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“If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he awake – Aye, what then?”

falls


“You look pale.” My boss leaned over the computer terminal to examine my face. “My daughter says pale is the new ‘In’.”

I looked pale? I felt worn out; like a whole entourage of clients had squashed out my innards. Work was hectic, more than usual, and the anxiety apparently was flushing out my features. Self-consciously I reached up to touch my waxen glow-y complexion.

Do I look sick? I mouthed to my coworker while making a demented fish face. She vigorously shook her head, but all ready I was calculating the cost of picking up a tube of tanning lotion on the way home from work.

“My boss told me I looked pale today,” I informed Matt that evening.

We were sitting in McDonalds polishing off the last remnants of Greasers — that’s Big Mac and fries — while discussing the cultural implications of ordering a Big Mac over a McChicken. It also presented an opportune moment to drop my woes on him.

“How does my skin look?”

“Flawlessly vibrant,” he replied loyally.

He slid from the booth — his philosophy exposed in bold serif font across the front of his red t-shirt: HARD WORK NEVER KILLED ANYONE BUT WHY TAKE THE CHANCE? — and momentarily returned balancing a tray with two coffees and a couple of baked apple pies.

As we dug into our dessert, a gnarled finger reached over suddenly to grasp my shoulder. “I’m sorry to interrupt, dear, but — you look just like a movie star.”

A bent older woman with a heart shaped face and freckles splashed across her nose had approached our table. She now clasped her knotted fingers over mine and was inspecting me with startling adoration. “Dear, you do.” Her head bobbed. “Why, you look exactly like that actress. The resemblance is uncanny! Katherine…”

This was the second time my face was placed under scrutiny today; I looked like a movie star though, a Katherine? I grinned like an idiot under such unexpected reverence as my mind considered the possibilities: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Catherine Bell, Katharine Hepburn, Catherine of Alexandria …

“… Katherine Heigl,” she pursued, “from Little House on the Prairie.”

“I think she means Mary,” Matt whispered. “You kind of do, with your hair pinned up like that.”

She gave my arm a final affectionate squeeze before hobbling off with an older man who sported a large furry moustache; she and her gentleman companion debating the ‘astonishing resemblance’ as they trailed out the door.

Matt twisted around in the booth. “Hey, what about me!”

[So in case anyone is remotely interested, apparently I look a bit like Mary Ingles, or Katherine Heigl, or the Katherine Heigl from Little House on the Prairie, if anyone is familiar with that one, albeit a paler version. Found a new word for you, Edgar: loquacious. Freshly read in Rolling Stone.]

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  1. I’m So Easily Distracted

This is a guest post by Mr Credit Card from www.askmrcreditcard.com. Mr Credit Card writes about credit card reviews, debt and other money stuff. His site has lots of credit card offers and he has even compiled a best credit card offers section. Recently he interviewed me about my debt reduction effort (I’m almost there now), and today shares his thoughts on budgeting a male wardrobe for graduating guys.

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As a prelude, one of the things that gets the most heated debates and arguments is whether credit cards are good or bad! Write a post like this and you will have tons of comments from folks who either love or hate them. The folks who love them say it is just a tool. If you pay it off every month and earn rewards, that is a good thing and a great deal. The folks who hate them say carrying a credit card makes you spend more and that their teaser offers suck you into the debt game. They advocate that you should live a debt free life by steering clear of credit card debt.

Despite their arguments, both camps agree that one should not have credit card debt. I belong to the camp that loves my credit cards for the rewards that they give me. I feel that the main reason why people get into credit card debt is because they succumb to impulse spending. That is almost a result of not budgeting or asking yourself if you really need what you intended to buy. When I graduated from college, one of the things I “had” to buy was some working clothes. Now, being married with kids, myself and Mrs Credit Card occasionally succumb to sales and “nice clothes” which we do not really need. Since we are ok financially, I guess it is OK to splurge once in a while. But for new graduates, I thought I’d compile a list of “must have” guy clothes so that you can use as a check list.

For anyone who has just graduated or are about to graduate, it’s probably time to take inventory of your life, goals, and yes, your wardrobe. One aspect not to neglect before you hustle off to conquer the world is budgeting for a career clothing overhaul. Odds are, you’ve been living in the same college uniform for a while. My guess is, (being a guy) your daily collegiate wardrobe consisted of a couple dozen t-shirts, several sweatshirts with frayed sleeves and odd unexplainable stains and a few pairs of jeans.

What universal items should stock a working man’s wardrobe?

For those who need a traditional suit

  • Classic Suit- Start with navy or gray. For those occasions when it comes in handy, a suit is a classic and should be a staple of every man’s wardrobe. Don’t skimp on quality, but do look for bargains. My best advice would be to get a reputable “local” tailor. A reasonable price might be about $450. Forget about designer for now as the going price starts at $800 and you will probably need alterations anyway. My suggestion (if you need working suits) is to get two. Either the classic 2 button or 3 button should work.
  • Crisp White or Blue Dress Shirt- One of the most useful, adaptable items you can pick up. I suggest getting at least five (more if you are lazy about the laundry). Cotton polyester mix should be good. Places like LandsEnd selling decent working dress shirts. I would stick to the basic colors white and blue. You might get away with a yellow or pink you know how to color match. One word of advice, keep your shirt crisp and immaculately white. Nothing looks worse than an off white shirt masquerading as a white shirt.
  • Ties- Try to pick up a minimum of three. A solid, a diagonal stripe and a basic pattern that incorporates several colors. You probably do not want to spend $150 on a Ferragamo tie. But you do not want one that is 100% polyester and looks cheap.
  • Standard Shoes and Belt- Black or Brown, but keep it coordinating. Most guys find black is more universal in their wardrobe. Make sure your shoes are comfortable and try to buy reputable quality shoes. You do not have to break the bank but there are many poor quality brands that simply wear out very fast.
  • A High Quality Overcoat- Like a suit, this is an investment. Buy as good a quality as you can afford. I personally bought my first winter coat at Century 21 in New York 15 years ago and I still use it!
  • Underwear – need I say more. Consider your laundry cycle and get enough so that there is always one in the drawer!

Smart Casual Attire Wardrobe

If you end up with a tech firm or a start up and does not require formal wear, then here are some suggestions.

Khaki’s – The essence of casual classic. Again, buy smart, but quality. Pick up a few pairs; you’ll be glad you did. Suggested colors would be Navy Blue and Khaki Brown
Jeans – Go with clean, modern lines. Same with Khakis, at least a couple serviceable pairs.
Polo Type Collar Shirts – Get a minimum of five (once again more if you are not good at the laundry). Basic dark colors like Blue and White will do.
Dress Shirts – You should still get dress shirts as they go very well with Khaki’s.
Shoes – Casual shoes are a little trickier. But a pair of mocs should do.

Other non essential stuff which you probably already have

  • Sunglasses – Alright, unless you are a lifeguard, this is not essential. But I think it makes sense to make a mental note of how many you should have so that you do not buy a new one every month just because “it looks cool”.
  • Tuxedo – You will wear it a few times in your life – wedding, friends wedding, family’s wedding, funeral, the occasional black tie party. You can decide to rent or to buy. If you buy, then get it tailor made and have the most conservative design so that if you ever get invited to the white house for a formal dinner, you can wear it. (no fancy Versace’s).

I’ll stop here but the point that I want to get across is that I think that planning what you want in your wardrobe is very important. The reason is that, aside from budgeting, it helps prevent you from impulse purchases. For example, if I know you already have 7 dress shirts and they are all in good condition, then mentally, I will not be tempted to get a new shirt even if I see a really nice one. Same goes with Khaki pants and polo collared shirts. I find myself tempted when I hang at Factory Outlets with Mrs Credit Card! But when I remind myself that I already have all the T-shirts or dress shirts, then I’ll just move on and not be tempted.

Paying for your wardrobe

Suze Orman actually did say that it was OK to put your working clothes wardrobe on a credit card and carry the balance if you cannot pay it off because it is an investment in your future. My personal advice would be to disregard what she says and save up for your wardrobe way in advance. You do not have to buy them all at once. Chances are that you have half of the items I listed. In fact, I always recommend that on major purchases, you save up for it, and when you buy them, put them on either you student credit card. Better still, charge them to a cash back credit card or gas credit card or any type of reward card to earn reward points or cash rebates! Then make sure you pay it off at the end of the month.

For guys, I suggest you forget about cutting your own bangs just to save a few bucks!

Final thoughts: So here are some tips to stay on budget track and look your career best:

Before you go out on a huge shopping spree, I suggest you:

1. Evaluate what you have – T-shirts, sweaters, underwear, jackets, jeans, take a gander at all of it and determine what has any more life or can be resurrected in another form, (as in a T under a sweater, or anything still serviceable). Do not buy what you cannot afford, which is a basic rule of shopping (and budgeting). Therefore, try to salvage what you can within reason.

2. Determine your career field-to-be – is it polished and totally professional in attire? Completely casual? Something in between? Spend a few minutes pondering that one. It will help you determine if you need trousers vs. casual pants, and/or how many of each.

3. Prepare – No matter how casual the job, odds are you are going to need a few pulled together staples for occasions such as client meetings, company events or even interviewing for a job.

Related Posts:

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  2. Clearing Away the Clutter


After enduring a morning of cleaning yesterday, I abandoned my domestic duties when Matt arrived so I could whisk us to (hopefully) livelier terrain. Because I needed to GET OUT! and so, in a rather dazed sweaty state, into the car we tumbled.

We were on a quest. An adventure of the open road. (I turned into the park.) Today we’d purge our bosoms of wanderlust and trample through The Great Unknown. (I chose my favorite path.) We were stuck in the outback, roaming an enchanted forest of ancient legends and mystery trees, pushing through the Julian Alps. Wild berries and mushroom patches became our white stars of edelweiss.

A rustling caused me to motion for Matt to slow down. What wilderness was skulking beyond this isolated and unfrequented bend? A Slovenian boar? Were we about to experience a morbid encounter with a mouth full of bear teeth, preparing to rend away our fleshy parts? It could be a god damned mountain lion!

(Wait. Do mountain lions exist throughout Europe? Well, shit. Within these rugged corners, they do.)

I tensed with ears pricked and was greeted by a chubby squirrel rolling a moss-covered acorn across the footpath, the process interrupted as the fellow took a moment to scrutinize us before shepherding his generous haul into a private pocket of woodland. How beastly.

We pushed our way through Rattlesnake Creek; a goose splashed at the rowdiness of water bugs and dragonflies that were enjoying casual nibbles at his feet in the raw lazy afternoon. And we lingered to drink it all in, these luminous droplets of summer.

The moments withered away and finally, we — our bellies full of adventure, faces flushed from the attempt of penetrating the unknown — trekked back to the car. I swerved a few miles down the road to avoid the carcass of a turkey vulture splayed across the gritty highway. A turkey buzzard! We marveled, as we’d never seen such a sight.

And so we moseyed home in contentment.

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Get home from work, slap peanut butter on a spongy slice of bread and scour the web for intellectual crumbs to jab into my mushy brain. Then realize I’d rather be left alone with my monsters; their stale, sunken eyes are trying not to feel anything on demand. Been writing exclusively in a journal lately and this is the gist of what you’ve been missing.

I feel like I’m in limbo right now.

Matt has been accepted into the Musician’s Institute of Los Angeles. My best friend/confidant, leaving in a few months. Not that he shouldn’t go. This dry town is snuffing him out.

Don’t fall through the stars, my darling. I’m ecstatically busted up.

I’m notoriously tardy with booking maintenance hair appointments and within a few short weeks, what resembled a sleek and full-bodied ‘do begins wilting with tufts poking out in strange places. I’ll swipe at the wily culprits and tuck stubborn wisps behind the ears. But the time inevitably comes when a quick peek in the mirror reveals a whole thrashing army of riotous hair poking into my eyes. Wiggling my fingers, I’ll attempt to smooth out the wretched mess while cursing my lack of motivation in simply slogging around the corner for a trim.

As a beauty klutz who rarely wears make-up, I was intrigued when a copy of Allure’s Confessions of a Beauty Editor landed on my desk a few months ago as a gift. Flipping open the glossy cover of this beauty tip monolith for beginners revealed a mini crash course on trimming your own bangs. (I must confess, I haven’t purchased hair scissors so the poor coils of my hair are forced to tolerate regular home shears.)

... preparing to butcher my hair ...

… preparing to butcher my hair ^

Linda Wells offers this simple advice on trimming your own bangs (p. 124):

Start by resisting the urge to wet hair – it’s actually easier to see what you’re doing when it’s dry – and by using real haircutting scissors (they don’t have to be pricey, just specifically designed for hair). Then divide bangs into three sections, grab the first one, pull it straight up in the air, and twist it like a unicorn’s horn. Snip into the ends with the point of the scissors cutting diagonally a little at a time so each strand is a slightly different length. Drop the section to see where it falls, then twist and cut some more if necessary. Pull up the next section, matching it to the length of the cut portion. And voilà – you just bought yourself a few more weeks.

Miss Wells’ useful technique has saved me frequent trips to the salon so I’m passing her information along to other humble broke ass beauties. And in the event of a ghastly failure, buttering up the receptionist and begging to be squeezed into the next available time slot should remedy your tousled tresses.

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Another storm rolled through last night except this one only dropped meek dustings of rain. I’m waaay overtired. Why is it whenever my body politely requests sleep, my mind jerks awake?

I’ve just finished a late shift at work and am now happily playing couch potato/ dipping the final glob of chicken from my Lean Cuisine into the last traces of saucy juice/sipping a decaf with my late night spread. Click on the Weather Channel and thunderstorms are in the forecast every day this week. Bugger. As long as pup stays clear of the blueberry brambles, I’ll be happy. It’ll give me an excuse at least to keep the little butterball inside while I’m at work.

Click on CNN to Sanjay Gupta chattering over some pharmaceutical controversy. Click on CNBC. Home prices are down 18% in the past year. Oil prices jumped today on dollar weakness. General Motors is seeking approval to sell itself and ten others are being charged in Madoff probe. Yuck.

Click, click.

I stare in displeasure before muting the tv and consider sneaking out for a midnight stroll. A quick peek reveals more ominous clouds approaching, so another flip through the channels it is. NYC Prep. Aha. What better way to veg out than a candid hour full of underage little vacuous twits? Just kidding. I’m crabby today but actually kind of like PC.

Not much else going on so I shall continue watching and snarking.

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Rubbing tired, weary eyes; we’ve prevailed through another storm. These savage bursts of lightning are losing their dreamy luster and the anguish flashes in my little pup’s eyes as he pointedly informs me he’d rather snooze in the basement tonight. I sigh and take the last sip from a mug of tea, savoring the sharp cloying moistness. I hate these fretful, restless nights.

For the moment it’s me and the pup and one hell of a leaky roof.

A Financial Update

I know I’ve stepped away from this site for a while but honestly have been feeling extremely drained and frustrated lately. It’s infuriating to see so many average Americans struggling financially and my heart really goes out to those who have lost their jobs recently. My Aunt received a phone call on the way home from work where they basically told her she was being laid off and not to bother coming back the next day!

Instead of keeping up on financial news, the main focus has been on enjoying the outdoors and spending time with loved ones. Lately I’ve been digging around in the dirt and establishing an even bigger garden – along with veggies, there are now blueberry and raspberry brambles alongside some grape vines and strawberry patches. And, of course, the primary goal for summer is to trim away more debt.

It feels like my finances have been bleeding unexpected expenses and unfortunately my original goal of funneling $1,000 toward my debt each month hasn’t been met. Once the summer is over, my work hours will be cut back to 19 hours per week so I’m desperately trying to pinch every penny possible for the next two months.

Right now my debt is at approximately $3,000 and I’ve decided to shell out $800 for July. Although I really wanted to slap down more, my car insurance came up for renewal in June and I opted to pay for the full six months upfront instead of doing a minimum payment. I used my Cash Back Discover Card for my insurance payment and just finished paying the bill off online. Since using a Cash Back card a couple of months ago, my reward points have accumulated to $15 so far – not too shabby!
:)

I have to keep reminding myself to be patient and feel proud over my progress over the past year because at this point, I just can’t wait to be debt free!!

That time of year has arrived where Uncle Sam determines how much of my earnings will be restored back into my eager little paws. I took a certified tax preparation course last year and am getting pretty decent at completing these buggers. After helping friends and family file these past few weeks, I’m officially taxed out!

I felt like the Mother Hen as they fluttered around and oohed and aahed over their refund amounts. (“Ok, where is your 1099-INT, dear? Whaaa..? You’re only receiving .25% interest on your savings account?? Dear god. And of course you have records of your dividend amounts. I need that documentation!”) I raised my eyebrow a few times at the thousand dollar plus refunds as they squealed in elation. (“Here you are, hon. But why are you giving the government such a large interest-free loan over the year?” – blank stare- “Sigh, never mind. Congratulations. But use it wisely!”)

I’m astounded by how many friends have no clue what interest rates are attached to their bank accounts, especially when their rates are so extremely low. As they deliriously indulged in the ‘happy money tax refund’ dance, I showed them how to access Bank Rate to compare more competitive rates for savings and money market accounts. At least I tried, although I’m not sure it did a lick of good. :)


Hah. I have no idea where these originated from but I found them tucked in my mailbox and they were too cute not to share.  Enjoy these sassy new corporate logos for 2009.

apple

mcds

citi

chrysler

dell

please-buy

fiascodow

yahoo

ford

nike

ferrari

bad-year

lg

nokia

xerox

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401k

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I received my loan statement yesterday and my debt, which was at a hair-raising $20,000, has shriveled to a more demure $5,400. I can almost feel languorous freedom again – it’s sooo close! But my debt-free journey is far from over.

Here are some simple tidbits which helped me enormously this past year.

  • I stopped digging. This piece of advice (“For the love of God, stop digging!!!”) helped so much in emerging safely out of a burning financial hole. I stopped digging myself into trouble and ardently refused to take on further debt, no matter what.

Even when a sales associate plucked Crème de la Mer from the counter and enticingly waved it in my face, I politely declined. My skin may have cried in anguish and my MasterCard moped for weeks after but my piggy bank cheered the triumph.

I know it’s really none of my business but I cringe when I overhear friends breezily using credit cards as savings accounts. This may have worked in the past but rules for credit companies are rapidly changing and I fear they’ll get caught in a dangerous situation.

In fact, I’ve been a loyal customer of WaMu for over two years and never carried a balance from month to month on their card. Last week I received a letter from WaMu’s new owners JPMorgan and Chase, stating how my new rates are getting jacked up to 30% (!!!!) <- What, are they nuts??

My rule is firmly, a line of credit is not a personal piggy bank. If someone is in a bind and using credit to help close the gap, they’re compounding a previous problem with a whole passel of other complications – ie, going into even more debt. Credit companies are just waiting for you to slip up so please proceed with extreme caution here.

Which is why it’s critical to …

  • Build up an emergency savings as quickly as possible. Let’s face it, unexpected expenses always crop up at inconvenient times, which is why it’s crucial to automatically set aside a certain amount to help zap these nasties.

When I started my financial journey with over $20,000 debt and zero savings, it felt absolutely suffocating. I would play with or quickly spend additional money and if anything came up, I was screwed.

One night I finally had some sense beat into me and swore from that moment forward, 20% of any amount of money I received would immediately be stashed away into savings (10% for short term stuff – like food or a night out with the girls and 10% for long term savings not to be touched. The remaining 80% went strictly towards my debt.)

I held myself accountable to the promise and soon that svelte percentage of savings blossomed into a respectable amount. This also brought an immense peace of mind with it.

The beauty of this is, I can still strategically plan for and afford everything I want. But now I’m saving first as opposed to being devoured by the ravenous debt monster over it. Instead of thinking, “I can’t afford to!” my new mantra has become, “How can I afford to.. ?”

  • Manage money well. Being stretched too thin was a surprisingly beneficial lesson because it helped me value each dollar more. I became an extremely resourceful chica and nimbly learned how to use available ‘stuff’ more wisely.

If you’re forced to crack into your savings by the way, don’t beat yourself up too harshly over it. But do try to build the amount back up as quickly as possible. I’ve done some really stupid maneuvers where I’ve been forced to dip into some of my long term savings. But take comfort in the fact that feeling stressed or guilty over unexpected expenses defeats the entire purpose of having an emergency savings in place to begin with.

Although it has been a financially challenging year, I’m so grateful for the lessons I’ve absorbed. I was caught in a damaging cycle of inaction and denial until I became angry enough to take back control of my finances. I finally had the courage to ask myself, whose life is it anyway?

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Talk about feeling like an intense snow bunny again. We’re getting quite an accumulation in western New York. Well, at least this blustery weather gives me the perfect excuse to cancel my evening activities and catch up on some cleaning. There’s only so much kitten fur a girl can take.

I’ve cracked out the vacuum and ripped apart the bed so far, while my fuzzy felines intently supervise my every move with their charming little faces. Actually I’ve been in the process of washing my sheets forever now since I have to do it all in separates. The last time I threw my new, buttery soft, ivory pillowcase in with the rest of the wash, it emerged the hue of a speckled carrot. : (

Since I’m patiently waiting for my laundry to finish, I went nipping around the site archives to compile some broke-ass adventures from this past year. Here’s a quick roundup of posts from 2008.

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(Financial Stuff)

My Incredibly Shrinking Savings Account. Are Savers Financial Losers? – The purchasing power of my savings was evaporating as interest rates plummeted and inflation rose. In the current turbulent economy and financial sectors, what gives?

By Taking Control Of My Finances, I Took Back Control Of My Life – The first steps to wealth accumulation blossomed when I was five years old.

Paying Down Debt, What An Amazing Feeling – Still debt-ridden but not out for the count.

Rationing Cards – A Pictorial Journey Down Nostalgia Lane – How millions of resourceful Americans kept it rational during World War II.

A Sip of Sapience – The whispers of wisdom reflected throughout the ages.

(Personal Development Stuff)

Beauty On A Budget. Some of my Favorite Beauty Secrets – Some beauty tips on how to look and feel like a million dollars, even on a broke-ass budget.

Why A Smile Is Your Most Valuable Asset – It pays to put your best face forward ’cause no one enjoys a sour puss!

Fit Nation. Time To Whip My Buns Into Gear – A gym?! I don’t need no stinking gym!

(Bizarre Stuff)

The Mysterious Georgia Guide Stones. A Shepherd of Reason Or An Elitist Covenant? – A bizarre Stonehedge-esque granite monument built on a fertile Georgian hill heralds the conservation of mankind, yet this mysterious artifact remains virtually unknown.

Google Analytics Is Fun! – Whether you’re searching for financial matters or a tiny bit of ass, you may just end up here.

Everyone Requires A Pinch Of Solace – This is actually from 2007 but I just couldn’t resist. If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!

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Numerous states are being affected by this raging, slippery snowstorm – so for everyone getting piled on, stay safe and warm!

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Timothy Geithner, Treasury Secretary-designate and president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, polishes his position within the á la mode Obama bureaucracy. geithner=^..^=

Recently when I met with an old friend over lunch, the subject of our floundering economy inevitably weaved into our conversation.

My friend works as a legal aide and felt her company was pretty secure. Yet over fragrant sips of ginger and spicy Chai, it was her parent’s business she was most interested in discussing. Her family specializes in appraising and selling jewelry.

“Business has really been booming for my parents.” She tapped her mug and frowned. “But it’s been a disturbing change over the past few months. More frequently, financially desperate customers are coming to the shop.”

She paused and sighed.

“There’s been a surge of people bringing in wedding bands, precious keepsakes and family heirlooms – treasured pieces held in the family that are now being sold to cover basic financial costs. The stories my parents hear of why people are parting with such sentimental objects is heartbreaking. It’s getting pretty bad out there.”

A woman yesterday was forced to sell a gold diamond necklace and ring set inherited from her grandmother in order to cover family health insurance costs. And a recently laid off man came in to sell his pocket watch to pay utility bills – for him, every dollar counted. This type of situation, my friend mused, was increasingly becoming the norm. To make ends meet, people were raiding jewelry boxes and other personal items to sell whatever they could to turn assets into immediate cash under economic pressure.

On the way home from our lunch, I noticed a neon sign outside a pawn shop that had sprouted up a few blocks from me. “PAYING TOP DOLLAR FOR YOUR GOLD AND JEWELRY!” it screamed.

I didn’t have far to go before I was greeted by the next lurking signboard – “I buy diamonds! Sell us your unwanted gold! Fast Cash Now!!”

Another harbinger of lackluster economic times?

=^..^=

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