Coffee heat rising

New Year’s Resolutions: Where are those goals now?

Converting iWeb posts into WordPress occupied a fair amount of this weekend. In the course of opening old entries, I came across a New Year’s list of goals, which I’d promised to revisit off and on during the year. Well, of course the instant I posted that I promptly forgot the follow-up part. Better late than never: here are the 2008 goals I came up with, along with what’s become of them.

Three days a week, add bicycling or mountain park hiking to exercise routine
nope. never did find the time or energy. it’s hotter than a bigod out there now, and so you’ll not be seeing me on the mountain or the canal bike path till temps drop below 95.

Lose five to ten pounds by
a) staying off the sauce,
b) increasing exercise as above, and
c) continuing to eat lots of whole foods and less sugar & refined grain
sorta. lost about three pounds. off the sauce, less sugary foods. exercise: no change.

Bring food to the office instead of ponying up $8 for the miserable restaurant fodder that passes as lunch
n/a. quit eating lunch altogether while on campus.

Drink tea, not coffee, and less of it
yup, and yup

Learn to put widgets on iWeb pages
learned how; works spottily. some widgets don’t work at all; others get corrupted.

Join four social networking sites
nope x 4

Aim for two no-purchase days a week
yup. probably getting more than that in now, since the price of gas prohibits bucketing around town on a whim.

Snowflake the Renovation Loan principal down by $1,000 (that’s $83.30 a month)
yup. did that. Renovation Loan down from $25,000 to $22,200. also set aside something over $11,000 in the Renovation Loan Payoff fund. Had $13,000, but raided it to build a wall at the Investment House.

Invest $250 a month in an interest-bearing account to build liquid savings and to provide the option of paying off Renovation Loan within five years
sorta. with the teaching income gone, the most i can swing is $204 a month.

Invest net income from side job (approx. $3500 a semester) in the same interest-bearing account
yup. no longer teaching, but investing income from editing, income tax rebates, federal & state tax refunds, cash-back from the American Express card.

Wear better clothes to the office, using the wardrobe now expanded by after-Christmas clothing purchases
nope.

Try to wangle a Power Mac from the university
arghhh! hafta think that one through again!

Build cross-campus collaboration by trying to land another research assistantship to be staffed by grad students in the publishing program
done! increased my staff to 5; new Ph.D. on his way to join us as i scribble.

Build new ways to mentor graduate students and reinforce editorial training
yup. brilliantly…i amaze me. this one will get me another 4.5 on next year’s evaluation!

Make new friends
a) through Meetup.com
b) rejoin the choir
a) nope
b) sorta. joined the Unitarian choir. nice people, but a little too exuberantly friendly for my style. also really missed Anglican music.

So. Does articulating your goals and writing them down increase the chances that you’ll actually do them?

I dunno. I suspect the things I got done were things I would have done anyway. The goals I didn’t make were things that I should have done but just don’t want to.

Meetup.com: I’d rather spend time playing with the dog than trying to build new relationships with strangers. Biking & hiking: requires me to find a good two hours out of the day to devote to these sweaty activities; besides, I’d rather read a book. Clothing & personal appearance: I guess style is just not my thing!

Appears to me that if what you have to do to meet a goal is in your nature, you’ll probably do it or something like it anyway. If it’s not something you’re naturally inclined to do, you need some other impetus than just “I really oughta do that.” For example, if I were seriously overweight and it were affecting my health, I would diet and would work more than the present hour a day of exercise into my routine. To accomplish things that you don’t really want to do or that clash with your normal habits, you really need external motivation.

Financial goals, urban angst

Yesterday afternoon when I got home from work and climbed out of the car, I smelled burning rubber in the garage. Thinking something was wrong with the van–did I drive across two rain-soaked freeways with the handbrake on? is that fan belt flaring up again?–I looked the vehicle over but could find nothing wrong. Then I walked out to the curb to pick up the daily delivery of junk mail and smelled acrid fumes on the air. Lo, to the northwest a plume of black smoke was rising toward the clouds.

It looked like it was coming from the decrepit strip shopping center where Fry’s recently shut down a ghetto grocery store. Neighbors were glad to see that store close. It’s been a public nuisance for years, allowing (illegal) 2:00 a.m. trash pickups that sound like a wrecking yard in action, sheltering derelicts in the oleanders behind the parking lot, and charging inflated prices to the captive audience of low-income apartment dwellers along 19th Avenue who can’t afford a car or whose driver’s licenses have been suspended.

The fire appeared to be close to my friend Shari’s rental house, the place she’s been trying without luck (largely thanks to Fry’s) to sell for the past two years. I jumped on my bicycle and headed over there to check on her property.

Slipping past a fireman whose back was turned as he wrestled a hose onto a fire hydrant, I got onto the street that borders the run-down shopping center. A few houses up the road, one of the neighbors was standing in his carport watching the commotion, which was directly behind his home. I asked him what had happened.

He said that some idiot had tried to commit suicide–at least, that was his take on it. The guy had driven his vehicle up to one of the locked steel loading doors and floored the gas pedal, spinning the tires until he quite literally burned rubber. And then the car exploded! He said he was sure the perp had to be dead.

Charming. Explains the screams that could be heard from my front yard.

My friend’s house seemed to be OK; it backs onto the east side of the shopping center and the cremation occurred on the south side. But I personally am not OK with this. It’s another incident in a string of incidents and circumstances that say it’s time to get out of this area.

I’ve been undecided whether to stay in my house in retirement. It probably costs more than I’ll be able to afford on a reduced income (some months I barely make it on what I’m earning, a good $20,000 more than I’ll have in retirement). But I like the house a lot–I’ve put a ton of work into it, and the backyard is now very pleasant, full of fruit trees and flowering gardens. I love the wonderful swimming pool, my only real indulgence. I like living in a diverse neighborhood and I like being centrally located.

However, the truth is that the middle-class infrastructure has moved to Scottsdale, the East Valley, and the far Northwest Valley, following white flight and the money that fled with it. To buy clothing and upscale food, to go to doctors and talented hair stylists, to take the dog to a top-flight vet, even to shop at an ordinary department store, you have to drive halfway across the planet. The Costco a couple miles down the road is an entirely different store from the one seven or eight miles up the road at the 101 and Cave Creek, and the difference is not to the advantage of shoppers in our neighborhood. And the city is about to spend the next four years ripping up 19th Avenue for our insensate light rail project, an unsightly monstrosity that will bring us festoons of overhead wires, a curb up the middle of the road prohibiting left turns into the few surviving businesses, and traffic funneled through our residential streets as drivers dodge around the traffic jams.

How exactly the endlessly touted light rail is supposed to enhance property values escapes me: it’s no improvement over the bus, because it makes exactly the same stops and moves people at exactly the same milk-run speed, taking two hours to cover a commute I can drive in 30 minutes. It trashes the streetscape and is truly hideous. My guess is we’ll be lucky if our property values don’t drop even further once that thing is in. Certainly four years of chaotic, noisy, dirty construction won’t help values.

So, I guess it’s time to set a new financial goal: Find the money to move someplace quieter and safer by or upon retirement.

But how? Houses are selling here, but only if you set the price low and wait a long, long time. My house is paid off. At my age I’d be crazy to take on a new mortgage. What I can get for this place will not buy a comparable house, free and clear, in a better neighborhood.

And move where? I certainly can’t afford Scottsdale. I don’t at all care for the East Valley, I truly don’t want to live in Sun City, and the West Valley doesn’t turn me on any more than the eastside does. The relatively short commute I have now sets my teeth on edge, and the prospect of driving from Surprise or points west into Tempe fills me with horror. The downtown area suffers from the same issue as North Central: it’s surrounded by blight and devoid of middle-class infrastructure. All that “historic” (read “outrageously overpriced”) housing down there is even more decrepit than what I’m living in: holes in the ground into which to pour money. Newer downtown housing, mostly hard-edged concrete “lofts” that are really nothing other than mid-rise apartments, is priced in the out-of-the-question range.

To accomplish the goal of moving, I guess I need a set of strategies:

Within the next three years:

  • Pay off the Renovation Loan, or set aside an equivalent amount in cash holdings.
  • Find a desirable, affordable place to live.

Explore Prescott and Tucson.
Reconsider Sun City.
Revisit Fountain Hills.

  • Determine how much of a bath I can take on housing and still have enough in savings to live adequately in retirement.
  • Calculate the best timing for putting the house on the market.

Sell before light rail construction begins?
Wait until commuting is no longer an issue?
Rent it until the market improves?

  • Consider putting the house on the market now, since it may take two years to sell.

The conundrum at hand is another case where money issues and stress go hand in hand. To live within my means, I apparently must live in a neighborhood where I don’t feel safe. There has to be a way to resolve this!

Make a New Year’s to-do list

In my experience, New Year’s resolutions fade from memory along about January 7. Several reasons for this: we make unrealistic vows (“I will lose 100 pounds this year”); we cast our resolutions as broad generalizations rather than as specifics (“I will put more money into savings”); we ask ourselves to do things that don’t fit into our routine or are out of character (“I will teach myself to play bongo drums”), or are downright impossible (“and I will learn to play a Bach cantata on the bongo drums”).

What if, instead of resolving to achieve some broad goal, we made a checklist, the very sort of checklist that helps many of us get things done in an ordinary day or week? Instead of stating a wish, a to-do list tells you how to get through the process of accomplishing things. It speaks in specifics, not generalities. And a to-do list, being a pragmatic sort of device, is likely to fit in to the life we are already leading. On that theory, here is my 2008 to-do list:

1. Three days a week, add bicycling or mountain park hiking to exercise routine
2. Lose five to ten pounds by

a) staying off the sauce,
b) increasing exercise as above, and
c) continuing to eat lots of whole foods and less sugar & refined grain

3. Bring food to the office instead of ponying up $8 for the miserable restaurant fodder that passes as lunch
4. Drink tea, not coffee, and less of it
5. Learn to put widgets on iWeb pages
6. Join four social networking sites
7. Aim for two no-purchase days a week
8.Snowflake the Renovation Loan principal down by $1,000 (that’s $83.30 a month)
9. Invest $250 a month in an interest-bearing account to build liquid savings and to provide the option of paying off Renovation Loan within five years
10. Invest net income from side job (approx. $3500 a semester) in the same interest-bearing account
11. Wear better clothes to the office, using the wardrobe now expanded by after-Christmas clothing purchases
12. Try to wangle a Power Mac from the university
13. Build cross-campus collaboration by trying to land another research assistantship to be staffed by grad students in the publishing program
14. Build new ways to mentor graduate students and reinforce editorial training
15. Make new friends

a) through Meetup.com
b) rejoin the choir

As a list of New Year’s resolutions, this would be way too long. It could be cast as six broad, eminently forgettable goals: reduce stress, build readership for Funny about Money, pay down the Renovation Loan, save more money, improve job performance, and meet new people.

As a to-do list, it contains no more items to accomplish than I normally accrue for a single day. I think it’ll work.

What are your New Year’s resolutions? I challenge you to accomplish as many of yours as I will of mine! Meet me here after each quarter of 2008 to compare notes. See you in three months-and sooner, I hope.