Thursday, March 29, 2012

It's Always Something...

Holy Moly... it has been one helluva week, and it's only Thursday!

I started out with such high hopes. I managed to sweet talk the fellow at the local lumber yard into delivering a few pieces of 14 foot long wood so I can finish the repairs to my deck, and I was all set to spend the week tackling the project.

Then I wake up Monday morning at the crack of dawn to discover that somebody peed on the bed.

Since the "event" took place while I was sound asleep, it took some detective work to determine who the pee-er was... but upon careful examination, I discovered that Princess had pee all over the top of her back paw... hmmm.... me thinks me knows who the culprit is...

Of course, being the overly protective kitty mom that I am, my first response was to whisk her off to the vet to check for a urinary tract infection.

She was due for a checkup anyhow, and I was relieved to know that she came up clean... well sorta relieved, it would have been nice if the problem could be chalked up to an easily treatable condition.

So now we figure it's territory issues... not terribly surprising since Smoky recently woke up and realized that he was twice her size and didn't have to be cowed by her anymore.

Sooooo... for the moment, the bedroom has been converted to a feline-free zone, and I'm remembering all of the reasons that I decided to buy the super extra capacity washing machine! Did all the bedding in only three loads! Hooray!

So the next day, I figured things would get better, and I just needed to catch up on the neglected chores... so I load as many of the dirty dishes as would fit into the dishwasher and... hmmm... that doesn't sound right...

Upon closer examination, I discovered to my horror that the dishwasher was no longer um.... washing... it was hardly even squirting any water... and the dishes were just as dirty as they were before I ran it. grrrrr....

Soooo... next came a barrage of Googling and tearing apart the dishwasher. I was hoping against hope that it would be an easy fix... you know like something clogging the system.

But no... turns out the main motor is shot.

I thought about trying to fix it myself...

But the part costs over a hundred dollars... and it was a cheap dishwasher to begin with...

And it is 8 years old... and this dishwasher never worked well even when it worked... and it's so loud that it literally keeps me awake if I run it at night... and I really suck at this sort of mechanical repair thing...

My first thought was phuckit... I'll just live without a dishwasher...

But by this time every single dish, pot and pan in the house was dirty... and it took me the better part of a day to do them all by hand... which reminded me that I really don't enjoy doing dishes... Plus they say it takes more energy to do them by hand than in the machine... so.... er... um... it sort of goes against my frugal instincts but...

Well, suffice it to say I'm on my way out the door to go buy a new dishwasher.

This time we're goin' with the Consumer Reports best buy, and maybe we'll end up with one that actually gets the dishes clean, doesn't break and is quieter than a cement mixer!

Let's hope nobody pees on the carpet while I'm gone!

I guess it just goes to show you... it's always something... if it ain't one thing it's another... either your cats are peein' on the bed or your dishwasher dies... but as my grand-nana, Nana Roseannadanna used to say to me...

And for you young whippersnappers who didn't get that joke...

And the exciting post script... apparently the dishwasher knew something I didn't because I just came from the store which, for this week only had the model I wanted on sale PLUS free delivery and installation! 

I take it back... sometimes the stars do actually align!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

No Willpower Finances - A 3 Step System

Revisiting the Your Money or Your Life financial exercises with Candi's reading group over at min hus, has gotten me to thinking...

I don't consider myself to be a person in possession of a great deal of willpower.

In fact, generally speaking I'm pretty much a lazy bastard who would just as soon lay on the couch watching football as do something meaningful.

Yet somehow, I've managed to get by on far less money than your average American bear... without feeling any sense of deprivation whatsoever. Looking back on it, I didn't always consider shopping to be the horrible pain in the ass that it is today... there was a time in my life when I actually enjoyed being able to spend money, and thought that "being rich" was the goal of all goals.

So how did I get from there to here?

I don't think of myself as a particularly rule-bound person, but when I really look at it, I had some strategies that ended up working out really well for me in the long run.

Strategy Number 1: Deal with Your Big Rocks First

A dear friend of mine once told me this little parable... It's often credited to Dr. Stephen Covey, the author of the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People (which I own, but alas, have never read.) Anyhow, the basic theory is that in order to have time and energy for a full life, you have to deal with the big important stuff first. Here's a delightful video (I think this is Covey) demonstrating the principle.

While they're generally talking about expenditures of time, the principle totally holds true for financial decisions too. I can't count the number of times that I encounter people on the interwebs (or in real life) who try to be frugal by pinching pennies on every tiny little purchase, all the while making really stupid financial decisions on the big ticket items.

I have a dear friend from high school who is a great example of this. They have a giant house... the ridiculous kind with at least 30% of its space dedicated to high vaulted ceilings. Their little family of 4 (mom, dad and 9 year old twins) has 3 vehicles, plus a camper and a garage full of jet skis & snow mobiles. Their house is only about 10 years old, yet they've had the carpet replaced twice and are constantly replacing their brand new furniture with brander newer furniture.

One day I was visiting, and I happened to notice that their office had a neat modular desk/shelving system. I commented that I liked it, and her husband piped in telling me all about it. And it only cost $12,000! I just about fell on the floor! I mean, I could live for a year on $12,000!

But here's the thing... my friend is always broke. She is forever taking extra jobs to try to make ends meet, and strategizing over how to save a few pennies at the grocery store. She really wanted to come to our 25th high school reunion, but couldn't afford the $50 admission.

I think you're getting the picture. A frugal lifestyle is pretty easy to maintain if you focus on making good decisions on the big ticket items. Do you really need a huge house in an expensive neighborhood? How about cars? Maybe you need one, but do you need two or three? Why not get a used car? Trust me, you simply cannot cut enough coupons, or pinch enough pennies to make up the ground lost by a humongous mortgage or new car loan, or $12,000 shelving unit.

Strategy Number 2: Pretend You Make Less Money than You Actually Do

It seems to me, that they key to keeping your spending under control is to limit the amount of money that you have at your disposal.

In a way I am quite fortunate to have spent my early adulthood being totally and completely broke. It allowed me to develop very good spending habits out of necessity. Nevertheless, as I started to earn more money, my spending went up accordingly... until I read YMOYL, that is.

At that point, I decided that the way to keep my spending from going up with my income was to trick myself into believing that my income was still as paltry and small as it had once been.

And the great thing is, there are easy ways to do this. Once I made the commitment to live on less, I sat down and figured out how much money I really needed each month, and then started looking for ways to keep anything above that amount from ever showing up in my hands to begin with.

The first first thing I did was to up my retirement contributions. The non-profit that I worked for didn't have a real retirement plan, meaning that they didn't contribute anything to my retirement savings, but they did have a 403b (the non-profit equivalent of a 401k) that I could contribute to tax free. Within a year or so I was taking the maximum allowable contribution (which, I think, was around 20%.)

The other thing I did was to set up a retirement savings account, and had my bank make automatic monthly transfers from my checking account into this savings account. Then when I was dealing with all my tax time finances, I already had the money set aside to make my IRA contribution (the max allowable) for the year. I pondered setting up a similar strategy for my regular savings, but by this time I was sitting pretty squarely on the saving bandwagon, so I just made my monthly savings transfers manually.

I did, however set up automatic deposit of my pay checks, and automatic bill pay on everything that I could. This included using my credit card for all day to day purchases, and setting it to automatically pay off the balance in full each month. Let me tell you, it's really wonderful not to have to worry about whether you remembered to pay all the bills or not each month.

Many people shy away from this approach because they're afraid of overdrawing their accounts.

But I found that by keeping a decent cushion in the checking account I never had a problem. I did, however, schedule a monthly "day of reckoning" where I would sit down and look at my account balance and the upcoming bills, and transfer money from savings if necessary. I've gotta say, that whole process really helped to keep me honest.

And the final thing I did was to set up extra monthly principal payments on my mortgage. Actually, I refinanced the loan at a much lower interest rate, but kept the payments the same... which worked out to about $100/month in extra principal payments.

I realize that I am fortunate in that I didn't have any consumer debt to contend with, but if you do, I'm sure you can set up automatic monthly payments for that too (which, if you've got consumer debt, is probably your first priority over retirement, savings and mortgage debt.)

The point to all this is... if you set up all of your financial transactions to happen automatically, you really don't have to think much about money. Seriously, pretty much the only time money enters my brain these days is if I'm contemplating spending above and beyond my monthly allotments.

Strategy Number 3: Leave Room for a Few Luxuries

I'm not generally a big fan of most budgeting systems. The problem is that if you don't leave any room for luxuries, you can tend to end up being rather... well... miserable. I've lived in poverty folks, believe me, it isn't fun.

So when I calculated the amount that I needed to live on each month, I was sure to include about $100 for luxuries. Just knowing that I had given myself an allotment for things I wanted, but didn't really need made the entire process feel empowering, rather than like deprivation. Sometimes I spend my luxury bucks on little things like going out to eat, or buying a new piece of clothing, and other times I save it up for something more substantial.

The key here is to take your luxury dollars from your monthly allotment, and NOT from your savings (which is reserved for emergencies, and investment type purchases - like a new furnace.) This way you actually get to enjoy the money you save from pinching pennies and saving on the small stuff.

OK! So there you have it!

These are pretty much the three basic principles that I have lived by for the past 20 years or so, and they have served me very well. Things are a little bit different now since I don't work anymore, and don't have a steady monthly paycheck, but the basic ideas still apply. And the best part is... there is absolutely no will power required!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why I Love Football

I love football... let me clarify... I REALLY LOVE football!

I haven't written much about my life as a football fan on this blog because well... generally when my hippie/musician/environmental friends find out this little factoid about me, they tend to recoil in horror.

I know, I know... football is violent, it's capitalistic, it's full of sexist stereotypes... it's pretty much everything a zen peacenik, leftist, eco-freak like myself is supposed to hate.

But I can't help myself, I just LOVE it!

I love the whole feel good theme of teamwork and unity...

The triumph of the forces of good...

over the forces of evil...

The incredible athletic maneuvers...

The come from behind victories...

The strategic play calling...

I guess football also fills my heart with a great deal of nostalgia. I'm not sure exactly how or why, but for some reason football has always been a bit of a unifying factor in my life. As a child, my family was nothing if not disagreeable, but one thing we could all rally behind was the Denver Broncos.

One of my few memories from before my parents divorced was watching a Broncos game at a family BBQ. I must have been about 3 years old at the time, and was, as usual, the baby of the gathering. What I remember is that everybody was rooting for Floyd Little. And I figured that he was "Little", and I was little, so maybe being the smallest wasn't so bad after all. Hey, it was 3 year old logic...

Throughout my childhood, the games were always on at our house. We had a black and white television, so I'd ask my mom and older brother which team we were... black or white. My brother took great delight in answering that question. "We're orange. Now shut up and watch the game."

And let me tell you, being a Broncos fan in those days was a tough row to hoe. We had this old rickety quarterback (who was probably in his early 30's... which seemed ancient to me) named Craig Morton. We called him "old arthritis knees" and let's just say that mobility was not his forte. But he did take us to our first Superbowl, and even though we got totally creamed, it was like we'd finally made it into the big leagues.

And to tell the truth, there's something very carnally satisfying about having an occasion where it's socially acceptable to jump up and down screaming things like "Get him! Hit him! Clobber him!"

But aside from the vicarious expressions of violence, football is just full of all sorts of wonderful metaphors.

There's taking one for the team...

Then there's redemption after years of hard knocks...

There are miraculous and improbably surprise endings...

I don't know... there's just something so universal about the experience of loving football.

It tends to unite people from all different walks of life. I once worked with a fellow who sent his children to the Waldorf school, where they had courses like interpretive dance. One day he was watching his son out in the backyard going through an elaborate series of movements. When the kid came inside he asked what sort of interpretive dance he was doing. "No dad!" he exclaimed... "It was slow motion replay football!"

But here's the thing... being a football fan gives me something in common with people who I would otherwise see as being on a completely different planet.

And as corny as this sounds, I really do think it brings us together as a community. A friend of mine had a son who played Pop Warner football in the same league as John Elway's son. Elway coached his son's team, but also helped to coach the teams of the younger players like my friend's son. I don't know... perhaps this is just star worship, but I think it's really cool that a mega super-star like John Elway participates in the community like that.

And as much as I'm not a big fan of people who feel the need to wear their religion on their sleeve (or any other part of their body for that matter.)

I've gotta say that it warms my heart to see people like Tim Tebow using their celebrity to boost the spirits of those less fortunate.

But aside from the nostalgia, the excitement, and the sense of community, most of all I love the fact that I live a life that is so privileged that I have the luxury to care about something as inherently meaningless as a group of grown men running around and playing with a funny shaped little ball.

So, I guess in reality, this whole post is just one long introduction to what I really want to say... 

which is...

Suck it, Raiders!!!!!!! You are goin' DOWN!!!

I love football!