Story of Stuff

[NOTES ON] “The Story of Stuff”

I’m watching the entire Story of Stuff series.  Let’s watch it together, or check out my notes on all the videos, here.  Thanks – h!

The Story of Stuff is a very simple video that everyone must watch. When RF first saw this video a few years back, we were like, “OH SNAP! HOMEGIRL IN THE BLUE BUTTON DOWN IS CORRECT!” Imagine, being able to explain the mode of production, the dangers of corpocracies, imperialism, true democracy, and the effects on communities to 1.5 million people?

Let’s be real. ”Stuff” is what got us all into debt in the first place. Gadgets, cell phone bills, and expensive meals. What struck us at RF was when homegirl said @4:46 – “And if you don’t buy, or own a lot of stuff, you don’t have value.” (Let’s return to this idea soon.)

 The most important lessons:

  • history of production since the 1950s
  • planned obsolescence & perceived obsolescence
  • local living economies
  • close loop production

Please take the time while you fold your laundry:

Dodging the bullet on gift cards…

A couple of years ago, my aunt decided she was very upset with me.  This made several holidays and special family occasions very awkward.  She never actually told me she was upset with me, she just stopped speaking to me.  Because I am an astute observer of the world, I took this as a cue.  Some years later, I happened to be at a family Christmas gathering she hosted.  Surprised to see me, she gave me a Victoria’s Secret gift card that she had in her random gift pile.  While I am eternally grateful for the gesture, I already own a surplus of panties.


When my younger sister noticed this $25.00  gift card posted on my wall for years, she suggested that I finally sell it on Plastic Jungle , a giftcard reseller site.  The process is simple:  you find the gift card retailer in a listing, input the amount, and Plastic Jungle  will pay you cash for a percentage of the card’s value.  It helps to do research on other reputable sites like Giftah or Discount Granny for varying sell rates (ex. J Crew gift cards are available at a 70% sell rate while Walmart cards are available at a 91% sell rate)  and accepted retailers  (ex: J. Crew gift cards are not taken byPlastic Jungle but are  listed at Giftah.)


For my $25 Vicky’s secret card, I used Plastic Jungle.  However, there were some issues verifying my PayPal account so I opted for a check in the amount of $20.25 mailed to me – which was a good thing to avoid the associated PayPal fees. The postage to mail in my gift card was covered by a printed mailer provided via email as a .pdf file by Plastic Jungle .  Once sent, and they confirmed the card’s receipt via email, to tell you your disbursed check is on it’s way.  Overall, I liked Plastic Jungle.  The interface was very easy to use, and it looks pretty professional in comparison to some other sites out there (the next site I will use is Giftah, another trust-able interface.)


So, that  my friends, ups my total on the side. HOLLA!


***TIP:  If you have expensive merchandise from stores you’ve never used, consider returning it for store credit.  This usually comes in the form of a gift card, which you can sell online through Plastic Jungle  , etc.  This will be your best option if you were considering resale on eBay or donation.  Low amount of work, highest return in cash.

[VIDEO] Not A Drug Bust: College Student Pays Tuition In Singles.

This isn’t loot from a robbery, it’s the cost of an education.”  Well, at least he’s not paying in Sacajewea golden dollar coins.


As we head into the school year, here’s a good read from the wonder couple at the ZeroPassiveIncome blog .  Nic Ramos, an out-of-state student in Colorado, was just trying to make a statement regarding the increasing cost of a college education.  What you see are dollar bills amounting to $14,300.00.  If RF had those dollar bills ready and available, all splayed on a table, we’d buy all our readers some ice cream.  (But, we suppose, that is part of our problem.)  Peep the video:

(HuffPo article here )

(**BTW, who is that young, silent fellow beside Nic? Is that his legal rep, or something?)

The cost of education has been aggressively rising.  Do any of you remember the 2009 UC tuition hikes?  The increase caused outrage and led to a number of protests across California institutions.  The hike was sudden and ridiculous — a whopping 30% increase — and caused many dear friends of RF grief in the form of overcrowding/cancelled classes, the bureaucratic run-around, or just plain dropping out.


The basic issue with tuition is that public education should be accessible to all, as it’s a larger societal investment in our thought-leaders.  In studies exploring the relationship between education and overall societal benefits – not a bad thing can be reported.  And if you look for any case study involving the social benefits of subsidized educational costs in the Scandinavian countries through their social security net features, you’re gonna wanna move to Denmark/Norway ASAP.


The point is, should tuition rise, the government should subsidize costs via federal funding to institutions ensuring the average student can still enroll and get their learn on.  Given the manner in which the current national budget is divided, the $38 billion spent on financial aid and subsidies is a small lawn gnome compared to the $800 billion spent on National Defense when we’re talking about the landscape of American life.  PS: “National Defense” includes a good $14 million in camouflage technology – the development of new camo patterns for military unifroms – said an RF insider.  Fair warning to ridiculous!


This past June 2011, the UC Board approved another round of tuition hikes.  This is very telling.  Once we set the precedent that the onus of educational costs fall squarely on students, the primary focus on higher learning shifts, and the educational system becomes a business as a business, is justified.  Unfortunately, since the UC/Cal system is one of the largest public school systems in the country, many other states have followed suit: instead of demanding a higher allocation in federal funding, the brunt of the tuition gap has fallen on students.


BONUS:  See the national debt stacked in Benjamins!


What are your thoughts on the state of higher education in the U.S.?

roughing it_0

Poverty: The New Rustic Vacation for the Boojie (Bourgeoisie)

Image credit:  kozyndan “Roughing It”, 2005 

Since the Hipsters on Foodstamps article, I’ve been a huge fan of the Pinched series at  Having been occupied by my normal life through most of this past spring and summer, I had the time to catch up with the reading.  The writing, while very well done, and the authors, who all seem like incredibly nice and humble people, seemed to depict a very romanticized notion of economic hardship.  Seen:

“Uh, huh,” I said, distracted. I’d been crouching in front of our woodstove for 45 minutes trying to coax the smoldering pile of kindling to flames. The wood was wet and unseasoned, and the mausoleum damp of our house wasn’t helping. I could hear water plinking through the tin roof into the bucket behind the stove, where the worst of the leaks fall. When Rich’s statement sank in, I was amused at the perfect anachronism: my mustachioed husband in a flannel shirt complaining about sourdough starter. But then I realized I fit the picture, too. I wore rubber ankle boots, a skirt, a long canvas jacket smeared with mud, a wool hat and an apron. My plans for later that day: gather dandelion greens for dinner, heat water for my bath, scrub the wooden floor with a vinegar solution, and sweep out the outhouse. Yes, outhouse.” (Source)

Now, isn’t that something kind of beautiful? A plinking tin roof, unseasoned wood, dandelions, and a mustachioed husband? All I picture is the Frontierland portion of Disneyland (or at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World for sticklers) full of adults and no children, having the time of their lives, while playing with their Blackberries. Doesn’t that just sound like the kind of thing urban escapists look forward to after a rough week at work?
Now, in NO WAY am I making fun of the author, and the incredible ways she and her husband have found money-saving alternatives amidst the recession. (If you read all the way through, the linked article at Salon is chock full of recipes you might want to try at home…if you have access to nettle.)  And the outhouse, whoooooo!  That is FORREAL roughing it.

There is just something to be said about the types of vacations some people take when they want to temporarily embrace a “simpler” life.  It’s borderline condescending, and one of the reasons why terrible films like Under the Tuscan Sun or that unfortunate (and essentialist) best seller, Eat Pray Love exist.

It’s a fairly common attitude many Americans have – to go “back to basics” after people with money/access/privilege just want a lil’ slice of life elsewhere.  Whether it’s to feel “alive,” break out of work patterns, a need to find themselves…the list of potential reasons  is a fairly long one.
But what is the draw to the “simple” life?  Where we have the privilege to say, “Hey, I’m just visiting. Thanks for the nettle broth, locals! It was good as hell,” at any point, then leave.  Are we responsibly entering and exiting these communities?  If not, isn’t that a bit f–ked up?

The “basic” life in the country (or wherever that unnamed elsewhere may be) is not simple at all.  As in the excerpt above, there are a number of tasks that require so much time and effort just to run a household.  Food isn’t foraged, planted, or grown where I am.  It’s in aisle 14, about 3 blocks from my house.  It’s bought on the way home from work.  Work is in front of a desktop, not in the middle of a field.  No, things are simple here, not simple in the country.

I want to say what differentiates the rest of the world from us, crazy Americans, is that the majority of us don’t have a visual understanding of our dependence on the land. Its language is not something city dwellers/ apartment renters can pick up by ear over the course of a week or so when we visit these other places.  Americans, unless you’re a farmer fighting Monsanto, many of us just don’t have that kind of relationship with any one area.  And if we have no connection to a particular area, doesn’t that cut us off from the rest of the community, as well?

Being transient in any given place — the idea that we’re here for now, that we don’t have to build relationships — keeps us away from one another.  That’s what I’m trying to get across.  When you are not connected to the land, you are likely not connected to the community.  Do apartment dwellers know more neighbors than not?  Is this just something symptomatic of living in New York City, land of chosen anonymity?  That may be why I feel it most.

Maybe that’s why in these hard times, we seek those “simpler” spaces which remind us of those vital relationships we are looking for; the one between space and people.  When we search for “simple”, I think we’re looking for a time when what we said mattered, and we weren’t so isolated.
Maybe rustic vacations aren’t so bad after all, if they point to the lack of freedom we have in our daily lives.  We get to examine just how dependent we really are on…various external systems. Maybe we find something familiar in what should have been, when we’re transplanted from routine and have actual conversations with (what my sisters like to call)  real people.  Only outside of our insanely consumerist lives do we see the more concrete connections between land and life.

There’s a beautiful song by Salidummay, a singing group from Kalinga, a mountainous province in the Philippines.  Lots of rich ore there, so they’re always under the threat of land grabbing by foreign mining interests.  The song ends something like this: land that fed me / land that raised me / land where I raised my own / this is the land I will fight for / land where I will die.

…yeah. This city life doesn’t really make me feel that way.

31 Days to Fix Your Finances

Next week, I will begin The Simple Dollar’s 31 Days to Fix Your Finances program.


Hopefully by the end of this, I’ll be like this lady in the picture frolicking in some benjamins!


If you’d like to follow along with me, please click on the link above to purchase your own copy for $2!  I’ll be documenting my progress and reflections for the next 31 days – over the month of September.  So, if you want to see the qualitative changes this makes in my life before you decide to invest, then make sure you come back from time to time to check in with the POVERT series.


But seriously, the book is only $2 on Paypal.  That’s like.  A slice of pizza.  I say just do it.

[VIDEO] Cartoon Explains the Current State of the Economy & Why You’re Poor As Hell.

RF enjoys this trend of Youtube-accessible animation being used to explain scary (and very adult) economic situations.   This video covers inflation, stagflation, the recession, and answers why the U.S. Treasury can’t just keep on printing dolla-dolla bills, y’all!  ALSO, this is the first time we’ve heard the current state of the economy called “a global economic collapse.”  So, this animation ends on a bit of a dark note: “The only thing we can do is to prepare for very. EXTRAORDINARY. CIRCUMSTANCES!”  OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMG!  LXD - Save us from impending doom with your impeccable dance steelo.  kthx!   Now that we better understand this situation, we  just hope the US didn’t borrow from Sallie Mae.  Because they be blowin up phones allldatime like cray, OHkayyyyy?  (…and we don’t even owe close to $14 trillion…)   Please take the 5 minutes to watch:

UPDATE: Adam Baker, a favorite blogger of ours, of Man Vs. Debt recently blogged about this video, too!  In his post, he covers the way these larger systems affect the average American family.  If you don’t follow the blog, Adam is a father to an adorable toddler, and currently lives with his wife in New Zealand.  They’re originally from Indiana, and sold all their belongings after a round of several debts to travel the world.  RF loves the blog, but you should check out what other people are writing in response in his comments section, too!   *Featured image source:

When There Are No More Texts, I’ll Be Forced to Have an Actual Conversation With You

In the next year, there seems to be a push for major cell provider networks to kill texting. According to CNNMoney , the popularity of Smartphone data packages and free text providers (like RIMM’s Blackberry messenger) are convincing major service providers to label text messaging “passé.”


Text is a primary form of communication in my life.  I, as a po’ folk, cannot afford to pay for a data plan.  I do not have a smartphone, not because I don’t enjoy convenience, but because it is an incredible luxury to someone without income.  Anything  $100 or more for a phone bill is ridiculous to me.  I’m positive that there are millions of other Americans, just like me, who can’t afford that kind of expense.  My cell phone has taken the place of a landline, like many other households in the US.


I can no longer picture life  without a phone.  When you’re unemployed and waiting for employers to call, or need identity verification for various security things, it’s vital to have a means of contact.


Recently, when I asked T-Mobile about the options available to reduce my bill (which is now round $87.00/mo) they simply had no options that made sense.  The most inexpensive package they had was more expensive than the unlimited call and text plan I currently use.  Because they’re dumb (and because I still am under their contract for 3 more months) in my defeat, the only thing I channeled my rage into was the VERY STRONGLY WORDED EMAIL I’d write some time I’m free.


The article linked above states:


 Texting may sound cheap, but it’s actually an incredibly expensive way for consumers to send data. Text messages max out at just 160 bytes, which means 20-cents-per-message plans cost wireless customers an astounding $1,250 per megabyte.


While I was abroad in the Philippines this summer, I spent a lot of time with my local Nokia cell phone.  It was the ugly kind.  The kind you had in the year 2000.  Though there were some battles lost to predictive text, my Nokia was pretty reliable.  You know what else?  My phone was pre-loaded.  I would buy the equivalent to a $12 phone card/load and that would last me one month with about 350 texts, and some minutes for some quick conversations.


It costs about $0.02 USD to send ONE text in a developing nation.  So that $0.20 / message quoted above for US-based providers is actually $0.18 going to the pockets of middlemen, and other ridiculous inefficiencies that have absolutely nothing to do with the mechanics of sending your text.  So, again, this is just some bullsh*t about profits, and people changing things up so that it becomes compulsory to purchase a smartphone and its accompanying data plan, since there are practically no data-less packages at this point.  STOP OVERCHARGING.


If you think that there’s some tomfoolery a-happening on your cell phone bill, the FCC has put together tips on what to look for in the event you wanna hang out and take part in a larger class action lawsuit against your provider eventually.


Please visit MyRatePlan for a very straightforward listing of the rates available in your zip code by major service providers (AT&T, T-mobile, Sprint, Verizon, etc.), and a peek at web design back in 2001.  However, to gain a more comprehensive understanding of your bill, and a more personalized assessment of your needs (requires your login info with your current cell phone provider to analyze data) try Bill Shrink.  The listing will then be emailed to you so that it can sit in your inbox archives 4evs.


(Also, let’s not forget how some of these corporations are absolute dbags.  LOOKINATCHU, VERIZON!)

Selling Out Online: Parting With Your Things on the Internet

When times are tough, the internet is always a good place to sell your crap. source:


It is crunch time.  In a mad dash to make some money, I collected all the things that might possibly have value, sorted through the piles, and now listings are alive and well all over the internet consumer-sphere!  Whatever doesn’t sell will be donated immediately.  This seemed like the best option for me right now because:


    • My younger sister was really adamant that I finally get rid of all the things I’d been promising to sell for years.


    • I really need to reduce a lot of my belongings to prepare for the big move.


    • Turns out, reducing all the clutter in my home is helping with my anxiety!


    • Might as well try to see how much cash I can get for things before I throw them out/ donate them.


    • It’s a decent (and lucrative) way to whittle away the time while I wait to hear from various employers about my resume. (ugh.)


So, here I am, AMAZED at all the things I’ve accumulated – papers, containers, crap – as I haven’t moved in a while.  There are a couple of items I don’t really know what to do with, but insist they are collectible.  Old limited edition Barbie dolls, unopened perfume bottles, and the biggest downers: the  CDs and DVDs I own.  After some research and price comparisons, disc-media jsut don’t make a lot of money at all now that Netflix and iTunes are all the rave with the young folks.  Who wants my Floetry CD or my Family Guy Season 2 boxed set in the middle of a recession?   I’ll tell you:  NO ONE.


Anyway, I wanted to share some of the sites that have shown some kind of tacit specialization in the art of reselling:


eBay – of course is good for your random, big ticket, used things.  I’ve been selling some clothing and costume jewelry on it.  Basically, if it’s in the way of my cleaning streak, it’ll end up being on sale.  I have way too much clothing and accessories anyway… –   There is  2-week wait for funds to clear into your Paypal, so it’s money, but not very quick.  I say good for books (especially for textbooks right now, as the school year begins!) but their commission is SO HIGH, that I actually asked for a more transparent breakdown of the deduction they take.    On a recent textbook sale, this is the breakdown that was provided:
Order date: 08/18/2011

Buyer’s price: $64.25

Amazon commission: -$11.98

Shipping credit: $3.99

Your earnings: $56.26
Close to $12 for a commission!  that’s like 3 days of food! , I’m madatchoo!  BUT I NEED YOUR SERVICES RIGHT NOW, UUUUGHHHHNNNN!  (na na na naaaaaa) is great for books, but the selling prices for books seem a bit low right now.  The commission they charge is fairly straightforward, and the disbursement of funding is fairly quick.  They seem to be on top of seller accounts, too, to limit fraud and other scams.  Turns out I had about $125.00+ from previous sales that went unclaimed, and they put my account on the “vacation setting.”  There are some simple steps required to reinstate my account, all involving the verification of my identity, so I plan to go back to like a guilty lover as soon as I do.  &  – For those CDs and DVDs, there are tons of sites that basically buy  your used things, check if they’re in decent condition, then resell those items at 200x their buyback price (yes, totally possible if they offer you $0.05 from the jump.)  There are some sites like that offers website credit to choose from pre-owned media they carry on their site – buybacks just like yours.  Other sites like offer cold, hard cash and free shipping for your items (but only if you have more than 15 pieces approved by them.)  I’ll try the and post a review later, but there are tons of sites to choose from if you just Google “where to sell dvds.”
Selling it yourself – For other craftier things I find around the house, I’m thinking about , but I know they have listing fees for storefronts.  Since I want to avoid that charge, I’m thinking of taking the lead from my friend’s online, and just use a combo of Tumblr, Paypal, and Facebook to get rid of more specialized junk.  Look at Kristia’s site, Salaamat Jewelry & Adornment , the model for the site I’m to build to see what I mean.


We’re looking to expand this list, so do you know any more sites where people can make a quick dollar? Do you have any other creative leads for selling online?  What are some interesting things you’ve sold online?  Please leave a comment below! 








ps:  in case you’re interested, my sister has some Murad products for sale. Help her, and clear up your acne SIMULTANEOUSLY.  It’s a win-win!

The New York Times Paywall Might Make Americans Dumber.

I remember when Le Monde was unavailable as an online version while I was an undergraduate in college some years ago.  If you tried to search for it, you were met with a splash page containing its logo and the subscription rate for its paper delivery.  Though I still don’t know a lick of French, I’m glad I have the option to access its fine reporting after a series of speedy clicks.


What’s no longer free: The New York Times.   I know we’ve had a good season or so to really get used to all the paywall features on the site, but I’m thinking about the impact this may have on the new generation of scrubs that live out here in this jobless world.


I remember in the mighty heyday of AOL 7.0, prior to the onslaught of accessible internet information, the NYT already had a paywall version in place.  However, it affected readership, and by the early 2000s, accessing articles online was free.  Now, I know there are entire sites dedicated to skirting around the 20 article/monthly limit on the site, and others which just point you to BBC and Al-Jazeera.  I just doubt the less Google-y inclined…well, let’s just say they won’t be reading Bittman anytime soon.


No, I don’t have any hard facts for you.  It’s just a guess: asking for money to read online news during a recession will lead to a decline in readership.  I’m on tumblr, I know how many of these hipsters rely on their NYT:Lifestyles newsfeed for quote posts in between some Funny or Die videos.


All I can say is that folks have strayed from the Sunday paper in bed – that’s for stable 30somethings with open-brick facade bedroom walls, and cushioned headboards.  We are not of that clan.


Paywalls are particularly heartbreaking once I see them pop up at sites I frequent.  (I remember feeling a bit forlorn when HULU decided it needed one in 2010…) Particularly around reporting, online information should be free.  The truth should be free.  The least number of obstacles should be presented toward the truth.  Hypervocal cites this entry from the Pulitzer Center blog, and poses a very good question:  ” ‘Anything that can safeguard the quality of journalism is welcome.’ But what exactly are we safeguarding?


Yeah, NYT.  Are y’all hard up and RecessionFRESH, too?


UPDATE: Some hard facts from our friends at GIGAOM.  (but don’t click around too too much.  GIGAOM has a paywall, too.)

Flashback: Potted meat is a real thing



Photo source: Wikipedia

Flashback is a feature of which talks about our experiences of poverty and explores our emotional connection to money.  If you would like to submit for this feature, please email us at .

While there are tons of  humorous accounts of people’s experiences with potted meat, many of them trigger my own childhood traumas and my understanding of poverty.
Isn’t that pate, you ask?  No, it is not pate.  Potted meat is what fills the casings of vienna sausages. Stuffed into an aluminum can, with a little soda can tab.  My father used to make sandwiches with potted meat and white bread while he was living out of a motor home.  The custody hearing determined we’d spend every other weekend with him.  I can still see him:  after peeling back the lid, my father would use it to spread out the filling between and across corners of the future sandwich.  It was admirably efficient, but I could feel myself doubling over inside.
Potted meat was my father’s favorite “cold cut,” though it was neither cold, nor cut.  He would argue that potted meat was better than anything at the deli, since it keeps well and you could never really complain that it was too hot or cold since it challenging to figure out the temperature of a thin paste. Potted meat was also always ready: a meal as soon as you opened the can.  Because these would be in my packed lunch, I never had the kind of meals or snacks that would interest my classmates in a trade.  I didn’t meet string cheese or fruit snacks or oven roasted turkey for another couple of years.
I write this because we all have our triggers – things that take us back to the time where we felt the shame of our poverty.  For one of my sisters, that trigger is wearing ugly socks whenever she has to take off her shoes before entering someone else’s home.  For some, it’s forgetting their wallet after ordering a cup of coffee.  For others, it’s lining up at the welfare office at 630 in the morning.  For me, it’s potted meat.


Is there a thing/event that still triggers you, and makes you “feel” poor?  Please leave a comment in the box below!


Fresh out of this recession; Tips for the poorly privileged…