Save a Penny, Spend a Dime

My wife and I have decided that this is the Year of the Budget. We are going to be very smart about our money this year and plan to save by eliminating unnecessary expenses and random impulse purchases. It’s an exciting new challenge, but paying more strict attention to our finances and day-to-day spending has brought some things to light that are a bit frustrating with regard to saving money and eliminating waste:

…The first thing I noticed was when I went to buy some clementines but saw that my local grocery stores (both of them) only sell clementines by the case. Now, I love me some clementines – they’re juicy, tasty, generally seedless, seem some healthy enough, and are most importantly, easy to peel – but that doesn’t mean I will eat 237 of them before they start turning different colors. I want 7 clementines. If I eat them, then maybe I will buy another 7.
But no – in my town it’s “case or nothing.” Apparently I have to gather a coalition of my friends and neighbors together to see if any of them want to go in on a case of clementines to avoid buying 3 times as many as I can realistically consume.

Plus, the case they come in is huge – it’s a big rigid wooden box that isn’t exactly convenient to throw away (also, my town doesn’t recycle wood and I don’t have a fireplace that burns wood). In a town that uses trash stickers it’s just an unnecessary expense.

Of course, I could have mentioned any of this to the managers of the grocery stores in question and I did not. Complaining is easier, apparently…

…The low beam headlight on my car recently blew out. As part of our cost saving measures, I decided to replace that sucker myself. I have, in the past, replaced headlights for my previous cars with almost no trouble, so I figured this wouldn’t be a problem.

It was a problem. I bought the replacement headlight easily enough, but when I looked in the owner’s manual about replacing the headlight the manual discussed removing the headlight assembly. Step one was to remove the bolts, using a ratchet. Well, I didn’t have a metric ratchet set, so I had to buy one.

That worked well enough to remove the bolts; except that when I removed all of the bolts shown in the owner’s manual the headlight assembly still wouldn’t separate from the car. I fiddled with it for about 15 minutes, and gave it a couple of sound shoves, but was afraid to break anything and cause damage. I said bad words to it for a while, but that didn’t loosen it at all. Then I did what I do in these situations – I gave up.

I brought the car, and the replacement bulb, to my mechanic and asked him to replace the headlight. He reached in, fiddled around for a minute, and replaced the bulb without removing the headlight assembly at all. I began to suspect that he had never, in fact, read the owner’s manual for my car. But, he replaced the light in about 2 minutes and charged me 10 bucks, which seemed reasonable enough – but add that to the cost of the ratchet set (never mind my time and frustration) and, well, my attempt to save money failed pretty miserably…
…Finally, since my son Bronco loves books, and he seemed bored with his currently library (roughly 1,357 books), we decided to get him some books at the library. It’s a free library, after all, with tons of books! What a great idea!

Before I tell you how this may end up costing me money, kindly allow me this aside:

When we first went to the library, little Bronco was in the early stages of potty training. We got to the kids’ room on the 2nd floor of the library (which was incredible, with great books and a Thomas and Friends train track set up!), and I played the role of the nervous parent, asking the librarian, “Just in case, where are the bathrooms?”
The librarian smiled and said, “They are in the basement. Oh, and you need a key.”

She saw the look on my face and agreed that it wasn’t the most convenient situation for potty training. That pretty much meant that Bronco and I wouldn’t be overstaying our welcome at the library that day.

Anyway, back to the story. I picked out about five books that I thought my son would like (final tally, he liked 3 of them), and went to check them out – the cool thing about the children’s section is that they allow you to check out as many books as you feel like being responsible for. As I was checking out the books, Bronco pointed to a little soft-cover Winnie the Pooh book that was near the desk and demanded that I check that one out, as well. I added it to the pile and carried Bronco and the pile of books out to the car.

When I checked the pile of books later that evening, there was no Winnie the Pooh book. It wasn’t in the house, and it wasn’t in the car. My hope was that I had dropped it in the library (as opposed to in the street), but the library was closed by that time, and then I forgot to call them. Then, the Saturday that the books were due, there was a huge snowstorm. So I called on the following Tuesday and the librarian graciously allowed me to renew the books for two more weeks. I mentioned the missing book to her, and she promised to look into it.
Two weeks later, on the Saturday the books were due, we had another big snow storm (like we did every weekend after that @%!#*$ groundhog predicted an early spring), but I braved the elements and returned those suckers.

I then called to ask whether they managed to find the book, and the woman who I spoke to was exceedingly nice about the whole thing. She thanked me for being conscientious, and said that since it was just a little soft cover book that I really shouldn’t worry about paying for it if they can’t find it.

But, I have guilt. I will most certainly pay for the book if they continue to be unable to track it down. The library is there for everyone’s use, so I can’t just lose a book without doing something about it. Guilt, it seems, is sometimes at odds with the goals of the Year of the Budget.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 15 Mar 2013 No Comments

A Day on the Slopes

If you are not a skier, and you wish to be a skier, my advice is to pay for lessons. If your friends tell you that they will teach you to ski, and if your friends are anything like my friends, do not believe them. It could turn out quite poorly, especially if those friends are about 12 years old. I speak from experience.

A bunch of kids were going to ski one night at what was then Ward Hill in Shrewsbury (now Ski Ward), and they invited me along. While 12-year old me was delighted to get the invitation (social invitations were a very rare occurrence for me), I was gravely concerned about the fact that I had never been skiing before. After all, skiing involves going downhill at a fast rate of speed and could perhaps be dangerous. Not to worry, I was assured – my friends would take it upon themselves to teach me how to ski. There was nothing to it, they said.

It all sounded pretty good. I had visions of slaloming down mountains and then relaxing with snow bunnies in the lodge by a fire. I counted my birthday money decided to take the plunge.
We got to the ski lodge and I rented equipment. The ski boots pinched my feet, but I was excited and carried my rented gear out to the base of the hill. I attached my boots to my skis and promptly fell over. Ooomph.

It was then that I learned that, when you are out of shape, it’s not very easy to get up from a prone position on flat ground with skis on. I struggled mightily, sweating and grunting, until my friends came to the rescue and restored me to a standing position.

These same friends then invited me to join them on the ski lift. Not to the bunny slope, mind you, but to the top of the hill. These people were supremely confident in their teaching abilities. I shuffled over and got on the lift without incident. It was a nice ride to the top, but I fell getting off of the lift (since you have to be able to ski at least a bit to get off of a ski lift). I was once again propped up, and made my way to the edge.

It was there that I realized that I had made a huge mistake. I may have been only 12, but my sense of fear was fully developed. Ward might only be a hill, but that slope looked very steep, and people were zipping by me and crisscrossing back and forth down the trail at what looked like dangerous speeds. I hesitated while I contemplated months in the hospital, but didn’t want to be labeled a chicken, and besides there did not appear to be an easier way back down the hill. I began my descent.

I promptly fell down. I got up (it’s a bit easier on a slope), started to ski some more, and made myself fall down again when things started going too fast for my brain. My friends weren’t really giving me much advice beyond shouting, “Turn!” and “Keep going!”

On my next fall, which was fairly spectacular, one of my skis escaped its binding and began to slide down the hill. I sat in the snow and helplessly watched that ski go all the way down the hill, past the lodge, and into the parking lot, where it came to rest under a car. These days, skis have little posts that stick out when the ski is detached from the binding that prevent this sort of behavior, but this was several years ago and I don’t think the hill was renting skis with the latest technology.

I sat in the snow and rage began to boil in my belly. I had spent my BIRTHDAY money on this, and it wasn’t even fun. I decided to be done, once and for all, with skiing. I stood up, took off my other ski, and began to walk down the hill. To their credit, my friends went to get the escaped ski and offered to help me to ski with one ski the rest of the way down, but I said no, thank you (it seemed like a great way to break my leg).

Ward Hill may seem small compared to the mountains in the north, but it took me a long time to walk down the side of the trail, using tiny little baby steps so that I wouldn’t slip. My friends gave up and, free of their responsibilities toward me, began actually skiing. They would shout encouragement at me as they swooshed past, but it only made me grit my teeth all the harder.

Finally, when I got down to the bottom of the hill I marched into the lodge and demanded my money back. I made enough of a ruckus that the manager (whom I remember as having a Sonny Bono haircut and mustache) came out to see me. I told him that I had only used his precious lift one time – and it was my birthday money, after all – and that he owed me a refund for my lift ticket.

That manager did his best over the next 10 minutes to keep my money and turn me into a skier (and likely returning customer). He offered me free food (which, given my appearance, was probably a good bet); he offered me free lift tickets for another day; he offered me free lessons (which in retrospect I wish I had taken), but I was having none of it. I was done with skiing forever, and I wanted that money back. I didn’t cry, I didn’t whine, I just set my jaw and continued insisting on a refund.

Finally, the man lost his temper. He turned to his cashier and shouted, “Give this kid his money back and throw him out of here!”

I was on the pay phone, calling my mother for a ride (they didn’t really throw me out) when the manager came back over. He felt badly about yelling, and he bought me a soda to say that he was sorry. Nice of him, I thought.

After that, I should have learned my lesson about friends teaching me to ski, but I didn’t. Nine years later, a different set of friends – people I should never have believed – talked me into a similar situation, except first they said, “Here, drink this.” But that, as they say, is a different story for a different time.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 04 Mar 2013 No Comments

Hot Flashes

I’m starting to feel guilty about the fact that I write about my kids so much. Honestly, doesn’t everyone have similar experiences, and therefore what I think is cute is sort of ho-hum for everyone else? Is writing about my kids lazy because it involves just observing what’s happening around me instead of actually going out and researching a story? I suspect that I should write about my offspring less, and my late New Year’s resolution is to do just that…starting with my next column. For this column, I’m going to that well once more, this time about my 2-year old son, Bronco:

The other day, I was stuck with a very difficult decision. Bronco cried out at 4:30AM and I went in to comfort him. I gave him his stuffed monkey and rubbed his back, and he fell back to sleep immediately. The problem was, I noticed that his diaper had failed and that he and his bed were soaked.

So, I had to make a decision – pick up the boy, change him and his sheets and risk waking him up for the day (and potentially waking his sister, depending on how loud things got), or let him sleep and deal with the problem in the morning. This would seem to be a no-brainer, given that slumbering in a puddle of biological fluid, even your own, is totally disgusting; but as a parent of young children I have learned that sleep is not a commodity to be spent capriciously. I took a moment to think it over.

In the end, I decided to do the right thing and enlisted my wife to help me change the boy and the sheets. In no time flat, he was dry and back slumbering peacefully. My conscience was clear, but I was surprised at my need to do risk-reward analysis before taking action…

…In other news about my son, he has started a habit of wearing socks on his hands. If I want him to leave the socks on his feet, then I need to give him an extra pair of hand socks. My wife, trying to be helpful, gave him an old pair of “prom gloves.” He wore those around the house for a while, but seems to prefer socks to items actually designed for hands. He will sometimes ask for help in putting the socks on his hands and then will complain if the socks are not “on right.” I’m not sure what that means, exactly. Does the heel of the sock go over the palm of the hand?
This behavior apparently started one morning when my wife went in to my son’s room in the morning and asked him why he had socks on his feet. He replied (and this is a direct quote), “I wanted to play with my feet. I didn’t chew on my piggies, but they wanted to be free. Then I put my gloves on, like Handy Manny.”

This is an interesting statement. Bronco generally chews his fingernails, and we haven’t really made an effort to stop him – mainly due to a fear of how else that nervous energy might manifest itself. Plus, I figure it’s relatively harmless, since I spent my entire life biting my nails (until, oddly enough, the day my son was born – since then I have not had any urge to chew).
The upside to Bronco wearing socks on his hands, if there can be an upside, is that he can’t chew on his fingernails. His explanation, however, appears to indicate that he has considered chewing on his toes during those times when his fingers are unavailable. If this habit forms, I can imagine that it will prove to be a bit awkward during social situations, especially as the boy gets a bit older. But, I suppose if your piggies want to be free, they want to be free.

My question is, however, if this habit takes hold and my son starts chewing on his toenails during a job interview, or while meeting a potential girlfriend’s parents – how much do I sue Disney (the makers of the Handy Manny show) for?

The Day to Day Grind Tim 04 Mar 2013 No Comments

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