Jana Says

Living life from cover to cover

Author Archive: Jana

Earning my frugal merit badge

A few weeks ago, in an effort to reduce the amount of crap I schlep to work, I bought a new, smaller wallet that fits in my wristlet. It doesn’t hold nearly as much as my old wallet, which is a good thing because my old wallet had way too much stuff in it. I had to really think about what I needed my wallet to hold. Here’s what’s in it:

  • My driver’s license
  • My 2 debit cards
  • My emergency $20
  • A picture of my daughter
  • My library card

You’ll notice that there’s no credit card in there. When I noticed that I had a library card in my wallet instead of a credit card, that was the moment for me I realized I officially earned my official frugal merit badge.

What was the moment you earned your frugal badge?

Go Greek or No Greek

Here’s a fact about me that may be surprising: In college, I was in a sorority .

Most people who know me now, as an adult, are quite shocked to find that out. I am decidedly “unsorority girl-like” (whatever that means). When I decided to rush, it was not a decision I took lightly. I was 18 years old, a freshman in college and I had already found an amazing group of friends. Why would I need a sorority? But a friend of mine and I had a nice, long discussion and we decided that we would try rushing to see what it was like; we could always drop out if it wasn’t for us.

Going in, I kind of already knew which sorority I wanted to get a bid from. It wasn’t an easy decision in the end because another one really made me fall in love with them but I ultimately did go with my first choice. I really didn’t know what to expect because I was the first one in my family to join a sorority (I had a cousin who was in a fraternity but we’re not that close as he is weird). I had an inkling about pledging and the social aspect but no one ever thinks to tell you about the financial aspect of going Greek so that was a huge shock to my system.

Since I want you or your children to be better prepared than I was, here’s some things you need to know, financially, about the decision to join a fraternity or sorority:

Dues. This is probably the single biggest expense. Dues, at least at my school, mainly covered housing costs (if you had a house or, in the case of my sorority, were trying to buy a house) such as rent, utilities, and food and membership fees that you must pay just for belonging.  Dues were to be paid each semester and there was no discount for paying the whole year in advance. I always paid in full at the beginning because a)I don’t think we had a payment plan and b)I didn’t want nastygrams or to be prevented from attending events. Yes, our Treasurer was like a perky debt collection agency.

Clothing. When I joined my sorority, I had no idea how much clothing I would accumulate. There was a T-shirt for everything! Rush, Greek Games, Homecoming, and Anchor Splash (this is a dead giveaway for which sorority I was in, should you be inclined to figure it out) plus just buying clothing with letters on it (including “house letters” which all members were required to buy). By the end of college, I had enough sorority T-shirts to last a month without ever duplicating the shirt, which was nice because I hate doing laundry. However, those T-shirts were approximately $15-$25 a piece. That’s a lot of money for shirts that now sit in a pile in my closet.

Date parties/formals. I was initially going to include this in the incidentals category but I feel that it warrants its own category. Over my 3 1/2 years in my sorority, I probably spent more money on this than anything other than dues. From buying professional photographer pictures to the tickets for attending to the dresses and shoes (couldn’t wear the same thing twice!) to drinks to favors, the money spent on these were probably the best money I spent. You see, my husband was also my college boyfriend and he came with me to almost all of these events. It’s nice to look back on the pictures of the two of us and reminisce.

Incidentals. Good lord, the incidentals. There were so many. First, there was being a “Big Sister” and having to spoil my little during big/little week (this was pretty much mandatory). Then there was all the accessories–key chains, cups, pencils, hats, a windbreaker (don’t ask), car stickers; anything to show my sorority pride. Next came all the things I’m forgetting that I know I paid for. $5 here for a sister’s birthday, $10 here for a senior week gift, stuff like that. It wasn’t too bad considering this was the area where you actually have the most discretion as this stuff is all optional.

Fines. This is the worst one and perhaps the most ridiculous. We got fined if we missed something deemed mandatory like rush parties or school sponsored speakers. It wasn’t a big deal for me since my job ended at 6 pm every day but for some friends, it was hard. They had jobs that weren’t as flexible and would often have to miss mandatory events. One friend got fined more than she made in a shift! This is definitely something to take into serious consideration.

Please don’t mistake me being candid about the financial aspects of going Greek as discouragement from doing it if you (or your child) choose. It’s very doable, financially, if you know what you’re getting into and it’s budgeted and planned for. I didn’t want my parents, nor did I expect them, to pay for my sorority so I made sure to get a job that would pay for everything. My sorority was a bargain compared to some others, too. There was one sorority on campus that paid $900 per semester in dues. I only paid about $300. To this day, I wish I knew what $900 a semester covered.

Being Greek was both an amazing and horrendous experience for me. I don’t for one minute regret joining a sorority but there was some stuff, financially and otherwise, that I could have done without. I just wish I had been better prepared.

For those not inclined to look it up, this was my sorority.

Money docs

Although I am not a huge fan of reality shows, there are some that I watch. For instance, I love Bridezillas and Jerseylicious (don’t judge me). I also love, for some inexplicable reason, Downsized. If you haven’t seen it, or even heard of it, Downsized is a reality show about a blended family in Arizona with 7 children–6 of whom are teenagers (and 3 are triplets!)–who essentially lost everything when the economy tanked a few years ago. They were making a ton of money as a result of his construction business and when that dried up, so did their finances. The show follows them attempting to get back on track.

I can’t really figure out how I feel about the family. Some moments I love them and think “Hey, they finally get it!” and other moments I want to reach through the TV and punch every single one of them. I guess that shows what good editors they have! But it does offer a quasi-real picture of what many American families have been experiencing over the last few years and occasionally, there’s a little nugget of good information–like a financial Easter egg.

But this show got me thinking about how many other TV shows and movies are out there that deal with the subject matter of finance. I’m not talking one or two scenes in a grander story; I’m talking the central focus is money. Here are some of the ones that I’ve watched over the years:

Capitalism: A Love Story–this is Michael Moore’s scathing look at the way corporate America dominates every facet of every day lives. Told with true Michael Moore angst, it’s an interesting look at our economic system and its impact here and across the world. I’ve watched this movie a few times and while it makes some good points, it gets a bit preachy for me. I’d rather watch some of his other documentaries like Bowling for Columbine.

What Would Jesus Buy–this documentary follows Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir on a cross-country trip to stop the consumerism of Christmas and prevent, what he call the Shopocalypse. I remember watching this with a bit of skepticism but it was really quite interesting. His passion is both inspiring and overwhelming.

30 Days: Minimum Wage–this was the first episode of Morgan Spurlock’s show 30 Days and it followed him and his fiancee as they tried to survive in Cleveland living on solely minimum wage. They moved there for 1 month with virtually nothing and tried to see how they would fare. Every time I watch this episode I change my opinion about their experience. They definitely gave it a valiant effort but it was only for 30 days. I think anyone can do anything for 30 days.

MTV’s True Life episodes–say what you want about MTV and its lack of actual music and its crappy shows. True Life is a pretty good one. It’s obviously skewed for its target audience but the show has focused on many financial issues such as being in debt, being homeless, living in poverty, having broke parents and my personal favorite episode “I’m Supporting My Family”. The show provides a look at how financial issues affect the younger population, which gives it an different perspective.

I also enjoy watching what Barbara Ehrenreich calls “recession porn”. It refers to all of the print and TV journalism stories about families affected by the recession. Though I don’t get any sort of satisfaction out of watching these shows about the downfall of others, they do make me think about how blessed and fortunate I’ve been. Plus, they’re just interesting.

I’ve been watching and reading about money long before I started writing about it. I guess it’s just something I’m drawn to. And I’m always on the lookout for something new. With that, I ask you:

Do you watch documentaries or TV shows about money and financial issues? What are some of you favorites?

Free from the FBI: Child ID App

I received an email from an OJJDP newsletter that I subscribe to about an app that I think is as important as anything you’ll ever download. Plus, it’s free!

It’s called the Child ID App and it’s sponsored by the FBI. From the press release:

“Our just launched Child ID app—the first mobile application created by the FBI—provides a convenient place to electronically store photos and vital information about your children so that it’s literally right at hand if you need it. You can show the pictures and provide physical identifiers such as height and weight to security or police officers on the spot. Using a special tab on the app, you can also quickly and easily e-mail the information to authorities with a few clicks. 

The app also includes tips on keeping children safe as well as specific guidance on what to do in those first few crucial hours after a child goes missing.”

The FBI assures that they are neither collecting nor storing any information entered into the app.

It’s only available for iPhones right now, but the press release assures that they’re working on developing an app for other phones. It’s available for free in the App Store on iTunes.

Is this something that you’ll use?

Money Tune Tuesday: 32 Pennies

I am a huge fan of hair bands/glam metal. I have been since I’m 11 years old. In fact, the double bill of Poison and Warrant was the first concert I was allowed to attend by myself (1990, Nassau Coliseum. I think I was almost 13). As a quasi-metal head, it is only fitting that like many others, I was saddened to hear the news of Jani Lane’s passing last week. A radio DJ that I listen to  at WYSP (Philadelphia) said it best–his death was not shocking. It was disappointing.


Warrant has some great songs: Big Talk, Down Boys, Sometimes She Cries, Heaven, Blind Faith, Uncle Tom’s Cabin…the list goes on. They did have one song, 32 Pennies, that I think is a fitting Money Tune Tuesday tribute to the late Jani Lane. Enjoy: