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June 2013 - Posts - Live Like a Mensch
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Live Like a Mensch

June 2013 - Posts

  • When Everything Breaks All at Once

    Back when I was in graduate school, I had a run of bad luck.

    First, this happened:

    Then, my landlord decided he was going to sell the house my roommate and I were renting, and the only place we could find was $200 more expensive per month.

    Then, on a day that a paper was due, my four-year-old laptop decided to give up the ghost and totally and completely implode in a way that could not be fixed. (It might have had a little something to do with the fact that it froze up for a second and I banged my fist on the poor elderly computer in frustration. Apparently, my misplaced anger made a loose screw fall into some sort of moving part, making everything go kablooey. I believe that was the technical term used by the computer expert I consulted when I wanted to know if I could possibly salvage any of the information on that computer).

    At the time, it seemed clear that anything that could be broken or made more expensive would be broken or made more expensive when one is a graduate student who is already living on a shoestring.

    Fast forward to today.

    J and I seem to have hit a similar string of broken things.

    First, this happened:

    Between the repaint job and taking care of a couple of dents while we're at it, it will cost about $1000 to get J's Volvo back to its stylin' self.

    Then, this happened:

    Actually, our damage wasn't nearly that bad. But the laptop I use to stay connected and working even when I'm out of town had a ginormous crack right through the middle of the screen. I'm not going to name any names here, but the local authorities have identified a certain young man as a person of interest in the mystery of the cracked laptop screen. It is suspected that the unnamed alleged placed some sort of foreign object (such as a letter block known to be in use by the unnamed alleged and many of his compatriots) on the keyboard of the computer and closed the case. Then, realizing the perfidy of his actions, this unnamed alleged must have removed said foreign object and gently re-closed the case to bury the evidence of his wrong-doing. The investigation into this matter is ongoing.

    There is a very good boutique computer repair shop here in town, and we were able to get the laptop fixed quickly and competently. Unfortunately, since we are Apple users, even getting a used screen as a replacement cost the equivalent of the GDP of an island nation. There was a brief discussion about selling the unnamed alleged in order to raise the funds to pay for this repair, but it was decided that we'd miss him. (It was also decided that the computer will now be stored on shelves well out of reach of anyone currently living in this household).

    Cost for repairing our laptop: $593

    Then, J and I decided it was time to upgrade LO to a big boy bed. He has been sleeping in the toddler bed/crib that has been his for three years, but not only do we need him to vacate that space sometime in the near future in order to accomodate a new occupant, but he still expects us to lie down with him each night as he falls asleep. While neither J nor I are known for our impressive height, it has been somewhat uncomfortable contorting ourselves into the size of a toddler in order to lie down with LO. Add in the fact that I am no longer bending in the middle quite as easily as I usually do, and the fact that we would like LO to see his big boy bed as an upgrade rather than an eviction once the new occupant arrives, and it was clear it was time to order this:

    Image source

    Between the platform bed, the optional headboard, and the new mattress, LO's new bed cost about $550.

    And, because we weren't quite done yet, J noticed two days ago that my tires were shot.

    We are leaving today for a road trip and will be taking my car, so clearly this would not do.

    Normally, J orders new tires for us online and simply has the shop take care of mounting them for us. But with only three days until we were spending ten hours in the car, it was very clear that we did not have time to wait for the normal, frugal course of action.

    With a heavy heart, J called our local shop and scheduled a re-shoeing of my Honda. Not waiting for tires through the mail added an additional $100 to the cost. J has spent some time shaking his fist at the heavens and being angry at himself for missing such an obvious issue.

    In any case, the new tires, the alignment, and the oil change that J had them throw in for good measure, cost $692--although we were able to knock $20 off the price with a coupon from Angie's List and bring it down to $672.

     

    J told me yesterday, "We hemorrhaging money!"

    I understand his concern. It stinks when everything breaks all at once.

    But, unlike when I was in graduate school, we were prepared for these issues.

    We will pay for J's car repair from our New Car fund. (It's a little more than we can cover with our Car Repair fund, and using this grand won't affect our ability to get a replacement car in a hurry if that becomes necessary for any reason).

    We paid for the laptop screen repair from our Computer Replacement fund. We put a little money aside each month towards a new computer even though we won't need one for at least a couple of years. Even though $600 takes a big chunk out of that fund, this repair is necessary and we won't be in the market for a computer for quite some time, provided we keep little fingers from our electronics.

    We paid for LO's big boy bed out of our New Furniture fund. We didn't quite have enough money in the fund to cover all of the cost of the bed, so we also had to dip into some of our general money. But having the New Furniture fund was enough to make this purchase possible.

    And we paid for my new tires by cleaning out our Car Repair fund and with a little money from our New Car fund.

    While I'm just as frugal as J, and feel just as weird about having these savings accounts go down, I recognize that we're in a much better position than I was back in grad school. It may stink seeing our various "emergency" funds go down, but this is the very reason why we set the money aside in the first place.

    I am still putting the rest of our belongings on notice:

    No breaking, or you'll just get fixed with duct tape.

  • I'm Included in a Mortgage Resource Site

    Just wanted to give you all a quick head's up to let you know one of my articles is now included on the mortgage resource center of the site Ready For Zero.

    Ready For Zero is a completely free site set up to help people become debt free. I'm really honored to be included in their new resource center. 

    If you've got a moment, please check it out!

    (My article is the third one listed under Home Insurance, and was originally written for Money Ning, if you're interested in going straight to it. Thanks to all my readers!)

  • Renting a Tractor vs. Hiring Teenage Boys

     

    This is our back patio/wisteria bower. It's one of the reasons why we fell in love with the house, and it's a lovely spot to enjoy dinner and relax while LO plays in the backyard.

    Unfortunately, it was shoddily built. The wood forming the bower is starting to fall apart, and the pavers that make up the patio section are rapidly decaying into dust.

    We've decided to deal with the bower next summer. It will certainly last that long, and the uneven and broken pavers are the more urgent potential hazard. And there's not enough time for J to do both this year.

    So, we've spent some time investigating our options for replacing those pavers. We discovered that for the relatively small section that is our patio, we will need SEVEN TONS of limestone underneath to prevent the paver-pocalypse that we are currently experiencing.

    This will require someone to dig six to eight inches down in order to distribute said SEVEN TONS of limestone.

    Even though we had planned on this being an in-house project, digging 8 inches down for 215 square feet is clearly more work than J can expect to accomplish on his own, even with the potential help of a friendly neighbor who, oddly enough, seems to enjoy digging holes in exchange for beer.

    (And this is one of the many reasons why I am grateful to currently be pregnant, lest J start eyeing me as a candidate for digger's helper).

    We have been discussing our digging options. There are a grand total of two:

    1. Rent a tractor from Sunbelt Rentals

    2. Hire some burly teenagers.

    I have decided to compare the pros and cons of each of these strategies, in the hopes that it will be considered a contribution to the work I will otherwise have no part of. (Thanks, Thing 2!)                            

    Renting a Tractor

    Hiring Burly Teenagers

    Cost: About $200 for the day

    Cost: $5-$10 per hour, plus pizza. (Guess which will be the larger line item in the budget?)

    Potential difficulties: We will have to temporarily remove a portion of our fence to get this bad boy in the back yard.

    Potential difficulties: The parents of these kids might object to their future chiropractic bills-and they'll know where we live.

    Pros: It's a TRACTOR! Power smash!!

    Pros: As my mother has long posited, teenage boys were invented to handle difficult yard work.

    Cons: LO will want to drive it and will get in the way.

    Cons: LO will want to help the big kids and will get in the way.

    Conclusion: POWER SMASH!!

    Conclusion: If we can handle the pizza (and chiropractic) bill, this will probably be the cheaper option.

     

  • What is Money For?

     

    Photo of the world's most expensive candle courtesy of Lisa Yarost.

     

    One of the classes I took for my graduate degree in education was a class on Inclusion. This class focused on teaching us strategies on how to include special needs children in mainstream classrooms. For me, the highlight of this class was a stress-inducing workbook that offered such gems as:

    Alex is a first-year math teacher. His fifth period class includes Jackson, a little boy with severe Autism, who regularly bangs his head on the desk hard enough to draw blood. Jackson's aide is unable to be in the classroom that period because she is helping another child with severe physical difficulties to eat lunch. Alex cannot get the class to focus because of Jackson's behavior and he does not know how to communicate with Jackson or help him calm down. What should Alex do?

    The workbook would then provide about 20 lines to fill in your ideas for how to react in such a situation. Since my answers ranged from "Heck if I know" to "Start bringing a flask to work" to "Quit!" I felt I did not need nearly the amount of space the workbook provided me.

    I mention those stress-inducing hypothetical situations that I encountered years ago because they remind me of some of the comments I occasionally receive on various blog posts I write for the greater Internet. I will sometimes receive a comment asking for advice in an untenable situation--like how to save money when the family makes a combined $40,000 per year and $6,000 of it goes to child support for kids of a previous marriage and the emergency fund is always wiped out by an emergency whenever it reaches more than a grand and so on and so forth.

    Whenever I read these types of comments, I realize the stress I felt over the hypothetical situations in my education workbook was NOTHING compared to this. I knew that the hypothetical Alex had lots of options, and he was, ultimately, fictional. The people who are desperate enough to ask for help in the comments section on a 500 word article on saving money for retirement are real, and I feel even more helpless in the face of their enormous problems than I did when poor Alex was fictionally cleaning up bloodstains before his 6th period class shuffled in every day.

    These types of comments also remind me of how lucky I am. There have been many times when I have reminded J (and others) that money is a tool. It's not magic, nor is it The Answer. It's just a tool.

    Except, that attitude reflects the fact that I have never been desperate about money. If I didn't have enough money to live comfortably, money would represent security, a life of ease, and even power. Because in addition to being a tool, money is also all of those things.

    But it's hard to remember that when you take your security, comfort, and power for granted. I have never had to worry about where my next meal would come from, or even if I would be able to pay all of my bills. So I've always been able to think about money as a tool, rather than as the answer to my problems or the thing standing between me and a life I want to live.

    That does not mean I will stop regarding money as a tool. It is the means by which I make the life choices I want, and since I am not destitute, I can use it that way. I see money as a tool that I can choose to use or not and make the decisions that will build the life that most closely resembles my ideal. In my own personal situation, I feel like that is the most rational way to view money. But is that really what money is for?

    For someone who has none, money can be comfort and ease, and the source of bitterness and resentment.

    For someone who has a lot, money can be power and the ability to distance yourself from discomfort.

    For someone who has trouble managing money, money can be a temptation.

    For someone who is tight-fisted, money can be a precious commodity that must be held close.

    It's so odd that money represents so many different things to different people. Depending on how much you have and what you habitually do with your money, your view of money can be dramatically different from anyone else's. Which, I suppose, is why money is so often the cause of arguments from the international down to the household level.

    Of course, all of this is also why I have a job. If money were simple, there would hardly be enough for a personal finance blogger to talk about.

    But, as stressful as they are, I am glad to have occasional reminders from my readers that my view of money is skewed by my relative privilege. Yes, money may be a tool for me to use. But others may work their entire lives just to reach the point that I think of as a rational view of money. J and I live a life wherein deciding whether our money is best spent on this repair or that one is a tough conversation, but not one that will ultimately affect our ability to live comfortably. I may strive to be rational about my money, but for many, money must be emotional because the lack of it is so limiting.

    I'm very glad that I have not experienced that, but I hope to never forget that it is the reality for many people in my town, my state, my country, my world.

    What do you think money is for? Is striving for a rational view of money a reasonable thing to do?

  • Married with (Sort of) Separate Checking Accounts

     

    I feel like this picture from our wedding is an excellent metaphor for how J and I handle our money.

     

    There are a couple of money issues that are guaranteed to start a flame war online (a gentle one, since personal finance folks tend to be awfully nice). Those include:

    • Paying children for chores or good grades
    • The relative evilness vs. usefulness of credit
    • Paying off debt in a smallest-to-largest balance "snowball" fashion or focusing on highest interest debts first.
    • Whether married couples should have joint or separate checking accounts

    It's this last one that I thought I'd tackle today, because I think J and I do this differently from anyone else I know.

    We have separate checking accounts, separate savings accounts, as well as a joint savings account for our emergency fund and our longer-term savings.

    Since J and I have very different spending and savings habits, this is what we need to do in order to maintain sanity and marital harmony in our household. For example, I consider a checking account something that can and should be used, so I plan for it to go down to a zero balance (basically) each month. Because I balance my checkbook on a several-times-a-week basis, I have only ever overdrawn my checking account once, and that was when I was teaching and working a 60-hour week. (Ironically, it was when I was making the most money I've ever made in my career that I overdrew my account. Whenever I've been living hand-to-mouth, I've had no issues keeping my account in the black). I regard my personal savings account (in which I always keep at least $1000) as my "cushion" in case of bad math or other mistakes. Since I am so diligent about double checking everything, I have always been able to transfer money before there's a possibility of overdraft.

    J, on the other hand, is very uncomfortable with a checking account that goes down to zero. He prefers to leave a cushion right there in checking, partially because he has never successfully kept a check register (don't get me started), and partially because he likes knowing that he's got money instantly available in case of emergency.

    Considering our completely different approaches, if we were to merge our accounts, it would be all over except the shouting.

    So, we have separate accounts. That doesn't mean that we don't regard our money as our money. It just means that J gets to have an account with a large enough cushion to keep him from staying up nights worrying, while I get to have an account that I can use to its fullest without worrying about what it's doing to J's blood pressure.

    So far, this is pretty standard stuff for the separate account route. Where we differ is in the fact that we still have one person who has been elected Money Czar in the relationship. (That would be me).

    One of the "cons" of having joint accounts is that one person has to take care of the finances or else things will quickly slip into a "But I thought you were going to pay that bill" or "I forgot to tell you I charged $150 last week" chaos. (No Money Czar with a joint account means that it's dogs and cats, living together. Mass hysteria!) If neither person wants to be Money Czar (and really, the official hat is not really that cool), then either you end up overdrawing your account and not paying your bills, or someone ends up doing the chore and feeling resentful.

    For me, having to be in charge of our accounts would not be bug, but a feature, of having joint accounts. I love managing money. I even like paying bills. It gives me a sense of accomplishment, particularly if we have money left over at the end of the ceremonial bill-paying.

    And since J does not keep a check register or really pay more attention to his account other than to see what his balance is (which drives me crazy), I wouldn't be at all averse to being in charge of family finances.

    Which is why I am. Even though J and I have separate accounts, and I cannot write a check on his account and vice versa, I do have password clearance to his checking account and have our accounts linked. So when J gets his paycheck, I transfer some of the money to my account so that I can pay bills and take out cash for our envelope system. (I also transfer money from my account to his if I ever receive money in my account that ought to be in his). I keep a check register for his account.  I never let his account get below a certain threshold that we have agreed upon. I keep track of the automatic payments and withdrawals from J's account and I pay some bills directly from that account.

    This system completely works for us. I get to do the happy dance of numbers for both of our accounts, and J gets to feel comfortable that a) bills will be paid and b) there's always a pre-determined minimum balance in his account, while not having to do the money chores that he hates. This system does make it more difficult to buy surprise gifts for each other (or rather, for J to buy a surprise gift for me), but I'll take the small inconvenience if it means we feel pretty streamlined in our attitude and approach towards money. (Also, unless he's buying a gift for me online, he can always use cash to buy a gift and keep it a surprise from me, since we do use the envelope system and we each have our own spending money from the cash stores).

    For me, I feel like having separate accounts with me as the Big Cheese Overseer works because it allows us to both feel comfortable while still taking advantage of personal interests and strengths. It may be a somewhat complicated system, but organizing a complicated system doesn't bother me in the slightest.

    If our accounts were joined, I know that we would each get frustrated with the other for how we prefer to handle checking. If our accounts and our money management were completely separate, I know that we would fight about things not getting taken care of in the way that wanted them to. With separate accounts that we both can access (since J also has password clearance to my account--he's just less likely to use it), I can be my OCD self over our money, but still keep both of us happy in how the funds are managed.

    The problem with articles about whether to have joint or separate accounts (or Yours-Mine-and-Ours accounts) in marriage is that it's trying to give general advice for something that is very specific and personal to the married couple. I can't imagine many people that our system would work for, and it took us several years of trial-and-error to find this method of managing our money. Every couple is going to be different and will have different preferences, habits, strengths, and weaknesses. So saying there are only two options for handling money--joint and separate--ignores the many different weird permutations that will work on case-by-case bases.

    How does your household handle finances? Does anyone else have a system as strange as ours?

  • More Financial Advice That Annoys the Heck Out of Me

     

    Several months ago, I wrote about frugal tips that annoy the heck out of me. Apparently, I'm not the only one who gets irritated with stupid advice, as I had many many people read and comment on that post.

    I thought I'd follow up with more financial advice and frugal tips that make very little sense and what I'd rather see in their place:

    1. Coulda Shoulda Woulda Advice. I recently read this quick blog post on Bankrate.com detailing 10 different common retirement derailers, from low interest rates and market declines to supporting adult children and grandchildren and making bad investments. I don't want to pick on Bankrate here, since I generally love their information, but the post simply reported what those derailers are, as determined by an Ameriprise Financial study, and then reported what those who have been derailed wished that they had done differently.

    And that's where I get annoyed.

    I get that this article will probably be read by those individuals (like myself) who still have the time to avoid the derailing and act in the way that those polled wished they had. But that's hardly helpful for those poor schmoes out there who saw their nest egg lose $117,000 in value and have no idea what to do about it. Yes, hindsight may be 20/20, but for heaven's sake, what now?

    I want to make it clear that I have ALWAYS hated this kind of "advice." As a student, when I would be struggling to finish a project the night before it was due and wishing I had a time machine, hearing from a well-meaning individual the words "well, you should have started earlier" could be enough to send me into an apoplectic rage. (I might even pull out the big guns on the "advice-giver" by lifting a single eyebrow in a way that could stop a charging rhinoceros in its tracks--a trick that I used to great effect as a teacher). Frankly, if you don't have anything more useful to say than "boy, were you stupid back in the past in a way that affects you now," then stay out of it. Really.

    What I'd Prefer to See: Specific advice geared towards various age groups on how to deal with these sorts of bad choices. Yes, it's nice to know what those who are in a bind wished they had done differently, but without an action plan with specific advice, just telling me that people who are facing a major retirement shortfall wished they started saving earlier and wished they'd worked harder to understand investments is tantamount to saying "Yeah, just don't be stupid." It's not that helpful. Tell me ways to save more now and resources for gaining better understanding of investments.

    And for those who have already "been stupid," for the love of all that is beautiful, please give some advice. Telling them "coulda shoulda woulda" just leaves them hanging AND beating themselves up for something that it is impossible to change.

    2. Move to a cheaper area of the country. The Mensch family is living proof that living someplace inexpensive can make an enormous difference in your life. We moved from Columbus, Ohio, which was not an extravagant city to live in the first place, to Lafayette, IN, where prices seem to have been stuck in the 1980s. The reason for that difference in cost of living is simple--unlike New York, Chicago, DC, or even Columbus, not many people choose to relocate to Lafayette. (And in some cases, the people who are born here get out of town as quickly as possible.)

    I like it here very much. It's a great place to raise LO and Thing 2, but I can tell you that it would not have been my first, second, or 17th choice in places settle down. I'm here because of J's job, and it's a lucky coincidence that we live in an inexpensive small town in an inexpensive area of the country. It allows me to work from home at a career I love and have the flexibility to be LO's (and eventually Thing 2's) primary caregiver. Things just aligned that way, and I'm very grateful for it.

    But often, you will see throwaway advice about moving to a cheaper area of the country--as if it's that easy. This advice doesn't take into account your family and social support structure, your (and your spouse's) job prospects, your hobbies and preferences, the cost of moving, etc. It looks at the choice of where to live as a simple financial transaction, when it is so much more complicated than that.

    There's nothing revolutionary about advising people to move to a place that's less expensive. Yes, we're aware that there are places that cost less to live. Unless the frugal advice-giver can also explain how to uproot your entire life, including living within walking distance of your elementary school librarian and being able to visit your Grandpa in the nursing home on a weekly basis, this advice is a non-starter.

    What I'd Prefer to See: Tips for making your money go farther in expensive areas of the country.  Granted, there are plenty of articles out there that offer tips on couponing, dollar stretching (ahem), and otherwise making do with less money, but providing this advice instead of simply tossing off the "move someplace cheaper!" line would help keep people from completely ignoring the advice altogether.

    3. Time is Money. I remember three years ago, watching "America's Cheapest" (and most ironically named) family, the Economides, on The Today Show, talking about their new (at the time) book. This family is apparently able to feed a family of seven in Phoenix, Arizona on $350 a month. They do this by cutting coupons, scouring sales, double checking unit prices, and buying nearly expired meat. When Matt Lauer said that all that work sounds exhausting, Mrs. America's Cheapest Family responded that time is money. Anyone not spending that kind of time on feeding their family was going to be spending more money than the Economides.

    Yes, I suppose that's true. And I certainly think it's a worthy goal to spend less on food and necessities and to minimize waste.

    But...

    But....

    But...

    Time is not just money. Time is also your life. And time is the only commodity that you can NEVER get more of, while it's always possible to earn more money. If you're devoting hours upon hours to your quest for reducing expenses, I certainly hope that you're getting more from it than just the cost savings. Because if you're trading your time for money in such a way and you're getting nothing else out of it, it might make more sense to take on more work or get an additional job.

    Clearly, the Economides enjoy living this lifestyle. Money saving is a kind of game to them, and that's great. But there are plenty of frugal individuals (and I am one of them) who would rather spend the extra money on groceries in order to have more time to play with my kid and read and work, etc, etc.

    What I'd Prefer to See: Advice on picking your battles.

    Money saving tips are not all created equal. For me, cutting coupons and cherry-picking sales at grocery stores is not worth the time. Before kids, when taking seven hours to do all my grocery shopping was not a big deal, it was worth it, but only because I got a little kick out of the savings. For someone who lives in an area with a higher cost of living, it may still make sense to do all that work to save money, even if you don't enjoy it. But forcing yourself through that work when you don't particularly want to spare the time, and you do not enjoy the game of it, is a good way to wonder why you're wasting a precious commodity that you could be savoring.

    There are other ways to save money and stretch a budget that might not be as onerous. When giving advice on how to save money, I'd love to see multiple tips--along the lines of, "if you've got the time, try grocery shopping like the Economides. If you don't, start doing all of your shopping at lower-cost stores like Aldi. Here are great recipes that cost little to make. Try buying meat in bulk, etc."

    We need to remember that saving money shouldn't be the only thing you're looking to do when you live frugally. You should be looking to live the life you want, not the cheapest life you can get away with.

    Any other annoying tips that I've missed? What else do you wish people would either stop advising or at least clarify?

  • Three Things Worse Than the Stupid Tax

    I'm a big fan of Dave Ramsey's stupid tax idea. At some point, even the savviest and most frugal money manager will do something stupid that ends up costing money. I like calling this the stupid tax because it removes any sense that you need to beat yourself up. Stupid happens. You pay the tax, learn your lesson, and move on with your life.

    Unfortunately, the stupid tax is not the only time that you sometimes have to pay for something that ought to be unnecessary. Lately, we seem to have come across other types of "taxes" that are truly infuriating, especially considering the fact that you often do not have control over whether you pay it. For instance:

    1. The Other People's Carelessness Tax, aka The Loose Shopping Cart Tax

    This is when someone hits your car in a parking lot and leaves without writing you a note. Or, when someone runs over your lawn while turning around in your driveway. Or when someone spills wine on your carpet during a dinner party and simply shifts a potted plant or other item to cover the stain rather than inform you of the party foul.

    In short, this tax is when someone else makes a mistake or a mess that affects you, and you have no recourse other than to pay for and make the repairs yourself.

    The Other People's Carelessness Tax is pretty awful, but in most cases, you can at least trust that the responsible individual was simply careless and cowardly. That may be infuriating, but it's not the worst kind of "tax" you might have to pay.

    2. The Sharing an Abode with a Toddler Tax

    Technically, this could be considered a type of stupid tax. After all, it's not particularly intelligent to allow one's toddler to play with expensive equipment.

    However, if my experiences with living with a toddler are anything to judge by, it is possible to take every conceivable precaution against toddler-destructo-mode, and still find oneself facing down scribbled-upon furniture/walls, completely unrolled tubes of toilet paper, cartons of eggs thrown willy-nilly throughout a living room, or an ear full of super glue. Finding a way to thwart every toddler's destructive tendencies would require some sort of cage, and not only is that generally frowned upon in polite society, but it also won't necessarily work if my experience with children's ability to open child-safety caps is any indication.

    The truly frustrating thing about the toddler tax is that you have no place to put your annoyance. It's useless getting angry at someone who doesn't know any better, and it's equally useless to get angry at yourself for not anticipating an action from a group of individuals known for asking for something and then throwing themselves on the ground in despair upon receiving exactly what was asked for, because...who knows. These are not thought patterns that any rational adult should be able to follow, let alone anticipate.

    3. The People Are Nasty Jerks Tax

    This is the tax that we will soon have to pay. Yesterday, J stopped at Walmart to pick up our prescriptions and a couple of sundries. When he returned to his car, he found that someone had done this:

    There was no possible reason why anyone should feel the need to key J's 1993 Volvo 240. It was nastiness, pure and simple.

    While we have not gotten a price quote yet for fixing this, we know that it cannot be buffed out, since the paint was scraped off down to the metal. J suspects that the cost will be somewhere around $750, considering the fact that simply mixing the correct paint color, or ordering it directly from Volvo, could cost a few hundred dollars. We're going to bite the bullet and pay for the repair, however, since J not only loves his car, but he takes great pride in it. But it's a bitter pill to swallow considering the fact that this damage was completely unnecessary and mean-spirited. Some jerk decided to do something that did not affect him/her in the slightest, and yet it will be us who pays the tax.

    At least with this kind of "tax" getting angry is a perfectly acceptable reaction. Sadly, other than jumping up and down and yelling, there's not much you can do with your anger.

    Thankfully, there's a reason why we put money aside for car repairs. We have the ability to fix this, and it won't make a huge difference in our budget.

    It just sticks in our craw that we do have to pay for this. It's way worse than the stupid tax.

    Have you ever had to pay one of these taxes? Is there any way to make them sting less?

  • Oh, It'll Turn Up...

     Photo of a sign that ought to be hanging in every laundry room courtesy of Ched Davis.

     

    I am married to a somewhat absentminded gentleman.

    J, who is able to tell me intimate details of the particular cars of people whom he has met but once (and often times, he is able to recall what car a particular individual drives without having spoken to said individual about cars, simply because he was able to identify the comings and goings of cars in a parking lot), has a some trouble keeping track of his personal belongings.

    For instance, we have made a habit of keeping any cell phones I have ceased to use when I make an upgrade, since it is likely that J will lose his prior phone long before he is ready for an upgrade himself. In the ten years I have known J, I believe this has happened approximately three times.

    If ever J is unable to find his wallet, he simply shrugs and says, "Oh, it'll turn up."

    This attitude has been difficult for me to wrap my head around. You may recall the nuclear meltdown I experienced last winter when I misplaced my wallet on an airplane. While I attempted to maintain a tone of ironic and amused detachment in my description of said wallet loss last year, upon rereading all three (three!) posts on the subject, I can detect in my writing the glistening, teary eyes, the lower lip tremble, and the barely contained panic that characterized my reaction. Apparently, a stoic I am not when it comes to missing personal items.

    However, after years of watching J shrug off missing wallets, cell phones, iPods, watches, glasses, IDs, car keys, house keys, tools, and various other sundries which he doesn't ask for my help in finding because they live in the garage, I'm starting to see the benefit in not panicking. (It seems Douglas Adams was onto something.)

    You see, more times than not, the missing item in question does turn up. And so you are really only facing a minor inconvenience when you cannot find it.

    For example, sometime last summer LO and a friend of similar height, age, and temperament, had a wonderful time taking every toy LO owns and spreading them out along the floor of our living room while J and I and the friend's parents ate dinner in the next room. As I was cleaning up the incredible mess that two children under the age of two are capable of wreaking upon a home, I realized that our television remote was missing.

    Since I do not need the remote in order to board a plane, pay for anything, or make a phone call, I decided to use the J system of dealing with it. I shrugged and thought, "Oh, it'll turn up."

    About a week later, with the remote still AWOL and neither LO nor his co-conspirator willing to talk, I considered buying a replacement.

    J talked me out of it. "It'll turn up," he said. "You know it has to still be in the house."

    That may be true, I thought, but it was also possible that we would be manually changing channels until the time came for us to move out of the house--toddlers being the crafty and close-mouthed individuals that they are. But, being of a frugal nature and realizing that my life is not exactly negatively affected by having to stand up, walk three feet, and hit a couple of buttons while watching television, I decided to follow J's lead.

    That remote remained missing until January of this year. (I found it shoved in the cushions of the couch, which tells you more than I'd like to admit about the regularity of our sofa-cleaning schedule.)

    While I was annoyed on multiple occasions about having to get up every. single. time. I wanted to change the channel (I know, poor me), I was very glad that I had not purchased a replacement remote. Since then I would have not only wasted money, but I would have also ended up with two remotes and had to deal with the guilt of getting rid of one.

    So, when J yesterday was unable to find his prescription sunglasses before heading to an air show in nearby Kokomo, I managed to tone down my immediate "Red Alert Crisis Mode" reaction with which I would normally greet such a pronouncement from J. There was no need to freak out about the cost and time of replacing prescription sunglasses. I could just sit back and wait for them to turn up.

    And turn up they did. This morning, J found them in a messenger bag he'd taken with him on his most recent motorcycle ride. Crisis averted.

     

    Now, J is just hoping someone has seen the brand new D.I.D. chain for a 1975 Honda CB400F Super Sport that he just bought.

    He's sure it's around here somewhere.

  • My Favorite Free Services

     

    Photo courtesy of Jesslee Cuizon

     

    Sometimes, the best things in life really are free. Here are some of the free services I use on a regular basis (even daily!) that truly improve my life:

    Pandora

    I like to listen to music throughout the day, which is one of the reasons why I love working from home. Pandora is an online radio station that claims to play only music you'll love. Basically, you tell the site what your favorite artists/composers/songs/albums are, and it uses the algorithms created by the Music Genome Project to analyze your favorites and find other works that fit the profile of the music you already love.

    There are lots of different free online radio stations out there, but I always come back to Pandora because it requires little from me to create an enjoyable listening experience. Depending on my mood, I can play my classical "station," my jazz "station," my 80s "station," etc. If I were to try to recreate that on something like Spotify (which is J's free online radio of choice), I'd have to choose all of the artists myself.

    Pandora has ads every few songs, which makes it feel basically like old-school radio listening (remember that?), and it will stop playing about once every hour or so to double check that you're still listening. But it's a lovely way to listen to music all day long and my favorite way to find new artists.

    My Fitness Pal

    While I'm not a huge fan of counting calories (or Points), I love love love tracking my exercise. It makes me feel accomplished to be able to say "I burned X calories this week!" in a humble-bragging tone of voice. It's also helpful to know the caloric content of things, even if I don't strictly track calories. The other cool thing about My Fitness Pal is that there is a social aspect to it. You can invite friends to join and converse on the site. I haven't taken full advantage of this, but it is cool to know I can have friends cheer me on in my fitness goals if I so choose.

    LibriVox

    This is a truly cool project/site. LibriVox enlists volunteers to create audio versions of books in the public domain. Each volunteer reads a chapter at a time, and uploads those chapters to the site. Listening to a LibriVox book can be both entertaining and a little disconcerting. One book I listened to had a different reader for every single chapter, so I got to hear a variety of lovely accents and interpretations of how different characters spoke. I love that you can get wonderful books on audio for free--and considering my addiction to books on audio while exercising, this is a real boon to my bottom line. The best part is that this service is completely ad-free.

    Open Office

    If you've ever lamented the cost of Microsoft Office, this is the free software for you. Open Office was created to provide free office software that can be read and write in other (paid) software packages. It looks just like the software you already use, and since it has an open development process (meaning anyone can report bugs), problems actually get fixed and you might find Open Office works better than the software you paid for. We downloaded Open Office on our laptop, since we would have to pay separately for each computer using Microsoft, and I love using it. I still use the traditional software on our home computer, but I love that there is a completely free option out there.

    Yahoo Mail

    I've already blogged about my love for my email provider, despite its low-class status. After twelve years of emailing through Yahoo, I can't imagine changing to a new system, particularly since Yahoo has treated me well for every day of those twelve years. (I'm not counting the one or two times I was hacked. That could have happened with any email account). At some point, I probably will set up an email forwarding system so that my Yahoo account looks like it's coming from my own domain. Just because I'm apparently the only person in North America who has such warm fuzzies about Yahoo.

    What are your favorite free services? Is there anything you use daily that costs you nothing?

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