Monday, February 29, 2016

Spoon coat rack

Way back when the weather started turning cold -- probably in October or November -- my host daughter, Y, asked if we could put some hooks up in her bedroom for her coats.  The request wasn't urgent, she assured me.

All winter long, I've kept meaning to swing by the far-away Habitat Restore to find some used hooks, but with one thing and another, I never made it there.  Y had long forgotten her request, I discovered eventually, but I didn't forget; it kept niggling in the back of my head.

And then, surfing around on the web, I e-stumbled across a nifty idea.  Fifteen minutes later, I had a coat rack.  Um, of sorts.
I found an old painted board in the garage and sanded it down; it has a nifty distressed look.  We also have an unreasonably large stash of thrift-store-purchased spoons that we use when we have parties; we keep these around so we don't have to resort to disposables.  I co-opted 8 of them for this project.  I bent the spoons around a fat dowel rod (I pressed the dowel rod down on the handle end of the spoon and then lifted the spoon around the rod).

I don't have a drill bit that goes through metal, I discovered, so I couldn't screw the spoons directly to the wood.  Sigh.  I'm working on borrowing such a drill bit from a friend right now.  In the meanwhile, I banged a nail partway into the wood and then bent the nail with pliers and hammers around the neck of the spoon.  This won't hold hugely heavy loads, but it ought to serve the purpose for jackets until we can get the metal drill bit to do its thing. 

I've seen much more elegant versions of this on the web of course, but I have to say that for a 15-minute project, this quick hack is pretty cool.  Y loves the look of the spoon hangers, and she's currently looking for the perfect spot in her room to put it up.   

Huzzah for cool web ideas!

Friday, February 26, 2016

A half-year of retirement, update

My husband's job ended last June, partly because of his own design and partly because of timing issues from his employers' side.  What has retirement looked like for my husband so far?

I already wrote about the unexpected benefits of getting enough sleep; that by itself has showered manifold blessings on our family.  But have there been downsides to retiring?  A year ago, before he retired, he had a few areas of worry about what stepping away from his job might mean.

He worried a bit about money (in particular, if we had to survive on my salary alone, would he be forced to become as miserly as me?  And if he didn't become as miserly as me, would I resent him? 
The answer seems, at least so far, to be "no" on both counts.  Even though money is extra tight this year because of my lower sabbatical pay, we seem to be adjusting okay. There have been times when I've asked him to tighten the old money belt a tad, but that happened when we were both fully employed, too. 
For this, I credit the joys of having paid off or saved up for so many of our obligations.  The mortgage is paid (woo-hoo); future college expenses are squirreled away and past college expenses were paid long ago; we haven't had any credit card debt since I took over the family finances almost two decades ago.  The only large looming expense is next years' tuition to the Quaker Local School, and we should be able to swing that with a combination of savings, tax refund, and my salary bumping back up. 
I also credit the years of frugal living that have eventually become a happy habit.  My husband spends way the heck more that I do, it's true, but he's learned to search for bargains and to appreciate (some of/most of) the aspects of the MiserMom life.  Compared to the way he lived when we first got married, he's grown accustomed to living a simple, not-very-spendy life, and this makes the transition to our reduced income almost like no transition at all, at least financially speaking.

He worried about professional identity.  As a PR guy, he's spent huge swaths of his life engaged in professional gossip -- my daughters used to tell their friends, "Dad's job is to eat dinner and talk on the phone."  Would giving up his job mean surrendering those connections and all that they meant to his life? 
Again, the answer seems to be no.  In fact, because he doesn't have all the administrivia that goes with his job, he seems to enjoy the gossip/eating aspect of his life even more.  He still takes the train back to his former place of work about once a week, but now it's just to schmooze and trade stories.  People there still seem to be thrilled to see him -- he's even  been asked to represent a related organization at conferences far away (with travel expenses covered).  He enjoys trading stories even more now that he doesn't have to worry about meeting deadlines or proofreading press releases.

He was worried that caring for our sons would torpedo his bicycle racing.  (It's true that retiring wouldn't make this worse, but the irony of having extra personal time at the same time that his bike career was about to tank was really gnawing at him). 
For the third time, no --- but with a twist.  It's true that the boys have had their ups and downs (mostly ups lately, thank goodness!).  It's also true that my husband hasn't been spending as much time as he used to training on the bike.  But the bike reduction is not the boys' fault:  instead, my husband has fallen in love with foreign languages. 
My guy has been auditing classes at my college in Modern Russian, Russian literature, and Ancient Greek. He keeps signing up for classes that meet at the same times as his favorite training ride, and so he keeps skipping his favorite training ride.  For the first time in our married life, he's found something even more compelling than hurtling down steep hills at 85 km/hr.  With summer just around the corner, he's going to try to find a way to increase his mileage so that he can race with his fellow cycle-chums, but he's not feeling like circumstances are thwarting him.  
What he never worried about was being bored, and sure enough, he's not.  He's got a lot of stuff to do, and again, I think that's partly because of him and partly because of how we designed our life to be close to many of the things we love -- my college, our church, a nifty city, rolling farmlands.

And what I looked forward to all these years -- getting to spend time with my guy, and having him spend serious time with his kids -- is just as wonderful I always thought it would be.  So I think I'm going to declare this retirement experiment a success all around.   (woo-hoo!)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Anti-Shopping List

One of the reasons that we all create so much trash is that it's really, really easy to bring stuff into the house, but it's hard to get stuff out of the house, unless you use the trash can.

Stores are open pretty much all the time.  They have brightly lit shelves and big signs and wide aisles.  And there are so, so many of them.   On the other hand, places that take back the things you bought are few and far between, and many of them have limited hours.

Compare buying batteries with getting rid of batteries: we can buy batteries in drug stores, grocery stores, toy stores . . . but to get rid of them, at least near where I live, we have to get a special orange bag from the local Waste Authority -- only one place.

Or consider candles, the persistent presence at every "Bad Gift Exchange" I've ever had.  Clearly, it's easy to get these whether I want them or not -- but once I've lit that wick, what do I do with the candle if I no longer want it?  What do I do with the second half of a tube of glitter?  With the christmas lights that have burned out?  Even if someone else in the world could use that glitter, or someone else in the world could reclaim the copper from the burned-out lights, it's so danged hard to get my things into those other people's hands.  It's so much easier just to put it all in a can by the back door, and let that big old garbage truck just carry it all away for us.  Hence, giant landfills.

But as someone who hates giant landfills, I try to take a different route.  I have an "anti-shopping list".
I keep my out-going stuff in labeled boxes on a set of shelves in my garage.  I have mentioned elsewhere my love of printer boxes; here is one more way that they serve me and my family faithfully!  And the stuff here is bound for a variety of special places.

Speaking of "special places", I also keep a list in my planner of places to take this stuff, together with addresses, phone numbers, and hours they're open -- because anti-shopping hours are not anywhere near as accommodating as shopping hours are.
  • The Creative Reuse store (open Mondays 10-6, Thurs 10-2, Fri 10-2, Sat 10-5) -- for Arts and crafts.
  • The Library "ReSort" store (Mon. & Wed. 10am-2pm, first Sat. of each month 10am–1p.m) -- for books.
  • Habitat Restore (Tuesday-Friday from 9am-5pm, Saturday from 9am-4pm) -- for hardware and building supplies
  • Goodwill and Salvation Army-- for clothes and other household items
  • Med-drop box in our courthouse downtown -- for unused medications (They can also go to the sheriff's office, but only three or four days each year, and those days aren't widely publicized in advance.)
  • Household Hazardous Waste Facility (open Monday – Friday: 7am – 4pm and Saturdays 8 to noon) -- for light bulbs, batteries, etc  (but they don't take used paint -- that I give away via "Free piles" in my front yard.)
  • Scrap metal (hangars, electronics, rusty nails, and old washing machines) goes to a guy I know named Paul who recycles it for money. I call him and he comes to pick things up.
  • I'm still working on finding a place that takes rags.
The only way to do all my anti-shopping on one day, if I actually have something for every category, is to do it Saturday morning.

On Monday, I did a big anti-shopping day, donating about 7 boxes of arts/crafts/office supplies to our Creative Reuse store, and another 7 boxes of clothes and household items to Goodwill.  And then I found out the hard way that our local thrift stores won't accept our metal filing cabinets . . . sigh.   I'm still wavering on whether I ought to go with FreeCycle, Craigslist, or Yard Sale season.  And I'm still looking for a place that accepts rags (although I admit I'm not looking very hard).

At any rate, I'm happy I got to get a bunch of usable things off of my shelves and back into a place where maybe someone else can use them.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Eighty: Questions (a birthday present)

My dad is turning 80 tomorrow, so this past weekend my sisters, some of my kids, and I went down to his place for a weekend-long celebration.  My dad is a retired physicist, and my sisters and I all went into math/science careers, so his birthday cake was truly wonderfully geeky, with his age in binary, in hindu-arabic numerals, and in roman numerals.  Dad loved it.  (One of my sisters mock-complained that we left off the hexadecimal).
Eighty:  "101000", "80", and "LXXX".  But of of course.

What do you give your eighty-year-old father (or grandfather) for his birthday?  Especially when you know he's trying to down-size his possessions?  I totally love what we decided to do, with huge props to K-daughter for suggesting the idea.

Here's my sister, loaning Dad a small voice recorder and showing him how to use it.   And together with the recorder, we gave him a little booklet of pictures of him, and also of us, but more importantly, of questions.

Everybody in the family asked a question or two for the booklet, and seeing the questions we came up with was so much fun.  Some of us asked to hear our favorite stories again, others asked questions about things that we thought would have really interesting answers.  The questions we asked, it turned out, said a lot about us!
The grandkids check out the questions that other relatives asked.  
Here are some of the questions we asked:
  • What is one thing you wish that you had passed down to your kids and grandkids?  [N-son] 
  • How many houses have you lived in, and why?  [J-son] 
  • Why did you decide to get Great Danes? How did the whole dog thing come about? [A dog-loving grandchild] 
  • What are some of the mistakes that you've made in life that have made you more successful?  What are some of the moments in your life that made you feel the most proud of yourself? [K-daughter]  
  • When is the first time you can remember being fascinated by physics?  How did the questions you were interested in asking change over time? [A grandchild in grad school]  
  • How did you start getting interested in Oz? How did that become a life-long interest of yours? [A book-loving grandchild] 
  • Who taught you how to drive?  What was scarier: learning to drive to teaching your daughters to drive?  [A 14-year-old grandchild] 
  • I really love a couple of stories that I've heard a few times, but would you tell them again?
     Not being cold, but wearing a jacket
     Running around the quad
     A box full of air
     How has technology changed in your life time
     First jobs - bowling alley, TV and bike repair shop
     Favorite music/record as a child
  • What was it like being an active member in the civil rights movement?  [a grandchild] 
  • Can you tell the story about how students didn't do their assignment about measuring shadows and how you caught them?  And . . . Are seat belts really necessary or just for race car drivers? [A son-in-law who likes to bend the rules] 
  • One of my most memorable moments of my wedding was when, after walking [your daughter] down the aisle, you handed her to me and said, “Welcome to our family.” I felt a tremendous sense of joy and pride at being included in such a remarkable group of people. Please share a story about each of your daughters that highlights why they are so special to you.  [a son-in-law who likes to follow the rules] 
  • What were some of your favorite games to play as a kid? Did you play much with your little sister?  [The youngest granddaughter] 

And now it's Dad's turn.  He gets to tell us stories and answers. They'll make it onto a recording that'll go onto CDs and MP3s, and we'll get to hear these stories at our leisure.

Happy Birthday, Dad!
Four generations: three of my kids, my dad, my granddaughter, and me!

Monday, February 15, 2016

What to love about my ugly basement

The basement, which my husband and I sort-of cleaned out a bit after Christmas, is much less full of junk than it used to be. But still, it is not a lovely space.  At least, not lovely in a "home beautiful" sense.

On the other hand, Aristotle was pretty clear that every object has both form and function, and if the form of our basement is sort of . . . ugly . . . , even so, in function it turns out to be a wonderful place.    In particular, it is a wonderful place for my sons.

For a bunch of years now we've struggled with the whole teenage-boy-friendship thing.  It's partly a side-effect of their living in the realm of a Miser Mom:  we don't have video games, we don't have soda or snacky chips.  There's the impression that there's nothing here that outsiders might find "fun".  Ergo, the boys don't invite their friends here.

Ooh, not to mention they have a mom who uses words like "ergo".  Geeky.

One of the very cool kids that J-son hangs with can boast a "shack":  his parents cleared out a giant shed in the back yard, added heaters and electric lights and X-Box, and turned the place into a parent-free oasis.  It is the hangout place for young men of a certain age.  J-son has spent a lot of time there, sort of sucking up to the cooler kids who hang there.

Meanwhile, back at Chez Miser Mom, I do my frugal quasi-minimalist thing.  I store jars of food; I yard sale; I buy things on Craigslist.  In fact, a few summers back, I bought a weight set on Craigslist, for the fairly low price of (if I remember correctly) $150.  It's a pretty thorough set-up, and I've used this machine off-and-on a lot.

Now that N-son and J-son have been doing boxing workouts regularly, they've started to use the weights, too -- particularly J-son (who alternates lifting weights and asking me to feel whether his biceps have gotten bigger).  (To which the answer is "yes"; he's ripped, and keeps getting ripped-er.).

Somehow the boys in the shack found out about the weight set.  Compared to N-son and J-son, they're sort of scrawny kids, but they like the idea of getting pumped.  A few of them have started coming over to work out here occasionally.  They profess admiration for J-son's boxing skills, and I'm guessing that he enjoys showing off his strength for them, too.

And so, all of a sudden, we have a cool place for friends here at the house.  It's not cool in the same way the other houses are cool, but it's cool in a way that really has integrity with the way we live our own lives.  I'm happy about this for so many reasons -- not just because J-son finally feels he can bring friends over to the house, but also because he's getting to see that you don't have to imitate everyone else's possessions.  You can do your own thing, and own your own things, and still hang with the cool kids.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A valentine's poem

Boxing is rad;
Drums are cool.
Chocolate is awesome,
and so are you.

Or something like that.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Edible deodorant; traveling snake

Since I'm going to write about something as ridiculous as edible deodorant, I might as well start off with the sublime:  the final verse from one of my favorite poems (Edna St. Vincent Millay's Travel).  After two verses of describing the sight and sound of trains, she writes,
My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I'll not be knowing,
But there isn't a train I wouldn't take,
No matter where it's going.
I love getting on a plane, getting on a train, getting in a car, and going anywhere.  I've been really fortunate that the work that I'm doing lately has been attracting enough attention that I've gotten to go on all sorts of amazing trips, and that I'll get to keep traveling even more.
The mountains rise like ghosts from the surrounding land on my latest trip.
I'm getting more and more minimalist these days, and traveling (where I have to carry everything with me) seems to be the perfect place to experiment with the question of "how much do I really need?"  Likewise, I've been trying to figure out how to combine all these trips with my increasing aversion to trash (so counter-cultural).

Which is why, on one of my recent trips, I finally ditched my last container of commercially-prepared deodorant.  It had been in my travel toiletries bag for a year or so; when I used it one morning at a conference in Seattle, I got one of those white smears on my clothes (yuck) and I decided to get rid of it once and for all.  What works at home will work on the road -- I just needed to find a good pair of small containers.

People who read enough eco/frugal blogs will have seen lots of recipes for homemade deodorant, most of which involving mixing stuff together.  I don't actually mix anything: I dab.  Container 1 is the oil*; container 2 is the baking soda.  I dab oil into into my pits first, then add the baking soda the second.
(*For several years, I used only coconut oil, because that's what most of the eco/frugal recipes call for.  Once, K-daughter actually borrowed my "deodorant" coconut oil for cooking up a recipe she was making; I still think that's hilarious!  But recently I've realized I can actually use just any old lotion;  it's a great way to use up those weird extra bottles we seem to have lying around the house.)
The only disadvantage to this system -- that I've found at least -- is that if I have shaving nicks, the baking soda burns.  For me, that's another reason not to mix ingredients; I can put oil only on the nicked sections, promoting healing.
My new travel toiletries "bag".  
At any rate, getting rid of that giant container of commercial deodorant was the latest in a series of "don't need this", and it allowed me to make myself a smaller travel bag.  I happened to have a bunch of very long zippers saved for "someday", and also a pants leg from my sister's jeans (gifted me for a braided denim rug that is also years in the future), and I combined these to make a long, thin, foldable bag that makes me think of a snake.  My travel toiletries snake.
I like how the two hair elastics store on the outside of the bag
to help divide this into sections.

So now,
there isn't a snake I wouldn't take, 
no matter where I'm going.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

What she bought: grocery store and craigslist

I did two shopping events this week: the grocery store and Craigslist.

Shopping trip #1 was to an actual grocery store.  Because I almost never go to this place on my own, my husband inadvertently duplicated my efforts this week.  I'd taken the grocery list off the fridge; I'd taken the cloth shopping bags off their hooks; I'd taken the bag-of-plastic-bags that was marked "return to store for recycling."  So, I thought it was obvious that I'd gone to the grocery store already.

I bought $158 worth of stuff: 10 gallons of olive oil, plus a splurge on bananas and Chunky Monkey ice cream for Friday's Monkey Dinner, and---probably most urgent---rolls and rolls of toilet paper.  I didn't buy a lot of different things, but the things that I bought, I bought a lot of them.

And then my husband, thinking "we have only one roll of toilet paper left in the house", and (not seeing any of the signs that I thought were so incredibly blatantly obvious but apparently were not) did another grocery run, buying milk and cereal and snacks, and buying rolls and rolls of toilet paper.

So now we have rolls and rolls (and rolls and rolls) of toilet paper.  My husband, who was a PR guy for most of his career, loves making puns; he tells me that they're "professional development". And so he'd tell you that our cupboards are overflowing so our shopping wasn't money down the drain; that now we're flush with success; that all that shopping has left him pooped. And of course at some point he'd have to say "and that's no sh*t".  For my shopping efforts, he says "many tanks!", and that he's bowled over.   (Perhaps this is why I don't go to the grocery store more often.)


Shopping trip #2 was part of my twisted resolutions: basically, in trying to cut back on whiskey, I decided to emulate the FrugalWoods and buy a Soda Stream.  Because . . . well, it seems fun and frivolous (especially to my family, who say, "Mom bought a what?!?" -- it's fun to be the kind of person who can be shocking for doing semi-normal things).

I scoped out prices on Amazon for an upper bound, and then I lurked on Craigslist for a month or so.  Most units there sell for $40 to $50.  This past weekend, I saw someone advertising a moving sale with a Soda Stream listed, but no price.  I decided to try to aim low on the price, even though she was offering canisters along with it.  Here's our email conversation back and forth:
Me: I might be interested in the soda stream; I've been scouting around for one for about $30.  What price are you asking? 
Soda-Stream Person:  I would take $15 since I'm including the brand new canister as well as the partially full one.  How's that sound?  
Me:  Um . . . aren't you supposed to try to talk me into a *higher* price?  At any rate, I'm interested.  I have free time today before 5:30 to come by, if that time frame would work for you!
So, I talked her into accepting $30 anyway.  Because, karma or something.  Plus, y'know, our family is already flush with success.

Monday, February 8, 2016

How to tithe: give more, or earn less

I've spent a lot of my life trying unsuccessfully to figure out how to tithe:  that is, how to give 10% of my income to charity.  Even aside from the obviously practical difficulty of taking money away from one set of laudable purposes (say, mortgage, or food, or retirement) and redirecting it toward purposes outside of our own household, there are always a host of other questions.
  1. Is the 10% level of "tithe" somehow magical, or sacred, or holy, or is that number just superstition? Or what?
  2. 10% (or X%) of what? Wages? Adjusted gross income?  Take-home pay?
  3. Does it "count" that we've adopted a bunch of kids -- for example, that last year we spent about a kilo-buck adopting a 23-year-old, or that we have a pair of ravenously hungry teenage boys in the home who are legally and emotionally -- but not biologically -- ours?  
  4. Does it "count" if we pay money for services rendered to an organization that's a designated charity?  That is, does our tuition to the Quaker Local School displace all or part of my felt obligation to donate money to charity?  (oooh -- does it even count double because we pay our tuition bills to a charity AND because the tuition is for our adopted sons?)
  5. How does the idea of "tithe" encompass space (we've given Y a room in our house for a few years, as she studies her MCATs and prepares for med school)?
  6. How does the idea of "tithe" encompass time (my mornings serving breakfast at the rescue mission, my husband's work with the Brady Campaign or with our church's ESL program for refugees, my sons' occasional help in the church toddler room)?
If there are answers to the questions above, I'm not smart/pious enough to know what those are.  I just figure that I'm insanely rich compared to some of those ancient, historical tithe-givers.  (Solomon was one wealthy dude, but he didn't have indoor plumbing, internet, automobiles, antibiotics, or canning jars.  Clearly, I've got it made).

This past July, our income took two big hits.  Hit #1: my husband retired.  Hit #2: I started my sabbatical, trading money for time (I get 3/4 pay).    The net effect is that our 2015 income, as measured on our recently completed taxes, is just about half of what we made in 2014.  That's "half" as in 52% . . . just wanted to put that percentage out there because it seems so stark.

We front-loaded our retirement savings to the first half of this year, when we were both fully employed, and then stopped all retirement savings after August, so the transition from June to July didn't quite drop our monthly take-home pay ├╝ber-drastically.  But still, the past six months or so have seen a lot less flexibility in our finances, and as a result, we did contribute less to charity than last year.   In fact, our charitable giving was only 93% of what it was in the previous year.

So, we gave less to the needs outside our family than we have in the past.  But in one of those odd quirks that comes with percentages . . . the fact that our income was 52% of the previous year, whereas our giving was 93% of the previous year, means that for the first time in my life, I've actually tithed, even according to the most stringent and picky criterion you might apply to tithing:  our charitable contributions (as measured by IRS standards) was more than 13% of our pre-tax income.

I'm not sure what to make of this, really.  "I gave less money, but I tithed, so Yay Me"??  I'm pretty sure that self-congratulation is one of those Woe-Unto-Them sins that I ought to steer clear of.

Having said that, that 13% really makes me smile.  Here, surrounded by W2s and 1099s and INT forms, I'm doing my own little happy dance that, for the first time ever, there's a '1' in front of that number that ends in percentage sign.  So maybe not "Yay Me", but at least, "Yay".

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Out with the goat; in with the monkey!

Monday brings the Chinese New Year; we say good-bye to the Year of the Goat and welcome the Year of the Monkey.

In honor of that, last night my family had one of our much-loved Special Dinners.  K-daughter is allergic to soy sauce, so the only traditional Asian food we had was actually an Asian beverage:  a sweet soda-like thing made with aloe pulp, bought by our host daughter Y.

Instead, we had the "Monkey Dinner".
I didn't take many photos, aside from Baby-A's toy monkey, which decorated the table.  The menu included

  • Monkey Brains (stuffed peppers, with faces carved out of them like Jack-O-Lanterns),
  • Monkey Bread,
  • Bananas
  • Chunky Monkey Ice Cream.   Oh, yeah.
We played "Hey Hey, We're The Monkeys" several times (basically, until my husband begged us to stop), and at dinner we all described things we'd done recently that began with the letter "M".  The dinner was fab -- more fun than a barrel of . . . well, you know.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The problem with knowing how much money you have

For about a year now, as I dole out my sons' pitifully small $5/week allowance, I've been asking my boys to think about where their money has gone and where it's going to go.  As I wrote last May,
"Every week, before the boys get their next allowance, they have to write these three things in their Allowance Journal:
  1. Where their past money actually went in the previous week.
  2. What they plan to do with their next allowance for the upcoming week.
  3. Their current savings balance.
That's all they have to do: reflect, plan, and tally. Then they get their money."
The longer I do this, the more I like it; the feedback of "what I think I'll do/what I actually did" doesn't work perfectly, but developing the habit of a cycle of planning, action, reflection, and then revised planning is going to hold these kids in good stead.

Even as I sat here typing this, J-son just asked me about super glue for reattaching one of the stripes on his shoes; when I said we have run out, his response was, "Then I'll save up enough money to buy it."  Meanwhile, about 10 minutes before, N-son had asked about the amount of money he has in his savings account because "I want to save up for a new phone.  I think I need to start paying for my own stuff." 

These two (amazingly perfectly timed) conversations give both a sense of how far the boys have come and also where the system breaks down a bit.  

For N-son, the issue is benign:  he takes the wording of step 2 fairly literally.  Every week, he gets his $5 allowance and distributes it like this:  $1 to church, $2 to spend, $2 to save.  I push him hard to be more specific on "spend", and he usually amends that into "snacks at school for friends".  But notice that this means he's spending only from his allowance, and almost never from his savings.  He's gotten windfalls of money from Christmas and from shoveling snow which morph invisibly into the savings, completely forgotten by him.  For reasons that I don't understand, the savings is effectively a black hole to him.  He's a wealthy young man, with modest desires.  He's going to be rich, and he doesn't even realize that he has already saved enough money to buy his own phone if he needs to (which he actually doesn't need to; I'll talk him down from that).

J-son with glittery ears
and a handsome smile.
But the main point is, he knows about the $5 allowance, and that amount "anchors" his behavior.  If we skip a week so that the next week he gets $10, he allocates $1 on church, $4 on snacks, and $5 on savings.  He spends a bit less than half of what he earns, not because he needs/desires that amount of snacks, but because of what he sees of his income.

But where N-son sees only his income, J-son sees his savings.  Or perhaps, I should say, "sees his savings disappear".  This kid turns snow into earrings:  the $65 he earned by hard labor shoveling snow turned overnight into a pair of long-desired holes in his head.  And even though he then told me he wanted to start saving up for a moped, the very next day he rechecked his savings balance and took out another $12 for an outing with his friends.  The money he earned from his first job?  Likewise, disappeared.  And as a result, if he now wanted to buy super glue to fix his latest pair of absolutely essential shoes, he needs to wait until his meager coffers are replenished.  

I think this is part of why personal finance is so hard.  Sometimes, like J-son, we have bottomless pits of wanting, and we throw whatever money we get into that pit, hoping it will fill us up.  For him, what I hope is that the process of looking backward at where his money went, and what it actually brought him, will help him make wiser choices in the future.  He's already started learning a bit about how spending money to impress his friends is just as likely to bring grief as happiness . . . that's a good lesson to move forward with.

But sometimes, like N-son, we allow our income to determine the shapes of our lives.  It's not a bad thing to spend less than you earn, but I know that his current approach can feel a little rudderless.  He doesn't fix his eye on a distant passion -- a new drum, a pair of bike shoes -- and use that passion to steer his life, however erratically, toward that guiding star.

And maybe I'm not really talking abut N-son and J-son here.  Maybe I'm really talking about my husband and me.  My guy turned 62 last summer, and he keeps asking, "are you sure I shouldn't start collecting Social Security yet?  Does it really make sense to wait until I'm 66 or 70, when I might not even be able to enjoy the money?"  And I think: if we had the money coming in now, would our lives be different?  better?  Would we spend the money just because we had it, or would we save it toward a larger goal? . . . in which case, it makes sense to wait.  My husband is like J-son; he wants the glitter.  He's got a gazillion plans, even if he's not sure what they all are.

And me, I really want to raise the boys well right now, and then when they're grown, I want to restructure almost everything:  housing, travel, my employment.  That's the siren song calling me, and I don't want to fritter away the chance to do that on less important things now.

So I look at how we spend our money right now, and I think, "that's about right".  We're happy; we don't need more.  Someday, Uncle Sam will start sending an allowance our way, but I can wait for a few years for that day.  And maybe my family can, too.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

What she bought: milk and monkey makings

Monkey brains, anyone?  Per usual, my lone shopping trip for this winter week was to market.  In addition to bringing home scrounged bagels and scrambled eggs, I bought my usual dairy and eggs, and I "splurged" (??) on a half-dozen green peppers that we'll put to use this Friday when we make "Monkey Brains" for our family monkey dinner.  More on that, later this week!
Total spending: $21.

And I love feeling all Miser-y over spending so little money.  Even though I know it's a sham.  Of course, one big, huge part of the reason that I'm spending so little on groceries these days is that my husband likes to drop by grocery stores at all hours of the day and night to pick up one or two (or twenty) items;  because he spends $100-$150 a week on groceries, then there's less for me to have to pick up.

But another huge part of the reason that I do so little grocery-ing myself is less sham-my;  it's because cooking in the winter often looks like this: grab some canning jars full of food that I put up in the summer, pull some dry goods off the shelves, and dump them into crock pots and bread makers with a smattering of spices.  Last night's dinner was soup (turkey stock, corn, tomatoes, and some rice), bread (warm bread and butter! yes!), applesauce, and peach/blueberry crumble (with breadcrumbs that I collect in a canning jar in the freezer).

In the summer, I feel like I spend so much time (mostly happy time, I admit) chopping and prepping foods.  Part of the happiness is just the chance to be near fresh vegetables that grew out of nearby dirt--to me, that continues to be a miracle of miracles--, but another part of the happiness is knowing that the Summer Me is gifting the Winter Me with the chance to have meals like the one we had last night: hot soup and bread on a cold night, pulled together with food that traveled all the way upstairs from my basement.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Ground Dog's Day

When I go to the Humane League to try to find a family dog, the main criterion I use is that I want a dog that looks at me.  My family has fallen in love with other dogs for other reasons:  their coats are fantastic; the dogs are bouncy and cute.  But since I'm the dog-spert in the family, I get to choose, and I choose a dog that watches me attentively.

We've actually had some failed dog placements when we violated this rule:  there was an adorable 5-year-old poodle that we brought home who peed all over the house, including right next to his food bowl.  The vet said there was nothing medically wrong with him, and I figured I wasn't talented/interested/patient enough to train him, so he was at our home only one week and then went back to the Humane League.  Smarter people with more time and compassion might have figured out a way to handle it, but a full-time professor with three young kids in the house and a husband who travelled constantly?  Not me.

But dogs who watch me, they're so easy to train -- at least for me.  And Miser Dog is one of the most dedicated dogs I know, following me around the house, curling up next to whatever chair I happen to sit in.  And --perhaps most importantly for our family -- he loves the kids, too.  He's so gentle that I trust him near the smallest kids in our family . . .

My granddaughter, Baby A, is totally fascinated by Miser Dog.
He tolerates and occasionally encourages her.
. . . and such a great companion that the larger kids get down on the floor to buddy up with him, too.
N-son reads his book while Miser Dog does yoga.
J-son and Miser Dog enjoy a beam of sunshine.

Getting down on the floor with a mutt is a great way to get a bit of free love every now and then.

Happy Ground Dog Day, everyone!  I'm spending the day enjoying hanging out with my furry shadow.