Wednesday, April 22, 2015

ALDI is the Answer

ParentUnplugged - ALDI is the Answer - Stacy Snyder
I can literally think of over 100 ways to save money right this very minutes:  cutting back on discretionary expenses like dining, entertainment and vacations, bargain shopping for big-ticket items likes cars and couches, turning your thermostat down/up at night when sleeping, utilizing store coupons and reward programs for discounted prices, and reviewing your budget monthly in order to better plan your future purchases.  But the easiest day-to-day, fool-proof, no-brainer advice I can give to cut costs is to grocery shop at Aldi.

ParentUnplugged - ALDI is the Answer - Stacy SnyderI don’t mean stop by after work to grab their bacon-wrapped filet mignon 2-packs for $3.99 for a cheap steak dinner date or to run in on your way to little league to pick up pre-packaged individual granola bars for $1.79 a box.  I mean to literally shop at Aldi on a regular basis as your main grocery store.  You’ll save 30-50% compared to your regular grocery store right out of of the gate, with no coupons ever required.

I know, you’ve got a ‘but’ opposition to my suggestion.  Everyone does.
But don’t you have to pay to rent a cart there?
But I can’t buy everything there.
Bagging your own groceries is ghetto.
But they don’t have good produce.
But they don’t have the name brands I buy.

I’ve found that the dissenters, for the most part, are simply looking for an excuse to kill time while trying to really figure out why they aren’t shopping at Aldi already.  Look, if you don’t need to save money on your grocery bill or if you have limitations that keep you from going, or if you just don’t want to, it’s all good.  But if you really want or need to save money and aren’t because you’re scared of change, you’re slowing your own roll. 

Yes, you put a quarter in the cart when you walk in the door, and take the quarter back when you leave the cart.  Big whoop.  

You can’t buy everything anywhere, same as with Aldi.  They carry about 1400 of the quickest-moving grocery items, plenty to choose from if you have the slightest bit of flexibility. 

Bagging your own groceries and bringing your own bags is the same as stowing your own luggage on the airplane and pumping your own gas at the station.  It’s the way of the world.  Self-checkout is available and encouraged at most every major grocery store in the country.  

Aldi’s produce is top notch and has stricter standards than most major grocery stores, so you’re getting the freshest, ripest food around, at literally half the price of other stores.  To me, the produce is one of my favorite reasons for shopping at Aldi.  It’s fresh, it’s abundant, there’s tons of options, including organic, and I save about $25/week on produce alone in comparison to Jewel, Mariano’s, Kroger, Albertsons or Winn-Dixie!  

Aldi occasionally features some name-brand foods, but the majority of Aldi’s food is private label, which is made of the same or higher quality foods as national brands.  All you have to do is try it…the proof is in the taste.

It’s that easy.  Food is food.  Buy your food at Aldi, where it costs less.  Today I got cucumbers for $.29 each and 2 bags of baby carrots for $.49 each, a bottle of private label Prosecco for $4.99, and a 12 oz loaf of fresh gluten free bread for $3.99.  It can’t get easier than that.

ParentUnplugged - ALDI is the Answer - Stacy SnyderTake it from me, who spends under $100 for my weekly food bill for a family of 4 at Aldi.  As a family, we pack lunches every day, eat at home for dinner, and take our own snacks when we’re out and about.  The same foods used to cost me $165 at Jewel-Osco.  Or take it from my Aldi tester friend, (insert any name here, as most of my cohorts now shop at Aldi) who shops for a family of 6 on a weekly basis, traditionally spending about $250-$300/week at a large chain grocery.  When she shops at Aldi for the same food and quantity, she usually spends between $150-$200.  She has officially made the switch!

Check out her competing receipts for a review.  While not all items listed are “apples to apples” price comparisons, the few that I’ve highlighted are MAJOR price differences for the exact same sizes and ingredients.  If you save on nearly every item you buy at Aldi in comparison to your national chain grocery, how on earth could you not consider shopping there?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Taking Care of Yourself Makes You a Better Parent

Taking Care of Yourself - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
You may have the best parenting intentions in the world, to create the most caring, loving, well-rounded, independent kids in the world, but that plan will fail if you don’t take care of yourself first.  Attending to your own needs, whether they be physical, mental, social, or spiritual, is healthy.  A healthy parent will lend to healthy children, as you’ll not only be better equipped to raise your kids, but you will also be giving them an example to live by.

For some, self-care comes in the form of taking chunks of time for oneself, grabbing a massage after work, or scheduling time with the local psychotherapist for regular visits or check-ups.  For others it may look like grabbing dinner or drinks with friends sans kiddos, attending church or prayer groups, working out, or honoring a sweet tooth.  Still others nourish themselves by volunteering, guarding intimacy with a spouse or beau, or stimulating the intellect through reading, solving, or creating.  

Your sustenance is your own.  Make it a point to respect it every day for a better you, which ultimately leads to a better parent. 

In the name of self-care, I’m partnering Dallas Caramel Company for a free candy giveaway!  In caring for myself a few years ago, my wife and I high-tailed it out of Texas back to Chicago, after residing there for a dazed five years, but Rain McDermott, a native Texan and owner of the company, helped make our time there palatable with both her friendship and her sweet treats!  

With 12 unique flavors to choose from, many inspired by Rain’s love affair with Dallas and its inhabitants, each creamy, chewy caramel bite offers a sweet retreat.  While I’ve been feeding my candy whims for years with Rain’s original caramels, my favorites from the sample gift batch she just sent us are Sea Salt, Drunken Nut (Texas Whiskey & Texas Pecans), and Bacon.  Most of the caramels are gluten free and all are available online, most running $12-$15 per 1/2 pound bag.

Simply click below to enter to win a free 1-lb caramel variety bag, compliments of Dallas Caramel Company.
Required disclosure:  Dallas Caramel Company will provide one randomly selected winner the caramels, valued at $24.  All opinions are my own. 

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Credit Cards are Evil

Credit Cards are Evil - Stacy Snyder - ParentUnplugged
Dr. Marten boots rock when you pay cash!
Don’t use credit cards unless you have the financial means to pay the card off in full every month.  There’s no points program in the world that’s worth carrying a balance on a credit card, as the interest, which is the fee paid for the privilege of borrowing money, no matter how low, accumulates at an alarming rate.  The minimum payment calculation equation was not created with the consumer in mind, but instead leans toward bringing in the maximum amount of interest to the creditor. 
When you leave a credit card balance unpaid in its entirety by the monthly bill date, you get charged interest on the outstanding balance.  If you continue the next month without paying off the entire balance, you end up being charged additional interest on the same balance AGAIN, as well as on the interest that was added the month before!  Effectively you’re growing your balance every day you don’t pay off the full balance.  In many cases, if a balance is strung along over many years’ time, one can end up paying more interest payments than the amount of the original credit card debt.
It’s sounds simple not to use credit cards for purchases, but it’s actually quite complex when you consider that the norms in our society include borrowing liberally to leverage our purchase power, especially when it comes to education, transportation, housing, and small business.  Basically it’s financial peer pressure.
I was given the basics as a child.  I learned to make money early-on by watching my mom take odd jobs to come up with enough money to make ends meet in our household.  Not just any job, but jobs that she could complete while still attending to my sister and I, as well as all our activities, i.e. Living Large.  She worked as a part-time secretary in the mornings, and conducted market research studies on Playboy magazine readers who “just liked the articles” on weekends so she could cart me around to play practices and auditions after school.  She walked door-to-door during the daytime verifying contact information for local phone directories so that she could attend my sister’s tennis matches in the afternoons, and she secret shopped and sampled products at stores during high-traffic hours so that she could pick us up from school and take us to the counter at Kresge’s dime store for a burger at lunch occasionally.  I may have had an allowance as a child, but with my first part-time job in my early teen years, I quickly got the idea of making my own money.  I also quickly learned that I could only spend so much on clothes and candy and outings before my wallet or bank account was empty.  Those years were fun and simple when it came to money….work more or spend less if you wanted to save for something big.
Credit Cards are Evil - Stacy Snyder - ParentUnplugged
Then college came around and despite taking years of trigonometry and calculus in high school and establishing financial independence with the money I’d earned from my part-time jobs, I had never been exposed to the concept of credit and interest.  I just knew you couldn’t spend what you didn’t have…that is until I strolled through the line of credit card vendors in the commons that first week of college.  “Buy it today and pay it off later,” they flaunted as they handed me my free dorm-room-shower-caddy for opening up a revolving credit account at 21% interest.  “Establish your own credit history,” they boasted, and I was fished-in on the independence reel.  I started using the cards for little things just to use it….a movie at the 400, a pack of smokes, or a few books for school, but soon it turned into bus tickets to visit friends for the weekend, a pricey pair of Dr. Marten’s, and a tattoo to match the image.  The purchases added up and the interest began compounding; the bills started showing up at an astonishing pace.  
I’d pay this one with the little money I had at the time and hope nothing else showed up until I got my next work-study paycheck or made a few bucks typing papers for fellow classmates.  Never once did I sit down and write out a budget of what little money I was actually bringing in on my full-time student and part-time employee status or what large amounts of money I was spending in the little time I had between work and class and homework and partying.  Had I done that I might have been able to balance out the scales early in the game. I had no concept of interest. While I could easily calculate the interest rate into dollars on the balance, I didn’t get the idea that the unpaid balance left each month after the minimum payment was made would just keep getting re-penalized monthly, compounding to the balance, ultimately increasing your balance each day.  I just kept running, trying to make more money to pay more debt.  Creditors’ reminder calls started coming in as I got behind on payments and soon escalated to threats of home-visits and repossession of purchases.  While dreaming up new ways to dodge the calls and throw off the creditors provided hours of free entertainment to my roommates and me, it was actually super stressful, extremely overwhelming, and sometimes downright scary.
Ultimately I turned my personal finance situation around, but I continued to feel the social pressure of leveraging my purchase power with extended credit well into my 30’s.  I was challenged to “stretch” on the mortgage of our properties by lenders and “trade up” on the car for just an extra hundred a month, and even to finance my cell phone for mere pennies extra each month.  I look back now and can’t believe the thousands of dollars I wasted on unnecessary interest payments because of the need for status and instant gratification. 
Had I not calculated my interest expenses in a budget, though, I might not have come to my senses enough to stop using credit cards unless I can pay the balances off in full.  It all comes back to budgeting, which is part planning and part monitoring.  If you can see what you’re spending, you can see where you can cut expenses, and high interest payments, which provide you with zero return, are a glaring example of what to add to the chopping block.
When it comes to purchasing, cash trumps credit cards.  Buy what's important to you, spend what you can afford, live within your means, and ix na the credit cards.   They can lead to financial disaster if not completely understood.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Money Smart Week in Chicago

Money Smart Week - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
Many of you have asked me for resources on how to succeed in the financial rat race.  On your mark, get set, GO: Money Smart Week in Chicago is your answer!  FREE live and online classes will be offered in the city of Chicago the week of April 18-25, 2015, on a slew of financial topics ranging from Retirement Savings to Women and Money to Cost-Saving Tips for Homeowners.  

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s public awareness campaign, is designed to help consumers of all demographics better manage their personal finances. Money Smart Week programming takes place all over the US through the collaboration and joint effort of hundreds of organizations across the country.

Become a Budget Superstar, Understanding Medicare, How to Stretch a Buck, Energy Savings, Implications of Same Sex Marriage, Wills and Trust, Credit Repair, How to Start a Business with Very Little money, Love and Money, Property Tax Appeals, are but just a few of the incredible classes offered.  For a list of classes in Chicago and Illinois, click here.  For a complete list of classes across the country, click here

While you may have a general idea of how your child’s college will be payed for, if you’re not 100%, check out Smart Money Week’s Learn How to Pay for College, where you can get online tutorials on Starting the Process, Understanding Student Loans and Grants, and Borrowing Responsibly.

Bottom line:  do not miss the opportunity to get the information you need about your finances.  You will be Living Large in no time!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

How Do You Spell Relief?

How Do You Spell Relief - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
Hooray!  The freakin' PARCC, a controversial new standardized testing system, is over as of yesterday in our school.  Did the sky fall?  Nope.  Did the opposers make a dent?  I don’t know.  Do the proponents feel vindicated? I don’t know.  Do I care?  Nope.  Am I curious about the results of the tests for my child?  Not really. 

I more just wanted it to be over so people would “stifle it” as Archie Bunker would say, as I heard some of the craziest comments come out of people’s mouths and experienced more than a few awkward “ice breakers” trying to lure me into conversation about an issue I care absolutely nothing about.  Here’s some fun examples:

Parent (and School):  “I let my kids decide if they wanted to take the test or not.”

Initially it sounded insane to me to ask your kid if they want to take a test or not, DUH….NO.  I’m envisioning the fast-forward button pushed where grown children who were given and took the chance to opt-out of PARCC testing, were up for an interview at a company where personality/admin/financial/whatever testing needs to be administered as part of the screening process and candidates says, “I’m going to choose not to take the test.”  That’s a surefire way to take yourself out of the running for said job.  To be fair, I’ve turned down testing myself (only drug) on occasion in my young adulthood, as the timing wasn’t right, but it wasn’t because my parents taught me I could choose if I wanted to be tested or not….I just knew I would fail, which is another whole issue in itself.  As a follow-up, most of the parents’ kids who had been given the option without any parental nudging (at least of people that I know), actually chose to take the test. Might our kids have a better appreciation of the testing’s importance than we do? Could be.

Parent:  “I’m not having my child take the test because it’s conducted with paper and pencil, and that’s nothing like the real weighted test next year, so it’s not considered good practice.”

“A sphincter says what?” as Wayne Campbell would say.  Do we not still use paper and pencil in this world?  Might the opportunity ever arise when our children might need to use a writing utensil in a pinch to get their point across?  Might they benefit from the lesson of flexibility when it comes to testing, and everything else for that matter, as many times in life you don’t get what you expect, and isn’t that when character comes out….how you handle change?  Additionally, the subject matter of the test is the same, regardless of the vehicle to assess the topics.

Parent:  “They’re hiring test scorers on Craigslist!  Grading won’t be done properly by people making $11/hour.”

Wow.  Do you need the president to grade your kids’ test?  Seriously, did you ever make $11/hour and if so, what did you do?  Was it important or not?  I’ve never had an unimportant job and I can assure you I’ve completed some tough tasks for $11/hour and moved on to $12/hour, then $15/hour and so on.  Do you know that many of the people in Chicago, cripe, people living in this neighborhood even, make about that hourly rate?  Would you not feel a parent from this neighborhood capable of grading your childrens’ tests, if trained to do so?  On another note, Craigslist is still a great place to find employees and jobs, and that’s ll the grading is….a job.  End of story.

Parent:  “Are you having your kids take the PARCC?” 
Another Parent:  “No.  I don’t have any issue with it.”
Parent:  “I didn’t either until everyone started sending emails, posting social media warnings about it, and lobbying at school and in the media for other parents to join forces against it.  Now I don’t know what to do.”
Another Parent:  “Well what do you think now about the test?”
Parent:  “It doesn’t bother me, but I’ll probably opt out because everyone else is.”

I have no sidebar on this other than JONES is probably not your last name, so quit trying to act like one.

Look, I’m not trying to stir the cauldron here on an issue that is finally lying peacefully, at least for this week, at the bottom of everyone’s laundry list.  I just want to point out that regardless of all the pros and cons and lobbying and digging in heels over the testing issue, it’s over and it didn’t kill anyone, at least no one that I know of.  From my vantage point, the kids were happy for some candy in the classroom (another issue to throw people off the deep end) and a break from the unending homework (go ahead, you know you want to jump back on the homework is evil train).

Shall we just relish together in the fact that this is over for now and our kids were left unscathed and we’re left without anything to talk about?  That’s how I spell relief!  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Community is About Participation

Community is About Participation - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
Scene from Hoosiers
Most of us are part of various communities, whether we want to be or not, based on our affiliations, associations, and sometimes just the physical location where we live.  Some of us simply exist in the communities, many participate, and still others take leadership roles within the groups.  We all usually reap the same benefits and suffer the same hardships bestowed on the group at large.  It’s an honor system of sorts, you do right by your clan and they do right by you.  Yet some are weary of taking lest they have to give.  But community is not about tit for tat, as in a monetary system.  Community is about taking ownership of the success of the whole group, which includes helping those individuals in need within the social unit, and accepting a leg up yourself when you’re not able to go another mile on your own.  Sometimes you give, sometimes you take, sometimes you go stretches without doing either one, but you do it all without ever expecting a payout or an IOU hanging over your head.  

Being part of a community has always been important to me as an individual.  From a young age, I actively gravitated toward specific groups that shared similar interests, likes student athletes, performers, and practical jokers.  I didn’t want a label, I just enjoyed talking and sharing stories and ideas with other like-minded individuals.  I felt part of something larger than myself, and while I felt no obligation to contribute to the individual communities, I WANTED to, so I did.  In turn I just naturally experienced lots of good will from the groups and their members.  

As I got older, the investment in the communities I submerged myself in became greater, yet the yield was more than I could even measure.  The time, energy, and loyalty I gave to the radio broadcast community, the gay community, and later my work community in real estate was substantial, yet I attribute almost every win during those time periods to a collaboration between me and my clan.  Without the support and camaraderie of my tribes, my success is uncertain, as I am only one man, with limitations and faults.  Yet as a participant in a group, even a small one at that, my accomplishments echo for days and my failures are absorbed and put into perspective without complaint.   

While I never thought much about my natural attraction to communities, now as a parent, even a two-parent, above-average wage-earning household in an affluent neighborhood filled with what can only be described as “white people problems," I thank my lucky stars every day for the various communities that support, nurture, and provide direct friendship and care to me and my family.  While I am completely capable of surviving on my own, I would never want to because my life would be sub-par.  Who would pick up my kids when I’m running late, drop me at the train station on the way our of town, or leave chicken soup at my door when I was sick?  Who would shovel my walkway in an unexpected snowstorm or pay the babysitter when I’m out of cash or let the roofer in when I’m at work?  Who would invite me over when I need a break from my spouse or family or keep my kids overnight when I have to attend to an emergency?

I simply don’t think I’d be able to do it on my own, at least without questioning if there is a God or a point to this life.  

I know it takes courage to give of yourself, lest your trust be shattered.  It also takes faith to take of what is given to you, as it’s really not about your worry over a tally sheet, but acknowledgement that you are not perfect, are not able to be in 3 places at one time, and are not SuperMan/Woman, because that shit ain’t real.  It’s about surrendering to the idea that we are not in complete control of our lives and that we all need to “get by with a little help from our friends.” 

Take a leap of faith today.  Ask someone for a hand.  Offer a kind word or assistance to someone “just because.”  Build a bridge of trust.  Your community is what you make of it. Think you don’t have a natural community?  I bet you do.  What about your fellow pre-/grade-/middle-/high school parents,  your daily carpool counterparts, and the neighbors that live around you, they are all examples of community by association.  Co-workers in your department, people you wave to on your morning walk or Starbucks run, or the members of your support group.  We all have a basic connection with our unique groups and people in them based on repeated exposure, whether it be through work or kids or shared interest.  We have a choice, though, whether we will participate in that community around us.  

Community is About Participation - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
Maybe you don’t crave social outlets or collaboration or belonging…you like to be on your own and do your own thing.  Okay, that’s cool.  Then seek out other people like yourself that pride themselves on being in control, even though we all know you’re not, and join forces with them.  The specific group you surround yourself is not nearly as important as the act of participating within a group at all, even if just by association.  Fake it to make it if you have to.  The odds of you accidentally giving of yourself to your posse or accepting aid by default that you incidentally need will increase exponentially just by bridging the gap with people and accepting the tie that binds you.

What do you have to lose?  Maybe a little time or energy.  What do you have to gain?  A potential lifeline that keeps you afloat.  It’s worth the tradeoff in my book.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Hands Free Mama Giveaway!

ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder - Hands Free Mama Giveaway

Many of you already follow Rachel Macy Stafford’s blog and are in tune with her Hands Free Journey of letting go of distractions and perfection in order to live a fuller life based on what really matters.  I was fished in, hook line and sinker, after reading just one paragraph a few years ago in one of her posts, which highlighted the impression your kids and the people around you get when you’re busy working, playing, or talking on your mobile device in their presence.  It went something like this:
  • Whatever you’re doing on your phone is more important than me
  • You are my model and you are showing me how I should use my own cell phone
If you haven’t checked out her HandsFreeMama site, I would highly recommend you doing so immediately.  It completely changed my outlook on life, and my behavior soon followed suit. Stafford’s first book was recently published and it instantly hit the New York Time’s Best Seller List.  

Hands Free Mama details the pitfalls of multi-tasking all the time, adding to the already warped pace of our world.  It provides an easy guide to just setting down the technology and going “hands free,” even if just for small bits at a time until you are able to fully confront your addition.  The result is re-establishing honest-to-goodness live interactions with people and rediscovering those things that are near and dear to your heart by being fully present.

One lucky reader will receive a FREE copy of Hands Free Mama, compliments of Zondervan. 

Required disclosure:  Zondervan provided the book, valued at $15.95.  All opinions are my own.  I will provide the randomly selected winner the paperback Hands Free Mama book.

Simply click below to enter.

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