Saturday, July 29, 2006

Tons of great recent posts

I'm off on vacation again for a week or so. But never fear, I've compiled a great list of links you can check out to tide you over until I return.

The Festival of Under 30 Finances is here (the answers to the question, "What's more important, your GPA or first job?") and here (the actual posts). While we're at it, don't forget the new website for the Under 30 Honor Roll itself, which is getting new content all the time.

Also, the Carnival of Personal Finance was at Savvy Saver (and, of course, the Festival of Frugality was here!)

At Frugal for Life, ~Dawn had a couple of posts I really liked this week: one on the "enoughness pledge" and one about thoughtful living.

Mighty Bargain Hunter has a great post about how people are always referred to as "consumers" and things like "the decrease in consumer spending" is considered bad news.

The Frugal Duchess has a ton of tips about eating more fresh fruits and vegetables-- something I really need to do better. A lot of the tips are targeted to parents with children, but there are so many that there's something for everyone (and some of the clearly kid-focused ones sound good to me too, maybe I'm just a kid at heart!)

There've been a number of posts about charitable giving recently, including at Young and Broke, My Money Forest, Dumb Little Man, and a vacation rerun from Free Money Finance. I love seeing so much stuff about charity in just one week!

Don't forget to visit Get Rich Slowly and Punny Money as they participate in a 24-hour blogathon for charity on Saturday July 29th (thru the morning of the 30th) and offer them your support (both by commenting and cheering them on, and by hopefully chipping in a little towards their charities of choice).

And I feel like I'm missing some other great posts I've read recently, too. Well, just keep checking while I'm gone and I promise you'll never lack good stuff to read...

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Could you wear the same outfit every day for a year? (the Brown Dress Project)

This is so fascinating-- a woman named Alex Martin in Seattle wore the same little brown dress every day for a full year (through 7/7/06). This is how she describes it:

So, here's the deal - I made this dress and I wore it every day for a year. I made one small, personal attempt to confront consumerism by refusing to change my dress for 365 days.

In this performance, I challenged myself to reject the economic system that pushes over-consumption, and the bill of goods that has been sold, especially to women, about what makes a person good, attractive and interesting. Clothes are a big part of this image, and the expectation in time, effort, and financial investment is immense.

This project absolutely blows my mind. It's a combination of performance art (she's an artist/dancer/choreographer who designed and made the dress herself, and saw it as an art project both in ordinary daily life and through specific performances about it); a public statement to provoke thought on consumerism and materialism and simplicity, on feminism and fashion and superficiality, and the way those areas intersect; and a deeply personal experience. I really enjoyed reading her journal entries throughout the year. For example:

It's January, which means lots of "sale" racks around town. I noticed one beckoning from inside a store as I was waiting for the bus the other day. A big mash of sparkly stretchy things, hangers mashing up against each other in an appealing tangle, big paper signs telling me "$10 rack" "clearance". There I was, literally "killing time", waiting for the bus, and I felt so happy when I realized I was not responsible for going over to the "sale rack" and spending my time shopping.

It made me realize the strange relationship I have had, since maybe 6th grade or so, with the "sale rack". The word RESPONSIBLE keeps coming up. Almost like I am urgently responsible for shopping my way through it to be sure that there is nothing I want. If I don't take time to look, it's like I'm throwing away a vital opportunity.
Or how about this?
I have become really sensitized to our cultural slant towards giving "compliments" on each others' daily outfit. "Oh, I just love your (fill in the blank - bag, hair, shoes, socks, sweater, dress, earrings, jacket, bracelet, hat, scarf)" - and tragically often, this is the intro to a conversation about where the item in question was purchased, a perfect segue back into our place as consumers in this economy. These conversations are not out-and-out evil, but I do think they are a symptom of the insidious fashion culture that keep us, and here I mean ESPECIALLY girls/women/ladies, so ridiculously busy consuming. waxing, accessorizing, and beautifying to perfect our wardrobes and fashion alignments that we can't possibly find the time to accomplish anything more revolutionary or important.
My neighbor totally warmed my heart the other day, I've been telling quite a few people this story. He said "You know, I just saw you in your dress and I realized that I'm not going to buy the shiny new bicycle that I looked at today after all. I'm training for a triathlon and I thought I needed a new bike to go a little faster, but just seeing you right now made me realize that my old one will be just fine." I feel very honored.
I could quote her forever, but I'll just highly encourage you to go over there and read it yourself. (If you need more encouragement, there are cute kid pictures there too!)

What Alex did was obviously a dramatic and radical act, and probably most of us figure we could never do it just based on the reactions we'd get from others. But maybe those reactions wouldn't be as strong as we expect. From the MP Dunleavey article where I first learned about the project:
When Alex Martin started wearing her little brown dress day in and day out, "I expected to get a lot of flak," she says. To her surprise, few people even noticed. "We are all so concerned with our own lives and families and work and whatever we're doing, most people don't judge what you do," Martin says. "I think we need to give people the benefit of the doubt."
To me, that's a very important point. So often, we're reluctant to take steps we'd personally like to take because we worry about what other people think of us. It's pretty liberating to consider that if someone could wear the same outfit every day for a whole year and generally avoid notice, there are probably a ton of less dramatic things we could allow ourselves to pursue if we stopped worrying so much about the eyes of the world upon us, judging us. How many rules do we follow because "everyone else does/has it" or "that's just how things are" that we could step back from? How much time, money, and energy do we spend on things that we don't really need to?

I find the Brown Dress project utterly fascinating and thought-provoking, and I think it will keep provoking more of my thoughts for quite some time. What I'm personally taking from it right now is about questioning assumptions and "rules" and trends and expectations, and about finding ways to define yourself and make yourself happy that come from inside you instead of outside. Those are big important things that go much broader and deeper than personal finance, but I think they're also very applicable and important to our financial decisions as well, especially in the sense that "personal finance" isn't naturally isolated from the rest of our lives but instead it's all intimately and inextricably intertwined.

(By the way, after her one year ended on July 7th, Alex is pursuing a new approach to clothing: she'll wear a very pared-down "intentional wardrobe" she's designing and building herself out of reused materials. She kept most of her closetful of clothes throughout her brown-dress year, but is now donating bags and bags worth to Goodwill.)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Tips for choosing and using frequent flyer programs

This weekend, I'm taking a $450 flight for free.  As you probably guessed, I'm using frequent flyer miles to do it.  This is actually the first time I've redeemed miles, because most flights I take cost $150-$200 roundtrip, and it seems inefficient to use an award good for any domestic flight on a ticket that cheap.  So I was patient, and lo and behold, this situation came up where I needed a $450 ticket, and out came the miles.  This is an important (though obvious) tip for using frequent flyer programs-- get the most out of the rewards that you can.

Also, on this trip I'm traveling with my boyfriend, who rarely flies and isn't interested in accumulating miles.  So I actually put the award into his name, and the paid ticket is technically for me.  This is because paid tickets earn you miles and award tickets don't.  When redeeming awards, give the paid seat to the person who most needs/wants the miles and the free seat to the person who doesn't.

Here are some other things that I've learned about frequent flyer programs.  (I should let you know that I fly with intermediate frequency, about 10-15 times a year; if you fly constantly for work, or if you rarely fly, your experiences may be a little different, although I've tried to make this as broadly applicable as possible.)  I'd love to hear suggestions and tips from other people as well.

Without further ado:

  • Sign up for the frequent flyer program for every airline you fly.  They're free, and it never hurts to get credit for your flight, even if you're pretty sure you're not going to fly that airline again, because you never know what'll end up happening.  (If you don't get a chance to sign up before the flight, you can usually sign up afterwards and get them to retroactively credit you.)  However, and this is not contradictory...
  • Focus your flying on one or two airlines.  Try to concentrate your flying, and therefore your miles-earning, as much as possible.  This is hard if much of your travel is for work, but you may be able to specify priority airlines, or if you're lucky like me, you can pick your own flights as long as the price is the cheapest or comparable.  If you're paying out of pocket, obviously you don't want to pay a lot more just to fly on your primary airline, but if the prices are the same or comparable, you can focus in on your target airline(s).  To make this easier, you should...
  • Pick airlines that have your city as a hub, or travel heavily out of your city.  It's also useful to keep an eye on the airlines that fly to the cities you travel to most often and/or have a hub there.  In many cases, you can find one or two airlines that will consistently have the lowest fare on most flights you want to take, which makes compiling miles much easier.
  • Figure out if you want a program based on miles or segments.  If you tend to fly long distances, you probably want your flights to be counted by miles.  If you fly a lot of short hops, you may be better off with a program based on flight segments.  
  • Look out for programs' expiration policies.  Sometimes you have to use your credit within a certain amount of time; in other programs, as long as you keep your account active by earning miles, they'll keep accumulating indefinitely.  If you're not going to earn enough credits to use before they expire, the program won't do you much good.
  • Hunt around for special bonuses.  For example, if you're a college student, you can join the College Plus program at United Mileage Plus and then get 10,000 miles just for graduating college!  (That's 40% of what you need for a domestic ticket.)  I'm guessing there are similar programs on other airlines.  Do you know of any good bonus deals?
  • Consider credit card options carefully.  There are a lot of ways you can go about combining your credit cards with a frequent flyer program.  In my experience, most of the ones that have no annual fee don't earn you enough miles to make it worth choosing over a cash-back card.  A better deal might be one of the annual fee cards that give you a big mileage bonus for signing up (especially if you have a flight coming up you want to use miles for and the bonus will put you over the top).  These cards will typically waive the fee for the first year, and you can either cancel it after a year or keep it and pay the fee. Obviously you'll want to consider the implications for your credit; some people sign up for and then cancel these cards over and over again, but I don't recommend it.  The annual fee cards typically give you a better miles to dollars payoff than no-fee cards, and if you charge a lot on your credit card, they may be worthwhile anyway; the math has just never worked out that way for me.
  • Look for non-flight ways to earn miles.  Most airlines have "partners" that'll let you earn miles by eating out, staying in hotels, renting cars, buying groceries, and much more.  For me personally this makes up a very small share of my mileage earning, but for someone who doesn't fly much and/or spends a lot of money already with an airline's partner(s), it could be very helpful. 
  • Look for non-flight ways to redeem miles.  As with any rewards program, things that cost the least miles/points are probably the worst value, but if you're not going to end up with enough for a flight, you might as well get a free magazine. 
  • Donate your miles to charity.  If you have miles sitting around and it seems hopeless that you'll ever accumulate enough to redeem them for anything, many airlines have programs where you can donate them to charities (to help fund travel for humanitarian aid workers, sick kids and their families through Make-A-Wish, etc).
What are your tips, suggestions, experiences?  Please share...

P.S. A great resource on frequent flyer programs is FlyerTalk

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Festival of Frugality #32

I'll give credit where credit is due
'Twas Make Love Not Debt's brilliant haiku
That inspired this plan;
Now I'll do what I can
To be clever, yet useful to you.

Welcome to Festival of Frugality #32, and if you haven't been here before, welcome to Money and Values! Please take a moment to look around and check out some of my most interesting posts, listed over in the sidebar. I have a special focus on the intersection of financial decisions with social values, although I also do a lot of pretty standard blogging on frugality.

Without further ado, this week's submissions, in limerick form, follow. Keep an eye out for the three posts (including the first one) which I've spotlighted because of their attention to the intersection of money and values.

Money and values spotlight:
There's a blogger, David, from LA
Who's come up with 13 different ways
To not only save dough
But the planet also
So check out The Good Human today.

Amy at MomAdvice is obsessed
With microfiber
; says it's the best.
You can clean everywhere
Stuff diapers, dry kids' hair
And reuse them. Why mess with the rest?

Julie Mayfield has a list of tips
For people whose doctors write them 'scrips
If your drug costs are high
You should give these a try
To help decrease financial hardships.

Supermom in New York lists the chief
Things to do with leftover ground beef

One post in a great set
At Getting Out of Debt
On leftovers as fiscal relief.

Amanda, who writes Young and Broke
Says finding an apartment's no joke
But she has some advice
That'll make it more nice
For new grads and other searching folk.

If you sweat in the heat of July
Free Money Finance thinks you should try
Keeping your curtains closed--
He saves big bucks with those--
Go read more if you want to know why!

This fine festival's creator, Jim,
Says that if you are looking to trim
Your gas costs, please beware
All the gas myths out there
For the details, I'll leave it to him.

Tricia's grocery bills are too high
So she's found some new tips she can try
She lists some of the best
And then links to the rest
Giving many ideas to apply.

A West Virginia mom, Stephanie,
Explores how to teach frugality
So kids learn needs from wants;
She shares and seeks response
On what other parents think is key.

Money and values spotlight:
Nina posts at the great blog QueerCents
And, pondering gas prices, lamentsHow that pain hits the poorWorse than those who have more,
And their troubles become more intense.

Mighty Bargain Hunter found a way
To encourage his daughter to play
Music, to his delight,
And the price is just right
So go read all about it today.

If you live with one of man's best friends
Here are some tips Ricemutt recommends
To keep doggie costs down;
These are ideas he's found
That help decrease the amount he spends.

Money and values spotlight:
Wenchypoo writes of water's importance
And the shortages which that portends
She suggests conservation
For our preservation
And smart stock-picking that will make more cents.

If you need to resolve a complaint
Ian Anderson counsels restraint
His advice is quite smart;
If you take it to heart
You'll be helped even if not a saint.

Steve Faber has a blog called Debt Free
With a post mortgage-seekers should see:
"Mortgage Traps to Avoid"
So your hopes aren't destroyed
By fraud or exorbitant fees.

If you've got a birthday coming soon
Here's something better than a balloon
You can get food for free
Don't just take it from me
MyMoneyBlog's deals will make you swoon.

Over at a blog called Free the Drones
There's a post that not only bemoans
Gas prices, but includes
Tips to save, and alludes
To a Yahoo! article it hones.

There's a blogger named Kira who wears
The same pants each day-- she has five pairs!
She asks "Boring or wise?"
Well, it seems well-advised
For the very good reasons she shares.

If you're looking for HDTV
And you live near a major city
Just follow this link
It's simpler than you think
To get your HDTV for free.

mapgirl at Mapgirl's Fiscal Challenge presents Some Wedding Drama Resolved

Friday, July 21, 2006

Is it better to give $37 billion or $1,000?

There's been much ado lately over Warren Buffett's announcement that he's donating $37 billion to charity. Now, don't get me wrong-- Buffett's gift will probably help millions of people, and he does deserve a round of applause. But I'm not so sure the standing ovation is warranted.

Yes, $37 billion is a lot of money. A whole lot of money. More than the GDP of about 2/3 of the world's countries. Yet is his gift 37,000,000 times more admirable than a $1,000 gift? I don't think so. In fact, in a lot of cases, I think the $1,000 gift is more admirable.

Although the percent of households that give to charity increases steadily as family income goes up (from 50-60% up to 80-90%), the percent of income that's donated is actually higher among the lower-income givers than their middle and upper class counterparts. And it's even more dramatic than it looks. Someone earning $30,000 a year who gives 5% away has $28,500 to live on; someone earning $300,000 a year who gives 5% away has $285,000 to live on. So what if the second person gives a dollar amount that's 10 times higher? They also have $250,000 more for themself. (And that's not to mention the difference in the tax deduction benefits, if the $30,000 earner itemizes at all.)

This is part of my problem with the hurrah over Buffett's decision. Yes, it's wonderful for him to give away $37 billion. But he's still got $7 billion for himself. It's not like this is a deeply painful act of self-sacrifice. At a certain point-- a point that Buffett passed long ago-- money is just numbers and figures, and it doesn't matter if he has $1 billion or $10 billion or $100 billion.

Of course, there are plenty of other rich people who give nothing or a pittance. But I'm not sure how much this reflects positively on Buffett as it reflects negatively on people like the five Waltons who would rather preserve their $16 billion (each!) for their own family instead of giving it away to help thousands of other families-- and/or instead of squeezing every dime out of their store employees and the workers at the sweatshops they contract with for their products.

To his immense credit, Buffett seems to have a handle on all of this himself. He sounds like a a good guy and a modest one, and from what I've read, he probably doesn't believe he deserves all this fuss, either. He even called the donation "a non-event for me... in some ways." He says of himself and his late wife: "To the extent we did amass wealth, we were totally in sync about what to do with it - and that was to give it back to society. In that, we agreed with Andrew Carnegie, who said that huge fortunes that flow in large part from society should in large part be returned to society." And that "I would argue that when your kids have all the advantages anyway, in terms of how they grow up and the opportunities they have for education, including what they learn at home - I would say it's neither right nor rational to be flooding them with money. In effect, they've had a gigantic headstart in a society that aspires to be a meritocracy." Good for him.

But there are also countless everyday people out there who stretch to cover the basics for their own families, and still make it a priority to donate money to people in need, to tithe to their church, to take time at the end of a long hard day to volunteer. When they give to others, they can feel the hit hard in their own lives, but they do it anyway because they believe it's the right thing to do. In my book, those are the real heroes.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Festival of Frugality here next week! (plus links to this week's FoF and CoPF)

I'm hosting my very first festival/carnival ever-- the Festival of Frugality for next week-- and I'm way excited. I have some neat ideas up my sleeve that I hope you'll like, so please submit your posts and keep an eye out for the festival next Tuesday!

In related news, today's Festival of Frugality is at Financial Reflections. And the Carnival of Personal Finance for this week is at Just Another Money Blog.

Save for tomorrow or live for today?

Obviously the answer lies somewhere in the middle-- but where? We take pride in making responsible choices for the future instead of thinking only of today, but do you ever feel like you're going too far? Not appreciating the present enough?

I hear that suggestion a lot regarding how much money frugalites and penny-pinchers spend: that we're not enjoying life enough because we're not willing to spend much money. The thing is, I don't think that spending more money would make me noticeably more happy! I mean, certainly there are some things that I could spend more on and enjoy-- probably more expensive vacations, maybe going out to eat more and/or at fancier places-- but in general I'm very comfortable with the way things are. I find ways to enjoy myself that are free, cheap, or just good values for the money... and if there's something that comes up that's expensive but would be really wonderful, I weigh it carefully but am pretty good about letting myself go for it if it's worth it.

However, it's the flip side that concerns me. The amount you save is a combination of how much you make and how much you spend, so it follows that to save the most for tomorrow you need to make as much money as you can today. A lot of personal finance bloggers like to stress the importance of increasing your income as much as possible.

For me personally, while I'm not earning as much as I could if income was my only priority, at $47,000/year I'm above average for my age group and well above average for liberal arts majors. And I'm still doing a job I like and one I feel is good for society. The thing is, I've never really envisioned myself following a standard "career path." My top priority is helping to make positive change in society, and I've fully intended to experiment with a variety of non-profit organizations and jobs and evaluate which feels most right to me. While I like it well enough, I know that my current job isn't "the one." Yet most of the other options will likely pay substantially less, in some cases perhaps as little as half as much. So the question is, how long should I stay at a good-paying job that I'm fairly but not completely happy with? I definitely want to try other work, but don't I have plenty of time for that later on?

There are many arguments for doing higher-paying work first-- getting money into savings and taking advantage of compounding interest, paying off debt-- and putting off more satisfying but lower-paying work for later, maybe even until retirement or an early retirement. (For just one example, it's the classic recommendation for socially-minded lawyers: put in a few years at a big firm, rake in the dough, pay off your loans and save up, and then later you can give it up and go do your public interest law.) But the approach worries me in a lot of ways. What if I get too used to the benefits of making my current income? How do I decide when I'm financially "ready" to switch to a lower-paying job? And what if when that "ready" comes, it coincides with the time in my life when I'm looking to buy a home, get married, have children, etc, and suddenly the financial hit seems a lot less doable?

So maybe it's better to try different and more challenging options now, when I'm young and more flexible and I know I can pull it off. Besides, who knows what unforeseen things could happen in my life that might constrain my future decisions? I'm sure I'll regret it if I don't try working at other kinds of organizations; I would hate to look back and realize that I missed out on great opportunities only because I was too concerned about the size of my retirement account. There's a lot to be said for seizing the moment.

I have a personal goal to let concerns about money affect my choices as little as humanly possible. The hard part is finding the best way to do this. Working to save as much money as I can is one way to help free me from money concerns later in life, but it means putting money squarely in the center of my decision-making process today. If I try not to worry about money and income in the present, that will make things harder in the future. It's so hard to figure out where the right balance is.

Do you struggle with tradeoffs between earning money and being happy and fulfilled? While I doubt many people have precisely the same concerns as me, I feel like this dilemma is probably applicable using a lot of different measures of happiness and satisfaction: pleasant vs. unpleasant work environments, a more personally satisfying career vs. a higher-paying career, a job that has shorter hours and/or is more flexible vs. a job that eats into your personal life but pays well, even working vs. staying home with kids. How do you make these kinds of decisions in your life?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

How much do you keep in your checking account?

I tend to keep about $1000 extra in my checking account (plus any amount I know will need to be deducted before my next paycheck)... not for any particular logical reason, just out of habit. It's essentially a great big security blanket. I have actually never bounced a check, so I have no good explanation for why I feel like I need so much in my checking account. Most of my daily expenses go on my credit card, which means I have plenty of time to make sure I can pay it off at the end of the month. And it's not like it'd be hard to get at the money in my money market account if I needed it. So why do I feel like I need to keep so much in checking?

On the other hand, even if I shifted that whole $1000 over to my money market account, it'd only get me, what, an extra $40 a year? If (more realistically) I cut the amount in half, that'd be earning $20 more a year, less than $2 a month. Isn't $2 a month worth it for peace of mind? Then again, I've done plenty of sillier things to save $2 or $20.

What do you think? How much extra do you keep in your checking account, and why? We could even do a meme about this if people are interested... feel free to answer in the comments, or make your own post and I'll link to it.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Check out the Festival of Under 30 Finances!

Don't miss the new Festival of Under 30 Finances over at Penny Foolish!  Kira has done a great job of organizing this group of under-30 pfbloggers (see the list of links in my sidebar) and this carnival. 

Along with some great posts, all of us who submitted also talked about our  majors in college and whether they relate to our jobs.  I feel like I'm in the song "One of these things is not like the other"!  I seem to be the only liberal arts major of the bunch... everyone else majored in science, IT, finance/accounting, etc.  (And, probably not coincidentally, almost everyone else seems to use their major in their jobs more than I do!) 

I wonder if this is true of the pfblogger community in general?  Do the factors that make us personal finance-minded also make us more likely to pick college majors that pay off in practical skills for our careers?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

7/11 = 7-11's free slurpees!

Yes, it's July 11th, which means it's time for 7-11's annual free slurpee day.  Of course, it's only a 7.11oz slurpee, but hey, that's something!  I've managed to completely miss this for the last couple years, but this year, I'm totally on it.  And you can be too.  Yay for free things!

Gas mileage tips for cheaper road trips

I'm back from my vacation, which was most importantly fun and relaxing-- but being pretty darn affordable is a nice plus!

One thing that kept costs down was getting the best gas mileage we could manage. Considering that we used roughly 75 gallons of gas, it was a worthwhile priority.

Our fuel economy was helped, first and foremost, by my conversion to cruise control. I've never liked cruise control; it always kind of freaks me out to be zooming down the highway at top speeds and basically letting the car drive itself! Plus I worry that I'll get distracted if I have too little to think about while driving. But my boyfriend knows my weak spots; we calculated that it cost us about $1 more for every hour of me driving without cruise control versus him driving with it. So I gritted my teeth and plunged in, and although it took me maybe a half-hour to get through the jitters, it turned out to be not so bad. So, first tip: use cruise control! (At least if you're on mostly flat ground; if the terrain is hilly, you'll actually get worse gas mileage than if you were doing it yourself unless you're pretty bad at it.)

Another money-saving benefit of cruise control is that it cuts out the risk of inadvertently speeding faster than you intend, and ending up with a pricey speeding ticket. Of course, if you actually set your cruising speed that high...

Other ways to improve gas mileage:

  • Keep your speed down. Gas mileage declines dramatically when you get above 60 mph. We stayed at a pretty steady 70 mph, as speed limits varied from 65 to 75 on the highway. This is a hard one, though, when you have a long way to go and are impatient to get there.
  • Use air conditioning instead of opening windows. This surprised me, but apparently the aerodynamic impact of open windows on the highway is worse for gas mileage than using the air conditioner. (Or at least they're about the same; apparently there is some controversy on this point.) In slower or city driving, however, AC is definitely worse than keeping the windows down. And of course it's even better to keep the windows closed and the AC off, and just use the fan or nothing at all, if you can manage it... but on hot days, sometimes it's just not worth it! Driving at night or early in the morning can help, though.
  • Lighten your load. Not much we could do about this one, unfortunately. But at least we didn't use a roof rack, which is even worse.
  • Don't accelerate while going uphill. It's massively inefficient, so don't do it unless you really have to.
  • Keep your car well-maintained. Keeping your engine tuned-up, having a clean air-filter, clean oil, proper tire pressure, and other factors improve your fuel economy. Obviously taking care of your car will pay off financially in other ways, too!
Do you have any other tips or suggestions?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Feedback and Suggestions

I'm off on vacation for 9 days; I won't be back until July 10th.

While I'm gone, if it strikes your fancy, I'd love it if you'd leave comments about what you think about my little blog here. What kinds of posts you've liked so far, and which not-so-much. Any ideas or suggestions for things to post about would be great! Do you have questions for me about anything-- my life, my thoughts on some issue, your life? Here's the place for you... this post and its comments will be sitting around for a week and a half, beckoning to you to speak up...

Calculating an "hourly wage"-- does it matter?

There are a lot of suggestions about evaluating whether doing such-and-such is worth your effort, typically by calculating out the equivalent of an hourly wage and comparing it to what you make on the job. (This can apply either if you're spending time to make money or spending time to save money.)

My problem with this is that it's way oversimplified. Say I get sent a $5 Pinecone survey which will take me 20 minutes to do. That's the equivalent of $15 an hour. But my hourly pay at my regular job works out to $20-ish an hour... so should I not do the surveys?

The only way this really makes sense would be if I had the opportunity to spend an extra 20 minutes at work and chose instead to dedicate that time to the survey. (Actually, that still wouldn't make sense since I'm salaried, but you get the idea.) But that's not usually going to be the situation.

What you really need to do is honestly evaluate what you'd be doing with your time otherwise. If you'd be wasting it, then you might as well do whatever-it-is, regardless of how much it pays/saves. (Explaining why I, and 9,999 other people, drew a sheep for 2 cents.) If it's time you'd otherwise use on things like spending time with your family, well, that's a consideration far beyond money, and I can't see how knowing the "hourly wage" will help you much.

Otherwise, all your calculations will do is make you grumble, "This work is paying me the equivalent of $8 an hour, I haven't been paid that since high school, that's lame," and then you'll go back to eating popcorn and watching TV and making $0.