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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:

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:

The Bright Side of Goal-Setting

March 11th, 2011 No comments

Elle at Couple Money recently referred me (indirectly…thanks, Twitter) to an article entitled The Dark Side of Goal-Setting at PsyBlog.  While the first few paragraphs of the story made me think it was flying in the face of everything I’d come to believe about the importance of goals, it actually rounded out to make some fine points that I hadn’t necessarily considered.

Goals, the article argues, have become too much of a centerpiece in our culture.  (“How dare you say such a thing to a personal finance blogger!” thought I.)  The prevalence of goals is dangerous not because goals themselves are inherently a bad idea or an ineffective tool, but because people are told simply that they need goals, not how to set them.

I know I’ve always been told not to set general goals, but this article points out that setting goals that are too specific may cause you to lose sight of whatever broad goal those smaller ones are meant to work toward.  I suppose I’ve done that before.  (Exhibit A:  didn’t I go to school for fiction writing?)  Also, being a person who has tried to set goals for every aspect of his life, I was dismayed to read the very valid point that too many goals may cause you to prioritize based on ease of accomplishment rather than actual importance.  I know I’m guilty of this.  (Exhibit B:  not updating my blog for a period of six months last year.)

So, the article argues against institutionalized, general goal-setting and encourages informed, personal, flexible goal-setting…so long as wrestling with said goals doesn’t dominate your life.  I don’t know how willing I am to back off of my goals so soon after I’ve gotten back into the habit of living by them again (Exhibits C and D:  decreasing credit card debt and increasing pile of stuff to get rid of).  That’s the “Bright Side of Goal-Setting”…when I’ve fallen out of a goal-pursuing mode, I think in general I’ve suffered for it.  But the article certainly gives me something to think about.

What do you think?  Have you ever set goals only to fail to meet them for some reason or another?  Or are you more like me, where even if your goals aren’t necessarily properly or even decently organized, you don’t function as well without them?

Categories: Goals Tags: