Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

My heart goes out to the people of Alabama. Here is a depressing Huffington Post story about Alabama schools that were destroyed by the tornadoes. To make a $10 donation to the Red Cross, text the word “REDCROSS” to 90999. You can also go to the Red Cross website to mail in a donation.

The other day I filled the tank of our micro minivan (Mazda 5) and was shocked to see it cost close to $60. I’ve been watching gas prices inch up, and fortunately, I am not as affected as many people because I work from home and walk almost everywhere. But damn! How are you ladies who must use a car to go to work faring? Are you carpooling? What other cost-saving tips do you have?

Here is a great story in the Houston Chronicle on why Payday loans should be illegal.

In other just news: students at Prairie View A&M University in Texas are raising money to pay the speaking fee of Anthony Graves, who walked free in October after 12 years on death row and six years in the county jail for murders prosecutors now say he didn’t commit, according to the Houston Chronicle. This is what Graves had to say: “I’m touched. If all the young people are going to be like this, the future of America is in great hands.” Word.

Latina on a Mission had a great blog post dispelling five hair myths. I’d add two others to the list: my Cuban grandmother used to tell me that if I wanted straight hair, I had to shave it. I did not go there. The other myth was that you weren’t supposed to wash your hair during your period. Yeah, there was definitely some cultural weirdness around hair. What myths did you encounter during childhood?

This will be my final open thread for the week, so I want to wish you all a very Happy Mother’s Day! As promised, here is the much-anticipated annual MomsRising greeting card. What do you think? What do you all plan to do on Sunday?

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?

Share

WTF Gas & Insurance Prices Rising!

I live in Florida and gas is up to $3.15 today! What the hell is going on? Are your local gas rates anywhere near that amount? I also recently got new auto insurance and the prices I had to choose from were really high. Between $300 and $500 a month for 2 old cars! If you have never done a car insurance quote online before you will be surprised at the questions you are required to answer. Take a look.

It just seems like my budget for weekly gas keeps increasing, I barely go out, my job is like 10 miles from my house, my kids ride the bus, and I don’t have to drive them to after school activities. I should not be spending a lot on gas, but when I do the math it usually comes close to $10 a day! This is straining my budget and reducing the amount of things I can provide for my children.

Is anyone else having this problem?

What is the price of gas where you live?

Are insurance rates the same for you or increasing?

How does this affect your family?

Share

In The Red- Economy Hits Home

I’ve been a tad MIA from my usual blogging habits as of late mainly because I haven’t had any new revelations to discuss- work kind of sucks but I’m working on it and while it’s time consuming I’m trying to keep from poisoning myself with whining about it- positive thoughts only. DD and DH and doing great, summer is ending and school is starting for our household but we aren’t exactly at the stage where that is a life-altering kind of event.

What has struck me, and struck pretty hard, is that DH and I are officially in the red when it comes to finances. I’m still a bit stunned about it, keep going back to the spreadsheets and the bank account and keep expecting the math to be different. But there it is, in black white and red. Our expenses have surpassed our income. It may seem a silly thing to be so surprised by- I’d be foolish to think that our lack of funds is anything less than average now a days. But until last week, I thought we’d be tight but at least ok.

I wish I was referring to the eating-out, movies on the weekends, new toy for Lily kind of expenses too, but sadly no. It’s an unholy combination of tuition increases for Lily’s preschool, grocery bills, the cost of insurance at my job and gas. Good grief, the gas bill has tripled- I’m driving further to work, the prices seem pretty stagnant around the $4 mark, and it hurts.


Solutions aren’t immediate. We’ve developed a cash-based plan for spending that should carry us through  without drowning ourselves, and August’s 5-check month should get us to a point where we can go forward without putting bills on the credit card, but other issues are still there. The furry kids all had their yearly vet checks and that went on the credit cards we’d kept at a zero balance until now. We can nickel and dime our bills- get rid of HBO, turn the air conditioner off more often, shop at Aldi for groceries and stuff, and while that sort of forced consumer diet will help out, it isn’t a long term solution. Gone is my ability to put some cash in savings every month- as is my ability to contribute to the 401K, even at the lowest percentage it’s just not there.

There are other discussions that will come later- the main one being Lily’s day care costs. But until we’ve tackled the other financial options, I cannot look at my daughter and say “I know Daddy and I have gone through a lot to choose what we think is the best and most progressive school for you, a school that has proven a fabulous, nurturing, learning environment. But we’re gonna downgrade ya’ cause we’re feeling the pinch, k?” Yes, I realize she’d be fine- we’re super fortunate to have a kid who rolls so well with changes she would most likely have a good time anywhere. But I’m not ready to make that kind of decision yet. Hell, I hope I never have to- it’s a crappy thing to have to do as a parent.

What gets me even more is knowing I am still fricking fortunate as hell, probably right in the middle, upper middle even, of this economic mess. I can keep my house. I can feed my kid. I can drive my car, just not too far. I’m not yet at the point where I need to leave the end of my “first” job and head straight to clocking in at the second without stopping home. These situations aren’t rare, they’re commonplace and it makes me furious. My mom actually thought I was being “melodramatic” when I made a comment about not being able to afford a new pair of shoes. She can’t comprehend a situation where people who work cannot afford homes and simple luxuries- she and my dad made it and made it well on just 1 teachers salary. But it’s simple- people work their asses off and can’t make the payments, and the fact that DH and I have joined those ranks isn’t shocking, isn’t a result of bad planning, poor educations or even poor incomes. We’re smart and we’ve got great jobs and today it isn’t enough.

We will make it work. I know that because we have options- moving, downgrading daycares, all sorts of things. What ‘ll be looking for, though, are ways to make sure this topsy-turvy economic bullshit stops hurting people. I think it’s easiest, when things are tough, to turn inwards and worry only about yourself, and taking care of the house and home is gonna be priority #1. But I’m gonna use this frustration as fuel to get active. I can’t make my monthly contributions to the Obama campaign anymore but I’m damn sure gonna find other ways to make a difference. Any suggestions???

Share

Hump Day Open Thread

As Newsweek’s Ramin Setoodeh pointed out, it is no coincidence that male reviewers have bashed the movie Sex and the City despite breaking box office records and receiving accolades from many adoring female fans. I have heard nothing but good things from my gal pals so I will have to check it out!

Out of Gas: It was inevitable. High gas prices in the U.S. are sending some who live on the border to Mexico to gas up, according to the Associated Press.

In Tijuana, gas costs $2.54 a gallon and even cheaper if you pay with pesos. Compare that to San Diego — only a few miles north — where gas costs $4.61 a gallon.

But as the article pointed out, the savings may not be much as motorists can spend up to hours idling at checkpoint, burning a gallon for every hour of waiting time. Ouch.  

Tapped Out: Apparently, consumers are reaching out for tap water — rather than bottled water — to save their pennies, according to the AP.

Fab Five: Online media trade publication, Min Online, just released top magazine editors’ five favorite books this year:

1.) The Post-American World, by Fareed Zakaria. (W.W. Norton May, 2008)
2.) Travel + Leisure’s The Best of 2008: The World’s Greatest Hotels, Resorts & Spas, by Nancy Novogrod (American Express Publishing Corp. May 2008)
3.) Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson, by Jann S. Wenner & Corey Seymour (introduction by Johnny Depp) (Little, Brown and Company October 2007)
4.) Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory, by Mickey Rapkin (Gotham May 2008)
5.) Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink, by David Remnick (Random House October 2007)

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?

Share

Hypermiling

Hypermiling: A set of techniques and practices that seek to maximize a vehicle’s fuel efficiency through careful and calculated driving.

I don’t know about you, but getting behind the wheel of my car has become a panic inducing event. I check how much gas I have, how much the price of gas has increased since the last time I filled up, and finally try to determine whether or not I actually have to make the trip. It’s awful…and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better any time soon.

Eight years ago, when our current president took office, gas prices were approximately $1.47/gallon. With gas prices nearing $5.00/gallon, it’s hard to remember those days.

According to this article, there are ways to maximize your car’s efficiency with “hypermiling”:

Keep a record of your gas millage. By using your odometer to track miles per tank, you can develop a sense of your car’s consumption over time and adjust accordingly.

Take note of your own driving habits. The fundamental principle of hypermiling is to use all of your car’s energy to generate forward momentum. By leaving ample space between yourself and the car in front of you, there is enough time to coast to a stop and avoid stepping on the brakes.

Avoid standing still with the engine running. Traffic lights are the biggest cause of this. If you see a red light in front of you, take your foot off the gas and let your car coast up to it. Sitting in traffic should also be avoided. Though a very advanced technique, hypermilers practice riding the “waves and jams” caused by congestion to minimize time accelerating, decelerating, and sitting stopped.

Accelerate gradually, over a greater distance. The longer your take to achieve a speed, the less fuel it will require to get there. In many cars, using cruise control to slowly approach the desired speed will help regulate accelerations.

This site, also offers 100 Driving and Car Tips to get the maximum mileage from your car. It’s worth a read. For example, did you know that you could improve your mileage by 25% if you park so that you can pull forward rather than wasting gas backing up? Or that by following the speed limit and swearing off aggressive driving (rapid acceleration and deceleration), you could improve your mpg from 12% to 55%? Or that an additional 19% improvement can be achieved, it is claimed, by merely keeping a car properly maintained?

With my car averaging about 15/mpg, I find myself constantly at hypermiling sites, trying to find ways to improve my mpg. Are you a hypermiler? Do you have any tips to offer on ways to improve your current mpg? What are you doing to survive the outrageous gas prices?

Share

Vacationing Tips for the Price Conscious

In light of record-high gas prices, almost 60 percent of Americans are cutting back on vacation plans, according to Newsweek. The magazine offered these tips for those hardest hit by prices at the pump:

Budget exactly how much you’ll spend on gas by entering your destination and your car into the calculator at the American Automobile Association Web site (aaafuelcostcalculator.com). A family can save significantly by squeezing into the smaller car, or even renting a fuel-efficient car. (Hertz is offering a free tank of gas with a car rental through the end of June.) Embrace all those fuel-saving behaviors like driving under the speed limit and keeping tires properly inflated. And check gasbuddy.com or your GPS system to find the cheapest prices on gas along your way. Alternatively, leave the car at home. Competitive pricing on long-distance buses and decent train fares are making mass transit a solid choice for the summer of 2008. Companies like BoltBus (boltbus.com) and Megabus (megabus.com) offer some seats as low as a dollar.

The more obvious cost-cutters are traveling near home — no more than 200 miles away — and staying with friends. The magazine also offered these websites — home-swap.com and intervac usa.com — to switch housing with another family.

It also recommended pulling all the stops from seeking cheap airfare on priceline.com and hotwire.com to asking hotels directly for the best rate taking into account AAA membership, senior status, company affiliations and job title.

On the flip side, I cracked up at the comment of this dubious traveler:

How much does it cost to fly to the Caribbean or Latin America?  If driving 400 miles at 25 mph and gas is $4 a gallon, the round trip would be around $128.  And that’s for the whole family.  I don’t see that being the same price as flying unless you are only talking about one person going, the flight cost is around $25 round trip, or the family drives a Hummer.

Speaking of, did you see that General Motors is considering scrapping the Hummer? It’s about time! That unconsciable gas guzzler represented the worst of our culture.

Share