Friday, February 19, 2010

Tribute to My Classmates

"I want to be friends with the popular kids," I told my Dad one day when I was in junior high school.

"Observe how they are, and try to be like them," he suggested.

I didn't say anything more, but inside my head I thought, "You would 'kill me' if I smoked and drank, and necked and cussed, like they do!" I thought he just didn't realize that times had changed.

Not until years later did I realize what my Dad was probably thinking. The "popular" kids smiled a lot and laughed a lot. But, most of all, they showed a genuine interest in others. I'll bet that was what he hoped I might learn. Dad could talk to anyone, but I hadn't yet picked that up from him. I was most comfortable with a pen in my hand.

When I got to high school - with redistricting meaning a whole new set of kids - I found that the "popular kids" were more into getting good grades than they had seemed to be at my junior high. I could relate with that, but I still didn't feel I knew how to "make the grade" socially.

Little did I realize how my social abilities may have been affected by being totally deaf in one ear; not being able to remember faces easily; and not being good at remembering little details (whose dog is sick?). Those things haunt my socializing to this day, although I've learned to adapt a little better. someone who had been abused by an older boy when I was very young, I thought it was practically a sin for a boy and girl to hold hands. I didn't look down on those classmates whose lifestyle may have differed from mine. I did worry about them and how things might turn out in their lives (and then I was the one who went off the deep end into a cult).

At the same time I was worrying about some of my classmates, I admired those same people immensely for all their good qualities. I loved them very much, but usually from afar.

Now, I don't remember many of my former classmates (which face goes with which name?)...and many of them don't remember me, either. But when I hear a name, I usually have a positive sign in my head to go with the name, even if I can't remember many details.

Nine years ago, I was cordially invited and warmly welcomed to my high school reunion. It was one of the high points of the last decade.

Then, a year or two ago, a dear friend of mine who is 17 years younger than I am urged me to join Facebook - so that I could reconnect with high school friends. Really? I only really had a few friends when I was in high school that I really did anything with, and I have email addresses for most of them. But I decided to try it.

I'm so glad I did! What I see, as I watch their posts and comments, is lots and lots of love. I see the love for their families. I see many long-lasting marriages and life-time friendships. I see love for their classmates and their classmates' families.

My classmates and I come from the sixties. We may have been confused at times. We may have done a lot of crazy stuff in our lives. But one thing we have in spades is love for one another, and after all, love trumps all.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Little Nest Egg Here; Little Nest Egg There

Even when we - many people today - feel like we're scraping bottom in the financial bucket, even when all around us are losing theirs; even so, if we have a little bit, we can diversify that little bit. I'm not necessarily talking about a little bit in stocks and bonds, real estate or CD's; gold or silver; or retirement funds. Of course, those things are great when we have them!

But what I'm talking about here is diversifying in what might seem like wee, very small matters.

For some of us, it seems to make sense to have money in more than one checking account and maybe even in more than one bank. Since my husband and I both have jobs (although mine is just part-time), we are able to have two free checking accounts in two different banks by using automatic deposits.

I've always liked the concept of having more than one bank or at the least more than one bank account. Suppose that I accidentally (physically) destroy my debit card (it has happened), or someone steals the debit card numbers and the account has to be closed (it has happened to a family member). It's nice to be able to use the "other account" while resolving the issue.

Keeping some cash in our wallets is another way to diversify. Much as I hate to admit it, there are times when I do not have any cash on me...because times have changed. My mom always told me to keep a dime to make a phone call. Later I used to be sure to keep three dollars to buy gas from AAA if I ran out. Now we have cell phones and we buy the deluxe AAA membership that would supply a small amount of gas if we ran out.

But what about the one time when I run out of the house without my cell phone? (Okay, it's been more than once, though I don't forget it often!). Pay phones still exist, even though they are few and far between. And what if you don't have the AAA deluxe membership...or you can just make it to the gas station, but their credit card machine is down? That little bit of cash in the wallet can be mighty helpful.

What about keeping money at home? To me, this brings great peace of mind. I would never presume to tell you how much I think anyone should keep. At times, my home stash has been as little twenty dollars, enough to pay the neighboring teen to mow the grass when our lawn mower broke down. I think how much you keep depends on a lot of circumstances.

Another thing I would not try to tell you (especially publicly) is where to hide money in your home. But let's try to avoid the most obvious places. I read recently that thieves do look for valuables in the sock drawer. Dang. Had to find a new hiding place.

Another place to keep money, of course, is in a simple savings account (how old fashioned). By building an emergency fund, we won't have to run to the credit cards when something unexpected occurs...for those who still have credit cards. For those who do not, it might mean the difference between a car repair or walking...or juggling rides.

A friend recently told me that she's been listening to me and has started building an emergency fund. Then she laughed and said, but she thinks of it more as a vacation fund. I smiled and told her if she can take a vacation on cash, rather than using credit, it's all good.

As Trent says in The Simple Dollar, even buying food in bulk is a way of diversifying. I've often read of people living off the food in their pantry for a week or even a month, while they pay for an emergency that arises. Yes, real people actually do this. I have not been one of them, but having a little extra food stashed away has saved me making a last-minute trip to the store (or a ruined dinner), when I found out I was missing a crucial ingredient.

What if you don't have the space for a pantry? Any place in the house (or apartment) can be used for storing canned a closet, under a bed or sofa. For ease of use, a plastic under-bed storage box or two might be helpful as an alternate small, but useful "pantry".

Can you share other ways to diversify in the little things?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Is Tipping Really All that Important?

"Daddy, you left a dime on the table!" a little girl said to her father as the family walked through the restaurant to go home, causing her father to blush in embarrassment. He had not been pleased with the service. Leaving only a dime was his way of communicating that. I heard this story when I was a young child...back in the 1950's.

When I was growing up, I learned that tips were a way of rewarding someone for exceptional service, not for normal everyday service. The waitress isn't friendly? Don't tip...or leave only a small tip to make a point. Whether or not that philosophy was a good one sixty years ago will not be the topic of this post.

But is that a good philosophy for today? And, in a similar vein, since most people's finances are strained today, does that diminish our obligation to tip?

In the lunchroom at work the other day, I was reading a government poster about minimum wage. Below the list of minimum wages for different ages or occupations, it stated that for occupations where tips are a part of the compensation, the minimum wage is $2.13. $2.13? That's about $17 for an eight hour day, or about $375 for a month. Is that a fair wage? Only if the person really does receive a "fair" share of adequate tips. In some fields of business, tips are definitely an expectation, certainly not an "extra".

But what if the waitress is not friendly and upbeat? What if the waiter spills the soup? Do you know what they might be going through? Maybe a family member just lost his job. Maybe a close friend died, or a child is sick at home. Work ethic is strong. Sometimes a service person has done a lot just to get to work today.

What amount of tip is adequate? And what amount of tip is generous or rewards exceptional service? By the time I was in my teens, 10% was a standard tip for a waiter or waitress. It later climbed to 15%. From what I've heard, occasional patrons, often my age or older, still think that 10% or 15% are good tips...or maybe a five dollar bill, regardless of the cost of the service. But my understanding is that 20% is a standard tip now for a waiter or waitress, as well as for some other services. We can always give more, if we want to be generous or reward the extra mile.

But what if you don't have enough money to pay for a restaurant meal and a tip too? You know what I'm going to say, don't you? No, actually, I'm not going to tell you not to go out to eat. When I don't feel I can afford a meal and a tip, but we have enough for a meal - or we're traveling and we just need to keep the overall costs down - then we go to what I call a "deli-type restaurant". Think: Subway, Noodles and Company, Chipotles. I'm sure there are many more. It's a step beyond fast foods and you can sit down to eat, but tipping is not necessary. On our last trip, we ate most of our meals in deli-type restaurants and then had one nice meal at the Olive Garden.

Buffet restaurants are another option. Old Country Buffet, Ryan's Steak House, Golden Corral are some possibilities where you don't receive full service from a waitperson. Instead of thinking "no tip" here, we think "less tip". In some of these, you still have a host or hostess who brings you drinks, refills, and clean plates. That person still deserves a tip; it just doesn't have to be the same as for a full service restaurant.

To help with how much to tip, as well as who else, besides restaurant waiters and waitresses, should be tipped,I recommend doing online searches. But then, when you do, use your judgment. I've been surprised (and a little bit embarrassed) to find out about services I maybe should have tipped and have not in the past. We can always learn and grow.

I've also been surprised by some sites saying you need not tip this or that service person...or to tip only a little for this or that. I have family members who depend on tips as part of their income, so I get frustrated when someone suggests not tipping...and I have found counter suggestions to each these suggestions.

I've read that some customs have changed. For example, years ago, it wasn't customary to tip the owner of a beauty salon. Now, many sites say that it is. Maybe we've learned that small business owners are not always "rich", especially today...and that they, too, like to be rewarded for a job well done or for their effort in serving us.

Another suggestion I've questioned is related to massage therapists. I have a family member who does massage therapy and I recommend: Yes, tip 20%, just as you would a waitress (or more, if you wish). Someone said they want to be relaxed after massage therapy. So decide before you go in how you will pay the tip (cash or otherwise), and the minimum amount you will tip (you can always add more), and then: Relax.

Some sites also question tip jars at coffee shops. I believe that is optional, but I can just say that yes, the money is divided among the employees, who try very hard to get hundreds of different drinks just right.

With these caveats in mind, if you have a doubt about who or how much to tip, you can learn a lot from searching various tipping websites.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Keeping Papers - The Portable File Box

Have you ever gone on a paper chase? I see you nodding. Yes, I have too...usually in a panic about one thing or another.

Some of you have read my posts before about the papers on the dining room table (and in my purse, and on the chair, and falling from the chair to the floor). Where do all these papers come from, considering we have computers these days? It seems I have a compulsion to go through each paper individually to decide its worth, put it in a pile to file, or in a bag to shred. Yes, I do need to systematize that first sorting process better.

Even though I have lots of papers - and the occasional panic attack while searching for one, many of the papers I need can be found at a moment's notice. And that's what I'd really like to share with you today. How do we keep track of papers that we really need? It took me years to develop simple ways to keep track of papers.

First and foremost, I keep the really essential papers in a portable file. I started this box when we lived in Los Angeles and were taught to prepare for an earthquake. In this box is a file for each person in the family. Each of the files contains three manila envelopes or sub-folders: medical, school, and certificates. These files are not comprehensive; just the essentials.

The medical files principally include immunization records (particularly helpful if you relocate or even if you change doctors).

Included in the certificates files are such documents as birth, baptism, passport for anyone who has one, proof of a disability, etc.

The school file might include report cards, but primarily any diplomas. This isn't the place for all those projects...though you might want to keep a newsclipping or poem that's especially precious.

An automobile file can carry the vehicle title, but not all the maintenance receipts. In other words, this box is just for the essentials.

Does this box have to be perfect? Is mine perfect? No. As I used to say, "It's better to do a half-way job than no job at all," meaning: Don't procrastinate because you don't have every detail down pat. My folders don't all contain every paper that they should. And they do contain some things that should be elsewhere. But at least I know I can put my hand on most of the most important papers at a moment's notice.

Next time I will tell you how I keep other papers. In the meantime, do you have ideas about how to keep the most important papers? Or how to tweak the system?