Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How I'm saving money in a down economy

I was speaking at a WITI conference this weekend on professional development. One of my fellow panelists make remark about how NPR had said that estimates for unemployed people in this country was around 1.4 million and then cracked "that's a lot of new blogs." I nervously laughed. Ummm. I DID get laid off in July. And I DID just start this blog. I know I'm a little behind the times but am I really that predictable? Well, I'm not trying to do anything innovative. I'm just enjoying a creative outlet.

Speaking of creative outlets, I've found a new way to reduce my spending and embrace my inner stylist. That's right. I do my own hair. Men - don't stop reading now. You just might appreciate your wife a little more after this.

After 3 1/2 years with my stylist, affectionately known as the Hair Nazi, I've decided to make a break for it. You see, we call him the Hair Nazi because he likes to have his way with your hair. You wouldn't tell a doctor how to care for you, would you? Why would you tell a hair professional what to do with your hair? That's HIS job. He picks the color. He picks the length. He picks the cut. You have a little say-so but he still holds veto power. So what would make me subject myself to this sort of abuse? He's good. Very good. My favorite story of his is how a woman came in after the holidays and desperately needed help fixing her daughter's pink hair. It was supposed to be temporary but 4 salons later she found out otherwise. So the Hair Nazi spent hours and ultimately restored her lush blond locks. His response to the mother's shock and awe? "Only two people can do this. Me and Jesus."

He's got all the confidence in the world. The color makes my hair so soft and the haircuts are always flattering. But I don't really want short, blondish type hair anymore. (See "before" photo at left). And I was paying $180 a visit. (Men, if your wife/girlfriend spends less than that, you cannot ever give them grief again). Granted, that included cut and color and a large tip. But when unemployment comes knocking on your door, you just might need to make some changes.

So 2 weeks after I was laid off, I went to the store and bought my first box of hair color in a long, long time. I even had to call the L'Oreal help line for assistance (they were great). I soon turned my hair into a rich chocolate brown. What a feeling of freedom! Not only could I start saving money but the hair oppression was gone! (See "the new me" at right).

In fact, I got so confident that I thought I could cut my own hair too! (See my inspiration below. Hmmm, come to think of it, maybe now I understand the problem.)

Ladies, if you aren't married, don't try this at home. You still have to hang onto your good looks. As for me? It's not horrible and probably unnoticeable to the untrained eye. But  the lesson learned is that hair grows back and some things are worth paying for, even when you're unemployed.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Why I can't live without my iPhone

Stop. This is not a shameless promotion for the iPhone. I'm not one of those "OMG, I hate PCs and Bill Gates must die" kind of people. In fact, we're a bit of a house divided. I have a PC and an iPhone. My husband has a Macbook and an iPhone. And we have a house computer that has an Apple on it. I couldn't really tell you what model it is. (I'm sure my Mac friends will roll their eyes here).

But I AM a big fan of the Apple iPhone and not for the reasons you would suspect. Yes, it's fun. In fact I call it my portable entertainment device. You'll never be bored again. Got time to kill? Whip out your phone and play a game, or count your calories, or find a restaurant, or check your email.

Aha! That's it. I have 3 email accounts set up on my phone. First, I check my personal email account. That's where all the good stuff comes in. Then I check my work email account. Sometimes good stuff but much more sporadic. Then I will even check our "house" account for something...anything. I don't even really know what that account is for. But if there is a message waiting, I'll check it.

When I've exhausted all of my email options, I can pull up the Facebook app. I will have already known if I have anything interesting on my wall because I would have gotten an email. But I might check anyway. Maybe someone gave me a thumbs up because they liked something I said or did. Or they liked a picture I posted. I get email notifications of comments but the "like" option is always a surprise. If there is nothing new in my world, I can go and snoop around on 179 of my closest friends. Or people I went to elementary school with a long, long time ago.

So now I'm done. Nothing new is going on. Nobody is calling. Nobody is emailing. Oh wait, let me check Twitter! There is always some random chit-chat going on. And if I'm lucky, I might just have a mention somewhere.

Okay. You are convinced that I'm some insanely insecure person. Call it codependent if you want - I need to be needed. But that's not really it. I think back to the good old days when we used to make important long distance calls and write letters. School kids connected with others through pen pals. For me, I had the daily excitement of going to the mailbox and hoping just MAYBE there would be a letter for me mixed in with all of my parents' bills. My iPhone brings back just a little bit of that excitement for me. The only difference now is I am much better at writing back.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Behind the Counter

So I'll admit it. I'm a big shopper. Online, in the store - it doesn't matter. I find shopping therapeutic and I'm pretty sure I've financed somebody's daughter's education with all of my purchases at TJ Maxx and Marshall's. Oh yeah, I'm a bargain shopper. In fact, it's a badge of honor for me to tell you how much something should have cost and then how much I actually paid for it. I think it's genetic (thanks, Mom).

When I met my husband, I was amazed at how much he loves to shop too. Now don't get me wrong. I think 2 hours in one of my favorite stores would drive him batty. But give him a warehouse club and he goes nuts. The good people of the local Costco know him by name. That's a little sad.

I have to admit I like Costco too. Besides having a nice variety of pretty good food, they just seem to be an all around good company. Good customer service, good to their employees. In fact, it's usually a pleasant shopping experience every time I go in there (as long as I'm not tempted to buy the $1 churro).

And I notice good customer service because it is a rarity these days. I don't go to my favorite stores because the cashiers are so gosh darn friendly. It's often the opposite. But I tolerate it and complain to myself. After all, they CHOSE this job, right? I mean, I worked retail in my younger day and I was always friendly and helpful. Or at least I tried to be.

Stay with me because here comes the important part. As I was walking through Costco last week, I overheard the guy at the Verizon Wireless booth on the phone to someone. He seemed to be having a casual conversation and mentioned how busy he had been. His part-time worker hadn't been in because her boyfriend had been killed in a car accident a few days prior.

I stopped in my tracks. I didn't know anyone involved in the story. But instantly I was given the reminder that there is a story for everyone behind the counter. At some point, this poor girl is going to have to come back to work and pretend to care about the cell phones she is selling. All the while, someone will probably be complaining because they don't want to pay for something extra.

Every person we come into contact with has a story. They may not tell you. You may not know. You probably won't even see it in their eyes. But there is a story there. Sometimes it's a good story and sometimes it isn't. Either way, it's a reminder that we're here to work with each other - not serve each other.

I'm reminded once again of a shopping experience from one of those favorite stores. I had a return and the only service I was getting from the service counter was attitude. I finally looked at the girl that was helping me and said "hey, I like your sweater." Her face lit up with a smile and she was as helpful as she could be. Hopefully I helped make her story that day a little better.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What's my theme?

So I've decided to become one of "those" people. One of the 20 million or so bloggers (and growing) in the United States. Now, I used to think that blogs were for families sharing pictures of the kids, or for subject matter experts on a variety of business topics. I found that ANYONE can have a blog on ANY topic.

I was recently talking to a blogger friend of mine (Motherhood and Me) and told her how I was going to finally put my writing to some use. Her first question...what's your theme? Hmmmmmm. What's my theme? Well, I'm the theme. Isn't that okay? Can't I just write about whatever is on my mind? If I want to gain readership and make some money off this blog, probably not. But I'm not using this blog as a tool so much as an outlet.

I know a little about a lot. I'm way smarter than Wheel of Fortune but not quite up to snuff for Jeopardy. But I like to think and I like to write and I like to share. Oh, and I'm starting my own business. It's a partnership, actually. And this business is all about increasing and improving your web presence. I figured I should practice what I preach.

Am I worried about what potential clients might read on my blog? Not one bit. My belief is that the business world is shifting and we want to connect with people. Real people. Not just a company name, or a subject matter expert. But a real person with a real life where work is only one part of those you do business with.

So I'm Fadra. I'm a worker bee and super mom. Or at least I'm trying to be. Hope you'll come along with me.