Archive for March, 2011

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:

Game Night!: Settlers of Catan

March 16th, 2011 No comments

Perhaps you recall my threat promise that I was going to occasionally post a review/discussion of a particularly interesting board game.  Since I am of the opinion that board games are a great source of frugal fun, I don’t feel that such a thing is out of place on a personal finance blog.  If you disagree and think I should take such entries elsewhere…well, then, perhaps we can settle our dispute with the roll of some dice.

Settlers and Me

I actually first heard the phrase “Settlers of Catan” uttered by none other than the world(?)-famous J.D. Roth of (when I heard him discussing board games, he was co-hosting a podcast called Personal Finance Hour…where did you go, PFH?!).  At that time, Girlfriend and I had been playing a weekly Risk game with a neighbor, and I was getting frustrated by the simple mechanics of the game, not to mention the nagging feeling that probability and statistics never seem to work in my favor where dice-rolling is concerned.  (Oh, by the way, let’s call of that rolling of dice that I mentioned in the intro…)

Having heard J.D. (or is it “Mr. Roth” if I’ve never actually met him?) talk up Settlers, I excitedly downloaded the iPod app when I first noticed it last summer…and thus, my love affair with European board games (god, I’m just such a dork I can’t even stand it sometimes) was born.

Basic Mechanics

Settlers is often suggested as an introduction to the “light strategy” genre of gaming because its mechanics are similar to many more mainstream games, but better designed than, say, Monopoly.  Monopoly, you’ll recall from the last time you underwent the daunting chore of playing it, is designed around (to put it in general terms) acquisition of assets, trading of assets, improving upon assets, and a few elements of luck like card-drawing and dice-rolling.  The problem with Monopoly is that the fate of the game is based almost entirely on the results of dice-rolling.  You don’t get to choose what properties you own; that’s decided for you based on turn order and luck of the roll.  Settlers of Catan plays with these same mechanics, but the results of dice rolling play a more minor role (pun?), in conjunction with your strategic placement of game pieces.


Here’s how it works, as briefly and basically as possible:

The board is made up of 19 hexagonal pieces, each of which represents one of five resources (with the exception of the desert, which I won’t get into yet).  The resources -lumber, ore, brick, wool, and grain – act as currency in the game, and can be exchanged for settlements, cities, roads, and playing cards.  Each of the 19 hexagons has some number, between 2 and 12, in the middle of it (again, except for the desert).  These numbers represent all the possible outcomes of the roll of two dice.  (Note that 6, 7, and 8 are the most likely outcomes, and that 2 and 12 are the least likely.  These probabilities will serve as the basis of your strategy).

At the beginning of the game, each player places a settlement and adjacent at the intersection of two or three hexagons, then a second settlement-road pair.  Ideally, one would place a settlement at the three-way intersection between three hexagons with numbers that are likely to be rolled, because during the game, whenever a hexagon’s number is rolled, everyone who owns an adjacent settlement receives the corresponding resource.  In the picture to the left, the blue settlement is placed at the intersection of a “6 grassland,” an “11 farmland,” and a “3 mine.”  (Not ideal, since 3 and 11 are both unlikely to be rolled.)

Once initial player locations are chosen, the game begins.  A player’s turn consists of three or four parts:  he rolls the dice (and resources are passed out to all players who have settlements adjacent to hexagons bearing the number rolled), he trades resources in his hand with other players for resources in their hands (he can also trade with “the bank,” but at a steep disadvantage of 4-resources-to-1), he buys expansions (roads, settlements, cities, or development cards) using his resources as currency, and he can play a development card if he has one and so chooses.  Should he roll a 7 (the most likely result of a roll), he activates the “robber,” which is a game piece that covers a hexagon of the player’s choosing (thus disabling adjacent players from collecting resources from it) and steals one resource from another player.

Several items and achievements collected throughout the game have corresponding “victory point” values, and the first person to have received ten victory points is the winner.  Each settlement (purchased with 1 wool, 1 brick, 1 lumber, and 1 grain) is worth 1 victory point, each city (2 grain and 3 ore) is worth 2.  There are several development cards (purchased with 1 wool, 1 ore, and 1 grain) that are worth 1 victory point each, though most development cards are not worth any.  Also, the person with the longest road and the person who has played the most knight cards (a specific kind of development card) get 2 victory points each.  The wide variety of sources for victory points make for a wide variety of possible strategies that can be used to win.

Did You Get All That?

This, wordy though it may be, is a somewhat simplified breakdown of the rules and mechanics of the game.  But I assure you, even if it sounds daunting, Settlers is widely regarded as one of the best board games ever made (ahem…Monopoly is not), and is very easy to pick up, particularly if you’re being taught by someone who already knows the rules.

In the time I’ve been looking forward to debuting a game review feature for my blog, I’ve also been thinking about a ratings system.  After more deliberation than is necessary for such a nerdy pursuit, I’ve decided I’m going to do a six-category summary:

Number of Players: 3-4 (though there’s a 5-6 player expansion pack available for about $20)
Appropriate For Ages: 8+ (manufacturer suggests 10+, but I think a patient 8-year-old could grasp it)
Length of a Game: ~1 hour (though this can vary wildly depending on tile placement and resource distribution…add enough alcohol to the equation and 150 minutes is not outside the realm of possibility!)
Replay Factor: 10/10!  I’ll never turn down a game, and occasionally pester people to play more than 1.
Difficulty:  5/10 if you’re trying to decipher instructions yourself, 4/10 if someone is teaching you.
Overall:  9/10…though it should be noted that I’ve not yet encountered a 10/10 game…Settlersis probably going to be my favorite until I find another that so perfect a balance between ease of gameplay and potential for indepth strategy.

Settlers of Catan sells for a list price of $49.99.  While it’s available for less at Amazon, I would encourage you, if interested, to buy it from a locally-owned game store.

Categories: Social 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:

Letter of Complaint to Chase

March 14th, 2011 No comments

Being a man of strong principles, it surprises me that I’ve not yet composed a letter of complaint to the people of JP Morgan Chase.  Not only have I been repulsed by their seemingly indifferent attitude toward me as a customer, their greedy manipulation of people who don’t have the financial understanding to realize they’re being taken advantage of, and their general disregard for every person in the nation and world who is not an executive at JP Morgan Chase…but I’ve also been annoyed with myself for not speaking and acting out on these principles or any others that I happen to carry with me (e.g. animal rights, civil rights, labor rights).

So, of all the issues to get me writing, the scales have finally been tipped by Chase’s junk-mail practices.  What follows is a rough draft of my thoughts.  Feel free to offer any edits you’d like.

To Whom It May Concern,

I’m writing in broad response to your semi-monthly mailings of information about business card printing, your monthly mailings of credit balance transfer checks, your bimonthly mailings of offers for business and premium credit cards, and all other similar items I’ve found in each of my mailboxes in the six years since I became your customer.

First, understand that I don’t need any business cards printed, much as I didn’t when you first started offering that service several years ago (hence my failure to respond to your first advertisement, second advertisement, third…); also, note that I have not utilized any of the over 100 balance transfer checks you have mailed me–not three years ago when my credit card was maxed out, and not now when I carry virtually no balance; also, note that I do not own a business, and therefore could not open a business credit account even if I wanted to; also, note that, while your premium credit cards are quite impressive in appearance and reputation, I recently tried to extend my line of credit with you and was rejected on account of my low annual income, so it seems difficult to believe that I’m even eligible for such a card.

Now, you deserve to know something before I explicitly state my complaint and request:  I don’t like being your customer.  I’ve been on the verge of leaving Chase in favor of a locally-run credit union for a long time now on account of not only your business practices but also on account of the structure of the corporate banking system as a whole.  While I find your plethora of ATM locations convenient, I find the number of Chase branches in my city to be an excessive waste of real-estate and energy at the least; while I enjoy taking advantage of your online banking system, I think every time I use it about how I might instead be interacting with a friendly teller at a local establishment (and contributing somewhat directly to their paychecks rather than to your bosses’ already bloated bankrolls).  So, with any small motivation at any time, I might decide to take my money somewhere a bit friendlier to my community.

My complaint and request are one and the same:  please stop sending me paper mail.  I love the planet and I hate debt; I’m not going to use any of your unsolicited credit card applications or balance transfer checks.  Nor am I going to ask you to print my business cards for me, nor am I going to do anything besides send your mailings straight through my shredder, usually without anything more than a cursory glance.  When you told me I could opt to receive statements and notifications by e-mail, I had visions of a paper-free banking experience.  Now, several trees’ worth of wasted junk mail later, an ultimatum:

I’m planning on relocating soon, to a city which, conveniently, also has a multitude of Chase banks and ATMs.  The quantity of junk mail I receive between now and the month of my relocation will likely be the deciding factor as to whether or not I relocate my finances as well.  I hope my six years as your customer will give me enough sway to justify this small request.

Thank You,


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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?

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