TGIF

I interviewed for a position on the fly on Tuesday.  Submitted my resume one hour, got called in the next 15 minutes, and drove over two hours later.

An hour into the interview, I knew it would a frustrating and awesome job.  As they tried and failed to compartmentalize the job duties encompassed, I ventured, “You’re looking for a girl Friday.”

“Yes, a girl Friday.”

Y’all, I have always, always wanted to describe myself as a girl Friday.  Partly because I think it makes me look cuter in swishy skirts and heels.  Sexy librarian meets bounty hunter.

Partly because if you look at my past jobs, and look further than what I was actually hired to do, it is the breadth and not depth of my abilities that has made me a valuable employee.  I am a “Yes Man” at heart, a multitasker in the brain, and a nerd by birth.  Add it together and you get an employee who does not know how to form the sentences, “That’s not in my job description” and “No, I don’t know how to do that.”

(Actually, several past employers can attest to the fact I’ll say, “I don’t know how to do that” when put on the spot in a meeting.  Only to come back 45 minutes later (processing time, my dear introverts.  You feel me?), proffer an item 5/6th to spec, and ask, “Is this what you meant?”)

Since the interview went so well, I’ve been stymied about writing here.  I believe in jinxes, especially in the written word.  I did not want to say that an interview went well because it was possible for those words to fly from the Internet to my prospective bosses and stick in their ear (kind of like a horrible nightmare game of telephone) as, “Don’t hire her.”

But!  I’ve been hired!  Or at least, sent an offer letter (which I accepted) (right after an interview for a lower paying, less interesting job with a longer commute.  I was offered that position on the spot and let’s all thank somebody I asked for twenty four hours to think it over).

This is a part-time pay-the-bills/fill-the-gaps/keep-Jessica-busy position.  I can already tell the biggest challenge for me will be to not get so excited and wrapped up in this business that I want to work full time.

More regularly-scheduled canning/cabin/cat posts will be forthcoming now that I don’t have a job search to sweat over.

Officially Official

I have no idea what this title means.  I am two glasses into a nice cheap Sauvignon Blanc (it’s in the 70s here, white wine is appropriate) after a very productive and fun day with my husband.  He’s sleeping and I’m tippy-tappy- typing.  I like alliteration.  Sue me.

I left a large defense company in 2006 to steer my ship a little more into the wild.  I promptly started biology classes at USF and loved it.  My third semester in, I juggled classes with part-time work and volunteering at the sanctuary.  I think my favorite time was the summer and fall of 2007 – working part-time, taking some OK classes, involved in some really fun field work, and volunteering.

I left my work, and soon after classes, to be at the sanctuary full-time in 2008.  I was a part-time employee by choice in order to give all the attention I wanted/was required to the animals.  (Employees did administrative/managerial work.  Animal care and management was (and still is) done by volunteers.)  I was one of the only employees who stressed for this division.  It was my little dig at the founder – hoping she would understand that she could not staff the sanctuary with those who were also the best volunteers and expect miracles.

I made it almost 2 years in that capacity.  I made some of my most embarrassing and serious-consequence adult mistakes during that time.  I also grew a lot.  I think I learned some patience.  I grew more comfortable with my leadership personality.  As such, I knew when to place my bets and when to walk away.  Change was afoot.

I walked away.

I started my weird pseudo employment with my Gma.  (BTW, that’s just an abbreviation – how she always signed cards.  When reading it aloud, I say “Grandmother” or “Grandma”.)  The hardest thing for me to accept was how little she actually wanted help.  But slowly I learned.  This job taught me a lot of patience.

Tangent: I am a huge fan of Anne Tyler’s work.  Even wrote a paper on her in college.  In The Clock Winder, the protagonist, Elizabeth, ends up working for a very elderly man at one point.  And she describes a sort of fight the two of them have daily over how much effort he’ll put into living.  She feels she’s always losing.  Because I was close to my grandparents my whole life, and the closest family member to them for over 10 years, this fight was very familiar to me.  But never so much more during July of 2012.

End tangent.

When I came back from hiking in May 2012, I fell into this weird offer from my dog groomer to be her assistant.  Not that the offer was weird, per se.  Or she was (although she is kinda out there).  It was just one of those opportunities that falls into your lap and you take it.  She knew my grandmother was very sick at the time, and was amiable to my employment being temporary.   She put up with my copious weekends away to be with family, have a service, take care of the cabin, etc.

Now, I have arranged to visit my mother for an extended spell.  And so, after two days of training my replacement, I am unemployed. Today was to be my last day.  She called this morning to say the day hadn’t filled up as she hoped and she couldn’t really afford both of us so I was free.

Since Tom and I plan to move, and hopefully start a business together, I have no one but myself (and him, I suppose) to hold me accountable for the foreseeable future.

Oh My.

 

Same Small Community Feel, Kind Of

Tom and I both bank at credit unions.  We like the no-to-low fees.  They often offer higher interest rates on savings accounts.  And there is that feeling that you are part of a small community.  Tellers learn your name, know in what denominations you want your withdrawal, and know to not push every loan/credit offer down your throat.

There was also some convenience to our credit unions.  His he choose in Lakeland, near where he originally worked when he moved to Florida.  Mine had a military connection and had its own small branch inside the building where I was a defense contractor.

That convenience is no longer there for either of us.  But we I sucked up the commute for all the other reasons listed.  (Did I ever tell you Tom’s expense checks come in real check form?  He traveled 100% for two years.  I was at the bank at least twice a month or I couldn’t pay the bills.)

Now that we are planning to move out of Florida entirely, we decided it was time to bite the bullet and choose a national bank.  One that I worked with on my Gma’s estate stood out to us as having some good benefits and easy online access.  And the offer an app where you can take a picture of a check for deposit, something we’ve longed for these many random treks down Ulmerton.

I do like that the branch closest to us is rather small.  It kind of gives you that small community feel of a credit union.  And it’s evident that they want to impress upon that message as well.  Maybe a bit too much.

We went in today and had to wait a minute to see someone.  The branch manager came over to say hi, make sure we knew they’d get to us soon.  She took my name and entered it in a computer.  A few minutes later she came back and said she’d help us herself.

On the walk to her office she turned to me all chummy and said, “So you were able to bring your husband, W, today?”

“Uhh…no.  That’s my old husband.  This one is Tom.”

The lesson?  Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

A Meta Thank You

As some of you know, this specific domain was a gift from my ex TG.  I blogged for over two years on a free blogspot site and had been talking about getting my own so he gave me jessicainprogress.com complete with one year of hosting as a Christmas present.

I am somewhat paying it forward this year by setting up a site for my mother to blog about living and working on a lavender farm.  (No, I did not just spill the beans.  She asked for this a while ago and right now is doing homework on how she wants it designed.  Yes, I will share her link when she’s up and running.)

Setting up the site for my mother at the same time my hosting plan was up for renewal at the same time we’re hemorrhaging cash for the holidays made me very aware of the fact that this site is quite a frivolous expense in our budget.

Yes, I could downsize my plan to another company.  But I’m sure I’d regret it.  I could go back to a free blogging platform, but I don’t want to.  So what’s a frugal girl to do?

Going with the “it doesn’t hurt to ask” philosophy, I got in touch with DreamHost and asked if I could receive a small discount for being a loyal customer.

They got back to me right away with an answer of “certainly” and “thanks”.

To be clear, I was going to stay with them anyway.  I have only had one time in seven years of my site not loading correctly and it was a database server move that was correctly and quickly rectified by polite and competent support.

Do loyal customers of an establishment deserve discounts?  I’m sure everyone has a different opinion on that.  But I’m all about saving a buck when I can.  And all this cost me was a a few minutes typing with some pleases and thank yous.

(Please note DreamHost did not sponsor or request this post.  I am just a very happy customer who thinks their product is worth seven years of sticking by them and wanted to share.)

Seven years.  I just realized that makes my relationship with them my longest ever.  And they didn’t even put a ring on it!

 

Bad Math/Good Math

I am sharing tips and tricks on how Tom and I saved 30% of our income in 2011.  So far I outlined some caveats and told you about Makin’ It.

After you have some money, know your budget, decided how you’ll make saving fun while at the same time making it hurt a little (oh, isn’t that always the best anyway?), here are a few extra things to consider…

 

Step 2: Be good at Math.  Except Once or Twice.

The purpose of our budget was to track Every. Single. Thing. We spent money on.  At some point, that’s impractical.  This is where you should be bad at math.

Early on in the budgeting, I realized I had “double dipped”.  I counted vacation savings twice.  This subconsciously is exactly what I learned from my mother – to purposely balance my check book a few hundred dollars in the poor.    If you do it from the start, you forget that money is even there.  And it seems that is half the problem with saving – if you know it’s there, you’ll spend.

She still does this.  And I kept this error in our budget.  It allowed for a few months of extra savings, lessened the blow of emergencying, and meant that I could let the $3.50 cash for snacks while running errands slide without going crazy trying to figure out why I couldn’t hit our savings goal when none of our categories were in the red.

Step 3:  Stick to your budget

I track our spending weekly.  At first it felt like pulling teeth and I’d hyperventilate when we ran out of meat before the 25th.  It was also difficult because we did decide to maximize our credit card rewards which meant using the cards as often as possible.  So the numbers on the spreadsheet never equated to what was in a physical account.  That was the hardest for me.

But stick with it.  Things get into a cycle, and most spending automatically started to fit our budget needs.  Once the month was halfway over, major bills had been paid, and things looked good – I put the target savings away in a hard-to-access account.  Then at the end of month, I put whatever else was leftover away too.  (This was earmarked for large projects we didn’t fit in our monthly budgets. For example, our pet budget was mainly was to cover food and cat litter.  The animal’s yearly vaccinations came out of earmarked leftover savings.)

Step 4:  Make Your Money Work In a Safe and Comfortable Environment

Between us, we already had two checking accounts, two savings accounts, and a money market.  The savings accounts are barely used, just a few hundred in them each because they don’t draw enough interest.

OK, let’s face it, NOTHING draws enough interest these days.  But you know what I mean.

The money market is a nice place to keep our emergency funds because while slightly constricting (only 6 transactions/month), it is linked to a checking account and one huge transaction from one to the other is all we need to face the financial part of emergencying.

But we still wanted the most bang for our buck.  And since we wanted access to the money in one year, and to continue depositing money in the account all year long, we were pretty much limited to savings/money market accounts.  I researched and found that one of our credit cards did online banking with one of the best interest rates around.  (A whole 1.1%!  Whatever.  I’ll take it over 0.1%)

I will disclose that Tom and I had done this before – set up an account with an online bank.  I found it disconcerting and for reasons I can’t remember.  Maybe we didn’t have enough nest egg to have money kinda out of reach?  I do vaguely remember having to physically mail a check to make deposits.  And the online interface – our sole connection to our money – was obsolete and unfriendly.  So the fact that this was through our credit card company and I like their online interface already made this a much different experience.

The fact that it’s a savings account means I can’t write a check on it.  The fact that it’s not part of my regular banking/bill paying scenario means I don’t even consider this money when faced with a budgeting crisis.

So, separate savings accounts, CDs, what-have-you.  Put your savings somewhere you can’t easily touch it and it makes you some money.  We earned $100 on interest.

(One note:  some accounts require minimum deposits.  I believe this one did.  I put some of our emergency fund in there to start, then “paid” back the emergency fund with monthly savings until all was even-steven.)

If you are saving money not to accrue cold hard cash but to pay down debts, look into either automatic payments or the ability to pay more than once a month and do the same thing as I did – half way through the month make sure all looks well and get that horrible excess cash out of your bank account before you do some damage.

Making It

Make it Count, Make it Fun, Make it Hurt, Make a Budget, and simply Make It

These are my guidelines for what to plan/think about before the savings start rolling in…

Before you decide to save money, you need to have money coming in.  You need to Make It.  So, get a job!  Alas, I have no great tips and tricks for that.  But that doesn’t stop me from giving advice…

First off, if you are unemployed I sympathize.  And empathize.  Although I have drawn a paycheck for the past several years, I still have often felt unemployed due to how little I contribute to our household in a serious “Show me the money” way.  But Tom has done a great job of opening his eyes (and mine) to what my time at home affords us.

I cook most of our meals.  I do almost all of the household chores.  I take care of our four-legged companions and have time to hunt down the cheapest way to ensure they are vaccinated and protected.  I use my flexible schedule wisely to shop/make from scratch/put a little elbow grease to our needs in a cheaper fashion.

My second employment tip is to never think anything is beneath you.  How many people get their dog’s poopy butts scrubbed clean by someone with an M.S. in Physics?  Yes, it’s not rocket science.  Yes, there’s a valid argument perhaps I should be doing rocket science.  But a good, flexible opportunity arose and I grabbed it.

My last employment tip is that if your life (be it single or co-habitated or what) can afford you to travel for work, do it.   Tom and I saved so much money in part due to the fact his travel per diem paid his food bill.  Best case scenarios were weeks when he had a full mini-kitchen in his room and bought groceries.  He brought home jars of peanut butter and foil packets of tuna.

Make it Count-Set a Goal for Saving

While I have always been a saver, the times I remember saving in such a drastic manner as this I was preparing to divorce and/or quit a job.  I had deadlines and goals in terms for my savings.

Happy thought #1- your goal does not have to involve a divorce and/or quitting a job!  A dream vacation?  A year’s worth of night classes?  Whatever the case in setting a goal, make it at least a year in the future.  This gives you time to have the months you spend too much get balanced out (hopefully) by the months you end up being able to squeeze a little harder.

Make it Fun – No One Ever Saved Money During a Spanish Inquisition

There is true fun in saving money.  For me it is seeing how my goody-toe-shoes-better-for-the-environment lifestyle adds up – literally – in my bank account.  (Ask me how little my water bill is!)  Also, Tom and I veg around the house a lot.  Perhaps a bit too much.  So I love finding groupons/free stuff to do outside where we’ll get a little active and try something new.

But that’s me.  What do you like?  Do you eat a lot of brand name package foods for which there are coupons galore?  Do you want to make a thermometer chart and watch the temperature rise with each successful month?  Set small mini-goals for which you reward yourself?  Saving money needs to become part of your lifestyle.  Going on a spending “diet” is about as fun and productive as eating cabbage soup all week.

Make a Budget and Make it Hurt – Cutting the Fat and Watching the Bottom Line

The point of 2011 was to save money.  As much money as we could.  So we set a realistic, but aggressive, monthly budget.  All of our fixed amount bills (phone, mortgage, insurance) got deducted from our income right away.  As did some savings earmarked for vacation.  Then we set realistic amounts for the necessities – food, gas, pet items, the electric bill, etc.  The budget did include about $200 leeway in “Miscellaneous” and $100 for eating out.  The miscellaneous really saved us because we did not have a category for small car repairs (oil changes) or any budget for clothes.  Neither of us buys new clothes often, but we do go through shoes.

If you have no idea how to start a budget, simply track your spending one month and use that.  This is where using non-cash methods of payment that have online account access can come in extremely handy.  Most credit cards will do tracking for you – even putting it in categories.

Whatever you use, you have to use it.  While I am a huge fan of apps, I prefer more rudimentary software such as a spreadsheet to do my budgeting.  And years ago, when everyone was using spreadsheets and Quicken was brand new, I used pen and ledger.  Whatever you choose, you’re going to want to be friendly with it – at least let it get to second base.  So if the greatest newest software someone recommends falls flat for you, admit it and move on.  Don’t let poor tracking skills be the reason you don’t own your own private island in three years.

The flip side of Making it Fun, Making it Hurt, is going to have the same personal flavor as fun.  But not as fun.  Hence the hurt.  The point is, in saving money something’s gotta go in order for the pennies to add up in your favor.

Not everyone can live without cable.  We can.  But we cannot live without a land line because when Tom works from home he can’t get good cell reception in his study.

We do not live like hermits.  When people invite us places, we go.  But when we do the inviting, it is usually to go on a hike or the Farmer’s Market or somewhere we have a coupon.

It still amazes me what people believe are necessities in their life.  And don’t think this laptop AND iPhone user is calling the kettle black.  I’m well aware that I have many privileges in my life (TWO cars!) which I consider necessities.  But that’s the point of Making It Hurt.  Get down and dirty and real with what you need in life to survive.  The rest is icing.  Icing on your bank account cake.

How to save 30 percent of your income

Most interesting title yet!

I started these pieces early in the year, but never finished them to my liking.  With nine weeks of daily posting looming ahead of me, I’m dusting them off.  These posts regarding how we save money at casa In Progress will be under a new category, “Money, Honey”.

Of all my various accomplishments in 2011, I am most proud of the fact that we saved a shit ton of money.  All thanks to my spreadsheet, my research, and my bill-paying.

Tom helped by being gone a lot and eating food some else paid for.

That 30 percent was pure hard cash in the bank too.  It was after my automatic withdrawal to my Roth IRA, after Tom’s direct deposits into his 401K, and after our vacationing and AC/Car emergencying.  (Thing I’m most proud of in 2012?  Making up the word emergencying.  Cause let’s face it, in the middle of an emergency it sure fucking feels like a verb.)

So, for once I’d like to actually brag about myself and share how we did it.  I have the rest of the year to write about how I can’t cook beans, get a job, or handle my liquor!

A few caveats first:  we are extremely frugal people to start.  Besides our mortgage, we have no outstanding debt.  So a few ways we saved money included the use of rewards programs through credit cards.  I understand this can’t/won’t work for everyone.  Some have credit card debt and don’t use cards while paying them down.  Some struggle with credit card debt and would not or could not pay the bill in full every month.  But we accumulated over $800 cash with our rewards throughout the year and then used it to cover Christmas.  If you’ve ever felt trying to maximize your credit card rewards is a waste of time, I think you’re wrong and should give it a try.

Caveat deux: We wanted cold hard cash.  In terms of what makes the most financial sense, putting all our savings every month towards the mortgage would have “paid” more.  Even though we have a ridiculously low interest rate, it still is higher than any savings/CD interest rate we found.  While I talk about saving money and putting it away to physically use, you can apply most of my tips towards having more money to put towards debt.  The exception being any tip where I suggest using credit cards and your goal is to get out of credit card debt.  See caveat the first.

Caveat C:  I’m a hippy liberal eco-freak.  This can be incredibly annoying but also amazingly helpful to saving money.  Turning off Tom’s home computer he kept running “in case he needed something from it on the road” saved us $20/month.  And I’ll point out he never needed anything he couldn’t get from our PogoPlug.  I believe my exact words were, “If you don’t think it will make a difference, let me try it for a month.  Then you can say you were right!”  Heh.  Why did he even spend a micro-second thinking I was wrong?  As an extra in-your-face-Tom, that was also the month we set up an aquarium and had the added electricity of the pump and lights.  Booyah.

(Yes, we purchased an aquarium from Craigslist the same year we were saving money.  The fish were to entertain the cats.  We went to the vet less last year, so it was a good investment.)

So, caveat C is that being green, conserving resources, and not being people huge on “things” benefited our savings power greatly.  Caveat C.2 is my quote, “Try it for a month”.  If you read a tip here and have considered it in the past but felt it was too radical and would change your lifestyle too much, just try it for a month.  That’s how we decided to give up cable two years ago.  $1,200 saved from that alone to date.  Booyah.

(I promise less Booyah in further posts.)