Tag Archives: bills

Identity Crisis

16 Mar

My father was in town for business about four weeks ago. We talked about everything from politics to religion, philosophy to web applications (like father like daughter)…and of course money and work. I came to a point in the career portion of the conversation where I basically expressed that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working for a company whose values were not congruent with my own; that I didn’t want to waste my time, look back in 30 years and regret it.

Now I don’t really believe in regret. Everything I’ve done including my major, MAJOR mistakes make me who I am in this exact moment and that person is a pretty cool, good hearted person with a lot to offer…and my feeling is that his sentiment is the same. So it surprised me to hear him say that he spent the last 30 years working as a programmer, mostly for large corporations, who made it their job to screw the little guy. I’ve always known what my father did but I never thought about how those programs effected the masses. For many years his company’s main client was a major corporation and somehow, even though everyone in my family is a customer of this Goliath and know how ridiculous and lame they are I never made the connection. Ignorance is bliss and I suppose my parents did a good job at sheltering me from some things.

Anyway it seems like a simple thing but in the moment, hearing his exact words and the look on his face…kind of broke my heart. It’s like superman saying that every time he saves one person, there are 2 more people that died. Well maybe not exactly like that but my dad is my hero. Most brilliant guy I know. To hear him say that hurt a lot and has made my last 4 weeks enlightening…and painful.

So. What’s it mean to me? Of course by the end of the conversation he simply said, “Find what you will do for free, then find someone who will pay you for it”. That’s always been his work advice but this time it hit me differently. So I did a little self-reflection and sent in a few applications for 3d design jobs by the end of the week. I, of course, do not have an architectural design degree but I do make a mean custom green home in SketchUp. Actually, I would say I’m better at that than most things I’ve done…and they actually pay people to use that program specifically. My portfolio was enough for an interview however I emailed yesterday and the position has since been filled. I started with architectural design firms, then to green home design, to solar energy and after that its been a brain scrambling spiral into…all of these issues that I didn’t realize I cared so much about.

Super-consumer culture
Fossil fuel peeks/renewable energy
Super-cheap super-sized food/food monopolies/buying local
Homelessness/mortgage crisis/bigger-living-is-better-living obsession

…There are a lot of things I care about and a couple non-profits I wanted to start eventually but those seemed way in the future and required a lot of resources to get done. And knowing me I probably made it more complicated than it needed to be. However these four issues not only are so immediately crucial but also they are things I can do my part to change right now. Habits I can incorporate today.

*sigh* Let me get off my soap box for a second and be real. This is NOT what this blog was supposed to be about. It was SUPPOSED to be about how to live a decent quality of life without killing our pocketbooks. And it has caused me to do so much reflection, on myself, my values and lifestyle which I see now are two totally different things and on the world around me. What is the cost of cheap goods? Where are those goods made and who made them? And I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even know if this blog is valid anymore. The “Price” of this blog seems to refer less to the ticket price of something and more to the long term affects of those same products on the economy, the environment, and international relations (based on the fact that we are practically owned by China and half of the Middle East depending on your point of view).

A lot of people donate money to youth programs in the inner-city when the smog from our cars, city landfills and rabid product supply chain causes them cancer. Does that make any sense to you?

I am by no means more of a help than a hindrance. I’ve been educating myself and changing habits slowly but I am no saint when it comes to these issues or when it comes to anything. It’s hard. But now that I know that I know – because I did know…I guess I just didn’t care or didn’t think about it – I can’t stop thinking about it.

So what am I doing about it:

#1. I am inviting an increase of income in my life (I estimate I will have applied to 100+ jobs and temporary projects in the month of March alone in case you thought I was only “inviting” and not taking action). Need is no longer an applicable word really. There are people who do with so much less. But let’s get real, everything costs something: time, energy, money, or favors, and knowing that you can keep a roof over your head and food in your stomach makes room for everything else that is important to you. In my case:

#2. Shopping for the food that I want, buying local and juicing more. I believe the FDA certified organic is overrated. My family owns a farm and the land nor the animals have been touched by anything unnatural for 4 generations. Can’t get more organic than that. FDA regulations make it hard on farmers and ‘local’ often means organic in a purer sense. If you aren’t sure shopping at the Farmer’s Market will always give you an opportunity to ask.

#3. Consuming less. I’m already what I would consider a ‘low-consumer’. Outside of food I typically only buy things when what I’ve got is worn out or when I need supplies/business attire for work. I’ve never been a big shopper, prefer making gifts for family and friends and don’t have many possessions I truly care about outside of my laptop. My three big products this year thus far have been a juicer from my parents for a late Christmas gift (mine was in the $80 range and works great), a replacement phone when mine was stolen and a pair of wrinkle free sheets…they feel amazing.

#4. Gasoline alternatives…I admit that I have a gas card from one of the Seven Sisters. It does not make me happy. I thought that Diesel was the devil up until I watched a few documentaries and learned that Rudolf Diesel’s original design ran on corn oil alone. Huh? Standard Oil, who I was already familiar with, bought that patent and started marketing it as strictly a petrol engine, a fact whoever taught me conveniently left out. So now I’m considering dumping my car or altering it to a gas engine (runs on fumes only, can go for 100+ miles per gallon), diesel engine or solar electric system. This is pricey, time consuming and requires a ton of research before making a decision so I have a couple years to work on that one…

#5. Down-sizing. I’ve been obsessed with Container Homes (recycling 40 x 8 ft. shipping containers as building structures) and Tiny Homes (any house smaller than 800 sq.ft.) for a few years now. Since home design is a hobby, I already have a lot of construction experience and own a decent amount of the required tools I’ve decided I want to build a tiny home. I like living small. It’s a fun challenge, is inexpensive and my entire life thus far has always fit into about a 13 x 13 ft. space anyway. So why not dump the roommate, the landlord, and the utility companies? I want to own a home. I’d like to design and build that home myself. And with almost no space to build in LA this provides so many more options. If I build it myself I’m looking at about $20k just for the structure and basic amenities. I’ve got a few ways around this (sponsorship, recycled lumber, fundraising) which I think will cut my costs in half. The rest…well that is 1 year’s rent in a 1 bedroom apartment. Not too shabby for something that could last a couple decades.

All this will enable me to save a lot of money and use it to travel, see family more, have more barbecues with my friends and sail much more often. And all that sounds pretty good to me.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. I started so many posts in the last several weeks; going on and on about my job search, oscillating between points of view on certain issues, trying to come up with topics that were applicable to my original topic without getting to preachy and complaining about the ongoing poor communication skills of a couple of my clients as well as myself (I just got my NLP Practitioner certification so I have no excuse). But all that stuff’s not really what makes the world go ’round ya know? I think this time I actually got out what I needed to say and it feels good.

-Half-price

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A Mountain or a Molehill?

14 Feb

It does not please me to inform you that today my debt has jumped from -$8,709 to -$13,248…that’s a 52% increase. This amount seems…well, gross to me. Both in the financial and non-aesthetically pleasing sense. I feel ashamed, less than, like a failure. I should have seen this day coming. Honestly, I knew it was always looming but I didn’t think my debtor would be calling it in so soon and I was happy to avoid the conversation.

Three Quick Lessons

#1: Never, EVER borrow money from friends/family/significant others unless for cash only purchases that you can and will pay back with one quick visit to the ATM.
#2: If you must, and only if you absolutely MUST, borrow money from these people get it from someone that wont resent you if you honestly, for whatever reason, simply can’t pay it back, even if you sincerely have every intention of doing so; like a grandma or a rich uncle…it lessens the strain on the relationship.
#3: Always, ALWAYS map out terms BEFORE the money is exchanged and plan for those terms to endure, regardless of external circumstances (make sure that you can [and will want] to pay it back regardless of whatever happens, i.e. breakups, etc.) until it is paid off.

Now don’t get me wrong. I loath being in debt and more so when it is to a person and more so when it is to a friend. But the thoughts that ran through my mind when that email came through. I couldn’t help myself. I was upset, angry, overall just very torn up by it. Not because of the money really, nor at the person. I saw it coming as this person’s money situation has changed recently. But all the subtext: the cheery introduction and close (total ‘criticism sandwich’ style and what made it worse is I knew it was sincere and not a ploy), the conversations that would need to be had as a result, and the embarrasment of feeling like I wasn’t in a postion to pay it back right now. For a moment I considered “what would it be like to put that friendship on hold, at least until I paid it off?” I didn’t know if I could do both. I was that upset. But my higher self said “be cool, step into their map of the world and you DO owe them money, so…stop bitchin! Respond. Now. Not tomorrow. Itemize everything so you can agree on the amount, propose a starting monthly amount that you think you could make up in odd tasks or gimmicks on the 3rd St. Promenade. Just get it over with. The sooner the better.”

There are now 2 personal debts that I must pay back and this latest one won’t be avoidable. Not like I would try that on purpose but my last one hasn’t really been asked for and I haven’t really had the money to pay it back so I’ve been letting it sit, thankfully, without accruing interest. Which is the only good aspect. So starting at the end of this month I will be auto transferring via BofA $100 every 30 days. That’s not much, I know. But it is certainly something when your monthly budget for all necessities is below $1500 on a good month and all that this budget can withstand at the moment. My phone was stolen in January and I have a $200 cell phone bill sitting in my inbox as a result of my replacement deductible + regular monthly bill. Otherwise I would be looking at something in the $1400 range. I had my Evo (without the 2 year plan it’s about a $270 investment even now after 2+ years on the market) for 10 1/2 months with a $7/mo insurance plan. $7 x 11 = $77 + $100 deductible for an Evo 3D, closest I could get to the original, so $177 over a year instead of another $250-300 for a brand new phone or $270-350 to terminate my contract. Phone insurance = worth it. One of the only types of (American) insurance I actually believe in having…but that’s a blog for another time, and it WILL be addressed, don’t you worry.

Anyway, I was so disgusted with my new scarlet digit I went into my Mint account settings and turned my car asset status from ‘hide’ to ‘show’ resulting in a jump back into the black for a cold hard $3,751. Phew that was a close one. Totally artificial but it makes my total money owed much less intimidating. I suppose it feels nice to know that if I ever get into dire straights I can always sell my car instead of moving back home (i.e. mom’s house, dad’s house, this grandparent, that grandparent…turns out my aunt is pretty cool…there are many options but none in LA and none could I handle for more than a couple weeks before firmly pulling all my hair out and acquiring a new habit to something far more harsh than the occasional 6 pack).

Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to overcome a MOUNTAIN of debt like some. Perhaps a large foothill? Although, a mountain is what it feels like. No More Harvard Debt Guy is well on his way with his formerly $90k debt. He’s paid off over $60k in 5 months. To be fair he had $24k lying around, a corporate job somewhere in the $60-70k range and 2 expensive cars and a motorcycle that he eventually did liquidate. I haven’t done the math as to how much was liquid, how much was cutting costs and how much was increased revenue but I’m looking forward to knowing the answer to that. And to think all I have to sell is my Jeep Patriot and maybe my very small guitar collection. With all the film equipment, office furniture and friend’s apartment contents I’ve carted around in the last 2 years including that resulting from my own change of address this vehicle was a damn good investment and still has gas milage equivalent to a decent traditional 4 door sedan.

On the bright side 97% of that $4,540 went towards education and personal enrichment. I had a lot of personal growth as a result and perhaps a useful certification that can pay for itself in a few months once my paperwork is processed. So I suppose I can’t be that upset. Besides almost all of my friends either spent half a mortgage on graduate school and will be paying for it for the rest of their lives or they figured a BA was enough but will be working in corporate for…as long as they can stand it I guess. By choice? I’m not sure. Honestly, I don’t think they’ve considered if there is in fact an alternative or if they’d even want it. I also suppose their reality is just as probable an alternative for me as my reality is for them…Until then I’ll be paying it off with my creative juices, my great work ethic and my dashing good looks (and tomorrow, probably the pursuit of a second job).

-Half-price

Long Time, No See

13 Feb

Lesson 1: 

After my last post I had a bit of a blog identity crisis. I kept thinking to myself “what am I saying about how I value my own life simply by having My Life Half Price as a title?!” Perhaps I was over-thinking it but I was in an NLP workshop at the time, hense the nature of the question. And it continued to be on my mind for a few months. So I stopped writing and put my 30 Day Discount Detox on pause…(I made it through 17 successful days as I recall). At this point I’ve adopted the view that the dollar amounts we assign to anything, to everything, simply do not matter.

At the time I was working a damn near full-time job that was paying me much less than minimum wage…don’t ask. Looking back I’d rather go back to being a construction worker. At least in those days I had a real paycheck that covered my expenses, I was in good shape and was home everyday by 4pm. That gives you a clue as to what I thought my time and work ethic was worth. And if you really think about it there are a ton of people working for less, 50, 60+  hours a week and still can’t pay the bills. The same went for my relationships. Moral of the story? Whether it’s a boss, a best friend or a spouse/partner if you aren’t getting back what you are putting in…leave. I left a lot of things last year.

Lesson 2: 

I had a realization: Los Angeles is FILLED with starving artists working with and trying to make money off of other starving artists. Does this make sense to you? Me neither. My mother who has her own business in addition to being a school administrator and goes to a members only “business cafe” most days after her 9-5. During my visit over the holidays I was there almost every day, all day. The amount of entrepreneurs and independent contractors that walk through that place is insane. And because it was in Maryland they have very little access, if any, to people like me.

There is an entire two-toned, boring, corporate world out there that could use the creative flare of individuals like myself. Not only could they use the help, but they need it and most importantly…they WANT it. I made more money in the value of my new relationships in those 2 weeks than I made in the entirety of 2011. The projects are starting to flow in, I’ve started a new business and was introduced to an awesome new video platform so I’m glad I made the investment of a plane ticket and my time. Moral of the story? Money will be exchanged either way. If you want ‘In’ make sure you get in the middle of that transaction.

Lesson 3:

Attack your fears, especially the inevitable, head on. If you have a credit card payment, got a parking ticket or owe money on your taxes…pay early. The longer you wait the more fees you’ll incur and you WILL forget. Why? because your unconscious mind wants to protect you from things that hurt. Paying stuff like bills and fees doesn’t typically feel good.

“Thanks unconscious mind. I appreciate you. Why don’t you go get us some drinks while I put this check in the mail.”

Now I will admit, in recent years I have not had this issue, thankfully, paying late or not paying attention can be very costly I learned very quickly after college and I make an effort to not go broke as a result of late fees and not moving my car on street sweeping days.

Recently it’s more in my dealing with work and people; friends, clients, etc. where I suffer the consequences of not being ‘on top’ of things. Not because I don’t know any better but because I’ve been avoidant, afraid, anxious, whatever you want to call it. So I’ve been making a point to make the first move: be the one to pick up the phone and dial when a difficult conversation has to be had, the one to write the email to the client who is completely avoidant after receiving the latest revision of an edit (if you are unhappy, SAY IT! and spare us all the suspense and wasted stress), and respond to a passive aggressive message…today, instead of tomorrow even though the contents made me want to punch a hole in the wall. Moral of the story? Growth is at the end of your comfort zone. Something I knew to be true previously and am learning more and more in an experiential sense everyday.

The more I focus on my money the more I learn about life. And this blog helps me reflect. That being said there is quite a bit of catching up to do so I will be posting regularly again starting…well, now.

-Half-price