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If you think this is about YOU, maybe you should go reconcile with your parent and work to get back your kids instead of continuing to be a jerk. If you think I am you, or similar to you, welcome! :-)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Saving Money, Coupons, and Do They Really Eat That Much?

Does it seem as if all you do is buy food for your grandkids? Even the little ones eat, and eat, and eat! It's seems as if it didn't cost this much when you were raising their parent, although you do remember the time Waldo munched his way through the contents of your freezer in his early teens during a growth spurt. Add to this the fact that, as you get older, you probably aren't eating as much as you used to eat in a meal. Your doctor might even have you on six small meals a day instead of the standard 3 squares you used to cook when you raised your first set of kids.

There's no question that kids EAT. It also shouldn't shock you that it cost a LOT more to feed the little goobers. If you are not prepared for the change in your market habits as well as the cost you will incur, well, sit down, call your doctor and see if you need some more blood pressure medication. 

I spent $7041 last year on not just groceries, but napkins, paper towels, styro plates, disposable plastic utensils, toilet paper, paper lunch sacks, plastic wrap, foil, plastic bags for sandwiches, plastic bags for snacks (smaller), plastic bags for freezing produce (larger), wine and other adult beverages, dish detergent, dishwasher detergent, laundry detergent, bleach, fabric softener, scrub pads, and cat food. Some people separate the non-edibles and pet supplies from the real food. I don't. I buy them all at the same places, despite what late 20th century how-to books on budgeting say about the matter. That's about $585 a month on average.

When it comes to fresh produce, I buy only what we will use if it is not on extreme sale, or try to buy a minimum, anyway. Everything else, I try to bring it home and freeze it. I am thinking of a second freezer, along with the one in my garage (upright), as well as the one attached to my refrigerator. If prices are low enough on a produce item, such as they were on green beans this past week, I will buy a lot of it and freeze it. 

I shop sales almost religiously. I have a sense on when the best sales are for particular items at particular times of the year. And I am guilty, guilty, guilty of buying items some people would never consider purchasing, such as styro plates, plastic bags and soda pop. I suppose I could go to GFS or some other wholesaler and get those deep-sided heavy paper trays that are green-friendly. I suppose I could bring my own bags; thing is, I never remember them, and it's a whole lot easier to make a lunch and toss it into a very recyclable lunch sack. I'm not getting any younger.

My first store of choice: Big Lots. That's right, Big Lots. Yes, shopping must occur there with a watchful eye, but you'd be surprised what you can find there. My second store of choice: Walmart. My third store of choice: A local grocery that has some really good sales and specializes in Italian foods. 

I am not above buying day-old bread, and scavenge the "last chance" produce cart. Due to freezing temperatures, for example, tomatoes and bell peppers are priced twice to three times what they cost last year. However, I scrounged a few pounds of tomatoes at 49 cents a pound, and 99 cents a pound on bell peppers. The tomatoes don't freeze well, but the bell peppers do and did. I have a shelf on my freezer with organic baguettes I picked up on closeout for 50 cents each.

Big Lots does not take manufacturer coupons, more the pity. Walmart and my Italian grocer do. I freely admit that I have not always coupon'd well, and am just starting again. My kiddos are afraid I am going to turn into one of those people on "Extreme Couponing" and make them sleep with shelves of stuff we will never use. That isn't likely to happen, as I only get coupons for what we will use, and try not to let our decor reflect a taste in Early Warehouse.

It doesn't hurt any of us to trim our budgets. When it comes to raising a second set of kids, it's a necessity.  

In Praise of the Legal Profession

I've discovered most people hire lawyers under extreme duress. This is often not the best time to hire an attorney, but often the most critical. Folks depend on attorneys at this time, when their lives, or the lives of loved ones, are at stake, and to be decided by a judge or a jury. 

There are jokes about attorneys, their cut-throat business sense, their evil ways in the courtroom, their lack of honesty and integrity. Yet, most people would not want to enter a courtroom without one at their sides.

I'm here to tell you lawyers put their pants on one leg at a time, same as the rest of us. Yes, they charge money for their services, money which is their due for their expertise. Most are not out to cheat their clients. Some are generous with their time and give back to the community through pro bono work (free access to their services).

The older I get, the more I seem to end up in courtroom situations, thankfully not in the criminal courts, but in civil courts. These instances have ranged from accusations of a delicate nature (proven to be unfounded and untrue), to a bottom-feeder collection agency trying to make us pay a bill that was not ours (They did not expect us to show up in court with evidence to the contrary). The Mister and I were able to get by without an attorney in two of them. The first time we were able to do so was due to the law in that state working toward pro se, or self-represented, law. The second instance was because the case was small claims and I had time to deal with it. 

Only once did we have a truly bad attorney. He took our money and did absolutely nothing, including not speaking with the other party's representation and not showing up for court. He then blabbed confidential information about us over his supper table. We knew because his kid went to school with our kid, and his kid used some of the information to taunt our kid. It is no surprise that he no longer practices law, and it is no surprise that yours truly made it her business to make sure he curtailed his law practice.

When a grandparent discovers the need for an attorney to assist in the process of custody or adoption of a grandchild, the stress is even greater.  A child's life, a child's future is at stake. The parent in question may be abusive not only to the child, but to the concerned grandparent, in order to intimidate that grandparent into dropping the whole matter. It's never a good time to spend what could amount to thousands of dollars, and one's golden years are not one of the best times to peer down the path of so many more years of raising a child. Some people feel intimidated by courts in general and attorneys in particular. They think of TV shows and celebrity court cases. The legal system is not as user-friendly as it should be, and is a mystery to a lot of people. An attorney, therefore, is not a luxury, but a necessity a great deal of the time.

It seems a good time to point out that while the attorney you hire is on your team because of his or her expertise, you are hiring an attorney. The attorney will work for you. Odds are the attorney will represent your grandchild's best interest only as a side effect (peripherally). YOU are the party going to court to ask that something be done (petition). YOU are the one being represented through the attorney, because you probably don't know a dang thing about the law, especially as it pertains to custody of your grandchild. 

Should your relationship with the attorney be that of other people you hire, such as lawn mowers, housekeepers or repair people? No. You will be the prospective attorney's client. The attorney is not your hired hand, your lackey or your hairdresser. But you should expect some courtesy and respect as somebody paying big bucks to solve a big problem. 

So, how do you hire an attorney?
  • Attorneys are people, with their own personalities and approaches to the Law. Think about your own personality before you interview.
  • Don't be swayed by ads in the phone book or on the Internet. There some attorneys out there with big ads who don't do anything but hand off cases to associates, who may or may not be good at what they do. Do your homework BEFORE you meet attorneys for initial interviews. Google their names, to be sure there aren't a lot of complaints on various web sites from people who have not had good results from this attorney or that. One or two complaints is not an issue, because not everybody gets along, and a few people have extreme expectations of what an attorney can accomplish. But if you see repeated complaints, steer clear. 
  • Also check your local state attorney disciplinary board. Many states have databases where prospective clients can research prospective attorneys for actions against them by the state. Yes, you can check the Better Business Bureau, and word-of-mouth has its own benefits. But there are a minority of shark lawyers out there, and if your state has had to discipline one of your prospective attorneys, think twice about hiring such a person.
  • When you have a list of possible attorneys, set up appointments to interview them. Many attorneys give this initial interview free of charge, or for a minimal ($50-$100) fee. 
  • If you feel uncomfortable in the interview process, take along a trusted relative or friend.
  • Write a brief summary of what you hope to accomplish, and what evidence you have to support your desire. This will keep things on track, and you won't waste the attorney's  or your time.
  • Don't be afraid to ask the tough questions. Don't hold back information on the case in question when asked particular questions. 
  • Be conversational, but don't tell the attorney your life story. This is not a therapy session.
  • Remember that age should not be a factor when choosing an attorney. An older, seasoned attorney might just feel you have no business giving up your golden years to raise a child, while a younger attorney might just be the ticket to representing you against an equally young respondent. 
  • Go ahead and ask HOW MUCH WILL THIS COST. The specifics you should learn at the interview are general guidelines on the retainer and rate per hour. The retainer is money paid up-front, much like a deposit. The rate per hour is then subtracted from the retainer. 
  • Some attorneys will want the projected entire amount in advance before they commit to do any work on the case. Some attorneys will take a small retainer, subtract their hourly rate from that, and expect either a monthly replenishment of the retainer or a new retainer when funds are exhausted. Some attorneys charge a flat rate per hour. Some attorneys charge less if their paralegals do the work. ASK.
  • If a particular attorney does not want to represent you, he or she will tell you. Don't press him or her. Thank him or her and go on to the next attorney.   This particular attorney may not have the expertise in family law to handle your case well. He or she may have interviewed with or represented your adult child recently, and there's a conflict of interest. It might be a simple matter of timing. Law schools turn out more attorneys every year. You'll be able to find one, never fear.

Once you have found the attorney for you, do your best with this business relationship to keep things on an even keel:
  • There will be an exchange of very personal information with the attorney on your part, but it is a BUSINESS relationship. Do not drive your attorney crazy with constant phone calls, every little thing that bothers you, and every antic your adult child pulls to try to get you to stop your case. Good attorneys have experience in people skills, but they are not psychologists. And remember, every minute you spend on the phone with your attorney or the paralegal cost money. It's a good time to get a therapist or join a support group, anyway.
  • The converse is also true. Tell your attorney when the unusual or an emergency happens. Examples of such emergencies are being threatened with physical harm by your adult child, kidnapping of the grandchild by the adult child, private detectives on your front lawn, harassing phone calls, stalking.
  • Pay your attorney bills, on time. I knew of a young man who tried to stiff his attorney-mediator. It ended badly for him in court. Attorneys have families and expenses, and are not made of money.
  • Seriously consider your attorney's advice to you and then DO WHAT HE OR SHE TELLS YOU TO DO. You are paying for expertise here.
  • Show up for court dates before the time set, in appropriate attire. This is not the time to show how young Grandma looks in her spandex pants, or how nice Grandpa's gold chains look against his chest hair.
  • When you have court orders, follow your attorney's advice on how to comply with those orders. Again, the attorney was hired for expertise. If you have questions, ASK.

The Four Topics of Grandparental Parenting

I get a lot of private comments via email, even if I don't have a strong readership. That's OK. I'm not out here to make a big splash for myself. I am here to help relatives, especially grandparents, with a a sad situation that occurs too often in the United States, that of parenting grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc., whether for a short time of the long haul. 

Toward that end, there seem to be four consistent topics that pop up every time:
  • How to get and keep custody of such children.
  • How to pay for the upkeep of such children.
  • How to function daily to raise such children, especially with the problems of aging, such as lower energy and physical imparity.
  • Contact with the absent parent, especially when that parent has either been abusive or obnoxious to the caregiving relative.

Those are the four topics I shall cover at this point. If I have to delve off into my own extended family, I shall do so only on rare occasion and out of necessity. They really need no further attention.