Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Success and failure in the garden

I have found gardening to be a rewarding experience. While I could do without the invasive quack grass and always-stubborn dandelions in the middle of my garden beds, seeing the green plants break ground and grow, the flowering plants blossom and the edible plants mature always gives me a thrill. However, it take hard work and dealing with failure to get through the growing season.

To become more self-sufficient, I have expanded my growing space for fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, I would like to grow everything from seed to gain a portion of self-sufficiency and reduce my costs. Starting from seed means pots, soil and a sunny place to put the newly sown seeds. Pots were reused four-pack plastic containers from other plants I purchased and yogurt containers. To minimize my use of fossil fuels, I chose not to use the fluorescent grow lights I have nor did I buy a seedling mat. Instead, I used the four-shelf greenhouse I purchased used or when it was freezing overnight, brought in the pots and placed them on my kitchen table, which faces a southern exposure. Despite the hassle of shuttling my motley crew of seedlings, I noticed improved seedling vigor compared to the year before. Unfortunately, germination rates varied from 20-100% but I try to celebrate successes rather than failures.

Breaking sod is not easy and when I am determined to do it by hand, well, it can be tough. One way to make sod removal easier is to wait until after a rain. The sod will be heavier but easier to push a shovel or spade through and easier to dig in the dirt. It is still time consuming as I planted four Purple Passion asparagus roots in a hand-dug trench six feet long and 12 inches wide after working outside for one hour.

I also plant for beauty as well as for food. Some of my first attempts at new foundations plantings turned out to be a poor choice. I installed a purple phlox in the fall that never appeared the next spring. Moving an established white phlox also ended in nonregeneration for the following spring. The third time seems to be the charm--I see sign of the pink phlox I installed last fall. One of the five hosta plants I placed on the west side of my house has struggled with growing and showing up the next spring. I planted it in fall 2006 and see no sign of it this year. Tulips are doing moderately well, but I know I planted more than I am seeing now compared to spring 2007. I am still waiting on some native plants I installed in early summer and late autumn so the verdict is out on whether I have wild onions or little bluestem in my future. Luckily, I seem to have more success than failure with my flowers. Now if only the last two cloves of garlic would break ground...

I love seeing green things breaking ground and watching them grow. With my tulips blossoming, most of my trees leafing out and all my rhubarb letting the world know who is boss, I am looking forward to my 2009 garden. I still have to haul the rain barrels out of storage and the forecast is predicting rain.

Any news on your garden front? Do you have a favorite flower or plant you are proud of?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Consider the downstream effects

Getting rid of unwanted, unused or expired items is not as simple as throwing it in the trash can. While many people do this, there are consequences to this action that affect the quality of our water, our air and our soil. Computer monitors and televisions contain heavy metals which are toxic when consumed. All those plastics do not break down especially in a landfill, and burning garbage just adds more greenhouse gases and unpleasant chemicals to the air.

However, one of the most worrisome trends is all the medications that can be measured in our waters. Hormones, steroids, antibiotics and nonprescription medications can all be detected in our waterways. Unfortunately, the way we have been disposing of old or outdated medication is by flushing it down the toilet. Water treatment facilities are not equipped to handle the drugs and the medication is passed without alteration into the water system. While there is debate about how much those dilute amounts of drugs may affect us, there are more than just humans drinking the water. In fact, there are many organisms that live their entire lives in water and they are being affected, altering their physiology, including their reproductive capability.

My city recently hosted a medication disposal and sharps collection program. All citizens were encouraged to bring unused, old and unwanted medications for proper disposal. I had two pet medications, old topical prescription products and several other expired over-the-counter drugs including Aleve and sleeping pills that I brought to the disposal site. This is one way I ensure old medications are not merely thrown away or flushed down the toilet.

I encourage you to find such a program in your area. If there is not one, talk to your local medical facility about starting one. Taking the time to dispose of medications correctly helps not only yourself and your neighbors but the entire ecology. The fish and frogs thank you.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Getting out the last drop

Recently, a local news show has been highlighting money-saving tips for families squeezed by the economy. The two-minute segment talked about how to get the most out of the items you purchase. I was surprised at the advice they gave because the ideas were practical. My thought was "people do not do this all the time?" So I thought I would present them:

Cut lotion containers and toothpaste tubes in half to get the last bits inside.
I hate throwing things away without getting the remnants out especially lotions because I buy many from Bath and Body Works. These lotions moisturize well, smell great and come at a premium. While I tend to slice the lotion tube vertically and not horizontally, I do use my fingers to get every last drop.

Use a spatula to get all the mayonnaise or salad dressing from the jar.
I use a spatula most of the time I use mayo or Miracle Whip. Of course, when there is just those small amounts clinging to the side, the spatula can really help retrieve them for your sandwich.

Add water to the shampoo bottle to use for another wash or two.
Even dilute, shampoo works quite well. I also add water to body wash and use on my shower puff. The bottle gets rinsed out before recycling. May as well use the rinse to your advantage.

Make vinaigrette right in the bottle of olive oil.
I do not use vinaigrette dressing on my salads but could see how adding the ingredients directly to the bottle to use the olive oil remaining would be useful. Plus the salad dressing could be stored in the bottle.

So, do you use these tactics to get the most for your money?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Greener living, one day at a time

I view the world differently. While my neighbors are firing up their lawnmowers, I am considering how to decrease the amount of lawn and increase my ability to grow more food. To me, a sunny, open expanse of lawn equals a place to grow fruits and vegetables. Collecting rain water is a cause for joy and using my urine in the garden as a nitrogen source just makes sense. I gladly wash my cloth wipes and reusable menstral pads and hang them up on the clothesline outside. I keep track of my water usage and the weight of garbage I dispose of to challenge myself to use or trash less. I clean using vinegar, baking soda and borax.

What is the point of me listing all these activities? I need to remind myself how far I have come. A year ago, I had not conceived of using cloth wipes in the bathroom. Three years ago, I scoffed at using the umbrella clothesline. Two years ago, I shrugged at the amount of water I used and said, what can I do other than collect rain water? Even though I had read about making my own hygiene supplies nearly two years ago, it was only the beginning of this year I actually made some. Last year, urban homesteading was a new and crazy concept to me. I began reusing shopping bags nearly 18 months ago.

Today is Earth Day, a day to celebrate this singular planet with its wonderful bounty. It is also a time to reflect on the legacy we would like to leave. While you can revel in your children, your comfortable home, your friends, your animal companions and your financial situation, none of this would be possible without the resources the Earth holds. On this day, think about that next step to take in your green living path. Whether motivated by frugality, self-sufficiency or lower-impact living, take the time to do something good for the environment. Plant a tree--or three, convert part of your lawn to a garden plot, compost your yard waste and vegetable peelings, or carpool at least once a week. Be kind to the Earth, share your garden bounty with your neighbors, and leave a legacy of lasting natural resources to your children. Make today the first step in your green-living journey.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Retirement investing: A cautionary tale

I have discussed rolling over your IRA, for example, when you have left a place of employment. In fact, I have rolled over my 403(b) into a traditional IRA. Hindsight being what it is, I wish I would have done things differently.

When I was looking to rollover my 403(b), I had to wait over six years for the amount of money I put in and the value of the account to equalize. This was made more difficult by the fact I make my contributions from 1999-2001 and then left for a new employer. The tech stock crash of 2000-2001 left me with almost 50% of the value of my pretax contributions gone. It was not a pretty sight and I ignored the account for the better part of five years.

However, I received a call from a new financial advisor in late 2006 to ask me to come in and evaluate my accounts. I had not talked with anyone for a while since my previous advisor had left the credit union of which I am a member. So I came in with my statements and we discussed my options. He recommended rolling over my 403(b) into an IRA account. Since the value was near my contribution values, I was interested in doing something different. The financial advisor suggested a growth investment portfolio with TransAmerica, and said he was invested with them as well. I thought that was a good recommendation.

He explained that the account was a front-load fee and was actively managed with shares of stocks and other mutual funds changing as the managers saw more opportunities for growth. My advisor told me that even though a 5% fee would take money from my initial investment, I would likely make it up the money in a year or two.

What does this all mean? Well, a front-load fund basically means that the mutual fund firm takes my money, removes 5% from the money and then invests the remainder for me as I specified. In the case of the fund I invested in, no fees would be charged to take out the money when I would want it in the future. I basically paid a fee up front for the company to take my money and invest it. I made this decision based on two flawed ideas:
1. My financial advisor liked the fund enough to invest in it himself so it has to be good.
2. As long as my money continued to grow, I did not think much about the 5% front-load fee.

Why are these ideas flawed? I never asked if the financial advisor received any benefit from me investing with the company. The second, why give up more of my precious money than I had to? I started out with a small amount of money, $5,400, to invest. Removing 5% then putting it in a market starting in 2007 was not an ideal move. I lost money to start with and my last statement had me with a value of just over $3,100. And that was after nearly gaining back my 5% fee off the top. If I was going to lose over 40% of my portfolio, I would rather have lost less of my money to fees.

If I had to do this over again, I would invest only in no-load funds (those with no fees), most likely index funds like those of Vanguard, Fidelity and T. Rowe Price. Yes, the value would still be down but I would still have more than if I invested in loaded funds. Now I know to check not only what fees are charged for investing, but the maintenance and management fees which can easily add up to 2% or more of the value of the fund. For the future, I plan on keeping more of my money for my investments and both asking more questions and reading the fine print more closely.

To educate yourself about investing, visit the following resources:
CNN Money 101
Balance Track overview
Fidelity basics

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How to start gardening

My passion for gardening was uncovered during my three years of homeownership. While I have always had indoor plants in my home, I tried edible container gardening once and was dissatisfied with the results. With the ability to shape the landscape around my house and the raised garden bed on the west side of my home, I began to ask "what did I want?" One advantage I had was the landscaping was haphazard. There were some Korean boxwoods along the driveway, a poor choice for something that would always have snow piled on it in the winter, Juniper bushes along the front of the house and some orange daylilies on the southwest side of the foundation. There were two raised garden beds, one 3 feet by 3 feet with a Stella d'Oro daylily planted and a 9 feet by 9 feet bed with some nonproductive strawberries, a white phlox and lots of weeds. The property was topped off by a mature Green Ash tree on the southwest corner of the house.

I started with what I did not like, the juniper bushes, and had them ripped out. My first full winter demonstrated that the Korean boxwoods were ill suited for their location; I gave them away. My second year found me uninterested in the orange invasive daylilies so I gave away all of the roots that people could dig up.

My next step was to plant what I wanted. Summer demonstrated a single tree on the southwest corner was little protection for the east and southeast of the house. So I chose to plant more shade trees on the east, southeast and west sides of the house. I also chose native trees to plant with the exception of the park row tree. I also planted what I thought was pretty like pink phlox, red and purple daylilies and tulips. I make mowing around my mailbox more manageable by surrounding the area with pavers and planting tulips and crocuses. I moved the lone Asiatic lily from a shaded area where it was unable to bloom to full sun where it both bloomed and produced more lilies. I filled in empty areas around the foundation with hostas (and bleeding hearts) because they did well in partial to full shade. The former location of the juniper bushes became a bounty of native bushes and flowers. Other people gave away their landscaping or split off their plants so I could add variety to my own property.

I tried my hand at growing edibles in the large raised garden bed by planting what I liked (corn, onion, rhubarb, lettuce) and had a tiny harvest because I failed to test my soil. The next year, I fought fewer weeds and grew more food because the soil was heavily amended. I experimented with growing new things like cucumbers, beans, peas and carrots. I added a raised bed to grow strawberries and built raised beds to grow more vegetables. All the while I was planting and experimenting, I intended to put in two rain gardens and have not started one.

What is the moral of this story? Just try planting something. Like with my juniper bushes, it can be easier to figure out what you do not like than what you do. Start small, just a 12 inch square patch and toss in some tulip bulbs or set in a daylily. These are plants that are fairly easy to care for and add a lot of color and vibrancy. If you want to eat something, try beans or lettuce or even herbs. Grow for beauty, grow for food or grow for wild life. All are wonderful choices and add much to your life. There is something revitalizing and fascinating about green growing things, and I get excited as they grow and mature and flower.

Whether you start with a small patch of dirt or a large garden spread, the growing venture will reward you in both tangible and intangible ways. I rarely started my gardening knowing exactly what I wanted in a particular spot. I chose what I liked and hopefully was well-adapted to my property. If not, I either fixed the problem (e.g., amending the soil with the right nutrients) or tried again with a different plant.

What are you growing this year?

Monday, April 13, 2009

What can your library do for you?

I go in streaks when seeking out knowledge. For example, I wanted to understand more about organic gardening, how much care a plant needs, how to amend the soil, how to establish a new garden bed, etc. Searching on the web can be a start and blogs may help, but generally, the topic is not addressed in the manner I needed. Only a few of the fruits or veggies I am interested in are mentioned or there are mentions of books without a lot of detail. I like to read more in depth and gain my own perspective on the method or idea.

When I am focused on gaining knowledge, I start with my public library. However, I rarely go to the library itself. It is merely a place to collect the books I am interested in reading. Based on my earlier Web search, I may have found some book titles to read. Doing a search on relevant terms in the online library database also brings up possible resources for me to examine further.

Here is where the library works for me: I request the books to be sent to my local branch when available. I have access to books from several libraries in multiple counties, giving me a larger resource base for the information or books I am seeking. Rather than going to the local library and trying to find books relevant to my information seeking but still not get all I want, I am informed via e-mail when the books I requested are available and take a few minutes once a week to pick up the books in my library. This saves me time spent at the library and can be integrated into other errands in town.

Libraries help save you money by helping decide if a book is worth buying for your own collection as a reference or better off as a singular read. Your property taxes help pay for establishing and maintaining the public library so take advantage of what they can offer. I have requested DVDs of movies and television series. By sitting in the library for an hour or so, I can read up on various cars or appliances I am interested in buying in the near future to compare models, prices and total cost of ownership. I did not pay for an individual subscription and may save myself money when purchasing the product.

Libraries are also great places for social interaction. Most libraries host reading groups and have rooms available for other groups to meet. I attended a meeting about green living there and I know there were monthly gatherings on different topics.

To sum up, libraries are great resources for entertainment, learning, saving money and meeting new people. This can be done on your own schedule by requesting items and picking them up when available at the nearest branch. Searching for DVDs or books can be done in the comfort of your own home and picked up when convenient for you. Or meet people with similar interests and expand your network of contacts. Check out your library's Web site, talk to the librarian or look at the bulletin board in the library to learn what is all available.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Green up your Easter celebration

Easter tends not to be a green holiday what with all the plastic-wrapped candy, plastic grass and high-fructose corn syrup. To reduce your ecological footprint, I have a few suggestions based on decades of experience--my mother's! Our Easter tradition was finding our Easter basket on Sunday morning after the Easter bunny hid it, having a few pieces of candy and then going to church.

Reuse was a big part of the family Easter celebration. I had the same Easter basket for nearly 30 years with the same plastic grass it in every year. How many people could say they reused the plastic grass over generations, hm? While plastic is not the best choice, reusing it each year minimizes the waste of resources. Consider paper grass for reuse or composting or sew Easter bags to hold gifts or candy using Easter-patterned fabric. For those who can knit or crochet, how about making bags from yarn? There are lots of fun colors and patterns that could be used for Easter.

Buy candy with the least amount of packaging. For example, the Easter bunny always gave me M&Ms without a bag. Instead of purchasing the fun size individual packets, the chocolate was free to hide in the plastic grass, making it an adventure to find the candy. There was still foil-wrapped chocolates, a milk-chocolate bunny and even Reese's peanut butter eggs so our family was not free of plastic wrapping. Try using homemade treats that you only make for special occasions instead of buying chocolate. My sister-in-law makes stellar fudge and I enjoy chocolate-covered pretzels.

While the Easter bunny only gave me chocolate in my basket, one way to make Easter sugar-free would be to give other sorts of gifts. Fun toys for the kids or nice fun yet educational books. You might give them some coins to put in a piggy bank or help them plant a tree or some flowers to decorate your home and benefit the environment. You could make it a tradition to add something new to the yard each year.

Of course, there is the edible and biodegradable option: hard-boiled eggs. While I am not a fan of eating them, I always liked decorating them. Vegetable-based dyes are not harmful and hunting for hidden eggs is always an adventure. Plus, the shells can be composted and eggs are good for you.

So enjoy a little treat for Easter whether you celebrate with family or friends or yourself. Consider reusable or biodegradable alternatives to disposable plastic stuff. I am looking forward to the 58 degree temperatures, seeing my family and sampling my mom's Easter brunch. Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The power of collective creativity for greener living

Earlier this week, my work day started poorly and did not improve. I was running later than I wanted leave for work and then when I stopped for gas and sat back in my car, my pants ripped in a fashion that was both catastrophic and unable to be disguised. Since I was on my way to work and only a few minutes from home, I called in my wardrobe malfunction and went home to change. My colleagues made me feel better as they shared their own stories but I was still left with a pair of pants that were unusable as pants but still had plenty of life in them. So what could I do with the fabric?

I had a couple ideas that included using it to sew doll clothing or create a rag rug. One of my colleagues suggested cutting the pants up for rags, but that is what I use worn out socks and underwear for. I have been accumulating denim from jeans that I plan to sew a rug using strips of denim. The twill pants could be used for this purpose as well. However, I decided to turn to the Web and see what I could find.

I discovered a cool Web site titled How can I recycle this? When I was looking at uses for ripped pants, I found this entry on torn trousers. Being curious, I explored the site and found a treasure trove of information offered by other people on how to reuse various items including burnt matches, old teddy bears, toothbrushes and empty paint cans. The search function helps you find what you are interested in. Furthermore, there is a link to a Web site that answers the question whether an item is compostable or not for your biodegradable edification.

I am always looking for ways to improve my green living. By finding suggestions for reusing items most people would throw away, I can decrease my footprint. Use the Recycle This Web site to help you figure out what to do with your worn out or seemingly unusable items.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Deciding how to allocate my pay increase

I have just received my newest paycheck with the added 1.9% merit increase. While this number is not impressive, I had been wondering if my new iPhone was my merit increase for 2009. I even thought that maybe I would not see an increase. My boss assures me that the number is not based on my performance but on guidelines from the company. I told her I was happy to see an increase and appreciated what she could give me.

Still nearly 2% means a little more in my paycheck that needs to be distributed. My main financial goal is to increase my contribution to my Roth IRA. To me, my Roth IRA is hedging my bets that taxes will go up in the future when I need to withdraw the money. Since the money is tax-exempt and my 401(k) and rollover IRA are tax-deferred, I think of the Roth IRA making up for the money lost to taxes when withdrawn from my tax-deferred accounts.

However, with the small increase in my salary, I need to figure out how to distribute the addition to my paycheck. It breaks down as follows:

  • 90% of my raise goes to Roth IRA contributions bringing my monthly investment to $390.

  • 5% of this new money will be a monthly transfer into my future computer fund.

  • 2% of the raise goes to my charity savings account once a month.

  • 2% of the paycheck increase goes to my farm savings account once monthly.

  • the remainder disappears into my checkbook as a small hedge against paycheck fluctuations.

All the money is going to savings accounts and my allocation for spending remains unchanged. Lifestyle inflation is not a good thing especially as I suspect my lifestyle change from suburb and good salary to country existence with fewer job opportunities will drastically decrease my income and ability to spend. My future plans make it even more important to save now so I have more money to buffer me for the future whether I make the transition to the country in three years or five.

Have you decided what to do with your (potential) pay increase?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Brief overview of Roth IRAs

As you can tell, I am a big advocate of investing in the Roth IRA retirement vehicle. Recently, I was talking with a friend of mine and she mentioned that she should finally invest in one. However, until we were talking for a few minutes about Roth IRAs and when contributions could be made and how to invest, I did not realize she thought that all retirement vehicles meant that the money was tied up until at least 59.5 years of age. When she realized there were ways to withdraw money from the Roth IRA prior to retirement, she became greatly interested in what a Roth IRA could do for her.

Accounts like 401(k)s, 403(b)s and traditional IRA (individual retirement accounts) are tax-deferred. That means money iscontributed to the account before taxes are paid. That is why your end of the year tax statement, your W2, can show less money than your gross income because the money was put directly into the tax-deferred retirement account before taxes were calculated. Using tax-deferred accounts is one way to reduce your AIG, adjusted gross income, on which your federal and state taxes are based.

Roth IRAs are different; they are tax-exempt. While the money put into the account has already been taxed and does not decrease your taxable income, when withdrawn after retirement, no taxes are paid on the earnings. Furthermore, if you are not retirement age, you can withdraw your contributions without penalty. I believe the five-tax-year rule applies to contribution withdrawals, but this is one way to help fund schooling or a buying a first home. Leaving all your money in the Roth IRA account earns more dividends; however, this account type is flexible enough to give you options for pulling out the money if needed sooner than 59.5 years of age.

Roth IRAs are subject to contributions limits ($5,000 for 2009), income limits for single and married taxpayers, and do have penalties when contributions and earnings are taken out without following the allowed withdrawals terms. However, you can put in money for 2008 and 2009 years right now until April 15 to get one year closer to the five-tax-year "magic" number without waiting five calendar years. For more information on Roth IRAs, visit the Motley Fool. I have given a brief overview and the Web site has more details and examples to explain the various points.

Roth IRAs can be invested in anything from mutual funds to money market accounts and certificates of deposit. My Roth IRA is through T. Rowe Price and is composed of two index funds. My investment strategy is risky but I am hoping for greater rewards when I need the money. In the end, I contribute to both tax-deferred and tax-exempt retirement accounts. I put more than enough to get my employer's match for the 401(k)--I love free money!--and have made it a priority to fully fund my Roth IRA even if it takes me 14 months instead of the 12 calendar months. Consider the best strategy for you and weigh how each of these account types (tax-exempt and tax-deferred) will work for your retirement.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Getting a shiny new piece of hardware and saving money!

As part of the ongoing changes at my workplace about developing new and interesting ideas in a digitally based world, my entire department was supplied with iPhone 3Gs. Now, as much as I love Apple hardware, the expense of the iPhone itself coupled with the expense of the voice or data or both plans was out of my personal reach. However, when my work supplies me with an iPhone that has both voice and data plan, I say thank you and happily play with my new toy.

I had been considering changing my personal cell phone plan from a monthly plan to a pay-as-you-go plan. I do not use all the 200 anytime minutes in my plan and consider it a busy month to reach 200 total minutes usage. I received an 8% discount because of the company I worked for, but I was still paying almost $40 a month. However, when I called Verizon Wireless about converting to a prepaid plan, I was informed it was not possible to keep my phone number. This was important enough to me I needed some time to think about how to proceed. (I had the number for 7.5 years.)

In the end, I decided that I would rather cancel my service than juggle two cell phones even if one was a prepaid plan. So, I have until April 20 until my personal cell phone service runs out.

However, there was an issue with canceling my cell phone plan: Roadside Assistance. I had added a roadside assistance option with my cell phone plan that cost me $2.99 a month. I thought this was good insurance for any potential issues that arose and added up to less than the $54 per year for a AAA roadside assistance policy. However, I was eliminating a $40 per month bill for a $54 per year out of pocket expenses. I signed up for a AAA roadside assistance plan and canceled my cell phone plan the next day.

So, by removing my cell phone plan as a monthly expense, what do I plan to do with the extra money? After some thought, I decided to break the $40 down as follows:

  • $10/month goes to savings

  • $10/month goes to house savings

  • $10/month goes to car savings

  • $5/month goes to my AAA yearly fee

  • $3/month goes to farm savings

  • $2/month goes to charity savings

Having a work cell phone is all new to me so I plan on being conservative in my usage. However, it benefits me by giving me a way to contact people in case of emergency and saving money from my income. Even if I do not receive a raise, this is a way to cut my living expenses at least until they take my new iPhone away!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Quarterly update on my 2009 financial goals

At the beginning of the year, I stated what my financial goals were for 2009. Basically, they came down to saving and funding my Roth IRA. Plus I wanted to share a quick update of my net worth.

Net worth: Up 4.8% from January 1. I did not expect to be typing positive movement for this measurement. However, I am still below the mark set when I started monitoring my end-of-month net worth October 31, 2007. The mortgage keeps going down, my savings accounts keep going up and if the volatility in the markets has calmed somewhat, my investments will hold and even gain some value.

1. Fully fund my 2009 Roth IRA with $5,000.
My 2009 contributions have me 16.5% to my goal. I have increased my monthly contributions through changing my deductions and the stimulus plan adjusting the federal tax tables. I will find out later this month if a merit increase will occur or not.

2. Save $2,500 for purchase of a newer vehicle.
I am doing well on this goal. So far this year, I have contributed $827 to this account. My automatic transfers brought me to $429. The rest was excess from the gasoline allocation (split between my gas hedge fund and my car savings), a refund, bonuses from work, and selling a couple items on craigslist. While I am uncertain if this pace can be maintained through the year, I am pleased that I am one third of the way to my goal.

3. End the year with $1,500 in my farm savings account.
I started out with $415 in this account January 1 and have added $330 to give me $745. The recent bonus really helped bump up this amount, but I have also made adding funds to this account a monthly deposit.

4. Accumulate $800 toward buying a new computer
This is a new goal, but has become more important to me as the technology and operating systems I have are bogged down by the newer web servers I need to connect with. On January 1, I had $262 in this account; my current total is $482, a significant fraction of my goal. I am pleased this number is moving higher. While both my computers work just fine, by 2010, they will be nine years old (G4 Quicksilver Tower) and five years old (iBook G4). This will eventually be an issue of access on the web and compatibility with software. I want to be able to purchase the MacBook Pro without compromising my other savings goals.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Exposed! The truth about my spending plan

Today I asked my cats their thoughts on our finances, our housing situation and our spending plan. A. is my nearly 15-year-old calico and C. is my approximately 13-year-old tortishell (she does not like to reveal her exact age). They had plenty to say on the subjects discussed and their comments are transcribed by me below. The lack of opposable thumbs is a challenge for typing although my friend W. insists he has received e-mails from the cats.

F.P.: You two have been living with me for over 13 years [A.] and nearly 12 years [C.] now. How would you compare our finances from when you first met me to our circumstances now?
A. [yawns and stretches from where I disturbed her with my questions while napping]: Meraaow. Meow-meow.
Translation: Far superior. You were only a graduate student when I first came to live with you and you make tons more money now. Finally I can get the good stuff.
C. [walks into the room]: Merow.
Translation: The sink in the first apartment was better for stretching in. Of course, I have gotten bigger over the years...

F.P.: Speaking of apartments, how do you like the house compared to our previous rental residences?
A. [starts licking paw and washing her face]: Merow. Marraow, meow. Mew.
Translation: The places have gotten bigger over time. I did not like it when you first brought C. home and frankly, I am still not fond of her. Still, I put up with the imposition for the many sunny spots and high places from which to leap on C. I need many soft, squishy spots in my elder years.
C. [places front paws next to me and noses my hand inquisitively]: Meow. Mew. Meow.
Translation: When will you get off the computer and pet me? I do not care where I live as long as there is fresh food and water, clean litter boxes and someone to clean up after me.

F.P.: Over the years, you two have become more expensive. With prescription diets, surgery, teeth cleanings, annual check ups, kitty litter, cat toys, scratching boards and medications, it adds up every year. When will you two get a job to help me pay for all this?
A. [looks out the window at cars passing by]: Meyaow. Mew, meow. Meraaow.
Translation: You have kept me in the lifestyle to which I am accustomed. Now that I am a geriatric queen, you want me to work? Foolish human. I have better things to do like napping.
C. [stretches out in the floor in a sunny spot]: Meraow, meow. Meroow.
Translation: I would rather not take those nasty pills you keep shoving down my throat. That is a $10 savings right there! Besides, you were the one to choose the more expensive wheat and pine litter. And stop buying Swheat Scoop. I do not like it anymore.

F.P. : I have been telling my readers about saving for a new car, a new MacBook Pro and for a small farm in the country. What do you think of my future plans?
A. [jumps down from the commode onto the chair and settles in]: Meow, mew. Meraow, meaow.
Translation: You know I do not care for the outdoors so whatever about the farm. I hate cars because you only take me in one to torment me. As if you need another computer to distract you from paying attention to me. Now leave me alone. I need my beauty rest.
C. [stares at me waiting for something more interesting to come along]: Mew. Meow, mew. Meraaow.
Translation: I hate your computer. Like you need another attention-stealing device! I hate your car. Nasty, torturous metal box. The farm could be interesting. I do like playing with mice and if you have chickens, I would love to chase those!

Well, the girls are getting rebellious so I will end our conversation now. The cats have seen me through debt and savings, financial worries and triumphs as well as costing me a pretty penny to maintain their cushy lifestyle and pay their vet bills. If you have any questions for them (or me), just comment and I may broach the subject later. Preferably after they have had their required 18 hours of sleep.

Happy April Fool's Day!