Monday, February 29, 2016

Stuff: 10 Tips for Downsizing Your Money Life

Art and money at an ATM in Yerevan, Armenia.

Recently, Lifehacker published an article, Go On a Regular Purge to Downsize Your Life and Save Money.

I like the take on this article, which is more about purging expenses than stuff. The author references an article in a website new to me, MoneyNing, titled How to Downsize Your Lifestyle.

Both articles are frustratingly fluffy, but there's enough yeast in them to get one thinking.

Here are my own tips

1. Get into the right frame of mind.

Set concrete financial goals:
  • "I want to have x dollars in the bank by x month and year."
  • "I want to be debt-free by x month and year." 

Your desired future guides your financial goals. You don't need to have it all figured out today, but do you have a rough idea of what you want your life to be like in the next five, 10, 20, 40, 60 years?

Accept that different phases of your life cost more than others. Depending on your age, family status, and so on, there is an ebb and flow of income outflows, such as student loans, setting up a home, daycare for young children, extra-curricular activities for school-aged children, etc. Think over the long haul (the roughed-in vision of your future), but always with an eye on living within your means today so you can achieve the goals for the future.

2. Challenge what you think you know.

Question common "truths."

For example, do you HAVE to take on student loans to get an undergraduate degree? Hell, no. But to avoid this, you will have to buck the crowd mentality. For example, maybe you'll take six years to graduate instead of four, so you can work your way through school. Maybe you'll get a relatively inexpensive associate's degree at your local community college and then go to a four-year university as a junior so you can get your bachelor's there. None of your friends are doing this? Who gives a fuck? You'll graduate without a student loan that will chain you down for 10+ years. ...

The same strategy works for other rites of passage. Does it make economic sense for everyone to buy a house? No, it doesn't. The common wisdom about a house being a better financial investment than renting isn't always correct.

3. Do follow some rules of thumb

Set aside a fixed percentage of all income for short-term and long-term savings. ANYTHING is better than nothing. The point is to make it a life-long habit to pay into your future with every paycheck or windfall.

Set these two financial goals regardless of your vision of a desired future:
  • A fund for sudden expenses, such as a car repair, appliance/equipment replacement, doctor's bill. 
  • Six to nine months of replacement income in case you lose your income stream. 

4. The road to hell: "just 10 bucks a month"

If I can get something I want for just 10 bucks a month, that sounds good to me. Unfortunately, there are lots of things that are only 10 bucks a month, and if I add them up, I'm suddenly at 100 bucks a month and, damn, how did that happen?

Go through your list of small monthly expenses. Purge the ones you use only occasionally. Peer closely at the ones you use frequently - can you get the same or similar service or product another way, for free or at a lower cost?

5. The other road to hell: Bundling and Friends

Bundling our services is seductive, as is joining a service that our friends and family members belong to, because we can (we're told) save money.

But these can suck your money in cunning ways:
  • You include an unnecessary service into the mix because it's "only" 10 bucks a month or because you "need" to add this service to get the bundling benefit of a reduced cost on a service you do want or need.
  • You voluntarily chain yourself to the bundle because you agree to a contract that will cost you a penalty if you leave before the end of the contract period. 
  • You voluntarily chain yourself to the bundle because it's such a hassle to un-bundle if you want to try one service that another provider offers, while keeping the other services in your bundle. 
It's almost always best for me in the long run to keep a diversified portfolio when it comes to phone, internet, and cable services. Therefore, I do not bundle. (Nor do I ever use an email account that is tied to an internet service provider because that is just another chain that keeps me tied to a particular vendor.)

If you bundle, look at your contract's expiration date. Research no-contract phone services. Check the numbers on your family plan to see if you can do better by each person using a stand-alone, pay-as-you-go plan. Do you still need cable or satellite TV? Do you still need a land line? Come up with a bundling exit strategy.

6. Beware of automatic withdrawals

On one hand, using automatic withdrawals for paying our bills is liberating. No more paper! No more forgetting to pay the bill! No more late due notices! Better credit rating!

On the other hand, we continue to pay for goods and services we no longer want or need because:
  • We signed up for automatic renewal of a subscription and - DAMN! - we missed the deadline to cancel and now we're stuck with another year of something we don't want, don't need, or can't afford. I have done this myself.
  • It's a pain in the ass to contact the company to stop the automatic withdrawal, so we just tell ourselves we'll get around to it next month. (Oh, and some companies are notoriously slow at stopping the automatic withdrawals.) Ch-ching. 
Pore over your credit card bills and checking account balances for forgotten or neglected automatic withdrawals. Calendar renewal dates so you can cancel timely.

Dave Ramsey is a popular financial adviser who I admire for what he says about managing our money. (Note: This does not mean I endorse his political, faith, or other personal views.)

Dave Ramsey's tag line is brilliant:

“Live like no one else now so later you can live like no one else.”

Friday, February 26, 2016

Grand Coteau, Louisiana: Among the Dead

Jesus of the Pasture. St. Charles Cemetery, Grand Coteau, Louisiana. February 2016.

A Grand Coteau friend took me on a walk in her village. Her people are from here, and she pointed out spots where ancestors lived and worked.

As a person with with no strong geographical roots, it is a remarkable thing to live in a place such as South Louisiana, where so many people live in the same area where their families have lived for centuries. 

We paid our respects to villagers past at the St. Charles Cemetery.

A slide show:

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Meanwhile, Back on the Ranch ....

Temporarily, there's a lot of nothing visible going on here in the blog as I work on some projects, get caught up with posts that are in various forms of undress, and process the experiences that have been coming my way.

In the meantime, I've been uploading videos or slide shows over on my youtube channel. I invite you to take a look.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Rootless Relocation: Sold My Stuff - Again

My red chair bed, now with a new family.

With my departure from Lousiana imminent, it became time again to shuck off stuff that I won't take with me when I leave. When I left New Mexico, I left with a very full car. I wanted to do things differently this time, taking only the barest quantity of durable goods. 

Yesterday I sold all of the furniture I didn't want to take with me, in one fell swoop.

I put the lot onto craigslist for one price. Within two hours of my posting, my buyers contacted me, came to look at it, and took it away.

My red chair bed, now with a new family.

My beautiful red chair bed; you were in the lot. I will miss you. Such a rich, dark red. Your nubby fabric. The spare elegance of your lines.

My red chair bed, now with a new family.

I will miss the adventures of pushing you in and then pulling you of my car in the last three years. Of rolling you up and down staircases. Of dragging you over sidewalks on a tarp. Well, no, I won't miss any of those adventures. But I will miss your classy good looks.

My red chair bed, now with a new family.

Another sentimental sale in the lot was my poster from the Yukon, which I bought when my daughter and I took that road trip to Alaska so many years ago.

A poster from road trip to Alaska, now in a new home.

But I can come visit these pretties online any time I want.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Goodbye Louisiana: Letting Go of the Beads

Mardi Gras beads. Louisiana.

At my year-end intermission from Louisiana in 2014/2015, I turned in most of my beads to the local library for recycling. I knew it wouldn't be long before I'd recoup the same quantity or more when I returned in 2015.

And so it went.

Now I'm turning in my beads again to the local library, but this time it's for good.

Good-bye, my little pretties.

Mardi Gras beads. Louisiana.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Learning to Dance, Part 6: It Takes a Village

Cowboy Symposium, Ruidoso, New Mexico.

Lessons are good and even practicing steps in front of a mirror are good. But it takes a village to teach a dancer.

A sampling of native, transplant, and visiting villagers in South Louisiana who have helped me learn how to dance:

Agnes C.
Brian M.
Charles R.
Dale N.
Dennis W.
Doug from the Blue Moon
Doug Mc
Frank S.
Geoff R. 
Hannah B.
Harold ("Fred")
Jay M. ("and then there was a beautiful breeze")
Jeff B.
John D.
John R.
Kathleen Mc
Kay W.
Jacques ("shall we do the same ol' shit again?")
Mike H.
Paul S. ("1, 2, 3, 4. ...1, 2, 3, 4")
Ray H.
Ted C.
The Other Ted, the one who dances with that other woman from Missouri
Theresa I.
T.J. L.
Tony L.
Wilfred K. 

Thank you.

Related posts:

Learning to Dance, Part 1: Solving for X
Learning to Dance, Part 2: The Tao of Following
Learning to Dance, Part 3: The Pause
Learning to Dance, Part 4: Signals
Learning to Dance, Part 5: Anticipation

Monday, February 8, 2016

Elton, Louisiana: Ceaser's Mardi Gras Chicken Run

Ceaser's Mardi Gras Chicken Run 2016. Elton, Louisiana.

Saturday was the annual Ceaser's Mardi Gras Chicken Run in Elton, Louisiana. This particular run is a junior offshoot of a Ceaser's run that an elder generation puts on. That one takes place in or near a town called Soileau, if my trailer companions were correct.

Ceaser's Mardi Gras Chicken Run 2016. Elton, Louisiana.

Friends and I arrived at the Elton-based run about 10 or so Saturday morning. Inside the stable, there was a wood fire blazing within a drum. Two men, an uncle and his nephew, tended big pots of neonatal gumbo. It would be ready for eating by the time the trail riders returned to base in mid-afternoon. 

Ceaser's Mardi Gras Chicken Run 2016. Elton, Louisiana.

Flatbed trailers with folding chairs were parked in the pasture and alongside the road. Horseback riders began to arrive, either riding over from nearby homes, or via horse trailers and pickups. A family event, trailer and horse riders included children, adolescents, and adults.

Ceaser's Mardi Gras Chicken Run 2016. Elton, Louisiana.

Albeit tiny, Elton attracts me because it is a cultural intersection of Coushatta Indians, Creoles, and Cajuns. Once our ride got underway, with trailers leading and horses following, we wound our way through the village.

In front of a Baptist Church, the retinue stopped for drink replenishment, to use the port-a-john, sing, and dance. Was there irony in our stopping in front of the Baptist Church, a bastion of teetotalism? Or does a Baptist Church in South Louisiana take on some of the laissez-fairedness of the Catholic Church in some matters?

I held the reins of a man's horse while he used the port-a-john. The port-a-john rattled and shook from the jostling of its attached trailer bed, enhanced by the nearby rocking sound of speakers that accompanied our street merriment.

Presently, we pulled ourselves together and reloaded, after which we proceeded to an open field. There, the hosts facilitated some chicken runs ... um ... let's call them chicken tosses, into the air, with children ready to run them to ground.

Ceaser's Mardi Gras Chicken Run 2016. Elton, Louisiana.

(Just so's you know, there were four chickens to start with. One escaped into a residential area after an exciting chase by the kids. The other three ended back in their shared cage, having survived several chases. The chicken in the gumbo we enjoyed when we got back to the home base was not so fortunate, but we had not been introduced to her previously.)

Ceaser's Mardi Gras Chicken Run poster 2016.

In the video below, one of the men led a traditional Mardi Gras song in French:

And then more dancing, of course!

Eventually, we returned to our trailers and horses, and made our way back to base. The gumbo was ready - so welcome on this chilly afternoon.

A slide show of the day below:

A fine day.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Passport Ritual and the Beginning of Good-Bye

Moving house, Louisiana.
Today I sent in my passport renewal application.

Today is the first day of my last month in South Louisiana.

It is a good day to remember what Temperance "Bones" Brennan once said about what her future held:

"I await my own surprise."