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Happiness Project Update 19: It’s All About Options

9 Jan

“People that say money doesn’t buy happiness, they’re just not trying hard enough .” Will Truman

While undergoing my own Happiness Project the money question definitely came up. And like most people I understand that money alone can’t buy me happiness, but it can definitely help get me some. I’m not talking about material things, like diamonds or name-brand purses or clothes. I’m talking about opportunities. I’m talking about options. Money affords you the kind of opportunities that puts smiles on your faces and checkmarks next to your bucket list items.  Sometimes it’s the difference between seeing the glass half-empty or half-full.

Image via Happiness-Project.com

Image via Happiness-Project.com

Most people I run into are adamant about money not buying happiness. An absolute no … it does not. However after reading Rubin’s chapter about money and happiness, I was so glad to find out that she shared my point of view. It does help get you there sooner, but it depends on a few factors. First off, it depends on the kind of person  you are … adventurer, introvert, sports enthusiast, bookworm, television addict, foodie, coupon clipper, mother of two, or single dude out on the town. Although I fit into multiple categories I realized, after my little happiness update on fun a while back,  that simple things make me happy. A good hamburger. A good piece of chocolate. Hearing my favorite song. Dancing to a good song with my kids. Watching a great movie. Sports, playing or watching at any level collegiate, professional, or Olympic style. Everyone measures their needs and wants differently, depending on what makes them happy and what they do for fun.

Rubin’s second factor deals with how you spend your money. The kind of person you are will probably influence your purchasing decisions. You might be a tech dude who purchases the latest gadgets as soon as they come out, or you may be a person whose purchases are well-thought and researched so that even though you are spending money, you still feel like you’re doing what you can to get the best deal. You can be a person who splurges on a really nice bottle of wine every so often as a treat, or you can be the kind of person that eats at Chuy’s on Tuesday, because it’s 2-for-1 taco night.

Some people splurge on themselves for their own happiness, while other people may splurge on family or friends just to see them happy. In truth I do a little bit of both. If I go out in search for some awesome Hawaiian chocolates and run into a good bottle of wine that my friend would really enjoy, I’d probably buy her the bottle. I’m all about little splurges. I learned that from a friend of mine a while back. During her week-long craziness as a middle school teacher, she said she would often splurge on something once a week. Spend a little extra, just to make herself feel good … feel happy. Instead of going to McDonald’s for a cup of coffee, she may have stopped by that specialty food store and bought herself a fancy exotic Central American cup of coffee. A large. She taught me about little splurges, thus my wide knowledge of fantastic chocolate.

But she also reminded me of big splurges. It’s been a while since I’d been on a trip where I had to stay in a hotel. A long while. She told me that when she went on a trip with her husband they stayed at a fancy hotel, and he ordered room service. It was a good experience for them, a happy one. It made them feel good. I often envision them in those fancy white robes and matching slippers, eating on the balcony or something. Being happy. I thought yeah … I need to splurge big every once in while. Nothing too crazy, but something room-service worthy.

Rubin’s last contributing factor affecting the money and happiness relationship dealt with how much money you had in relation to others. Now I’m not much into comparing and contrasting my bank accounts with that of my family or friends. It’s just not how I roll, but Rubin’s point wasn’t so much a compare and contrast. It was more of a perspective thing.

“One person’s fortune is another person’s misfortune.” — Gretchen Rubin.

Dude. Yes! Like if Oprah ever complained about having a bad day, I’d be like … are you kidding me? I wish I had one of your bad days. It’d be an improvement to my current starving-writer-working-class existence. But then again someone in another state or country could be looking at my life and thinking, dude you’re definitely rolling in it. They might be delusional for thinking that way, but hey … you, gotta have perspective.

So in the end having money or wealth doesn’t necessarily make you happy, I know this, I got that. But money does provide you with options. Massive options and when it comes to happiness, it’s all about options. I’ve got to work on expanding my options. Maybe I’ll start small and upgrade my Netflix subscription.

Baby steps … baby steps for bigger options.

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Remember … You Survived Lightning

27 Apr

Just when I think things are going well, a setback occurs.

Frustration and anger consume me. But then I remembered a story I read about some tree. I know … a tree, right? But Dale Carnegie wrote it in one of his books or essays and it stuck with me. I often think about it when things don’t turn out the way I planned, which happens often if you want to know the truth.

Oak tree on the top of Ladakalnis

Oak tree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story was about some powerful oak tree, and how year after year of crazy storm weather it remained standing. Through snow storms and practically tornado-like weather, it remained steady… and unmoved. It probably didn’t live in California, it was more like a Midwest tree, I guess. They tend to have tornado-like situations.

In any case, it was tested again when it was struck by lightning. Lightning … not only was it struck by this suck-ass powerful atmospheric electrical discharge, but it probably got the crap scared out of it with the thunder that followed.  It may have lost some leaves and a couple of branches. It was left scarred, making it susceptible to environmental stress. Yeah environments can get stressed out too. But it remained strong and continued to thrive.

But one summer, something smaller than a fingernail got the best of the mighty oak. Termites. Pinche termites. One by one they infested the tree, gnawing at it, picking at it, crawling little by little deep into the trunk. Bit by bit the termite soldiers devoured the tree.

I thought, what the hell kind of crazy tree story is that?

But then Carnegie went off to say that many of us are like the tree, we survive the big blows in life, but it’s the little things that eventually get to us and destroy us. The little things that accumulate and add up and eventually consume us.

So after my little disaster, I thought about the oak tree and its story …  I didn’t want to be the dumbass that survived the lightning strike and then got eaten by termites. Remember you survived lightning! Metaphorically speaking, of course. So I fumigated myself and left the little setback in the past. No need for any more environmental stress.

 

Seven Days, Two Guats, Twelve Boxes, and My Dad’s Taxes.

15 Apr

The Mission: Seven days. 

Seven days of what?

Hostility. Tension. Dirty Looks. Sassiness. And a lot of coffee. All due to the IRS.

Tax

Tax (Photo credit: 401K)

Gas receipts, Costco receipts, plumbing receipts, accounting, pay check stubs, invoices from Diestel Farms and Zacky Farms, deductions for knife sharpening and laundry services, list of tax-deductible donations, and inventory count. Massive inventory count.

Seven days to complete a year’s worth of accounting services always culminated on April 15th. The dreadful April 15 tax deadline. Where was my Dad at 11:59 p.m. on April 15th? At the post office mailing his taxes, probably coming out on the news as one of those people that procrastinate during tax time. Years later when taxes could be filed online, where was he at 11:59 p.m. on April 15th? In front of his computer, hitting the enter button.

My Dad. The Master Procrastinator.

This year the 15th landed on a Sunday, so technically tax deadline usually extends to Monday — a “business day”. If this was the case he’d wait until Monday to file. Somehow time would still escape him.

I used to hate tax week. Every year these seven days haunted me. I’d say the same thing every year.

How come you just don’t do this every month during the year, so we don’t kill ourselves with this paperwork? This pinche paperwork! Why? WHY!

His response was always the same:

It makes it more exciting. But don’t worry next year, next year.

Lies. All lies. Come January, I’d see box one.  He was the Master Procrastinator.

Most people don’t really think about their Dads on tax day. It’s just a day that most Americans paying taxes dread. If you’re getting a refund, well it’s awesome. But if you were like my Dad, a small business owner, the month of April was an unatural disaster wreaking havoc on your sanity.

Sometimesdaily "TAX DAY"

Sometimesdaily "TAX DAY" (Photo credit: oxmour)

I had 12 boxes, each filled with  monthly binders of daily transactions and business accounting stuff for the shop. My Dad was old school. He did not believe in computerized accounting files. He did not believe in Microsoft Excel until the year 2002.

I did not major in business, economics, or accounting. But I got Guat lessons on the subject matter for over twenty years. My Dad did taxes, my uncle did taxes, my cousin did taxes, my sister did taxes, and I did taxes. We were not an H&R Block office, but we learned how to do our own taxes, courtesy of my Dad. He took a course or something and learned all the ins and outs. Ever since then it’s been twenty. Twenty years of 12 boxes with binders.

image via accountingweb.com

I’d have to complete two boxes a day for mission pay-taxes-on-time to be successful. That week was pretty stressful in The Guat household. I usually had to endure my Dad’s grumpiness and hostility for his laziness throughout the year.

Could I initiate any commentary? No. Not allowed. As part of The Guat Clan, it was my duty to help him out. This is what I did. So it was a tag-team effort. Seven days, two Guats, 12 boxes and my Dad’s taxes. Over twenty years. This was our chaotic routine.

So as I look around, I see no boxes overflowing with receipts and checks. I see no boxes filled with coffee-stained invoices. I see no calculators or No.2 Ticonderoga Pencils. I see no pay check stub book. I see no tornado of papers spread all over the kitchen table, living room, or couch. I see an empty coffee pot, nothing percolating but thoughts of my Dad. I hear no sassiness or hostility. I hear no laughter of two exhausted Guats cracking dumb jokes at 11 p.m. I feel no stress of the IRS. An accountant was hired when my Dad passed away.

Sometimes you miss the things you thought you hated. I miss the chaos. I miss those seven days. I miss those twelve boxes. I never thought I would, but I do. Mission pay-taxes-on-time no longer a go.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Through

28 Mar

I'm through with you ...

 

I’m through with this love-hate relationship.

I’m through with the mind games on the putting green when I’m two feet away from the hole.

I’m through with the missed putt, bogeys, double bogeys, and snowballs.

I’m through envisioning my Titleist going straight and then it psyching me out as it slices to the right.

I’m through with the cart girl not having my preferred hops beverage.

I’m through watching the Hank Haney Project in hopes that I’ll improve.

I’m through with messing up the next shot after a great drive.

I’m through with the sand trap and it adding strokes to my game.

I’m through with blading a chip/pitch into the lake.

I’m through with golf swing analysis.

I’m through having patience.

I’m through with Caddy Shack …  nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah

 … maybe not.

 

You Can’t Win It, If You’re Not In It

27 Mar

It’s a small, square, orange piece of paper. But it can change your life. Six numbers that’s all it takes. Possible? Yes. There are people out there that have done it. Bastards. Probable … not so much.

The state lottery was up to 363 million dollars.

Did I buy I ticket?

Yeah.

Do I want to win?

Stupid question.

Will I?

Probably not.

The tickets

But having that small slip of orange paper, made me think of my dad. He wasn’t a compulsive gambler or big purchaser of Lotto, but whenever it was up there he would buy a couple of tickets.

I remember telling him I needed one of his business cards for something and he told me to get it from his wallet — some leather thing he had since 1987 that was holding on to dear life by a thin brown thread.  No matter how many wallets I bought him, they remained in their boxes and my dad held on to his aging money carrier.

As I looked through the wallet, I found a couple of pictures of my sister: One from her junior prom as the reigning queen; One from homecoming as the reigning queen; A glamour shot with a big, red, fluffy, feathery scarf deal and soft lighting happening. She’s in her late thirties and my dad still carried all these old school photos of her.

Me?

One picture. Varsity basketball.

Grandkids? A couple of each kid, smiling that cheesy smile that preschoolers know how to master.

“Hey, what’s up with just one photo of me? What am I chopped liver?”

He’d smile. “I just need one, you never change. This is you always. Plus I have you here in person. Your sister … she’s far away. She’s on the other side of the country. The only reason why she didn’t move any further was because there were no more states … just water.”

I’d explain to him that her job transferred her and she needed to go. But you know dads … him and his “hey, hey, hey … regardless. She could’ve got another job.”

As I continued flipping through his wallet and looking at all the business cards I found a couple of lottery tickets and for some reason that made me sad. I always thought I’d be some big time writer so my dad wouldn’t have to buy lottery tickets.

My dream was to repeat the Citi Credit Card commercial with the father and his son going to the land of their ancestors. Have you seen it?

Yeah I wanted to repeat that version with my dad when he turned sixty, but it never happened. Instead I found state lottery tickets in his sad wallet. Made me feel pretty crappy.

He asked why I looked weird.

I explained to him that I wanted to take him to Spain with my big time writer best-seller book advances or my hit TV drama royalties when he turned sixty. Instead I just bought him a steak dinner and baked him a cake.

“That cake was good,” he said.

I’d shake my head.

“Don’t worry you can still take me to Spain when I turn 65 we’ll eat some paella and tortilla espanola, visit Estremadura … you got five more years, get on it. Dream big, take me on a plane. And don’t worry, if I win the Lotto you can still take me to Spain, we’ll just use that money.”

“I guess I better buy a ticket too. Increase our chances. Can’t win it, if you’re not in it.”

He’d smile and shake his head.

I never got that chance to be the Guat version of the Citi Credit Card commercial. It’s almost going to be two years since he passed. He was 62. I had three years left.

So when ever I see those old, orange lottery tickets folded up in my wallet, I think of my dad, my writer’s dream, and Spain.

The Lorax to the Rescue

1 Mar

As a parent I’ve come to understand that I will fail from time to time. Doesn’t matter that I have a Bachelors or Masters degree I will fail in some way, shape, or form. I feel wretched. But it happens, that’s why Lambic Framboise was invented. But it’s only temporary … just until he turns four … and well … the teenage years.

Friday will be my son’s last day at preschool. I’ve had to pull him out for a couple of reasons. His teacher is going on maternity leave and may not even come back. It took him a long time to successfully transition into her classroom. It was a week and a half of watery eyes, tight hugs, and long good-byes … and this was just me. Seeing my kid break down because he thinks I’m shafting him has that effect.

The school added a new teacher, which meant a new environment, new rules, new scene. It would only be temporary because he would be moved again to the “big kids” room in a couple of months once he turned four. Then the teary-eyed good-bye cycle would return. I  think I’d have to buy a case of Lambic Framboise to get me through these phases, and I really didn’t want to turn into a raging alcoholic at 10 a.m.. So I thought might as well just do the good-bye cycle once and put him in a classroom when he turns four, which is in a couple of months.

Then there’s the move. Since I’ve been a guest at my parents’ house, the trek to his preschool has gotten a little longer, and gas prices are a little higher. I see about twenty preschools on our way to my son’s preschool. I figured once we were settled and moved into our new place, wherever that would be, I would find a quality school … you know, one with no pedafiles or perverts within a ten-mile radius.

But the primary reason: pisto. They’ve raised the tuition and I got no more pisto. Cash. I don’t know how much preschool is in other cities or states, but here in The Guat’s neighborhood the least expensive was $825 per month. I did a lot of research and looked into different places. Places that gave me a good vibe and the highest $1200 the lowest $825. And now it would be $875. I should have been a preschool mogul, instead of a writer. Maybe we’d be in our place by now.

Well with the raise in price and my income not being very incoming, I’ve had to pull the plug and finesse the situation. I felt like a terrible parent. Total downer. I prepared him for two weeks, letting him know when his last day would be, how school was ending, and how he’d be taking a little vacation with mom and then he would return to his new school. The “big boy” school. This did not go over very well.  So I had to be a little more tactful in this delicate situation … a little more politician.

I told him he was graduating.

I told him we had to celebrate his graduation. He did a great job in school and learned a lot of new things. Now he was graduating and we would celebrate. That’s what you do when you get bigger and succeed in school. You graduate. You celebrate with goodies, such as cake.

That seemed a little better, but not yet. He didn’t quite believe me.

Then I said we will have our weekly movie night at the movies. (Thanks to Netflix, we see a movie every week. We cozy up on the couch with Orville Redenbacher and watch Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, Muppets, Nickelodeon or Charlie Brown like films.) I told him we’d make a special field trip to see The Lorax. We will see the Lorax as your graduation present.

The Lorax

Image via Wikipedia

“The Lorax is not a movie mom. It’s a book, see?”

He shows me his worn-out hardcover version of Dr. Seuss‘s The Lorax. We must’ve have read that book at least six hundred times these past two years.

“They made a movie. See?”  A commercial for The Lorax plays on the computer. Then as I close the screen, another commercial appears on the television.

“The Lorax! They made The Lorax Movie for my graduation?”

Yes … yes they did.

He smiled. Lorax to the rescue.

The Coupon Lady

13 Jan
coupon lady!

Image by dusty_pen via Flickr

You go to the grocery store, thinking it’s going to be in- and-out. A quick trip, possibly during halftime, hoping to make it back before the second half begins. You head to the shortest line hoping you get there before the senior citizen with the packed cart. You make it to the conveyor belt and then you see her … ugh … and wince … it’s The Coupon Lady. Have you met this bitch with her multiple transactions and three-ring binder of coupons?

All I wanted to do was pay for my pretzels and fermented beverages and get back to the game. By the time I looked at the other lines they were full with moms, dads, 9-to-5 suits who just got off work and are picking up the bare essentials for tonight’s dinner. I had no choice but to stand there by the KitKats and People en Espanol and pretend to have patience and not roll my eyes. I got back with six minutes left in the fourth quarter. So l told myself…never again will you come during food-traffic time.

The next time I’ll go on a Wednesday at noon. But before this little trip to the grocery store I happen to run into something on The Learning Channel…Extreme Couponing. Have you seen this? These chicks leave with three-weeks worth of groceries and five boxes of diapers for a dollar nineteen.

Dude.

These women mastered the art of the double coupon. But the thing is they don’t even use half of the stuff. It’s kept in their Costco-size pantries or garages to live a happy shelf life. I mean who eats that much ketchup? I was hoping that some of them donate to food banks or shelters, but they look like crazy hoarders.

Dude. The Learning Channel educates. I looked at the paper, daily circulars, and the internet. I did my grocery homework that week.

Once prepared, I decided to go to the grocery store in the middle of the day and shop for the week. I took my time. Got in line and started unpacking my stuff, made sure I got my pretzels and beverages with that extra hops flavor and something from Belgium just as a treat. Before I knew it I was separating my food groups, using my club card and giving the checker some of manufacture coupons and internet coupons.

I was not an extreme couponer at all, more like a novice with training wheels. I felt proud for saving a couple of bucks. I saw the total winding down, and as I turned around, I saw it … A single man in worn-out jeans holding a Hungry Man dinner and Gatorade.

Crap!

I’d become the Coupon Lady during the lunch rush.

He gave me the look. No … not the Coupon Lady … but the Coupon Lady Bitch with multiple transactions and two kids, one of the verge of a meltdown.

Duuuuuuuuuude.

Sometimes you need more than a life preserver

12 Jan

You ever feel like you’re just staying afloat with a second-hand life preserver from a garage sale and then something or someone pulls the tape off the gaping hole, which then sucks out the remaining air in the process? 

Ugh.

That’s what the unexpected feels like. Things like speeding tickets and pimples. Or in my case a $626 bill from some ultrasound that happened about 11 months ago and my kid is five months old. What is that and why am I just getting it now? Where’s my insurance?

I’m trying to rack up enough money here so that I can move out of my parent’s place and I get hit with something like that. I thought I had insurance. I thought all the bills were paid five months ago when we brought the baby home. What are these trickling financial side effects of birth? In addition to the $626, I got another bill for $174 for the anesthesiologist. Dude. I was there for one day and one night. It’s not like I got a suite at the Bellagio in Vegas. I was at the hospital experiencing the painful miracle of birth. And here I am five months later continuing to receive bills. I thought I’d get pediatrician bills yes…definitely yes. Giving birth bills no…no. I thought that was done.

Pre-natal care, hospital fees, doctor bill, anesthesiologist, lab results and pediatrician exam. If I had shown up in an ambulance I would have to sell my car.

I went through the entire wonderful customer service representative experience that seemed to raise my blood pressure and that cost is still up in the air with my insurance company. I’m hoping it’s an error. As for the anesthesiologist…well that happened to be out-of-pocket. I don’t know why it took them five months, and neither do they, but apparently the billing clerk had a valid point. $174 seems like a good deal for a less painful birthing experience. I mean you did need it, didn’t you? Dude…like I need oxygen.   

So for now the unexpected continues and the holes in my financial life preserver keep getting bigger. Suze Orman would be so disappointed.