Archive for March, 2011

I just did my taxes

March 27, 2011

Being self -employed, tax time is always enlightening. I pay  a quarterly estimated tax to the IRS (as that is the law), and because I keep very careful records (its the Aspergers’, and my father  teaching me what information I needed to keep track of), that, while I owed the IRS $400, the interesting thing is that I learned I grossed a bit over $50,000 last  year.  How did I do that?

It wasn’t all grooming dogs (about $19,000 of it was…).  If you’ve been reading my blogs on a regular basis, you know I did  major home improvement.  Yet, I managed to  actually save about 3/4 of that income.

I managed to do this by being disciplined (and scared).  If you ever read what Suze Orman writes (she has a column in   The Oprah magazine), she tells you what to do.

*  I track my spending.  I try to put virtually everything on a 1 of 2 credit cards. Why?  Well, for a long time, Chase paid 1–3% back. In a state with a high sales tax—that  adds up.  When I grocery shop, I  pay attention to what’s on sale.  I generally shop the specials…& in the past several years,  Ive stopped using a lot of processed foods.  I used to love Rice-a-Roni, but it is no longer a good value.  It has way too much salt, and even if I added brown rice to the mix, it  was just too salty. I learned to  use other condiments.  Also, many of our local independent grocers have much better values than the chain grocery stores.  I also  go to Dollar Tree, where  stuff is really a dollar, & they have a frozen food section;

*  When I insulated the ceiling, I cut the gas bill  by over 1/3.  I  am shocked at what a difference it made.  For a long time, I avoided doing this, because I didn’t want to poke holes in the ceiling.  Stupid!  It was worth poking the holes!

*  We got rid of the Dish.  It’s not like that was a huge expense, but they doubled the price, with no warning, and that pissed me off.  It ended up making TV cost about  50c an hour.  The irony is, the shows I wanted to watch were not on when I wanted to watch them.  I ended up watching them on the computer!

*  I challenge my property taxes every year, and I make sure I  do the paperwork  for the deductions for the homeowners  and longevity exemptions.  This won’t help you if you are a renter….but  something to consider  is that  owning real estate is the best value it has been on over 30 years.  You’d be an idiot not to check out buying a home, building equity–and security!

*I check my investment accounts once a week or so, and research the mutual funds about every   six months.  I am at the age where I have to be less speculative, and start changing from stock funds to bond funds.  I am glad I was a member of an investment club, and learned about doing the research.  I do not make enough to invest in stocks.  I say that, because they are too volatile for me.  If I was consistently netting over $20,000 a year, I might be more speculative. My roommate, who has a high income, has done extremely well. These days, your money  earns nothing in a savings account. In fact, due to inflation, you lose money in a savings account, so I am always looking for places that pay over 2% but leave me somewhat liquid;

*  Fashion?  I groom dogs.  I can’t tell you the last time I wore a dress (it might have been a summer party). I have been going to  the local Unique Thrift Shop and buying pants with pockets…stuff I can throw in the washer.  I don’t need any more  T-shirts.  I am sort of surprised by the number I find in the alleys.  Living in a high density  neighborhood, people don’t throw  good stuff into their trash, but set usable items on the side for pickers like me.  Sometimes, I will  find a simple tunic or scrub top at  Unique, or the Salvation Army… and Savers, a  resale store from Australia is moving into the metro area, and they always have a phenomenal  selection;

*  I am signed up with all the area  market research groups, and  some researchers looking for volunteers post on Craigslist.  They post in the etc. section, and also in general.

All the above said  and out of the way…I am always looking for work.  I have 1 page   on a community website (there are other businesses that also list), and from doing a key word search, I get about 4 new clients a year.  Think  about it.  To just do a key word search because you can’t find a dog groomer who has made your dog look like you want means you are pretty frustrated…but so far, most  people I have booked have been happy with my grooming.

As I write this…it is March. The days are getting longer, and warmer…and all the  dog groomers…the microbusinesses that have been barely paying their overhead since  after Christmas are  feeling optimistic and looking to  add  personnel.  I have experience. I manage my time well, but I am also realistic.  I tell the business people when I respond that I have to average $150 a day to make it worthwhile for me to work for them.  If their average fee for a dog is $50 a dog, and my commission is 50%,  and I do  6 dogs a day, that is no problem.  If their average fee per dog is $40 a dog, I have to groom at least 1 more dog & hope for tips. That would be do-able for me….but if they charge under $40 a  dog, and can’t provide me with that much work, I  might be losing money working for them. The price of gas in Chicago is  $4 a gallon.  Some places, you have to pay to park.  I am  a groomer who pays for my own health insurance.

I have  answered 6 posts for   dog groomer wanted since January, and  at best, I’ve gotten  excuses.  Apparently, the owners do not know what AVERAGE  means,  or they feel they are the only ones entitled to make a living.  They claim they can’t raise their prices or pay a groomer a higher commission.   What’s even worse…they  have done what  every inexperienced service provider does:  they’ve started their prices artificially low, hoping to raise their prices  as soon  as they were established…and never  did because either the economy was too bad or  they felt they could not compete with  other businesses offering a comparable service.

I figured out that it would take me  about  2 hours round trip travel in the city, and my take would be about $100 per day for grooming six dogs.  I could stay at home and groom 2 dogs a day  for $100 and save the gas and travel time…&  indeed…that is what the best groomers are doing.  So—who are these businesses hiring?  People either just out of grooming school , or they are hiring bathers and attempting to train them, or  ‘retired’ groomers’ who don’t mind  working hard and being underpaid, because they live with somebody else paying the bills.  They hire people who don’t ask too many questions, and then who just stop showing up  when they get a better job.  Dogs get injured and stressed out in the mean time.

There are a lot of  ‘dog groomers’ looking for work.  We run the gamut—from the  newly trained  grooming school graduate who loves dogs to the  person whose mother was a hobbyist/fancier who sent  her daughter to a dog show handler to learn how to groom, to the pet owner who got a book and started grooming neighbors dogs.

Several of my friends who are consultants in  other industries suggested that I do consulting to these small  dog grooming business people….but that is not what the dog grooming business owners want. They want  cheap labor to  accommodate their perceived clientele.  It always backfires.  I have seen it backfire for  about 40 years.  The shops where groomers  make a living wage never lose their groomers, and always have a client base willing to pay.  But  this is capitalism in America.

Years ago, I (along with millions of other people) read What Color is Your Parachute, a long book about  how getting the job you want is being in the right place at the right time.  I recently was in that place, and I hope that it will work out.  However, knowing what I don’t have control over, I will continue to live my frugal life.  I recently learned that 2 relatives are  downsizing because, essentially, they’ve been paying too much for housing relative to their income.  Now is a terrible time to sell a house (but a great time to buy).  I am preparing for that time, myself.  My biggest problem  will be property taxes.  I know this.

I hope that this information is helpful.

Do the math

March 17, 2011

I have never been a fan of nuclear power.  Why would I care?  Well, if you innocently start asking questions about  it…how it’s built, where to you get the fuel, why is it so complicated, how long does a power plant last…you start to see it is a really dangerous way to provide power.  If you know anybody who has died of cancer, you know it is unpleasant.

Funny thing (not really), we Americans are so scientifically illiterate. Our leaders have known we are  scientifically illiterate since the 1950’s.  Educators have been writing about our general rate of scientific illiterate (as compared to other countries) since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik.  Most of  the graduate students in the hard sciences (physics, engineering, mathematics) are foreign  nationals or first generation Americans.  i did my Master’s Project on this in 1992.

Clearly, the  only way—THE ONLY WAY —-to  increase our general knowledge of real science is to pay  primary school science teachers who love science and  love teaching…more than other teachers, and make their working conditions exceptional. Then we would not have to import technology and knowledge from other parts of the world.  We spend so much money  teaching  our youth about Shakespeare, and European  history, and we  spend not a tenth of that on science education.

There are reasons we don’t do this.  Teachers unions are one reason, but they are not totally to blame.  It’s really our political leadership. They really have a vested interest in keeping Americans ignorant.  When Americans don’t get their panties on a bunch over  dangerous practices (like war, or nuclear power) it’s much easier to tax us into paying for stuff that really does not benefit us—in the long run, or the short run.

We know who  are on our sports teams. We know who the Khardashian sisters are, & Charlie Sheen, and so many  celebrities…but if you were to ask the average American what the benefit is..to war…to nuclear power (over  less expensive alternatives that would benefit more people) we are clueless.

Of course, what got me thinking about this (not that I am cynical or anything) was the earthquake in Japan, and the meltdown of   the nuclear reactors.  Not exactly melted down?  Well, according to the press, you are right.  Just not usable.  They will have to be decommissioned, covered in concrete, and be the monument to man’s stupidity.

The Japanese, as a country, are much better educated than we Americans.  Ask the ones who are left, and they never liked the idea of nuclear power for all the reasons we all know.  Dangerous, expensive, not as good an idea as renewable energy sources.

That’s why they keep developing energy efficient electrical  stuff.

I live in Illinois, and I am an electricity hog.  I know it, I admit it.  I  groom dogs and  in the general scheme of things, the dog grooming industry uses a lot of electricity and clean water.  But, that said, is there a way to  get the energy I need without befouling the earth and making it uninhabitable?

I did a google search to find out what it costs to build a nuclear power plant, and the short answer is…$6—7 billion.  According to  several sources, this  cost of buildout and delivery —and decommissioning after 40 years, costs  25—30c a Kilowatt hour.

According to the natural Resources Defense Council  (www.nrdc.org), solar electricity averages 10—14c per kilowatt hour (the panels costing $1000–5000 per panel installed).  If you do the math, you can see that virtually every building in a nuclear power plant’s catchment area can be retrofitted with solar panels.

I am sure you are wondering …if the solar panels can meet your energy needs.  Do a little more  research. Your electricity is not  fed from the panels to your electrical outlets—it is fed into batteries—and those batteries  feed your outlets. Your biggest problems? The refridgerator, the washing machine, your vacuum cleaner, and maybe your dishwasher.  Everything else?   These days, they don’t draw much more than a 100 watt bulb.  You can have an energy audit done of your house and check it out!

So…why are we still even considering nuclear power…or any fossil fuel?  As they say:  follow the money trail. The   power companies…mostly run by  white men & the people they employ,  have a huge lobby, and they pay our politicians to be and remain stupid. Ok, maybe not stupid. Poorly informed and scientifically illiterate.  Imagine, they are turning corn—food!!  into fuel.  Net energy loss right there.  Makes no sense.

This is not a some day thing.  Maybe in the 1950’s it was.  It is no longer.  Well, what can I say? The politicians have convinced  a vast majority of people it is worth dying for ‘democracy’ in the Middle East as the soldiers and their families are losing their homes in the USA.

They do not know more about this stuff than you do.  Check it out.

Hate your life? Want to work with dogs?

March 10, 2011

As thought I haven’t beaten this ‘dead horse’ enough….someone gave me some old Oprah magazines, and  someone asked Suze Orman if she should go for the  dog grooming career change.

Suze’s answer was good…in so many words, she told the  woman to  apprentice.  I am going to add to that.

When I learned to groom dogs, over 40 years ago, America was a much different place.  Lots of us in the white middle class lived the  Donna Reed Show/Ozzie & Harriet suburban existence.  Our families might have been dysfunctional, but what white households spent on  overhead was a much lower  percentage of gross income than it is now…& we are not going back. Face it.  You want a better balance?  Consider expatriating yourself, and I am not joking.

Also…when I learned to groom dogs, the  industry was still at the point where you   could not apprentice with an experienced groomer.  They taught their kids.  It’s the culture of the industry.  I  went to a dog grooming school.

Also, the culture of the industry remains that the people who go into dog grooming for a living are not great capitalists, and they don’t care if you can support yourself or not.  They want to do what they want to do, and that’s how it is.  & that is why there is anecdotal evidence that the average groomer stays in the industry for less than 5 years.  They get injured, they get bored, they get frustrated with not earning a real income. Think about it.  I wouldn’t take a job that paid $8.50 an hour unless it included benefits—&  your benefits are worth an average of $5 an hour.  So—that’s $13.50 an hour.  It’s easy to figure out what a grooming shop grosses if you  know what the average charge is per dog, and you know  how many dogs the shop averages in a day or a week.  If you apprentice as a dog bather, you will get to see all this.

But wait a minute here!  Do you groom your own dog?  Are you in control of your own dog?

Have you  ever followed through and gotten a dog to off leash reliability?  I’ve put obedience titles on  two sighthounds (both were nationally ranked in their breeds when they competed) and I trained other people to train their dogs.  If you  haven’t  trained your own dog, how do you figure you are going to get someone else’s dog under control to make it look good and not injure it?  They can teach you some of the skills you will need if you go to a dog grooming school, but they can’t teach YOU to be a leader.  You must be a leader.  Any  experienced dog person will tell you, it’s either you or the dog, because dog ownership is not a democracy.  Also, my other favorite thing to remind  potential dog professionals of is: you are not going to be grooming Lassie.  Think Cujo, and hope for Benji. Also, the dog grooming school can’t teach you talent.  You have to have an ‘eye’ for  dog, and know in your mind’s eye what the ideal dog of that breed is supposed to look like.

How fit are you?  Are you even remotely athletic, or in shape?  I was not.  I made a point to start working out on a regular basis, because  dog grooming is very physically demanding. You will be lifting, carrying, bending—a lot.   When I first started grooming, as a teenager, I would come home after work, eat dinner, and fall into bed.  I remember once my mother waking me up and yelling at me that my father had to walk my dog, and I was so paralyzed with exhaustion that I could not move.  I  do  what  personal trainers call core exercises.  A lot of groomers leave the industry because they get injured, and you are less likely to get injured (and you will  heal faster if you do) if you are physically strong.

Ok, you really wanna do this…and the grooming schools you’ve contacted have  helped you to get loans (grants?  maybe…my state is broke, but  I hear about retraining grants…).  When I was contemplating graduate school, a number of people with advanced degrees told me to NOT PAY FOR GRAD SCHOOL. They told me that if any grad school had confidence in me, they would give me an assistantship. They were right.  If you are going to put yourself into significant debt to learn a skill…you’d better be awfully sure you will make enough of a living to pay that debt back without cutting into your living expenses.   Keep in mind—they may give you a syllabus of what they will teach you—but you don’t know what they will NOT teach you.  You will not learn the nuances of the breeds—but if you want to be a good dog groomer, you really need to learn them. The only way is to talk with the  hobby breeders and fanciers.

There are several  dog grooming websites where you can ask questions of dog groomers:  http://www.TheGroomersLounge.comhttp://www.groomertogroomer.com ;   http://www.petgroomer.com Go ahead and post…ask  how they got into the business, & how long they’ve been supporting themselves grooming dogs. Ask what breeds they do the most, and their average fee per dog.  Ask how they learn about equipment and styling, and new techniques.  Ask if they are busy all year , or if their business is seasonal.  Ask if they show  dogs or are otherwise involved in performance events.  Ask how they hire, and what their groomers make in an average hour or day.  Some groomers will be honest about this.  In fact, I was, when employed by successful businesses, averaging over $25 an hour when I worked.  But  from grooming dogs last year, I earned just $19,000.  Ask how many groomers work for businesses owned by non-dog groomers (or other non-dog  fanciers).

Do you still want to do this?  Do you know how much it costs you to live very month? What you spend on groceries, utilities, insurance,  gas and maintenance for your car, rent, savings & retirement. Retirement?  I know of  a few dog groomers in their 60’s, and I probably know some part timers in their 70’s, but none in their 80’s.

Is your hobby  shopping?  Are you into fashion?  Your clothes are going to get  ruined…as are your nails.  You might want to think about whether you are willing to forgo this.  In fact, you are going to start keeping every receipt for every purchase.  I put everything I can on a credit card that pays cash back.  That’s how I track my spending.  Of course, it goes without saying that I pay it off every month.  My credit score  is in the 750 range. It would be higher if I had a higher income.

You are going to triage your stuff.  Can you do that?  Can you edit your belongings into  keep/sell or donate/ toss?  You are going to start itemizing on your taxes. and you will need every deduction you can find.  Whenever I donate anything, I  get an official receipt, and I list everything I donate, using an IRS approved client valuation guide.  Just about everything that  works or isn’t damaged has a value—but  you  will not get 100% of the value as a deduction—your value is based on your tax bracket. Yes, it might change, but  that’s how it is for now.

Do you keep a calendar or date book?  Because if you do not, you will never be able to do this. This is a service business, and you have to know when you will be delivering service.  You will also have to learn how to manage your time, and how much time a given task takes.

Are there certain types of dogs you don’t like?  Get over  it.  My clients know that if they were all Cocker spaniels, Saint Bernards, or Old English Sheepdogs, I wouldn’t have a dog.  Many groomers don’t like Chow Chows, Afghan Hounds, or Lhasa Apsos.  Some groomers won’t do the giant breeds. It’s up to you.  As long as I can handle the dog, I will do my best to groom the dog in a humane fashion and make that dog look as good as I can. It’s a matter of integrity.

Integrity…sticky subject.  I believe in planned breeding.  However, there is a terrible pet overpopulation problem in this country.  You , as a pet care professional, have to know this, understand this, and be able to articulate how you feel about this.  I  will probably never ever again, in my life, purchase a puppy.  I don’t have the time to train a puppy.  If you  really have the time, and won’t make excuses, and that’s what you want, go for it…but don’t say it’s because you want to train the dog the way you want to train it, because that is bs.  If the dog  does not have a mental issue (& sometimes you won’t know this until the dog has physically matured), you can train most dogs if you know  good  behavior shaping techniques &  are consistent.  I have written about this before:  the dog not totally housebroken by the age of 6 months has only a 50/50 chance of ever being reliable.  It’s not a breed issue, in most cases…it is a dynamics issue.  That said, I’d  go to a breed specific rescue to  check out dogs.  If you like Pit Bulls, there are plenty in shelters all over the continental USA—especially  in big city areas. That’s where all the macho idiots who want tough dogs overbreed.  I don’t want them choosing what kind of dog I own.  Similarly…what if the only  job you can find is with a pet store that sells puppy mill puppies?  The manager will tell you  they only buy from USDA licensed breeders.  Sure they are—but that isn’t the issue. They are breeding & selling pet dogs as livestock.  They don’t care if  someone with megabucks comes in to buy a puppy she is not prepared to care for. They don’t care.  But as a dog lover, YOU must care.  Do you want to be part of that?  Supporting the sales of puppies to  people who will  start making excuses & want to dump the pet (or abuse or neglect it) once the novelty wears off?

I know there is a lot of motivational stuff out there about  living your dreams, but face it:  people make a living telling you to discount reality.  A lot of us got into the industry by grooming and training our own dogs. Try that before you quit your day job.

Who is a (pet)breeder

March 2, 2011

Sometimes, I don’t know how we’ll get through this ‘economic recovery’. America will  ever be the same, and the American Dream is torn up and shattered.  Yet—people still harbor a fantasy of  cute little baby animals, and having new owners taking them, making a bit of money, and living happily ever after.  Everyone.

I have a client who owns a 17-year-old  dog.  The dog almost died last summer when the father went on a business trip, & the other  3 members of the household FORGOT TO GIVE THE DOG WATER.   He told me this, that the dog was dehydrated.   And—when he brought the dog to me, poor thing  could barely walk—his toenails were totally curved around.  You have no idea how painful that is.  Inhumane?  Who am I going to report this family to?  The Police?  In Chicago, they  don’t come out unless you say ‘weapon’ and ‘blood’  in the same sentence, and it will take at least a half an hour at that.  The Illinois Department of Agriculture?  Over a pet dog?  How about the Anti-Cruelty Society?  They really have no jurisdiction and are up to their eyeballs in dog fighting and basement puppy mill inspections…

…which brings me to the topic of….how do you ‘define’ a breeder?

I am still  hassling the backyard breeders who post on Craigslist—-as none of them think they are breeders when their  dog or other pet has babies. They seem to think breeders have a special building or room, and make money.  Since they are not making money, they don’t think they are breeders.

Funny (not) that  veterinarians, departments of agriculture,  and registry organizations like the American Kennel Club define the breeder as the person who owns the mother animal at the time she whelps the babies.

Simple, isn’t it?  You own the  female breeding animal, you are the breeder.

A long time ago, in the last century, you’d put an ad in the paper, tell your friends, post notices at pet shops  or veterinarians offices—or even give them to the pet store guy  to sell for you (you knew the guy, and you knew he’d ask at least a few questions to make sure the buyers  understood what all was involved in caring for a pet).  Everyone lived happily ever after.  Of course, most dogs did not live to be  12 years old.  Pay for a distemper shot—for a dog?  Funny.  And pay for a spay operation?  Who did that?

Well, it seems that college educated people making money, and wanting specific types of dogs…people willing to pay a little bit more….would do that.  They would also pay for obedience classes (or even throw money at a ‘professional trainer’), and gradually…..urban Americans got into the mindset that the responsible behavior was to  neuter your pet—or at least not let it run at large (it could get hit by a car, poisoned, or stolen), get shots every year, and many even paid for grooming!

In fact, it was because of the Poodle breeders that the dog grooming industry emerged as an actual industry, and didn’t just stay a hobby.

Problem was….so many  ethical hobby breeders—who really meant well and wanted to breed good dogs, just assumed that  puppy buyers would  do the right thing and  have their pet neutered, and train the dog, and take care of it  properly.  We know making assumptions did not work, because of the number of pets abandoned every year.  Most make it to shelters…we think.  We really don’t have good statistics.

So, on one end, you have the Beagle , Pit Bull and German Shepherd Dog  breeders, who ask virtually nothing of pet buyers, just take their money and wish them luck , and at the other end we have the Portuguese Water Dog  and Scottish Deerhound breeders, who ask you a zillion questions and may turn you down if they don’t think you are a good fit for their breed—-and all the  breeders of the breeds in between.

I remember when you had to really search for a Papillon, You had to be on a waiting list.  Now, due to the internet, they are about as common as  Chihuahuas. What happened?  It took only a few breeders  to sell  unspayed bitches without a co-ownership or neutering contract, and the  irresponsible breeders got them.  Some are puppy mills, and some are just  people breeding their dogs int he house.  They are what  we commonly know as backyard breeders. They may not have a backyard, but what that have is—no integrity.

Does it really matter?  Hell, yes!  These people post on Craigslist (and, I am sure, on other websites) & claim they are offering dogs for adoption…because it is really cool and socially responsible to adopt a dog—but from a shelter or rescue!  The idiots (and remember—they vote and have children) don’t even stop to think, “Wait a minute!  How can I be adopting if I am buying a dog from a private individual?  This isn’t adopting, it is buying!  I am buying and they are selling!  If I was adopting, wouldn’t I have some sort of contract with a  not-for-profit organization ?

When these idiots buy a pet, and think they are adopting,  a pet in a shelter languishes.

I am not against buying a dog.  As I have stated many times, I  believe in planned breeding. I don’t want the thugs and the marketing guys deciding what kind of dog would best suit me.  That said, those of us with  integrity should not  allow the breeders  to get away with not being responsible. Again—if you own the mommy animal when it has the babies–YOU ARE the breeder. Own that.  Because the irony is, of course, that when you don’t take responsibility, too many pets die.  & had the breeder of the 17-year-old  dog that almost died of dehydration, and could not walk  because of curled around toenails, asked a few more questions, chances are this family might have rethought getting a dog.