Money Savin’ Mama: Entitled attitude can cause financial strife

The radio ad for an ab sculpting company caught my ear, not because of the inches it promised to whittle from my waist in a few easy sessions, but for its tagline, which said I “deserved” the stomach of my dreams.

Ha! I’m pretty sure I deserve the flabby tummy I have. It’s been carefully crafted by childbirth, potato chips and my German heritage.

I shook my head at the concept that just because I want a trim waist and six-pack abs I should have it.

And then I realized this is the attitude that causes so many people financial distress.

“I deserve.”

“I’ve been working so hard, I deserve to splurge on a new outfit.”

“My friends all have fancy phones. I deserve one, too.”

“I deserve the finer things in life.”

Wrong.

There’s very little in life any one of us deserves. Dignity? Yes. Dolce and Gabbana? No.

But we’re living in a culture that tells us that if we want something, we should have it, that we deserve it.

It’s a lie, told to drive consumerism.

You don’t deserve your wants. You deserve what you earn, what you’ve worked to achieve.

It’s a foreign concept to those with a sense of entitlement, who think they’re somehow innately worthy of their wants and have been given free rein to pursue them thanks to easily accessed credit.

It’s a pursuit that ends in debt and unhappiness.

This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t obtain your wants. It means you need to plan, budget and work for them first.

You have to earn them.

My oldest brother introduced me to a concept at an early age, two words he said would make all the difference in my life if I could grasp them: Delayed gratification.

Work hard now. Enjoy the fruits of it later.

It’s something I’m now trying to teach my 5-year-old daughter.

Recently, she saw a stuffed My Little Pony doll she just “had to have.” I put it in my cart and told her she could have it, but she’d have to work for it first.

Over the next few weeks, she did several cleaning tasks around the house, above and beyond her regular chores. I gave her 50 cents for each one.

Once she had $5, we traded the money for Pinkie Pie. It’s now her most treasured fuzzy friend, her bedtime companion.

Of course, she later accused me of stealing her money, but with time, I hope we’re building a foundation for financial success.

I hope when she’s grown, the only thing she’ll say she deserves is to feel financially secure, and that she’ll follow the straight though difficult road to achieve it.

What does financial security feel like? It’s having your toxic debt paid off, an emergency fund stashed, and monthly expenses that are less than your income. It’s having a plan for your future, and taking the steps to get there.

It’s a road that requires patience and perseverance, the core attributes of delayed gratification.

They’re qualities that will take you far and make your dollar go farther.

Sherri Richards is a thrifty mom of two and reporter for The Forum. She can be reached at srichards@forumcomm.com

Parenting Perspectives: ‘Bad Mommy’ just trying to do her best

His pointer finger presses into my chest accusingly. A scowl darkens the face I love.

“Bad Mommy,” my 2-year-old shouts, his hand now slapping me. “Bad Mommy! Bad Mommy!”

It’s Owen’s new favorite phrase, hurled at me anytime I do anything he doesn’t like, including change his diaper, dress him, buckle him in his car seat or prevent him from killing himself.

It’s a relentless criticism, spouted morning, noon and night.

“Bad Mommy!”

Early in the day, I defend myself against it. “I’m not a bad mommy,” I tell him. “I’m just doing something you don’t like.” As the hours pass, though, I feel myself get frazzled, my self-esteem dinged as a victim of toddler abuse.

On the other hand is 5-year-old Eve who shrieks that I’m the Best. Mom. Ever! when I give in to a pleaded request to watch another episode of “My Little Pony” or have ice cream for an afternoon snack instead of fruit or carrot sticks.

Somehow, her praising my parental weakness doesn’t help.

I begin to wonder if Owen’s right, noticing the pink marker I couldn’t scrub off his cheeks and that I forgot to slip a loving note into Eve’s lunch box. Again.

Then I remember, with rare exceptions typically involving criminal charges, there are no bad moms. There’s just us, exhausted, self-doubting, head over heels in love with this little person or persons, trying our best every darn day with spotty track records.

It’s a message I’ve been reminded of lately thanks to social media, a place where I can draw some resilience against the 87 “Bad Mommy!” shouts awaiting me after Owen’s nap.

I happily shared a meme that contrasted Pinterest-project mamas with my daily measuring stick of success: “I had a shower today and kept the kids alive – Go Me!”

To be honest, I can’t always claim the shower, but still I say, go me. That’s all we can do: Go on to the next day and try again.

Try is the operative word because not one of us is perfect. But being an imperfect mom is not the same as being a “Bad Mommy!”

A blog post shared recently by several Facebook friends reminded me of this. In it, Michelle of “So Wonderful, So Marvelous” chastises us moms to finally learn that no mom is super mom.

We all have different priorities, gifts and talents, so let’s stop judging other moms who don’t share the same skills and concerns, she writes. Let’s stop feeling guilty for the skills we lack, and for the areas where we excel. And for heaven’s sake, let’s stop feeling judged by a friend who’s probably not judging us at all, but just doing her own thing, mothering the way she sees fit.

And, please, please, don’t judge me based on my toddler’s “Bad Mommy!” screams or his face full of pink marker.

He might not be clean, but I’m showered.

Go me.

Sherri Richards is mom to 5-year-old Eve and 2-year-old Owen and a reporter for The Forum. She blogs at topmom.areavoices.com

Smartphone for a smart Mama: Upgrading frugally

This spring, I wrote about how my husband and I were debating switching to smartphones. Our cell phone contract was up, giving us a window to make the leap.

My concern, of course, was the cost. Not just of the physical phones, but the monthly data plan and the temptation to purchase apps and other downloads. As I wrote, it’s way too easy to allow your tech wants to become expensive “needs.”

We talked with several friends and family members, compared price packages, and researched, researched, researched.

Finally, after months of debate (and years of being behind the tech curve), we recently leaped into unlimited minutes, texts and 2 GB of data each.

Best of all: Our new phone plan costs only $10 more per month total than we were paying for 700 shared minutes, 250 texts each and no data.

Of course, there are trade-offs. I’ll get to those.

In the end, we went with Straight Talk, a no-contract cell service sold through Wal-Mart. We had to buy our phones outright, and now pay $45 a month plus sales tax each for its Unlimited* plan (Note the asterisk, as the data isn’t actually limitless). You can enroll in auto pay, or buy the service cards in store or online.

Different Straight Talk phones operate on different networks. It was important to us to have service in rural eastern North Dakota, as that’s where we travel frequently, so we made sure the phones we purchased were designated CDMA-V, indicating they would use the Verizon network. (A Straight Talk CDMA-S phone would work on the Sprint network, as I understand it.) The codes are prominently displayed online, though I had trouble finding them in-store.

Because my husband loves his iPod Touch, I encouraged him to go with an iPhone. We were able to get a refurbished iPhone 4 for $300 through the Wal-Mart website. Not the latest and greatest, but that’s not what we need.

I wanted an Android, as I’m more familiar with that platform, so chose the cheap basic Galaxy Samsung Centura. The phone was $100 — a steal for a smartphone, it seems — and has so far been a good way for me to tiptoe into the smart world. I am a bit disappointed in the camera. (Because it doesn’t autofocus, barcode scanning apps don’t work well on it, and I was so looking forward to having a comparison shopping tool in my pocket. Also, there’s no flash.) Other than that can’t complain about the phone.

I can complain about the customer service. While my hubby was able to activate his phone with no problem, mine wasn’t properly scanned at the store which led to three hour-long stints on hold, conflicting advice from the customer reps and an all-around hair-pulling experience as I had to go back to the store and swap phones. But, as they say, you get what you pay for, and apparently you don’t get great customer service when you pay $45 a month for a data plan. (You also can’t tether devices on Straight Talk, which may be important to some.)

The activation headache aside, I’ve been pleased with our new cell service. We got to keep our numbers, the call quality has been good, and I’m now able to answer my inane trivial wonderings in the car.

I also haven’t paid for an app, and don’t plan on it.

Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be a recommendation for Straight Talk, simply an explanation of my experience for fellow frugalists out there looking to upgrade to a smartphone. I have not been compensated by any of the companies mentioned.

Ready for a break from life in the hamster wheel

My Parenting Perspectives column for Nov. 13 …

The realization hit me on a Monday as I hung my kids’ laundered-acouple-days-ago clothes in their closets.

I’m trapped in a hamster wheel.

I was finally finishing that round of laundry, and both their laundry baskets were already full of dirty clothes.

I’d stayed up late the night before to pick up the house. It was trashed by noon.

While I emptied the dishwasher, a pile of dirty dishes stared back at me from the sink.

Just as I breathed a sigh of relief for having finished one work assignment, three more were added to my plate.

Like those cute furry rodents, it feels like I run and run and run on my wheel and somehow find myself right back where I started.

“Can I hop off, please?” I begged my Facebook friends that Monday.

Obviously my complaint reflects an abundance of blessings. My kids have clothes. We have a home that gets messy and food that dirties our dishes. I have a job that pays me to write.

And surely the never-ending loop of life’s more mundane tasks grates on us all at some point. But I do believe it’s more acute for moms whose work centers in and around the home.

This concept first occurred to me this spring when I read “The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual” by Moorhead native Shannon Hyland-Tassava.

In the book Hyland-Tassava talks about how frustrating that work-is-never-done aspect of motherhood can be. It’s not like at the office, when you can shut the door and say that’s all for the day, she says. There’s not the same separation.

Instead, she writes, moms need to manufacture their own breaks and end points, something I haven’t been successful at doing. Mostly, because I have trouble pinpointing any sort of end when I consider my litany of chores. Every fresh diaper gets soiled sooner or later (usually sooner).

As I think back at different points in my life, it seems like my time was devoted to forward progress. In college, each paper written or class passed brought me that much closer to a degree. In my 20s, I planned for a wedding, redecorated a house and prepared for my daughter’s arrival.

Now, though, I spend most of my time on tasks that constantly get undone.

I’ve thought a lot about setting new life goals to provide myself with an end-game, some forward progress to shoot for, but I’m not sure the answer is more work.

If anything, there’s a lack of play in my life.

When I made my hamster wheel analogy on Facebook, my friend Angie suggested a vacation to her Montana home would do wonders. I don’t disagree. A break – to hop off for a long weekend – may be just what the veterinarian ordered.

Perhaps I’ll try a different wheel. Roulette, for example. Vegas, here I come.

Sherri Richards is mom to 4-year-old Eve and 1-year-old Owen and a reporter for The Forum. She blogs at topmom.areavoices.com

Money-savin’ Mama: Learning to say no, and yes, to spending

Over dinner a couple of months ago, two girlfriends and I ended up in tearful fits of laughter as they teased me for being too cheap to pay the new $7 rental fee for a double stroller at West Acres. We joked that I’d start piling both kids in my single stroller, forever scarring them but paying for their college with the savings.

“It’s funny because it’s true,” my friend Erin sputtered, wiping her eyes.

I wear my “cheap” label proudly, and encourage others to do the same. When someone compliments my shirt, I usually reply by telling them how little I paid for it, or the thrift store where I bought it.

Frugality wasn’t always my forte, though. When I first started working full time, I went out for lunch and an afternoon mocha almost daily, not worrying how quickly that money added up. Then, I faced a jaw-dropping dental bill. I emailed my co-workers and told them I wouldn’t be able to join them for lunches for a while. I couldn’t afford it.

A recent article on Huffington Post Women talked about the difficulty that comes in saying those four words: I can’t afford it. Sources quoted in the piece say we often feel pressured to spend by our peers, and that women especially feel pressured to spend on their appearance.

They suggested having honest discussions with friends and families about your spending limits, and carefully thinking over purchases.

To me, there’s no shame in saying “I can’t afford it,” “it’s not in our budget” or “that’s not a priority for me right now.” It’s standing in your truth, as financial guru Suze Orman challenged readers to do in her 2011 book “The Money Class.”

Racking up credit card debt on unnecessary purchases means you’re pretending to be someone you’re not. It means you haven’t learned to live within your means, and to distinguish your wants from your needs.

However, I’m beginning to realize, being too cheap has its downfalls, too.

I’ve gotten so good at saying no to unnecessary purchases I’ve found it hard to buy things for myself even when funds are available.

I currently have a stack of gift cards that I just can’t seem to bring myself to spend. Because I don’t really “need” anything, I keep telling myself.

One of the gift cards was a bonus from my employer for my 10-year anniversary at The Forum. I was given my choice of merchants, and purposely picked West Acres, as I knew I couldn’t spend it on anything too practical there. No toilet paper, no diapers, no gallons of milk.

But now I’m struggling to splurge. I thought about buying a new outfit for an upcoming wedding, but then remembered the teal dress in my closet that I’ve only worn a couple of times. I could get a pair of killer nude heels but decided I probably wouldn’t wear them that much.

So I’m forcing myself to analyze my wants a little more. What indulgence, within the dollar amount of the gift card, would bring me joy?

I may have to go strolling around West Acres to find it, if I can bring myself to rent that $7 double stroller.

Sherri Richards is a thrifty mom of two and employee of The Forum. She blogs at www.topmom.areavoices.com.

Tapping my inner (inexpensive) artiste

This summer, we sacrificed our guest room/office/storage space and transitioned both kiddos into their own rooms. In hopes of doing so as frugally as possible, I sold some of the former room’s contents (vases, candle sconces, an office chair) through an online garage sale page, and put the proceeds toward an IKEA trip, where I got some great storage shelves that will hopefully be useful for years to come.

I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on decorative accessories for the kids’ new rooms, though, seeing as I’d just sold a bunch of home decor items.  I know my kids’ tastes will change even more rapidly than my own.

Instead, I created some inexpensive art projects I wanted to share with you.

First up is Eve’s room, where I put her artistic talents to use. I purchased these super inexpensive NYTTJA frames from IKEA, and framed paintings Eve had made. The two larger pieces she painted on a trip to the Children’s Museum at Yunker Farm. The smaller piece  (framed in a coordinating pink) she made at home. They’ll be easy to switch out through the years.

Ideally I’d hang these closer together and closer to the bed, but, well, there were already nails in the wall …

A watercolor masterpiece …

It took me longer to figure out art for Owen’s room. Finally I made a trip to Hobby Lobby, where I found two 8- by 10-inch canvases for $4.

I wrapped the first canvas in a piece of scrapbooking paper I got for 25 cents. I was hoping this alone would create a funky art piece, but as my husband said, it just kind of looked like a present. So I pulled out some scraps of solid-colored cardstock and mimicked the spaceship shape featured in the printed paper, gluing them on the paper and tracing them with a black marker. You could do the same thing with purchased embellishments.

I would have rather created a truck or boat (something more transportation themed than space) but this seemed like the easiest — and only vertical — option.

For the second canvas, I used small bottles of acrylic paint I’ve had in my craft basket for ages (I think they cost about $1 each), and some sponge brushes. I divided the canvas into four quadrants using blue painters tape, painting each corner a different color. Again, I thought this might be all I’d need to do, but it didn’t look that great. I thought about painting a ball or animal in each rectangle, but soon realized I’m not that talented. Instead I used stencils to trace the letters of Owen’s name with a black paint pen. I could have stopped at that point, but decided to fill in the letters using black acrylic paint. At that point the white lines looked out of place, so I painted them black, too.

Considering I made this up as I went, I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

Other ideas I’ve seen include framing scrapbook paper or patterned fabric (look for frames with mattes at thrift stores or dollar stores), melting color crayons onto a canvas, or using painters tape to write a child’s name on the canvas and letting them fingerpaint over it.

How have you created inexpensive art for your home? What frugal art ideas would you like to try?

Meeting Mrs. Claus

Obviously I write a lot about my kids on this blog and in my Parenting Perspectives column (which you should look for tomorrow, btw). But the larger part of my job is writing articles for the SheSays section of The Forum.  While these are sometimes about moms or kids or parenting issues, they have little to do with my own family.

So it was a rarity when these two worlds collided earlier this month. I had the privilege of interviewing Fargo’s own Mrs. Claus, who is a constant figure at Santa’s Village at Rheault Farm. You can read the feature in today’s paper.

Ever since Eve was born in 2008, my family has made a yearly visit to the farm, to watch the toy train go round and round its tracks, to write a letter to Santa, to see the reindeer, to sit on Santa’s lap, and to make cookies with Mrs. Claus in the farmhouse’s kitchen.

I was glad to get a chance to know more about this woman who Eve has visited year after year, as have so many other local kids and families. It was an extra treat, a few days after I sat down with her, to bring Eve and newborn Owen into her kitchen. We had lots of fun as the kids poured sprinkles on their frosted sugar cookies.

Here’s a look at my own family’s interactions with Fargo’s Own Mrs. Claus through the years:

Here's Eve making cookies with Mrs. Santa in 2009. She was about 21 months old

And again in 2010 (age 2 1/2)

And again in 2011, now with little brother

Hair today, gone tomorrow

“Are you cutting your lovely locks?” the kindly grandma waiting for her stylist asked as I hung up my coat. I nodded.

“Short?” she queried.

“Real short,” I answered, explaining how I planned to donate the cut hair to Locks of Love, which provides human-hair prosthesis to children who have lost their hair due to medical reasons.

“Someone will be very lucky to get it,” she said. “You have beautiful hair.”

I wrote in Sunday’s Forum about the power struggle of sorts I’d been having with my long, wavy hair. Last week, as I put the finishing touches on a three-day, five-story series on the power of hair, I decided it was time to end the struggle, and make the big cut.

I scheduled a last-minute appointment Wednesday morning at the beauty school. (For readers familiar with my Money-Savin’ Mama posts, you’ll be proud to note I got my hair cut for $3 plus tip, thanks to a $10 discount card.) My stylist, Britney, said she had never had a request like mine.

After repeatedly consulting one of her instructors, Britney bundled my hair into a thick ponytail using three clear bands. A few other students gathered around as she sawed her way through the strands at the base of my neck. She told me later her heart was pounding as she chopped nearly 10 inches from my head.

My "lovely locks," bundled up

 

The Big Snip

 

The final cut

I was at peace with my decision, and excited about the layered bob we’d decided on for my new style. It felt so good when Britney expressed awe that my hair color was all natural (“It’s so pretty!”) and told me how healthy my hair was.

Then dear, sweet, young Britney inadvertantly said something quite ironic, given that all my hesitation in cutting my hair stemmed from my fear of having “mom hair.”

“We’ll give you the mom invert,” she said, referring to the angled cut that’s shorter in the back and longer in the front.

“Did you say ‘mom’?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said brightly. “I always think of moms when I see this invert.”

“I don’t want mom hair!” I cried.

“Not old mom,” Britney quickly reassured me. “Cute, new mom!”

I wasn’t convinced, even when the grandma from the waiting area complimented my new haircut. My husband also said he liked it. I played with it more when I got home.

The new 'do

Of course my toughest, most honest critic would be my 3-year-old daughter Eve, who loves to brush my long hair. She questioned repeatedly why I had cut my hair. She considered it carefully.

“You don’t look like a mommy,” Eve finally told me.

I perked up. Had I escaped the dreaded “mom hair” afterall?

“You look like a daddy,” she finished.

Oh. Great. Good thing hair grows back.

Donating locks worth the risk of ‘mom hair’

Over the past three days, the SheSays section has featured stories of hair, illustrating the power it has in shaping self-identity and even expressing faith. The series was inspired by a power struggle of sorts with my own hair, as I debated cutting it the past few months.

During both my pregnancies, in 2008 and again this year, I let my hair grow out. Those pregnancy hormones did crazy thing to my body, but amazing things for my hair. The longest layers nearly reach the middle of my back.

As my now 3-year-old daughter brushes out my hair with a pink, plastic Barbie-sized brush, she tells me my hair is like “Tangled” – an animated adaptation of “Rapunzel” and her new favorite movie. In this version, Rapunzel’s 70-foot long mane has magical healing powers. Eve tells me she wants hair like mine, too.

My hair, a bit blurry, as photographed by Eve

At a high school graduation party this spring, I noticed a clique of teen girls, all willowy thin, all wearing variations of the same short sundress, and all sporting long, loose locks like mine. “Who am I kidding?” I suddenly thought. “I’m too old to have the same hair as a teenage girl.”

I told myself I should get it cut, but didn’t. Now Baby Owen’s chubby hands have started grasping and pulling on my long strands. Plus, I’m shedding like crazy, as most women do postpartum. My husband disgustedly pulled one of my foot-long strands out of his casserole the other night, reason enough to sport a shorter ‘do.

Still, I’ve hesitated to get it cut, relishing the compliments I get on my mane, and mainly because I recall the words of a beautiful, younger, Brazilian friend.

I met Thai, a college buddy’s wife, four years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter. In her charming accent, she immediately complimented my long, wavy hair, and noted she was glad that, even though I was pregnant, I didn’t have “mom hair.” You know, short and practical.

Three months after Eve was born, I cut off all my hair, donating two ponytails to Locks of Love, an organization that gives human hair wigs to kids who’ve lost their hair for medical reasons. Eve’s little hands had discovered the strands, and I was going back to work. I needed something more practical, something short.

Thai’s comment stuck with me, though, after that and several more haircuts. “Mom hair.” Whenever the word “mom” is used as an adjective, it’s not good. It indicates something is unsexy or dated. See: Mom jeans.

This time around, having entered my 30s, I didn’t want the equivalent of mom jeans on my head.

Then I interviewed Sally Larson, whose daughter Sophie began losing her hair as a toddler. Sophie recently received a human hair wig from Locks of Love, a story we shared in Friday’s paper.

Hearing how that wig has helped Sophie feel more confident and allowed her to curl and style her hair just like other little girls made me realize that my hair does have special powers, like “Tangled.” It has the power to help.

To help a child like Sophie who doesn’t have hair of her own.

I’ve decided to again donate my hair to Locks of Love. I’ll happily have “mom hair” if that’s the end result.

Besides, I’m pretty sure my daily haphazard ponytail screams “mom” more than any short hairdo.

Check out the Forum Mom blog on Monday to read about the long-debated haircut and to see photos of my new ‘do.

A new dress in the (paper) bag

Money Savin’ Mama isn’t necessarily known for her fashion sense. But she sure has fashion cents. Check out the outfit I’ll be wearing to a formal dinner during homecoming at my Alma mater, the University of North Dakota, this weekend.

New sparkly dress and shoes

The shoes are, if I may say, fabulous. And the price was pretty fabulous, too, at 80 percent off. I paid $14 for them at JCPenney.

Hiiiiiigh heels

But the dress was the real steal. Because it literally cost me spare change. I bought it during the last bag sale at the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch Thrift Store in south Fargo.

Twice a year, each of the four area Boys Ranch stores holds a bag sale, on four consecutive Saturdays (usually in January/February and July/August). Customers fill a grocery-size paper bag with all the clothes and shoes that will fit and pay only $4 per bag. It’s a great way to buy lots of kids’ clothes for cheap, because kids’ clothes don’t take up much space in the bag. But it’s also worth picking up a few things for yourself, for what ends up being pennies (OK, dimes) per item.

Here’s why: The racks often contains brand new clothing items, most recently seen in Target stores. I’ve actually gotten items there that I’ve later seen still at a Target.

Sure, there are also lots of great gently used items on the racks, too, that are worth stuffing in your brown bag. But the new items are more likely to be in excellent condition and in fashion. Plus, well, they’re new.

How can you tell if it’s a new item? There are generally two clues. First, there will be several of the same shirt or pants or pair of shoes, which isn’t usually the case with used items. Second, you can tell by the tag. It will feature the name of a common Target brand (Merona, Mossimo and Liz Lange maternity are a few examples) with a black marker line through it. I’m not 100 percent certain why they do this, but I’m guessing it’s so people can’t return the donated clothing to the original store.

Black marker line through Target brand

If an item doesn’t end up fitting right, or I decide later isn’t my style, I re-donate it. But that’s usually the exception. I just counted no fewer than 12 bag sale finds in my closet that I wear on a regular basis. I’ve also found a few polo shirts for my husband, and lots of clothes for my kids, including winter coats.

A warning: Bag Sale Day is not for the faint of heart. The crowds are a bit overwhelming, especially when the store first opens at 9 a.m. It’s considerably less busy in the afternoon, but the inventory is smaller. For those who choose not to brown bag it, each store prices all its clothes and shoes at 50 percent off the week leading up to its bag sale.

Either way it makes good fashion sense, and cents.