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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.

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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:

The Purge Begins

March 15th, 2011 No comments

My mother tells me I come by my hoarding and materialistic tendencies honestly; growing up, my house was filled (not to any unhealthy extent, but “filled” is not an exaggeration) with collectibles, books, records, and knick-knacks.

My desire to own things, though, is based on a very easily identifiable (and very illogical) desire:  I want to possess a library of media.  Traditionally, whenever I’ve been at a used book shop or thrift store and seen a book for which I’ve heard favorable reviews, or a movie or CD that a friend has mentioned I might like, I’ve bought it.  I may take it home, file it on my shelf (always in alphabetical order!), and never look at it again…but the fact that it’s there – for my theoretical future reference, for my theoretical eventual enjoyment, for the theoretical convenience of not having to seek it out if at some point I decide I want to read/see/hear it – gives me a weird sense of comfort.

Of course, this tends to backfire when, on my next shopping trip, I see the same book or movie or CD and, due to the massive size of the “library” I’ve so successfully built in my living room, I forget that I’ve already bought a copy.  This has happened countless times:  I’ve spent six bucks on a CD because I was lucky enough to find it in the used rack, then taken it home to find out I’d been just that lucky a month or two before.

My grandfather – in whose memory most of my interest in frugality and finance was piqued – used to make fun of me for how much money I “wasted” on music.  I hated when he said that, because I loved listening to music so much that I felt like he was directly attacking my character.  But, in retrospect, maybe even “waste” wasn’t a strong enough word…I’m happy he didn’t know just how much money I did ultimately waste on it.  And on movies and on books and on any number of random passing interests, each of which is always accompanied by at least a few not-too-thrifty purchases (the most notable of which was the $800 camcorder I bought when I wanted to start making films as a 17-year-old…and guess how many films I made).

So, all that having been said, I was pretty excited to start my modified “365 Less [sic] Things” challenge.  But, even taking that excitement into account, I surprised myself by how incredibly easy it was going to be to purge a chunk of the library.  As my first project, I focused exclusively on books, and a quick pass through my shelves yielded a fairly impressive 47 titles that I’m willing – no, happy – to sell to a used book store (or to a reader, should you happen to catch me before I make the trip to 1/2 Price).

What’s more, I stopped at those 47 based on some lingering hesitations that I’m sure I can shake by the time we’re packing up to move.  For the time being, though, here were my parameters that I couldn’t quite overcome:

  • I didn’t get rid of any unread books that were given to me as gifts, because I can’t bring myself to even secretly be that disrespectful.  (exceptions:  gag gifts, and exceedingly uninteresting books from people who had no idea what to get me).
  • I didn’t get rid of any books that had especially huge levels of sentimental value to me (exceptions:  books used as study material in college…is it weird that I’m so attached to a bunch of random short fiction anthologies?).
  • I didn’t get rid of any books I’ve read and loved so ferociously that I insist on proudly displaying them to visitors (exceptions:  books of which Girlfriend and I had multiple copies between the two of us).
  • I didn’t get rid of any as yet unread books by authors I love, as they seem the most likely of the hundred upon hundreds of those on the shelves to be read in the near-ish future (exception:  one Steinbeck – too bulky, would prefer a paperback copy – and several by a college professor of mine–but those fall under the “multiple copies” rule)

The one book in the “sell pile” that speaks most to my excitement for purging is James Joyce’s Ulysses.  You see, I don’t own a pair of skinny jeans that I hope to some day fit back into; instead I own Ulysses:  I’ve never made even a passing attempt at reading more than the first few pages, but I’ve always hoped that some day I’d just sit down and plow through it…somehow, I imagined this as being some sort of life-changing experience, like I’d immediately be inducted into the secret club to which all those who are smarter than me belong.  But, there are a few problems with that:  1) I didn’t really understand what was going on in the few pages I did read that one time several years ago (i.e., I’m not too smart…or at the very least not a very attentive reader); 2) while I would never argue that “reading doesn’t make you smarter,” I’d strongly doubt that reading any single book would make you more than infinitesimally smarter than you were before you opened said book; and 3) I’ve known a couple of people who have read Ulysses just for the sake of saying they’d read Ulysses, and they’re typically not the sort of people I like very much, nor the sort of people I strive to impress.

All the same, it feels good to get rid of it, like I’m finally being honest with myself.  (Of course, I did keep my massive, hardback copy of Underworld by DeLillo, which, if I’m going to be totally honest, is sort of staying on the shelf for essentially the same reason.  But at least it’s about baseball – something that marginally interests me – and not about…wait, what’s Ulysses about?  I don’t think I even know.)

Anyway, it feels good to have lightened the burden of my bookshelves (and of my knees and back, come moving day).  I look forward to finding the courage to trash some more of the extraneous crap floating around my massive library…watch out, DVDs, you’re next!  (Should be noted in advance:  there are several DVDs that I’ve owned for more than a couple years that still have their manufacturers’ shrink-wrap intact.  Ugh.  Absurd.)

Categories: Goals, Home Life Tags: