The High Cost of Being a Moron

Yup, Im an Idiot.  It’s official Now.

Credit: Southsidetowing
Cars Impounded

Wow…..I never thought it would have happened, as I’ve been on quite a good streak with my finances and personal life lately.  By “good streak” I mean to say that I havent done anything that will knee-cap my chances of being successful in the future.  Some people call this “Staying out of your own way”.  As I mentioned, I have been quite good at getting out of my own way lately (I wasnt always this way, but that’s a topic for another post).  I was making good headway on my debt (I still am, sorta) and just really had not done anything that I could look back on in 5 minutes and say “What the hell was I thinking?!”

Well, as you can probably gather, this completely blew up in my face recently, and I’ve finally gotten around to writing about it.  You’ll probably say I was stupid as well, but at this point, I’ve put my moronic actions past me, and have updated my plan/situation to reflect that.

As I mentioned in a previous article (The cost of your car, Pt 2), I purchased a new car when my old one broke down on the way north, and because I got a fairly good deal on a not that old car, I figured that once I got my other car fixed, I could sell it for at least what I paid for it, or possibly a profit.  So, with the help of a great friend, I retrieve my car from its location, take it to the repair shop, and they tell me it will be about a week, because they were a bit behind.  (It was fine with me, as hunting season had just opened, and I know that my mechanic hunts frequently)  So I drive the newer car until the old one is fixed, and then list it on craigslist.  Within a few days, I had many promising responses, and set up a time to have someone look at the vehicle.  I had left room on the price to haggle a bit and still make some money, and the first person that looked at the car made me an offer that I accepted.   The buyer informed me that the transaction would take a while to complete, due to some funding issues, which I agreed to.  One of the reasons that I did this was to avoid having to pay insurance for the car – though I do think that insurance is important (such as Life Insurance, Health Insurance, etc)

Once that happened, I imagined all this progress I was going to make on my credit card debt with this money that I did not yet have.  I ran numbers over and over in my head, and I thought I would be able to hit my goal of being free of credit card debt by 1.1.2010.  I was ecstatic, and applauded myself on shrewed business skills.  All the while, I left the vehicle parked on the street in the city I work in (45 mins from the city I live in).  It was a couple blocks from my place of employment, and so I didnt really figure it to be that big of a deal, as it was parked on the street next to a vacant lot.  The plan was for the car to sit there for around 8 days, and I figured that no one would mind (or even notice, really) that the car had been parked there.

The problem with that situation was that there was an issue with the funding source of the buyer, and I figure that im in no hurry, and can wait for her to straighten everything out.  The car ends up sitting there for the better part of three weeks!  On the day of the sale, I go to retrieve it and ITS GONE!  Im thinking to myself, holy crap, where is it, what happened to it, etc.  I come to the conclusion that it got towed, and I need to find it and get it before I can sell it.  (I havent panicked yet, but im sure annoyed at this point).

I call the city, they tell me (after waiting a bit) that it was towed.  I call the towing company, and they say that have it, and that it’s going to cost $900 for me to get it out.  They had it for almost 2 weeks.  I was not happy that I was not notified, but right then, all the dreams I had of using that car money (and profit) to pay off my debts went out the window, and life gave me a well placed kick to the midsection.

I retrived the car, swallowing a $900 bill before hand, and thought, well, im glad this mess is over, sold the vehicle and wont really look back.  Except to weep continuously.

I learned the following lessons from this escapade:

  1. Keep track of your crap – This would not have happened had I not assumed that all was going to be hunky-dory with the world.  The car got towed, but it could have just as easily gotten stolen.
  2. Get out of your own damn way – Personal finance is difficult enough (so much so that many dont bother with it), and it’s even more difficult when you keep tripping over yourself.
  3. Dont count your chickens Dollars before you’ve got them –  This definitely didnt help either.  It just made me angrier at myself for being such an *idiot*
  4. Persevere – I think this is the most important take-away from this.   Although my Jan 1, 2010 goal for being credit card debt free is most likely unattainable at this point, this is no time for me to just give up.  I’ve gotten too far, enjoyed the successes that I have had too much to just quit now, even though I did take one on the chin pretty hard.

As they say on Intervention, Relapse is part of recovery.  You have to just keep plugging away, and eventually you’ll be where you wanted to be at the beginning.

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October Budget

I hope that you all had a safe haloween and a prosperous October.  Mine fared pretty well, with me only going over budget in 2 categories, by a total of less than $15.  Here’s the breakdown.

I was $1 over on my fast food, and $12 over on my restaurant budget.

I also realized that I way over allocated for gas last month, which is a relief.  I have lowered it from a high of $300 recently to $170.  Lets hope it stays here, although I was supposed to have 2 extra days of work that would have resulted in an extra tank of gas that got snowed out, and I didnt need the gas. AWESOME!

I was also able to begin a separate savings account for a home, and have set up automatic funding for that for $50/month! I hope to up the contribution at the start of next year when I will have more free income due to lack of debt.

September Budget Review

Well, the month is finally over, and now it’s time to review how I did on my budget for the month of September.

Everything was going great as far as my budget goes until I had car trouble last weekend.  You can read about it Here.

That being said, I was able to keep on my budget in every other part, and if I can sell the car soon (as planned) everything will be nice and rosy.

For now, my net worth took a hit and my monthly budget was consumed mostly by car stuff (eek).  See the graph below.

September Budget
September Budget

All of this is pretty self explanatory as far as categories go, and I only went over in 1 category.

Mortgage & Rent: 375  This amount wont change for a while.  It’s for the roof over my head.

Gas: 302 of 320 – I dont like one bit that I have to spend this much per month on fuel.  My car gets ~23 miles to the gallon, so Im not wasting, I just have a 50 mile (1 way) commute.

Groceries: 80 of 120: This is just for food used to cook at home

Fees: 62 of 70: Interest on credit cards

Mobile Phone $52 of 52 – Cost I pay to verizon every month

Auto Insurance: 33 of 33 – To keep me safe in accidents

Fast food: 40 of $25   I blew this one, or maybe my fast food budget is too low?  I’ll have to look into this for next month.  For now, Im thinking of an increase to $35 per month

That’s all she wrote folks.  The reason that auto took up 60 some percent was because I had to put the new car on a charge card.  As soon as the car sells, pay off the card and rest easy.

August 09 Budget Review

Ahhh….finally.  With the end of august comes the end of summer, the childrens are going back to school, and the weather starts to get a bit cooler.  It’s also the end of the month, which means time to review the progress made in august towards becoming debt free, and re-evaluating (or creating new) goals for my budget.

Income: This is all the income that I earned during the month of August.

  • Paycheck – $1,100
  • Gifts – $383 – This income is not normal, and I do not budget for having it every month.

Total $1,485.90

Spending: This is how I allocated my resources during the month

  • $416 on Auto and Transportation –  This is the most I’ve ever spent on this category, by far.  I had some things happen earlier in the summer, and now I commute to work every day.  This includes insurance, gas, and some repairs that I did myself, and some that I paid to have done.
  • $441 on Home – This is rent ($375) and home improvement.  Im comfortable with this number, although typically this would include just rent.  I built a new bookcase this month.
  • $232 on Bills & Utilities – This includes water, trash, electricity and cell phone and tv/internet.
  • $226 on Food – This includes grochery shopping and dining out.  I believe that I budgeted for $225, so im ok with this
  • $40 on Education – This is to pay to keep me in school.
  • $19 on Shopping – Not too sure what I bought, which is probably not a good sign.
  • $40 on Travel – Went camping in the Badlands of North and South Dakota this month.  Had a great time. Totally worth it.

Total: $1,414

Difference: $71Not much, but it’s better than a negative number.

There has also been some exciting news reguarding my credit cards.  (wooo!).  As you’ll recall in my paying off credit cards with savings post, I recently paid off one of my credit cards with my savings.  It was a difficult decision, but in the end it made the most sense.  Due to an inturruption in my cash flow, I was going to have to use a significant portion of my savings to live off of for a time,  so I figured I may as well slay one of the beasts.  Boy, did it feel good.  Without further ado, My credit card debt levels:

  1. Southwest RapidRewards Card: $0 – I paid this card off, and im more than happy about that
  2. Chase/WaMu Card – $2,110 – I was able to direct 300 towards this account from my savings.  It’s my next target for payoff.
  3. Citibank – $2,472 – This card is at a 0% balance, and will be my last card to pay off.  The balance ends may, 2010.

Total Debt: $4,582 Im happy to see this number getting lower, and my net worth approaching $0.  Then I can start building a positive  net worth!  Who else is with me?!

Note: As Im still a student, this does not include my student loans, which are currently are in-school status, and will be so until ~june 2010

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The Five Eco Principles – Healthy Environment

While in Chicago in April, I had a chance to visit the museum of science & industry.  The experience was great, and my friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the museum.  We were both intrigued enough to pay the extra ~$25 or so to see the smart house.  We were not disappointed, and left with some good ideas about things to re-use and things to purchase made from re-used items.  Recently, I thought it would be a good idea to share the principles with the readers, and figure out how you can best take advantage of them.  Today is the fifth one, focusing on a Healthy Environment.

Ensuring that you live in a healthy environment is paramount.  You are in your residence a significant portion of time, so if something potentially harmful to you (or your loved ones) has the potential to cause problems at best, and can be lethal at the worst.  There have been some spectacular incidents that can illustrate this problem perfectly, and show you a few:

  1. Asbestos – This used to be used in multiple products in the home (floor tiles, roofing, fire retardant) and elsewhere around the home (brake pads).  Asbestos poses no threat until its been disturbed.  During a home remodel or other disturbing event to the asbestos, the fibers can become airborne and inhaled.  This is obviously not good for you, and can lead to serious lung problems in the future.  Asbestos is no longer common in building materials, and is currently regulated by the EPA.
  2. Lead – This used to be found in gasoline and paint.  Poses huge risks to our children (those six & under), and can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems and possibly death.  This is also something that you dont want floating in the air in the place where you spend most of your time.
  3. DDT – Probably one of the most infamous products ever used in or around the home.  Typically, it was used to kill mosquitos carrying malaria.  This chemical became very popular around the home, and was eventually linked to multiple problems, such as appearing in humans, thinning eggshells of wildland creatures and showing up in the fats of fish.  It was one of the first major environmental campaigns, and was brought on by the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.

There are also plenty of modern day examples.  One of the current ones is VOC Paints.  VOC (aka Volatile Organic Compounds) are in some paints, and can seep out after the wall has been painted.  Something else that could pose a problem is your granite countertop.  Some granite countertops house uranium, which is not only radioactive, but can release radon gas, which can cause lung cancer. The amount of uranium that is most likely contained in your countertop is not suspected to be enough to pose a significant risk to your health, but are you willing to find out the hard way if that ends up not being true?

Now, think about how much time that you and your loved ones spend inside your home.  There are a few things to think about when it comes to these type of pollutants.

  1. How worried do I need to be about these products? No one really knows what the long term effects of these chemicals will be.  Do you want to be one of the first to file a lawsuit because you found out?
  2. To what degree do I want to protect myself and my loved ones? – Many of the things that can mitigate potential sickness cost more.  How much more  are you willing to pay?

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The Five Eco Principles – Water Efficiency

While in Chicago in April, I had a chance to visit the museum of science & industry.  The experience was great, and my friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the museum.  We were both intrigued enough to pay the extra ~$25 or so to see the smart house.  We were not disappointed, and left with some good ideas about things to re-use and things to purchase made from re-used items.  Recently, I thought it would be a good idea to share the principles with the readers, and figure out how you can best take advantage of them.  Today is the fourth one, focusing on Water Efficiency.

It looks like i’ve forgotten the Overview of the process, so ill give it to you here

I have written a bit about floodplains and conservation, but have yet to write about efficiency.  In the western US where I come from, water is always on everyone’s mind.  If you want to farm, feel free, but it’s going to be difficult if you dont have the water rights to your property.  (Drinking) Water is a limited and precious resource, and should be treated as such.

It is my feeling that our water is being mis-allocated and at times wasted every day.  Part of the problems is lies in ignoring the environment when designing our neighborhoods, homes and other appliances.

The first one that comes to my mind is the lawn.  Yes, I am well aware that everyone enjoys having a good looking, green front and back lawn. In some places that get plenty of rain, this isn’t a big deal.  Using rainwater supplemented by the occasional sprinkler system to keep the lawn green is fine, so long as most of the water comes from the rain.  This does not happen where I live.  There is ~12″ of rainfall per year.  An amount this small should not be wasted on making sure that everyone has a ‘nice looking’ lawn.  There are plenty of ways to keep your lawn nice looking without using scarce resources.  Xeriscaping is a great option, and can have great results.  Xeriscaping involves design with plants that are low on water, including flowers, bark, and other drought resistant grasses.  They can save water and be nice looking!

xeriscapeImage credit: www.raisethehammer.org

Also, if you’re still looking for some sort of ‘lawn’, you can plant grasses that are native to the area.  Grasses such as this have already adapted to conditions in your area, and are well suited to deal without water (in my case).

In addition to the lawn options outside the home, there are also many options for becoming more efficient with your water inside the home.   There is alot of “low hanging fruit” to harvest in regards to your water usage.  One of the first ones is to turn off the water while you are brushing your teeth and washing your hands. There is no reason to leave these on, literally throwing valuable water (and money) right down the drain.  It’s a simple step that can pay back big in water saved and money saved. If your city or water utility uses “stepped” billing, the savings could be large.  For instance, if your water utility charges you 5 cents per gallon for the first 1,000 gallons, and 8 cents per gallon for gallons 1,001 – 2,000, and removing the water waste from these habits (conducted in the home at least 2 times per day), that can add up over 30 days and can possibly move you easily under 1,000 gallons per month.  Money saved!

Another opportunity  is the toilet.  We all use them, and we all have them.  A ‘typical’ toilet uses 3.5 gallons per flush, while some of the more efficient models can use as little as 1 gallon per flush.  What really piqued my interest is the double flush toilets, and their potential for water savings.  Dual flush toilets are basically what they sound like, with the toilet having a button for ‘solids’ and a button for ‘liquids’.   According to how stuff works, the most modern dual flush toilets use less than 1 gallon per flush for liquids, and just over 1.5 gallons for flushing solids.  Over the lifetime of the toilet, this can represent a huge savings not to be ignored.  Stats from toilet abc’s show that you can use less than 1/3rd of the water of a traditional 3.5 gallon toilet.  As it says on the site, the government is looking to come up with an “energy star for toilets” rating, which will probably be a good thing, given the success of the energy star label.

dual-flushSource: Amazon.com

Now that you’ve got plenty of ideas on how to save water, where do you start? I suggest starting with the things that provide the highest return.  For example, the cost of turning off your water while brushing your teeth and washing your hands is $0, and the benefits are enormous compared to the time invested.  You will be surprised at how quickly you can form this habit.  After that, I’d move to the toilet.  You can install a double flush mechanisim for ~30, or put in double flush toilets from the get go and save some money.

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The five Eco Principles – Energy Efficiency

While in Chicago in April, I had a chance to visit the museum of science & industry.  The experience was great, and my friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the museum.  We were both intrigued enough to pay the extra ~$25 or so to see the smart house.  We were not disappointed, and left with some good ideas about things to re-use and things to purchase made from re-used items.  Recently, I thought it would be a good idea to share the principles with the readers, and figure out how you can best take advantage of them.  Today is the third one, focusing on Energy Efficiency.

It looks like i’ve forgotten the Overview of the process, so ill give it to you here

Energy Efficiency has been one of my favorite topics for about 5 years now, and I’m planning an overview style post, as well as a possible series, about different types of energy.  Just like smart design, energy can be easily manipulated to save you heaps of cash on your heating/cooling and energy bills.

As I said in Tuesday’s article, you need to treat your home as an investment, and not let recurring costs undermine your final goal (whatever that may be).  By making the investment in your home for things that can help you save on (or eliminate completely) your monthly bills, you’ll be money ahead.  One great way to do that is through energy efficiency.  There are many different ways to do this, some detailed in Mondays post on smart design, and some I will talk about below.

One of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to increase the energy efficiency of your home is to plug the holes.  Make sure that you have the whole home insulated from the outside, including quality windows as well as foam or another type of insulation.  The easiest way to be energy efficient and save money is to stop it from seeping out of your house in the first place.  By keeping in the energy you have already paid for, you can use much less.

Once you have kept what you’ve already paid for inside your home to the best of your ability, then you can move on to your baseload use.  This includes things that need to be (or are, dont bother fooling yourself by saying you’ll unplug that phone charger after you take the phone off it if you know you wont) plugged in all the time.  Lowering the energy usage of these appliances (fridge, oven, computer, etc) is the next step.  Preventing them from using so much energy by upgrading to a newer model (go for the energ ystar logo) can quickly pay for itself by saving on electricity.

Next you can move back to smart design.  Big windows, sliding glass doors, sky-lights, and large sunshades can help let the light and heat in, and hold it in after the sun has gone down.  By using natural heat and light, you can save on heating and lighting costs.  This also works  in the summer, as windows can keep your home cool by allowing heat to escape and creating cooling cross breezes throughout your home.

If you have looked at all these options and are still searching for ways to lighten you energy bill and decrease your environmental footprint, you can look to green roofs (and an older post) to minimize heating and cooling costs, as well as absorb rain water and minimize runoff.  If you’re really savvy, you can turn your green roof into a garden.

Finally, there is solar energy generation.  This should be you LAST step if you are looking to be energy efficient.  It doesnt matter how sunny it is where you live in phoenix, Florida or wherever you do happen to live, if you havent reduced your energy use, your going to end up buying more solar panel(s) than you need, and will still be pushing energy right out the door, the windows and the walls. There’s no point in putting solar first on your list, when you havent done things listed above.  It would be like trying to fill up the bathtub when you dont have the drain closed.  It may begin to fill, but it’s probably not going to get very full very fast.

Energy efficient upgrades are a great way to begin saving money and lowering your house’s “carrying cost” but make sure that you pick the low hanging fruit first, and make sure that you dont “trip over dollars to save dimes”.  If you want the best bang for your buck, i’d start with insulation.

Want to get more out of the sustainablelife blog?  Here are a few tips.

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