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The Final Withdrawal: Leaving My Corporate Bank Behind

January 15th, 2012 No comments

I closed my Chase checking account today!  Okay, I admittedly implied that I’d already done so at press time for my last post, but that was a lie born of a technicality.  I’d already taken every step necessary to close an account but hadn’t yet biked the two miles to the nearest Chase branch to formally tell a bank manager that I didn’t care to be their customer any more.

Anyway, in celebration of my freedom from a multinational financial institution, and in recognition of the 4-month “birthday” of the Occupy movement, I thought I’d briefly discuss the steps I took to close my account.  I heard an NPR segment on how difficult it was to switch banks in the era of automated online transactions, and just got angry.  In my experience, the most frustrating part of closing the account was the fact that my only consistent day off is Sunday, the one day that Chase was closed.  (Related:  did you know that if a holiday falls on a weekend, it is often observed on the nearest weekday?  Because I DIDN’T!)

Move Your Money…But Where?

First, I needed to find a place to park the piles of cash that I was hoisting out of the Chase vaults.  (Okay, maybe that’s a mild overstatement.)  I researched this in the same way that I search for someone who can write my paper when I was a student…with exhaustive Google searching of a variety of different phrases:  “best credit union Portland,” “best local bank Portland,” “move your money Oregon,” “Portland credit union ratings,” etc.  Hundreds of Yelp reviews, bank websites, and blog entries later, I settled on Rivermark Credit Union, based as much on convenience (not many credit unions in our part of town…this one’s ONLY three miles away) as anything; since a majority of credit unions and local banks garner favorable reviews from their customer base, I would have felt good about choosing several different places around town.

In general, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a small, friendly, and responsible financial institution with decent rates and features if you live in an urban or even suburban area.  While there may only be single or a handful of branches available for your face-to-face use, most thriving small banks and credit unions have online banking features that are every bit as useful as the ones I’ve seen offered by Chase, B of A, and USBank (may they collapse fantastically in a self-inflicted fiscal calamity).  The online features of my credit union, for instance, allow me to make automated payments, automated transfers, set up new savings accounts, and communicate directly with customer service representatives via e-mail.  These were the only features I ever used with Chase, in spite of the fact that their cluttered website offered fifteen times as many useless features.

Buy Into Your Community

When you open your first account with a credit union, a small part of your initial deposit goes to purchase your membership.  In my case, a refundable $5 member fee gives me the right to vote for the credit union board of directors (and even to run for such a position, should I so desire), open as many free accounts as I care to open, and have free access to the large team of financial advisors available to members.

After paying my $5 fee, I wrote a check (from my Chase account) for a couple hundred dollars to open a savings and checking account.  From there, I was able to move on to the next step:

Move [the Rest of] Your Money

  1. Having established a few accounts, I was able to give my brand new employer (yes, this happened a very long time ago) some direct deposit information without having to confess that my banking practices did not match up with my anti-corporate ideals.  This way, my checking account had a regular source of income and I was able to start making my day-to-day purchases with my credit union debit card.’
  2. After setting up my online banking account with my credit union, I was able to electronically transfer money from my soon-to-be-disused Chase and ING accounts to my shiny new guilt-free Rivermark accounts.  I didn’t go overboard with this, though…I cleaned out the ING accounts entirely since there were never any scheduled or automated withdrawals taken from them, but I left about a thousand dollars behind with Chase to cover a few weeks or months of automated payments and transfers while…
  3. …I went through months of financial records (remember, I track every single expense or transfer from every single account in my name) to figure out which companies and organizations had been linked to my Chase accounts.  This included online retail establishments, utility providers, PayPal, charities, magazine subscriptions, and on and on and on.  This was undeniably the trickiest part of the switchover, but thanks to my diligent record-keeping, it was relatively painless.
  4. Having changed every possible payment I could think of over to my credit union account, I was at last able to move the rest of my money out of the care of Chase.  (By this point, they had started charging me a monthly $6 service fee on my “Free Checking” account, as punishment for discontinuing direct deposit.  I assume they treat unemployed people this way, too?  Real nice, Chase.  Real nice.)  I decided to keep my Chase credit account open because I understood that closing credit accounts affects your credit score negatively.  And good thing I did, because an unexpected automatic withdrawal (the fee for hosting this very website, in fact) was charged several months after the Great Bank Change took place.  Such are the dangers of switching banks…but even if I hadn’t kept the account open, I can’t imagine anything would have happened other than an angry e-mail about how I needed to update my credit card information OR ELSE.
  5. At long last, I had a day off and biked out to a physical Chase branch (they’re not nearly so ubiquitous or convenient in Portland as they were in Chicago) and had a perfectly pleasant exchange with a woman who seemed to have seen a lot of people closing accounts for reasons similar to mine.  She asked why I was opting to close my account, and I said, “I just have issues with some of the company’s practices,” to which she replied, “So it’s sort of an Occupy Wall Street thing?”  While I went into the bank imagining I’d feel self-conscious about asking a judgmental or offended banker to assist me in ending my relationship with his or her organization, she instead had the air of someone who agreed with me in principle but was happy working for a company that wrote her regular paychecks.  And who could blame her?  Lord knows there are only so many credit union jobs available.

All in all, not a lot has changed in terms of my financial practices as far as my banking provider goes.  I can now confidently say that Chase’s massive size did not offer any advantage over banking with a smaller institution.  I can bank just as easily and conveniently, and with as much security, as I ever have…but now I can honestly feel like I’m using my money as direct leverage to make a statement.  It’s fun!  You should try it!

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8 Months In 800 Words

December 17th, 2011 No comments

Multnomah FallsA brief re-introduction to anyone who may happen to stumble across this blog 8 months after it ceased to update:

I live in Portland now! I’m a vegan now! I’ve re-saved all of the money I spent moving, but I’m confused as to how I should move forward with my financial goals…

Before I go off on that tangent, allow me to expand on each of these topics.

I live in Portland now!

Girlfriend and I moved at the end of June, each having landed jobs after pre-move interviews, and we’re finally starting to settle in.  (I’ve also begun writing in run-on sentences.)  To save money, we’re living with a friend (henceforth named Roommate) who moved out here from Chicago with us.  As a result of our tight-quartered living situation, Portland is cheaper than Chicago…but after our year lease is up, that will probably cease to be the case.

But – and stop me if you already knew this – Portland is beautiful and amazing.  There are trees everywhere, and there are mountains, and there are waterfalls, and there are city parks filled with nothing but undisturbed wildlife larger than the entire town I grew up in.  And people here are as absurdly friendly and kind and welcoming as every hyperbolic joke I’d ever heard about the laid-back vibe of Portland social circles.  Also, being a progressive city, Portland is very welcoming to the second thing I wanted to discuss:

I’m a vegan now!

I actually already was at the time of my previous post (I recently passed my vegan 9-month-iversary), but I probably wasn’t secure enough in my veganism to discuss it at that time.  The long discussion regarding my choice to go vegan involves a series of topics, including environmental concerns, health concerns, animal welfare concerns, globalization and industrialization concerns, and deep, introspective and autobiographical reflection regarding past experiences with conscientious meat-eating and the guilt associated with them.  But obviously, this is not really the place to discuss any of that.  The short explanation of my veganism is that I’ve become a bit of a radical leftist, and becoming vegan allows me to live up to several of these recently rediscovered and newly honed principles.  In addition to veganism, I’ve become an outspoken supporter of the opposition to major financial institutions that’s been cropping up internationally.  (OCCUPY NO-KILL FINANCE!)  And that leads me to my third point…

I’m conflicted as to how I should move forward with my financial goals.

As past readers will probably remember, I have always looked for banks in terms of weighing their interest rates against the level of convenience that they can offer me.  That is no longer the case.

I left ING Direct when they announced they were being purchased by Capital One.  Though ING was probably in and of itself a corporate monstrosity that had no noble goals as far as their uses for my money, I simply couldn’t stomach the thought of my money being even further diluted into an even larger and more inherently sinister pool of gambling funds for Wall Street executives.  So, I took my ING funds (emergency funds, car and vacation savings, etc.) and moved them to a local Portland credit union.  And, why the hell not, I took my checking account away from Chase, too.

But that’s only my cash.  What I’m concerned about is a far stickier subject because my newfound motivations lie in stark contrast to the advice of any and all financial advisors…I want to take my retirement savings out of the stock market entirely.

Now, I realize that Wall Street offers options for a bleeding-heart investor, but I take issue with all of them.  One social fund will cut out stocks of weapons manufacturers so as not to profit from the deaths of destitute Afghanis, but they’ll leave in stocks for food producers that promote diabetes in poor Americans.  Another fund will refuse to support oil manufacturers so as not to profit from pollution, but they’ll leave in agricultural megacorporations that use more fossil fuels than any other industry.  “Green” funds tout Wal-Mart as a heroic corporation for their decisions to use CFL bulbs and solar panels, but neglect the socioeconomic impact that Wal-Mart’s insidious business practices have had on rural America.

And, even if I were to find the perfect fund that matched all of my extremely specific and far-reaching requirements, the act of its being traded in the stock market would still benefit firms on Wall Street that are responsible for the unabashed buying out of the American political system on every level, which is really my pet concern.

But what is a boy to do?  Invest my retirement in a credit union account for 0.4% interest?  Keep it as cash under my mattress?  Give it all to charity and vow to die by 65?  No.  There aren’t really any options for a guy like me.  So for the time being I’ll keep everything where it is (Vanguard FTSE index fund) and keep looking around for different potential homes for my (still-meager) IRA.  Does anyone have any suggestions?  Is anyone even reading this?

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Apartment Hunting For Nerds

April 5th, 2011 No comments

The very first budget I ever kept was at the age of 17, and it was developed not as a method to save money, but rather as an excuse to learn Excel. (It should be noted that I didn’t need to learn Excel for school; I just thought it looked like fun.)  Ever since, I’ve enjoyed the many practical – and occasionally extremely impractical – applications I’ve found for spreadsheets in my daily life.

Today, I’ve begun attempting to educate myself about the housing rental market in Portland.  With the move coming fast (less than three months?!), I figure it can never be too early to start looking around at what’s available, at least in general terms.  That is, I don’t assume any decent apartments currently on craigslist will still be available when we go looking in mid-June.

So, out of a sense of restlessness and stressed out impatience, I’ve decided to start looking for trends in rental rates (NERD!).  That is, I’ve set up a spreadsheet (NERD!) of apartments currently available in neighborhoods that [I’ve been told should] appeal to me, and I’m looking for average prices.  Since rent will be a big factor in where we decide to live, I want to collect a few weeks’ data (NERD!) to determine a general idea of which neighborhoods are expensive-but-awesome and which are cheap-but-horrible, and to find a nice balance between the two.

In all my raving about how much I love our current apartment, I neglected to mention that we live in an incredibly pleasant and culture-rich neighborhood.  It’s quiet and a bit family-oriented, which I don’t particularly mind since I’m not a big bar-hopping kind of guy anyway (umm…nerd?), and it doesn’t have much of a city feel…more like a bustling small town.  But we’re also nestled among an entire massive city with all the bar-hopping and noise-making opportunities we could ever hope for in nearby areas.

What I want is: a) to find a couple comparable neighborhoods in Portland; b) to know how much an average 2-bedroom apartment in such neighborhoods might cost; and c) to find a slightly-below-average-priced apartment in one of these neighborhoods, set up an appointment to see it when we visit in June, and keep my fingers crossed that the next year of my life will be as pleasant as the last one has been.

Now, I know I don’t have too many readers here, but if any of the couple dozen of you happen to know anything about Portland, Oregon, I’d love some input regarding my neighborhood search.  If, however, any of you care to offer advice on apartment searching tactics in general, I’d kindly request that you just keep it to yourself, because I’m already sunk too deep into the nerdiness of my hunt to acknowledge any simpler or more logical methods.

Categories: Home Life Tags:

ING Sub-Accounts

April 4th, 2011 No comments

Have I ever told you about my savings accounts?

(God, isn’t that just the worst way to start a blog entry?  How many people do you think immediately clicked away after the first sentence?)

There are a lot of people who are extremely diligent about trying to find the best possible interest rate for their savings.  Websites like MoneyRates and BankRate will execute searches to find the highest offered savings interest on any given day (well, except maybe Sundays, since God allegedly doesn’t approve of interest payments).  The best rates are, without exception as far as I can tell, always from online banking institutions rather than brick-and-mortar banks, because without having to pay maintenance fees on, you know, bricks and mortar, online banks are able to pass their reduced overhead on to their customers.  So, that’s one route for housing some savings.

Another (less wise) method would be finding a convenient bank with which to keep your savings.  This, in my case, is the basis for my decision to keep my checking account with the much-detested Chase, which has a branch only three blocks from my house, not to mention the fact that they have, I believe, over 14 trillion ATMs in the city of Chicago alone.  But, even with my checking account conveniently housed in the vast vaults of J.P. Morgan’s ghost (who is still the acting CEO in spite of his somewhat ethereal behavior), I’m not dumb enough to overlook the fact that Chase only pays 0.01% annual interest on a savings account.

I found a happy medium, opting not for the best interest, nor for the most convenient bank I could find.  Instead, I went for the one with the coolest online features.  (This is typical of me; I like innovation, creativity, bells, and sometimes whistles.)  The winner:  ING Direct, home of the ingenious sub-account.

Now, to summarize:  I only have one savings account with ING, but it’s partitioned into six different, separately titled sub-accounts, each of which can be directed using their “automated savings program” to conduct transactions among themselves or with non-ING accounts.  So, when my paycheck arrives in my checking account every other week, I’m technically just transferring a chunk of it to my ING account…but what I’m really doing is transferring a mini-chunk to my emergency savings, a mini-chunk to my vacation savings, a mini-chunk to my “big ticket” fund (which will be spent in its entirety on our upcoming move…so long, big screen TV dreams), and so on.

ING also has a vast array of features intended to create a sort of culture (cult?) of savers…a blog about saving, a section for personal testimonials, tips for frugality.  It’s sort of a cool little corner of the banking world.  What’s more, ING as a company discourages people from keeping too much money with them.  That is, if someone is housing hundreds of thousands of dollars with them, they are apparently polite enough to suggest that that person pursue one of the plethora of possible ways to make more than [today’s current rate of] 1.00% interest for everything besides their rainy-day funds and other smaller accounts.

Now, I have no beef with people who want to seek out higher interest rates.  But, with rates changing every day and banks constantly competing with one another, it seems more important to me to find a trustworthy, comfortable, and well-designed place for your money.  ING’s sub-accounts are all I need to make me a loyal and long-term customer.  And also sort of a fanboy.  And also, apparently a shill.  Oh well.

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Happy New Month! (April 2011)

April 1st, 2011 No comments

It’s been some time since I successfully repeated my one monthly feature…and since I’ve been wanting to start other monthly features, it’s probably pretty important that I get my 1st-of-the-month-goal-check out of the way.

Now, due to the fact that I haven’t HappyNewMonthed (that’s a verb, right?) in quite some time, I never explicitly stated any goals for the month of March, but I did indeed have a few floating around in my head:

March

  1. Not fully understanding how the ranking system worked or what to expect from it, I set myself a goal for No-Kill Finance to rank above (or would it be below?) #10,000,000 on Alexa by March 31st.  Clearly, I was in the dark in setting this goal, because in spite of some generally unimpressive visitor numbers, I’m currently at #1,965,559.  Apparently that’s nothing to be proud of…but good for me, anyway!
  2. In terms of those visitor numbers, I didn’t have very high hopes and didn’t know where to set my sights, so for the first month, rather than setting a numerical goal for pageviews, I just aimed to post 4 entries per week…not a difficult goal for a guy who only works one job and has a fair amount of typically-wasted free time.  I succeeded at this goal, but only technically…I posted 17 entries in March, but only one in this most recent week.  Shame on me!
  3. I wanted to try to keep my grocery spending below $200 (spent $220.70…FAIL!).  My problem with these goals is that I don’t operate on an envelope budget, or really anything similar.  I just tally them up at the end of the month to see how I did.  Not effective, in terms of budgetary planning.  I should work on that.
  4. Other budgetary goals:  under $30 on alcohol (I spent a whopping $48), under $40 on “entertainment” (a wide-reaching category of my budget that includes newspapers, magazines, books, concerts, board games, and various costs associated with hosting parties/gatherings…I spent over $100…epic fail), under $30 on dining out (I spent $71), and under $20 on transportation (I spent $16…hey,a success!!!).
  5. I hoped to pay off 100% of my credit card, which as of March 8 stood at $281.37.  Well, that was a stupid goal to set for myself, since I had an LSAT prep class that I knew I was going to charge.  So, now that my credit card bill has almost passed the $1000 mark, I’d doubt I’d be able to pay it off before summer if not for the previously discussed estate money coming my way.
  6. I wanted to get rid of some of the crap that litters my apartment.  The specific goal I set for myself on March 9th was that I wanted to get rid of an average of 1 item a day.  Well, from that day, I purchased three new items but “got rid of” (or set aside, at least…with the intent of selling) a whopping 84 old ones, averaging out at over four per day!

So, a somewhat disappointing showing in numbers for the month.  Perhaps a mid-month check-up (a “Happy Ides” post?) would help me keep these goals in sight?

Now, to set up some content for discussion in next month’s (fingers crossed) monthly feature:

April

  1. Given that No-Kill Finance had 373 visits in the month of March (a small number, but not bad compared to a whopping 36 in February), I’m going to try to reach 500 in April.  So long as I can keep spending time on maintaining at least decent writing quality (I won’t claim to have mastered the art of blogging just yet) while I’m taking my two-month LSAT prep class, this shouldn’t be too lofty a goal.
  2. Oh yeah, I’m taking an LSAT prep class starting next week.  While I previously thought they were a horrid waste of money, I now see the value in overcoming test anxiety and maybe boosting my critical thinking skills a touch, as well.  As a very rudimentary goal, I’m going to not miss any of those very pricey classes.  (The only partial exception to this will be the final hour or so of April 21st’s class, which is most unfortunately the same night as a concert by one of my favorite bands of all time, to which I purchased a ticket a couple of months ago.)  As a more long-term goal (the test is in June), I’m aiming to increase my score by 8 points from last fall’s rather disappointing result.  Note that 8 is my minimum expectation for myself…I wouldn’t mind increasing it by 15 or 20, either.
  3. I want to find a reliable method of stress relief by the end of April, leaving myself all of May to learn to relax in the face of June’s LSAT, July’s move, and all of August’s associated stresses of relocation.  If anyone has any suggestions for calming myself down (last time I meditated and failed miserably at not freaking myself out on the morning of the test), I’d love to hear them.
  4. I need to plan a pre-move trip to the coast to look for work and housing.  I’m extremely concerned about the former, and mostly confident about the latter given the wide variety of badass awesome neighborhoods that Portland has to offer.  Both a job and an apartment in one trip, though, justifies at least a 4-day stay, which will probably require some bargain shopping.  (I have almost $550 saved for vacations – a funny word to use for such a stressful trip – and will have $650 by the end of April…hopefully that will be enough.)
  5. While I should up my writing goal to “1 entry per weekday,” I’m concerned I might not be able to sustain that rate with 8 hours of class each week, so I’ll stick to aiming for 4 per week.
  6. #1,500,000 or better on Alexa?  Note the question mark, as I’m still not totally sure what to expect from sustained effort.  Hopefully, by the end of April, I’ll have hugely underestimated this goal again.  (Last month I went from #11,633,004 to #1,965,559…if I see another drop like that, I should be outranking Google and Facebook by the end of April, right?  Oh, that’s not how it works?)
  7. I want to accomplish a hefty number of moving-related goals, perhaps too large a number to list here.  Highlights, though:  schedule a yard sale, continue to get rid of at least 1 item a day, and find a motel around Salt Lake City that will let us stay there with three cats.

Tune in May 1st to see how I fare.  Or don’t.  I don’t much care…this entry is much more directed at myself than at you.  In fact, why have you even bothered to read this far?  You’re weird.

Categories: Accountability, Goals, School Tags:

Lease Renewal Blues

March 30th, 2011 No comments

This week, we received under our front door a lease renewal offer from our landlord.  While Girlfriend and I haven’t discussed it at any length, I think we’re both equally depressed about the fact that we’re not able to just simply sign the agreement and slip it back under his door.

We’re moving to Oregon in July, after all, and the agreement on the renewal is for the next year:  far longer than we plan to stay.  We’re going to have to call him and break the bad news, as much as we’ve enjoyed being his tenants.  Plus – as though our shared temptation to stay in Chicago weren’t already palpable with the prospect of leaving behind good friends, steady jobs, and a city that’s been home to each of us for most of our adult lives –  the landlord is willing to keep us as tenants with no increase in rent.  (I know, given the real estate crisis and the lapsed economy, it would be unreasonable for our rent to go up, but I’ve still never lived in an apartment that didn’t get significantly more expensive with each new lease.  It’s making the stress of moving much more difficult to cope with.)

This place has been better to me than any I’ve had before.  While Girlfriend’s decorating is probably largely to credit for this fact, I’ve never felt as at home in an apartment as I do here.  The size, the layout, the copious natural light in the spring and fall, shaded in the summer by the beautiful trees outside our living room…it’s so ideal for our needs at such a reasonable [north-side Chicago] price that I’m afraid our standards might be unrealistically high when we go apartment hunting in Portland.

The concept of “home” is an interesting one.  A common topic of conversation among me and my fellow transplant friends is whether or not Chicago has become “home” to us.  I don’t know if I truly felt at home in this city until I’d lived alone for a couple of years in the same building…even then, though, I’m not sure the apartment itself felt like much more than a place to store my stuff and lay my head.

“Home” is something more than that, though I can’t pinpoint what, exactly.  In practice, it’s the difference between the sort of sleep I get in the bed Girlfriend and I currently share and the sort of sleep I’ve gotten in the several other beds I’ve had over my last nine years as a Chicagoan; it’s the difference between the way I used to be oblivious to the mess in previous apartments and how I now apologize to guests for even tiny amounts of clutter in this one; it’s the way I used to pile newly acquired junk wherever I had empty floor space, and now try to plan where something will fit best in the overall “look and feel” of the apartment before I even buy it.

I used to get stir-crazy (and I mean stir-crazy) when I stayed cooped up in my apartment all day.  I’d get paranoid and angry, and I’d be awkward around the first people I saw after my isolation, like I’d been out in the wild for months and turned feral.  Now, staying home for a day has more of a restorative effect.  It’s just recently become something I look forward to.  Maybe this has something to do with my newfound motivation to better myself (rather than to spend a day off playing video games and eating Doritos), or maybe it’s just part of continuing to grow up, but I can’t help but think that the apartment has had something to do with it.

So, I guess this entry has nothing to do with finances apart from the fact that paying the same rent for another year is almost sufficient motivation to make me want to put off our move…though not quite enough.  But getting the lease renewal has certainly triggered some preemptive mourning for the loss of an apartment that has so far been the backdrop to 15 of the best months of my life.  While I hope to remember it fondly after we go, I hope even more that we’re able to find something comparably great when we get there.  Maybe (final sappy thought) Girlfriend and I can be this happy wherever we end up because the reason this home feels so “home”y is the fact that Girlfriend and I are here together?

Ugh.  Sorry.  I’ll stop writing until I have this sentimentality under control.  (Expect, as compensation, dry phrases like “brokerage firm” and “reinvestment of dividends” to appear in tomorrow’s entry.  Oh, and numbers.  Lots of numbers.)

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Coping With Loss…of Worthless Stuff

March 29th, 2011 No comments

Remember my quest to get rid of 1 item per day?  Well, I’m massively ahead of schedule for that.  In fact, I have so much stuff to get rid of that I don’t really even know where to begin.  The problem, though, is that I therefore keep not beginning.

Did I pick out 50 or so books to get rid of?  Why yes, I did.  Do I have twenty movies to sell?  I sure do!  And what about that fabled music collection?  Cut in half and ready to go!  But these piles of things, all stacked and just waiting to make me some money, don’t seem to be moving themselves.  And perhaps, just perhaps, that’s my fault.

I have a massive pile of CDs that I’m planning on getting rid of.  (Right after I burn them all to my hard drive.)  I have a tower of DVDs that I don’t care to move cross-country.  (But shouldn’t I at least watch each of them one last time before they go?)  And there are certainly a plethora books that I’d love to get rid of to top off that pile of 50-or-so.  (But maybe I should give them a quick read first…after all, I spent money on each of them.)

What I’m facing is a serious case of separation anxiety.  I’m grounded enough to know that, once these things are gone, I’ll quickly forget I ever even had them.  But getting to that point seems to be increasingly impossible for me.

Take the CDs:  It’s getting to the point where, if I don’t average 10 rippings a day, I might not even be able to put them all on my computer before we’re packing boxes.  And in addition to that, do I really want to eat up the entirety of my hard drive with music just so I can avoid packing an extra 15-pound box to move?  And all the time and energy of converting them to digital form just so I can hope to make, what, 20 cents per CD? at a record store…it seems less and less worth it with every disc I put into the computer.

Maybe what I need is a cut-and-run approach.  Treat my material possessions with the respect they deserve:  get drunk, pack up everything that drunk-Justin thinks is worth getting rid of (drunk-Justin is a fan of simplifying sober-Justin’s life as much as possible), and have someone take it away for me before I have a chance to wake up the next morning and reopen the boxes to second-guess myself.  My books, movies, and CDs, after all, have not treated me with any more respect than that…luring me in with their promise of entertainment, education, and cultural exposure, only to cost me thousands of dollars and square foot upon square foot of shelf space.  They should be ashamed of themselves.

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The House In Olympia

March 25th, 2011 No comments

This week I received some bittersweet news:  the settlement on my recently-passed grandfather’s house came through, and I’ll be receiving a portion of it to help me pay for a test review class I’m taking next month.

My grandfather, as I’ve mentioned before, was a huge influence on me where thrift and responsibility are concerned.  It was largely in his memory that I became determined to change my outlook on financial matters; he was always trying to instill in me a respect for the value and importance of money, and even tried to convince me from an early age (too early to sink in?) that his seemingly boring “hobby” of stock trading was an excellent source of entertainment.  (While I don’t necessarily agree with that last part, I appreciate his effort.)  Even in passing, he has made me understand the value of knowing that your family will be provided for after you’re gone.

So, I say the news is bittersweet for the obvious reason that he’s no longer with us.  (He, an atheist, would probably gruffly disagree with anyone’s notion that “He’ll always be with me,” and I, also an atheist, would happily nod along.)  But really, I’ve been dealing with the pain of missing him for over a year now, and news of this check coming my way doesn’t make that loss any more or less poignant than it’s ever been.  What’s been made fresh in my mind is something I’d sort of let go of:  this money is coming from the sale of my grandparents’ house, which has been perhaps my single favorite place to spend time in my entire life…so much so that I strongly considered trying to arrange a deal with my parents to keep the house in the family rather than selling it, so I could buy it when I got my finances in order.

That (being an unrealistic goal for someone in my financial position) obviously didn’t happen.  And now, not only will I never again sit in that family room on that worn recliner:  I won’t even have any reason to go back to the city of Olympia, and will therefore potentially never even see the exterior of the house again.  Instead, I get to bulk up my emergency fund and take an LSAT class…I couldn’t think of a less sentimental way to commemorate all of the time I’ve enjoyed there.

The house, it should be noted, was hideous.  The flooring and wallpaper in the kitchen looked like the worst of each to come out of the early ’70s.  The counters were a shade of yellow that could best be compared to the bilious vomit that I sometimes see coming out of ailing cats at work.  The living room, poorly lit and oddly set eight inches below the rest of the house, shook (literally, the whole room shook) if you jumped on or ran across the floor.  The shag carpet in the bathroom, while wonderful on bare feet, was perhaps a bit too plush for a room so closely associated with shameful body functions (i.e. wear your socks if you have a graphic imagination).

But I wanted it, shag carpet and all.  Or, at least, I didn’t want it to go to someone who didn’t appreciate it:  someone who didn’t spend Christmases in that unsturdy living room; someone who didn’t sit by that fireplace during an ice storm; someone whose earliest memories aren’t of sleeping between his grandparents as a kid in the master bedroom.  That family room is the last place I saw my grandmother before she died.  The driveway is the last place I saw my grandfather.  It’s weird to think I’ll never go back there.

I told my mom I was going to imagine that my share of the house represented the corner of the family room with the fireplace.  When we were kids, we used to write letters to Santa on Christmas Eve, and I would always want to put mine in the fire because I felt like that would get the message to him more quickly.  Even after I stopped believing in Santa, I kept wanting to do this each time we were at my grandparents’ for Christmas, because I liked the idea of the contents of paper being sent into the air, drifting around through the evergreen trees that surrounded the house.

Atheist or no, maybe the reason I’ll miss the fireplace so much in particular is because I like the idea of sending up proof that, whether he was around to see it or not, I’ve finally heeded some of what my grandfather tried to teach me.  Maybe he always knew I would, and I just needed to prove it to myself.

Categories: Lessons Tags:

Sandwich Fatigue

March 19th, 2011 No comments

In my quest to find a cheap but nourishing lunch option to take to work, I’ve gone through several phases – the salad phase, the frozen burrito period, the age of re-heated soups – but I’ve always eventually come back around to sandwiches.

Now, before I get into the meat (ha?) of the entry, let me boast:  my sandwiches are epic.  Where once I was content to eat a slice of cheese and a slice of meat with some mayo’d (and possibly mustarded) bread, I now scoff at any sandwich with fewer than six ingredients.  On a normal day, my sandwich consists of bread, mayonnaise, mustard, spinach, red pepper, onion, mushrooms, two slices of cheese, and turkey.  At work, we have a George Foreman grill, which I use as my own personal panini press.

It’s a tall, messy, and involved sandwich…but therein lies the problem:  in coming to believe that more = better in terms of sandwich ingredients, I have set myself up so that I must always have every ingredient, and thus I have grown tired of eating the same delicious sandwich every day.  Sometimes, yes, I’ll switch it up –  I’ll use goat cheese instead of condiments, or I’ll spend half an hour before work painstakingly caramelizing the onions – but then we’re getting into a territory of diminishing returns where cost and effort stack up against improvement in flavor.

What I need in order to keep myself from going the Thai carry-out route (which, as I’ve mentioned before, is a daily temptation greater than any vice I’ve ever known) is a drastic re-imagining of the packed lunch.  I need to work risotto-crafting and vegetable stir-frying into my nightly routine, so I might have leftovers copious enough to last days.  (This is another problem…split between two people, our dinner leftovers never stretch past two snack-sized portions for lunch the next day–snack-sized portions which I usually end up supplementing with a sandwich.)

The universe of frugal people is filled with meal-planners and sacked-lunch experts…what do these people typically do for their sandwich fatigue?  Mine is becoming unbearable.  (I’m writing from my lunch break at work, where my sandwich has been devoured and I’m still left yearning for some Pad Kee Mao.  Somebody, please, send help.)

Categories: Home Life, Work Tags:

Letting Go of the PS2: A Slow Process[or]

March 17th, 2011 No comments

In my ongoing Spring-hypercleaning project (which will hopefully be so epic in proportion that it will come to be known as The Great Purge of ’11), one of the things I most feared addressing has turned out to be one of the first:  this morning, I culled through my video game collection.

Now, Girlfriend and I have lived in this apartment for almost a year and a half, and in that time I’ve played exactly four of my 30+ video games, all on my Nintendo Wii (which is only one of the three consoles I own).  But why does that mean I don’t needto hang on to my Playstation 2 and its 15 accompanying games?!  WHO ARE YOU TO DEMAND THAT I LEAVE MY CHILDHOOD BEHIND ME?!

Even more illogical than my insistence upon clinging to the last vestige of my deadbeat-teenage years (that would be the best summary of what the Playstation means to me) is the fact that I kept my Nintendo Gamecube…was I not aware that the Wii was compatible with Gamecube games and controllers?  Oh, no, I was aware.  I just liked the way the Gamecube looked, and had some nice memories that involved playing it.  Yes, that’s right:  in two separate, perfectly lucid and sane moments during my last two moves, I have looked at my Gamecube and thought to myself, “Well, yes, it’s obsolete and bulky…but it’s just so cute, and it’s been so good to me.”

And even now, laughing about my own terrible logic regarding the Gamecube, I can’t bring myself to get rid of the Playstation.  I’m getting rid of 12 of the 15 games, yes, but three of them are just so great that I NEED to keep them, and the system, and the two controllers.  I’m hoping that, after another four months of not playing those, either, I’ll be able to admit that Shadow of the ColossusFinal Fantasy XII, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas are not so great that they justify the extra five pounds of moving weight of an early-model Playstation 2 (which, by the way, may not even work any more:  I haven’t turned it on for the last two years, and if I’m not mistaken it was purchased over a decade ago…I like to stay current with my technology).

So, if you’re reading this in the next few months:  anyone want to come over and play some retro Playstation games?  And, if you’re reading in July:  anyone want to give me five bucks for a vintage piece of computing technology?

Categories: Goals, Home Life Tags: