Life

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Piggy BankA fellow resident of New England, Boston Gal asked an interesting question a few days ago on her Open Wallet blog, “Can you really separate money from emotions?”

Here’s an excerpt:

I have always been the type of person who tries to see things from another’s point of view. Perhaps this is why I tend to tip more than is warranted. It could also be why I seem to do okay as a landlord. I think about what my tenant would want and try to provide that (within reason). Empathy and finances seems to work for me.

When I was younger fear was a great motivator. Fear of never being able to afford to move out of my Mother’s house prompted me to buy my condo at auction. Fear that I would not be able to afford said condo lead me to work harder and eventually change jobs and get onto a better career path.

Once I felt confident in my abilities to work and support myself, the fear went away to be replaced by worry. Worry that I might not have enough saved to handle periods of unemployment. Worry about dealing with unexpected expenses. This prompted me to get serious about funding an emergency account. It also helped me keep my spending in check and start living on less than I earn.

Eventually the worry was replaced by satisfaction. I had money in the bank, consumer debt was eliminated, and retirement savings were gaining steam. Money was no longer tied to negative motivational emotions, now it was positive. Adjusting to that took a bit of time.

She’s a few years ahead of me in her quest for financial freedom, of that I’m jealous…

I haven’t reached the satisfaction level just yet. I’m in the worry stage right now, but just like she described, fear was/is probably my biggest motivator too. I do worry about what I’d do if I suddenly joined the unemployed. I also worry about how much I’ll have to retire on. I’m afraid of a dismal future.

I can’t claim to have ever gotten serious about funding an emergency fund. You see people on personal finance blogs and message boards rhyming off left and right that you should have 6 months worth of expenses saved in an emergency fund. I don’t know about you, but 6 months worth of expenses for me is a ridiculously obscene high number to have sitting in a low rate savings account.

I also think that, to a degree, even when I was living paycheck to paycheck (which I sort of still am), I always kept between a $1000-$1500 buffer in my checking account — just in case. I guess that was my equivalent of an emergency fund.

What I got serious about was controlling my current spending, analyzing my past spending, and then weaning myself off of the credit cards.

All the bunk that Clark Howard spews is true. The balances only go down when you stop using them. I chopped three of them up, and while I didn’t put one in a block of ice in the future (I was never that crazy addicted to them), I started using one for gas only.

I didn’t attack the balances I had Dave Ramsey style, though I have to admit I did attack some of the lower rate balances first just because I knew I could get rid of them quickly. It’s crazy how fast credit card debt can disappear when you stop charging like $800+ per month. Suddenly, I had money in my checking account — but I kept sending it off to the credit card companies backing myself up against my buffer. That started in 2003.

Now, hear I am in 2007 with essentially less than $500 remaining in personal credit card debt. The fear of not being able to dig out (of ANY hole) is subsiding. Now it’s just a few months off, I hope, and I’ll hit the “satisfaction” point. I’m excited.

Back to the point, “Can you really separate money from emotions?” For me… no. I spend with my head, not my heart. But there is still an emotional connection. Even though I still feel I’m in debt (minus the 401k and cars, I am!), I still get a good vibe just from the direction I’m heading and have been heading for 4+ years.

Money can’t “buy” happiness really, but damn, once you figure it out, it makes you feel a lot better all over. Even when you’re still in the hole.

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Of course, we always used a phone with a cord — but that face explains it all!So, this morning in the shower I was remembering back in the 1980’s when crank calling was still considered “innocent” fun. All the cool kids were doing it.

I’d imagine it’s a lot harder to do now with everyone having some sort of Caller ID service these days — and quite honestly, you’d probably be labeled as a terrorist and end up detained in some secret foreign prison for committing such a crime.

Not being “daring” enough, I never actually made a crank call. Actually, I just wasn’t mean enough and we *never* made a call from my house, but I do remember ‘our’ script.

I don’t remember if we made it up (My friend Brian would get credit), or he heard it somewhere, but it generally went like this:

“Hello?”
“Um. Hi. Your dog is in my back yard.”
“Excuse me?”
“Yes, your dog is in my back yard.”
“We don’t have a dog.”
“I don’t have a back yard!”
click.

Some real high brow humor there.

Still, to this day, or maybe *just* today, it cracks me up.

I remember in the instance that the person did have a dog — we never had an alternate ending prepared. We still said, “I don’t have a backyard,” which is so ridiculous in hindsight, it almost makes it funnier. Am I alone in the room?

Anyway, I think it’s sad that this specific form of youth mischief has disappeared from society. Think of how huge it could be with all of these little kids sporting their own cell phones these days!

But nowadays, I guess kids get their kicks by spray painting swastikas on random cars. My, how far society has come… or fallen.

I miss the days of the innocent prank call.

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BMW Z3 Damage

This weekend my wife and I were involved in an accident on the highway.

Cruising along with the top down in my ego-tag at highway speed yesterday morning, the car in front of us kicked a large truck tire re-tread into the air which struck the hood of our car.

Evidently swerving at high speed doesn’t quite work like it does in the movies. We spun around a few times across three lanes and ended up facing the wrong direction and tangled up in the three steel cord style of guardrail.

The great news, at first, having gone from 70 mph to zero in the span of less than two seconds, was that we were both okay. Not a scratch between us.

I have to credit BMW — the outcome should have been worse. In fact, I’d bet if we’d been in one of our other vehicles, it would have been worse.

Who’d have thought a convertible would be safe?

After the fact, the news got even better.

As we stood on the side of the highway watching a wrecker tug our car down from the tangled mess of guardrails and torn up asphalt and onto a flatbed it hit me: the last remaining relic of my time as a frivolous spender was gone.

And you know what? That felt good.

Sure, I’d just trashed a $50k car, that at one time meant so much to me, and one that I’d worked so hard to pay for — but since I started to control my spending, I’d realized that it was quite possibly my biggest financial mistake.

Even seconds before that tire tread was thrown into the air, the car was no longer the status symbol I’d originally thought it was, but more a symbol of personal embarrassment — a blatant sign of my former financial irresponsibility. As a result, in recent years, it rarely left the garage.

All in all, a good day in my financial quest.

On a side note, I feel I should give kudos to Drew Loethscher, Victor the tow truck driver, and the rest of the folks at Tolland Citgo in Connecticut. They towed the car and were very welcoming considering the situation. Definitely not the stereotypical gas station/towing company experience.

And so far so good on the Allstate front. I filed a claim online yesterday and a friendly claims rep called yesterday afternoon; though she apparently didn’t read anything that I had originally submitted.

Somehow, I think I’ll be explaining the situation at least 10 more times to them — though the police report could answer and verify everything I’ve already told them.

Here’s to hoping that everything works out on that end I won’t be added to the already long list of very dissatisfied Allstate auto insurance customers.

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Kickin’ it retro style.
Flying Toasters
Over the weekend, while grooving to bad 80’s tunes in the car by myself, I was blinded by, well, a blinding flash of brilliance! You know, one of those moments of true clarity every brilliant one has from time to time.

Suddenly, it hit me — I had a vision of toasters with wings. Less than a second later, I thought, “Hey, wait a minute, that’s totally been done.” But while pondering it over the next few minutes (okay, I’ll be honest, I thought about it for well over an hour), I couldn’t help thinking about what happened to the once popular flying toasters.

It took me a bit, but I eventually found the brain cell that had been holding the name “After Dark” for all of these years just for this very moment.

After Dark was the company in the very early 1990’s that somehow managed to convince computer users to shell out $30+ clams for a silly screensaver. They probably made a fortune — of that, yep, I’m jealous.

I think of stuff like flying toasters all the time… I just don’t have the type of mindset to market them effectively. I mean, really, I’d like to shake the hand of the guy who came up with the idea of a flying toaster and then thought, “Hey, this should be a screen saver. We’ll make millions!” I hope it was the same guy that came up with both ideas. Genious.

Anyway, hats off to the Flying Toaster of the early 90’s. I miss the days when the screensaver you had made you more, I dunno, sexy?

Can geeks be sexy?

You betcha. In 1992, if you had some toasters flying across the screen, you were the talk of the town. Or library… Computer lab? Sigh…

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Andre AgassiLike Andre Agassi once pitched for Canon Rebel cameras, image truly is everything. 

Image is an asset.  Your best asset.  And one you can totally control.

People do not love you for who you are. Bosses do not give promotions based on your work performance. Banks do not give you money based on your ability to repay. Doctors are not licensed based on their competency.

People love you for who they think you are. Bosses give promotions based on their perceived value of you. Banks give you money based on your perceived ability to repay. Doctors are licensed based on their perceived competency.

No matter how bright, talented, and skilled you will go nowhere if no one recognizes it. No matter how deficient you are, the world is yours to take if no one notices your failings. Learn to master your image and you have found the levers that motivate people to help you.

It blows my mind how many folks out there don’t understand this. Poke around for some familiar faces on myspace.com or facebook, or for that matter, any ‘local’ band website — you’ll quickly lose respect for some of your friends and acquaintances.

In my opinion, it’s messed up on it’s own to let someone take pictures of you when you’re not at your best, you know, sloppy drunk or whatever, but to post those pictures — I mean, actually sitting down and saying, “yeah, that one is a good representation of me” and then hitting submit is just shocking.  It’s like slandering yourself.  “Don’t I look ‘kewl’ here where I’ve got my face pressed against a drag queen’s tight abs?”  I mean really?

One fellow I know has a shot of him holding up some random bimbo doing a keg stand, while just above it in their profile it states that they’re 32 years old.  Um, hello?

Are people that stupid?  Apparently.

Oh, and don’t hold your breath for any less than flattering shots of yours truly…  I’ve always been aware of my image.

Can You Dig It?

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