Friday, January 22, 2010

Station Break 2

 I am very busy perusing virtuous poverty behavior for choice bits to offer you.  New one coming soon I promise!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I'd rather be in a tent in Florida Part Deux How not to starve

This one is about scheming and plotting skills. 

So you are in your car for 12 hours and you want food. Now. The natural inclination is to start reading the road signs and take the first thing that appeals to you with a "Screw it! I'll deal with the finances later!" sort of attitude.  Hunger rules your brain and eats your logic. Which is why you really need to think ahead with these things.  And you know that whole diet thing I wrote about before?  Throw it out.  You are on vacation and it must be adjusted for monetary purposes.  Plan on walking a lot, don't eat the kids food too and readjust back to your saintly ways later.  I think we actually spent less albeit gained weight.  It is possible.

In our case we drove a long time both coming and going on the first and last legs of our trip.  We needed to cover at least three meals and two of them had to be outside of the car because if we didn't get out, we would have begun eat our own.  These breaks were important to refresh and stretch but you don't want some place that is going to take a million years. We found that ye old Costco wholesale warehouse provided a lunch for three of us for about 6 bucks in their limited but ultimately useful foodcourt.  The husband and I did large hotdogs and a drink for $1.50 each.  The daughter had a very large slice of pizza for $1.99.  Since we are not big on having her drink soda, we give her $.50 and let her go buy a bottle of water out of the multiple vending machines. In fact, if you have to feed a soft drink craving, this is the place to stock up.  $.59 for a regular size fountain drink.  Ridiculously cheap vended sodas. If you are feeling particularly famished, you can also get a very very large vanilla, chocolate or swirl flavored frozen yogurt.  I suggest that you split it. Like I said, very large.  The plus on this is that Costco is all over the place. The bad news is that you have to have a membership.  That and it is pretty not healthy but freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. No? How about we are on vacation lighten up?

Most meals came from the frequent flyer miles for restaurants that I spoke about in the "Frequent Flyer Miles Can Get You That Latte" blog.  Many of the chains available as a choice for those cards are regional specific.  Like Sonic will do you little good in the north (we did bring one with us because we were going south).   Dunkin Donuts exists in the south but not like in New England.  It is best to gauge a general idea of the area that you are going to be in by mapquesting the driving hours from different areas along your route, go to the websites of the places that you are interested in, and look at the closest ones.  Redeem your reward points accordingly. Chilis saved us tons because we could look at the menus online and budget according to our two $25 gift cards.  California Pizza Kitchen was just an fun place to stop because the ones in Florida tend to be nice in sunny shopping malls.  We came home with one $25 card because their locations are limited.

The biggest food expenses are camping stuffs.   It is better to shop for the basics before you leave because you know where to get the stuff for decent prices already.  Bread, cereal for breakfast, peanut butter, stuff that doesn't require hard core refrigeration.  Milk and juice boxes that do not need to sbe kept cold can be purchased in wholesale warehouses.  Take as much as you think you can pack in the car and still not have to strap the child to the roof.  Meat and dairy products need to be purchased in areas closer to camping.  Try to stick to big groceries like Publix that have sane prices. I am addicted to Robert Is Here in Florida City.  We attained large quantities of fruit and vegetables there for farmer prices, a lot freshly picked.  The more remote to a large camping vicinity, the more likely it is that you are going to be purchasing last minute goods in a gas station convenience store out of last minute desperation. Stick to the list and shop where you can get it cheapest without the food rotting before you get to the campsite.

We planned on eating at two inexpensive restaurant type places that we can only go to in one area of the country outside of our rewards points system.  We had to score cubanos because we were way too close to Miami to not get one.  And Zaxby's, a relatively new southern fast food chain that is not afraid of hot sauce, was the other because we loved its deep fried indulgence the first time and we could take the leftovers with us.  With the exception of carefully plotted car snacks, the aforementioned Costco, rewards card meals and the two surprisingly not bad complimentary breakfasts that came with our hotel rooms, this is where we ate.  Nowhere else.  Remember, this wasn't a normal vacation.  This was one that we barely could justify going on to start. No extras.

And, speaking of snacks, here is where some of the nutritional value can be redeemed a little.  It is fun to load up on junk and go a little nuts.  It makes us feel like we are truly doing something outside of our home habits.  However, think of being in a small area for 14 hours with a kid going on sugar swings?  Or adults for that matter? We had a Starbucks card with us from our membership rewards because coffee is a necessity but it is possible to drink that away super fast and too much caffeine can be a mood wrecker.  You know that at least once, people are going to get on each others nerves.  Too much sugar and caffeine on top of really tired is a bad idea. Keep a small cooler in the backseat.  Put foods high in protein like cheese or peanut butter on celery to help kick up the energy in reusable plastic containers.  Vegetables and fruits cut up in sticks are good for something to chew on too that will cleanse the palate a little and not make you feel like a five year old after an Easter binge.  Pretzel sticks can be purchased in bulk at wholesale stores and placed in plastic bags for easy transport.  They are not high in nutrition but it satisfy that salt meets crunchy feeling that folks tend to crave. And bring a jug of water and water bottles.  Those water bottles will serve you throughout all aspects of the trip, especially while camping.

It seems like it would be tricky to figure out these things ahead of time but it really wasn't.  If the places you are sleeping at are predetermined and you know the routes that you are taking to get there a head of time, its pretty simple to research where you are going to be around meal times and plot accordingly.  Besides gas, this is your largest potential travel expense.  Conquering the money eating side trips of snacks and ditching the plan for indulging your yen for those tasty looking restaurants (La Toro Taco almost got me in Homestead) will make it possible to spend the same if you were at home. In our case, definitely less. Take that winter in Boston!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Is that ten dollars in your pocket or are you just happy to see me.

One of the hardest part about this new poverty crap  is learning how to maintain some form of discipline without prior training.  Money in a credit card just wasn't real.  Bank accounts didn't have a real bottom if you don't look at the balance at the ATM.  You needed that money now.  NOW.  How else were you going to buy that bagel? Or the cool socks with the flying pigs you just saw in the window.  Or the book on inner peace with the matching $10 meditation piece of rock? Inner peace was not cheap.  And it was more meaningful than the bank account.  And, like the bottom of a fairy tale well, the money filled itself when it ran low.  Even if you only intended to pay the minimum to keep it that way when the credit card bills rolled around.

This is good for you, this reprogramming part.  I swear.  It will make you a stronger person.  It will not last forever if you work hard to kill that debt and get work again. This is the part where we relearn how to be consumers so that when the bank accounts are full again, we will not set ourselves up for another fall.

Make money a real thing, not just expendable pieces of paper in your pocket or a number in an account somewhere.  It seems like the less we have in our pockets, the more we are aware of exactly what we have, what we have "left."  We value it more because if you think of it as gone forever, you let go of it less easy.  Which is why I strongly suggest not keeping more than ten dollars in your pocket at a time for un-earmarked cash.

Say you have a twenty in your bag and you break it because you hear the siren song of a tall soy latte at the fancy coffee place.  And what's a latte without a biscotti, right? It's tea time after all. Blood sugar and all. Right?  After leaving a tip, you will probably walk out in the neighborhood of 13 bucks.  A ten and three ones.  You blew through a third of your money but you still feel okay about it because there is a large bill that is NOT a single plus a couple of others.

Okay, say you have a ten dollar bill.  You do the same thing.  That leaves you with three dollars.  THREE.  If you had to have a coffee, did you really need it to be a latte? I can understand the whole hanging out atmosphere thing, but a single cup of tall coffee probably would have tided you over and you would have more left for the next couple of days if you had a need for a coffee call again.  Three dollars is almost nothing left.  Thirteen not so much.  Get it? We rarely value something till we don't have it anymore.

"What if I need something a little more substantial and don't want to keep racking up atm fees? What if I need it is something I need now with cash?" You ask.  Well, that's where what my daddy used to call the band aid box comes in.  He kept a metal band aid box with a couple of bucks in case of emergency.  It had rocks in it in case sticky fingers tried to abscond with it from his bedroom closet.  There was always at least a twenty in there in case the sky fell.  Which did, occasionally, happen.  Usually with me attached to it.

I think everyone should have a band aid box with money...even if it isn't a REAL band aid box....that is protected by a promise not to be touched unless you really and truly are in a pinch and there is no way to get to cash fast.  Or if you flat run out. It cannot be touched without prescribing to a rule of conduct.

Repeat after me: I will not touch the band aid box unless I absolutely have no choice.  This is where you will keep the magical forty dollars.  Two twenties.  One to use.  One to have just in case twenty ain't enough. More than forty isn't spending money any more. 

Back in the day, I used to know people who had rolls of bills in their pockets.  It was flashy.  I admit to being impressed.  But when I look back, I hope they were really really rich.  There was no way they could have been keeping track of what they were spending.  And if they weren't really really rich, there is a good chance they are sitting in the same place that I am.  Wishing I paid more attention.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

When in low budget Rome, do what low budget Romans do: Pocket Money Jobs Part One

 Okay, let's play fill in the blank. Finish this sentence: He is a struggling  _________?

Yes!  There is the quintessential stereotype of struggling poverty!  The struggling actor.  I know. I've been one for a very very long time.  Which is one reason I am so good at being broke. When its good, its good.  When its bad, you eat ramen noodles and walk everywhere. And here's one of the few positive points regarding've got tons of company with experience!

Most professional actors are forced to take work to compensate for those slow days at some point.  At least initially.  They do work that enables flexibility.  Which is also convenient for people who are looking for work in their future world after they are no longer poverty people.  When they can have all the lattes they want.  Some wait tables. Some temp.  The least committal of them all is extra work.  You work that day.  Maybe a couple of days.  You get a little more money in your pocket to help you survive the bad days. You never have to go back again if you do not desire to do so.

Me? A movie stah, you say?  No. A movie prop. It's kind of cool to watch the process sometimes though. And most of the time they feed you. Free food.  Paycheck. Or, as I like to think of it, part of a gas bill and two lattes.

Here's how it works. Go to your state's film commission website and find a list of local *casting directors and the names of production companies that are producing upcoming movies/television shows/commercials.   "But,  Jessie!" you say.  "Movies television shows industrials and commercials are only shot in NYC and LA and possibly Miami or some other large city! I live in a small sized city or suburb.  Possibly podunk near a city!"  Well, shut your face, Sugar Pie.  No one likes a naysayer. The film industry loves a good backdrop and, due to tax cuts in many states to entice production, there is a good possibility that they are shooting something within a reasonable commute. 

Very often casting directors have sites that allow you to input your information directly into their site's listing. By all means, fill in the form with all necessary facts if it is at all possible.  If not, snail mail your picture and resume/cover letter to the casting director and/or the production company that is doing the background performers for productions that are coming up.  Important note:  A casting director gets paid by the film production as a hire to cast their productions.  NEVER PAY A CASTING DIRECTOR TO WORK WITH THEM.  That is a scam. 

The picture should look really like you. Not prettier or younger.  A professional photograph would be nice but if you have a friend with a steady hand and a sense of how to light you so you look like you without huge shadows across your face that can be blown up to headshot size, it'll do.  You are broke and this is not a career builder for you. If they are shooting a movie that needs 200 non-union actors to fill a stadium, they will not care who printed your headshots. Just don't be ridiculous and make an effort to give them an idea of how you really look without it looking like you lifted it from a passport photo.

If you are doing the snail mail thing, include a cover letter expressing your desire to do background work along with hair color, eye color, height, weight, pets, musical instruments and sporting equipment that you are willing to spend the day dragging around with you and special skills like being able to ski without hitting a tree and driving legally in your state. State that you are non-union. Let them know if you have professional clothing, evening wear, any uniforms, etc.  Make sure that you include all contact information. A resume is good too but if you can't swing enough info to fit onto a sheet of paper, don't sweat it.  Just make sure that they can read your specifics somewhere.

Often there are open calls to register to do background work when a production company is setting up camp in town for a shoot.  Even better. Show up with your picture, fill out a size card and have them take their own little picture for their files.  Keep an eye on the local casting director's websites and also the local professional actor's websites. For big shoots, sometimes there are also listings in your local paper.

Then, if fortune is smiling, they call you up and ask you come to work for them.  Yeah! But don't just jump in there without a few questions.  The reality is that you are going to be working long hours for not such great pay.  This is strictly income to compensate, not carry you. You are a non-union extra which means that you do not have the same protection as the one's in the union.  Don't be afraid to say,"No thank you.  I believe I have a conflict that day" if you honestly think that one of these things are going to make you regret taking the work.

What is the pay scale? Do you get over time? How long are they expecting to shoot?  Are there multiple days? Don't expect much.  It is not uncommon to go 13 hours and most background casting folk do not like to give you a definite time frame because it is not in their control.  Do not take it unless you are compensated for overtime unless you are willing to take the hit.

Is this an exterior shot? An "exterior shot" means that they are shooting outside. Make damned sure you need the money enough to be enormously uncomfortable if they shooting outside in the North.  The crew under the AD (that's the "assistant director,"  generally the big cheese in charge of all background doings) usually do their best to see that you don't freeze to death by giving you breaks and possibly a heater but even a somewhat cold day can get to you after 8 hours out in bastard winter no matter how many hand warmers you have stuffed in your body parts. Same goes for the summer (or in the South) if there is a heat wave.  Is it worth the heat stroke? Once you are committed to the work, you will not get paid if you walk off the set because the atmosphere was unbearable.

Is this a union project? I strongly discourage working on an all non-union shoot doing background work.  Extras are the most disposable people on the set and can be easily abused.  Union actors have rules that a production company is legally bound to follow.  They do not apply to you but they do dictate certain conditions on the set.  Normally, if this is a feature film, they have to feed people and keep a snack (craft service) table for all union actors.  The set does not have to provide these things to non-union but occasionally, if it is a decent budget, they let the non-union slip in there too. In fact, the morning craft service truck can be pretty awesome when it comes to breakfasts cooked to order.  Also, they have to make sure that union actors have water and a place to sit. Which means you get the over flow as well.  Generally, production companies try to provide humane conditions.  Sometimes,though, there are buttheads who will do anything to use you for all you are worth and give you as little as possible.  Your chances are a lot better of having a pleasant experience if you work a gig that is required to take a percentage of their background actor pool from the unions. 

The odds are good that you will see famous people (although approaching them is a big no-no because they can bite when in captivity).  You will see how a movie shoot works and watch all of the worker bees involved doing their things. You will be doing a job that requires only enough brain cells to follow directions like, "Go over there over and over again" and "Everybody mime! Don't speak!  Mime!" Free food. Minimal physical stress. It is small but easy paycheck in a job that has no future commitment.  And, when you get past this hump, you can tell the people in your future more profitable life that you were in a movie.  You might even see yourself on the dvd release if you have a pause button and a magnifying glass.

*"Casting directors" casts roles in movies.  It is not the same thing as "Talent agents," "Modeling agents," or "Talent Management."  Folks in this category pushing themselves as people casting movies are often unscrupulous or confused.  Another reason to work on a union movie.
** And, while I'm at it, people sending you out to be an extra for a percentage are doing you a disservice because you can be dealing directly with the casting director for no fee.

Monday, January 11, 2010

There's A Sniper In My Mailbox

There are thousands of sites that will give you advice on consolidating debt, how to approach attaining work, lifestyle tips, etc.  Mine is about coping.  This is how I have learned to alleviate some of the fear until I can get through to the other side.

Ah panic. One of the great bitches in life, idn't it? And many of us are feeling it a lot these days, especially when doing things like approaching the mailbox.  Or looking at the stack of bills on your dining room table.  Or checking your bank account balances. Many of us tend to want to erase the entire problem.  Unless you knock over a bank...please don't...or you win the lottery or a rich relative leaves you a ton of cash, it more than likely ain't going to happen.  But if you are doing at least something in the right direction, hopefully, you won't feel like it is ruling you.

First step, schedule your pain and consollidate it.  Don't spend your whole day dreading the mailbox and its surprises.  Leave the mail in there until the next day.  It isn't going to expire in a 24 hour period.  Wake up rested and centered, get your morning coffee, go to the mailbox, grab what is in there.  Go into your bank account online, look at what is in there, look at what you owe. Deal with it. Then. There. 

Second step, set up some routines to contend with the controlling factors.  Plan for the bigger picture. Ideally, financial woes are a temporary problem, but it may take awhile standing with your finger in the dyke before the water goes down.  One of the things that I found that has helped a lot is taking 5 to 10 dollars a day...if it is possible...and pay a little extra on credit card balances that are not due or chipping down utility balances. On line banking is your friend. Set up the ability to do one time payments from your bank account site to your different billers and pop the ones that make you feel best shrinking.  Think about who is nailing you with the highest credit rates, who only lets you pay in cash, all of the factors that will justify that is the one you want to hit today. Then drop some coin on them and make them fade away just a little.  It makes those utility bills less dramatic when they turn up in a smaller chunk and easier to cope with in the long run.  Every bit that you chop out of the credit card bill is that much less being tapped with interest rates.  And if you have very little in there, you are aware of exactly how much that extra cup of coffee is going to cost you in the long run.  5 dollars a day in extra little things like coffee or public transportation when you can walk?  Or $150 a month worth of smaller utility bills and less money for the credit card companies to take from you?  Which is worth more to you?  Looking at your spending in detail gives you an idea of how even small spending ripple effects your ability to solve these issues in the long run.

Third step, make a plan on how you are going to approach the things that are looking a little tricky.  Write a list of things that need to be tended to.  Write a list of your resources.  Think about how you are going to deal with and what you are going to do.  Write those checks, make those payments on line that need to be sent, do all of those businessy things that need to be businessed. Then, with the exception of what you specifically need to do to solve these issues that day, put it away and get on with life for the rest of the day.  It's bad enough the people in this country have gotten screwed as badly as it has already.  Don't let it stop you from moving forward because you are hiding from it. Take control back and find some peace.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Station Break

Hey Kids! 

Just a quick note that I will be back with all new stuff within the next day or two. Too many cookies over the holiday. Will resume consciousness from massive sugar crash shortly. Lots of new ideas and tales to tell!

Love and positive thoughts!
Mama Bang Bang