NO SPENDTHRIFTING THIS YEAR – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Spendthrift

There was a time when “spendthrift” meant spending too much money for something that wasn’t necessary. This was when we were both working and earning good salaries. Summer vacations were when we really spent money.  Great restaurants, jewelry, clothing, hotels, airfare. We worked hard. We deserved it. We still work hard, for our age and we still deserve it.

Back deck Vineyard house. Did a lot of drinking back there. Eating. And reading. It used to have a huge rope hammock.

We did most of our summering on Martha’s Vineyard. We shared a house with a lot of other people — which made it sort of affordable. At the end of the season, everything went on sale, so I would buy all the Christmas presents in August on the Vineyard. People got interesting stuff.

Vineyard house – Originally part of the New York Yacht Club. The house where we stayed before it was restored.

Now we don’t go to the Vineyard — and we also don’t give much in the way of Christmas gifts, either. If someone really needs it, we can’t afford it. If we can afford it, they don’t need it.

Basically, these days, being a spendthrift would mean spending any money for anything unrelated to fixing the house. There’s no “fun money” lying around. Being a spendthrift was a lot more fun than being “house poor.” Although I dearly love our new bathroom, I wouldn’t object to a vacation, either.

I was a lot younger, too

I’d like to get some good graphics software for my MacBook Air, but all the good “full service” software that normally works on a Mac won’t work on this one. The MacBook Air is the lightest weight “real” computer made. It’s incredibly light. To make it so lightweight,  Mac removed a lot of stuff.  It weighs less than my more solid (older) 10-inch Kindle with its Bluetooth speaker. It also has a very small hard drive (half a gig SSD) and it feels kind of fragile. I’m very protective of it because I don’t think it would survive a serious fall onto a hard surface.

I wanted it so I could process photos while we were out of town. Without hauling the big Dell which weighs like a cinderblock. As it turns out, I can’t do it anyway. Either the hard drive is too small and the application won’t fit, or it doesn’t have the right graphics processor. Everything in the machine is rather miniature. It wouldn’t make much of a difference if it weren’t for photography. Photographs use a LOT of space.

I’ve been saved from myself. Most of what I want doesn’t exist.

Left: Bonnie, Right: Gibbs

Except for the vacation. I’d really like a long vacation. But we’ve got three dogs, two of whom are getting old. I’m not comfortable leaving them for long periods of time.

Never mind. We’ll save tons of money and enjoy that new shower!

I WILL WORK FOR FOOD BUT NOT PIZZA – Marilyn Armstrong

I’ve had enough pizza. I like it, mind you, but I’ve had an awful lot of it. Especially since we discovered frozen pizza we can throw in the counter oven. DiGiorno’s sausage made with marinara sauce is my favorite. It tastes pretty good. The dogs appreciate the crusts, too.

There is a rumor, perpetuated by television shows, that bloggers earn a living. Someone in Hollywood thinks people like me make money doing this. I am depressed to admit it, but not one cent have I ever made from this site — not counting the occasional free book for review.

I don’t advertise on this site. In fact, I pay WordPress to not put their advertisements here. My dream is not to monetize my site, but be such an incredible writer that the world will shower me with money — just because I’m me. I won’t have to ask, and I will owe nothing to anybody. And I could pay the bills! Yes!

Money for nothing. It brings tears to my eyes.

Somewhere, some blogger must be making money on his or her site, but I don’t know them. I’ve been around the world, blog-wise. I have yet to see a single blogger bringing in the big bucks. A few people have tried to at least keep even by putting advertisements on their sites, but the amount of money this earns them wouldn’t add up to a good meal in a mediocre restaurant. Moreover, advertising annoys readers. Sites with spammy ads and weird pop-ups make me want to go somewhere else.

Since the Internet remains one of the last, free places on earth, that’s what I do. I go elsewhere.

I don’t do this for money. I don’t even do it in the hopes that someday it might make money.

I don’t run advertisements, have no connections to any organization who will pay me for anything. I get offers for free applications for an “honest review,” but between the lines I read “positive, glowing review.”

I turn them down. “Money for nothing” is a delightful dream and that is all it is.

If for some obscure reason, you want to buy me off? You’ll have to do a lot better than any offer I’ve yet gotten. I’m sure everyone has a price, so I probably have one too, but no one has come close to meeting it.

Please, feel free to keep trying!

Meanwhile, there will be no big money coming from this blog. Not without a humongous payoff. That life of luxury? Waiting in the wings.

ANOTHER YEAR ON A FIXED INCOME- Marilyn Armstrong

We got our taxes done.

This used to be a big deal because we got so much money back at the end of the year. Then Reagan changed everything and we got back less than half we’d gotten in the past. Now, on a fixed income, we get pretty much the same thing every year.

This year we got a little more Federal, a little less State, but the result was essentially the same as last year.

Not a big deal, but it beats out nothing. It’s the only “lump” of money we get all year and I’m hoping it’ll be enough to get the chimney fixed.

I’m still a little punchy with the upcoming fix up to the bathroom and trying to snip whatever payments I can downward so that maybe we can get through this alive. Getting out of AT&T and into US Mobile brought $40/month back into our account. I’ve got a few almost finished accounts and when they are done, we’ll have another $100 maybe?

It’s the fixed income thing.

Prices go up, but income never goes up. We haven’t had crazy inflation, yet the price of food has been slowly rising. Heating oil has risen. Trash went down a little, but taxes went up too. And somehow, our “low-end” cable package keep crawling upward. A dollar here, two dollars there, another five in that corner.

We dumped cable and got “YouTubeTV” and haven’t looked back. Of course, we still have to keep paying Charter for Wi-Fi and somehow, the price of Wi-Fi is now more than our original cable bill was. Funny how that works.

We don’t get “big hits” of income change, either positive or negative — but over time, since we’ve been on a fixed income, it has eroded by 15%, give or take maybe another 5%. That’s with low inflation, mind you. If inflation rises faster, we will be in trouble.

There is nothing to be done about it … other than winning Mega Millions of course. I suppose we should buy a ticket. Just in case.

THE DAY WE WON IT ALL … WELL, NOT EXACTLY – Marilyn Armstrong

THE FISCAL DREAM

I just won $1,000,000,000 — that’s one billion dollars — from the lottery. It is a bit mystifying since I don’t remember buying the ticket, but I’m not going to argue the point.  

What’s next?


So there we were watching the news. Trump. Mueller. Some moron fell into the Grand Canyon trying to take a selfie. And then there’s this guy who just won the Lottery. Again. He won $10 million ten years ago and he just won ANOTHER million yesterday.

You don’t believe in luck? Really? AND he bought each ticket in a different location. I want some of his ‘not luck’ because whatever it is, I want a piece.

Winning the lottery is a major fantasy here on the Kachingerosa. I don’t know about you, but I can lull myself into a pleasant sleep imagining what I’d do if a huge amount of money — so much that I don’t even have to count how much I’m spending — were to come my way.

The only time I inherited money was when my father died. It turned out to be exactly enough to fix our dying septic system — and a new camera. It had to have been just about nine years ago because that’s when I had cancer.

The money and cancer arrived simultaneously. Everything has a price, it would seem.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

It was the defining moment of my unfortunate relationship with my father. He was much too dead for me to thank him, but it was the single nicest thing he ever did for me. No longer being alive, he could not, this once, ruin it with a lot of snarky not-funny jokes at my expense.

Home

After the executors finally coughed up a check, we had the septic system repaired. This meant we wouldn’t have to abandon the house and live in the car. We should have had the well done at the same time, but who knew it was going to pack it in? Anyway, it wasn’t enough money.

falling-money

With no windfall or backup money, we’ve been paying things off.

But with a billion dollars … well, that would turn the tide. I could pay everything off, knock this house down and build a new one suitable for we aging folks.

A flat house. No stairs. Insulated windows. New heating and cooling systems built in. New bathrooms with great showers.

Two new cars. The non-winter vehicle will be something entertaining and sporty. When bad weather comes, our little sports coupé goes into the garage. The second car will be our winter truck, an all-wheeler that can plow through snow drifts and laugh.

Oh and an extra-large garage. Enough room for the cars we use and at least one we might want to use. Sometimes. AND room for the other “stuff” like snowblowers and lawnmowers and rakes and brooms and weed-whackers. A powerful generator so we can stop being terrified of wind and snowstorms.

Huge closets. Huge. Someone to come in and clean — and a cook!

How about a garden tractor? We’ll have a guy tend the gardens, clear away the leaves in the autumn. Run heavy errands which involve hauling and lifting — groceries for example.

We won’t forget our friends and family. We’ll make sure everyone we care about has what they need. Maybe we’ll have a compound so we can live in close proximity. Visit without driving long distances.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Beyond this? Security for whatever years we have.

Life won’t have to be so hard. We can grow old and enjoy ourselves without wondering what weird laws the government will pass or which strange new rules will make it impossible to get medication. It won’t buy us more time on earth — money doesn’t matter when your number is up — but it could make the time we’ve got more fun.

More fun for us and for our friends and family. Maybe for you, too.

BARTERING – THE COUNTRY WAY – Marilyn Armstrong

Bartering may be “old style” in the U.S., but I think that’s just in cities. Because in the country, a lot of bartering still goes on. The countryside … where the cows outnumber people and only the horses look fat and happy.

July - Farm Stand

“I’ll write your brochure if you’ll frame a couple of pictures.” Done!

“I’ll clean your kennel if you’ll groom my Scottie.” Done!

But then there are the old-fashioned people. “I’ll plow your driveway because you are a member of our church, even though you never show up. How about I dig you out — and you come to church this Sunday?” A bargain is a bargain. He didn’t require we come every Sunday, right?

The steeple of the now-abandoned UU church in Uxbridge. Built in the mid-1800s, it’s getting pretty shabby. Might be earlier, but I’m not sure.

“Sweetie, I’ll buy your prom dress and all the trimmings. All I want from you are a couple of hours to take some nice pictures of you all dressed up and ready to go.” Done and done! Until she decides to not go to the prom at all (long story).

“God? Hello up there? If you make my cancer go away, I’ll attend church every week. Forever!” Unfortunately, God didn’t say anything. Fortunately, cancer was remitted by surgery.

When you negotiate with The Big Guy Up There, you’ve got to hope he’s listening. Faith is the coin of exchange. You believe, he delivers. Or not.

Personally, I think one, loud, direct, incontrovertible Word from The Big Guy would go a long way to turning this nasty old world of ours into a better place, especially if accompanied by a major smiting. The “blind faith” thing is getting a bit old.

LOSING YOUR JOB WITHOUT LOSING YOUR MIND – Marilyn Armstrong

A lot of people figure that everyone “retires” on their own terms in their proper time. That hasn’t been true in our world. Certainly not in Garry and my world. Garry lost his job because the company he worked for decided to move on without “the old guy.” I lost my job because my bosses son needed one.

Many of the people I know were “laid off” which feels exactly the same as getting fired, except there’s no legal reason for it. They just feel like doing it. In Garry’s case, it was clearly age-related. In mine, it was just smarmy.

I’ve known at least half a dozen people who got forced out of jobs they’d held for as long as 40 years. They had no preparations for retirement, no significant saving, and no plans. They all figured they’d work until they hit the official “date” … but it didn’t turn out like that. Not even close.


All the awards you want … but no pension you can live on.


Garry, after 31 years at channel 7, was shown the door in literally five minutes. When he came home, he looked like he’d been bludgeoned. I should mention that Owen lost his job during the same week. It was a hell of a week.

I hadn’t been at that job for very long, but the boss had me “showing the kid” how to do the job. Sneaky. I was in my 60s. There wasn’t another job waiting for me and I was ill.

For two years, we lived on what Garry got as his union payout. No medical insurance — and I kept getting sicker. He was miserable too. He was terribly depressed and demoralized — while I was wondering if I was going to die.

He went to rehab. I found a doctor who would treat me for free and actually invented a surgery to “fix” me because I was very broken. We had no money. To keep afloat for those two years before Garry got his pension and I got disability, we refinanced the house multiple times which bloated the mortgage payment to an impressive amount we couldn’t pay. There was the HARP Program — which Obama started. The problem? The bank didn’t have to let you into the program. Great program, but all you could do was beg. Weird, right?

I had been negotiating with them for months. When finally I got cancer in both breasts, I called and said, “Well, now I have cancer. Can we please get into the program?” I think I actually shamed a banker because a couple of months later, our mortgage payment dropped by $1000 a month. That was the beginning of survival.

I found a doctor who treated me for free. A hospital that never asked for payment. A bank program that cut our mortgage in half. Finally, Garry started getting Social Security and his (very small) pensions … and I finally got Social Security Disability. We went from having no money (blessings on food banks everywhere) to almost being able to make it through a month.

I remember the day when we no longer needed the food bank. It was a small, but meaningful triumph.

Garry stopped drinking. I didn’t die.

These days, when I hear how people are melting down over getting laid off from their jobs and basically losing everything. I’m sympathetic … but mostly, I figure they’ll get over it. Not immediately. Eventually.

You have to get over it. It’s a terrible time. We went for two years without any income. None. Zero. Nothing. Whatever little we had put away disappeared. Somehow, we survived and damned if I know how. I got any help I could from anyone who gave help. I don’t even know how I did it.  We are both alive — and we still have the house. At some point, Mass Health (our version of Medicaid) kicked in. It was the idea on which Obama built his medical plan.

It was designed by our Republican governor. That’s one of many reasons it baffles me that the GOP has been so against it. It was their program.

When this was taken, I weighed 93 pounds. An XXS was too big for me. I wore a size zero and it was loose. It was not an attractive look.

Most people don’t get to retire like in the movies, with or without the gold watch. We get ditched, usually around age 59, typically 6 months before pensions fully vest.

For all of you who got dumped because you got “too old,” yes it was illegal to let you go. It’s call ageism, but it’s done all the time. You can sue, but unless you’ve got money to live on while you sue, by the time you get paid off — and you will get paid off — you’ll be up to your lip in debt.

Did we have mental meltdowns? Sure we did. That’s why Garry needed rehab. I would have been more melted down, but I was trying to save my life and it was sheer luck I bumped into a doctor who introduced me to another doctor who took me in. I was days from my demise by then.

I developed a sort of yellow-green complexion. Which was also not very attractive

If you have had a life calamity and everything gets taken away, it will take a couple of years before you pull yourself together. It’s not just your finances that take a hit. Your soul gets maimed. Your self-esteem goes down the tubes.

When anti-medical care legislators say “no one dies from lack of medical care,” that’s bullshit. Lots of people die without care. They don’t get written up because they aren’t in the hospital or seeing a doctor. They just die. Kids, old people, and all the others in the middle.

Why am I talking about this?

Because those of us who had this terrible disaster overwhelm us need to know we aren’t alone. It wasn’t just us. It’s lots and lots of people many of whom used to be solidly middle class before their world collapsed.

So try to remember one thing:


It gets better. Somehow, some way, it gets better.


JUST ANOTHER MEANINGLESS XMAS ZOMBIE EVENT – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt: Xmas Zombies

So I was going to check into my bank and see if a particular payment had gone out. Instead of getting my account, it asked me how I wanted to get my access code.

Access code?

Yes, access code. Do I want as a text or a phone call? I selected a phone call.

I don’t do text. In fact, the last time (a few days ago) I tried to text. I couldn’t remember how.

Pathetic? Absolutely, but there it is. I don’t text and I don’t remember how to text and I have never felt that my failure to text disenfranchises me from citizenship. However, Bank of America seems to feel that anyone who doesn’t have a smartphone isn’t American and shouldn’t be allowed to use their own bank account. Because they called me on the phone and their calling robot told me I had to text the data back.

Did I mention that I don’t text?

I tried to enter the access code in the field and it told me it was the wrong number, probably because I had typed it on the computer and did not text it using a smartphone.

I breathed slowly. Then, I called the number they give you if you are having trouble with your access code. They said ON THE SCREEN, “When you get to the menu, ask for an agent.” Which I did.

After which the robot wanted my bank card number, my social security number, my account number, and the name of my best friend. All of which I supplied and none of which they recognized. Probably because I didn’t type the information on a smartphone.

You see, I DID have an iPhone. When I was working. And I needed one. But I’m not working now and it’s just a big expense that I use once in a blue moon when we are lost on the road to someone’s house! If they want to give me the phone and PAY for it, then I’ll have one. Until that time, stop jerking me around.

Eventually, I got a person by declaring that I had “lost everything” including my checkbook, bank card, and social security number. The human had no idea why they even wanted all this information because there was no problem with my account. She assumed BOA was helpfully making my account “less hackable.”

They’ve been hacked twice. I keep track of this stuff.

She gave me a new access number after which I tried to enter my PIN, but the field blanked out when I typed there. So she asked for my driver’s license number and I pointed out, to the best of my knowledge, they don’t have that number. She said: “Just the one you had when you signed up with the bank.”

“That was more than 10 years ago,” I pointed out. “Massachusetts has since issued entirely new cards with different numbers. Did you think that in all this time we’d still be carrying THE SAME DRIVER’S LICENSE?”

By now I’m shouting at the phone. I have lost it.

Garry finally asked me, “What’s going on?”

“NOTHING IS GOING ON,” I yelled.

Literally. Nothing was going on. The bank was helping me avoid future hackers by making it impossible for me to use our account. Which is where all our money is. And through which I pay all our bills.

The lady to whom I was speaking said she had no idea what was going on or why, but assured me she was going to escalate the issue. I said I wasn’t interested in her work problems. I wanted to be able to use my account right now, not tomorrow or the day after. How long did she think the credit card people were going to wait to get paid before I’m considered in default? Like … a minute maybe?

She reminded me that this was an attempt by BOA to improve their security.

It certainly made it impossible for ME to use the account. No idea if hackers would be daunted, but I was dying. She explained — again — that there was no problem with my account.

I said that just because I don’t use a smartphone doesn’t mean I’m not an American. As far as I know, using a smartphone is voluntary, not a legal requirement. Making it impossible to use my account without a smartphone probably IS illegal and I was getting really angry and if this wasn’t resolved right now, I was going to do something I’ve been avoiding for years.

Change banks.

It’s not that I love BOA. They are just your basic evil representative of billionaires oppressing the working class, but they are located right next to the grocery. The bank I’d rather use doesn’t have a location in Uxbridge or any other nearby town. The nearest bank is more than 20 miles away. Back to Bank of America.

So the kind lady gave me an access code.

I entered the code in the field. Then it asked for my PIN, but when I entered it, the field stayed blank. It refused to let me enter the PIN number because — are you ready? It only accepts that information if you type it on a telephone. A smartphone. ONLY a smartphone.

By now, it’s nearly an hour later and I am seething.

Eventually, their server decided my knowing my best friend’s name was enough to get me into my bank account. It stopped asking me for my PIN but did require my bank card number. It also required my birthdate. And the name of the first car I bought with my own money. And its color.

I was really glad it stopped before asking about the upholstery because I don’t remember it. It was 1977. It’s possible I intentionally forgot because I have a vague memory of it being seriously ugly. Green plaid? Something like that.

Now, I can use my account. Until the next time, when they decide to foil hackers by making me yell at a telephone robot for an hour or two.

Merry Christmas. We’ve foiled the hackers. I’m sure of it.