Thursday, January 29, 2015

Can't afford someone to shovel or plow?

I've been hearing good things around the neighborhood and on social media about SnowCrew. In short, it's a site where people can make requests for shoveling and plowing, and people who are looking to volunteer can go and help.

I have long been a fan of the barter system. It creates ways for people who can't work traditional jobs to get goods and services. So, if you're physically unable to shovel or need to be inside caring for someone, use SnowCrew to get some help, then pay it forward. Got a car that needs to be shoveled out? Can you use your car to do some errands for other neighbors, or transport materials for a nonprofit? Or do a post office pickup or dropoff for someone who works business hours? Can you watch someone's children or parents? Take an elder to an appointment? Do some computer work for someone who doesn't have a computer or doesn't know how to use one? Teach someone a skill? We all have something to offer.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dollar Tree makes me happy

I should really keep track of how much I save buying various things at Dollar Tree. I seriously love that place. I just got a pair of scissors there for, well, a dollar, obviously. They're nice, sturdy scissors that work well. At any other store they would be at least two or three dollars for the exact same thing. While some of the stuff there is just utter crap, it's worth it to buy things like this which are really the exact same things you'd by elsewhere, only without the overhead of a nicer store.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Yet another article on how hard rich people in Boston have it

© Jeff Durham
Now, don't get me wrong; of course I know it's expensive to live in Boston. I have a blog about being broke, after all. But this article is just aggravating me. Someone can't afford the median rent in Boston if they don't make $100,000 a year? Really?

First, the article lists the median rent at $2497 per month. That seems high. The article says it was based on rents on Zillow. Now, I love Zillow, mostly for, well, window-shopping for homes I'll never be able to afford, and, uh, maybe checking to see how hooked up some of my neighbors in their fancy homes are. But while Zillow is probably the best aggregator of homes for sale and for rent (it pulls from Craigslist and so forth), it still is only going to have homes that people are putting on the public market. Especially in working-class neighborhoods and communities primarily of color, people prefer to rent (and often even to sell) through word of mouth, to people they know and who are members of their community.

Also, let's talk about what a median is; think back to math class, where you learned (and promptly forgot?) that it's the middle number in a set. So, a median rent of $2497 means half the rents in Boston are higher than that and half are lower. Does that mean most are clustered around there? I don't think so. I think luxury downtown units going for $15,000 per month are skewing things. Those affect the median and mean rental figures, but they don't affect the price of a one-bedroom walkup in Dorchester. This is a city with a large population of students and people coming to work from out of the area who will overpay for an apartment that someone else is likely paying for, especially if they can get it rented and squared away before they arrive.

Oh, and the figures don't tell us what size the apartment is. Is $2497 ridiculous for a one-bedroom and unattainable to most people on one income? Yes. Is it perfectly reasonable for a six-bedroom Victorian near Ashmont with six housemates? Absolutely!

And let's just scrap the idea that anyone in a city is paying only 30% of their income on housing. For most people, it's going to be closer to 50%. Is that unfortunate and a sign of overpriced housing? Probably. But it's realistic and doable for most people.

Anyway, to my point, and yes, I had one. The reason the article is driving me crazy, and what led me to respond to it was this: "The cure to this, if you’d like to live in Boston, you need to find one or two roommates to split the cost. But, even still, it’s alarming to think the ability to live alone is reserved to those who make at least six figures."

MEDIAN. M-E-D-I-A-N, people. A quick peruse of Craigslist finds me several studio one-bedroom apartments in Brighton, East Boston, Allston, Roxbury, Roslindale, Jamaica Plain, and Dorchester for under $1000. They're not the most amazing places, but they all appear to be safe and functional. If you plan it right, and especially if you get connected in a community, you can find a larger and nicer place for around this price. We did. So, if you spend half your income on rent, you can live in these places making $24,000 a year.

Ironically, when browsing, I actually saw the former apartment of some people I used to know. It's a small three-bedroom walkup badly in need of renovation. When I knew this place several years ago, they had 10 people living there -- three related nuclear families, each in one bedroom. Now, I did worry a bit about these folks as far as fire codes go, and I'll admit that during a meal I stepped into a bedroom to make a phone call and peeked out the window to make sure there were fire escapes. But my point is that people do what they gotta do. These folks were happy, hard-working, and grateful for their blessings.

Is it a bit messed up that people were living like this in the wealthiest country in the world? In a country where we have people who could have bought these families each a home with the monetary equivalent of me buying them a coffee? Of course it is. I definitely support the fight for better wages, better working conditions, housing, healthcare, education, and all the other things we as a civilized country can do better at.

But can people lay off with feeling sorry for themselves, and thinking they can't possibly live here if they don't make $100,000? It's insulting to my family and others who are living well below the poverty line. I'm not going to pretend our lives are glamorous or without some periods of extreme stress directly related to financial strains. But most of the time, we're thriving. And while there's a big part of me that's grateful that the sorts of people writing these pieces aren't bringing their privileged attitudes to our hard-working community-minded neighborhoods, I still don't need to hear about how they can't possibly afford to live "in Boston" when they really mean they might have to live somewhere poorer or less white. We're part of Boston too, even if the media likes to forget. Boston wouldn't survive without our labor.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Getting groceries whatever way I need to

Not my best haul ever, but I'm pretty much happy whenever I get more than 50% off. I wasn't doing as much couponing as usual during the past few months, so my condiment and canned goods stash was getting low.

Also, my foodstamps did get cut off, at least for now. I finally talked to someone, thanks to hearing about this governor's hotline linked to around the blogosphere, and they're cutting me off because one family member got a one-time payment from a job for some extra work, but it's included on the November paystub, making that month twice as much as others. We were grateful for some extra work that worked with our family's schedule, but now that person's income looks twice as high. We have to wait a few more months and send in new paystubs so they can re-do the average. For now, we're fine, thanks to my couponing stash of many months' worth of rice, noodles, dry goods, beans, soups and other canned goods, and for having some cash on hand that allowed me to restock on some condiments and things. The stuff that was available was a bit more processed than I'd have liked, but combined with way affordable produce from Fair Foods, we're eating pretty good up in here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Free Hamburger Helper at Stop and Shop

There is a printable coupon here for 50 cents off one box, Stop and Shop doubles coupons, and they're $1 this week. The coupon will only print once per computer, unfortunately. If you get enough coupons, they're potentially a money maker, since SavingStar has $1 off of three boxes and there's a $3 off $10 worth of General Mills deal at Stop and Shop this week.

By the way, our family doesn't really do meat, so I hadn't ever sought these out until they were free, but they're really no different from any other noodle-and-sauce packets. The mac-and-cheese or Spanish rice ones are fine on their own, or you could toss a can of mushrooms or some sauteed peppers and onions or whatnot into the various recipes.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Glade products at Target are free or potential money maker

Right now, all of the Glade winter holiday scents are on clearance at Target. Some of the scents (spruce, gingerbread) are pretty dang seasonal, but others, if you can ignore the Christmassy names and packaging, are just fine (citrus, apple cinnamon, mint). And who knows -- maybe there are people out there who like spruce and gingerbread in January, or who are more organized than I am and would actually put them away in a holiday box or something.

There are $1 off printable coupons for Glade products all over the place -- check Smartsource,, etc. The January 11 Sunday paper inserts had a ton of clippable ones too. Checkout 51 has an offer for $1.25 off two wax melts, $1.25 off two jar candles, $1.50 off automatic spray refill, and $1.00 off plugins. iBotta has $1 off wax melts, $1.50 off plugins, $1.50 off automatic spray, $3 off wax melt warmer, and $1 off one jar candle.

Glade jar candles are normally $2.99 at Target, and some scents are marked down to $2.08. If you buy two and use two $1 paper coupons, the Checkout 51 offer, and the iBotta offer, the two candles are -9 cents total. If you choose full price candles, they will be $1.73 for two candles, which is still pretty amazing.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Seriously, DTA?!

They've sent a few more letters saying our food stamps are going to be cut off because they didn't receive things that we definitely sent (I always send it certified mail, plus their letters refer to other things that were in the same envelope that they pretty clearly got).

I've called the hotline, repeatedly. For two weeks at various times of day, it's been saying that their call volume is too high and to call back at another time. Is a government agency allowed to just not be reachable?!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Boston Symphony Orchestra free chamber music concerts

I just found out about this performance at Roxbury Community College on February 15. It requires tickets that can be reserved on the website, but they are free. It looks like they do these performances fairly often; the page also links to several others.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Make iced tea for basically free

I've started making iced tea to avoid buying sodas and drink mixes, and it really seems to work. The method I've been using is to boil some water with a couple of teabags, let it actually boil a bit so it gets stronger than most people would probably want tea, then dump it into a pitcher with about an equal amount of ice cubes. You can do black or green tea if you want caffeine and herbal tea if you don't, or a combination. Tea bags will run you about 3 cents a piece for basic black tea or 15-25 cents for flavored and herbal teas, though the more interesting teas can be almost free with coupons. Seriously cheap for a whole pitcher, and great for teens who don't want to drink plain water and parents who'd rather not waste money on junk food. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

DTA continues goal of making sure no one can get food stamps

I just ignored a call from an unknown number, because it's Saturday and I've only ever gotten sales calls from unknown numbers on weekends.

Sure enough, it was DTA. The person left a message and said that they received my income verification but not the recertification application (which was in the same envelope, of course). The person said they would send out another one. They then said "also your case is due to close, so someone will be contacting you to set up an appointment to come in about that." There's of course no reason it should be closing; our income is certainly low enough. I'm assuming it's yet another ridiculous situations where their response to any missing info or confusing info is to close the case, thus putting it on the individual to call and beg to have it examined.

I tried calling back the number that called me. I got a voicemail box saying someone would be out of the office on December 19th and returning the next business day.

I tried calling the 800 number. I spent more than 5 minutes listening to prompts and typing in my EBT card number, entire SSN, birth year, and ZIP code, then was told that the office was closed. If it's closed, why are people in it, calling me? I like to deal with stuff immediately and get it off my very-full plate. This is pretty aggravating. 

Oh, and the website is similarly dysfunctional; it requires a username and password that I created, EBT card number, SSN, and birthdate. Seriously? Banks and mortgages and so forth where people could potentially cause a lot more damage just require a username and password that they trust us to use our common sense with. They really just are determined to make it as hard as possible to get or use any benefits.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Trying to get Legoland to offer a low-income discount

It looks like the cheapest tickets for Legoland are $15, and that's when purchased online for admission after 4pm. I wrote to them using their contact form and suggested they offer a WIC/SNAP discount and listed some of the competing Boston-area businesses that offer it. If you're interested in making Legoland available to more families, try doing this as well -- it can't hurt.