Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Time For A Change?

Well, I didn't get any of the jobs I interviewed for over the last couple of weeks.  But hey, at least I'm getting interviews ... it's just so frustrating that none of them are going anywhere.  So after a lot of thought, I've decided to do a few things:

One:  Start registering with temp agencies.  I've temped before, and I liked it; there were always new people to meet and new things to learn (and add to my resume).  I'm seeing an awful lot of employment ads these days for temp jobs that "could become permanent", and I have a suspicion that most of those employers are just trying out one temp after another until they find someone they like enough to keep.  And I want that someone to be me!

Two:  Get some coaching.  There are a few placement agencies that specialize in coaching and assisting older workers  -  and I certainly qualify!  -  and although I don't like to admit it, it's very possible that my "interview skills" or lack thereof are what's holding me back.

Three:  Put quite a bit more work into my appearance.  I do keep up with colouring my hair / touching up my roots on a regular basis, but I think it's time to get the Big Guy to cut it again. (He does a good job, and it keeps him from complaining about how much got cut off ...)  It's also time to get my eyebrows done  -  and then keep them up  -  and try to grow some better fingernails and keep them in shape.  I do prefer to keep them very short, but that (and house & yard work) makes my hands look, well, less than professional.

Four:  Make an investment in my working wardrobe.  There's nothing wrong with my office clothes per se; I've had them a long time but always tried to take good care of them and keep them looking nice. But I've been putting off getting new underthings for too long, and I think it's time to invest in at least one real suit instead of matching up things that almost look like one.  Black slacks and a black blazer are fine for ordinary work days, but the fabrics are visibly different; and my other "suit" is a pair of charcoal slacks with a navy pinstripe matched up with a navy blazer.  Nice, but again, not really professional.  With a real suit, I can wear any nice shell or blouse, and dress it up or down with the right accessories.

So here's my plan for the rest of the week:

Tonight  -  clean up and organize my teeny-tiny workroom so I'll have room to work on the weekend's projects.  This is not going to be easy, and I see myself climbing up and down the attic ladder many more times than I'd like ... I'll try to think of it as good exercise.  If I get brave enough (and figure out how) I'll post before-and-after pics on Sunday.

Tomorrow (Thursday):  Go over the budget and figure out exactly how much I have to spend.  Then shop; underthings first, then put on new ones, a nice blouse, and my office shoes before shopping for a suit (or two, if they're on sale and I can afford two).  It's nice that Mom lives right by the mall; I can shop for undies, go and have coffee with her, and change before the suit-shopping ordeal.  I'm glad I bought new office shoes just before the layoff!

Friday  -  Register with as many temp agencies as possible, and get recommendations from them regarding interview coaching and so on.

Saturday  -  Touch up the roots, get Big Guy to cut my hair, get my eyebrows done, and start working on tidying up my nails.  Oh, and find my old gardening gloves and start wearing them religiously again!

Sunday  -  Go through my wardrobe ruthlessly, and donate everything that doesn't fit properly, is visibly outdated or worn, or just doesn't suit me.  Make an inventory of what I have left, make a list of what else I'd like to have, and go through my stash of patterns, fabric and yarn to determine what I can make without spending any more money. 

And then, of course, come back here to report on how everything went!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Greener Is Cheaper

Last Sunday I wrote about our recycling habits, and how they benefit the the environment and our budget; today I'm doing the same as it applies to our electric bill.

We're not yet on Hydro's equal payment plan, where the bill is the same amount every month, based on the previous year's usage, and the difference between usage and payments is calculated and billed or credited once a year; we get a bill once every two months for our actual usage.  After averaging out last year's bills, I thought I had a pretty good idea of how much to put away every month ...

What I failed to take into account was my family's chronic absent-mindedness.

My Big Guy will yell at the rest of us for leaving lights on when we leave a room ... and then leave the television on when he goes out to work in the yard or in his workshop.  In warm weather, he'll also leave fans running in every room when he goes out.  I've developed the habit of checking on his whereabouts every so often and turning off whatever he left on.

Our younger daughter has apparently forgotten how to turn anything off. Most mornings I wake up long before anyone else, and if I tiptoe into her room, she's sound asleep with the computer still on and the monitor lighting up her desk, her television lighting up the rest of the room with the sound muted, and often the stereo playing softly as well.

Until the end of May, our older daughter was renting our basement suite.  She got a puppy early in the spring, and I later found out she was leaving her television on 24-7 "so the puppy won't get lonely".  Well, at that point it was only going to be another month, so I bit my tongue for the sake of family harmony, and looked for ther ways to cut usage.  I cut my own television viewing to about an hour a day, didn't turn a single light on in the house until it was too dark to avoid tripping over the cats, and kept a thermos of milk on the counter for my coffee instead of opening the fridge so often.  What I didn't know was that she was also keeping the electric baseboard heater in her bedroom set at 80 degrees "so the puppy won't get cold".  Hello, he has a fur coat on!  And she forgot to turn it off when she moved out ... and since the weather had been so nice, it didn't occur to us to check it when we looked over the room to make sure she'd cleaned it.  So we didn't find out it was on until our new tenant moved in at the beginning of July and asked us if there was a reason for it to still be on.

Our July 5th electric bill was a little over $300.00  -  more than twice what we'd budgeted for  -  and arrived three days after we paid the year's property taxes.  OUCH.

So I went looking for more ways to save on electricity.

First I went to Hydro's website to see if there was anything we could do that I hadn't already thought of.  Lo and behold, they have something called the "Team Power Smart" challenge ... If I reduce our usage by ten percent between now and this time next year, not only will our bills be lower, but they'll credit an extra $75.00 to our account!  How's that for incentive?

Then while searching the basement for empty boxes for our younger daughter's upcoming move, I found two dozen CFL bulbs!  It turns out that the Big Guy's brother had given them to us when his workplace was going to toss them because they didn't fit the fixtures there, and my absent-minded love had put them down somewhere and forgotten about them.  So instead of one at a time as they burned out and we could afford to do it, I've replaced every incandescent bulb in the house with a CFL.  Sweet!  My frugal soul rejoices at getting 100 watts of light for the price of 7 watts.  And CFL bulbs don't put out heat the way incandescents do ... I wonder how much less heat there'll be in the house on summer nights?  Probably not enough to stop Big Guy from turning the fans on, but I can dream ...

Final result  -  less money spent on electricity, less resources wasted, a rebate next year on the electric bill, and a little less wear and tear on Hydro's infrastructure.  Win-win.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It's The Little Things ...

... that add up where you least expect them to.

When I was first laid off, people would tell me to think of all the money I'd save on office clothes, transit passes, work lunches, and so on.  Those savings sounded pretty good, until I did some mental math (never an easy thing for me).

First of all, as soon as my severance ran out and EI kicked in, my income would be about 40-45 % of what it had been.  You'd better believe I nursed that severance money as far as I possibly could!

Office clothes?  That would be my once-a-year under-$100 binge at the thrift stores and fabric clearance outlet (where I mostly picked through the remnant barrels at 99 cents a yard).  But I am saving money in an unexpected area  -  I'm only doing about a third of the laundry I did when I was working, since there's no dress code at home and the cats don't care if I live in sweats and pajamas.

Transit passes, yes, a savings of $136.  Plus I do much less driving, except when the weather is extremely nasty, since I now have time to do my errands on foot.

Work lunches?  Well, no, since I always took a lunch from home.  Yes, every single day.  Usually "planned" leftovers.  So I'm still eating lunch, I'm just not carrying it around first.  And really, how much money am I saving by washing one or two fewer plastic containers a day?

The real surprise? The list of things I found I was spending MORE on:

Coffee, and milk to put in it.  I got spoiled at work; coffee and fixings were provided by my employer, and I do love my coffee ... so I got into the habit of drinking it all day.  Now that I'm paying for it, I'm trying to cut back.

The gas and electric bills.  It actually took me a while to figure that one out; being home all day meant that I was on the computer more, had heat and lights on all day through the winter, was watching more tv, was opening the fridge a lot more often, the coffeemaker was on all day ... hmmm.  The computer  -  I'm still on it half the day, mostly doing my daily job search.  The lights  -  I try not to turn them on until I start tripping over things.  The heat  -  I dug into my yarn stash and started knitting afghans, sweaters and house socks, got a couple of pairs of thick warm fleece sweat pants from the thrift store, and turned the heat down.  And I now turn the coffeemaker off as soon as it's done brewing, and nuke one cup at a time.  I'm hoping the savings there will offset the cost of running the sewing machine for hours a day when I start making things to sell at this winter's craft fairs.

Toilet paper.  Another "well, duh ..." moment.  Cutting down on the coffee might have a small effect there ... and cutting out stress would have a big effect, once I find a way to do that ... stress is my worst trigger for an IBS flareup.  A lot of the stress, naturally, has to do with money.  And a lot had to do with my Mom's health issues, which are gradually being dealt with and resolved, thank the Goddess.

Cigarettes.  I no longer have to wait for my official break time to have a smoke.  It's time to quit  -  but that's a whole different blog post, eventually.

Fresh fruit.  I'm buying more of it now, since I no longer worry about whether it will still be fit to eat after banging around in my lunch bag for hours.  But canning season is coming up, so if I can find a cheap source for peaches and pears, along with my garden's apples, plums, and rhubarb, I'll be able to eat fruit from my pantry all winter.

Looking back at the few weeks immediately after the layoff, I did a few things which in retrospect were actually pretty smart.

I did NOT assume it would be easy to find another job, and started looking for ways to cut expenses right away.

I immediately made it known to the entire extended family that I was unemployed and would not be able to do the usual birthday or Christmas gift exchanges; there would be cards for birthdays, and I would be making Christmas gifts, not buying them.

I cleaned out my desk on a Monday.

On Tuesday I filed my EI claim, and then spent the entire day on-line just bookmarking every single job search resource I could find  -  job boards, employment resource offices, temp / staffing agencies, every company in my field with a "careers" section on their website, you name it.

On Wednesday I bought the biggest fold-up shopping cart (aka Bag Lady cart) I could find.  It cost me $35, which is how much gas I would have put in the car that month to do all the shopping and other errands if I hadn't had the cart to walk with; investment recouped in less than four weeks.  The additional exercise I get can't be bad for me, either!

On Thursday I bought a slow cooker to replace one that died years ago.  Soups, stews, and casseroles can be nutritious, tasty, filling, and frugal.

On Friday I started my version of a grocery price book; it's a spreadsheet I check before and after every shopping trip, at the same time that I'm making the shopping list from the sale flyers, checking my coupons, and checking the freezer & pantry inventory (which was also started then).

 Maybe those are things I should have been doing all along.  Next post,  I'll be looking at frugal things I've always done, and ways  -  if any  -  I can improve them.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Bits & Pieces, Odds & Ends

Yesterday I finished a book about a woman who made one "green" change in her life every day for a year.  I also read a lot of blogs and books about frugality, and about going green, and I find that I really like the way those two things  -  saving money and saving the planet  -  overlap and complement each other.

It made me think about all the frugal things we do here at home, and the "green" things we do, and how they fit together.  So I'm going to start talking about them here, at least one or two every week ... I've never actually counted them, so who knows where this will go?  It won't be a "one-change-a-day" list as such, but a fresh look at what we do now, what we could be doing, and how "frugal" can lead to "green" (and vice versa) even if that wasn't the original intention.  Some of these were things we decided to do, some were things that just happened, some were experiments that turned out better than we expected, and some had unanticipated side effects.  Maybe I'll even discover some new things I hadn't thought of before.

Let's start with our city's recycling program.

The city provides blue recycling bins free to any household that requests them, and everyone can put out as many filled bins every week as they want to.  It's single-stream recycling, which means we don't have to do any sorting  -  a time-saver!  These bins are for cans, glass jars and bottles, types 1, 2, 4, and 5 plastic, milk jugs, any clean paper,  flattened clean cardboard, and clean aluminum foil such as washed take-out containers.  They don't take plastic bags any more, but the city has set up special bins just for plastic bags at every large grocery store.  We can also be fined for putting recyclables in the garbage, which I personally see as a good thing, though some disagree.

This had some side effects for us.  Now that recycling doesn't require sorting into different bags and bins,  my family are much more cooperative about making sure everything that can be recycled actually goes in the blue bin.  And when we noticed how quickly the bin filled up, we began making more of an effort to shop for products with minimal and/or recyclable packaging.  There's even a frugal benefit of sorts  -  frequently we decide to do without something entirely, or wait until we find another way to get what we want, because we object to paying for the excess packaging.  For example, instead of paying high prices for spices in little glass jars,  we take our own zipper-type plastic bags to the bulk spice aisle and get twice the garlic, parsley, oregano, or whatever for less than one-tenth of the price of those little jars.  The time it takes to rinse out a plastic bag for the next trip is minimal while I'm doing dishes, and the benefits to our budget and the environment are enormous.

We've also developed the habit of looking at something we're about to put in the bin, and thinking about what else it could be used for.  So now the bulk-purchased spices, seasonings, and baking supplies that we use a lot of are in two-kilo peanut butter jars.  The benefits?  We're saving money by buying in bulk, we're saving time by not shopping for them so often, we're reducing the load on our city's recycling system, we can see at a glance how much of something we have and what needs replenishing, we have "canisters" that are uniform in size and shape, and the cupboard is much more organized.  Now I'm saving them for the camper, not just for spices but also flour, sugar, coffee, pasta/noodles, dry soup mixes, cocoa, coffee creamer  -  anything we only want two weeks' worth of that needs to stay dry and bug-free.  The jars are great freezer containers, too, especially since the contents are visible and so don't usually need labeling  -  we just date the containers with a black marker.

What else could we use those jars for?  (We eat a LOT of peanut butter ...)

I could use them in my sewing room instead of the collection of ratty shoeboxes currently stacked on the shelves ... beads, buttons, zippers, embroidery floss, spools of thread, knitting needles & crochet hooks, scissors and seam rippers ...

He could use them in his workshop for nails, bolts, screws, drill bits ... all the things that are currently either in glass jars of odd sizes (breakable = not good) or in coffee cans, which he could then use for cleaning paintbrushes and other dirty chores ...

How about all our rechargeable batteries, currently rolling around in the bottom of the kitchen drawer?  Or all those little packets of condiments that seem to accumulate out of nowhere but are so great for work lunches and picnics?

So how about you?  Do you see an empty peanut butter jar as trash?  Or as a perfectly good container?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Frugality As Applied To My Job Search

Well, I'm still waiting to hear back about the interview I had with my orange-striped hair.  I guess there's not as much urgency to fill the position as I thought, since everyone involved with the hiring is on vacation until next week! 

I did manage to find a sale on the hair coloring I normally use, so on Monday I picked up a box, re-did my hair, and was elated when it came out the way I wanted it to ... back to my original color at last!  Some people would (and have) said that coloring my hair is an unnecessary expense when I'm trying to save money, but I see it as an investment in my job search ... the alternative would be to go to interviews looking as though I'm almost ready to retire, and nobody's going to hire someone who seems that old.

On Wednesday I was back at Mom's place.  I got all her books re-shelved, but when I offered to do the china cabinet she said no, she was too tired.  So that will get done some time this coming week.  I'm sure when it's finished, she'll think of something else she wants done; I don't think she'll ever admit that she's just lonely and wants company, because that would be admitting a "weakness".  It's too bad, really, because I do enjoy her company and would go and see her every few days even without being manipulated into it.

Thursday there was a big "Hiring Fair" over at the Rec Center.  I borrowed my daughter's transit pass, since she didn't have to be at work until 5:00 p.m., followed the website's instructions to take lots of resumes and dress professionally, and was there at 9:30 a.m. since the doors were to open at 10:00 a.m.  There were already hundreds of people in line ahead of me; I heard later that almost eight thousand people showed up!  I was surprised to see most of the crowd in jeans, shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops  -  yes, it was a hot, sunny day, but some of us (myself included) made the effort to look professional ... As it turned out, we probably needn't have bothered.  Of all the exhibitors, there were only three that were offering anything I'm even remotely suited to, or interested in, and none of them were taking resumes, only giving out the website addresses to apply on-line.  Still, I don't regret making the effort.

I got home to find a message to call a shipping company I'd applied to a couple of weeks ago.  I called them back and was offered an interview for Friday!  It was quite a pleasant surprise, since I'd pretty much resigned myself to not hearing from them.  So I freshened up my other suit, polished my shoes, did my nails and eyebrows, and lay awake half the night thinking of all the questions I might be asked and how best to answer them.

The interview itself was rather short  -  about twenty minutes  -  and they did say it would be "a week or two" before I heard back from them.  So I'll give it two weeks and then call.

After the interview, I walked a block up the street to see two former co-workers who've been kind enough to be references for me.  We had a really nice visit, and one of them offered to call a friend at another shipping company on Monday to see if they were still hiring for a documents position, and if they'd be interested in seeing me.  That was really heart-warming, and I told her so!

Friday night, as always, was movie night at Mom's, with my sister.  We watched an episode of "Rumpole Of The Bailey" and thoroughly enjoyed it, and then Sister helped me carry the books Mom was getting rid of down to my car, where they went into the trunk with the rest of the stuff I'll be dropping off at the local thrift/charity store tomorrow.

The weekend has been fairly lazy, for a change.  I finally got to dig into my latest acquired-with-gift-card Robin Hobb trilogy ... I think I may have to go back and re-read the trilogy that precedes this one, just to refresh my memory of everything that leads to the events in these new books.  Funny, I always thought that if I lost my job I'd at least have time to do all the reading I wanted to, but it hasn't worked out that way.  Between the daily job search, the housework, the much bigger vegetable garden, the things I've taken on to try bringing in a little more income, the changes I've implemented at home to save money, and the frugal expand-the-office-wardrobe tactics I've adopted, it often feels as though I have less "free" time now than I did when I was employed full-time!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Playing Catch-up

Where was I?  Oh, yes, my"launch party".  It went pretty well, considering most of the people who said they'd be there suddenly had "something" come up to stop them from showing up.  About what I'd expected, though.  It's too bad more people can't just be honest enough to say "No, thanks, not my kind of thing."  The ones who did show up had a great time, and so did I.

A few days later I had my older daughter help me re-dye my hair, as my roots had grown out almost an inch and I had a job interview scheduled.  Problem was, it was originally scheduled for four days later, but they bumped it up on a few hours' notice, which gave me the morning (the interview was for 2:30 in the afternoon) to get the hair taken care of, instead of doing it over the weekend.  Panic time!  Rushed out to get the hair dye, found the store was out of what I usually use, so I picked another product by the same manufacturer that was, supposedly, the same colour.  Well, not so much ... with two hours to interview time I rinsed out my hair, looked in the mirror, and ... I looked like a tiger cub.  Yes, my dark brown hair now had ORANGE roots.  Too late to do anything but comb it, braid it back, and act like I'd done it on purpose.  I have my faults and shortcomings, but I'm not unprofessional enough to reschedule a job interview just because I'm having a bad hair day!

The interview itself, I think, went fairly well.  Usually it's pretty easy to tell after the first ten minutes whether or not it's going to go anywhere ... at this one, they kept me there talking for over an hour  -  a very good sign!  And at the very end, the HR gentleman described the tests they ask their "second interviews" to do and asked if they'd be a problem for me. Well, of course I said they wouldn't!  But I can't help wondering why he'd ask me that if they weren't seriously interested in bringing me back for the second round ... my mood right now is best described as "cautiously optimistic".  It hasn't stopped me from continuing to send out more applications and resumes, though.

June 30th was the day I was really thankful for having no reason at all to go shopping for anything.  Apparently all the malls and shopping centres were absolute madhouses as everyone and their grandma went shopping for everything you can think of, to get it all before the HST came into effect the next day.  About the only things I can think of that we still buy that might have HST applied are cat food, cat litter, toilet paper and cleaning supplies ... if there's anything else (and I will be checking), well, as far as possible we'll just stop buying whatever it is!

That was also the day our new water meter was installed.  It's too bad we won't really know until the end of next March if it was worth it.  I find I'm already being much more conscious of how much water we use, and looking for ways to cut it back.  The rest of the family thinks it's all about the money, but for me it's also about conservation and respect for our resources and our environment.

Canada Day was croquet party time at my sister's place.  Cool and cloudy, but it didn't actually rain, so we all played terrible croquet on her crazy, lumpy, unmowed back lawn and had tons of fun.  Good food, good people, lots of lemon meringue martinis, green apple martinis, and raspberry vodka punch (except for me, damn, because I was driving).  A very, very good day.

Friday and Saturday were nice, slow, lazy days.  The basics still got done, of course  -  the dishes got washed, animals got fed, and so on  -  but not much else happened.  I spent lots of time on the sofa reading and watching movies and just enjoying a little down time.

Today I was over at my Mom's for a few hours again.  All her windows are now clean, all the drapes are washed and back up, all the paintings and photos are on display again.  She'll probably want me to go back during the week to help her get all the books back onto the shelves, and her china and crystal back into the display cabinet, but then (with luck) we'll be done.

Tomorrow  -  Monday  -  I'll be back to the same old routine again.  Check all the job boards and postings, touch base with all the agencies, figure out how to make the money last all month.  The rest of the week, once all the housework and so on is done, will be spent looking for more possible ways to bring in a little extra money and maybe even hang on to a little more of what we already have.