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So Mint has made some good progress lately

March 30th, 2014 at 03:58 pm

I am playing around with it for the first time in quite a while, and they seem to have made some very nice improvements as far as automagically categorizing transactions. And that was one of my main impediments - it was so frustrating to have to make the same corrections every month. Now it does "rules", similar to Outlook, that will go back and adjust categories and descriptions, etc. So now I am close to seeing a reasonable breakdown of my monthly spending.

It is very nice to be able to cut through the noise and see spending patterns. Now my next big challenge is unusual items always upset the pattern - big payments, yearly bonus, etc.

So maybe now I can get back to better monitoring and therefore adjustment of the old cash outpouring!

So are there any other users of Mint out there? The usability is getting close to the old Windows 3.1 Quicken that was very slick.

A beautiful vacation day on tap! Plus, Adblock is nice!

October 26th, 2010 at 12:04 pm

So I am spending a little time here first thing just to get in the frugal frame of mind. My main goal for today is to recover the garage for my car by organizing all the junk stored therein before the first frost, so today it is!

I just searched my blog for "About Me" and I successfully found when I asked about the data in that section missing, and I found that Kimiko told me it was Adblock in Firefox, so I just disabled the Adblock filter ###ad_left and the data returned. Searching really is a boon for us people with old-timer's disease! And I love Adblock, so this one little quirk is easy to take.

OK, the dog needs a walk, so we're off!

Ahhh, working down the fridge inventory feels good

October 14th, 2010 at 10:30 am

It was bursting at the seams for way too long, so it is taking a looong time to get it closer to empty. And we haven't had much of a grocery bill in a few weeks now, which is nice.

Next is the pantry and basement food stockpile - I need to make a sweep to find items that are ready to expire - not much is worse than finding unopened expired items. Eating cheaply can be a great source of pleasure!

Are shortcuts really inherently bad? Why do they have such a bad reputation?

August 29th, 2010 at 12:28 pm

What do you think of when you hear the word "shortcut"? Is it a negative or positive thought?

I think I most often hear it in business situations like this: "he tried to shortcut it, and now it's all messed up". I guess there is some merit in that way of looking at it since business needs to be pretty proceduralized and we can't have people just winging it because they think they know better than the official procedure. But the flip side of that is good procedures evolve from good input, and my thought is that when that doesn't happen people get frustrated and try to "shortcut" it. But if you take "shotcut it" to mean "improve" it, and they go about it the right way by providing useful feedback to the procedure owner, and the owner then adds it and gets it properly reviewed and approved to assure that there are no unintended ill-effects, the net result should without fail be positive.

So all that said, I am a BIG fan of shortcuts. So in an effort to improve them so we can make greater use of them, shouldn't we take a look at their failings? I'll use the common computer example of browser shortcuts since that is easy for all of us to relate to which makes it very illustrative.

Some common failings of browser shortcuts:
1. Too many to quickly read through to find what you want.
2. Out of date or dead links.
3. Forgotten.
4. No longer of interest.
5. Other? Let's hear 'em!

So what tips or tricks do you have for maintaining good browser Bookmarks/Favorites, Whatever?

At work, I have a pretty deeply nested and hierarchical list that serves me well. It is pretty darn big list that has developed over the years, so of course it benefits greatly from a periodic (and it can be infrequent, like once a year or so) cleanup to remove dead links, defragment, repack, etc. I just recently did that and now it works MUCH better for me. The main thing was to re-alphabetize, where the need results from my bad habit of ad-hoc addition of new ones at the bottom of the list instead of taking the few seconds to find the proper category. Just the act of thinking about it how it fits in helps keep me organized.

I have yet to have a similar success at home. But one trick I use everywhere that has also helped at home is to create digital "junk drawers" or "Little Used" folders to hold stuff that I might have looked at once and then didn't have a regular need for. Of course it is good to sift through them once in a while also to make sure something doesn't get forgotten.

So what are you tips and tricks? Something elaborate like Del.ico.ocious (what ever the heck that is)?

Or something more simple? In the extreme case, I recently heard of someone who simply deleted ALL of his shortcuts because what the heck, everything is just a quick Google away anyway, so why not? Although I doubt many of us would go that far, I think that keeping them well organized would go a long way in preventing the urge to nuke your shortcuts like that.

So FINALLY, I have stopped my verbose outpouring and it is your turn to comment, dear readers, if any of you have persevered this far. Smile

Creativity and simplicity

August 7th, 2010 at 01:57 pm

I am starting to read the book Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly and I like it right from the start. He is a psychology professor at the University of Chicago. One of his early points in the book is that there are many things competing for your attention, so if you really want to have a chance at being creative it helps to cut down all the noise around you. And creative people can be so wound up in their ideas that they can appear isolated and unfriendly, when actually they are just preoccupied, like the stereotypical absent minded professor (maybe a little projection on his part)? Smile

I thought I would get this down here since it is one of my main ideas in life and one of my main pet peeves, that as an advanced society we seem to have to spend way too much time on mundane or overly complicated stuff. Take computers, for instance. Computers can be wonderful tools, but also maddening nuisances! And I am convinced that there is SOMETHING I can do to help this situation since it is a field rife with opportunity.

Anyway, that's all for now, but I'll probably bore you with ideas from this book all along until I finish it. Smile

OK, I am now an official David Allen Getting Things Done fanboy!

August 3rd, 2010 at 11:29 pm

This post is dedicated to Homebody. Smile

After reading GTD about twelvedy-fifteen times, I think it FINALLY sunk in! I think the defining moment was when I realized that I could use my cell phone's Notepad to jot down notes of things that flit across my mind. (previously they just flitted right on through!) An age old principle, to write things down, but one I was never able to fully follow until now. It's hard to carry a pen or pencil and paper everywhere, but it sure is easy to carry a cell phone!

I have been keeping lists at work for years with pretty good results, but I only recently dumped out my work email inbox and it feels great! So I also dumped out my personal email inbox, although I did just stuff it all in a big folder called "limbo". The defining moment for that one was when I missed an ebay sale because my inbox was so full of crap that I avoided it like the plague and missed multiple mails. But I went in and unsubscribed to all the junk mail lists I was on (I think my ISP screwed up and has multiple people with my email address, hard as that is to believe). That one is a lot harder to keep empty even than work because it still gets so much junk, but so far I am stemming the tide.

So anyway, I also use a very cool Linux program at home called Tomboy Notes for my monthly log of things to do, things done, etc. I love it because it works just like Wikipedia or the WWW with hypertext. If you type a word that you already have a page for, it automagically creates a link. The resultant web very nicely mirrors the way I think. Smile For both of these simple new tools, it helps a lot that I enjoy using them, since if it is fun I will stick with it.

So anyway, I am flush with success after finally checking a few things off. It is especially satisfying to fit something fairly major into a small time window. For instance, I was able to change oil in our car in an hour between events because I had everything ready, and I was tired of looking at it on my list. Another example - I finally remembered to get a USB stick to back up those Tomboy notes and I actually did it - something that I had been putting off for months. A lot of the magic is in breaking tasks up into their smallest element, that is making sure the "next action" is really a doable action and not more of a project, which is a series of next actions.

I am excited because this is the closest I have come to breaking the procrastination and slovenly practices habit in ages! Yes, I still have a LOOONG way to go, but even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

I FINALLY got my snail mail inbox to zero

July 26th, 2010 at 02:04 am

What a relief! I may as well go ahead and admit this - I found $1000 of Flexible Spending checks in there. I guess I thought they were just EOB forms. BAD Ralph! I am such a dweeb! Anyway, it took almost all day, but it was a good way to hang out in the AC and get some long overdue work done.

So now I am ready for the long haul, to KEEP the darn thing at zero. I do of course still have a "hold" bin, but at least now I know there is nothing but filing and low priority stuff in there. Of course my files also filled up again, so I expanded into another plastic container, and man, is it ever nice to have a working file system again. Up until today, I stacked the overflow on TOP of the main set of folders, so it was too painful to move the stuff to file. Now it is all clear and ready to use.

I got in the mood because I cleaned up at work Friday and that also felt great. And that was prompted by my memory of a guy at work asking for something, and as I pulled it out of one of my slovenly desk stacks, he asked - "I wonder what else is in there?".

A word to the wise... Smile

Goodbye to bottled water (almost) PURFilter is nice!

July 18th, 2010 at 08:54 pm

Our tap water has a bad enough taste (mainly from chlorine) that we used to buy those 2.5 gallon jugs of water. But since we started using a PURFilter oval pitcher, that has stopped, except of course for the portable bottles. So besides the substantial savings, we are generating less waste, and both are nice frugal things to do.

There only real downside is that sometimes the filtering can be a little slow, as the filter gets older. Being cheap as heck, of course I planned to replace the filter way less than the recommended 1-2 month interval, since it is just being filtered for taste. I figure I would taste any breakthrough. But that plan looks like it is being jeopardized because the filter getting slow as it ages is a problem because then the unfiltered water gets poured out before the filtered water when used if the top section hasn't drained down yet. And man, is there ever a difference in filter price depending on where you buy it. At our local Shop-rite, one is $12.99! Versus about $6.50 or so at Amazon.

I find this pitcher a lot more aesthetic than having one of those big contraptions on the faucet, but who knows, I may do that later. But for now, I am very happy with it.

I love purchases that give you a lot of bang for the buck! I also love radio.

March 13th, 2010 at 03:25 pm

I say that as I am enjoying listening to my fairly new portable HD radio. Basically an iPod type device, it allows me to listen to my area's excellent radio stations with less static than traditional FM, and as an added bonus, it shows the songs that are playing IF the station enters the data, and most of them do, to varying degrees.

I had my eye on it for months, but I waited until the price dropped from $50 to $40. Only 10 bux, but it felt great for some reason, that delayed gratification. Plus, I buy VERY few things, so that makes it more of an event when I do. Smile

But what feels best is I love it - no ongoing costs other than electricity to recharge the battery, and it is just fun. Yes, I am a simple man. Smile Maybe it brings me back to my childhood when I was thrilled to get a transistor radio. I remember transistor radios were rated by how many transistors they had - I think I got a deluxe TWELVE transistor one. It was all so stylish, extra wide, silver grill - nice!

Maybe radio just appeals to the cheapskate in me, since so much variety in music just comes streaming freely over the air. I've also always been awed that radio and TV work the way they do, over the air. To me it is sort of mind boggling that when you are outside on a beautiful day, the air is full of all those signals.

I also fondly remember sleeping out in a tent and getting that AM skip at night - faint signals from faraway places - just so cool to a kid. Went well with distant train horns.

Anyway, I guess this one gets filed under raves. Smile

So what purchases of yours give you great pleasure?

I'm TRYING to get more organized!

January 30th, 2010 at 09:30 pm

I admit it - email and postal mail have had me overwhelmed for far too long. The problems are remarkably similar. A constant steady flow pours in, and I always left it in the inbox, while attempting to pull out and deal with the important stuff. Slack off a few days though...

So there mixed with spam and junk mail in an ever expanding mountain lay very important notices about important financial matters with close deadlines.

At work I have been quite happy with keeping a clean inbox for about a week now. I have read David Allen's Getting Things Done book quite a few times now, and probably one of the most important things he says is to trust your filing system enough to depend on it, and the only way that happens is with regular reviews. To that end, there is a very nice program for my Linux PC called Tomboy Notes. It is hyper text based so it is pretty easy to review. I have had a huge Word file at work for years now where I keep notes on day to day things in as organized fashion as I know how. So when I use it, I review it. So I hope to do the same at home with Tomboy Notes now.

Anyway, thanks for listening. I like to document things as I go along, since it helps me think. Of course it MAY also be a form of procrastination, eh?

I finally got to Inbox Zero! And it wasn't easy!

January 14th, 2010 at 11:01 am

I had over 500 items in my work Inbox - the emails had just piled in over the end of last year when I was quite busy and then out for a lot of vacation. But I've always kept my backlog there, even though I created a HOLD folder years ago, but I never really warmed up to it to the point where I used it properly. So I weeded the Inbox down to about 200 and then stuffed them in a HOLD folder, and I created a new one, HOLD - Time Critical! Check every day! We'll see if I follow through.

I have to admit, it is quite weird to see a blank Inbox! BTW, I got the term Inbox Zero I think from Lifehacker, a collection of small tips like this.

And in other organizational news, I got one of our cars inspected a full month and a half before the due date, and as expected, the line was nil! I may beat this procrastination thing yet! I also nipped at my bill/filing mountain and whittled it down a tad, and I did a similar cleanup at work, where it was even more sorely needed. Clean and organized, even semi-clean and semi-organized, feels great!

The Winter Savings Effect

February 19th, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Has anyone else noticed that it is MUCH easier to save in the winter than in the other seasons? I think it is because cocooning is so darn cheap. I know with my wife and kids, if they are out somewhere, they are spending money. So the only time I ever come close to catching up is January through April - unfortunately a very short season.

So what is the Ideal Budget?

February 17th, 2009 at 12:20 am

Does it look like this, the top Google hit?

http://7million7years.com/2008/08/29/ideal-budget-allocation/

In lieu of anything else, it looks pretty close to me. I'd like to post my actual numbers next to it for a critique from you people, hopefully I'll have that ready in a few days. What I do know is mine is far from that! Oh, housing is dead on, but debt service is a TAD higher. Arghh.

So the numbers in descending order are :
Housing 30%
Transportation 14%
Food 12%
Entertainment/Recreation 7%
Clothing 6%
Misc. 6%
Debt 5%
Savings 5%
Investments 5%
Insurance 5%
Medical/Dental 5%
Total 100%

Some difficulties with quicken online are slowing me down, but luckily I found the help forums, and a fix for the problem I am having is due in February. In the meantime I'll probably just resort to Excel.

OK, I'm building a budget using Quickenonline

January 25th, 2009 at 06:20 pm

Does anyone else here us that? We need to form a user's group if so! I signed up for it last year when it was $3 per month, intending to most likely cancel after the free trial, and then thankfully before I did they made it free! Nice! But it is pretty basic, and I see they've recently made some changes. I remember the old Windows 3.1 version was awesome, everywhere you clicked you could get a subtotal or a graph - really cool! So this online version is not so good in comparison, but I don't want to spring for the regular version just quite yet. So anyway...

It does well with the checking account from my CU. But it can't deal with the Mastercard account from that same CU. I've emailed problem reports to Quicken to no avail, so for now I am stuck with just the checking account, but that's ok, it's the lion's share of transactions anyway.

Job one is to clean up the categories. It is now doing better it seems on automatically categorizing transactions that clear electronically, but the smaller payees like doctors and so forth still need to be manually entered. And bafflingly, it guessed wrong on a few electronically cleared ones, so I wound up with a newspaper bill for $165 this month, but it was really Macy's. Weird! It is consistent though, always calling Macy's the newspaper, so it's easily manually fixed.

What I need to figure out is it says we are overspending by about 20% per month. We may be, but only on one CC, not the bank account, that stays positive with no infusions of cash, so I have to get to the bottom of that right after I finish categorizing to give me more clues.

This is sort of fun in a tedious way. But I can see right now that the four month trend of category spending should be very helpful. November and December spending is off the charts as usual. Frown

I love this blogging software!

January 2nd, 2009 at 11:48 pm

It is just so intuitive and easy to use, which unfortunately is not all that common with software these days. I like how new entries scroll past but you only get one at a time so no single entry-happy person dominates. And then the commenting system with email notifications is so nice.

And the little buttons at the top are fun! Lately I have been hitting the Favorites button when I read a blog I like. And the new entry and one to return to my blog are pretty convenient.

Another fun thing is Categorization. I recently added a Reference Category so I can easily find things I would like to remind myself of periodically, like the "Car Insurance Rules".

And my latest toy is creating new special pages, like one for monthly goals. Thanks, designers and programmers, I'm having a blast!

Frugal motoring

January 17th, 2008 at 01:10 am

About the only thing we can do about high gas prices is to combine trips out the wazoo. I did that tonight - dropped my daughter off at swim practice, bought dog food, got gassed, went to get my hair cut but it closed early tonight, had a $1.27 (with tax) salad at Wendy's, got the car inspected, bought some motor oil and windshield fluid cheap at the grand opening of a new conveniently located auto parts store, then went back to swimming and walked until my daughter was done. The only downside is I bought a new brand of dog food that was cheaper and highly recommended by the store, but the dog won't eat it! And of course it's a 40 pound bag. I've been putting treats in it, but so far she has been eating around the food!

Back to topic, I have also been driving like an old man. I call it the "poor man's hybrid". The key is to use the brakes as little as possible and to plan ahead as far as possible. For instance, as soon as I see a light turn red, I lift off the gas and coast up to the light, unless there is someone right behind me. It is actually sort of a fun game, seeing just how much I can optimize. And as a benefit, I give myself plenty of room in front to avoid hard braking at all costs. Of course this style of driving is much easier and more effective with a manual transmission car where you get engine braking. When I drive an automatic transmission car, I can just feel the gas and brake pads being wasted.

Is there anything as satisfying and comfortable as a fully depreciated asset?

January 5th, 2008 at 12:33 pm

You know - old shoes, old cars, old clothes. The top of the list for me is my good old car, a 1995 Honda. I'm totally comfortable and familiar with it - everything falls to hand immediately. It's familiar like an old friend. But the best part is no car payments! I just can't see tying all that money up, even though I truly love cars and would be in heaven with a nice new high tech, responsive machine. But that's just not in the cards for me right now, even though for most people my age it is. Does it bother me sometimes? YES! It sometimes seems like everyone on the road is driving a BMW except me! And I know most of them don't drive it because it's "the ultimate driving machine", they just drive it for the status (not that there's anything wrong with that, although I'm guessing there may not be THAT many of you here to offendSmile) I would appreciate the superb handling and road feel, etc., but I could not tolerate the high maintenance costs. But that jealous feeling doesn't last long. I look around on the roads and see my kindred spirits, all the people driving comfy old cars, usually young college age kids. My favorite car of the genre is the 90-93 Honda Accord - man, most of those things still look new! What an investment! They just keep on going and going, and still look pretty stylish to my eye. So, every time I drive my car I smile inside thinking of the money I am not spending on interest and depreciation.

From there the scale goes down pretty quickly. There is the Dell computer from 2000 that is still cranking away. Before that I think I had the same computer during about all of the 90s. Then there is my 1988 bicycle that has given me more pleasure per dollar than seems possible. So then we get to the poster child for this subject, the old shoe! Now perfectly molded to my feet, it just feels so good! And the same for old clothes, both much to the chagrin of my wife. I love that patina of age, I wear it like a badge of frugality, within reason of course, I don't think I look like a bum, I just look comfortable. So anyway, depreciation is the silent killer!