Budgeting: Back to the Envelope Method

And, for a change: back to Funny about Money’s long-defunct theme: personal finance. You’ll recall, those of you who are Dave Ramsey fans, that one strategy for keeping yourself on budget is called the “envelope method.” In that scheme, you cash out a month’s worth of dollars and fill a separate envelope with the amount designated for each budget item. So, $200 for groceries in one envelope; $100 for gasoline in another, $30 for dog food…and so on, ad ditzy nauseam.

Well, some of us have neither the patience for that kind of ditz nor the stomach for putting an entire month’s worth of funding at risk of being heisted by some enterprising burglar or dropped unnoticed on the pavement. I use credit cards and electronic payment to minimize loss from theft and incompetence.

Conveniently, though, if you happen to bank at a credit union, you have an easy route to create electronic “envelopes.” My CU allows members to add any number of savings accounts. So right now, for example, I have one to collect the constant dustfall of tiny checks from Medicare and the Medigap insuror — whenever a couple hundred bucks accrues, I fork it over to the Mayo. And one for emergency savings. And one to hold enough to cover income tax, accounting bills, property tax, homeowner’s insurance, Medigap insurance, and car insurance, all set aside at the beginning of my personal “fiscal” year, when I have to take an RMD from my 401(k).

This allows you to earmark and set aside specific amounts for specific purposes, placing them where they’re unlikely to get diddled away in day-to-day spending.

Now we have this question: in the absence of a desirable Visa credit card, how — really — am I going to continue to shop at Costco? I haven’t cut up the credit card or closed the account — it’s never a good idea to close a credit account in good standing — but because I don’t do business with outfits that treat me like sh!t, I will never use the card again.

I do have a debit card. But for a variety of reasons, I prefer not to use it. For one thing, there’s not a chance on God’s Green Earth I’m gonna put the thing in a gas station pump — certainly not at the Costco where I shop, which is flanked to the south and the west by dangerous slums and a park that has been taken over by bums. But I do prefer to buy Costco gas, because it’s the cheapest deal in the city. And there’s always an attendant — invariably a large, imposing male — standing around that Costco gas station, so I don’t feel so much at risk as I do at the rip-off QTs within reasonable driving distance of the ‘hood.

So. Here’s my plan:

Create a new savings account to hold money budgeted to spend at Costco. That would be an entire year’s worth of money budgeted for Costco ventures: shopping and gasoline, combined. So let’s say on average I spend, maybe…what? $340 on food, clothing, household goods, dog treats, personal products, impulse buys, and gasoline. When the 2019 RMD comes in — which will be about in September — I set aside $4,080 (= $340 x 12 months) in this account.

Then I trot in to Costco and buy a cash card for the amount I imagine I’ll spend at Costco, both inside the store and at the pumps, over a month. That would be around $340. That is what I carry to the store to make purchases. Each month I pay for it out of the Costco Envelope savings account.

I spend no more than that in any given month. Run out of money: quit shopping at Costco. How hard is that?

If money is left over at the end of the month, the next month’s cash card is loaded with accordingly fewer dollars. So, say, in March I spend $250, leaving $90 unspent; the April card has $340 − $90 on it: $250. Thus whenever I spend less than $340 over a month, the overage stays in the bank account.

So at any given time, the Costco cash card never has more than a month’s budget on it. If I don’t spend the entire budgeted amount, then whatever is not diddled away stays in that savings account.

I figure at the end of the year, anything that’s left can be transferred to the Emergency Savings account, and the Costco Budget account can start over from zero at the start of the new “fiscal year.”

When you know there’s an upper limit on what you can spend, you find yourself feeling a lot more cautious about your spending.

Therein lies the threat of Costco, the Mother of All Impulse Buy Hells. When the budget is open-ended — in your mind you think you have plenty to live on (which you do, if you don’t run amok) — you go “oh, it’s only $20…no problem, I can afford that.” And you could, if you just didn’t keep doing it over and over…

But if you’re thinking, “Helles Belles, I’ve only got x number of dollars to spend today,” then you realize the $20 doo-dad is not a life-or-death purchase. The beauty of the Envelope Method is that it sets a limit on what you’re willing to diddle away.

So, what started out as an annoyance — yet another stupid faceless bureaucratic hassle — may work out to my advantage. Not so much to Costco’s advantage, but certainly to mine: by getting the Costco spending under control, this new, enforced budgeting strategy will let me stay within the annual RMD for another year or two, despite soaring health insurance and property tax rates.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess. I may have to think more seriously about moving out of the country, to some venue where I can stay in the middle class on the retirement income. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it…

De-accessioning As Frugalist Strategy

Getting rid of stuff feels so good! Out with it! Seriously: one tried and true frugalist strategy is simply not to buy things you don’t really need. Another, though, is getting rid of stuff that you no longer need. (Or…ahem…maybe never needed in the first place.)

Case in point: the beloved Pawley Island hammock that has resided in the backyard since I moved into this place. Actually, I bought it in the old house, quite some years before I moved out. Since I was there about 12 or 14 years, I’d probably had it there about 8 or 10 years. That house had park-like landscaping full of mature trees, and so I could hang it between a big old olive tree and a silk oak, one of the messiest trees known to personkind.

Loved loafing in that hammock. Once it came over here, though, I had no place to hang it. Satan and Proserpine (the previous owners) were great at DIY interior redecorating, but they simply did not know what to do with any space not under roof. The backyard had almost no trees. So I bought one of those arc-shaped hammock stands. Like this…

Expensive as all get-out. Took three men and a horse to put it together. Too heavy to move without said three men and the horse. But once in place, it worked fine.

I’ve been in this house for 14 years now. So…that hammock lasted about twenty years before it finally rotted in the sun and rain and fell apart under my weight. No kidding. This: a couple weeks ago. No problem hauling off the hammock. But the wooden stand itself was a challenge.

Thought about replacing the hammock, to the tune of $150. Then thought…why?

Gerardo came by Saturday with his crew. They were happy to take it away. They did deconstruct it (the only way they could get it into their truck). Whether they’ll reconstruct it, I don’t know. But with four guys there, I expect one of them will cheerfully accept the donation.

SDXB used to say that throwing out stuff he was no longer using made him feel lighter. And there’s something to that. In the old house, the thing hung over a patio, so I could walk up to it bare-footed. Here, it stood in the middle of a field of quarter-minus. That’s very fine gravel. It pokes your feet, and if that doesn’t poke your feet, the sharp debris the devil-pod tree drops surely will. So to lay on the hammock, first I had to put my shoes on! Since I’m usually barefoot in the house, shoes are usually lost somewhere. Having to track them down made hammock-swinging more trouble than it was worth.

Hence, the contraption’s near-abandonment.

I’m so glad to get that thing out of there. Even though it served its purpose, it took up a phenomenal amount of room. The dogs would go in behind it to do their business, meaning I would have to climb in behind it to clean up after them. One fewer thing to have to take care of! The yard looks better without the clutter, and now there’s nothing over there for the hose to get caught up on.

Deciding to get rid of the arc stand, which was approaching decrepitude, too, meant I saved a hundred and fifty bucks.

No. Make that more like three hundred bucks. The stand itself was getting pretty weather-beaten and would soon need replacing…and those things cost $150, sans hammock.

There’s no way I’d get another $300 worth of use out of a new hammock and new fancy stand. At the old house, I certainly got my money’s worth out of the hammock. But here, for the reasons above, I’ve rarely used it.

How does that translate into a general Frugality Rule of Thumb?

Well, when something gives up the ghost, delay replacing it. Don’t hurry right out and buy a new one right this minute. Put off a new purchase long enough to see whether you can comfortably do without the thing. Maybe you really don’t need it. Maybe you really don’t want it.

And maybe your spirit will be lighter without it.

Buying: The Herd Instinct

Today I donated two ever-so-slightly pricey tops — or maybe very short dresses, depending on your point of view. They were cute enough, in their way. Quality construction, well made, handsome enough in their way. But every time I put one of them on and looked in the mirror, I wondered what on earth POSSESSED me to buy this? What? Herd instinct, that’s what.

There are three of us who like to go shopping together in an olde-towne shop in darkest Glendale. It is a cool little store in a vintage house. The owner has a killer eye for a certain type of clothing. We all like each other and have a great time. And we like the owner, because she’s quite a hoot, one of those gifted sales people who knows how to sell without seeming to be selling. Every time we go to this place, we all stumble out beneath the sheer weight of our purchases.

I bought each of these things there, probably during different outings. And here’s the problem: they have ruffles.

Ruffles are not my style. Decidedly not. In fact you could even say I hate ruffles. But for reasons unknown to personkind, I purchased not one but two garments with ruffled hems.

Ugh. Why?

The only explanation is that we were resonating off each other so vibrantly that we would each buy anything the others said was “cute.” One vote for “cute” would be persuasive. Two votes: a clincher.

It was far from the first time this phenomenon has struck in my precincts. I used to hang out with a friend, now long gone, whose tastes were far snootier than this pair’s. She lowered herself to shop in Saks.

One time she and I were shopping for Eileen Fisher at the local Saks, and we hit a mother lode. Everything we tried on (we assured each other) was exceeding cute. Not a thread of it was on sale.

That day I bought four or five hundred dollars worth of clothes. Yeah, that’s true: !!!!!

I got the pile of rags home — and with Eileens, you can’t miss. Modeled them in front of the mirror for myself. Was impressed. Clearly my taste was impeccable.

Then looked at the receipt that fell out of the bag and thought…holy shit!

Five hundred bucks was about $450 beyond my clothing budget.

So, without ever mentioning it to Her Snootiness (I kid you not: this woman, while married to a guy who owned a Kentucky bluegrass race horse farm, used to go to fashion shows in New York and buy designer outfits directly off the runway), next day I packed up all those clothes and took ’em back to Saks.

To my amazement, the saleslady accepted the returns without batting a proverbial eyelash.

No way on God’s Green Earth would I have have bought all that stuff if I hadn’t been in the store competing to try on clothes with my then-friend.

See what I mean? Herd instinct.

It got better, that incident did. Two or three weeks later, I happened to be passing through Saks and noticed they were having one of their seasonal sales. Naturally I trot over to the designer racks (doesn’t everyone?) and start to paw through them.

What do I find but almost all the rags I’d brought back…marked down about 50 percent.

Couldn’t freaking believe it.

This time — in the absence of my resonating friend — I picked out the pieces that I really liked and that really looked good on me. Walked out of there with the best of the things she thought I’d purchased, at a fraction of the price.

Never told her that, of course. She thought I was walking around in a $500 wardrobe.

Is there a moral to the story?

Sure:

Never shop in the company of friends.

The Prepper’s Economic Guide to 2018

Now we’re all prepared for the next big disaster to descend on us, right?

Well, maybe not so much…at Coffee with a Cop last week, I did win a first-aid kit for the car. But that’s about as far as I’ve gone in the emergency-preparedness department. At least I’ll have a few band-aids, anyway, come the Apocalypse. {sigh}

However, there is something y-cumen in that we can prepare ourselves for, and it’s a lot more likely to happen than a Korean bomb dropping on our heads or a wildfire consuming Philadelphia.

Videlicet: let us speak of the next Great Recession.

Now, just as we’re having fun? Yeah: now.

We do know that what goes up must come down. As Leo Abruzzese, The Economist’s public policy consultant, notes in a prognostication for 2018, “If it [history] is any guide (and it is), the business cycle is coming to an end. The world economy tends to tip into a recession every eight to ten years, and the last one ended in 2009.” Further, he adds, “Recessions typically start when central banks, eager to keep economies in check, raise interest rates too far and too fast. On cue, America’s Federal Reserve will probably raise rates three times in 2018 after three increases in 2017.”

Higher interest rates, Abruzzese goes on to explain, “foretell an end to credit cycles as indebted companies and consumers default in greater numbers. . . . [They] can also produce big corrections in stockmarkets.”

If you’re a legacy follower of Funny about Money, words like these no doubt make you think been there, done that. And yup: we sure have.

Given that economies, like everything else, go up and down; that ours is now way up; and that anyone who can remember the Reagan administration and the Bush fiasco has, by now, figured out that the Republicans’ trickle-down economics dogma is a dangerous superstition, it behooves us to be prepared for the next big economic crash. That, I submit, is a lot more likely than a nuclear hit upside the head from Kim Jung Un or a hurricane in your living room (enjoyed by our friends at Planting Our Pennies) or a wildfire cresting the nearby hills (equally enjoyed by our favorite escapee from Chicago).

What can we do to prepare ourselves for the next “Great Recession”? One that, we can be pretty sure, is likely to fall under the heading of “Major Depression”…

Now is the time, IMHO, to look back on the G.R. and think about what we did right and what we did wrong. Consider these strategies:

1. Get out of debt! In other words…

Get out of debt!

Get out of debt!!

GET OUT OF DEBT!!!

Pay off your loans as fast as you can. And do not rack up any new debt.

If you have cash with which to pay off a mortgage, use it. Do it! Your financial adviser will have a freaking kitten, because of course you are earning one helluva lot more in the stock market just now than you’re paying on one of the present low-rate mortgages. My guy was furious.

But lemme tellya: If I hadn’t paid off the mortgage when I had the money, after I lost my job in 2009 (permanently, folks: “retirement” was not my choice), I would have lost my home. There is no way on God’s Green Earth I could have made payments on a home loan that amounted to 80% of $232,000. I’d have been thrown out on the street…like my neighbor across the road, like my middle-aged students who had worked hard all their adult lives and paid their bills every month, and maybe even like some of you. The only reason I’m writing this from my living room rather than from a low-income apartment, a motel room, or the 7th Avenue Underpass is that the house was paid for when the sh!t hit the fan.

Pay off all your other debts. Accelerate payments on your car. Do not buy a new car, or if you must replace a vehicle, buy one seriously second-hand. Accelerate payments on your credit cards, and once you have those cards paid off, NEVER charge more than you can pay in one month. If you couldn’t pay for it in cash or with a check today, just do without it until you can.

This takes some self-discipline. Probably the most direct and easiest way to summon that self-discipline is to manually keep track of your charging, as you go. Enter “pay off credit card” in Funny’s search bar (on the right side of the page) and you’ll find a slew of  suggestions for climbing out from under debt.

2. Save. Save regularly.

Establish a savings account at your bank or credit union and pre-pay yourself a percentage of each paycheck. If, for example, your goal is to save 5% of income for emergencies, arrange for the bank to make an automatic transfer on every payday.

Do not spend this emergency fund on anything other than a real emergency. It’s not a Christmas fund or a vacation fund. It’s a disaster fund. Keep it that way.

3. Build frugal strategies

Consider the regularly recurring expenses that you can do away with, should the evil day come.

Cable TV
Expensive mobile phone plan
Frequent meals out
Amazon Prime
Fitness plans
Subscriptions

Look closely at your credit card and bank statements and consider: do we REALLY need to pay for that? Is there a cheaper alternative? Can we do without it altogether?

Even if you don’t want to cut back now, at least know what you can cut back on.

4. Create a potentially money-making side gig.

This can be a hobby while money is coming in the door. Still, a hobby that can be monetized is a potential life-saver. Even blogging brings in a few bucks a month. And consider that, over at Budgeting in the Fun Stuff, Crystal’s dog-sitting enterprise — originally a side gig of the first water — has now evolved into a growing, paying business.

Any activity that yields a service or a product is potentially a money-making concern. Consider what you can do, start doing it as a hobby, and know in advance how you could convert it to a business.

5. Think ahead.

You’ll have to figure that one out yourself. You know your circumstances. Review them all and think about how you can economize — whether now or in the future — and how you can best work to recession-proof your finances.

Do it now. Let’s not be caught by surprise this time.

Frugality’s Unwritten Rules

Yesterday I finished cleaning out the bedroom closet. Donated a pile of old clothes, so as to make room for the new shirts I bought and ended up feeling about 10 pounds lighter. Something there is about divesting oneself of junk that improves your mood.

This task led to some reflections on frugality, as I suppose it must for all of us. Whenever you get into a closet or storage shelves, you think about the stuff you bought, how you used it, and how you didn’t use it. And over time, you develop a set of unconscious rules governing what you buy and what you do with it. Hence…

Funny’s Seven Unwritten Rules of Frugality

Don’t buy it if you’re not gonna use it.

This is no doubt the most challenging of the Frugal Rules. The whole (profitable) principle of the impulse buy is predicated on the fact that if you look at something and think “Oh! That’s neat,” you’ll buy it whether you need it or not. To combat this lure, slow down.

SDXB, the all-time Master of Frugality, had a shopping technique that worked to address the “what do you need this thing for” issue. As we perambulated through a store, something would catch his eye. Sometimes this was just an interesting item; sometimes it was something he was shopping for. But rather than grabbing it off the shelf and tossing it into the shopping cart, he would stop and pick the thing up. He would turn it over in his hands. He would assume a contemplative air. He would study the item. Then he would set it back on the shelf and go on about the rest of his shopping.

After he’d loaded up the cart with stuff he knew he wanted, he would return to the object in question. He would pick it up again. He would turn it over in his hands again, inspecting every aspect of the thing. He would stand there (interminably!) and think on it. About half the time, he would buy it. The other half of the time, he would put it down and walk away.

Think of that: he saved about half the money he otherwise would have diddled away on impulse buys. Putting the thing down and going on about your business, then coming back to it gives you time. It gives you time to cool off a bit, so the object doesn’t look so burningly fascinating when you return to it. And it gives you time to consider whether you really want this doodad, whether this is the particular specimen of the desired doodad you want, whether the price is right, whether you might do better somewhere else, whether you can live without it.

So, the corollary of Rule 1 (Don’t buy it if you’re not gonna use it) is take your time.

If  you do buy it and you don’t like it, use it anyway.

Probably the second most difficult Frugal Rule. Sometimes we buy things and realize we made a mistake. The reasonable thing to do in that case is to take it back — which you should, if you can. But some things can’t be returned.

Case in point: four fake-feather pillows I purchased awhile back at First Tuesday.

My down pillows, which had resided on the bed for years, had gotten pretty beat up. I decided to buy some new ones and, against my better nature, decided to buy synthetic by way of beating back allergies. (Note that I did not evict the dogs from the bed, suggesting that I wasn’t very serious about this anti-allergy scheme.) I bring them home, stuff them into the pillowcases, and toss them on the bed.

Come bed-time, I try to sleep on these beanbags. Ugh! They were so uncomfortable that no amount of trying to get used to them — and I tried for a couple of weeks — made them tolerable.

Ultimately, I ended up traipsing to Costco and buying four down pillows, making this the most expensive purchase of cheap feather pillows in the history of personkind.

I didn’t throw away or donate the pillows, though. Instead, I’ve stashed them for the use of guests. If one day I get around to putting a twin bed in the spare room, I’ll buy or make some shams and use the beanbags as decorative pillows in there. For the nonce, they’re on the top shelf of the bedroom closet, wrapped in an old throw to protect them from dust.

Use it up, wear it out, make it do

When something starts to show signs of wear, don’t throw it out. Fix it.

Ruby the Corgi Puppy chewed the ends off one of my outdoor wicker rockers. Did I throw it out and buy a new one? Hell, no. I sanded the rockers down and spray-painted them. Again.

These rockers are about 20 years old. In fact, I doubt if you can even buy real wicker rockers anymore — they’re all that weather-proof plastic stuff. Practical, I suppose. Expensive, for sure. And uncomfortable. About every three years, I spray those now-antique rockers with another layer of white paint. In between times, I drag them indoors when it looks like rain.

Similarly, the accursed Samsung washer punched holes in my pillowcases (this was before it ripped two sheets lengthwise…). The cases came with a set, so I couldn’t easily run out and buy new ones. Nor could I afford to: pillowcases are darned expensive. So I embroidered a couple of primitive flowers over the holes.

One of the holes has managed to escape the stitching, so pretty soon I’ll have to buy a new set of Costco sheets. But in the meantime, the patching job extracted an extra year or two out of the damaged sheets.

Buy quality items that last longer

We visited this subject the other day, when I held forth about the pricey shirts I recently bought, which I expect will last several years. Among the pile of stuff I donated yesterday was an Eileen Fisher top that was still perfectly usable. I decided to get rid of it because it makes a Boobless Wonder look even more curiously flat than necessary, even though it still had a fair amount of wear left in it.

I bought that shirt while I was still teaching. Since I moved into administration in 2004, that means the shirt is thirteen years old, and still usable. Yes, I paid a lot for it — though I got it on sale. But it seems to have paid for itself by not wearing out.

Buy something, get rid of something else

If you don’t want to get rid of x, then don’t buy y.

This was the principle driving yesterday’s Great Closet Clean-Out. And as a matter of fact, I got rid of considerably more than the five new items I installed in the closet. About twice as many, come to think of it.

If you have nothing that you want to get rid of, then presumably you don’t need anything new. So…don’t go out and buy stuff you don’t need.

Repurpose stuff

The other day, reader LeShea reported a brilliant idea: using sprinkles jars to store single servings of salad dressing.

This reminded me that it’s been a long time since I’ve made real salad dressing — of late, I’ve fallen into the habit of dribbling on a little olive oil and squirting a quarter of a lemon over it.

I’d bought some heavy cream in a one-pint returnable glass jar. A rather handsome little glass jar, come to think of it. Just about the right size to hold a week or two’s worth of home-made salad dressing.

Not bad. I might not even be too embarrassed to haul that out in front of guests. 🙂

If you can make it cheaper or better than you can buy it, make it

Salad dressing is ridiculously easy to make, and home-made tastes so much better than the commercial stuff, there’s no comparison. The basic principle for vinaigrette: one part sour stuff (lemon juice, lime juice, vinegar) to three parts oil of your choice. Add flavorings of your choice. Or not. The above?

1/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
about a tablespoon mixed dried herbs (I used fines herbes, but herbes de Provence or anything else to your taste will work just fine.

You can make your own window cleaner far more cheaply than Windex and its knock-offs cost, and it works as well or better. Take a squirt bottle; fill it about 1/3 to 1/2 full of rubbing alcohol. Add 1 tablespoon (or so) of ammonia. Fill the rest of the way with water.

IMHO the best of all money-saving habits is simply to cook your own dinner. Why go out to eat when you can fix far better food yourself for a fraction of the price?

Salmon poached in wine

Don’t know how to cook? Not an excuse: Buy my cookboook!

Microgardening?

🙂 I’d put money on it that I’m not the first to dream up that term, “microgardening.” And no, I’m not gunna google it to find out.

The various tiny gardens around the yard are springing to life, now that fall (Arizona’s second spring) is here. Not feeling excessively ambitious this year, I decided a) to plant things in pots, not the weed-prone ground; and b) to experiment with grocery-store gardening.

The latter entails sprouting new veggies from scraps left over in the kitchen. Check out this little guy, for example:

microgardenlettuceThat is the stump end from a head of romaine lettuce. Turns out if you set it in about an inch of water for a few days and then plant it in dirt, it sprouts a whole new head of lettuce! It’s only been in the pot a few days, and it’s already put out a healthy-looking spray of deep-green leaves.

I planted another one in a different pot, only from a head of red leaf lettuce. It’s alive but not going to town like this one — possibly because it doesn’t get as much light?

We’re told, too that you can do this trick with little green onions: just plant the nipped-off root end in the dirt and watch it sprout. Okayyy…still watching:

microgardenonionsetsMoving on, I did condescend to buy and plant some chard seeds, a totally can’t-miss plant in these parts:

microgardenchardThey’ve sprouted like crazy…and now need to be thinned, something I’ll have to get to today or tomorrow. Today a lot of work is on the plate, but I’m sure they won’t have crowded themselves into extinction by tomorrow.

micorgardenherbsAlso part of the fall microgarden are these two new additions to the herb collection: French tarragon on the left and rosemary on the left. They showed up this summer, have made it through the heat, and seem to be thriving.

This old standard has been growing for years — many, many years — in a kitschy pot from a locally owned nursery I used to patronize when I was employed but can no longer afford:

microgardenchivesApparently chives live forever and cannot be killed by neglect. I believe I brought that potful of chives over here from the old house…which would mean they’ve lived here for the past 12 years. Occasionally I add a little more dirt to the pot, to replace the soil that slowly rinses out through the bottom hole. Love chives.

The Thai basil and the regular basil also are in good shape, but they’ll die back when the weather cools. For the nonce, though, they’re great with tomatoes of any sort, cooked or  raw.

microgardenbasilThey also live in the shade and don’t seem to mind it. That thing that looks like an onion isn’t (I don’t think…). I believe it’s an iris or some such. Though why an iris would decide to sprout now escapes me. Sooner or later, I suppose, we’ll see.

The weather remains surprisingly warm. Yesterday — almost the end of October! — I was in the pool and it was wonderful. Crisp but not bone-jarring. Temps have been in the mid-90s and the sky generally clear. So I guess the combination of the warm air and the direct sunlight is keeping the water a little warmer than usual. This afternoon, if I can get quit of the most urgent computer-based work, I plan to jump in again, after overheating myself with some more pruning and digging.

Sometime within the next few days (today?), I need to soak the ground in the poolside flowerbed and extract the goddamned bermudagrass that took it over this summer.

microgardenbermudagrass

The evil weed has about been killed off from repeated applications of Over-the-Top, a grass killer, which I ordered from Amazon because it’s almost impossible to buy in these parts.

Unfortunately, it’s not its old self. The current product contains Sethoxydim, which only sorta works. The old Over-the -Top really, truly did work on grasses without taking out broad-leafed plants. But it’s no longer available…at least, not as Over-the-Top. The new product stinks something fierce: you really need to use disposable gloves when applying, so as not to get it on your hands. Yuch!

As it happened, a few days ago I decided to clean out the garage cabinets. And what should I find but a years-old squirt bottle of the original Over-the-Top! Instead of Sethoxydim, the original stuff contained fluazifop-p-butyl. Wondering if it still worked, I tried it on the still-vigorous, barely scathed bermudagrass. And LO! The old stuff WORKS! As in it really works: the bermudagrass promptly croaked over, leaving only the chore of yanking it out of the ground and freeing air and water resources for the surviving Mexican primrose.

You can still get fluazifop-p-butyl — apparently it’s not one of the effective products that have been taken out of consumers’ gummy little hands, after all. It’s in Ornamec 170 herbicide…also available on Amazon. A US Forest Service risk assessment of this chemical suggests the  risk to humans is fairly low; don’t spray it on food crops, don’t pour it in ponds, lakes, or streams, and don’t saturate the ground with it. Use it, literally, “over the top”: a little goes a long way.

And so…to work.