All Is Not Yet Doomed

I really wanted to try this turn-buttons-into-earrings craft over the weekend.  Reading the post, it seemed like something that couldn’t end in a trip to the emergency room even I could do.   So, Friday after work, I went to the A.C. Moore Craft store; despite the fact that Friday night shopping trips almost always lead to some sort of fibromyalgia episode for some reason (possibly built-up exhaustion from the work week added to an hour or two browsing on my feet), I was enthusiastic and in good cheer.

All I needed were the button shank remover, the earring posts and nuts, and of course, the buttons.   It seemed like a fairly short, easy list for a craft store.

A. C. Moore doesn’t carry a button shank remover, which I discovered after I searched who can i pay to write my essay then asked a sales person, who then also searched the professional  after I showed her the image of the one in Tanya’s post.  Yet, somehow, I thought, “O.K. Fine, I’ll just check somewhere else on my way home.”   After all, it was just one thing on my list.  No need to despair.

Then I began the hunt for buttons.  I should have kept a hold of that sales clerk.  I looked all over the store for buttons and finally had to ask.  That same sales clerk brought me to the very back of the store where there was a spinning rack of what should have been buttons, but it was empty. The manager said they had placed several orders for buttons but for some mysterious reason they had stopped receiving any a few months ago.  Really, a craft store with no buttons? I thought, “O.K., I’ll get them where I get the button shank remover.”  It wasn’t a complete disaster yet.

So I went over to the beading supply section to get the earring post pads and butterfly nuts.  I can only wear sterling silver and sometimes surgical steel; otherwise I have some sort of allergic reaction — a tip: coat your earring post with clear nail polish to reduce the chance of an allergic reaction from metal.   I looked around; there were lots of pretty shiny things to distract me — blue things, silver things, pink and purple things, orange things, but there were no silver earring posts.  I don’t think there were even gold earring posts. I even looked for clip-on backs for my mom, but no.

I was reminded of a fortune cookie an acquaintance once received: “All is not yet doomed.”

By that time, having worked all day before hand, I was very tired and extremely hungry.  It was getting dark outside and I hate being out after dark.  I knew that there was a Pug at home that would be doing the peepee dance and also wanted his dinner.

I decided it was better to live to shop another day.

I gave up and went home (several towns away) and I did no crafty things this weekend, nor do I feel as if I’d been productive.  In fact, I just feel a year older having turned 39 on Saturday.  Next weekend I am going up to Topsham to run errands and there is a Joann’s Fabric there.  I have a new hope that there will at least be buttons.

le sigh!

Better To Deal With The Devil You Know?

I know I left things sounding pretty dire the last time I spoke about my home refinance situation.  I’ve been meaning to make note of the resolution here for a while but then I also didn’t want to jinx anything.

I made a deal with the devil parents.  I know it’s not an option everyone has and to be honest I really tried to exhaust every other option first.  Let me tell you a story or two…

When I went to college, my middle class parents made too much money for me to qualify for any financial scholarships and even though I was an Honors Student in high school with an excellent GPA and a semester of college Freshmen English completed during my final semester, it wasn’t enough to overcome the advantage of having parents who were well-salaried even if I wasn’t and didn’t want to be associated with their dimes.

I had no choice but to accept the charity of my parents.  For four years, my parents paid for my college education as well as my room and board and any other expenses outside of the pitiful money I made at the handful of underpaid part-time jobs I attempted to work while acquiring a 5-year degree in 4 years, which required attending 4 semesters a year (2 in the summer) plus 1 extra 5 week semester one May where I had to read almost a novel a day.  For 4 years, my parents wanted to know how I was spending not just my money but my time as well.  You know, they wanted to make sure that their investment was paying off.  And don’t think they didn’t have a say in what classes I took or what major I had.

During those same 4 years, my parents were also  financing a scholarship for another student at another college.  This young man whose name I’ve never known — let’s call him Joe for the sake of this story – was actually from a family who could not afford to send him to college and knowing my parents he probably also had an excellent GPA in high school.  I’m told that they never met him but that he was from a minority ethnic background.  I suppose he had a choice to accept the charity of my parents, but probably the idea of 4 years of tuition at the local university was a good deal, so why pass that up?

So, here’s the facts: Joe and I both technically had scholarship agreements with my parents, but they were vastly different agreements.  Joe’s agreement was limited to spending four years keeping up his grades and getting his tuition paid while getting a degree in a Business major.  My parents never once called Joe  at his home to check on him; they never wanted to know what his study schedule was like; they took no role in making decisions about his class schedule or his extracurricular activities.  They did not discuss whether or not he had a t.v. in his bedroom or whether or not he should have to eat breakfast in the cafeteria.   In fact, as far as I know, Joe went to college with the goal of becoming what he wanted to be growing up, experienced college the way he wanted,  got the degree he wanted, and possibly got the job he wanted afterwards.

I wanted to be a journalist or a writer in my heart of hearts but those jobs didn’t really “make money” according to my parents so I was steered toward the sciences or engineering.  My senior year of high school, I was leaning toward physics, aerospace engineering, or mechanical engineering.  (I kind of liked finding out how things worked and I was really into science fiction.)  My parents were thrilled.  I started college as a mechanical engineering major but after fourteen months it was clear to me that neither physics nor engineering were interesting enough to me to keep me awake or keep up my grades for 4 years of college.  I had an interest in Accounting, which if some of you recall is what my father is — he’s a CPA — and I still wanted to be a journalist or a writer.  However, Business majors apparently were not as successful, money-wise, as science majors or engineers and journalism and writing was still a big no-no.  The only degree in Engineering that I had any talent at and promised not bore me to death was Computer Science and thus the agreement was made with my parents –

Don’t get me wrong, I have never said that I didn’t like being a programmer.  I enjoy programming; I’m quite egocentric regarding my programming skills, I admit.  In fact, I am a self-proclaimed programming diva.  I love the challenge of troubleshooting, the art of design and development, the triumph of doing the impressive impossible.  There’s simplicity, logic, puzzles, beauty, and drama in the world of programming.

However, at the time, I probably would not have chosen this as my career had I been given the opportunity to pick any career I wanted.

My scholarship agreement involved so much more than Joe’s.   And I’d rather not hear from the crowd who just wants to tell me how I should have just walked away from my parent’s money and rules, learned to take care of myself, put myself through college, and be my own person; until you’ve been there, felt the enormous pressure weighing on you, you can’t say anything, know anything.  At the time, I sold my soul to the devil my parents to get a college degree because that’s the only way I knew how to get one.  The scholarship system really is set up to screw the middle class student who doesn’t want to or can’t depend on his or her parent’s income.

I’ve always said that the price of taking money from my parents always comes with mental anguish  interest payments.

The second story I want to tell involves a time after college as a 20-something when I was living paycheck to paycheck as an underpaid programmer with no benefits and no vacation time with a roommate who made even less money than me.  Honestly, I didn’t understand why I wasn’t making a fortune like all of the books, guidance people, and PR promised programmers and geeks would be making in the 90′s.  I’ve mentioned before that I’ve had to live on the Pantry Diet in the past; well, that’s when I discovered that wonderfully undelightful diet and when I learned to dig through my sofa for loose change every Saturday morning after having my friends over on Friday night. :P  I recall that you could get a McDonald’s All-American Meal for $1.59 back then. (For 10¢ more you could get cheese…of course, that was after the first time I was a vegetarian and before I found out I shouldn’t eat meat because of my kidneys. ;) )  I got into about $5K – $7K debt and I just didn’t know how to get out.  It was like quicksand; every move I made, I sank further into debt.  Eventually in desperation, I went to my parents for help.

You have no idea what it’s like to have to admit to my father that you are in financial trouble, that you have run up credit cards and not paid them off every month, that you have not lived within your means.  There are hours long lectures; there are repeated questions about why you made the purchases you made, why you spent the money you did, why you didn’t pay the bills you didn’t.  There are doomsday tales of people your parents knew who went into debt and horrible things that happened as a result.  Heaps of guilt is shoveled onto your miserable self as if you weren’t already feeling wretched.

Talk about feeling like a failure when you get into stupid debt and you are the child of a financial control freak CPA.  I suppose it’s like being the criminal child of a Supreme Court Justice…or at least that’s how it feels, the crime of stupid debt while being the child of a CPA.  Should have known better.

It took me about 10 years to both pay off the money I borrowed from my parents and the rest of the money I owed, but I did it, and I felt good when I did it.  Becoming debt free is liberating.  It’s kind of like that feeling you used to get on that last day of school every year when the Summer was just starting and you had 3 whole months of freedom ahead of you with nothing to tether you down.  It’s like that, but better.

And I had planned to stay that way.  Honestly.  My father heaps a good deal of guilt on me about living within my means, but my parents also dish out a lot of conflicting messages each with their own built-in pressure, even at almost 40.

As soon as I was out of debt, even though my plan was to spend the next 2 to 3 years building up a savings to be certain I had an emergency fund and a reserve and a down payment before  considering anything like buying a home, my parents immediately started pressuring me to buy a home because I was just “throwing my money away” on an apartment and it was time for me to “invest in real estate”.  It was all they talked about when they talked to me and I admit, I have issues about needing parental approval;  I’m still discussing this in therapy.  My mother even insisted on driving me around to go look at houses while I was recovering from an outpatient surgery procedure that she flew in to take care of me for.  So, I bought my beautiful house much sooner than I probably should have — right before the housing bubble burst.

And so, having to have my gall bladder removed, needing an emergency appendectomy, discovering an autoimmune kidney disease and gastroparesis on top of my other health issues, having the furnace fail and thus need to be replaced, suffering ice dam damage to the roof requiring a new roof and repairs to the bathroom, the kitchen and the living room, having the unexpected need to replace my car, and dealing with the unexpected increase in utilities and other bills…well, my limited savings in 3 years has been over-exhausted.  Every time I got some money saved, it immediately got spent again by the next unexpected thing, until all I had was my credit card, which I very reluctantly used because I knew from experience what that was like.

And having my mother give me advise such as “You really should have $10,000 in savings” or “You should be making extra payments on the house” when I tell her how I’m struggling financially really doesn”t help my mental state.  And I can’t blame anyone but myself for being in this position because technically I’m the one who got me here.  I’m always saying that once you become an adult you become responsible for your own actions and you can’t blame your parents or what your parents may have said or did to you in the past for anything you do as an adult.  I want to blame them for pressuring me, for subconsciously enabling me into positions that are hazardous to my financial and mental health, positions where I will need rescuing, positions that will leave me dependent on them, forcing me back into the submissive child co-dependent role.  I want to blame them, but I have allowed it to happen…again.

I spent about 4-6 months last year trying to get a loan for debt consolidation through the usual routes and even though I still have a good credit rating, no banks or lending institutions were interested.  Even Lending Tree didn’t respond and they have that 24 – 48 hour guarantee.

I know from experience that if I have fewer payments per month, it is easier for me to pay everything off, but if I have to stretch my dollars to cover too many debtors then nothing will get payed off.  However, no one was lending.  Then when I tried to alleviate my pain through home refinance, well, we know that had problems due to the fact that my home lost value; the bank wanted me to give them about $15K to pay down the house to 95% — if I had $15K, I wouldn’t need to refinance, right?

So, after a lot of soul searching, sleepless tossing and turning, stomach acid churning, I talked to my father about what happened with the home refinance and with the bills last year and how things got behind.  Despite the fact that I outlined how my income increased minimally in 3 years and my basic expenses including property taxes and escrow plus the addition of a loan for the new furnace and a loan for the new car had grown exponentially and not in proportion to my income, my father gave me a lecture about learning to live within my means.

However, with the lecture also comes a loan for the money to pay down the house to refinance and also money to pay off a credit card and my Time Share loan.  This parental loan is a long-term low interest loan, but as I know from experience it comes with extra terms that usual loans don’t have.  For example, I recently admired something and wistfully said that it was something I’d like to have one day and my father replied, “Does that fit into your new budget?”  Now, I didn’t even plan on buying whatever it was; heck, I didn’t even add it to my Things I Want wishlist, which I use to keep track of things I really want.  Already the mental anguish part of the payments has begun.

So, the good news is that my house payments will be $400 lower starting April 1rst.  Plus, I’ve consolidated about $10K with that $15K my parents loaned me; so I’ll be making fewer payments that are less money, which will allow me to rely less on credit each month.  I actually opened a second checking account and I will keep paying all of my bills out of my current one and will use the new one to buy groceries, pay for the monthly household things, and spend on whatever the variable monthly expenses are; thus, the original account should always have the amount needed to pay the bills for the month at the beginning of the month and the new account gets what’s left over.  I think this will actually make budgeting easier since I have such a hard time dividing things up into categories.

Becoming The Better You

Over the weekend, I spent some time going through my rather long list of Read It Later bookmarks and I happened upon 100 Ways to A Better Life by Dragos Roua of Brilliantly Better.  Quite a few were either good reminders or wake up calls for me.

I’ve been allowing one of my co-workers to push my buttons lately and I don’t know what frustrates me more, that there are buttons to be pushed or that I allow it to happen.  I absolutely hate wasting my energy on him and his drama; I’m so tired of drama.  Last year I decided that I was just going to “be in the moment” and take a lesson from the Beatles to “let it be”.  I decided right around this time last year that I wasn’t going to let anyone make me miserable; other people are welcome to their judgements and opinions but in the end, only my opinion matters to me.  I can decide to be happy and I can decide what or who affects me.

Here are some of Roua’s ways to a better life that I find inspiring:

1. ACCEPT YOUR MISTAKES

You’re human. We, humans, are making mistakes. Accept what you did wrong and try to do better next time. No need to punish yourself forever. In fact, accepting your mistakes is the only way to make them disappear.

2. ACCEPT YOUR FRIENDS MISTAKES

Maybe you got hurt by somebody. Happens. Just accept it and deal with it. People are making mistakes and if you can accept that for yourself, accept it for your friends too. In the end, all you need from them is their love.

3. BUILD SELF DISCIPLINE

Don’t wait for other people to impose discipline on you. Start early. Create your own discipline. Although it sounds a little bit harsh, self discipline is a facilitator for many things in your life. It’s hard to get but great to have.

4. MAKE NEW FRIENDS

Reach out. Don’t be afraid. Establish new contacts. The worst thing that may happen to you is to be rejected. Well, if that’s the case, move on. The reward of having true, long-lasting friendship is worth all the potential rejection.

5. FIND REASONS TO AGREE

Rather than disagree. We have this mindset of competition which makes constantly arguing over things. Well, stop that. You don’t have to force yourself into agreement, if it’s not the case, just trying to find some reasons will be enough.

6. WAKE UP EARLY

This is not a habit, this is a lifestyle. Don’t just wake up early without a purpose. Be early. Be there before others. Look for opportunities and embrace them. Waking up early means keeping your eye open to every available opportunity.

7. TRAIN YOUR FOCUS

Your focus is in fact your reality. Use it wisely. Train it constantly for it will enhance your reality in ways you never imagined. Keep your focus sharp as a razor blade and be prepared to experience life in fantastic shapes and colors.

8. BE BETTER, NOT PERFECT

Striving too much for perfection will ruin your life. It will wipe out all those little imperfections which are making you… human. Being better, on the other side, is rewarding. Look back at the yesterday you and just say: I’m better!

9. STOP SELF SABOTAGE

You’ll be surprised by how much of a burden you can be to yourself. You are literally self sabotaging. Most of the time, unconsciously. If you have a long history of failure behind, that could mean you’ve become your worst enemy. Stop it.

10. FIND REASONS TO LOVE YOUR LIFE

Maybe life wasn’t fair with you. Yes, I know, I’ve been there: life is never fair. But it’s fantastic. It’s unique, unrepeatable, one of a kind, beautiful, simple, challenging, sweet, hard… Just take a step back and find reasons to love your life.

11. TRY SOMETHING NEW

Maybe you’re sad because you’re bored. Have you ever thought about that? Just reach out and try something completely new. Go for a challenge, learn a new sport, pick a different restaurant or go for a comedy movie (if you’re the drama type). Just try it.

12. AVOID FIGHTING

Fighting is the biggest energy leak of your being. Trying to prove another guy wrong is so against your true nature. You’re here to acknowledge life’s wonders, not to prove anybody’s wrong. They’re not wrong, just have different opinions. And that’s part of life.

13. STOP WASTING YOUR POWER

Are you doing something that you think you shouldn’t be doing right now? Well, that’s wasted power. That’s meaningless stuff promoted to the honor of being a part of your life. How long are you going to approve this? Why wasting power?

14. LEARN TO IGNORE

I think they should be teaching this one in schools. We’re so focused on so many topics and think we have to do so many stuff, that our life is literally clogged with stuff. It’s good to do stuff, but learning to ignore stuff is much better.

15. EXPERIMENT GRATITUDE

When was the last time you said “thank you”? With all your heart? Everybody knows that an attitude of gratitude is the key to success, but almost nobody practices it. Well, start by experience gratitude first, and take it from there.

16. RECYCLE YOUR AGGRESSION

Don’t throw it away, recycle it! Use it for something you really want! Call out those wild forces inside of you and put them to work. Aggression is part of your being, so don’t try to reject it, because it will only grow stronger. Recycle your aggression.

17. RELEASE YOUR GUARDIANS

Don’t touch that! Don’t eat that! Don’t go for that opportunity! Those are the sentences you hear when going for something you really want. Those are your guardians, your mental constructs made to protect you. Release them, you’ll be much better off.

18. CLEAN UP YOUR HOUSE

It’s fun. And it’s good for you. Make a habit out of cleaning up your house with joy and happiness. What’s outside is a mirror of what’s inside. If your house is a mess, probably your internal life is a disaster. Neat that stuff, it’s easy.

19. DISSOLVE NEGATIVE OPINIONS ABOUT YOURSELF

Whatever you think you may do, it’s half of what you can really do. And that’s because you have so many negative opinions about yourself. You can solve them. Just accept the fact that you have them and then start working on them.

20. BUILD DIFFERENT SKILLS

Don’t stop learning. Don’t remain stuck in a single career, it’s boring and limiting. Learn different skills, possibly from completely unrelated fields. You never know when life will ask you to use them. Besides, it’s a lot of fun.

21. FOLLOW A COINCIDENCE

Well, there aren’t any coincidences, I lied. Everything has a purpose. If you witness something which may seem like a coincidence, then you’re very lucky, you just got a sign. Follow it with trust, it will lead you well.

22. PLAY A GAME

Any game. Just play. Like a child. Allow yourself to do something just for fun, without any goals, pressures or deadlines. Will make you understand that everything is a game. Sometimes a little bit harder, but still a game..

23. FORGIVE SOMEBODY OUT OF THE BLUE

Don’t hold that grudge for that past insult. Grudges are heavy and tend to make the take off for a new life a little bit difficult. The longer you hold that grudge, the more difficult the take off will be. Forgiveness will lift you off.

24. STOP SOLVING THE WRONG PROBLEMS

You are not here to witness the bad things in your life. Nor the performance in itself. You are here to enjoy a journey. To become aware, To grow. So, stop solving the wrong problem and focus on what really matters.

25. MAKE PEACE WITH AN OLD ENEMY

That’s more than forgiveness, that’s the actual process of reversing a situation. Make peace with somebody. Turn it into your friend. I’m not saying this is easy, I know it first hand. But I also know it works. Enemies count down, friends count up.

26. BREAK UP WITH A PERSON YOU DON’T REALLY LIKE

Maybe you’re friend with somebody just by habit, chemistry being dead for a long time now. Just break it up. Tell him. Ok, let’s unfriend us, this will not work. It will bring up something you thought you lost it long ago: courage.

27. STOP BEING JUDGMENTAL

With others AND with you. Excessive criticism will kill your enthusiasm. And if you think this post is something you shouldn’t read in the first place, then, my friend, you really are judgmental. Lighten up. Accept life as it is.

28. SMILE AT LEAST 10 TIMES A DAY

And I mean it, start to count that. Smiling is a sign of honesty and power. Everybody can cry over a disaster but only the most powerful can take bitterness with a smile. Exercise that power. And then try to go for 20 times a day.

29. SAY SOMETHING NICE TO YOU

Ok, but if nobody is telling you nice things, why not start this yourself? Do it in whatever form you think it’s appropriate: send yourself emails, write in your calendar or leave yourself nice postits on the desk. With something nice just for you.

30. DON’T ARGUE, WIN OR LOSE

This goes hand in hand with avoiding the fight, but it’s a little bit different. If you get caught in an argument, just accept that you can have only two outcomes from it: win or lose. Settle with one and just move on.

31. GO SOCIAL

Mingle, interact, go out. Get used to meet new people. Make this a habit and you’ll soon get used to do new things too. The goal is not to be the best networker in the world, but to be connected to as many energy sources as you can get.

32. STOP COMPLAINING

Complaining is like an open invitation for troubles. The more you complain about something, the more of that something you invite into your life. Cut it out. You don’t get any comfort out of complaining, only troubles.

33. REJECT WHAT YOU DON’T WANT

It’s so simple, yet so underrated. Society wants us to complain even when we don’t really like stuff. Like forcing us to smile when we don’t find it funny. Allow yourself to walk away from something you don’t like. Just do it!

34. LISTEN TO YOUR CRITICS

This one might be difficult in the beginning but once you get used to it it’s fantastic. You may find out a lot of stuff about yourself that you didn’t know about. You think you are one kind of person, but others may disagree.

35. DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY

Never. Your world is shaped by your reaction to things, not by the things themselves. Don’t get upset, don’t think that somebody knows you enough to make right assumptions about you. Acknowledge and move on.

36. LAUGH

This time is not about smiling. It’s about laughing. Don’t you ever miss another opportunity to laugh. Especially at yourself. The longer your laughing sessions, the shorter your misery ones. Looks like a nice deal, isn’t it?

37. GO WITH PASSION

Don’t let your rational mind stand in the way of your passion. If you found – or at least felt, even occasionally – something that thrills you, you’re there. You don’t need a confirmation on this from anybody. Go with your passion.

38. TRUST YOUR EMOTIONS

Don’t underestimate your emotions. Or overestimate them. Your emotions are your feed-back system and for that they are very important. Trying to ignore your emotions is like depriving yourself from lights in a car running in the middle of the night.

39. LIVE IT LIKE A HOLIDAY

Ever observed how nice you feel during your holiday? How light, joyful and authentic? Everything is just wonderful. Well, you are on a continuous holiday here. It starts with your birth and end with your death. Live it like a holiday.

40. STOP REACTING TO STUFF

And start acting on stuff. Initiate things. Start projects. Predict situations and be there before the hurricane hits. Reacting to stuff is a victim paradigm. Stop being a victim and start acting. Create your life instead of being the creation of others.

41. LIVE TODAY

Not yesterday, not tomorrow. Go for what you can do today and leave yesterday behind for good. It’s not here anymore. And tomorrow doesn’t even exist yet, so why bother. All you have is today. Don’t waste it.

42. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

If there’s something unusual that happens to you, go for it. The unexpected is a signal of an opportunity. It will not always be nice, this unexpected, but whenever it’s around, magical things are happening. Wait for it. Praise for it.

43. ENJOY

Like being in joy. Like giving permission to yourself to extract joy from any situation you’re in. Even if it’s bad. Or especially if it’s bad. Joy is everywhere, you just have to let it manifest through you. Don’t resist joy. Don’t reject it.

44. MAKE YOUR OWN RULES

And stick with them. Go for what works for you, not the others. Go for what you want, not the others. Including me. Make your own system and be proud of it. You may upset some people in the process, but hey, that’s life.

45. LOVE

Unconditionally. Totally. Constantly. Restlessly. Love is the only glue that keeps your life running. You were born out of love and you carry it deep down in your being. Love is never about the others, it’s about you.

46. NO REGRETS

Regretting something is another form of not accepting reality. What you can do about it now? It’s gone. It doesn’t exist anymore. Focus on what you can change: your present moment. Not yesterday, not tomorrow. Now. Live now.

Some of these things seem so obvious, so simple, but how many of us remember to really implement them all in our lives every day?  I feel as if I’m constantly striving to achieve these things in my life, to be a better version of myself, and I almost always feel as if I have to remind myself to be happy, to let things be, to just be in every moment without judgement or a need to prove myself, my thoughts or my actions to anyone.

I have a dry erase sheet in my bathroom that I leave little love notes to myself, reminding myself of these things — “All things shall pass.”; “Today is a happy day!”; “Be in the moment!”; “Smile!”  What do you do to help yourself become the better you?

Can’t You Just Print It All Out?

I’ve been researching backup options for my laptop recently.  This, of course, has gotten me thinking a lot about all of the horrible scenarios in which data can be lost, but it also reminded me of a funny story.

Many of us in Gen-X are all-to-familiar with having to break their parents and grandparents into the 21rst century technology of computers.  Most of us spent some part of our teen years or part of our 20-something years (or if you have a particularly determined parent like my mother, your 30-something years) attempting to train older members of your family to use their VCRs, e-mail, cell phones, word processing software, and so on.

I recall an incident some 15ish years ago where a friend’s Mac computer was crashing, the hardware was failing, and despite the fact that she had a plethora of computer –unfortunately for her all IBM/Windows and UNIX/LINUX — geek friends, nothing could be done.  There was a group gathered for the crisis as the panic increased and her father came into the room to see what was going on.  When they told him what was happening and his daughter complained that she was going to lose everything, he very practically replied, “Well, can’t you just print it all out?”

Can you even begin to imagine how much time it would take to print everything out that’s on your computer, if it were possible?  Of course, that’s only documents and photos.  You’d lose videos, music, executables, encrypted files, those ebooks not in PDF or Word format.

Amusingly, thinking about all of this, I can remember back when I used to have to save my work to a cassette tape — very noisy.  Then I recall having a home computer which didn’t have a hard drive big enough to actually hold the word processing software so in order to save the document I was working on, I would have to pull out the word processing floppy, press save and quickly insert a blank floppy and hope that the computer didn’t lock up.  I remember losing a 12 page term paper that way once. :P

Of course those incidents were in the 80′s when you could actually print it all out.  Who knew that in less than 30 years we’d go from a few files on a few floppy disks to needing to backup terabytes-worth of data?

Let’s Talk About Budgets, Baby

I’ve been working on this whole budget plan thing for a couple of weeks now and I still don’t feel any further along than I was when I started.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m an intelligent person.  I can grasp the very basics:

Income – Expenses >= 0

I mean, I did study accounting in college and I do have a programmer’s logical mind.  Plus, I was a math minor.  I get the most basic part of the concept.  Really, I do.

However, I just don’t think my brain is wired right for easily latching on to the complexities.  For instances, most books and examples out there all offer up examples of income that is the same amount and dished out on the same two days every month and most of the expenses are fairly simple and fixed every month; a few of the examples might show the occasional expense that might be paid quarterly and they all usually show groceries and dining out as unpredictable.  Clearly none of us eats exactly the same thing day after day and no one is stupid enough to pretend to make the assumption in a sample budget even.

It seems like everyone these days are jumping on this zerobased budgetbandwagon.  ”Zero-based” sounded a lot like what was in my checking account so I looked into it.   It turns out that it’s not what I thought it was.  Zero-based budgeting is basically a method where at the beginning of each month you spend all of your expected incoming income “on paper” — every dollar has to be spoken for, every dollar has to have a job, so to speak.  You make a list of all your expected expenses and you dedicate every last expected incoming dollar to every last expected expense until the balance is zero.  Now, one of those “expenses” can be a savings account so its not like you actually have to really spend all of the money — I mean, spending it all is what got you in this problem to begin with, right?  The idea is that you don’t just have money sitting around doing nothing, idling about, burning a hole in your pocket, raring to go do some evil by bringing some infomercial trash into your home…or whatever unnecessary thing you might spend money you might psychologically think is “free” on.

Well, that method seems like it’s solid and it appears to work for a lot of people.  Radio/TV talk show host Dave Ramsey has built himself a cult based on it, but I have to agree with my Daddy — there is just no way that you can budget for little thing.  The whole zero-based budget method stresses me out just thinking about all the ways I’ll feel like a failure throughout the month as surprises come up.

A number of years ago, I did really well using the envelope (or my Daddy calls it “the shoebox”) method – a method of budgeting where monthly or biweekly or whatever period, you set aside a certain amount of money for expenses in categories, in envelopes marked for that purpose (ie. mortgage/rent, groceries, gas, auto repairs, etc.) . Then anytime you want to  make a purchase or pay a bill, you check in the associated envelope for the type of expense to see if there are sufficient funds;  if the money is there, yeah!  Go for it! Otherwise, you have three options: 1) you do not make the purchase/pay the bill; 2) you wait until you can allocate more money to that envelope; 3) you sacrifice another category by moving money from its associated envelope. The flip side is true as well, if you do not spend everything in the envelope this month then the next allocation adds to what is already there resulting in more money for the next month.

The envelope method is just a tad more flexible for me.  There’s the psychological feeling that if I don’t get it right on the very first try, I can rearrange things while no one is looking and no one will care — in fact, the rules say I can so there’s no cheating.  Plus, I feel like I can have an envelope marked “Miscellaneous” that covers anything I forgot about when I made up the budget and drop any left over money into it every month; then at the end of the month, I can re-allocate that money over to savings, where my emergency fund is going to be building.

What kind of budgeting method works best for you?  What sort of mental tricks do you play on yourself every month to make it work?

Tiger Woods Plays Golf; He’s Not Negotiating World Peace

Am I the only person in the world who couldn’t care less what is going on in Tiger Woods’ personal life?  Am I the only one who thinks that it’s none of my business?

I mean, it’s not like he’s mis-using taxpayer (your and my) money to make out of town/state/country trips to see “call girls” and mistresses. He’s not some hypocritical lawmaker preaching morality legislation while getting caught propositioning gay prostitutes in airport men’s bathrooms nor is he running for President and having a love child with his publicist while his wife recovers from cancer or something like that.

Tiger Woods is just a celebrity golf player, an “athlete”.  His personal life affects no one beyond his family and the women he cheated with.  He really has no obligations to anyone else and no one else really needs to be informed of all of the seedy details.

He’s not a world famous neurosurgeon; he’s on on the brink of discovering the cure to cancer; he is unlikely to negotiate peace in the Middle East or even convince the Democrats and Republicans to compromise on a Healthcare bill while President Obama is in office.   There really doesn’t need to be all this fuss about how his marital strife might affect his work.  It’s golf.

December 11th, the night I was stuck in the hospital when I had my appendix removed, the big story on all of the news channels was Tiger Woods infidelity.  They brought it up every 20 minutes.  Why???

With yesterday’s press conference where Tiger apologized to his fans for letting them down, the media again are busy calling in “experts” to speculate what the public are thinking.  On talking head on CNN had two “experts” come on to discuss how men and women would be receiving the message differently.  What annoyed me was the fact that no one ever bothered to consider the thought that maybe many women, especially those who don’t care for golf, don’t care.

In fact, some of us don’t care who Jennifer Anniston is dating or what Paris Hilton is doing or who the Kardassians are or what happened to Jon and Kate or any of the Real Housewives from Atlanta or New Jersey or wherever they are now.  I actually suspect that most of us don’t care about any of them.

Or is it just me?

Nightmares – Er – Tales of a Spendoholic (Episode 1)

Last night I saw an advertisement for something I could use.  It doesn’t really matter what It is.  Let’s just say that if It functions as advertised, it would make me look nice and probably boost my self esteem as a result — basically, the next best thing to magically making me a Supermodel overnight. :P

Anyway, It was one of those special deals with “order now” and “get this extra thing free” plus “get this other thing half price”.  You know what I’m talking about, right?  You’ve wanted one of those before.  You may even have ordered a few.  The whole thing was very seductive.  If you called right then, you could get the whole special deal.  (How do the sales people know when those advertisements are running really?)

Now, I’ve been reading The Budget Kit and a number of budgeting and personal-finance-related blogs lately, there’s a big focus on differentiating needs from wants, and a bigger focus on restricting the purchasing of wants or prioritizing them, especially when you are in financial trouble. So…I took some agonizing time to consider whether It was a need or a want. Clearly, It isn’t required to sustain my life — It isn’t food, water, medicine, air, shelter, wood for heat…Therefore, It is not a need.

Thus, It is a want.

Having divined this truth, since I am attempting to spend as little unnecessary money as possible, to straighten out my finances, to get back on track, I did not make the purchase. I agonizingly did the right thing. Non-spendoholics must not even have to think about such choices. They just know and do the right thing and there’s no residual disappointment.

Unfortunately for me, my new little frugal angel and my old spendoholic devil manifested themselves last night as I slept. I spent the night dreaming that I was arguing all night with my mother about whether or not she would allow me to buy It; she kept insisting that no one needs an It, but I argued that she used to encourage me to get one when I was a teenager and I had a perfectly good one in my 20′s that wore out. This It is better.

The whole thing has left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I hope it will get easier.

My Heart Aches For Dead Actors

I still remember the day River Phoenix died. I was in love with him, of course. O.K. I didn’t know him enough to love love him, but I loved the thought of who I thought he was.

And I remember the day he died quite clearly in my mind.  I came home from dinner with friends and heard on the late night news about his untimely and at the time mysterious death.  I remember the devastated, crushed ache of my young early twenties heart.  As time went on, all I could think about when I heard his name or saw one of his movies was what a terrible waste his death was — all that fantastic talent gone in the blink of an eye, snuffed out because of stupidity.

For the longest time, I couldn’t watch his movies.  They just made me too sad.

When Heath Ledger died in 2008, I didn’t have the same puppy love crush and thus didn’t feel the same crushing ache, but I did feel devastated for  the loss of amazing talent that was just gone in a heartbeat.  The story is all too familiar and yet no less tragic.  Like River he had graduated from child parts to brilliant adult roles and unlike so many actors in Hollywood today, he was able to play characters other than himself.  He had a lot of promise.

It’s been only recently that I’ve been able to begin watching movies which star him again.  Still, I feel melancholy.

Britney Murphy’s recent bewildering passing brought up all the same internal sadness for me.  Britney was another promising star in my mind.  Perhaps she wasn’t Julia Roberts nor would she have ever been some Angelina Jolie, but I believe she had the promise to be a great comedienne actress — one of the greats even.  At 32, she was so young, too young.  Her life and her career were just beginning and it was all over in the blink of an eye before there was a real hint of the shine her star could have been.

One of her movies recently aired on cable, one I really like because it made me laugh, but 5 minutes in I had to turn it off, because watching her made me cry.

The thing is that it’s not just actors who die young that break my heart.  Every week I hear about tragic deaths on the news, young people killed in accidents, crime, war — their lives were just beginning but  now they are gone and who knows who they might have been, what wonderful, amazing things they might have accomplished, but for a moment of stupidity whether it was their stupidity or someone else’s?

And it makes me sad.  I am devastated, crushed, and my heart aches.

The Eat-Only-What’s-In-My-Pantry-For-A-Month Diet

Yesterday, I mentioned my “Eat Only What’s In My Pantry For A Month” diet.  I sort of invented this diet in my late 20′s, after-college, starving under-paid programmer years.  I’m quite sure there are many variations of this diet around and they probably have more or less inventive names.

Back in December when I was starting the paperwork to attempt to refinance my house, before the emergency surgery interrupted, I talked to my shrink about my options should the refinancing fall through.  I brought up this memory of one July back in my younger years, admittedly when I was healthier and more socially active, that I quite literally brought a random can of something every day to work for lunch; it would be “Oh, looks like I’m having beets today!” or “Hmmm, green beans!”  I ate dry toast every morning and at least once or twice every weekend, a friend’s mom would feed me and I was not ashamed.  I only spent money on rent, utilities, and gas.  I had less than $10 in cash in my purse the whole month and I believe I managed to end up with at least $5 of it.

I used to think once you got beyond 35 years old, you couldn’t live like that anymore.  I always get a laugh when I tell people that one of my favorite memories in college is going to Krispee Kreme at 3am after the midnight movie when the “hot now” sign is flashing and buying one donut but not having enough cash to pay for it so I had to write a check…and worrying that it would bounce before my monthly allowance check deposited.  You can only really get away with that in college, right?  I mean, try explaining that kind of expense as a 38 year old.

So, here we are on Feb. 2nd and I have begun my “pantry” diet.  It’s going to be hard because I’m going to be out of candy and chips really soon. ;)  I can make my own soy milk and soy yogurt — I have a stockpile of soy beans for some reason.  I have a lot of rice and couscous and frozen fruit, some granola.  I’m sure I have some oatmeal, canned beets, and green beans.  There’s a bean soup mix in there and a few bags of frozen veggies.  I even have the things I need to make a rather dull pot of spaghetti.  I think if I plan things out, I can make it through 26-ish days of February.

I just feel a little too old to be doing all of this…and I sure wish I’d stockpiled more chocolate bars before January ended. :P