This Solo Parent’s 10 Most Mundane Yet Creative Ways to Save Money

Ever wonder how I look so well put together and stress-free? No? Some of these are for real tips on saving money, folks! I don’t mess around 🤪

  1. Live in an undesirable neighborhood. We may know our neighborhood officers by name and may lose a few household or yard items occasionally, but did you know I have a super low mortgage in an unaffordable city and the best access to all the major highways in town? Every time a new store pops up, it’s a pawn shop or a check cashing store, not some cute coffee shop. I know some of the best drive through liquor stores in the metro area, and the parking lot of the abandoned strip mall makes a great place for riding bikes, as long as you keep an eye for cars cutting through to skip the light at the intersection. No cute coffee shop boutique yuppies are going to ever buy up property in my neighborhood, it’s a well-kept secret.
  2. Enroll in an automatic “round-up” savings account. I love this. Similar to the way the local grocery store cashier hits you up to round up by 13 cents to the nearest dollar to donate to a cause, some banks also offer this option to dump into a separate savings account. I’ve saved over $900 in 3 years. This doesn’t look as good typed out as it does in my bank account, but it’s $900 I definitely wouldn’t have saved for myself.
  3. Split sides at restaurants when you do eat out. I came across this fascinating practice when traveling to India over the years (prior to children – who can afford to travel with them?). I remember going to a small roadside restaurant with my former in-laws and watching my brother-in-law order soup “1 by 2” or “2 by 4.” I doubt any American server would clue into this lingo, but our portions are so huge here, ask for an extra plate or bowl and split it at your table. My Indian coworkers did this with their Starbucks every morning. Saved themselves a truckload of money.
  4. Have lots of low sodium canned soup on hand to resist the urge to eat out when you are too tired to cook. Our favorites are anything lentil.
  5. Don’t accept a dry squeeze as the end of a product! Cut open every bottle of any product (food, beauty, etc.) when you get towards the end and dig that sh*t out.
  6. Opt to gamble with driving a car old enough to be your great grandfather. Low or no car payments and the money you spend on repairs might not exceed what you’d pay on a new monthly car payment over a year’s time. The key word here is “might.” Try at your own risk.
  7. Enroll in something that is sent to your house for you to peruse and opt to purchase. I’ve seen people do this with makeup, athletic clothing and dog accessories. I do it with clothing. Some may argue this is not a way to save money. I think it has helped me. I receive a box of 5 clothing items every quarter. They always fit perfectly. I think it’s because everything is stretchy. I can try stuff on in my own home and send back what I don’t like. I have not gone clothes shopping outside my home in 2 years. Good riddance shopping! I hated you anyway.
  8. Order food from the grocery store online and pick it up. My brother and sister-in-law swear by this. I’ve tried it a few times. It prevents me from impulsively buying a bunch of stuff in the store.
  9. Use your exes’ phone numbers at the gas station to get the 10 cent gas discount they’ve racked up over this past month buying groceries. Just kidding. I’ve never done this.
  10. And just like it helps you lose weight, if you must eat out, because you are just too damn tired to create a meal, buy meals for your kids and pick off their plates (or out of their bags in our case). Then snack on popcorn, cuties, and cottage cheese when you get home.

Solo Parenting and 5 Secrets to Weight Loss

Just kidding.

I have no secrets to weight loss. In fact, these secrets can likely lead to weight gain.

  1. Be broke enough that when you take your kids out to eat, you can’t afford a meal for yourself.
  2. Cut gluten out of your diet when you’ve made so many sandwiches for school lunches you can’t stand the smell of bread.
  3. Co-sleep with your children and as they grow, stretch yourself into so many unnatural positions that your body burns calories as it reels in pain from awkward sleeping poses.
  4. Pay $30 a month for a gym membership that you don’t use. The stress from paying needlessly for something burns a few calories a month.
  5. Balance out the effects of extra cortisol generated by lack of sleep with a minimum of two fully caffeinated coffees per day, one for breakfast and one for lunch.

 

Solo Parenting and the Date

I went on a date recently. Nice guy. Employed, close in age, legally divorced (bonus), lives within 10 miles of me, has hair, can fix cars (also a bonus), has two young children, drives a Jeep and loves hockey. Did I say nice guy already?

As the evening wore on, I found myself trying to imagine what it would take to get to know someone. A lot of money in babysitting hours. Negotiating time to communicate when my only free time is really a small slice between 8:30 and 9 pm. Thinking up interesting conversation topics and thought provoking questions when I can’t even remember my name and where I may be sitting at any given moment. How trapped I felt when said date filled in awkward silence with “so, is there anything else you’d like to know about me?”

Guiltily, I was thinking, “No. This is the first chance I’ve had in weeks to eat without someone sitting in my lap or asking me a thousand questions or demanding a fork. I’d appreciate it if you would just shut up and let me enjoy my food.”

Instead I said, “ummm…..hmmmm….that’s a good question. I’m not sure….”

Awful response. I have to admit, I’ve been a convenience dater for the past decade. Which explains my track record of law enforcement and corrections personnel and lawyers. I’m too wiped to go anywhere to meet anyone, so I’ve been dating based on accessibility – people who work nearby at my job. Dating people in my field of work doesn’t lend itself necessarily to engaging with healthy mindsets. We’re all pretty much dysfunctional, cynical, suspicious and distrustful to some extent. The benefits are proximity and commonality. Coffee and lunches make it easy to get to know someone without paying for a sitter, and a common language and understanding of someone’s day without even having to ask, as well as some interesting and sometimes humorous material about the human condition just make getting to know someone that much easier. I’ve needed to expand the pool of candidates for some time, and this was one of my first attempts.

“The Date” aka Nice Guy said he was interested in pursuing something long term and getting to know me, in particular. He had a lot of nice things to say based on our limited conversation and exposure. At another time in my life, I may have jumped at the chance, especially since he was empathetic and could relate to having two small children (albeit only 50% for him). I’ve found that adding the fact that I’m 100% mother with two elementary-aged children to my online dating profile cuts down visits to my profile and messages from potential dates by 99.98%. Single men are just not interested in a woman who doesn’t have 3-4 days a week to go have some adult fun. Men can be so shallow.

I thought about what Nice Guy said for a couple days. Then I gave him a call and expressed that I just couldn’t afford to date and probably didn’t even have time if I could afford it. After all, I’m working an almost full-time job and have 3 part time jobs. I’ve given up the fantasy of a 4th part-time job – that of dating blog writer. There are lots of freelance opportunities out there for people who want to write about their online dating experiences. We are all voyeurs.

There you have it. My advice to myself? Quit while you’re ahead.

SUP?

I’m sitting at an intersection with my windows cracked and Jay Z and his friends busting out of my mom-mobile and a surly tow truck driver at about 2 o’clock from me looks back over his shoulder and eyes me. He is tatted from his fingertips to his eyeballs. I give him a traffic head nod like “sup?” He shakes his head and huffs then turns and takes a swig from a gallon of water in a bottle labeled Juicy Juice.

Really? Hey Juicy! You’re not so hot yourself. Don’t you know 40-something white ladies are probably one of Jay’s largest listening demographic? Lighten up. Maybe mix something stronger into your Juicy Juice.

I’m glad to have a few moments to myself after dropping the kids off at school and before I have to rush into work. How many coffees will I need today? I ponder.

What’s happening this week? I’ve been debating whether to join a softball team at work. Practices are once a week, right after work. I’m falling off the fence on the “no” side. The exhaustion that comes with figuring out who to bug to take care of my kids after school once a week is what forced me to take a hiatus from belly dancing. My job hangs in some weird balance, with a vote coming up in a month that will decide whether the unit I belong to will continue after the end of June. I’ve always taken government job security somewhat for granted. Guess what! I shouldn’t have thought this way! Your financial well-being and quality of life may lay in the hands of one senator who thinks he has come up with a brilliant idea and a legislative analyst. I’m sure this isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened…

My daughter informed me this week that I have a fourth child (I can’t figure out what happened to number 3), whose name is Kool Tooley. It turns out that I gave him away at birth and she and her brother have recently discovered his existence. My son won’t confirm or deny this story. He sits in the backseat of the car, staring out the window, while my daughter weaves fantastic stories about Kool. My son already looks like a defeated husband with selective hearing. I’m hoping that wherever Kool lives, he’s in a financially stable home because I just can’t provide for one more child if he decides to come looking for me.

My daughter is also going public more frequently with her discussions about her absent father, or “donor dad.” She is wavering between whether she will continue to harass me about his whereabouts, or if she will just adopt a father. Because if people can adopt children, then they surely can adopt fathers, too. Another tricky issue I’ve had to address with her lately is why even half siblings aren’t allowed to marry each other and have babies. I’m always too tired to explain this in a way that a 6-year old going on 18 will understand.

“Because the baby may be born with an arm growing out of his head.”

Really? That’s all I’ve got? Way to go! Currently, I’m looking for volunteers to pick up their phone when one of my children calls with a difficult question like, “Can I play on the iPad tonight?” or “What will you give me if I pick up my toys?” or “Why does that boy have long hair?” I just don’t have it in me anymore…

Play date (aka when a saint offers to host your children at her house for a few hours while you are at work)

What’s new this week? Well, my children had a play date with a family they have never visited before.

The mother picked them both up after school. Nerve wracking. What can my children do to embarrass themselves and me between 2:30 and 5:30 at a new family’s house? I was at work, holding my breath. At 4:30, I jumped out of my seat, packed up and flew out. I set my map and headed north.

How fancy will their house be? Will my children already have mentioned how much cleaner and bigger their house was than our house? I was sweating now. What is my daughter telling the mother? It was my son’s friend and my daughter was invited along, despite my warnings to the mother.

“She likes adult women. She thinks she’s a grown up too. She will talk your ear off. She might not say age-appropriate things. She likes painting. Give her some paints and some paper. She will leave you alone.”

The mom reassured me that it would be fine. She didn’t mind. I was pretty sure my daughter would be telling this mom a bunch of weird things about me and our family. Or asking her questions that were too personal.

To my relief, the strangest exchange was my daughter asking the mom if she was Jesus’ mother (they share the same name). Not bad. My daughter painted in the basement the whole time, churning out miniatures on small wooden panels. My son, along with his friend, were acting a bit like crazed maniacs when I arrived.

I immediately felt a mix of sympathy, admiration and gratefulness for this mom. She had taken on a huge risk, supervising these two squirrels, her older son, and Vincent Van Gogh junior, who might have very well cut off her own ear during the visit.

I am so thankful for people like this in my life. People who are willing, whether they realize it or not, to lend me a helping hand by welcoming my children into their home. ♥️

Was v Were

Was v were. I never thought I’d be THAT mom.

“Momma, I were at school yesterday and -” my daughter starts.

“Was. You was at school yesterday.” I’m such a jerk.

“You was not at school yesterday, I were.” Correct. I were not, you was.

“No, I WAS at school yesterday, NOT I were.” My final attempt at teaching good grammar.

Her, exasperated: “You was not at school, Momma! I were.”

Like a nightmare flashback of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” in the making. Where are the cameras? I’m being punked.

Keep in mind, my correcting her is VERY recent. I’ve listened to was/were reversals for months now.

“Momma, if Reiny and I was at school together, is it was or were?” We are on to something here. If I can’t communicate this concept, maybe with the help of a stuffed reindeer, we will be golden.

“Ahhh, yes. If there is more than one of you, it is were. If it’s just you, then it is was.” I am pleased she is making the plural form connection, which we’ve touched on a few times.

“Momma, where is Reiny?” Uh oh.

“She stepped out back to smoke a cigarette.” Me, trying to cover for the fact that I forgot Reiny at home when I came to pick up the kids. Along with their snack.

“Reiny doesn’t smoke.” Seriously? Then who is leaving their butts outside my back door?

“Then she is at driving lessons, with Alec.” I took at stab here. Last week, my daughter swore Reiny had enrolled in driver’s ed.

“Reiny hates Alec. He makes fun of her in ballet class. Plus she doesn’t drive, Momma.” This is all news to me. In fact: Newsflash. Reiny doesn’t smoke, drive or take ballet. And who is Alec? We don’t know a single person named Alec. Yet these are all things that YOU, child, have told me she is doing over the past week when I ask YOU where she is. I was just playing the game.

“Ok, baby. I have a confession. Reiny isn’t feeling well and she’s at home in my bed.” I come clean. Kind of.

“Did she throw up?”

Oh my goodness. Really?

“I don’t know baby. She were not throwing up when I left her this morning.” BAHAHAHAHA! So bad.

And now you know why I am rechecking my medications, giving up gluten, catching up on past church messages, listening to soothing classical Indian ragas and meditating like a boss. All in my free time.

The February Blob

Life is not that hard. My life, by comparison to several million people, is not that hard. I still feel like I’m under a giant crushing rock lately. I’m the blob from the depression commercial. I think it might have been the Zoloft advertisement years ago. The bubble blob that drifted through life with the serious and concerned sounding male voiceover:

“Is it hard to get out of bed in the morning?”

“Have you lost interest in the things you used to enjoy?”

“Do you cry more often?”

Do you find every single thing you encounter irritating? Do you find yourself crying when you forget your kids’ breakfast bars on the kitchen counter in the morning? Does everything, including washing two cups sitting in the sink after breakfast, feel like the most monumental of tasks?

How many days of exercise per week will it take before endorphins flood my body and make me laugh like a maniac?

Is it weird that in conversations with friends or my children or my boss, I make up the answers I want to hear from them in my head? That I’ve created an imaginary significant other with whom I chat in my head (obviously I make up his responses too, he’s perfect). That I miss belly dancing not just for the exercise and companionship but I also loved making vibrator jokes when my instructor talked about how great belly dancing is for sex?

How long does a funk last? I attended my kids’ sock hop the other night and I found myself clinging to the wall of the gym, not unlike my own middle- and high school days. I made conversation with a tall, lanky man wearing glasses who was standing beside me. I guessed he might have spent some time on the wall in those days as well. He talked to me about his divorce. Not unlike a conversation I may have had with someone else on the wall in school, minus the legalities of marriage. A friend checked in with me the next day. She thought I had looked sad. I didn’t realize I was wearing sadness. She said, “It’s understandable. You have a lot on your plate.”

So does everybody. Especially my mom and dad, when they come to visit and they are helping me catch up on 30 loads of laundry and fixing ceiling fans that have been broken for a year. I continue to need a mom and dad to take care of me. For the love of God, I’m 46 years old. I think. I can’t remember. I keep thinking I’m 45 but that may have been one or two birthdays ago.

Is this the post holiday blues? Only to last until the holiday season starts again in July? Is it pre-Valentines blues? Lord, I hate that day. I heard an idea on the radio to give people who might be suffering from a breakup or a death or just might be single and not loving it, a thoughtful gift. I’m totally going to do that.

Just writing this has brightened me up a little. It is a skill to make yourself smile, even when others watching you type away on your phone think you are a lunatic.

In just 12 hours, it will be Monday morning, the start of another work week. Thank goodness I like what I do for a living. That’s a plus. I’m going to work on gratitude this week. That’s supposed to help. ♥️

The Statue of Liberty Shows Up at the Drive Through Window of the Liquor Store, Signaling the Apocalypse

Yes I’m sober and I truly expect to write a satire tonight. I will use humor, irony, exaggeration and ridicule to expose my own stupidity and vices. I hope that it serves as some kind of catharsis, that I can just expunge all the bad feelings at once in some ceremonial way by typing the words. Join me on my ridiculous satirical journey for the next few moments, and maybe you too can find some kind of release from any stupidity occurring in your own life, preferably of your own making.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore…the homeless, tempest tossed to me…etc.” Sound familiar? Just imagine…what if the Statue of Liberty was actually embodied in several of us walking around on this planet, trying to find life partners? And at the base of our feet is written:

“Send me anyone who doesn’t have a chance with a rational human being who respects herself. I will take anyone who initially shows me some kindness and even if he eventually turns into a raging asshole, I will still give him 40 chances because Jesus hung out in the desert for 40 days before his death and I figure if Jesus can do that, then who am I to demand that he be available (mentally and legally), drug free, honest, employed, kind, or law abiding?”

And no, this is not a story about one choice, one chance encounter, or an individual. This is the norm, a pattern, of one truly impaired human being when it comes to love (can we even call it that given the severe nature of her selection handicap?).

So for now, the drive through liquor store cashier is the love of my life. He smiles and calls me sweetie, knows exactly which wine I love, always asks me how I’m doing and knows that my kids want suckers and they have to be the same color so they don’t fight. He’s married, but heck, if he were single and being that nice to me, it would be a sign of the end times.

Good night❤️

I Can’t Keep Go-Gurt in Stock

“Maybe we should go shopping tonight,” my daughter suggested as we walked in the door after returning from the after school program.

“Why shopping? What do you think we need?” I asked.

“We are out of yogurt again,” was the reply.

“Well, it’s not my problem that you and your brother consumed 16 tubes of go-gurt since we went to the store LAST NIGHT!”

“That was 3 nights ago,” says brother.

We have problems with time tracking and targeted consumption at our house. I can’t keep go-gurt in stock. Sour Patch Kids Go-Gurt flies off my refrigerator shelves like box fans at Walmart in August.

These kids get so pinpoint focused on one type of snack or food and then you can’t keep enough of it at home. I like diversity. It’s the key to a good life. With food and my kids however, the name of the game is sameness.

What’s for dinner this week?

Pancakes and sausage. We must eat this every night. If the kids come home and momma’s mixed it up with hamburgers and French fries, all hell breaks loose. This was pancakes and sausage week.

“Momma, what do you have for a snack?”

“Graham crackers.”

“I hate graham crackers. I’ve hated graham crackers forever.”

No, in fact, you haven’t. I thought we were still on graham cracker for snack week. It appears we transitioned to yogurt smoothies week and I didn’t get the memo. The kids only drink yogurt smoothies now. Graham crackers are passé. Hated even.

“Momma, can we have dinosaur chicken nuggets for dinner this week?”

Shocked. “I thought you hated those?”

Look of mild confusion on son’s face.

“No? When did I say that?”

Hm. Ok. It’s dinosaur nuggets and tater tots week. Search back of freezer for dinosaur nuggets to see if they have expired since the kids’ last love affair with dinosaur nuggets.

My freezer is full of once-loved food items, just waiting, like sad, worn toys, to be loved again by my children. Sometimes when I see expiration dates approaching, I will say at dinner time (over pancakes and sausage):

“Hey, remember those turkey meatballs that we loved to eat every night last March? Wouldn’t it be great to have those again?”

Blank stares on children’s faces.

Sigh. Looks like that bag of meatballs won’t be making a comeback before its time is up…

Swimsuit Shopping with #nofilter

In case anyone was wondering about this, don’t ever go swimsuit shopping with young children. I mean, infants through toddlers, probably just fine. But if your kids are old enough to have a vocabulary and they know how to use it, you are in trouble.

This is one of those times when I wish the fitting rooms at Target had a bar. I mean, why not? The girl staffing the place was young enough to be my granddaughter but I think they could make some accommodations to make my shopping experience more enjoyable. The prices at Target for clothing now rival Nordstrom’s or Macy’s, so I think the store could spring for classy older men and women to assist you with your shopping needs.

I was thrilled that Target had a rather decent sized collection of one pieces and tank top suits. I grabbed exactly 14 tops and bottoms and one pieces. I think there was a limit for the fitting room, but the young girl saw me and two monkeys hanging off my cart and waved me in with a gracious smile. She decided to let this one fly.

The first swimsuit tried was “too tight, momma” and both kids erupted in giggles because “we can see your boo boos, momma.”

The second: “looks horrible in the back! It is so gross! Your back looks weird.”

The third: “that is a goblin swimsuit. You look like a goblin, momma.”

And so on. 😔

We finally settled on two suits. One was a two-piece tank type thing that scored a resounding “yes” from my filterless children. The second was a one piece with cut outs that kind of zig zag through it but are still filled in with a transparent fabric. Neither child liked this one but I need a one piece for actual swimming. They thought that my “belly button looks gross, nobody wants to see your gross belly button” and that my back “looks weird.” Both in black. Because it’s a slimming color in any form of clothing, right?

I am hoping these last me at least two seasons. Or that I magically shrink two sizes and find a miracle product that smooths my belly and I can fit into those fabulous bikinis from my pre-children era.

*sigh*

My advice for swimsuit shopping: Leave the kids at home. Even if your babysitter is a 90-pound boxer pitbull mix. 😔