Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Getting off my can to earn some coin

I've spent part of the last two days carting recyclable cans and bottles and taking them back to stores for refunds. And I'm still not completely done.

I guess I let the cans and bottle stack up for a while. I haven't bought any beer or soft drinks in months, and still I had a ton of cans and plastic bottles stacked up and tucked away.

I hate taking the cans and bottles back. It takes so long and its messy. The machines that you have to put the bottles and cans in to be counted always seem to be needing serviced, and often they don't count some of the cans at all. It's a huge pain in the ass.

The maximum most stores say they will let you return at once is twelve 12-packs, or 144 bottles and/or cans. That seems like a lot, but for all the lugging, sorting, hassle and inconvenience, it nets 7 dollars and 20 cents.

So, I spent that last two days driving to multiple stores, waiting in lines, and sticking far too many cans and bottles into machines one-by-one, to be counted. The last stop was the worst. I was taking back a bunch of plastic and glass bottles. There was a large crowd at the machine and the machines kept breaking down on the people I was waiting on. Then, when I finally got to put my recyclables in, the machines quick working on me three different times. I finally gave up and brought about a third of the bottles I had hoped to turn in back home. So, I will still have to go back.

I hate to calculate just how much money that would equate to by the hour. I'm sure it wouldn't even be minimum wage. And the gas spent driving all over town will cut into my net return.

But I'm almost done. And so far, I've received $53 and some change. And I've got room again in my cabinets and closet.

I can say it's nice to earn some money, rather than think about spending money in my free time. It's kept me busy.

Now I'm debating whether to raid my coin jars and turning them in at Coinstar machines. I'm not a fan of paying 10 cents on the dollar for the machines to coin my coins. But maybe it's time to get rid of that clutter too.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Vision quest

It was not that long ago that I used to make a point of buying a lottery ticket every time one of the jackpots got big.

Sure, I knew I wouldn't win, but I could still dream, right? I justified the expense, even on weeks and months where I was stressed about finding a way to eat until the next pay day, by saying it I got days worth of daydreaming about what I would do if I won. It cost less than a movie ticket. Thus, the money seemed worth it.

Sometimes the dreams were grand, like buying homes for myself and family members, paying for my daughter's dream college education, setting my parents up for the retirement they deserve, and taking care of family members the best way I could. And of course I dreamed about toys. Lots and lots of toys. Cars, computers, TVs, electronics, cameras and vacations.

But on some of those tough months, it was hard to dream that big when I was consumed merely with trying to figure out how I could get the clothes I needed for work. Sometimes it was enough just to dream of winning one of the smaller drawings and getting some relief from the oppressive, paralyzing fear brought on by debt.

But tonight I had a new realization. I am no longer dreaming of some magic, quick fix to my problem. I was no longer fantasizing about what it would be like IF I somehow had money. I was merely daydreaming about what I look forward to doing WHEN I no longer have to pay so much of my salary for debt. It is amazing to think about and realize what I could do with the money I already make available to use for what I need and want, instead of paying of stuff bought years ago on credit out of convenience, or trying to buy the affection of family members who I rarely got to see, or due to lack of planning for large purchases.

The ability to do that is still a fair distance off. But I am growing more confident that I will one day get there. I am beginning to see it in my mind. It's not a daydream, but the visualization of what can, and will, one day be.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Spread sheets are becoming my life

My new hobby seems to be crunching numbers. I am learning how to prepare, and stick to, a personal budget. I seem to spend a lot of my evening and weekend hours working on spreadsheets and doing math.

Some days I am looking for ways to pay off my debt as quickly as possible. Other days I am looking at the numbers to make sure my budget is practical and something I can live with for the foreseeable future.

I am fairly confident that I can pay the rent, keep the lights on and feed myself while paying on the debt each month. But the numbers are going to change going into fall. I know the utilities are going to start costing more. I have no air conditioning, so the summer bills are always the lowest of the year. But fewer hours of daylight and colder temperatures will require more electricity usage. That may mean there is less money to contribute to my debt snowball each month. But I think it can be done.

As I've mentioned here before, I've been using the Dave Ramsey baby steps as my guide to getting out of debt. But I have not fully followed all of his principles. For example, he tells people to quit putting money into retirement until they get out of debt and he also suggests using envelopes to keep track of funds for things like groceries, clothing, and other expenses that can tend to fluctuate, or where people can tend to overspend.

I have not adopted the envelope system. Nor have I stopped contributing to my 401(k) account. But I've been given both much more serious consideration. I think I may very well use envelopes to allocate my grocery and car and miscellaneous expenses. While I don't have much wiggle room in the budget each month, the few dollars I do have that are somewhat discretionary always seem to get spent, and that doesn't leave any money in the bank for things like oil changes or clothes, and those are things that will need to get addressed soon.

I have also been looking into whether it makes any sense to quit contributing to the retirement account where I work. I'm having trouble finding out just exactly home much more money I would take home each month. The best estimate I was given tells me it would not make enough of a difference to just reduce my contribution to the level at which my employer matches. I may be able to pay off my debt about 6 months faster if I stop contributing completely. But it will still probably take me 3 years to get out of debt without some extra income. So losing three years of retirement contributions and employer match scares me.

Right now, I'm not inclined to do that. But I've given it far more serious consideration than I ever thought I would. Maybe when I a few of my small debts paid and get making more progress it would make more sense to do that for a short period of time. But for now, I think I will wait. And keep on working my plan, even if it does not fit perfectly with Dave Ramsey's advice.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Johnny Cash was right about a spit-and-polish cure for the blues

The ol' wardrobe is threadbare. I was so relieved when summer started and I could start wearing short-sleeved shirts again, because I didn't have enough long-sleeved shirts to get me through the work week. The collars and cuffs of my shirts were worn out.

Now, with summer seemingly making a very rabid departure, I realize I will soon need to do something about replacing some of my work clothes. That realization left me hanging my head, which forced me to stare right at my scuffed shoes. It was looking like my shoes would not make it through autumn either.

I decided to try to cover up at least some of the scuffs with a little -- or a lot -- of shoe polish.

It was a great reminder that a little shoe polish can work wonders. While the old, scuffed shoes with the worn soles could not pass for new, but I was pleasantly surprised with the results. A little gloss on the tootsies brightened my mood. The shoes may hold out for a few months longer with a periodic shine, buffed by a brush.

Maybe the fall budget won't have to take as massive a hit as I feared.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


I've had this craving for a while and I can't shake it. That's probably because I don't know what I'm craving.

I'm hungry, even when I'm full. I'm thirsty, even after drinking lots of water. It's as if my body -- my brain -- is missing something it absolutely must have. I just don't know what it is.

It's driving me crazy. It's making me restless.

I don't know how to handle this restlessness in my budget conscious state. Back in the debt-building time, it was this sort of restless rumbling that used to send me off on some sort of impulsive buying binge or would prompt me to hop in the car and head out on some road trip.

Now, I don't know what to do. I look in the fridge. I open the cabinets. I stare longingly at the computer screen waiting for inspiration on what I should be doing.

The insomnia is coming back. I need a change. I need a focus. I need a destination. What, the hell am I looking for?

But there are no answers.

I want something. Something else. I just don't know what it is or where to look for it.

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