June 2011 - Posts - The Dollar Stretcher
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The Dollar Stretcher

The Dollar Stretcher blog will explore people and money.

June 2011 - Posts

  • Looking for Memories

    A group of friends just came back from a trip to Alabama to help repair homes damaged in the recent tornadoes. They came back with some heartrenching stories and pictures. I was raised in tornado country so I've seen the results before. But never on this scale.

    For the most part they worked on cleaning up and reroofing the home of an 80+ year-old WW2 veteran who didn't have home insurance. The whole neighborhood was a shambles. They estimated the damaged area to be about 6 square miles. There was so much stuff blown around that FEMA had just gone through the area and bulldozed some of the debris into huge piles.

    As we looked at pictures of those piles one of the guys mentioned that he decided to go "looking for memories" among the debris. He pointed out something that I had missed when I first looked at the picture. There were dolls, family pictures and other items that had survived the storm but were now mixed in with trash. His hope was that he could pull some items out and return them to the person who shared those memories.

    It occurred to me that our lives are like that. We look at the big picture and don't see the details. A closer look reveals that no amount of money or insurance could replace those 'memory' items. And, that when everything is taken away from us the things we value most are our memories of those we love and shared our lives with.

    So instead of trying to buy my way to happiness, I think that I'll spend a little more time making memories. Hopefully I won't have to lose everything in a storm to recognize where my treasure really is.

    Keep on Stretching those Dollars!

  • Tiger Dad?!?

    Mary Quigley interviews me on 'boomerang kids' for her Mothering21.com blog We talked about how to be supportive of 'boomerang kids' (adult children who can't seem to get their lives going). I've been called a lot of things (some of them even nice), but never a 'tiger dad' before. So thanks, Mary!

  • Zero Based Budgeting

    Read an interesting story the other day in Charisma. It was about a man who needed to cut a lot of 2x4s to a 6' length. He wasn’t an experienced carpenter, but figured that anyone should be able to cut a straight line.

    So he pulled out his tape measure and marked the 6’ spot. Drew his line across the 2x4 and cut it. Good job! Then he took the 2nd board and put it on the saw horses. Instead of using the tape measure he figured he'd simplify things by just using the first 6 footer as a guide. So he put it on top of the second 2x4 and marked it. Another straight cut completed!

    Figuring that he had it down pat he took the 2nd board and used it to mark the 3rd. And on it went until he had them all cut. But then something interesting happened. He noticed that the last board was a few inches longer than the first board. Baffled as to how that could happen he called a friend who was into woodworking. Turns out that each board was longer by the width of the pencil mark he was cutting on. Added all together it totaled a few inches!

    What does that have to do with our finances? I've noticed that something similar can happen to our family budget. Seems like many of our expenditures rise just a little bit each year. Some of it's understandable. For instance most of us are spending more on groceries this year no matter how careful we are. But some things just creep up a little bit at a time. Compared to last year it doesn't seem significant. But if we compare it to 5 or 10 years ago, that's a different story. Our expenses are a couple of inches too long!

    One way to counteract that is to use a tool that's sometimes employed in business. It's commonly called "zero based" budgeting. In a zero based budget each category doesn't start with last year's amount. Each one starts at zero. So every dollar you spend needs to be justified. There's no assumption that what you spent last year was the right amount. Everything is on the table. In most categories you'll find that last year's budgeted amount was fine. But you might find an area or two where you have opportunities to save that you weren't aware of.

    It's a good idea to do a zero based budget every 4 or 5 years. Or any time that you find yourself in financial peril. Who knows? You might find a long 2x4 in the process!

    Keep on Stretching those Dollars!


  • 50 State Comparisons

    I'm fortunate to have some interesting things cross my desk. Sometimes quite unexpectedly! Just recently I opened my mail and in it was a copy of "50 State Comparisons 2011 Edition" published by The Taxpayers Network . I'd never seen a copy before. It's a little bigger than a pocket-guide.

    Included are a number of comparisons on different statistics for each state. For instance, did you know that residends of Wyoming drove more miles per capita than any other state (16,761) or that the US average was 9,630? Or that Hawaii had the fewest residents per state employee (23.0) vs Florida who had the most residents per state employee (101.0)? All told there are 61 different tables taken from various government records on all kinds of things: gaming, state expenditures, prison populations, education, natural resources, etc. You can find a pdf of the booklet here

    There are lots of interesting stats included. The other thing that I like about it is that it's published in one of my favorite parts of the country, Green Bay WI!

    Keep on stretching those dollars!


  • Canadian Grocery Alerts

    Just became aware of something that will interest our Canadian visitors. It's a free 29 page eBook for Canadian shoppers that contains popular Canadian retailers coupon policies. For example, find out if they accept printable coupons, if they price match and if the retailer allows coupon stacking.
    I understand that many Canadian retailers do not have an official policy and that this is a common complaint among couponers. You can download the ebook here
    Keep on Stretching those Dollars!
  • What You Know

    Heard an interesting concept the other day. Thought that it might have relevance to our finances.

    "Don't let what you know prevent you from learning what you don't know." You'll probably need to read that a couple of times before it seems to make sense. It took me a minute to wrap my head around the idea.

    I know a fair amount about some things. Enough so that I like to think that I'm a bit of an expert. But that could be a dangerous place to be. That's because when you try to tell me something I automatically see how it fits with what I already 'know' to be true.

    Normally that's good. It helps me test new ideas. Keeps me from making the same mistake over and over. I'm able to quickly and easily reject ideas that aren't correct.

    But sometimes what I 'know' might not be 100% accurate. Perhaps there's a bit of a fallacy included. That could cause me to reject something that's really true.

    What I know might also be a little outdated. People are always discovering and creating new ideas and things. Sometimes what's new changes what we already thought that we knew.

    There's another risk with what we know. Since I already know a subject, I might be unwilling to hear anything new. What I know could keep me from learning something new.

    How does it apply to our finances? Let's make up an example. Suppose that I need to shop for a new car. I've bought a number of new cars in the past. And think that I've been a pretty good shopper. So I 'know' how to shop for a car.

    You try to tell me about some new online tools for car shoppers. But since I already know how to shop for a car I don't pay much attention. I don't hear what you have to say about using online quotes to pit one dealer against another to get the lowest price. I end up paying more than is necessary. What I knew really cost me money.

    I'm beginning to think that a willingness to learn is more important than what we already know. Anyone can cram a bunch of facts into their head. But to apply those facts to the events in our lives requires wisdom and a willingness to learn even more.

    So in the future I want to be open to new ideas. Especially in areas that I already know a lot about. Not that I'm not knowledgeable. Just that there's always more to learn in this world.

    Keep on Stretching those Dollars!


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Gary is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who edits The Dollar Stretcher website <www.stretcher.com> and newsletters. You can follow Gary on Twitter.com/gary_foreman
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