Monday, April 27, 2015

On Autopilot No More (Dream Save Do, week 22)

Long story short, after much deliberation and with almost as much reluctance as anticipation, I sold my wonderful little red Prius. I loved my Prius -- how it handled, its fuel-efficiency, its size, etc. As much as I enjoyed the car itself, I loved the fact that it was paid-off; I had been able to pay it off very quickly by applying to the loan the money saved each month at the gas pump.

However, one of the very things that led to its wonderful gas mileage (it's light weight) led to it being a troublesome vehicle on snow and even on rainy roads. During the 4 winters I drove my Prius, there were far too many days I slipped and slid my way to and from work. Rainy days, no matter what the temperature, often brought a slip or slide or two as well. With no small degree of regret, I traded about a month ago for a Subaru Forester.

Last week, I went over my budget (which I keep via the Dave Ramsey Gazelle Budget app on my ipad), looking for any line items that could be trimmed so that I could avoid significantly cutting the monthly contribution to my "debt-free home fund" account. I already knew I would be eliminating pay-television after my next (end of April) paycheck, but I was hopeful that I could find a few dollars here and there to trim.

Right away, I saw one spending category that could not only be trimmed, but that could be eliminated completely. Because I love crafts such as knitting and scrapbooking, I had budgeted for scrapbooking supplies, knitting classes, and yarn & other knitting supplies.  I'm no longer paper-scrapping, so I knew I could cut back a bit, but then it dawned on me that I have enough yarn in my stash and enough projects waiting to be completed to keep me busy for awhile -- at the rate I've been going, maybe well over a year! I deleted that fund completely, knowing I could add it back at a later date if I really want to and after all my current projects are finished and my yarn bin empty.

I moved through each remaining spending category very slowly and deliberately, examining each sub-item and the amount allotted, and I carefully considered where I could trim my spending without sacrificing the quality of life I want to have. I tweaked a bit on a few categories, but it wasn't till the very last budget item that I saw where I could make another significant change.

My "fun fund" isn't an item I initially included in my budget 5 years ago. At the time, I didn't really feel like having fun; I'd just become a widow, I was searching for a full-time job, and I was simply getting through life one day at a time. Over time, though, I came to see the wisdom of putting aside money every month for non-necessities. I found that having at least some money to spend purely for enjoyment made paying all of the other bills a little easier.

I opened that line item and examined what I had purchased with my "fun money" over the last few months and realized that, in all honesty, I had purchased the majority of the items because I could and because I had the funds set aside, not because I really wanted the item, and I had purchased those items on autopilot.

I realized that I actually gained more pleasure from putting money aside for my debt-free home than I did from the majority of my fun fund purchases. I enjoyed my walks to the library to check out books and magazines for free more than I enjoyed purchasing a magazine at Barnes & Noble or downloading a $2.99 book from Amazon.com. I'd had more fun walking to the park to watch the local university's baseball team play a game on a sunny, cool April afternoon than I'd had driving to Sonic for an ice-cream float.

It was definitely a no-brainer. I cut the allotment to my fun fund in 1/2.

When I tallied up the "savings" from tweaking my budget, I found that I'd made up for all but $25 of my new car payment. This budget review has caused me to wonder in what other ways I operate on autopilot. That's definitely something I'm going to ponder a bit more this week!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Ahhhh . . . the Joys of Car-lessness

I'll admit it -- the title of this post is a bit misleading. I'm not car-less. In fact, I recently traded cars and am enjoying my new vehicle immensely. But several days a week, I act as if I don't own a car.

About 6 weeks ago, I moved, and I'm happy to say that I now live within walking distance of every place I go even semi-regularly except my place of employment. I'm even within walking distance of my church, but because I wear a dress and want to arrive looking half-way put-together, I've been driving to church.

I'm within walking distance of the "downtown" area with its cute mom-and-pop stores and restaurants & coffee shop. I can walk to the public library in about 7 minutes and the city park in 5. I'm a few minutes away from a small shopping strip that houses a used book store, a market, a Hallmark store, Buffalo Wild Wings and at least one other restaurant, and other cute shops, and within 7 minutes I can be at the gym.

In short, for a couple of days a week, I can live the walking lifestyle I've wanted for the past several years. And I love it!

Even when temperatures were lower, I walked. With a warm coat, scarf, and mittens, I was quite comfortable. When it rains, an umbrella does just fine, or I stay home.

I wanted to drive less and walk more for the obvious reasons: save money due to lower gas consumption and enjoy a more healthy (less sedentary) lifestyle.

I've found, though, that there are other benefits.

First, I don't eat out as often. I don't know why that's true, as I can quite quickly count at least 2 dozen restaurants or fast food places within walking distance. For some reason, though, when I checked my (Dave Ramsey) online budget program yesterday, I saw that I had eaten out only three times in the last month; for me, that's a huge change.

I also haven't done any impulse-shopping in that same 4 weeks. When I have free time, I don't jump in the car and make a Starbucks run or visit the local Barnes & Noble (the site of most of my spur-of-the-moment purchases). I've shopped, yes, but other than buying 2 skeins of yarn and some stitch markers yesterday at the local wool shop (which, I'm so happy to say, is only a 20-minute walk from the house) I've only purchased necessities. I've never been much of a shopper, but rarely has a month gone by in recent years that I didn't do at least some shopping and made spur-of-the-moment purchases.

I learned from my stay in Canterbury, England last Spring that walking allows me to slow down and appreciate & enjoy my surroundings, and I'd intended to walk more & drive less when I returned to the States. Early last summer, I did just that, but I slowly fell back into my old habits of driving almost everywhere I went.

Now that I've moved and can walk so many places I need and want to go, I'm again enjoying more relaxed, less-stressful lifestyle that comes from not dealing with traffic, long waits at stop lights, and drivers who don't operate their cars the way I wish they would. :)

I'm also finding that I am interacting with other people more than usual.  That interaction usually consists of just a smile and a nod, but a smile and a nod in place of . . . well, the glare of the sun on a car window. I'll take that any day. Sometimes, though, there's more.

On my short walk to the wool shop yesterday, for example, I enjoyed 3 brief conversations. First, just a block or two from the house, I neared a home where an older gentleman was mowing the yard. When he looked up and saw me approaching, he turned off his mower so (I assume) the grass wouldn't blow all over me. As I got closer, I smiled and said "hello"; he responded with a big smile and, "Isn't it a great day to be alive?" I slowed and responded that it certainly was and wished him a wonderful day. After I passed, he turned his mower back on and went back to work.

A block or so later, I came to a small house where a young woman and a girl of about 4 sat in the grass. I smiled at both of them, and the little girl chirped up, "We're rooking for 4-reaf crovers! Wanna help?" I stopped, and she and her mother and I chatted for a few minutes while I helped look for the lucky charms before I moved on again.

Finally, a college student stopped me and asked for directions to a local business. He was polite and appreciative of my help, and we quickly went on our ways.

Three brief encounters, but each one brought a smile to my face and joy to a day. A smile and joy I wouldn't have experienced had I been in a car.

If I could, I'd live within walking distance of my place of employment; for now, though, that isn't an option. Until then, I'll walk as much as possible and hopefully rely on my car even less than I already do. I hope you'll join me!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Tossing Out the Box (Dream Save Do, week 21)

I still remember the unadulterated joy I experienced when my parents signed up for cable TV and my viewing options expanded from 2 clear and 1 fuzzy channels (NBC, CBS, and ABC respectively) to a wide array of channels. I was in college at the time, and since then, I've enjoyed either cable or satellite television my entire adult life without a break in service.

For 15+ years, up until February of this year, DirecTV was our television programming provider of choice. I loved their channel line-up, the quality of the HD, the intuitiveness of its set-up (DVR, program guide, etc.), and everything about it. Except two things. The monthly bill was one. The other was paying for a wide variety of channels I didn't want to get and never once watched just to get the package that gave me 2 or 3 channels not provided in the next-lowest package. Even the lowest tier available included more than a few channels I didn't want.

Oh, I understand why pay-television providers set up the packages the way they do; I understand it, but I don't like it. And because I love sports of almost every kind and watch so many sports programs, I was hesitant to give up satellite television. While most shows can be seen online (maybe a day or two after they originally air), sporting events are a totally different situation. Without either a satellite or cable television, I wouldn't be able to see my beloved sporting events.

About 18 months ago, though, I was so fed up with the worse-than-poor customer service and the changing stories I received when I called the 1-800-so-called-customer-service-hotline that I seriously contemplated sacrificing sports-viewing. Unfortunately, I was only part-way through a 2 or 3-year contract, and it galled me to pay a termination fee that was almost equal to just keeping the monthly service until my contract was up. When I moved last June, I was told my contract would not be extended; long story short, when I prepared to move in February, I learned it had been extended. I was livid but stuck in a contract. Or so I thought.

In February when I moved into my present house, a technician from DirecTV came out to install a satellite and hook me up. He walked around the back yard for no more than 5 minutes before informing me that I wouldn't be able to get satellite reception at this location. I was pretty shocked; there are a few trees, but there is also plenty of "open sky". I questioned him carefully, but he was adamant that he couldn't install service at this house. He called his supervisor, and I was released from my contract.

I called the local cable television provider and was connected a few days later. Within a couple of weeks, I couldn't have been more disgusted and disappointed. Long story short, the customer service is non-existent, channels are "temporarily unavailable" and "will be available again in a few moments" at the drop of a hat, and the on-screen viewer guide, etc., is horrible. For example, as with DirecTV, I can set a list of my "favorites", so I did. Then I went to the channel line-up, expecting (as occurs with DirecTV) that only my favorites would show up on the on-screen guide of programs currently showing (and on tap). Every single channel -- even those not available in my package -- show up. According to the lady at the "not-so-helpful-customer-service-rep-1-800-line", that's normal. When I told her how DirecTV's guide works, her response was, "Really? That would be great. But ours doesn't work that way."

That was it. I decided to experiment with a no-television lifestyle. Other than one episode of "American Idol" (which I could have watched online) and numerous NCAA March Madness games, my television remained black-screened and silent.

And so, the decision was made. My son will be here for a visit in mid-May; he is an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan and doesn't get to see many of their games now that he lives in Texas, so I want to keep cable so he can watch a game or two while he's here and so he can view ESPN, so I'll keep my cable service until the day he leaves.

After he leaves, and after I've wandered around the house missing him for awhile, I'm calling my cable provider and canceling my service. I will, for the first time in over 30 years, be totally free of pay-television. I'm truly looking forward to tossing the box!

If you've thrown out the box and gone satellite/cable-less, I'd love to hear about your experience. If you haven't, but have considered it, stay tuned -- I'll let you know how things go here. :)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Another Set of Hands (Dream Save Do, week 20)

"Suggest 2 people assemble this product."

Those were the first words I read last week when I opened the instructions for assembling the chiminea I had just purchased. I paused, looked at the picture on the front of the box, thought of all the products I've put together over the years and how often the instructions have been so far removed from the reality of the assemblage as to be virtually useless, and decided I could probably put my new purchase together by myself.

I made decent progress the first day. I unpacked the entire box and began making sure all the parts were there. I ran into my first issue there; I had far fewer screws, flat washers, crinkly washers (I've since been told they have a more official name, but I can't remember what it is; they are crinkly, though), and nuts than I was supposed to have. After recounting several times, I was about to call the company (per their express and repeated instructions -- in bold, no less) to call them and not the store I purchased the chiminea from, I saw in tiny print "some items preassembled; must be unassembled before assembly". Really? I unassembled 24 sets of screws, flat washers, crinkly washers, and nuts, and then I had the required number of parts.

I would take you step by step through the process, but 1) there's only one more step, and 2) even that step would be boring. How much excitement is there in "I attached the 4 legs to a large bowl-shaped wood holder"? I quickly found out, though, that I needed a tool that holds the nut tight while the screw is tightened, and because my tools are American and the pieces are metric, I was stuck until I could get a metric nut holder (I have no idea what those things are called) from my father-in-law.

On a side note: I have a very wise father-in-law. I called to ask him in what order the flat washer and crinkly washer are put on a screw. Then I asked him if he had any metric nut holders to use when tightening the screw. He only chuckled a bit before responding, and he knew exactly what I meant by "crinkly washer" and "nut holder"! 

I've had the metric tool I need for several days now, but a couple of rainy, chilly days and other more pressing matters have resulted in a very partially put-together chiminea still sitting in the box. Well, all of it except for the large base which is sitting in the family room and which I ran into the other night when I got up after falling asleep on the couch (my shin looks horrible, but it only bled for a little bit).

Every time I pass it, which is often throughout the day, "Suggest 2 people assemble this product" runs through my head.

And every time, I want to kick the darned box because, for once, the instructions are accurate. I'm not ready yet, though, to swallow my "I'm not going to be the type of widow that borrows other women's husbands" stance.

So, ladies out there, if you're willing to insert some washers and screws and tighten some bolts while I hold the heavy pieces, I'll pay with a glass or two of wine by a nice fire in the finished chiminea!

Update: This post was set to be published on March 25, but I just saw that it never posted. In the meantime, my daughter and her boyfriend visited on Easter, and after church, her boyfriend put together my chiminea! It looks wonderful on the back patio. I must admit that he was able to assemble it on his own -- no 2nd set of hands needed. :)