Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Getting by.

The economy these days is tough. I'm sure you know that. Everyone is making changes to their budget and tightening their belts. Yes, that's very true and it means different things to different people. So how do you live and spend less? Various conversations I've had and stories I've heard give me the impression that many people don't really know how to live frugally. I'm often surprised to find out how many people actually run out and buy the latest gadgets the day they hit the market and how many people buy and wear designer clothing. I think to myself "Who buys that stuff?". Apparently, lots of people do, even in these tough times. Go figure. Well, not me. I did go through a designer phase when I was 20 yrs old, but managed to rack up a wee bit of debt because of it. Believe me. The debt outlasted the clothes and it wasn't worth it.

How do I live now? Cheaply! My husband and I are usually shocked when we find out how much money other people earn and live on each year. Nearly all of the time they earn twice what we do, and often times much more. It sounds wonderful for them and so it shocks us even more when they too complain about the economy and tell us how they're struggling. That's when I think to myself "Try living on our salary.", which could be more gracious, I know. So how do we do it? Here's what we do to get by on very little.....

Groceries: We shop at WalMart for the basics. Yes, I am concerned about the ethical practices of WalMart, and I would love to show it by not shopping there. Some days I feel guilty for giving them my money, but the truth is they really do have the lowest prices and we are able to get what we need within our budget. We do buy our fish, some produce and lunch meats from Central market, which is a $40 trip for us and I try to budget it every month.

Necessities: The 99cent store is a good resource. I buy office supplies, hair gadgets, plastic storage, batteries and some toiletries there. It's a huge money saver. $10 or less will cover me for my monthly trip.

Pet Food: I scan the web for coupons and usually find one for either Petsmart or for the food we buy. It's Avoderm by Breeders choice and lately they've been offering a $5 off printable coupon that really helps.

Gas: We drive older import cars that we own. My car gets about 27 mpg and it's nearly 15 years old. My husbands truck gets about the same. Getting less that 25 mpg is a real shame and I don't really know why anyone would be willing to settle for a car than guzzles gas and lightens your wallet.

Utilities: We're all pretty much paying the same rates. Having a digital, programmable thermostat has helped us quite a bit. I recommend it. We only water our lawn 3 times a week and sometimes less. Then we pray for rain. :)

Phone: We have the most basic cell phone plan. Together we have 700 shared minutes a month and have never even come close to using it all. The internet plan for our cell phones was just too expensive, so we aren't doing that. I know it seems like a bummer, but if we're honest with ourselves it's a luxury and not a necessity.

Clothing: Kent hardly ever buys anything for himself, but when he does it's basic shorts or jeans for under $30. I buy more clothing but mostly from thrift stores. I rarely pay for than $5 for an item. Every once in a while we buy new, but only if it's on sale or we have coupons and a special occasion requires it.

Thing we wish we could do but don't so that we can save money:
Haircuts I get one haircut a year, maybe two. Ogle School of Hair and Design and TIGI Hairdressing School are great options. Less than $10 gets you a wash, cut and blow dry.
Manicures/Pedicures Nope. Not in the budget. It would be nice, but a bottle of clear polish will have to do for now.
Movies We see maybe 3 movies a year. Tickets for two are pricey and if we add popcorn or a drink we've spent half of our grocery budget in one day.
Vacations It's rare. :( We will take a 5 day vacation every 2 or 3 years and it has to be somewhere we can drive to. Road trips are actually still affordable. I search endlessly for the best hotel deals and we eat on the cheap.
Concerts This one is a bummer. We see maybe one concert every 2 years. Grrr. Not because there aren't great musicians coming to town, but because concert tickets for 2 plus all the "convenience" fees adds up to outrageous. Boo.
Have Health Insurance It would be really helpful. Let's hope Obama can make this happen for us.

Our weakness... We spend most of our expendable income on restaurants. It's the one thing we allow ourselves to splurge on. Of course when I say splurge, I mean $20 or less for the two of us to eat.

My basic tips are:

*Buy used clothing, cars and furniture.
*Drive a car that gets good gas mileage and needs few repairs.
*Don't get the most expensive phone plan and limit your use.
*Invest in a digital thermostat and set it at 74 during the summer months.
*Get a Brita water pitcher instead of buying bottled water.
*Search the web for coupons any time you shop. Try visiting http://printable-coupons.blogspot.com/ or Google "Printable Coupons" and add the category you're looking for.
*Know what the lowest prices really are for your groceries and toiletries. Prices at Albertson's are usually 30% higher than WalMart and Kroger is about 20% higher.
*Visit your neighborhood Dollar Tree or 99cent store.

Please share your budge tips too! I am always happy to learn new ways to save money and live on less.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Unexpected.

Today is the day that I climb out of my shell and finally write a new blog. The last few months have been very strange and sometimes scary, but as of this day it's all okay. Many people have asked me about what happened but I haven't been able to really communicate it in detail until now. Let me tell you about my journey and why I've been gone for so long.

It started in April. I felt a little "under the weather" and like I might be getting a cold. There were several Superchica events scheduled that month and I was working like crazy both at home and at the office. Then one day I felt a little bit worse and it seemed to be harder to concentrate on my work and I was getting tired too quickly and my head felt too heavy for my body. I was making headbands and printing, cutting and sewing fabric and every few minutes I felt like my head was falling forward and then a cold sweat would come. It was like I had never felt before, but I still thought I was just tired and working too much and that a good night's sleep would remedy everything. That was not the case. I went into work on a Tuesday and the drive over was really rough. I was disoriented and a little bit dizzy and the cold sweats were getting more intense. When I got there I managed to check a few emails and then I knew I had to go before it became to hard to do anything. At home, I laid down and tried to rest and close my eyes for a while hoping to feel better, hoping to nap and wake up feeling like myself. I went to bed early and in the morning I planned to work, but once I was out of bed I knew I was in trouble and called Kent. He rushed home and took me to the Prima Care near our house.

Choosing Prima Care may have been a mistake, but it seemed right at the time. They took my blood and ran the unusual tests, hooked me up to an EKG machine and checked my vitals. My symptoms were dizziness, weakness, nausea and pain in my stomach. Their diagnosis was a GI infection an they gave me a prescription for antibiotics and assurances that I would be much better by the next day. We felt relieved and went immediately to have the prescription filled. I hadn't eaten in a while and I couldn't take the antibiotics on an empty stomach, so we stopped at a nearby restaurant to eat. The host was seating us and talking while he did it and then suddenly I felt the most urgent need to vomit. It was so awful! I excused myself with a hand gesture and ran for the ladies room. I was right. I had to vomit, not once but three times. Keep in mind that I had not vomited in nearly 30 years, so it was a jarring and unexpected experience to say the least. When I returned to the table I gave Kent the grim news and I tried my best to eat something before heading home.

Kent put me straight to bed and I tried to sleep, but the symptoms were rapidly changing and the dizziness was getting much worse. That night was one of the worst of my whole life. The vertigo had started. It's really hard to describe to anyone that has not had it. It's like you're falling and falling and everything is spinning so fast, but you're sitting still. My eyes told me that I was turning in circles and even with my eyes closed I was spinning. The best words to describe it are horrible, terrifying and sickening. The vomiting started again and came every 20 minutes or so. My whole body shook and I was in my own personal hell. This only got worse as Wednesday became Thursday. Truly, I can tell you that I was sure death was near and that this was going to be the last day of my life. Even so, I prayed and hoped that I could make it and God was good and sustained me through very dark days. Speaking was not really possible, but I did manage to beg Kent to call the doctor back and tell them I was worsening, which he did. They prescribed and anti-nausea medication and a steroid. The thought being that if I had inflammation in my inner ear the steroids would make it better. It did improve things and I was able to sleep a little and the vomiting stopped after 4 days. Talk about grateful! I was thrilled about that. What remained was extreme dizziness, pain in my stomach and weakness. Kent had to become a caretaker for his newly invalid wife. He was amazing, and so incredible to me. Best husband ever.

A little vertigo, a lot of dizziness and my new stalker, constant weakness insisted on hanging around. We decided to see an inner ear specialist and I took my first shower in a week. Sitting on the shower floor, on top of a folded towel I did my best to get cleaned up. It was humbling to say the least. Kent helped me dress and put my hair back in a pony tail and we headed for Medical City. I had an exam and they gave me an elaborate hearing test, but we didn't really leave with answers, just more prescriptions. We were now going to try a diuretic to possibly lessen any inner ear fluid that might be out of balance and another anti nausea medication that would hopefully be less coma inducing. Things seemed to slightly improve, but the new nausea med turned out to be Diazapam and that made me feel really bad. I stopped taking that after the first pill. Not good. We decided I would try to deal with the nausea and hope for the best. Everyday Kent fed me little pieces of banana and saltines every 6 hours. I must say that eating and drinking while your laying flat is really hard and I don't recommend it. In between my small meals he would give me Gatorade through a straw and the rest of the day I slept or laid there in an incapacitated state. That seemed to last forever. In actuality it lasted for about 3 weeks.

Eventually I was able to sit up and feed myself and even get to and from the bathroom with only a little bit of help. After a few more weeks I was able to leave the bedroom and sit with Kent in the living room to eat a real meal. The dizziness was still there, but it had become manageable and I was able to change my clothes and took another shower. Yes, I had only 2 showers in month. Not exactly a shining moment, but hey I was grateful for life and breath.

It seemed I had reached a plateau. I could not move my head right or left or even look up without losing my balance. Every time I felt dizzy the nausea was right there with it and while I had made strides, life was not good. Bright lights hurt my eyes, I could not read, loud sounds made me break out in a sweat and I would frequently shake. We had seen the ear specialist again, but still no diagnosis. There was talk of an inner ear infection, Meniere's Disease and Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo but nothing definite. We decided to go to a homeopathic doctor. Our friends had been to him before with great success and it was affordable. When I called, the receptionist said they were booked until July, but they fit me in as an emergency appointment, which was really nice of them and we went right away. He gave me a remedy and within 48 hours I was feeling much, much better. Suddenly I could look up!!! You have no idea how important that is until you can't do it. It was amazing. I got steadily better that week and we returned to him for a follow up visit. He gave me a second remedy and I got even better. A normal life seemed possible and I was very, very thankful. That same week I saw our kinesiologist for an adjustment and realignment of my meridians and things got even better. I did have a downturn about a week later and the dizziness returned, but it only lasted for 3 days and since then I've been getting better and better. Thanks to God and Kent and alternative medicine. Yeah!~

So, where am I now? Nearly normal. I'm driving and going to work and eating normally and showering daily and I can even type and read. Not bad. Sometimes I get a little dizzy and I have a hard time turning around quickly and shifting focus from one thing to another. It's tolerable. I went back to my homeopathic doc this week and he gave me another remedy that will hopefully help me to recover fully. Things are good.

What have I learned? Most importantly I know that when it really comes down to it, it's you and God. When I was at my worst and I couldn't speak or move or open my eyes, He was there and I could talk to Him and pray. I also became even more aware of how fantastic my husband is. He is truly a beautiful person and my very best friend on this earth and I can trust him with anything. I really already knew that, but now it is burned on my heart. Lastly, I learned how important it is to have your health. Mobility, sight, strength, and the ability to eat food and keep it down are really, really important!! I'm so glad for each day and so thankful for my life and for the people that love me.