Can this dorky Recession be done with already? Yeah, we’re moving onward in to the TENS/TEENS [how’s that for a decade label?] and onto better times ahead but sometimes I get impatient. Can I write even more about collecting unemployment and/or working pro bono to bore or piss off any loyal readers out there? Dang I hope not. Sheesh I am ready to rock and get back at it with a normal paycheck and work schedule.

Meanwhile, for those just tuning in I have been unemployed since late July of 2009. I did work a very short 8-week contract assignment at the end of ’09, but while I adored the company and opportunity the pay was extremely paltry compared to what I’d been used to making the past couple of years. And while everyone there was very open and hopeful to hiring me on later in ’10 it’s now March and nothing’s chugging forward. That’s OK: I do have other irons in the fire and know that staffing/recruiting processes can be unpredictable at best. I don’t regret working there for sure! But let’s face it: the bottom line still is sagging.

And yeah, I’ve been feeling bitchy recently. Most people who know me would likely not use “flighty” or “moody” to describe me (riiight??). If I do have mood swings they’re pretty lowkey compared to others I’d say. But I DO always come back to center…or at least my version of whatever ‘center’ is. Dang it already but PMS REALLY kicked my butt this time around. Sorry if we’re getting too girly in here, gents, but here it goes: thankfully I typically only have maybe one day a month where I am extra cranky or emotional. And I try to just lie low and ride it out and not take it out on others. Thankfully regular exercise really helps keep it in control. I don’t know WHAT happened this month but my symptoms went into overdrive.

Over the past week I’d been craving salt like I never have in my life. I went through a couple jars of dill pickles. And I craved mayonnaise of all things. What the hell?? I never keep mayo in the house but had to hop to the store and grab a small jar. The real stuff – not the lower calorie version. I also felt sick for awhile – mild stomach problems – and meanwhile kept drinking tons of water to try to flush through those off-the-chart salt cravings. [I’m going through about a gallon of spring water every two days since kicking my Diet Coke habit cold turkey in January.] At a work session last week I got so pissy and annoyed when we were all ready to break for lunch and apparently one of our guys had come down with a bad case of verbal diarrhea. He would NOT STOP TALKING when it was clear the rest of us had mentally checked out! Boy was I annoyed!! And hungry. And feeling a wee bit homicidal. And yeah, at one point I thought oh God I’m not preg…can I even say or type it – eeeek??? OK settle down, everyone, NO I’m NOT. I just had a rather extreme (and rare) PMS episode this month. It’s all good. Really, I have to just laugh at myself, honestly, through all this. It keeps me sane. And I count my blessings: I am healthy. I didn’t even get a flu shot this year and knock on wood have not been ill. Normally I write off the first week of January because I have some sort of flu with a flu shot or not around that time. This year the New Year Gods were smiling on me.

OK, are we done with the tangent now?

Let’s regroup…so, what’s a sorta-high-maintenance-but-doesn’t-wanna-really-admit-it kind of girl to do on a budget? Cut back…immensely! Hence the Money Diet I’ve squawked about a few times in here. I LOVE LOVE LOVE eating out but I’ve stopped doing that save for a few special occasions and limit it to cheap happy hour and just one drink when I do. Mac & cheese at home is nothing to sneeze at. Plus you can class it up with a little pesto. Soup is good too. When the pro bono work team and I meet downtown once or twice a week we opt for places like cheap Thai food for lunch or Taco del Mar.

I am now staggering my haircut and highlighting appointments as long as I can without looking all full of dark roots shot through with grey or straggly split ends. Trust me, when you are job interviewing that is not a good look. And as I’ve touted before we wear our hair and our face every day, so it’s important to invest there. Meaning, I would never resort to cutting/coloring my own hair. We’ll continue to leave that to the pros.

Manis & pedis? I’m pretty good at doing my own nails and can thankfully avoid the need for regular pedicures in the winter. But my feet take a beating with walking, running and skating so it IS nice to get some pampering once in awhile. There is a cheap nails place near my house but I swear the lotion they use smells so bad it makes me gag so I don’t go there any more. Instead, I go to my favorite spa – but far fewer times a year.

I’ve temporarily canceled my monthly cleaning service. Yeah, for someone like me with no kids or no pets having one is pretty indulgent. But I tell you, it’s wonderful. This will be one of the first things I start back up again once I’m working. Meanwhile, I can certainly whip out the Swiffers and dust and clean the bathrooms myself. I’ve just been spoiled all these years not needing to worry about that too much.

Makeup and grooming? Thankfully I am not a “brand snob” and have always had an eclectic mix of drugstore and department store products on hand. I’m learning even more about really great, inexpensive drugstore cosmetics and avoiding the pricier purchases. And…learning to just enjoy what I already have and not feel the need to want more. I’ve got a pretty killer makeup collection I admit!

Some of my favorite drugstore products:
– Cover Girl LashBlast mascara (in the orange tube).
– Aussie shampoos & conditioners. I found the 3 minute Miracle conditioner marked way down at a grocery store the other day and forgot how wonderful this stuff is!
– Neutrogena Rainbath shower gel. This is an ongoing staple for me for 25+ years and thankfully is pretty cheap and lasts a long time.
– St. Ives apricot scrub (as an exfoliator). If you really want to be cheap you can actually just resort to good old baking soda. Yes, baking soda. It gets your face smoothed out and doesn’t irritate. Don’t laugh till you try it!
– John Frieda’s Spun Gold balm (for hair styling). Another great product that lasts forever! In fact, mine has lasted so long I think this might even be discontinued now – whoops!
– Revlon ColorStay (liquid) foundation. I’ve heard amazing things about it and picked it up one day when the drugstore was having a 30% discount on all Revlon products. I must say, I’m impressed. Honestly, foundations are one area where I DO feel it’s good to spend a little more and get professionally matched at a makeup counter or with the help of someone at Sephora. After all, if your foundation is the wrong shade or formula you’re gonna look like crap no matter what else you put on.
– Generic (store brand) vitamins.

At the grocery store I look for bargains as well – much moreso now. I absolutely love cheese and seafood but I avoid buying Brie or other more expensive types and stick with the store brand’s version of Cheddar or Monterrey Jack. I now know the term “Brand Down,” which means to check out the store’s versions of products instead of national brands. Some will surprise you! Seafood? I rarely buy it for cooking at home anymore and instead splurge occasionally on really great sushi out with a really great friend. I do enjoy cooking but stick with the basics and steer clear of dishes which need expensive, specialty items.

Two things I absolutely won’t cut out of my budget? My home landline and my gym membership. Well, I guess they say never say never but my landline has saved my butt a couple times to where it’s totally worth it. And the gym membership is a way to keep a healthy, active lifestyle which is rock bottom core to my mental and physical well-being. So they stay.

I’m not GREAT at skimping. But I’m getting better and learning. I had a shoe craving and I caved so I admittedly went a little over budget this week. But they were under $60 and thankfully don’t look it – bonus! Excellence, not perfection! Hopefully these will be good habits for the future too.