Tag Archives: spend less

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.



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).


30 Day Discount Detox

1 Nov

…a title so good I bought the domain name. I must say I probably buy more domain names than anything else and it can get to be an expensive habit. The $12.17 total I got while checking out at GoDaddy didn’t sit well with me. That combined with my rent check due today and the chance of a poorly timed automatic debit for some bill I’ve forgotten about could put my account in the red. If I see another overdraft fee on my BofA account I will flip. It costs money to have money (service fees) and even more to not have it (overdraft fees and credit card interest). I’ve been really good about that this year so I’ll stop before my blood pressure gets too high.

So in the spirit of my new financial diet I, according to the rules I’ve set for myself, had to find a discount online. There was no way in hell I was going to let my first purchase get the best of me. Found a promo code, which took about 90 seconds, and saved 49%. Well done. Just about anything you search online, if followed by “promo code”, in the search box will give you dozens of codes, most of which will actually work. There is never any reason to pay full price for anything online.

1) Bills, utilities, prescriptions and subscriptions that I’ve already been paying consistently will continue at their current price, any discount I manage to get on those is a bonus.

2) Dollar or 99¢ store items can be purchased at current prices.

3) No restaurant meals unless purchased with a Groupon or Living Social coupon, it’s happy hour or someone else is buying.

4) Everything else must be purchased using coupons, promotions, 2-for-1 type deals, news paper ad specials, rebates or some other form of discount.

5) All discounts must be documented with receipts or photos.

And I’ll be posting my purchases at the end of everyday.

Now I must say, I am a bit apprehensive. None of my favorite fast food places have coupons that I know of and I dont know if I can go 30 days without a Chipotle burrito. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen eggs for sale. Does Trader Joe’s even have sales? Are there discounts in the produce section at all? This is going to be interesting.

At the moment I have a serving of frozen pasta, 2 pieces of Naan from TJ’s and 3 packs of Ramen. It’s going to be a long 30 days…

The best places to buy awesome stuff at great prices.

31 Oct

Food: Smart & Final has a surprisingly good selection of just about any food; name brands as well as some smaller regional companies that have equally high quality products but just not enough pull to mass distribute. I found some great frozen ravioli in the freezer section and when I add a bit of pepper, garlic and olive oil it tasted fairly close to what I spent $16 on just 3 nights ago at Buona Vita. This $6.99 item gives me 5-7 portions, that’s a dollar per meal, and if I’m feeling guilty I add fresh mushrooms, tomatoes or spinach on top.

Name brand cleaning supplies and toiletries: The Dollar or 99¢ store. These places get a lot of “rejects” of whatever comes out on the assembly line. All that means is it’s not up to the brands high aesthetic standards or insanely critical taste tests so they place it on the shelves anywhere where these minor flaws won’t affect the buyers willingness to actually purchase it. I doubt an oddly faded logo or bar code slightly askew will ever keep me from buying something.

Medication: I’ve been getting medication monthly from Costco without a membership card.  They probably order so much for their current customers that there’s plenty to go around and it’s an excellent way to get perspective customers in the door. Just say you are going to the pharmacy and they will let you through.

Watches: Ross. That cheesy watch display across the aisle right as you walk in is actually full of some really cool stuff. They also have great men’s & women’s fragrances (most designer or well known brands), some decent bathroom decor items and really good quality luggage for dirt cheap.

Casual clothes: The used or vintage clothing store. Here in LA it’s American Vintage, Popkiller and That’s a Wrap, all awesome local gems. In the film industry wardrobe is purchased in excess for background actors and in very specific styles and sizes for the main characters of major studio films and TV shows. Either way when shooting is over typically these items are returned (if it’s low budget, and the tag hasn’t been removed), cast members will take the clothes home (if the producers are in a giving mood), they get put back on the rack for future productions (if the studio is saving money) or it will be sold to a used clothing store. The quality of the garments are usually good to start and some of them are even one-of-a-kind pieces made specifically for one scene or character so you don’t have to worry about seeing 10 people wearing your jeans while enjoying an afternoon in Hollywood. Obviously outside of LA you won’t get that in particular but if it’s vintage it’s probably cooler than what you paid double for last time you went to the mall.

Produce: Farmers markets are the obvious choice. Buying from these small time vendors supports the local economy and the growers are average people who grow food without hormones and pesticides (typically, but do ask if you happen to care). The second choice: produce markets. These storefronts sell fruit, nuts, berries and other agricultural items exclusively. Culturally specific markets, like Hispanic or Asian markets that aren’t big chains are also a great choice. And community gardens…okay, okay at this point you’ve probably gotten the sense that I am much more than just money conscious. I’m also environmentally, ecologically and health conscious. I recycle, use energy saving bulbs, don’t cook with butter or processed salt and am aware of where my stuff is made. I’m not hugely active in this way of life but these are a few habits that I’ve adopted along the way that have had a positive affect on my life. So anyway…community gardens. You put x number of hours in per week or month and you get x number of squash, apples, avocados or whatever happens to be in season. Yes this is time out of your busy schedule but it is a great way to meet your neighbors, find a girlfriend if you want her to see you as sensitive, nurturing and good with your hands or get your kids out of the house more without spending so much of your hard earned cash. Something happens to a person when they are fed literally through the fruits of their labor. It’s a drastically different connection with your food. And heck, all of these taste infinitely better than what you will buy at any grocery store.

Collectables: Estate sales. Buying rare stuff on eBay is convenient but you are also bidding against dozens, if not hundreds, of other people. And in the end the price is determined by a frenzy of competitiveness and a rabid need to consume. Conversely, driving the long way through a neighborhood on your way to wherever you spend your Saturdays can often result in a gentle negotiation with a very pleasant middle aged lady or gentleman. And this is a great place to find gifts for the old grannies and fogies in your life. Don’t know what to get grandma? Some other old lady’s crystal pitcher you bought for 20$ will suffice. She’s happy and so is your wallet.

Home decor: At World Market overstocked shelves and merchandise spilling into the aisles is expected and adds a bit of authenticity to the whole experience. This place is a cross between Pier 1, IKEA and the bizarre in your favorite non-western country. The stuff they sell looks unique but is made in a factory like anything else mass produced and you put a lot of the larger pieces together yourself, so…well…just be forewarned.

Anything in the kitchen: I love Sur la Table but this is NOT the place to buy anything for your kitchen if you are on a budget. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything in there that was for sale. It’s in my top 3 favorite stores to shop in which is exactly why I don’t go. It’s like a museum for cool and useful stuff that makes other deliciously edible stuff. But they are not known for their reasonable prices. Try a restaurant supply store, especially in a Japanese or Chinese populated area. Not the commercialized “Chinatown” but someplace a bit more suburban where the food is more authentic. Here in LA that place is Monterey park. I lived there for 3 years and let’s face it, tons of our stuff is made in these countries so it’s logical that these places would have the least mark up. Items are a dime a dozen but actually pretty good quality.

Mac products: The Mac store. Yes, I said it. The Mac store is the best place to get discounted Mac items. I’m not sure how I stumbled upon it myself but it surprises me that many people don’t know about refurbished units. These are products that were either returned right after being purchased but had to be sent back for repackaging or testing, or were defective in some way that was easily corrected. The units undergo the same testing as a brand new product, are checked for cosmetic issues, have anything that needs to be replaced, replaced and put on sale at 20-50% off, typically hidden somewhere on the manufacturers site. Type in the name brand, “refurbished” and the type of product you’re looking for. The first result should be a link to the refurbished section of the online store. Remember when you actually go to buy the products that it is in fact the manufacturers site you are buying the product from. Refurnished items are sold in a lot of places but only the manufacturers site will guarantee full warranty of the product, extensive inspection to the manufacturers standards and overall quality control.

These are off the top of my head and since I don’t shop much I’ll have to do a bit of research the next time around. Speaking of research I am doing a 30 Day Discount Detox in November so…I’m sure I’ll get lots of material. More on that tomorrow.