Into Your Wallet

Thursday, November 5, 2015

As previously mentioned, I recently read the Marie Kondo book. I am still formulating my final opinion about the entirety of it, but one of her ideas that I can completely get behind is the idea that coins go “into your wallet.”

She commented that many of her clients’ homes, when she would first visit, would have loose change scattered about: in the bottom of bags, dropped on the tops of dressers and end tables, stored in jars.

(Similarly, in The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin refers to a “scum of clutter” that “filmed the surface” of her family’s home; when she sizes up her bedroom, she notes that “CDs, DVDs, cords, chargers, coins, collar stays, business cards and instruction booklets were scattered like confetti.”)

I myself have noted this phenomenon — people leave change everywhere. Including strewn on the floor.

I can understand why someone would put it in a jar, and I can even see how it could end up on a dresser or tabletop, but having it scattered across the floor baffles me. Why?  Why would you ever drop change on the floor and not pick it up??

When I lived in Virginia in the mid-90s, my housemate Ted saved his pennies in a jar and when he moved to Utah he said he was leaving them behind for me and our other housemate, Chip. Chip pooh-poohed the pennies so I took possession of them. There were a lot. My bank was near my office, and I commuted to work by bike, so I had to carry them in to the office in my bag on my back. It was heavy.

The teller at my bank told me the way it worked is that I put a deposit slip with my account number in the bag with the pennies and they would run them through the counting machine then credit my account for the total amount. Easy enough. As soon as I handed the bag over to the bank, I promptly forgot about it.

My next month’s bank statement had a mystery deposit for seventeen dollars and some change on it.

I was like what the heck is this? I finally figured out (possibly by contacting the bank) that it was the pennies. I told Chip about the deposit. He said, “Hey! Half of that is mine!”

No go dude.

When my grandmother died and we cleaned out her apartment, we found so much change that I gave up on counting it all and instead separated it by denomination and weighed each pile and divided them into thirds and gave three approximately equal piles (roughly equal by denomination, which totalled a roughly equal cumulative pile) to my three nieces. I told them they could count it up themselves. My estimate was $83.07, and I feel like I was pretty close to the actual total, but I don’t remember what the final count was.

I’m not sure why my grandmother had so much change. She played penny poker with it, so some of it was for that, but there really was a lot.

When I was growing up, my grandmother would save her quarters and put them in a small blue glass candy dish that she kept in the coat closet near the front door. When she had accumulated ten dollars worth, she’d put the quarters in a roll, and when she had two rolls, she’d give one to me and one to my brother.

This is good thing to do with your change — save it as a special treat for your grandchildren.

Scattering your change across your floor and never bothering to pick it up is a not a good thing to do with it.

Nor is not taking it in the first place.

I was at the Green Market a few weeks ago buying a churro. The woman in front of me ordered $4.25 worth of treats and when the vendor tried to hand over her $0.75 change, she refused it. I can only imagine what my faced looked like. I almost stuck out my hand and said, “I’ll take it.” But I bit my tongue and let the vendor keep it.


So the point of this post is to provide a short public service announcement in case anyone out there is confused about the nature of coins given as change for dollar bills.

Change is in fact actual money that you can spend just like dollar bills. It is legal tender. You do not need to take coins to a machine at the supermarket and pay money to turn them into dollar bills. You can start spending them right now, every time you buy something. Carry a little coin purse with you and see if you can make exact change on every purchase.

If you have really a lot, separate out the quarters and start with those. Eventually you will get through it all.

And then try to remember: Coins go into your wallet.

A Small Rant

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A few weeks ago I became mildly obsessed with the Marie Kondo thing. I hadn’t read the book, just heard about it, and I start reading things on the internet and watching YouTube videos to try to learn more.

Everyone just loves loves loves this book. And I have not come to my final opinion on it yet. (I did read the book but at the moment I’m having trouble getting past the part where she tells people to throw out all their papers … that will make tax season fun for everyone…) But while I was reading about it on the internet, I started making notes, because some things were getting under my skin.

One comment I had was about the before and after photos/videos that people were posting. My god people, you have so much stuff! Look at all that crap.

In one video, a woman who was posting about cleaning out her linen closet said that in the past when she ran the washer and forgot about the towels and they mildewed, she would THROW THEM AWAY. Because they smelled. She would just buy new ones.

No wonder no one has any money.

But the thing that really got me rolling was a post (which of course I now cannot find, so you will just have to take my word for it) where a guy talked about cleaning out his books.

He said he went through his books and discovered that 20% of them weren’t even his, and no one had ever asked for them back. He said that just goes to show that people have so much stuff they don’t even notice or care when it’s gone.

And I’m like DUDE!!!!

It’s now up to the person who loaned the book to ask for it BACK?

That’s not how it works!!!!

The person who BORROWED the book gives it back when they’re DONE with it. Or if they realize they’re never going to GET to it. Then they give it back and say thanks man, I appreciate you letting me borrow that.

You just kept people’s books and didn’t even know and now it’s THEIR fault for not asking for them back?!?!


Talk about BLAME THE VICTIM!!!

I once loaned a book to a friend, and later saw it on her bookshelf when I was at her house for dinner. Eventually I asked her if I could get it back and she said, “Oh, I gave that back to you.” And I said I didn’t think she had, but she insisted. And short of going to her house and going through her bookshelf and pulling it out and saying, “No, see, here it is right here,” which seemed like not a very friendly thing to do, I didn’t know what to do. I just let it go.

So that one struck a nerve.

Okay rant over.

But here is a short message for any of my friends who may be reading this…

If in your great KonMari purge of 2015, you find anything of mine that no longer sparks joy in you — books you borrowed, letters I wrote you, mix tapes I made you in the 80s — feel free to send them back to me.

I love that shit.

In which I eagerly await the apocalypse

Thursday, September 24, 2015

I was talking to a friend of a friend today, who is one of those people who is very fearful about the future.

She believes strongly that the world is going to hell in a handbasket — that corporations are out to get us, the water is poisoned, nothing good is ever going to happen again.

(In her defense, she’d just come back from western Pennsylvania, where the water is in fact being poisoned, and even if they wanted to, corporations can’t care about anything other than shareholder value. So it’s hard to say that she’s too far off.)

She is worried about the future. She feels like the end is near.

I was in her shop with my friend Ann. I said, “You know, it’s funny. We were just talking about this at lunch.”

Because we were, we’d been talking about this very thing.

I said, “In all of the post-apocalyptic movies and novels, some terrible thing happens and people turn on each other, everything completely falls apart, it’s dog-eat-dog, every man for himself.”

“But in the real world when crisis hits, people come together, they work together and help each other. World War II, the Great Depression, 9/11. All of those brought Americans together.”

Our friend looked at me skeptically. This was not what she wanted to talk about, people coming together to help each other.

But really, we’ve created this world where everything is so easy, we have so much more leisure time than we used to. But what do we do with it? We consume media — we watch tv and movies and play video games.

No one does anything anymore. They watch other people do things.

People are so addicted to passive entertainment that people actually WATCH OTHER PEOPLE PLAY VIDEO GAMES. (I am not making this up. This is a huge thing on YouTube. Ask your nearest 8-year-old about Minecraft and he’ll be happy to show you.)

This is what we’ve done with our abundant free time.

And people are bored and unhappy and dissatisfied. They feel unfulfilled because contemporary American life is inherently unfulfilling.

Geez louise people, if that’s not a dystopia, I don’t know what is.

I feel like if all of this went away — Instagram and iPhones and movies and television and Minecraft videos on YouTube — it would be really hard. Really really hard.

For like 3 weeks.

And then everyone would be like okay let’s go play frisbee.

(And yes, I know in an actual apocalypse, with dead bodies everywhere and no running water and such, things would be very chaotic. But people lived for many many many many years without electricity, and I have complete faith in man’s ingenuity, that in the event of true catastrophe, people would figure something out.)

So … bottom line. I am not worried about the apocalypse because I think it might well be an improvement over what we’ve got now.

On Spending Less, Earning More

Sunday, June 14, 2015

I’ve been thinking lately about Ignatius J. Reilly, the generally repulsive yet oddly compelling protagonist of John Kennedy Toole’s great comic novel A Confederacy of Dunces.

I thought of him often over the winter, because one of the pairs of pants that I ended up wearing a lot was this pair of brown “loose fit” Gap cordurouys that had wide legs and very large, deep pockets. The word that came to mind when I put them on was “capacious.” I kept thinking of the introductory description of Ignatius on the first page of the book, when he’s waiting for his mother at the D.H. Holmes department store — “The voluminous tweed trousers were durable and permitted unusually free locomotion. Their pleats and nooks contained pockets of warm, stale air that soothed Ignatius.”

That’s what I felt like when I wore those pants. Soothing pleats and nooks, with unusually free locomotion.

Lately I’ve been thinking about Ignatius when it comes to reading things on the internet.

I think I may have mentioned previously that I don’t make a habit of reading good, useful information on the internet. Instead I tend to latch on to some thing that annoys me, something I read and pull my hair out and say, “Gaah!!! No! What are you thinking?!?!”

Like Ignatius, who liked to go to the movies so he could throw popcorn at the screen and complain loudly about everything that offended him about modern life (which was most everything). That is me.

I’ve realized that I don’t like reading blogs by people who have everything figured out — “here, look at how great my life is, look at how smart and successful I am.” Those feel boring and pointless to me.

I like a little bit of angst in my blogs. But it’s hard to find the right amount of angst — a little bit can feel real and useful but too much quickly becomes tiresome. But sometimes I’ll find one with just the right amount and it flips me into hate-reading mode. Which then sucks me down a rabbit hole of guilty pleasure. It’s like reading Valley of the Dolls, it’s so bad I can’t put it down.

And I’d gone months and months without any internet obsessions at all but I recently came across an intriguing lifestyle/personal finance blog that I’ve been reading and pulling my hair out over and which has helped crystallize some of my thoughts about personal finance and happiness and life in general.

(And note that I’m leaving off the object of my hate-reading, because it doesn’t seem nice to tell the internet that you hate-read someone who is trying to write a serious blog. So here I’ll just talk about what I’ve learned.)

The PF blogging world has basically two camps in their approach to advising people how to get ahead: those who focus on spending less and those who focus on earning more. Of course most bloggers acknowledge that both strategies play a role, but usually they come down on the side of one or the other as being more important.

The people who focus on earning more tend to be dismissive of the people who focus on spending less — they think you just can’t make very much progress by cutting back on spending, there’s just not enough to work with, and it’s silly to put energy into saving small amounts of money here and there. They think the only way to really get ahead is to make more money.

And on some level, I agree with that — if your income is very low or if your fixed expenses are very high, your options can be constrained.

On the other hand, people usually have more control over how they spend their money than they do over how they make it. So in that sense focusing on spending less can be better because it’s something you can do right now, that doesn’t depend on the actions of people over whom you have no control.

But until getting sucked into reading this blog, written by someone who managed to save over $300,000 in less than 10 years, starting with around $10K and a starting salary of $25K, I hadn’t really thought through the fact that there’s another important difference between getting ahead by making more or getting ahead by spending less.

I’ve realized in reading about someone who has been very successful in achieving financial goals by making more money that there is a huge nonfinancial element to focusing on spending.

If you follow the Your Money or Your Life model and reduce expenditures by tracking and analyzing your spending, you are by way of this process clarifying your values — you are thinking about what you care about, and whether or not the money you spend is being used to support things you care about. You reduce spending on the things you don’t care about and you end up spending much less without any decrease in your overall quality of life.

The process helps you figure out what you actually need and allows you to be happy on much less than you ever could have imagined, and much less than most people spend. It’s like you enter a parallel universe where you always have enough. It’s magical.

If instead you focus on making more, you’re not able to figure out how much is “enough” because you’re not really thinking about that, you can always use more, and more is always better. So there’s no end. (Or maybe you do think about what’s enough but it’s a really huge number — $10 million or something like that.)

Also focusing on making more requires you to keep on keeping on in the economic stew of modern life — as my friend Ann likes to say, you have to stay in the puddin’.

You have to constantly be networking, working on job skills, dealing with bosses and clients. You need to move up the ladder in your office, or find a new job, or take on side gigs.

You need to hustle.

There’s nothing wrong with that, and certainly that approach is the best way to increase your income. But it’s not necessarily the best way to improve your quality of life.

No matter how much money you make or save or spend — or don’t make or save or spend — at some point you have to figure out what makes you happy. The process of making more money generally does not help you figure this out. So you can make a lot more money than you used to while being no happier at all.

I feel like the YMOYL approach almost has an element of therapy to it.

It’s very structured — track what you spend, think about it, figure out how to spend less; track what you save, think about it, figure out how to make more. By focusing on these specific things, you are figuring out what you need and what you don’t need.

By needing less, you are able to let go of things, and in doing that, you gain freedom.

People in your life can’t control you with strings-attached gifts. Employers don’t have the same leverage because you can walk away at any time. Your life overall is less stressful if what you need to be happy is easily within your capacity to generate — if what you need to be happy is as much as you can possibly make by working as hard as you can all the time, you are always going to be behind the eight ball. Your life will always be stressful.

Making more money involves thinking about other people — bosses, clients, customers. Spending less money involves thinking about you (and possibly the people directly connected to you — spouse, children, other relatives).

Spending less allows you to disengage from many things that can cause anxiety — it lets you stop worrying about how what you are buying compares to what other people are buying, or what it says about you or what other people think about you. (Worrying about what other people think about you seems to be a major source of anxiety for many people.)

I truly believe that focusing on what you care about, what you want, what you value, can help get you out of that mindset. It can help free you.

Spending less gets you to this place where you are in control of your life, and where your world feels manageable.

It is the key to happiness.

Or one of them, at least.

(And while on the subject of being happy, I read The Happiness Project while on my trip and I may write about that at some point. I liked it.)

Go forth and be happy. And stay cool if you can.

Writer’s Block

Monday, May 25, 2015


Wait, what should I do here?


Well I survived my year-long provisional existence, where every day lasted a month and the year was over in two weeks.

I had a nice visit with some new friends at the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County Oregon, and got to spend a few days wandering around Portland.

All good.

And I had on my list of things to do before leaving “write blog post” but it didn’t happen, so that is still on the list.

And now I’m back but I have NOTHING TO SAY.

But in a desperate attempt to get this crossed off my list, I’m writing anyway.

My parents came to visit for my graduation, my mom said that it had been a while since I’d given them a new recipe. She said I was due. I said, “Hmm… I don’t have any new recipes because I haven’t cooked anything.”

I said here’s my recipe for the year: you can get a McChicken sandwich and a yogurt parfait for two dollars at McDonald’s. Cheapest meal around. You can’t even get food at a convenience store for that.

She was nonplussed by this bit of wisdom. Nor has anyone else I’ve shared it with been much impressed.

Go figure.

Nonetheless, I stand by it. This works especially well when you leave your house at 7:15 a.m. and return at 9 p.m. (or later) every day. There is a McDonald’s every half-mile in this country, and if you have two dollars ($2.15 if you’re in Durham, sales tax is 7.5%), you can stop thinking about what you might or could or should eat and just go get a chicken sandwich and yogurt parfait and be done with it. And no dishes either.

Problem solved.

The last new recipe I gave my parents was Marion Cunningham’s version of mahogany chicken. It meets all of my key recipe criteria: easy, cheap, good. And it makes good leftovers, all that yummy sauce. And if I ever manage to get back to cooking actual meals again, it will be one of the first things I make.

(For the record, I have moved past the McChicken sandwiches and on to scrambled eggs, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. One step at a time.)

So this post won’t help my mom, she already has this recipe, but maybe someone else will like it.

Mahogany Chicken Legs with Fresh Ginger
from The Supper Book by Marion Cunningham

4 Tbsp peanut oil
8 chicken thighs and legs
1/3 cup peeled and sliced (1/4 inch thick) fresh ginger
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup sherry
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup sliced scallions [optional]
1/2 cup whole cilantro leaves [optional]
4 cups steamed long-grain white rice

Put the peanut oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken pieces, skin side down, and the ginger slices. Brown the chicken for 10 minutes, then turn over and brown for 5 more minutes. (It is important to use a deep skillet because the chicken tends to spatter while browning.) Reduce the heat if necessary to keep the chicken and ginger from burning. If the ginger slices brown too quickly, remove them to a paper towel and put them back in the skillet when you add the soy mixture.

Mix together the soy sauce, sherry, and sugar. Pour the soy mixture over the chicken, cover, and cook for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the scallions and cilantro leaves. Serve immediately with the rice.

The Provisional Existence

Thursday, April 23, 2015

“The unemployed worker, for example, is in a similar position. His existence has become provisional and in a certain sense he cannot live for the future or aim at a goal. Research work done on unemployed miners has shown that they suffer from a peculiar sort of deformed time — inner time — which is a result of their unemployed state. Prisoners, too, suffered from this strange “time-experience.” In camp, a small time unit, a day, for example, filled with hourly tortures and fatigue, appeared endless. A larger time unit, perhaps a week, seemed to pass very quickly. My comrades agreed when I said that in camp a day lasted longer than a week.”
Viktor E. Frankel, Man’s Search for Meaning

On Jobs

Thursday, March 26, 2015

I grew up reading the newspaper — and I am old enough to remember a time when there was not one but two newspapers a day, one delivered in the morning and one in the afternoon — and the printed newspaper remains my preferred source of news.

As far as I’m concerned, the printed newspaper is a superior product.

It shows up on your doorstep every day. It doesn’t have pop-up ads. It doesn’t keep track of which articles you read. It doesn’t require electricity. You can let it sit for three days and when you finally get around to it, you can see what you missed, the news it presents will still be the same.

And it also has additional uses as a physical product — you can use it as a packing material or worm bin bedding or to start a fire in your woodstove.

But the main reasons I like it are because (a) it is finite and (b) someone else has done the work of deciding what to include.

So that means I can review and read what interests me and skim the rest and be done. I’m not in danger of getting sucked into clicking on the next thing the next thing the next thing. I just read what’s there. And then I read the comics. And then I put it in the recycle bin.


Another benefit is that sometimes you come across things that you probably would not have seen if someone hadn’t put them in the newspaper for you.

In 2012, I was reading the paper and came across an article about a woman who had gone missing three years earlier and whose husband was trying to find her, or to find out any information about her disappearance. It was kind of a weird story.

The article reported that the husband said that his wife’s “preferred occupation is stripping.”

“She used to say she could drink, get her exercise in and work all at the same time,” he said. “She thought it was a very efficient use of her time.”

And I don’t know what it was about that, the story overall was strange and sad, but I just thought that quote was so funny.

I told my friend Ann about it and we have been laughing about it ever since. We’re like okay what is your stripper job — the thing you get paid for that also accomplishes other goals at the same time. It’s like the holy grail of job seeking.

The Stripper Job.

And there’s really no point to this post other than to send the idea of the stripper job out into the world, and to get the thankfully outdated snow picture off the top of the page.

Hope all is well with everyone in readerland.

School done in 34 days.


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