Christmas Consumerism

Today is “Cyber Monday.”  We are being barraged with specials, sales, offers, and other ways to save money.  The ads everywhere we see them are immediate and urgent.  We have just survived “Black Friday,” the day where so many sacrificed Thanksgiving with their families, the hands-on version of the retailer’s dream.  Supposedly, we are tired enough to want to stay home and shop online, or have been forced to return to work after a respite.  Now that the workers are back, they are shopping on the office computers on company time.  What could be better?

Nobody is more frugal than I am.  I very rarely purchase anything at full price.  Now that I’m living poor on social security, I’m not buying much.  I have seen nothing that I need, nothing that I want.  I’ve seen lots of flashy things, lots of bling; lots of solutions for problems that I don’t have.

An old friend who did missionary work in Brazil once told me that the people with whom she worked didn’t realize they were “poor” until they got American television.  This simple statement took me aback and made me think about how consumerism affects our lives.  There are legions of people whose jobs are to analyze us and market to us.  Sight, sound, touch, scent, taste are all wrapped into a psychological profile.

When I was growing up, my dad worked and my mom stayed home, though she did tailoring to supplement the family income.  My folks raised five kids, sending them to Catholic school on dad’s salary from the post office.  We had one car and lived close to the post office so dad walked to work.  We rarely used the car anyway.  We lived in town where we could walk to the grocery store, the movies, and to school.  The high school did not have a parking lot.  There was no cable TV and there were no cell phones or internet.  The hardware store in our town had a toy section on the third floor (no elevator) and mom put things on lay-a-way in the weeks before Christmas.  No interest.  The local stores were glad to have her business.  In our stockings, we received, as had generations before us even back to the “old country,” a huge orange, a huge apple, and some nuts and candy.  photo (23)

Agreed, the times have changed and in many ways for the better.  We have luxuries we never had before available to everyone except the poor.  Even the poor can have a basic cell phone through services such as Safe Link, which is a great thing.  Cable companies (e.g., Comcast) will help families with children obtain computers and basic connections.

I’m not saying we should go back to the 1950s or the 1960s, but I think we should put more thought into what we buy.  So often, we buy meaningless things that waste our precious resources.  It’s not necessary to buy gifts for everyone we can think of.  Often, people feel the need to reciprocate when it is difficult for them to do so.  I have learned that if I receive something unexpectedly, a simple heartfelt “thank you”  and a smile is really all that’s necessary.  I love to pick little things up throughout the year that I know someone will love and save them for the holidays:  little Lalaloopsy dolls for my granddaughters, a baking set for my chef-to-be grandson.  Sometimes, I knit them sweaters or scarves and remind them that these are “hugs” from grandma each time they put them on.

When my own kids were small, they’d get new socks and underwear every year so there would be extra boxes to open.  In their 30s now, they expect it and would be disappointed if I forgot.  After all, what feels better than a brand-new pair of socks?

I won’t be shopping this Cyber Monday, but I’ll start looking for some great underwear sales soon.

(The photograph in this post is the Thursday – Thanksgiving Day – Chicago Tribune.  We only get the paper on Sunday so this one was a surprise “gift” paper.  The small 1/2″ section in the front is the actual news part and the larger 4″ section in the back is the Black Friday ads.)



Well, not a chicken dinner but I’ve won lots of things playing sweepstakes in September!  It’s time consuming, but now that I’m home all the time, I have “extra time” to enter them.  In September alone, I won a Thermador sapphire dishwasher, a family entertainment pack consisting of a home popcorn machine and a Cuisinart soft-serve ice cream maker – with all the trimmings including popcorn, oil, little bags for the popcorn, Junket for the ice cream, bowls and spoons – an air purifier, a beautiful beach cruiser bike from Snapple, a case of Bay’s English Muffins, and so many little things (a book about cats, a money clip, an eyeliner pencil from Mary Kay, etc.) that there’s been something new in the mail nearly every day! The dogs have always looked forward to the arrival of the mailman but now I do too!   I can’t imagine that my “luck” will hold out, but it’s been great because I won lots of toys to give the grandkids at holiday time, especially welcome in a home with a very tight budget.

If you are interested in entering sweepstakes “for fun and profit,” I recommend the following websites to get started:,, and  Meredith Company publishes many magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Better Homes & Gardens, Redbook, etc., and that’s a good source of sweeps.  Of course, you can google “sweepstakes” and “giveaways” and “contests” and “promotions” to find others in which you may be interested. Local sweepstakes can be found by googling local radio station websites.  I recently won tickets to the air show in Osh Kosh, Wisconsin and although I couldn’t use them, I was able to sell them for cash on craigslist.  I found that sweepstakes on a local station’s website.

I’d advise you set up a separate email to enter contests.  You will get lots of junk email and it’s very time-intensive to delete it.  Also, some hosts will require that you be “subscribed” to them in order to win, so you’ll want to be careful about who you delete and when.  I also have a separate facebook page just for sweepstakes and have hundreds of sweepstakes “friends,” people who I really don’t know at all but who have the same interest I do.  As I’m just finding out, there are networks of these people and even “conventions” where some of them meet each other!

Beware…if your prize is over a certain price point (I think it’s $500), you will be responsible to file an I9 and pay income tax on the value of the prize.  It could be substantial if you win something as valuable as a car!

Good luck to you!  Maybe next month I’ll win that chicken dinner!


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Published in: on October 3, 2014 at 8:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Looking for FREE entertainment?

10517289_960748530608296_8452879042989574373_oHad a great time yesterday in the audience of WINDY CITY LIVE!   Although the topic (“Pillow Talk”) wasn’t on my list of favorites, it’s always fun to go downtown for an activity and FREE is the best kind of activity!

There are three shows that tape in Chicago and offer free tickets to audience members:  Windy City Live tapes at the WLS/ABC studios at 190 N State Street (across from the Chicago Theater and just down the street from the old Marshall Field’s store (now Macy’s, of course).   Here is the website to get tickets:

The Steve Harvey Show and Judge Mathis tape at NBC5 Chicago, 454 N Columbus Dr, Chicago.  I have been to The Steve Harvey Show several times and it is a hoot.  The website to score tickets for Steve Harvey is  The website for Judge Mathis tickets is

The Steve Harvey Show, as well as Windy City Live frequently give surprises to the audience members and it is not only fun to attend the tapings, but it’s also fun to go home with something too!

I’ve attended these tapings for years and they are lots of fun.  Although you may not actually enjoy the topics presented, you will definitely enjoy the wonderful people you’ll meet and you’ll enjoy the experience of seeing how these shows are made.  Plan for a block of time to include the wait which can be quite some time.  You’ll have to arrive early to check in.  Be aware that the production often overbooks to make sure there’s a full audience. Sometimes additional segments are taped while you’re there in addition to the day’s agenda.   Wear colorful clothing for a couple of reasons:  It looks good on TV and it makes it easier for your family and friends to find you in the audience while they’re watching for you!

If you have a reduced fare ticket for seniors on the RTA, you will be able to have a nice day of entertainment for almost nothing!  Enjoy!

Published in: on September 18, 2014 at 4:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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License Plate Discounts and RTA Discounts in Illinois

One benefit low income seniors in Illinois may not be aware of is the license plate discount!  There is also a benefit for RTA (Chicago area) reduced rides.  You may receive a $75 discount on ONE license plate registration in Illinois.  The information can be found here:  An example of the reduced fare program is one I found yesterday: The regular fare on the Union Pacific from Wheaton to Chicago is $5.50 one way; with a reduced fare pass it’s only $2.50!

There is a simple online form to complete and return with a copy of your Illinois driver’s license and proof of income for the license plate discount.  At the same time, you can be approved for the reduced fare program.  However, you will have to complete another form for the RTA, and you will be issued a card to use for this purpose.  You will need to include a passport-sized photo with this application.  A free passport photo can be taken at their offices if you can get downtown to do it (the office is at 69 W Washington St, downtown Chicago).

These simple tasks can really save money on transportation costs for low income seniors during the year.

Published in: on September 18, 2014 at 3:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Living Simply

0124131228What do we really need?  Shelter, food, water, and air.  Everything else is superfluous, right?

Personally, the other things I really need are an excellent shower and an excellent bed.  The last bed I purchased was very expensive but worth every penny.  Ten years ago, I got a Simmons Columbia model and I’ve not regretted it.  I get a good night’s sleep every night.  It’s even a no-flip.  Every once in awhile, I change the way I sleep on it, but that’s it.  I’ve protected it with a pillow-slip type cover, topped with a cushy mattress pad.  Both of the additions are washable.  I buy the best sheets I can afford, high thread count Egyptian cotton, which I still think is the best.  It softens and silkens as it washes and wears, doesn’t pill, and is a delight to sleep on.  I finally ripped the last top sheet I had, so I’m saving up to buy a new one.  In the meantime, I’m summer sleeping under a light cotton quilted comforter only.  I think if you buy the best you can afford, it pays off in the long run.  I’ve had cheap sheets when I was a young bride, and they pilled.  I felt like the character in The Princess and the Pea.  I felt every single pea on those sheets and it drove me nuts.  Before I retired and got poor, I purchased a lightweight down blanket (also a Simmons product) and I’ve had it for over ten years.  It’s great in all seasons, though I store it for the summer.  Also years ago I bought a down pillow from Wyndham at Home after sleeping on one of these dreamy pillows while on a business trip.  I’ve had it a very long time too.  I take it to the dry cleaners and they add down to it every year for a very reasonable price when it’s on its cleaning hiatus from my bed.  It’s a Joseph Abboud, actually by Pacific Down.  For the cost-conscious, I understand that Pacific Down has an outlet store if you’re ever in Seattle!

The one bed accessory I cannot live without is my dog, Maddie.  She is the best bedwarmer – ever!  Her little black body keeps me warm on cold winter nights as she snuggles up to my back and butt-hugs me.  Her presence makes me feel safe.  She has an entire side of the queen-sized bed to herself, yet I feel sorry for her every night.  Maddie plops in her special spot and does not move all night long.  I, on the other hand, flip and thrash and get up several times to go to the bathroom.  She stays where she is and does not complain.  I wonder how she does it.  If I were her, I’d be complaining bitterly about my annoying bed partner, yet every morning she licks my face at daybreak with what I believe to be a little doggie smile, asking for a simple trip to the backdoor.

The shower is a little easier to obtain as there are many reasonably priced shower heads available at places like Home Depot and Lowe’s.  I like the ones that spit out the water like rain, but I’m sure this is a matter of personal preference.  Nobody wants to fight with a bad showerhead.  Even in a rental, you can change the shower head yourself and replace it with the bad one when/if you move.   Nice towels are another investment that pays off.  I’d rather have one really nice towel than five cheap ones that pill and shed all the softness in the first wash!  Again, Egyptian cotton is my choice.  Those really big ones are useless unless you plan to wrap up in a wet towel.  Otherwise, the standard size are perfect for drying and hanging.  My splurge occasionally is nice French milled soap, but that’s a real luxury and not a necessity.  My shower head is connected to a hose and attaches to the wall above my head.  The hose allows me to use the shower to give the dog a bath and saves money on a groomer.  Speaking of the groomer, I just can’t afford to go there.   I purchased a mid-priced clipper and shave her down twice a year.  Okay, I admit, for the first week she definitely looks like “her mother cut her hair,” but it grows fast and looks fine after that!  Maddie is a shih-tsu/poodle mix (yes, that’s a shihts-pu) and she has this weird coat that is neither of her ancestors.  It’s very long and massively curly, but not tight curls.  The hair mats very easily after about the first inch and I just cannot comb the mats out after awhile, necessitating this shave-down.  Learning to do this was not difficult and the savings are worth learning.

My mom used to tell me that “cleanliness is next to godliness.”  That, and she’d tell me that poor as we might be, we could always afford soap.  I enjoy that daily shower, mom, and I really enjoy sleeping in now that I’m retired!

Published in: on August 28, 2014 at 2:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Retiring Poor

 It’s not easy to retire without money.  I’ve figured out a few ways to help survive that might help readers too!  One of the things I learned is that if a senior is low income, that senior can apply for Medicaid as a supplement to Medicare.  Many seniors are retiring without the insurance safety net previously provided by former employers.  Here is a link to the guidelines for Medicaid in Illinois: for 2014.  See also for help paying Medicare costs. Roughly, the top income approximates the social security benefit received ($1100-$1300 for an individual).  Most seniors in this “income” bracket certainly cannot afford a Medicare supplement, so I’d encourage anyone to apply for Medicaid.  If you qualify for Medicaid, you will be able to choose a prescription assistance program  (Medicare Part D) as well; the one I was assigned and with which (so far) I am satisfied is the one with United Healthcare through AARP.  I had Medicaid prior to retiring and find it interesting that I paid zero for prescription coverage through Medicaid, but now I pay a small copayment through my Medicare supplement plan.  Get poorer…get poorer.  Go figure.  

Once someone who applies for social security starts receiving Medicare, $100 will be deducted each month from social security payments; there is help available for this in the form of a QMB (Qualified Medical Beneficiary program).  I applied for this program in April and am still waiting to be approved.  I’ve been told at the local DHS office that I qualify but that with the new Obamacare, the offices are overloaded and it will take up to six months to see the money back in my social security.  Considering that’s just a little less than ten percent of my benefit, it’s really quite a hit!  When I’m approved, I’ll update as to whether or not I received any funds retroactively.

Another program to assist low-income seniors is the Illlinois Tollway’s I-Pass assistance program.  There are a few places to apply and obtain this, but none of them is very convenient and it is necessary to go in person and bring along the necessary documentation.  The website for information about this program is  If you quality for Medicaid, you qualify for iPass assist.  I-PASS Assist is $20, which includes a $10 deposit and $10 in prepaid tolls, compared to the regular price of $50 payment for automatic balance replenishment accounts or $60 payment. ($20 refundable deposit/$40 prepaid tolls) for manual replenish accounts.  It is only necessary to replenish this account in increments of $20 which is also nice as many seniors don’t use the tollways as often as the still-working do.

A couple of weeks ago, while visiting grandchildren in Colorado, I visited Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, Colorado, one of my favorite places in the entire world!  I was able to purchase an America the Beautiful pass for the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands for a one-time lifetime fee of $10!  This is also good for discounts on many things such as camping, boat launch, etc. (like a whopping 50%!).  The pass will admit the pass-holder and the others in the car!  The pass can only be purchased in person at the park and is worth every penny!  

I will share whatever secrets I uncover with other seniors of low income.  Try to live a full, rewarding life on the basics, my friend!IMG_0133IMG_0130


Published in: on August 23, 2014 at 1:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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