Grabbing Control of Finances

Recently I posted on one of my social media pages that if a person spent $27.40 per day — or $191.80 per week — on unnecessary items, they would blow through $10,001 in a year. Think about that.

If you spend Friday night at the bar, drinking alcoholic beverages, and indulge a couple times during the week on other items, you will succeed in spending over $10,000 in the space of a year.

Now, some of you are undoubtedly questioning that claim so let me break it down into an easier-to-manage reality. The average cost for a beer at the bar these days sits at $4.75 and the average cost for a shot is $10 and up. The average cost if you order a cocktail such as a margarita is much higher, so expect to pay $15 or more per margarita because tequila, triple sec, lime juice and agave nectar don’t come cheap … to the customer.

According to bartenders who were surveyed by the Washington Post, people tend to drink three drinks in the first hour or two beers in the first hour or one and a half mixed drinks in the first hour. After that first hour, that customer is either done drinking or ready to dive in head first. That means in the first hour, the beer drinker has spent nearly $10 plus tip (because you always tip your server or the bartender), the shot drinker has spent $30 plus before including a tip (because you always tip your server or bartender), and the margarita drinker has spent just over $20 with a tip added to that amount (because you always tip your server or bartender).

Very few people who are at the bar — especially on a Friday or Saturday night — are going to leave after that first hour, so it’s easy to see how the amount spent is almost always going to increase. Add to that any rounds bought by that drinker and in no time, that bar tab will hit around $200 for the night.

That’s just for one night, and none of the fast food meals, gourmet coffees bought at fancy coffee shops, must-have sales at your favorite stores, and more have been calculated into that amount yet!

This is why having a budget and keeping to your budget is so important to your bottom line if you want a healthy financial picture.

I’m not saying a person should never celebrate or should never spoil themselves from time to time. What I am saying is that maybe this is the year to really tighten your belt and look at how much you may be spending on unnecessary expenditures, and how those expenditures are dragging you down.

Let’s say you live in the U.S. where the 401(k) annual contribution limit was $19,500 in 2021 and is set at $20,500 for 2022 ($26,000 in 2021 and $27,000 in 2022 for those age 50 or older). Likewise, the IRA contribution limit was $6,000 in 2021 and is 2022 ($7,000 if age 50 or older). Isn’t it a wiser move to cut back on the activities that allow money to slip through your fingers unnoticed and invest a large portion of that into your retirement savings for later on down the road when you’re really going to regret being so far in debt and having nothing to show for it?

How about saving up that ‘misplaced’ money for three to five years, and slapping down a nice chunk of downpayment change on an affordable house where the mortgage payments and upkeep cost are going to be less than the rent paid on a property that will never love you back?

Over the past two years while the pandemic raged, renters have been worried about evictions once the rent moratorium ended (it’s ending this month in New York). That wouldn’t be a problem if most of them had thought ahead and banked a lot of ‘misplaced’ money instead of surrendering it so willingly and so easily on things most of them don’t remember having bought in the first place.

Yes, live life for today. Enjoy living in the moment. But remember that there are a lot of moments coming up down the road that will need to be tended to and taken care of as well. The time to plan for those moments is now when you have money to toss about on unnecessary purchases.

Elyse Bruce
14 January 2022

Nearly Two Years of This

It was January 2020 when the media first started talking about the mysterious highly infectious flu-like illness that was being tracked in China. No one really knew exactly where it came from just like no one really knew where the Spanish Flu of 1918 or the Asian Flu of 1957 or the Swine Flu of 2009 began. In some respects, it doesn’t really matter where it began only that it’s here and it’s been in North America for nearly two years now.

But this entry isn’t about the pandemic. It’s not about what treatments may or may not work or do or do not work. It’s not even about who is or is not in favor of vaccines. It’s about the reaction many people have had to the pandemic itself.

I live in a tourist area that has been a tourist destination for decades. It’s not the only tourist area I’ve lived in. It’s just the tourist area I now call home.

Social media has made us all painfully aware of how others feel and react to the world around them, and while I had hoped the pandemic would have a more positive effect on people, it seems that hasn’t been the case. For the most part, people aren’t kinder or more patient or more generous with their time when interacting with others. If anything, a great many are more cruel, nastier, impatient to the point of no patience at all, and worse.

Tourists complain that this area isn’t as nice as it used to be but they fail to take into account that tourism in this region continued to increase instead of decrease over the past two years.

In 2020, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park shut down completely for 46 days due to pandemic closures. We still managed to log a record 12,095,720 visits in 2020. That’s pretty impressive when you keep in mind that in 2019 (when there wasn’t a pandemic hampering tourism), the park recorded 12,547,743 visits.

With a month of numbers still left to tally to arrive at the figures for visits in 2021, between the beginning of January 2021 and the end of November 2021, there were 13,304,740 visits … so yes, the final tally for 2021 is going to be pretty big.

That means there are strains on accommodations and restaurants and attractions. It’s to be expected when tourism increases so much over a short period of time.

According to the federal government, Sevier County’s population increased by 0.36 percent in 2021 just like it did in 2020 and just like it did in 2019 (in 2018, the population increased by 0.60 percent). What that means is that while the populations hasn’t increased by any marked amount, the number of tourists has increased (according to the Tennessee Department of Tourism) by 31 percent from 2020 to 2021!

That means the area has about the same number of people that can fill jobs in this area as it did in 2019 but it has a lot more tourists flooding into the area. Of course that kind of traffic is going to put added pressure on the hospitality and tourism industries to try to provide the level of service tourists have come to expect from our area.

Tourists need to consider these facts when they snap at workers about long waits or put businesses on social media blast if everything isn’t perfect in their opinion. After all, no one forced you to come to the area to vacation, right?

On the flip side, this area depends on tourism to thrive, and that means that residents need to take a moment to think about what they post on social media and how they interact with people in person. Referring to those who are responsible for you having a job in the first place as tourons (a hybrid of tourist and moron) won’t endear anyone to your perceived plight.

The saddest part about all this is that people on both sides of the equation feel entitled to be spiteful and hurtful for no other reason than because they can be, and the excused used most often is that the pandemic has made everyone worse than they were before the pandemic. The pandemic has become the whipping boy excuse for every nasty word and action being dished out online and in person.

Why haven’t more people made the pandemic the reason to be kinder towards others, and to reach out to those in need, and to take the time to consider the other person’s situation instead of defaulting to a negative kneejerk reaction guaranteed to worsen the situation? Is it really that difficult to consider ways to make things better in this world? Are people naturally hard-wired to be as harsh as possible in order to address situations?

Back in 1744, Benjamin Franklin wrote in his Poor Richard’s Almanac: “Tart words make no friends.” Have so many of us forgotten that we can win others over with a little kindness?

Before anyone says that the other side is mostly responsible for all the troubles, remember this saying: “For want of a nail, the kingdom was lost.” The saying is an abbreviation of a children’s nursery rhyme that dates back to the 14th century, but the meaning still impacts on the 21st century.

Each of our actions, no matter how unimportant we may feel each action may be, has consequences. If the action is one that encourages a positive response, the reaction is nearly always positive. If the action is one that promotes negativity, you can be assured the reaction is nearly always negative.

Sometimes, something as seemingly insignificant as a nail for a horseshoe is the reason a battle is lost and how, in the long run, a kingdom is lost.

Remember that every event in life is a neutral event: How you choose to react to each neutral event determines if it will be a positive or negative event. And regardless of whether you perceive an event as positive or negative, every neutral event is an opportunity to learn a lesson about how you choose to live your life.

Elyse Bruce
7 January 2022

Helping Those In Need

Yesterday, 32 tote bags from the Missy Barrett and Friends’ Night Before Christmas 2021 project were delivered in person to the LeConte Medical Center in Sevierville (TN). Thanks to the generous donations from many businesses — local, national, and even a micronation in the Channel Islands in the UK– and individuals, each tote bag was filled with much-needed items such as fuzzy blankets, facial tissue, sanitizing lotion, toothbrushes and toothpaste, bottled water, and more alongside fun items such as puzzles, books, handmade Get Well cards from the King Family Teen Center, handmade Christmas tree ornaments from the people at Heartland Services, and more.

Missy Barrett’s friends at Heartland Services were excited to be part of this project. Heartland Services provides supports and services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. and there isn’t anything the staff and clients wouldn’t do to help make the world a better, brighter place for everyone. The Christmas tree ornaments they made were amazing, and it’s so clear each and everyone one of them were lovingly made by people who care about bringing happiness to others!

Loading the van was tricky. Thirty-two tote bags may not sound like a lot but in reality, it’s enough to fill a van as has been the case every year we have done this (3 years in a row now).

Once we were at LeConte Medical Center, everything was moved inside between the loading and unloading zone, and the hospital lobby. Yes, those are also 32 puzzles in a separate box so children can choose the puzzle that most suits their tastes. In the box behind that which you can’t see were 32 Pigeon Forge firefighter hats in pink and black for each child.

Along with the Pigeon Forge Firefighter hats, the Pigeon Forge Fire Department donated coloring books as well as printed booklets on fire safety that also had coloring pages included and puzzles and other fun things to do. The thoughtfulness that went into providing the printed booklets speaks loudly to how much the Pigeon Forge Fire Department considers the needs of the community. Ten of these booklets were in Spanish, and the balance were in English. They also donated a number of other helpful items for these tote bags.

Likewise, the Pigeon Forge Police Department were also generous in what they put into the tote bags.

Every single business and individual brought something important to this project, and this project couldn’t have happened without any of them. Where would we be without the toothbrushes and toothpaste from Dr. Sean Toomey? Or the warm, fuzzy blankets from Envoy Air? Or the puzzles from Pete Jucker‘s Puzzled Etc. stores? Or any of them?

In January 2022, this blog will post an entry about a business or individual who helped make this project a success because each of them deserves to be mentioned in this way.

So as everyone prepares for Santa’s arrival, we can rest easy knowing that any sick or injured child in Sevier County who has to go to the ER at LeConte Medical Center tonight or on Christmas Day with their parent or caregiver will know many, many people care about them, and wish them a speedy recovery.

Lastly, I just want to say again that these businesses and individuals were amazing to work with, and in 2022, I ask that you support them by promoting them and the work they do as well as buying products and/or services from them (for those who have products and/or services available). This project would not be possible without the support of wonderful people like them.

As it says in the poem by Clement Clarke Moore: “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Five More Fridays

In five more Fridays and the world will be ringing out the old year and ringing in the new year with high hopes that 2022 will be better than 2021 and 2020 were due to the pandemic. For those who are curious, 2021 has 53 Fridays in it because that’s how the days fell this year (there are usually only 52) and that’s because when the new year starts on a Friday in a non-leap year, it also ends on a Friday and that’s where the extra Friday comes from even though there are only 52 weeks in a year (regardless of whether it’s a leap year or a non-leap year).

This being December, I decided to participate in Drawcember which is like Inktober in October except it’s in December and there’s no requirement that inks must be used in the daily art. Just like Inktober, Drawcember also has a list of prompts that are published at the end of previous month so participants can ready themselves for 31 days of creating original art!

I know that December is going to be a busy month for everyone including myself, and some of you may be wondering why I would put so much pressure on myself to accomplish so much in such a busy month. I like challenging myself. I like finding out if I can prioritize my life appropriately so that everything that needs to be completed and everything I want to get completed actually are completed.

How does that apply to Drawcember which is, quite obviously, a chosen pressure? I looked at some of the word prompts and realized that some of these word prompts can be put together with the word prompt or prompts that follow, and so on days when doubling or tripling up is possible, I will create one piece of art — with each facet completed on the correct day — for the word prompts involved. But when I do combine word prompts, I won’t be dialing the creativity in.

What do I mean by that? I mean that just because chimney and icicles may happen together, that doesn’t mean the implied ‘home’ (the word prompt that follows chimney and icicle) will be tossed in so I can skip Day 5 of the challenge.

I’ll share the artwork here as I did throughout October so you can enjoy what I come up with, and while some will be completed with Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Ink, others will be done with markers or archival ink pens or colored pencils or what I feel speaks best to the spirit of the word prompt. There might even be some mixed media (in fact, I know there is bound to be some mixed media).

As you can see, Day 1 of Drawcember was about peppermint and what better way to kick off Drawcember than to draw candy canes? After all, who doesn’t associated candy canes with the Christmas season? But instead of just drawing them on a tree or on a table or in a more traditional setting, I decided to make these peppermint candy canes do double duty.

The word prompt on Day 2 was sweater but instead of drawing someone wearing a sweater or drawing a sweater on a table in a store, I decided to draw five folded sweaters in a pile waiting to be put away in a drawer somewhere in the house.

I love these challenges for so many reasons, but the biggest reason is because I believe it’s good for a person’s mental and spiritual health to set aside time to be creative and to enjoy the time invested in whatever creative endeavor is undertaken.

As I did with Inktober, I won’t be posting new art on this blog every single day throughout December. I think posting every three or four days is fine in light of the fact that December is a very busy month for everyone. So in a few days — somewhere in the early to middle part of next week — I’ll be back with more art to share and some insight into what else has to do with accentuating the positive and cultivating an attitude of gratitude and finding those silver linings in dark clouds.

Until then, welcome to December and all the wonderful surprises the last few weeks of 2021 are bound to hold for all of us.

Elyse Bruce
3 December 2021

Looking For What’s In Front of You

Is it really all that difficult to find things in life that make a person happy? How about all the little things that happen that are oftentimes overlooked by adults but seem to keep children entranced for long periods of time? What sorts of things, you ask?

Well, have you ever watched raindrops race each other down a window? Isn’t that something nice to watch and from which to derive some modicum of pleasure? Some children even cheer on the underdog raindrops in the hopes they will catch up to their faster counterparts.

If you pour milk into your tea or coffee, do you take the time to watch the milk swirl about? How about giving that delightful whirlpool a quick stir to see if anything magical happens? And if you drink tea or coffee or hot chocolate, doesn’t it always taste better when it’s also a cold day outside?

How about when you find a letter in the mail box that isn’t junk mail? Of course, this must likely requires you to write a letter to someone and send it via snail mail, but think back to when you were very little and you sent Santa Claus a letter. Every day between the day you posted that letter and the day you received a letter from Santa at the North Pole, you looked forward to the mail being delivered every single day just so you could find out if Santa’s return letter was there.

And even if you only receive junk mail, opening up junk mail only to find three or four return envelopes that can be repurposed into a useful item like the currently popular junk journals for which there are countless tutorials on social media?

How about the feeling you experience when a long-awaited parcel from an online purchase arrives at your front door? I don’t mean just any parcel but one you were particularly interested in having arrive?

If you’re fighting allergies or a cold, the moment you realize you can breathe through your nose as you are fighting allergies or a cold is definitely a happy moment, don’t you think?

And have you ever put on an article of clothing you haven’t worn in what seems like forever only to find something in one of the pockets that makes you smile? It could be paper money or it could be a note or it could be a program, but whatever it was you found, didn’t it make you smile for a moment or two?

When you travel, getting back home and slipping into your own bed is a secret pleasure most of us know but few of us admit to having. And don’t you feel happy when you slip into a bed with fresh, clean sheets on it? But before you get home, don’t you love that feeling of spotting your luggage at the baggage claim if you traveled by air?

Something I love (and it doesn’t happen oten) has to do with going to a movie theater to see a movie (it doesn’t matter if it’s an old show being re-run or a new movie). When the lights dim right after all the commercials and trailers have played, and the movie is about to start, isn’t that a flash of happiness and eager anticipation you feel?

One of the most overlooked moments of happiness happen when you experience first-hand that someone you know has actually remembered the things you like, and has done their utmost to bring you a moment or two of happiness by following through by doing things you like? For example, what if you don’t like it when people make a fuss about your birthday and a friend not only doesn’t mention your birthday on social media, but remembers you love fast food at a certain fast food chain so they send you (in a snail mail birthday card) a gift card so you can indulge in fast food at your favorite fast food chain?

There are so many moments in life that are filled with happiness, just waiting for you to notice and embrace them. All you have to do is look for them and make the most of them when you find them.

Being happy as I have written often is a state of mind even in the midst of some of the most difficult times each of us may be experiencing at the time. The little things in life are what make enduring all that life throws at us possible and it makes those difficult times a little easier to push through.

Yes, I am an impossible optimist in an ever-growing pessimistic world, but that’s because at the center of my optimism is a realistic idealism that believes nothing is ever as bad as you think it is or as good as you want to believe it is, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a bit of good to be found in everything. There is. You just have to look for it, and sometimes what you’re looking for is right in front of you.

Elyse Bruce
26 November 2021

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