January 10, 2017

On Savings

One of the things I've been working hard to accomplish since the move back to Colorado is to build up my savings again so I've got a cushion of spare cash, should I need it for whatever reason.

There are a myriad of suggestions and plans out there telling you how to save and they range from the simple -- "Put $20 every week into an envelope" -- to the complex -- "On January 1, put a penny into a jar.  On January 2, put two pennies in the jar.  On January 3, put three pennies..." -- and so forth.

While those are all fine and dandy -- and let me say up front that I've no quarrel with any such plans..  As long as you're saving *something*, I applaud your effort -- they don't really appeal to me.  I wanted to find ways to spend less every day, as that seemed to me a bit more challenging.  To that end, here are the things I've been doing to spend less and save more.

1. Get a coin jar.  I am using a "Howler" glass jug, which is a 32 ounce jug from my local microbrewery, and every day I put what coins I have in my pocket into the jar.  But here's the trick: I never take coins out.  I don't care if I need two quarters to operate the car wash, I do not take coins out of the jar.  If I need those two quarters, I'll pull a dollar from my wallet instead.  This makes me think more about spending the money ("Do I really need the deluxe wash, or will a standard wash suffice?") than I would if I knew I had plenty of quarters sitting in a jar.  When the jar is full, I roll the coins, take 'em to the bank, exchange them for cash, and put that cash into my fireproof safe at home.  A full jar can be close to a hundred dollars or so, depending on your mixture of coins (pennies vs. quarters, etc.)  Added up, it's roughly $400 a year saved.

Savings so far: $400.

2. I bought a smaller coffee pot.  Since it's just me at home most of the time (the occasional visitor notwithstanding), I bought a small, 4 cup coffee maker.  If I brew a full pot, I have just enough to fill my mug twice, which is sufficient to get me going in the morning and out the door to the office, without any waste (I typically drink more coffee when I get to work, but it's free there), which means I'm using fewer coffee grounds every morning.  Looking at Amazon, a can of Folger's goes for about $7.00.  Using half as much coffee with the small pot, I go through a can of coffee every couple weeks, instead of every week.  In the end, instead of $400 or so a year in coffee, I spend half that, or around $200.  Add that $200 in savings to the coin jar cash.

Savings so far: $600.

3. Buy in bulk.  This one is kinda tricky when you live in a one bedroom apartment without a great deal of storage space, but it can still be done, at least to varying degrees.  First, when I go to the store, I look for "Family Sized" packages of meat -- the 5 pound roll of ground beef, or the 12 pack of chicken breasts, for instance -- and then I partition those to smaller packages... one pound of ground beef into a zip lock bag, one chicken breast per bag, etc.  This makes it easier for me to cook a meal, as I can remove a single chicken breast and the rest can stay in the freezer.  I also look for the whole pork loin, rather than pre-sliced pork chops.  Get the loin out on your cutting board, make sure your knife is sharp, and slice the chops yourself.  Why pay for someone else to do what you can do, right?  Beans and rice and such are other items that readily lend themselves to buying in bulk.  The key here is to only buy items in bulk that you'll eat often enough that they won't go bad.  You're not saving if you drop $20 on a 10 pound bag of organic sugar, but don't use sugar often enough and it eventually gets infested with ants.  With some creative and savvy purchase decisions, it's easy to save $300 a year by buying bulk instead of smaller, pre-packaged sizes.  But you do have to have storage space...

Savings so far: $900.

4. Canning your own food.  Look, just do this, OK?  Along with buying in bulk, you can save a not-insignificant amount of money if you can and preserve your own food.  You'll need to spend a little bit of money up front, as you'll need jars, lids, rings, and a pressure cooker, but once you have those items, the rest is just a matter of time more than money.  Canning a bushel of green beans will take you the better part of a Saturday, but in the end you'll have ~36 pint jars of green beans for around $12... Again, comparing prices to Amazon, that's a savings of about $2.70 per can, or around $98 over the total of 36 pints.  Say you eat green beans twice a week -- we're talking $280 a year.  Just in green beans.  You can can pasta sauce, salsa, other vegetables (I made my own pickles, pickle relish, and beets), beef, chicken, or vegetable stock, or just about anything else.  I would HIGHLY recommend the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  It is the gold standard for information and directions on canning food.

Savings so far: $1,180 - $1740 (depending on how many items you decide to can yourself.)

4a. Speaking of making your own broth, here's a tip I learned from someone that I've used many times: Save the "waste" of vegetables when you cook.  You know, that bottom of the onion, the ends of the carrots that you chop off, the bottom of a stalk of celery, etc.  Save those.  Put 'em all into a large zipper closure bag, and into the freezer with them.  When the bag is full, put the frozen veggies into your stock pot, add water and some salt and pepper (and maybe a bay leaf), and simmer for a few hours to make vegetable stock.  Strain out the solids, and freeze or can the liquid.  Use the next time you make soup.

5. Add bulk for cheap.  When preparing your meals at home, give some thought to adding bulk to the meal without adding a lot of calories.  One great way of doing this is to use rice.  Potatoes can also work in this regard.  For example, last night I warmed up a bowl of chili that I pulled from the freezer.  To expand the meal to a quantity sufficient to slay my hunger, I boiled a couple New Potatoes, smashed them down a bit, and poured the chili on top.  It nearly doubled the size of the serving, and potatoes are cheap.  Don't really have a savings amount for this, but it's not zero.  Consider adding rice to your chicken broth, and you've got chicken and rice soup.  Add some barley to beef vegetable soup.  And so forth.

At this point, I've got around $2000 a year in "extra" cash, just by saving my spare coins every day, canning food, drinking smaller pots of coffee, and buying in bulk.

A few other things that can help you spend less:

6. When shopping for food, don't just look at the price of an item.  Look at the price per unit of food (i.e. per ounce).  You'll often find that a generic brand is significantly cheaper per unit if bought in bulk, and you can usually freeze whatever you don't use right away.

7. Check out the offerings at your local Farmer's Market, if you have one.  Coupled with canning it, this can be a significant savings -- every year, my sister will buy a bushel of tomatoes and can salsa and pasta sauce, and she'll also buy a bushel and a half of corn, blanch it and cut it off the cob, then freeze in 2 cup bag allotments.  This gets her ~ 48 jars of salsa and pasta sauce, and 36+ bags of corn.  The cost?  A few bucks for the vegetables, an afternoon of making a mess in the kitchen, and $15 for the beer that she uses to bribe her brother and mom into helping.

8. Cut the cable.  Seriously, if you're paying a monthly fee for cable television, consider dumping it.  I've got internet service only into my apartment, and I use a combination of my Amazon Prime membership and Netflix to watch television shows or movies.  I find the options sufficient for my desires, and it's $50 or more a month that I'm not spending.  Besides, most television is crap these days, and it's no great loss overall.  If there's a live event that I want to see (I am, after all, from Indiana, and thus I'm a fan of Indiana University Basketball), I'll go to the local pub if I can't find it streaming on-line somewhere.

9. Walk more, drive less.  I'm fortunate that I live a 5 minute walk to my office, but even if it was twice that, I'd still walk in all but the worst weather.  We're 10 days into the new year, and I've yet to add gas to the Heep, and I'm still over 3/4 tank... Besides, walking is good for you.

At any rate, those are the things I'm doing to save money.  Feel free to add your own in the comments, if you wish.

January 3, 2017

Heep Repairs

Well, I guess I can't really complain all that much, as she's been good to me so far.

I drive a 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and have for some time now.  She's taken me up in the high country of Colorado, made at least 4 trips between Colorado and Indiana, and has run like a champ for 11 years and 190,000+ miles.

In that time, I've had to do very little, really: A new starter two years ago, a front drive shaft this past August, and routine stuff like oil changes and brake pads and new tires and such.  Not a lot, really.

But that's all about to change: There's a problem with the fan and it has been drawing too much power, which not only caused a short and a blown fuse, but also burnt the fan motor.  Thus, turning on the heat produces very little, well, HEAT.  And in the winter in Colorado, that can be an issue of concern.

In addition to that, it seems she is leaking oil, and thus I need some leaking items replaced.

All in all, I'm looking at around $2,000 in repairs.

Fortunately, this is after the holidays, and after I finished paying rent on two apartments.  I was sort of looking forward to having that extra $600+/month, but I guess buying parts to finish building my second AR-15 is going to have to wait.  I'm getting the heating system fixed today and tomorrow, and will be diligent about checking the oil every other day until I get another paycheck under my belt next week, when I can get the leaking oil stuff taken care of.

It's always something.


December 28, 2016

Public Spaces and Violence

The news today is reporting another round of unrest, disorderly conduct, and generally criminal behavior in a shopping mall in Philly.

"They were pelting cops with fountain sodas and all kinds of trash," Anthony Clark, a vendor inside the mall, told WPVI."

Peter at Bayou Renaissance Man (and you ARE reading him daily, aren't you?) has spoken before about personal safety and keeping away from places where large crowds gather as part of your overall personal safety plan.

Tuesday's incident in Philadelphia came after more than a dozen similar disturbances in malls in at least nine states on Monday.

This just cements that lesson in place.

This is why I avoid the shopping mall like the plague.

December 27, 2016

Requiescat In Pace

Carrie Fisher has died, according to new reports.

As a lifetime Star Wars fanatic, this saddens me beyond words.

Requiescat in Pace, Princess.  You will be missed.

December 23, 2016

Why I Make Meticulous Case Notes

We've got a very part time customer.  And by "very part time", I mean they call about once every 6 months, we don't bill them a lot of hours, and frankly their revenue is an insignificant amount of our annual take.

So when they called for some help with a piece of software, we obliged them and I went out to their office to take a look.

I spent the better part of 90 minutes trying to get this software installed, but it kept failing to install.  Finally, I stepped back and looked at the BIG picture of it all.

The software is running fine on a laptop, just not on this desktop.  So, what's the difference?

Well, the laptop is Windows 7 Professional, the desktop is Windows 10 Home.  That's significant.

Dug through the log files for a while, found that the installer tries to inject a local SQL 2008 Express database onto the PC.

Now, according to Microsoft's downloads website, SQL 2008 Express is not supported on Windows 10 operating systems... Only up to Windows 8.1, no further.

I explain all this to the customer, ask the lady how she wants to proceed, and she makes the call: "We don't need this but twice a year, and if it's working on the laptop, that's good enough."

Flash forward to today: Her boss, who WASN'T in the room when I was fighting this, complains to MY boss about how he (customer) would have preferred a "real professional, not one who gave up after 90 minutes" to install the software.

I pointed to my case notes, told my boss "Everything you need to know is in there", and 45 minutes later my boss is informing this jackwagon about what's what.

I really hate being in the customer service business at times.

December 15, 2016

Well, I Guess It's Time

For my Christmas present to myself, this year I'm going to buy an e-cigarette system and get rid of the damn pack-a-day habit once and for all.

I've quit before, and it wasn't terribly difficult, but it does require dedication and some effort.  I started up again when things started falling apart between me and the (now) ex-wife.  Dumb, I know, but I was in a very dark place and reverted to old habits.

At any rate, I'm wanting to be able to go elk hunting here in Colorado next fall, and that requires some exertion at altitude -- Elk don't hang out downtown Fort Collins, you understand -- and if I'm going to be humping the hills, carrying a rifle and a pack with my gear, and eventually carrying out 600+ pounds of meat (fingers crossed), I need to be in better shape, and THAT requires that I quit smoking.

And besides, it's a money saver: At $5.50/pack, and two packs every three days, that's 20 packs a month... Or anywhere between $110 and $165 every month.  That's money I could put to better use -- save for emergencies, a new vehicle, etc.

I've heard some people have great success with the "vaping" option, so I'll give it a try.  Hopefully it helps take the edge off the cravings, and once my lungs clear up and I'm back to exercising again I'll phase out the vaping as well.

It's time.  Long past time.

December 12, 2016

Damn, They're GOOD

If I understand this correctly:

The Russians hacked John Podesta's computer.

They copied his emails.

They then stored those emails on Huma's laptop.

Then they got Anthony Wiener to take the blame.

That's some next-level shit right there.

December 8, 2016

Requiescat in Pace John Glenn

Marine Corps fighter pilot in World War II and Korea.

PAX River test pilot.

First supersonic transcontinental flight.

First American to orbit Earth.

Oldest man to go to space.


That's a hell of a resume, and the world is a bit sadder today as we learn of John Glenn's passing.

And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Requiescat in Pace.

November 29, 2016

How Do You Reconcile That?

So, predictably, the left is all in a huff over President-Elect Trump wanting to outlaw flag buring, and punish it by jail time or loss of citizenship.

First, let's dispense with the obvious: Burning the flag is disrespectful, and I in no way would participate in any such endeavor.

Now, then... Be that as it may, it is STILL a form of expression, and such expression  protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.  You don't have to like that.  You just have to accept it.

What I find remarkable, however, are those who use this as an example of how Donald doesn't understand the Constitution, yet those same people disagree with the Citizen's United case, which was a case where a person was facing jail time and other punishment for making a MOVIE about Hillary Clinton.

Look, you can't have it both ways.  Either you support freedom of expression (like burning a flag or making a movie), or you don't.

November 26, 2016

A Day Well Spent

On Friday, instead of suffering the masses and hordes of people exhibiting their worst behavior trying to snag a good deal on some trinket or another, I opted out and took to the hills.

My cousin Mel and her husband live here in Fort Collins, we we loaded up their two daughters, the three of us, and five pairs of skis and drove up Poudre Canyon to Cameron Pass.

We set onto the trail on the southern tip of Joe Wright Reservoir and skied up to Zimmerman Lake.

A few minutes of sitting on the shore, looking over the frozen lake and its blanket of snow, then we turned back and skied back down to the car.

Back in town, my Uncle Jan was passing through on his way back to Hood River, Oregon, where he lives.  I offered him the sofa for the night, and he accepted, so we drove up town to Coopersmith's for dinner and a couple beers.  He was duly impressed with the Smoked Salmon and Havarti Dill quesadilla, and I had a serving of Cottage Pie, which is like Shepherd's Pie in a large pastry shell.  It paired perfectly with a pint of Horesetooth Stout, and is highly recommended if you ever get to Fort Collins.

All in all, I got 3 hours of skiing time in the mountains, several hours of time with family, and a damn fine meal.

Oh, and I learned that Fidel Castro is taking the big dirt nap.

Honestly, I don't see how the day could have been any better.