are committed to publishing the best work by the best writers from Canada and elsewhere on a wide range of topics for readers who are curious about the world."

I like it because of the great stories, photos, and because it inspires me to keep writing.

[seen] Into the Wild (Director Sean Penn, based on the novel by Jon Krakauer)

"In April 1992, a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter…"

-Jon Krakauer

Definitely one of my top five movies thus far in 2007, Into the Wild takes us on a journey of material and social renunciation, as well as an exploration of human limits. We are left with a precious lesson presented delicately rather than moralistically: we are nothing without each other.

If you have ever dreamed of exploring physical, mental, and spiritual boundaries, if you have ever dreamed of adventure, if you have ever dreamed of running away… then I recommend you run to see this movie.

Watch the “Into the Wild” trailer...

[experienced] Rubber boots. Also known as “Wellies” or “gumboots”, weather-friendly boots were worn and popularized in the early 19th century by British aristocracy and gained popularity for those working in wet weather conditions. These days, not just for farmers, rubber boots are worn by anyone who enjoys functionality and cuteness. With multiple daring designs available, rubber boots have become a key fashion accessory on a wet day.

The only problem is that they have limited selection when it comes to funky and fun boots for boys. But don’t worry my male wet-footed friends, the forecast calls for an increase in options as they become more and more popular.


Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Devil Came on Horseback

The Devil Came on Horseback is a documentary film about the continuing Darfur Conflict in Sudan. It had its première at film festivals in early and mid-2007. This film documents former U.S. Marine Captain Brian Steidle, who is an unarmed military observer with the African Union. He is there with only a camera, a pad of paper and a pen.

I had the opportunity to see the film last Monday evening at Concordia's Cinema Politica. It is a chilling movie, not for the faint of heart. Ultimately I'm glad I got to see it because it has given me a context of the Darfur conflict, which I knew little about before seeing the film.

But why should we care? Well I certainly can't make you care. But if appropriate action is taken, then we can avoid further cultural genocide. I guess for me it starts with educating myself on the various political and conflictual situations occurring on our planet. Then we can use our voices to spread the word.

Today this blog shall be my voice.

Watch the trailer...


Friday, October 26, 2007

June Callwood (1924-2007)

June Rose Callwood, (June 2, 1924April 14, 2007) was a Canadian journalist, author and social activist. Her life was unique, as was her death. Check out an article that she wrote for The Walrus entitled "Forgiveness". Even more impressive was her interview on CBC's The Hour just shortly before her death.

By June Callwood

A small boy in an industrial city in Ontario was beaten severely many times by his father, to the extent that the boy not infrequently required a doctor to stitch up the wounds. His father, a policeman, sincerely believed that if he beat his son with chains, belts, sticks, and his fists, the boy would not grow up to be gay. That boy, now in his thirties and indelibly a gay man, says he will never forgive his father.

“What he did is not forgivable,” the man says with composure. “How can it ever be all right to abuse a child? But I have let it go.”

And a woman, raised on the Prairies in a Finnish home, married a black man and had a son. She showed the infant proudly to her mother, whose reaction was a look of naked disgust. Her mother and that son, now a charming and successful adult, have since developed an affectionate relationship, but the daughter has not forgotten or forgiven the expression on her mother’s face. "The best I can do,” she says, “is that I have stopped hating her.”

The ability to forgive is a central tenet of every major religion in the world — Christian, Judaic, Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic. Those faiths urge followers to forgive their enemies and, indeed, even to find a way to love those who wrong them. As the twenty-first century dawns, however, the world is making a spectacular mess of such pious admonitions. Instead of goodwill, this is the age of anger, the polar opposite of forgiveness. Merciless ethnic, tribal, and religious conflicts dominate every corner of the planet, and in North America individuals live with high levels of wrath that explode as domestic brutality, road rage, vile epithets, and acts of random slaughter.

Many people, like the gay man or the woman in a biracial marriage, find forgiveness an unreasonable dictate. Some assaults on the body or soul are unconscionable, they feel, and forgiveness is simply out of the question. It satisfies the requirements of their humanity that they gradually ease away from the primitive thoughts of revenge that once obsessed them...

Keep reading...

* * * *

In 2004, June Callwood was diagnosed with inoperable cancer and refused chemotherapy. "I'm in good shape," she said at the time, "I've lived a long time..."

Click here to watch the heartfelt CBC inverview


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Pretty Big Dig

This is an exquisite treat. Filmmaker, Anne Troake, has created a short piece that blends the lines of dance, choreography, music, and industrialism. You have to see it to believe it.

Take me there...