Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

August 1, 2018
by funny
8 Comments

Crazy Ol’ Lady Day at Costco

Home, sweet home…

Well, the Costco Cash Card Budgeting Scheme worked out exceptionally well for July. By the 31st — yesterday — I ended up with $54 and change left on the prepaid card for in-store shopping (budget: $300), and about $45 left on the gasoline card (budget: $60).

The gas card held up well because I’d filled the tank right at the end of May — the 30th or 31st — so in fact the $60 budget intended to cover two fill-ups was only needed for one, and that, not a total fill-up. And the three hundred bucks was probably about right for a month’s worth of grocery and sundry purchases, in the absence of the dreaded Impulse Buy.

So today I join my friends and companions in shopping crime for a Costco Run. We get there as the store opens, but it’s still monstrously hot outside, and warm inside the store, too. This particular day, I’ve driven us not to our favorite store on the fringe of East Richistan, but to a more middle-class outlet on the lower edge of Whiteyville, up on the I-17 freeway. This is a good enough store, but what draws me is that they sell propane. For a lot less than regular vendors do. And I’m low on propane. I lash two tanks into the back compartment of the unbeloved Venza, and we’re off.

We circumnavigate the store, but we find it a little frustrating because its layout is nothing like the other two big-box warehouses we frequent. And I’m pretty sure they’ve rearranged everything since the last time I was there…so I’m no help at all, because I have no clue where they’ve put things. NOTHING is in what feels like a normal place. We wander around, perplexed, dodging millennials and their urchins and generally having to walk three times as many steps as we would normally have to do, to find the stuff we normally buy.

In the course of this venture, Mr. Friend says he’s not feeling well and needs to sit down. Mr. F, you should know, is in his 90s, as is Mrs. F. Fortunately, Costco is selling furniture these days, so Mrs. F and I park him in a dining-room set and take off to find the last couple of items we need. But since he has remarked that he’s afraid his heart may be acting up, I’m worried.

Shortly, we head for the check-out. Mercifully, the lines are extremely short, and we get up to the cash register forthwith.

I tell the cash register guy, when he presents me with a bill for $156, that I would like to top up the depleted Costco cash card with another $250, and then pay the bill with the cash card. He says he can’t do that: he can’t add new money to an old cash card.

Huh? That’s not what they told me at the Outer East Richistan store.

But, says he while I’m puzzling over this discrepancy, he can take the $55 off the old card, put it onto a new cash card, and then I can use my credit-union debit card to add $250 to this new card.

It’s hot, I’m tired, and I’m worried about my friend, so I say okay, make it so. We get through the checkout, stumble back out into the heat, collect the propane tanks, and escape.

When I get home, I look at the receipt and realize that what this idiot has done is, yes, filled up the cash card with money extracted from my checking account via the debit card. A-N-N-D…THEN he has drained another $156 from my checking account to pay for the stuff I specifically asked to put on the cash card.

WTF????

So now I have to get into my car and drive through the heat, fight for a parking space, and hike across the parking lot to my local Costco, down on Conduit of Blight Blvd.

God. DAMN. It.

When I get there and explain that with $156 extra taken out of the bank, I won’t be able to pay the utility bills, the customer service lady is flabbergasted to learn the guy told me he couldn’t refill the cash card. Of course he can refill the cash card, said she.

She called over a guy and said “Fix this!”

And he fixed it. What he did, basically, was simply withdraw $160 from the card and had me a fistful of cash.

This worked. I can either schlep it up to the credit union and re-deposit it (oh, goodie! another 40 minutes of dodging my fellow homicidal drivers through 115-degree heat!) or simply use it to buy stuff during this month. Probably the later is the path of least resistance.

While I was there, I refilled the gas tank, leaving $8.25 of the original $60 cash card for gasoline.

Tomorrow I have to drive to Tempe, so for sure I’m not going to make a whole month on one tank of gas. That’s really pretty unusual…normally I’d have to fill up twice in 30 or 31 days. But still: I’ll only have to put $51.75 on it to top it back up to sixty bucks.

Meanwhile, $40 was left from the rest of this month’s budget, after everything was paid. So I’m figuring if I shifted that over to the Emergency Savings Project, that would help to revive the account to its former glory We put $681 in there, the max I could spare from July’s Social Security deposit and still have enough in checking to live. If no emergencies require withdrawals from that account (har har!!!), then in a year there should be $8,172 for unexpected expenses.

Obviously that ain’t a-gunna happen. But it’s nice to dream, eh?

It would be slightly likelier to happen if at the end of each month I transferred whatever few dollars remained unspent from that month’s budget. Say, $40…multiplied by 12, that would add $480 to the pot. And if $40 is left over at the end of July, the worst month in creation for utility bills, then a lot more would be left over in January and February.

When I got home from the second Costco junket, I realized I’d failed to buy coffee while we were at the Whiteyville store. However, there’s a Costco on the way home from Tempe, on 44th street just north of the freeway. So I’ll have to stop by there tomorrow afternoon. In the heat. Probably in the rush hour, by the time I spring free from the university library.

What fun: three Costco trips in two days! 😀

July 31, 2018
by funny
2 Comments

Live-Blogging from Storm Central

July 30, 8:00 p.m.

Well, not exactly blogging: power’s out and likely to be that way for quite some time. We could say “pre-blogging”…in Word, the laptop being fully charged but, of course, offline.

Dinner at M’hijito’s house. Just as we were finishing the feast, we could see the storm blowing in, and then a pretty heavy dust-storm hit his part of town. I wanted to get home, as I’d taken a Benadryl a few hours earlier to stave off a (weird!) allergic reaction, and it had turned me into a zombie. Just wanted to go home and go straight to bed.

Not so much.

So I figured if I was lucky and the traffic was thin, I could fly low and get home before the rain started.

Wrong.

About halfway up the north leg of the trip, some serious rain started to sluice down. Limbs were already down all over the road, and now it was sheeting rain. An ambulance trundled by and – oh yeah, naturally – turned into the ’hood.

My beaten path to avoid Big Brother’s hateful speed bumps and aggravating round-abouts entails entering our area from the east side on a little neighborhood lane that everybody who lives here knows runs from Main Drag east to Primary Feeder Street North/South.

Via Neighborhood Lane, I’m trying to reach Secondary Feeder North/South, midway between Main Drag East and Primary Feeder Street North/South, by way of making my way up to the small neighborhood road that runs from Lower Richsistan to Normalville, my part of the ’hood.

I get about three-quarters of the way up to Small Neighborhood Road and find a large branch down across Secondary Feeder N/S. So hang a U-ie and go back down to Neighborhood Lane, upon which I figure to reach Primary Feeder N/S. And THERE I find my neighbor Josie stopped in front of an entire downed tree.

In the dark, it appears a whole Aleppo pine – and these things are HUGE – uprooted and came crashing down across the road. I get out of my car to check the house across the street, to see if everyone’s OK. It looks like it didn’t quite reach that house, but it’s in their yard. If the residents are home, they’re huddled inside. I don’t think anyone’s hurt.

Josie knows the people who own the house where the tree stood, and she’s on the phone to them. They’re not home. We think their house is OK…except, ahem, for the absence of one exceptionally large shade tree.

Now I tell Josie that I couldn’t get through on Seccondary Feeder N/S. She says she couldn’t get through on the Main Drag to the south, either, because the power is out and the traffic is insane. She doesn’t think we can even reach Primary Feeder Street N/S along Main Drag South.

I say I think I can pull the downed limb off the road if we go back up Secondary. We both make U-turns and she follows me up Secondary. But by now others are trying to get through, and now a neighbor – a large male neighbor – is out in front of the house where the limb fell, trying to wave people away from the traffic jam.

I say I think we can pull it far enough off the road for cars to pass. He says he tried and couldn’t move it. He suggests we go up the wrong way on Secondary – Secondary is a divided road with a planter strip up the middle. No one is coming in our direction, so Josie and I cut across the road and make our way up the down street.

Luckily, we reach Main Feeder East/West before anybody comes our way. And before a cop comes along.

Because the power is out, once I get to the Funny Farm I can’t get into the garage. It is pouring rain. Leaving the dogs in the car, I enter the house, free the garage opener latch, and push the door open. Manage to haul the door closed behind the car – fortunately the door is well balanced, because it’s old, all steel, and damned heavy.

July 30, an hour later:

The power is still out. It’s damn hot in here. I’ve opened the doors that have security screens with drill-proof deadbolts, but of course can’t leave any of the sliders or the windows open. Well….I do have the bedroom sliding door open, because what we have here on the bed is a dual alarm system. If anyone comes anywhere near the place, they go off like banshees.

Which, I suppose, is what they are.

Not surprisingly, I can’t get online, so cannot check the Salt River Project website for word of how soon they might get the power back on. Not very, I expect. People are wandering around outside yakking, babies are screaming, and it’s wet and steamy. Still sprinkling a little, but not enough to keep the yakkers indoors. Or to keep the damn helicopters from buzzing overhead.

Some very odd things are working in the outage.

The phone, for example. I was told it would not run without electric. The Cox guy put a battery in the modem, but that thing died forthwith. So I’m bopping around in the dark when I hear an unfamiliar phone bell ringing. WTF? The clamshell throwaway phone??? My son, trying to get through????!?

Grab the camp lantern, make my way to the office, whence the noise emanates. It’s the main phone that plugs direct to the cable connection. Pick it up: La Maya on the phone. We yak for awhile. She says to be careful about leaving doors or windows open, because she caught a sh!thead prowling outside one of her windows a night or so ago.

Thank heavens for Schlage and Medco locks, think I.

Still. This is the time when you do want your German shepherd back.

And in the weirdly still-working department: I had a Washington Post online game up on the computer before I left the house. Even though the computer is offline, the little game is working! 😀

Strange.

The streetlight outside the Funny Farm flickered a few times, as though the power was trying to come on. Then went dark again.

And now it’s raining steadily again. It’s hot and stuffy in here. Believe I’ll throw a sheet on the tiles and go to sleep on the floor, where it’s cooler. A lot cooler…

July 31, 1:00 a.m.

The power finally came back on sometime in the wee hours., just as I was figuring that come dawn, I’d have to make a run on Walmart, Fry’s, and whatever other stores I could think of in search of dry ice to try to preserve the food in the fridge and freezer. If the whole area’s power was down all night, it could be quite a long grocery store run…

Salt River Project’s website says the power went off here around 7:15 last night. So it’s been off five and a half hours, give or take. This would be O.K. if it hadn’t been around 100 degrees when the power went out. Just now it’s about 80 outside, and around 83 inside the shack.

I see a new assignment came in from a client while all these shenanigans were going on. I hope they don’t want the thing back tomorrow, because today I’m gonna be in no shape to read technical copy. Ugh.

July 31, 7:17 a.m.

Power was out most of the night. Cox has been up and down. No phone, no pool, two heat-soaked pets…ain’t got no cigarettes.

I think the cable (i.e. phone) connection is up right now, but that doesn’t mean it’ll stay up. Here at the Funny Farm, though, it looks like things are intact. Thank heaven Luis came earlier this summer and thinned out the forest! But for sure…I’m going to have to do something about that devil-pod tree. If that thing falls over, it will smush either my house or Terri’s.

July 31, 8:27 a.m.

Dogs fed and walked. Property reconnoitered. Phone and Internet crashed again and are still out…I do hate Cox. Really. Hate. Cox.

Neighbor took this foto of the scene on Neighborhood Lane, just west of Primary Feeder Street N/W.  That tree was uprooted and blown out of the front yard on the right-hand side of the image. Fortunately, the lots are huge and the houses are set back a good distance off the road. If it had been most other neighborhoods in this city, that tree would have fallen into the house situated on the left side of this picture.

That’s an Aleppo pine, a type of tree popular when the tract was built out…back in the 1950s. So the tree is probably 50 or 60 years old. At least. Another pine in the yard lost about a third of its branches — whether because this tree hit it on the way down or from the action of the wind.

Mercifully, no damage here at the Funny Farm. The potted ficus tree, which has waxed huge in its new place beneath the lath shade covering, fell over. Its pot didn’t break, thank goodness, and I managed (just) to haul it back upright and drag it, a quarter-inch at a time, back into the shelter. Fine mess in the pool, but Harvey the Hayward Pool Cleaner was up to it with no problem. Harvey was already out of the water, in anticipation of just such an event as occurred. Turned on the pump, which scooted the big stuff into a pile. Scooped that out easily with the hose-end water vacuum. Then dropped Harvey back in the drink, where he began tracing white trails through the brown dust. Otherwise everything seems OK except maybe the bougainvillea on the side, which got royally walloped.

Was very glad I’d hired Luis to trim all the trees in front. That devil-pod tree on the side, though, is beyond one man and a saw….Gerardo wants to take it down, but I’m afraid of having one of his cousins fall out of the damn thing. Since he’s laid first dibs on the job, though, I’m also afraid of pissing him off by hiring a tree company (at many times what he’ll charge) to cut it down. And don’t know what could take its place…as hated as it is, it DOES shade the west side of the shack.

I see the wind did blow a lot of shingles off the neighbor’s roof catty-corner behind me. That guy…there’s always one in every neighborhood, isn’t there?…is a shiftless soul. He inherited the house from parents who lived there till they died. And since he didn’t have to pay for it and is one of those clowns who doesn’t understand that real estate = dollars and paid-off real estate = investment, he’s just let it rot away. So that won’t be fixed, and what was already getting to be an eyesore will now be even dumpier.

Checked my own roof with binoculars. Doesn’t look like there’s much damage, though a couple of shingles might need repair. The roofing guys who installed that roof after Late Great Hailstorm didn’t leave me any extra shingles! Duh! I didn’t even think about it at the time. So…finding shingles to match may be a bit of a challenge. Dollars to donuts, they’re not available at the Depot, eh?

July 31, 10:34 a.m.

Having enjoyed all of about two hours’ sleep last night, I’m going back to bed. And so, away…

 

 

July 29, 2018
by funny
9 Comments

Looks Like It’s Time to Move Along…

So..it’s been a sh!tty few days here at the Funny Farm. So much so, I’m thinking there really isn’t much to hold me here in lovely uptown Phoenix, a city deliberately cloned on another city I’ve long detested, Los Angeles. This afternoon I started thinking — seriously — about unloading most of the junk and moving somewhere far, far away. Preferably in another time and in another galaxy.

Looks like it’s time to move along…

But where?

Locally, there’s Prescott, a nice little burg where the summers are cooler and the ambience is a little more small town. Payson: a little too embedded in forest-fire country for my taste. Tucson: another developer’s hell. Moving on… Patagonia, Sonoita: maybe. Probably chez pitz unless you have a fair amount of cash, though. New Mexico? Can’t afford Santa Fe and not impressed with other venues I’ve visited there. Idaho: too cold in the winter. Oregon, Washington: can’t afford it. California: can’t afford that, in spades, and don’t want to live in dread of forest fires, mudslides. and earthquakes.

{sigh} Thinking on the question while cruising the Internet, what should I come across this afternoon but a YouTube squib about some poor homeless woman who’s living (happily, to hear her tell it!) out of her car for $800 a month:

Eight hundred bucks a month? Unless she’s making a car payment on the clunk — or buying a lot of meds out of pocket — that seems a little high. Especially since, because she’s using an old milk bottle as her toilet, she seems not to be haunting campgrounds.

If your car is paid for, what do you have by way of costs?

  • Groceries and personal items — a couple hundred bucks a month, at most.
  • Gasoline — depends on how much you drive. In my vehicle, I’d expect a couple hundred miles on a $30 fill-up. Say you don’t drive every day (why would you, if you come to rest in a decent free or cheap spot?)…a hundred bucks would take you, maybe, 700 miles…that’s a lot of territory. A lot of free or nearly free state and federal parks. Hm. $122 + $100 = $222.
  • Occasional stop to revive, take a private shower, get a decent meal: YMCA costs $22.50 a month. Okay, we’re at $244.50.
  • Car insurance: My car insurance was $1400 this year; about $117 a month, bringing the tab to $361 a month.
  • Campgrounds: BLM, national forests, and national grasslands are free. Average cost for a night in an RV park is about $30, but in many you get a hot tub, showers, and a laundromat. So, if you camped on public lands say, 6 nights a week, and then visited a fancy resort (as it were) once a week, that would rack up another $120 a month: total: $481.
  • Car upkeep: depends on how handy you are and what kind of condition your clunk is in. Maybe on average ±$50 a month ?? If it averages out to $50 a month (in addition to gasoline), then we’re at around $531.

That leaves about $270 for clothing, sight-seeing, an occasional night in a motel…hmmmm…. From that, pay for a rented mailbox to give yourself a place to receive mail and provide a fake address for things like voting and registering the vehicle…not much. You’d still end up about $200 less than the purported $800.

This assumes you already own a full complement of camping gear. Of course, if you were gonna take off for the open road, you’d sell all your worldly goods, leaving more than enough money to buy everything you’d need to live on the road. This lady sleeps in her car. It being a small sedan, that sounds like an extraordinarily uncomfortable arrangement. My vehicle, on the other hand, being a crossover, has plenty of space in the back — fold down the back seats and there’s room for two adults to sleep uncomfortably or one to stretch out with her dogs. You’d probably want a tent and various other camping tools, though, since in dry conditions tenting is probably more comfortable than sleeping in the back of a vehicle.

Much of this stuff would be one-time buy:

Some of it would be pricey: a tent’s not cheap, for example. Neither, obviously, are a pistol or shotgun and ammo. Or a decent sleeping bag.

Things like toothpaste, laundry detergent, stuff for cooking (salt, pepper, cooking oil, etc.), paper towels, and the like would be covered in the “grocery and personal items” budget. Phone: throwaway thing with minutes. Very cheap.

I fail to see how this would cost you $800 a month, unless you were staying in campgrounds often. But you wouldn’t have to. There are a lot of places to throw down for free. Indeed, these YouTube videos look like they were made in a place up the road, westerly and northerly of lovely Phoenix, where groups of footloose people bivouac out on the desert. It may not be altogether legal, but no one seems to stop them.

Personally, I prefer to camp in solitude, preferably by a lake or river where one can bathe and get water to boil for cooking and drinking. Silence, after all, is golden.

SDXB and I traveled in this mode all over the backcountry of Alaska and Canada. In summer, it was a lot of fun, fairly easy, and amazingly cheap — we traveled for three months for under a thousand bucks. That included airline fare to and from the Northwest, and bus fare across the Canadian plains.

For awhile, we also had a lash-up very much like the one this lady is traveling in:

There are some serious drawbacks to the camper lifestyle, and it’s probably not something you’d want to take up as a permanent dwelling. Although we had a friend who did so, pretty much. Here are the issues.

  • A camper is expensive to buy and expensive to maintain (not to say a giant PITA to maintain).
  • The camper also limits the kinds of places you can go: it has to be set up on level ground (or leveled with those stanchions you see in the video), and it torques if you try to drive it across an arroyo or riverbed on a dirt road.
  • This means you find yourself spending a lot more nights in paying campgrounds than one would like.
  • It uses far more gasoline even than an SUV, to say nothing of a sedan or crossover vehicle. It uses more gas than an unadorned pickup, for that matter.
  • It’s hard to park it in a grocery store or motel parking lot.
  • It’s like pasting a sign on your back reading “Burgle me!”

But it has some major advantages. Videlicet:

  • Air conditioning!
  • Heating
  • A shower (not very usable, but there it is)
  • A toilet (which has to be emptied and cleaned out, if you like that kinda thing…)
  • Electrical hook-up that allows you to use and charge a computer and phone at a campground
  • A stove
  • A sink
  • Running water
  • A table with bench seats
  • A bed
  • Doors that lock

These are all excellent things. The trade-offs are higher costs and more things to break.

We never spent any lengthy periods in the RV, partly because of the hassle factor and partly because it quickly proved itself impractical for the kind of off-road camping we preferred. So I couldn’t really tell you what it would cost. But I’d guess $800 would be on the low end.

I dunno. Living on the road seems like an awful lot of work. Given that out in Sun City, taxes are a third and insurance is half of what I’m paying here it would surely make better sense to get over my aversion for the place (it’s a mausoleum!), sell my house, and just move out there. That would be the path of least resistance.

Though I’d have to find new homes for the dogs: you can’t let a dwarf sheepdog go out to pee in the yard with the coyotes running around out there. They’ll grab your dog and be off with it before you can say…jackrabbit. And no, you can’t have flowers or a vegetable garden, either, because the rabbits (whose ubiquitous presence calls in the coyotes) will level anything you plant in the ground, other than a palm tree or a grapefruit.

But…with no further reason to stay here (except the church…and there are lots of churches, no?), I guess I can start thinking seriously about moving away from the blightrail and into an area with lower crime rates, lower property taxes, and fewer bums.

So it goes…

July 26, 2018
by funny
7 Comments

Beware the DIY Appliance Installation

Let me amend this story to add that I think my son is amazing, in that he’s willing to take on the task of connecting plumbing and installing two expensive pieces of equipment. Where he got this particular kind of bravura escapes me. His dad would never have done such a thing — he believed one of the jobs of money was to pay people to do household and yard tasks. And I tend to go along with that: if I can get someone else to do some skilled or semi-skilled job, I’ll cheerfully bribe them to do it. He must have inherited this tendency from his grandfathers — my father, who was extremely handy; and his dad’s father, who was an engineer.

Ever been here, done this?

Start in the kitchen…

Run out into the living room…

And down the hall to a bedroom

Good morning, Vietnam! This is what greeted M’hito as dawn cracked yesterday morning.

The water line to the refrigerator’s ice-maker ruptured. Water inundated the kitchen, flowed down the hall and into a bedroom and a bathroom, and puddled up in the living room.

Fortunately, he was dog-sitting his friends’ very smart little reservation dog — a canine Mexican immigrant — which unlike Charley the Golden Retriever was bright enough to figure something was awry. The dog woke him up about an hour before he normally turns out of the sack. Luckily: otherwise it would’ve been a whole lot worse.

In the ensuing frenzy, as he tried to pull the dishwasher (right next to the fridge) aside to get in under the woodwork and turn off the water valve, he broke the door off the thing!

So…now he had to buy a new Bosch dishwasher.

This fiasco elicited 20 miles of driving to two Lowe’s outlets, purchase of the new machine, and another trip to a hardware store to buy the correct fittings to replace the wrong ones sold by Lowe’s. Ain’t it fine?

When I left his house — around 8 p.m. — he was about to climb back under the kitchen sink to try to attach and install the new dishwasher, which we hauled home in the back of my truckoid. And reattach the refrigerator. As of this morning, said strategy had yet to work.

§

Would he buy this fine device from the appliance store around the corner, where the owners are honest, the staff know what they’re talking about and will tell you the truth with no BS, and they’ll come and install the thing? Heck, no! Lowe’s had the desired model on clearance… How could any sane person turn it down???

😀 Kid’s a chip off the old cheapskate block…

From what I can tell, the refrigerator water line, which was made of some sort of nylon stuff rather than the preferable twisted-steel stuff, became abraded when the fridge was moved briefly. It picked the wee hours of the morning to fail.

The dishwasher was 12 or 14 years old — about twice its engineered lifetime. But still…yipes! One would like having a choice as to when to buy a new appliance.

Fortunately, the house is all tiled. Saltillo tile is usually installed without baseboards, or else with a row of tiles cut in thirds and mortared to the wall. The house’s walls are lath and plaster (!!!!). Directly above the floor is a sturdy foundation of what M’hijito says is wood but what I believe to be metal, at least in places (could be wood, but not like the junk we get today). The plaster extends over it, and 65 years of paint jobs have sealed it in. When he wasn’t looking, I inspected and couldn’t see that it was seriously damaged — fortunately, the dogs rousted him soon enough that he was able to mop up the puddles before the water soaked into the walls. I think.

Also fortunately, because the AC system doesn’t work efficiently, he has boatloads of fans, including one of those things that clean-up crews use to blow-dry saturated carpets. So by the time I got there yesterday afternoon, the floors were pretty well dry.

Man! When he told me this story I was thinking “homeowner’s claim…won’t the insuror be thrilled…” But it now looks like no damage was done to the structure

Lordie, but the employees at Lowe’s here in Phoenix are freaking incompetent!

He looked up the desired model online and ascertained that a Lowe’s way to Hell & gone up the I-17 had one in stock. We get there. We diddled around with a guy who seemed sweet despite lacking a few IQ points, paid to buy the thing, pulled the car up to the door…only to be told…well, no. That wasn’t the right model.

So we had to get a refund, drive even FURTHER up the I-17 to a Lowe’s in Whiteyville, a flight-induced suburb almost to freaking Anthem, where…well, yeah. We found the desired washer.

He now buys that and new plumbing connections for both the washer and the fridge. We load the machine into my truckoid and stagger away through the rush hour traffic (all of this travel has been going on during the height of rush hour, which, on the homicidal streets of Phoenix, is a steroid-driven species of Hell). Get back to his place frazzled but still living.

He now endeavors to reattach the fridge and finds — of course — that the line they sold him is too short.

It’s getting late. Our regular Ace Hardware is closed, but one is open down in Gang Central, an area that is, shall we say, the direct inverse of Whiteyville, that which all those pallid types have fled. There we find a couple of guys who sound like they know what they’re doing. They sell him a longer connection.

By the time we get back, it’s after 8 p.m. He throws me out and, as I exit the front door, climbs under the kitchen sink to (he hopes) reconnect the appliances.

All I have heard this morning is “it didn’t work.” He’s back at the office. And presumably he has no dishwasher. Is the fridge running? I dared not ask.

He left the office at 3 yesterday, falling behind in a busy work schedule. So now he’s back at the office with no functioning dishwasher. The fridge, of course, will run without an icemaker; I hope he plugged that thing back in and left it operating.

Meanwhile, yesterday it was 113, with 20% humidity. Nice timing, eh?

§

Here is, I believe, the Funny about Money frugalista message to be gleaned for that adventure:

Spring for the cost to have the seller install an appliance! When you think about how much one of these contraptions costs, $60 or $100 to have it delivered and installed is a bargain. More to the point, compare your own hourly wage against what it will cost to pay a handyman to come clean up after you and put the thing in right.

Even if you don’t make all that much, remember to add in your job’s benefits: those are likely to jack up your pay above the cost of having a new dishwasher, refrigerator, or stove delivered and installed. I don’t know how many hours my son spent before he gave up last night — likely at least a couple. But by 8 p.m. he’d been pounding around for five hours, dealing with this fine flap. Now, admittedly, that did entail driving to two Lowe’s outlets. But we were back at his house by dinner time — around 5 or 6 p.m. So figure he put in at least five of his hours — and had to take two or three hours off work for the privilege.

It would not have cost five hours’ worth of his time to pay someone to deliver and install the machine. Figure he makes  about what I used to earn: $40 an hour (probably more like $45 now), plus another $10.41/hour for the panoply of benefits: $50.41 an hour. Not counting the aggravation factor…

So say it took two hours to buy the machine, leaving three hours of screwing around: it costs him $151.23, and he still doesn’t have a functioning kitchen. Lowe’s declines to publish its installation fee online, but in 2016 they were building a reputation for gouging. But even at $200, that’s still only $50 more than the value of his time. IMHO he would do better to hire a handyman to install it — my guy would charge about $60.

This, of course, is why I personally will not buy appliances at Lowe’s or Home Depot. Up around the corner on Gangbanger’s Way is a local appliance store that treats its customers fairly and delivers professional service.

But that notwithstanding:

If you have a paying job, DIY appliance installation is probably a false economy. The value of your time is more than what it would cost to have someone who can do the job quickly and smoothly. And that doesn’t even count the physical and psychological cost of the stress and frustration the job entails.

July 24, 2018
by funny
0 comments

Overlazied and Underpaid…

LOL! Not exactly underpaid, but not doing enough work to matter! Which in Arizona’s summer heat is probably the best way to survive: not working.

Truth to tell, today’s summer heat is not as advertised. It is not going to reach 117 today. Not a chance: at noon, it’s only 110 out there.

The hounds and I rolled out at 4 a.m. so as to get in the mile’s dog-&-human walk before the predicted blast-furnace heat rose up. It was only about 87 at that time — we were told the low would be 90. The morning was actually rather pleasant. We encountered about ten of our fellow dog-walkers, all of whom apparently had the same idea. Arrived back at the Funny Farm around 5:40, fed dogs, watered plants, refilled the pool, tossed in some more chlorine tabs, went swimming.

That must have pleased the neighbors, because Ruby barks hysterically every time I get in the water. Apparently she thinks the human is going to drown. Then (horrors!) she won’t get fed anymore.

Since the neighbors were the cause of my spending the Fourth of July working myself up to a near heat stroke and having to opt out of my favorite party of the year so as to stay home and guard the Farm from the risk of nitwit-initiated fire, I do not give one thin damn if my dog barks them out of the sack on a 90-degree morning. 😀 Bay away, little dog!

All that notwithstanding, the heat and the humidity begin to wear. Just now — along about two in the afternoon — it’s about 115 on the back porch. Not intolerable…but somewhat warm.

Where creative and productive work are concerned, I do best in a cool, fairly gray climate: San Francisco and London are ideal. All this sunshine is a distraction. Actually, what happens is that it puts me in zombie mode. I just do not feel like working.

As in I cannot force myself to do ANYTHING.

Last week I had seven days in which to scribble the current installment of Ella’s Story. Did I write it last week? Was it ready to go come Monday morning?

Hell, no. Of course not.

But I did rack up 50,810 points on the set of games I’ve been playing.

{sigh}

So it was the middle of the afternoon before that got done, and then (IMHO) not very well.

Yesterday the place was overrun with various workers, which rendered writing or editing much of anything…problematic, shall we say.

Happily enough, though, I was rescued from having to pay some batsh!t amount of money to repair the propane grill! Its main knob — the one that turns on the primary burner — was stuck somehow. I thought the tube it attaches to had somehow got bent, and was silently blaming it on one of Gerardo’s cousins, whom I suspected of having whacked it with a leaf-blower.

BBQ repair dude was supposed to show up between 2 and 3 p.m. — try to imagine throwing yourself around with a heavy gas grill, in the sun, in 112-degree heat!

Not surprisingly, this poor fella called in sick. Along about 7 a.m., the office called and asked if they could send someone between 9:30 and 10 a.m.

This put the eefus on my plan to hit the grocery story as soon as rush hour ended. But without an oven, I’ve gotta have that grill working.

Well…”someone” was the company’s owner, an interesting and entertaining man. Forthwith, he discovered that nothing serious was wrong — a little rust or, he thought, just dirt, was jamming a part, He cleaned and lubricated the knob assembly, whilst entertaining me with conversation.

So that was good. Even better: he only charged $68 to fix it!

Man! I was expecting a $200 bill. The original appointment included their whiz-bang cleaning service, which I really did not need and would prefer not to get until after the weather cools off. So he opted that and barely charged enough to cover the gas to drive his truck up here.

So, even after yesterday’s junket to the grocery store, I still have $58 left in this month’s budget, with only a week to go.

At said grocer, I picked up a roll of dog food, meaning the doggy meals are now covered for the rest of the month and then some. Got a very nice watermelon — paying lots more than would have been required at Costco,. but obviating an extra trip to an extra store through the heat.

I may have as much loot as I need to make it to August 1 without having to buy any more food or household items. Possibly not. But whatever comes up surely will not cost $58.

July 22, 2018
by funny
2 Comments

Budgetarium…

Naturally, even though I hit “save to DropBox” until I was blue in the face, the Time Machine Mac-reboot demolished my Excel budget sheet. Sooo…this morning I had the ineffable privilege of trying to reconstruct every penny-pinch I’ve indulged this month.

Is it, really, any wonder that most Americans have little to no control over their money? That most of us have little or no emergency savings, to say nothing of enough to live on through our dotage?

On the “fun” scale, budgeting ranks down about where “scouring the toilet” appears. Maybe slightly below that. Depressing, frustrating. and annoying. Especially when your damn computer deletes several hours’ worth of ditz.

Okayy…. So after spending most of the morning wrestling with this sh!t, I was unable to reconstruct all of the month’s record without having to spend even more hours poring over each entry in three weeks’ worth of receipts. So…had to make a few shortcuts. Those skimpy calculations notwithstanding, I did manage to ascertain the following:

The Costco cash card devoted to in-store purchases still holds $54.
The CC cash card for gasoline purchases still has its original $60(!!!).
I’ve managed to hold the AMEX bill to an amazing $277, an all-time low.
Despite a $237 power bill and a $200 water bill, I’m still $220 in the black (!!!!!).
I now have $681 in the emergency savings fund, up from last week’s $5.41.
The Mayo Clinic savings fund holds something over $500 in unclaimed funds, mysteriously: I may be able to afford to have the broken tooth fixed, after all.

Where the phantom $500 in medical savings came from, I do not know. I must have accidentally paid a bill or two out of cash flow. Typically, I charge Mayo bills on American Express as soon as the money comes in from Medicare and Medigap, deposit the incoming funds to a credit union account reserved to hold money for medical spending, and then use that to pay amounts charged on said AMEX bill. But because I hate loathe and despise the ditzy job of scanning and depositing those checks (or of traipsing 40 minutes across the city to deposit them in person), I may simply have spaced a few AMEX medical charges, paying them out of cash flow. WhatEVER…now I can use that to help get the teeth fixed.

Explanation: The Mayo Clinic declines to accept “Medicare assignment.” That does not mean, contrary to the impression many people have, that they refuse to accept patients who are on Medicare. It means only that they don’t accept direct deposit from Medicare or from Medigap insurers. Read: they do not want to pay an army of bookkeepers to deal with the endless blizzard of tiny little payments that Medicare and Medigap emit. If there’s one bill for a visit during which you had, say, nine minor tests and a doctor’s appointment, they don’t write one check; they write ten checks. The amount of paper these agencies vomit out simply defies belief. I have almost an entire file drawer full of the sh!t, and that’s just for one little old lady. One reasonably healthy little old lady.

So if you want to do business with…uhm, I mean, get care from the Mayo Clinic, you have to field All…That…Paper. And dig the checks out of the dunes of snail-mailed paperwork. (They’re easy to miss!). And then deposit them to your account. And then from your account, pay the amount due to the Mayo.

It’s a fuckin’ nuisance, and believe me, if there were any other hospital in the Phoenix area that consistently ranks good to excellent, I would take my healthcare business elsewhere. Alas, though, where medical care is concerned Arizona in general and Phoenix in specific are, shall we say, somewhat lacking in the “good to excellent” department. There are specific hospitals here — such as the one about a mile and a half from my house — that you do not want to go to. Hence, a drive that’s halfway to Payson whenever I need to see the doc, and unending hassles with paying the bills.

Truly. If my son didn’t live here, I would be living in Europe right now, today. This country has backslid so far into the Third World, one truly has to question the benefit of staying here.

See what I mean, about how annoying and depressing the whole budgeteering effort can be? If you even begin to think about the absurdity of it all…sheesh!

Where were we?

Yes. Well, despite the crabbiness this endeavor generates, by the time I finished reconstructing the month’s budgetizing record, I felt a lot better about things. With $54 still free to spend at Costco, plus $60 on the gasoline card (I had to buy gas on the last day of June and still have about a third of a tank left — meaning I will have spent only $30 on gas by the end of this month), I should finish this cycle well within budget. Maybe I’ll even have enough to pay the barbecue repair guy next week without running into the red.

The piddling $277 on the AMEX card was a surprise. In a big way. Typically, AMEX runs between $900 and $1200 a month. Why did this happen?

My theory is this:

Dedicating a flat amount to spend in Costco and determining not to exceed it forced me to build shopping lists before each of two Costco junkets. This accomplished two things:

a) Because I did not want to have to go back to Impulse Buy Hell unnecessarily, I thought very carefully about the things I needed. And…
b) Determining to stay within the $300 budget worked successfully to block the impulse-buying habit.

A carefully planned Costco [or Sam’s Club or Aldi or Walmart…] shopping list means you buy most of your needs there. So, you have to buy relatively few last-minute or forgotten items in a grocery store or a hardware store or a home store. That limits another category of impulse buy, of course: the ohhh I must have that [bag of popcorn] [box of clothespins] [overpriced artichoke] [tube of purple lipstick] [can of WD-40]! purchase.

There are a few things I have to buy in a grocery store. Those fancy rolls of dog food I use to fill in when the gourmet home-made food runs out, for example: Costco doesn’t carry those things. Walmart and the uppity AJ’s both carry them — and each charges the same for the stuff. If most of a month’s supermarket and grocery store items are purchased at Costco, then all that’s left to buy elsewhere is the dog food and occasional fresh produce. Walmart’s produce stinks and half the time they’re out of the dog food, so to avoid wasted trips (and wasted gasoline) I buy both at AJ’s, the Jewel of Richistan. But even buying fresh produce and overpriced dog food at that upscale emporium does not run up the AMEX bill the way list-free shopping does.

If these speculations are true, then I should have relatively little trouble staying within what seemed like an impossibly tight budget (given what I have been spending, habitually). Frankly, after the astronomical power and water bills, I was very surprised not to find myself flat broke already.

Now is the most expensive time of year, when it comes to running the Funny Farm. I do not do time-of-day billing deals with the power company (like, yeah: I really want to spend my evenings running the laundry! And sure, I really want the Salt River Project telling me what I can do and when!). Nor do I average out my bills over the year: that would leave me with unaffordable bills all year round instead of just three or four months a year. The result is that during the winter, the power bills in this house are very low. I don’t mind being a little chilly for a few hours a day. Once the sun hits the roof, the house warms right up, even in the middle of January. There’s no reason to heat the entire building when a space heater will make the room where I spend most of my time plenty comfortable. Same is true with the water bills: in winter, the vegetation uses a quarter of the amount of water needed to keep it alive during the summer. As a result, water bills are correspondingly low. This leaves lots more money to spend on my indulgences during the cooler months.

Or to set aside in savings. 😉