Monday, August 30, 2010

Back to Minding Our Beeswax

Sidebar ad from
Well, that was fun.

I learned a lot this past weekend.

I bonded with my car. I found out why the Park Service and Louis Farrakhan wouldn't date each other if they were each the last underfunded Federal agency and deluded megalomaniac on earth (which, sadly, they're not).

I found out that I'm just as qualified to cover politics as I am to cover money. Pretty much the same beat, in fact.

But I also learned a lot about honor. About valor. About other words that everyone except an American would spell with a 'u.' I learned that there is no 'I' in Restoring Honor, no 'me' in Reclaiming the Dream, unless you do anagrams.

I also learned I could repost.

I am le tired today. And I've lately met a whole mess of lovely people over on Open Salon, which is basically like making friends in Deadwood. So, for old times' sake and for the delight of my new readers, I thought it'd be fun to revisit this blarticle from May. 

And by 'fun,' I mean, for me. 

Coupons We'd Like to See

Let's face it. Couponing is not cool.

How else to explain the awful interfaces, shameless come-ons, and total lack of design mojo at most perfectly bona fide couponing sites like CouponMomCoupon Queen, Red Plum, and the like?

Though you'll do a little better, coolnesswise, at sites like Groupon and Living Social, these are sites built for people who (unlike me) actually go out and see people after 6 p.m., so they really don't count.

After my first couple of months of playing by the rules, I started hankering after the real deals. Things like

And now that we've browsed the bargains, it's time to declare A MORATORIUM ON USE OF CAPS KEY AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!

Get back to work, slackers.

[image by Scott Blake. Check out his amazing site]

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Glenn Beck's Big Bucks, or, Tea for DC!

For DC residents, the Monday after a march and counter-march is a special time to reflect, a time of collective introspection, a time to ponder deeply this question:

What's a nice anti-pinko group like you doing enriching the coffers of a candyass liberal town like us? 

It sort of reminds me of when I was a waitress. I'd come home all tired from a double shift, with my head full of unspeakable memories of the night--the things they said to me! the things they asked of me!--my apron full of wads of slightly sweaty, balled-up bills. Mostly ones, a few fives, and some sweet sweet tens.

I'm not saying the money made me feel better about myself, as I sat at my nicked kitchen table smoothing them out and counting them. I'm also not saying it didn't.

Look. Here. This is all I wanted to do today. I asked a noted libertarian economist to help me calculate the overall economic benefits of the Restoring Honor Rally for the people of the District of Columbia. He agreed to help on one condition: that his name not be even remotely linked with this blarticle.

I'm down with that. We'll call him Adam Smith.

So, Adam says the type of analysis I'm aiming for "is called economic base analysis, most of which I heartily distrust. Basically the idea is this:  New people come into our market and spend $XX.  The locals then earn $XX; they save some, spend some elsewhere, and spend the rest locally.  So they save some, spend some elsewhere, and spend the rest locally... repeat ad nauseum." This "multiplier expansion" is usually summarized in a single number, the "economic multiplier."

Still with me? Yeah, me neither.

So, if we can get a reliable count of how many people were just here for the day on Saturday, and subtract from that number anyone who is not a True American, then multiply the difference by the cost of a coffee, an ice cream, a T-shirt, and a turkey sandwich for everyone plus a round trip Metro ticket for .000000000000000000004 percent of them TIMES the economic multiplier, which is essentially what DC residents will then go and do with the money spent in this manner, which if we assume most DC residents are exactly like me, means that 2/3 of the money will go to taxes and 1/3 to beer, well, that then = economic impact of the event.

I thought we were done right about here. I was ready to Apply Math to the Question. But Adam was not finished schooling me. 

"Most local economic multipliers are proprietary numbers created by business consultants.  Most of these numbers are complete piles of moldy dog turds, in terms of their accuracy.  Put numbers on a dart board, ranging from 1 to 20, throw a dart, and declare that to be the economic multiplier.  Write it up as a scientific process. That's funny."

This is insightful. Who says conservatives and liberals can't agree?

So, a back-of-the-envelope calculation simply wouldn't do. I went and bought the best calculator I could afford.

I am going to use the optimistic number of 599,657 visitors total because that is roughly the best estimate of people Michelle Malkin could see from her vantage point of not being there at all, and the best estimate of out-of-towners who attended the Reclaiming the Dream counter-rally, a number I can't report exactly here but solidly support from the firm stance of also not having been there at all. Then I apply a factor of That DooDoo that I Do So Well, obtaining exactly the current population of DC, which means beer and taxes are paid for every man, woman and child. And because I am doing the work, I get the beer the kids don't want.

What have we learned?

That you should never let your people photograph you in front of the Monument.

Adventure Capital: How To Count a Hill of Beans

It's Week 7 of my ambitious saving program, and here is the official estimate:

As with any public event of critical national importance, there is some dispute about the numbers. The liberal bloggers are all claiming I saved $0 this week, while Pajamas Media and Michelle Malkin have both released preliminary estimates of at least double that.

Of course, the entrenched Legacy Media is holding the line at "saved nothing" (their words, not mine) and also claim that my picture is unreliable. Yeah, get this: They'd like you to believe that this is not in fact the Eiffel Tower pictured, just a cheap sand knock-off from Belgium.

Whatever, haters. I'm sticking to my numbers.

Speaking of which, how do the big people actually get those crowd counts? We did a little nosing and schmoozing over the weekend, and we made some priceless discoveries.

First, did you know that Congress would actually prefer for the National Park Service to manage our nation's parks than play political footsie with the enemy? No lie. Since 1996, NPS's First Amendment right to apply totally spurious logic to fuzzy aerial photos has been impeded by Big Government. (With only the one exception for the 2009 inauguration, because who doesn't like a good Purple Tunnel of Doom?).

Back in 1996, NPS was like, 400,000 people, and Louis Farrakhan was all like dude what?, and the NPS goes snap snap snap, and then Farrakhan gets all, no way and the NPS was like, yes way, and then Congress steps in and goes, I'm going to have to separate you two. Go to bed or no pancakes tomorrow!

So what have we learned?

That we are alone in a Godless universe.

CheapBohemian decided to Apply Math Skills. We know that the annual Fourth of July festivities on the Mall typically draw 400,000 people. This is a logical yardstick for comparison. We apply to that number a top-secret algorithm developed at Bowling Green State University to account for baseline differences in otherwise like events. So, because the Fourth of July festivities are (1) fun, (2) patriotic, and (3) relevant to the American experience, we had to run the calculations three times.

Here is what we came up with:

Take this solidly American estimate...

and subtract approximate attendance at these events...

and then also subtract the city's population, 'cause we never go to these things ourselves...


I get SS,DD. Is that what you got?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Glenn Beck, Primp My Ride!

Today, I stand in patriotic solidarity with Glenn Beck and the People of America. Today, I am ALL ABOUT Restoring Honor.

I'm going to start by cleaning out my car.

Too long have I gone on expecting a free ride. Too long have I burdened my car with the scummy detritus of my backward social welfare experiment.

That changes today. Today I get out the Chicken Timer and set course for 30 minutes I can never have back. Today I reclaim my trunk.

Hey, who says Sarah Palin doesn't have your backside? I never would have stayed home to do this if she hadn't come to town.

As I punch the Send button on this post, it's 10:02. The festivities are officially underway downtown, and I just located the right nozzle attachment for my vacuum cleaner.

I am wetting my pants with excitement.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Free Friday: Bags of Honor

I had to look up the instructions on how to do this because I had completely forgotten.

(I did try it on my own first, silly. Even I have some pride.)

Initially, Miss M was having none of this money-saving idea. You might have thought I'd suggested Pancake Night again.

(Me, months ago: "Hey, I have an idea:  Let's have a Weekly Family Pancake Night! It'll save money, and it'll be a lot of fun!
Miss M, after a polite pause: "That sounds like a lot of not fun.")

But this was different. We had to cover her textbooks for middle school, we'd already used up the gift cards for Container Store and Staples, and I have no money. None. Goose eggs. Nada. Zilch.

So--ready for the cognitive dissonance that is my household budget?--we ordered in Chinese ($22 I will never see again) and set about our holy task.

my, that's a scary pile of books.
actually, bags aren't free in DC anymore, but pretty near.
Miss M decided to put a cool quote on the back of each book, and on her own she found The Quote Garden, one of my favorite sites on the Web. This is what she chose:

Language Arts

World Geography and Culture

Et voilà! 

Way better than those book condoms from Staples.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

America's Deep Waters: More on Mortgages

I am in deep waters of another sort this week--getting back to school for my daughter and work for me--so I am borrowing a bit of copy today from Zach Carter of the Media Consortium, a group of  independent progressive media organizations that track the big stories.

Carter blogged this morning at Open Salon about some of the underpinning issues faced by the mortgage industry. I found his overview interesting in light of my most recent post.

Carter writes:
Over the past decade, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac transformed themselves into some of the worst-run companies in recent history. But contrary to current talking points, the firms’ failings had almost nothing to do with their programs for low-income borrowers. As policymakers debate what should be done with the mortgage giants, a battle is now beginning in which the very availability of affordable housing for the middle class may be at stake.
As Tim Fernholz emphasizes for The American Prospect, before the U.S. government created Fannie Mae in 1938, mortgages were very pricey 5-year loans, so expensive that only very wealthy Americans could ever hope to own a home. Fannie Mae changed all that by rolling out the 30-year mortgage, which lowered monthly payments for borrowers by providing a government guarantee against losses for banks. It worked.
But as Fernholz notes, without some kind of government involvement in the housing market, home ownership will revert to its pre-Depression status a privilege reserved for elites. Policymakers will have to implement significant changes in the mortgage finance system to ensure stability in the U.S. housing market, but whatever changes may come, a robust role for the government in housing will be essential.
Fannie and Freddie have been justifiably but inaccurately maligned in the aftermath of the mortgage crisis. In recent years, their executives ran the firms like out-of-control hedge funds, lobbied Congress like arrogant Wall Street banks and did nothing beyond the bare minimum required by law to help low-income borrowers. But Fannie and Freddie did not go headlong into subprime mortgages—the primary source of their losses came from loans to relatively high-quality borrowers.
The terrible mortgages that crashed the economy were issued by banking conglomerates and Wall Street megabanks—Fannie and Freddie were almost entirely divorced from that line of business. The problem with Fannie and Freddie was largely structural– investors and managers saw the potential for big profits from taking on loads of risk, but believed (accurately) that the government would eat losses if those risks backfired. So Fannie and Freddie ramped up risk, taking on as many mortgages as they could while keeping as little money as possible on hand to cushion against losses. Eventually the strategy destroyed them.... the government is going to have to keep subsidizing housing, but it will have to find new ways to do it. The old Fannie and Freddie model didn’t work, but the private sector will be unable to get the job done by itself....
I have not done justice to the full text of Carter's article in this short space. Yet I can't help but note--again--the automatic assumption that home ownership is the only path to salvation for individuals and the nation's economy. If traditional affordable housing advocates and community groups haven't had much voice in the discussion, as Carter asserts, then renters and tenants don't have a prayer. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I've already outed myself as a home owner who has enjoyed the many benefits of the present system. But if the government does intervene on behalf of Americans to protect affordable housing, is single-family home ownership the only model?

We have just seen major reform in the credit card industry. This is our chance to revise housing choices for our children. Are we thinking broadly enough?
[image via FreakingNews]

Buying the Farm

Speaking of flesh-eaters.

I don't know about you, but nothing cheers me up more than spending money I don't have on gardening essentials I wouldn't miss.

Which is why, when I came home this weekend, the first financial decision I made was to invest in vermiculture.

About $31.50 bought me 500 red wriggler worms with free two-day shipping. The rest will be basically free: a bin with a lid that I've drilled air holes into, a lot of old newspaper, and uncooked kitchen waste.

Of course, if I do it wrong the first time, it'll be a sight costlier.

I know this is not for everyone, but don't judge. You have your ice cream and People magazine on your bad days, I'll have my worms on mine.

For detailed, step-by-step advice on starting your own worm farm, go to CityFarmer Comics.

Monday, August 23, 2010

For Sale: One Life, Slightly Used

We humans like to feast on brains.

Memoir. Essays. Creative nonfiction. Call it what you want.

It's still brains. And hearts. The fresher the better.

I ought to know. I am both host and parasite. (That's writer to you.)

Read. Live. Gorge. Write. Then Go To the Bank. It's actually pretty gross. 

So when Elizabeth Gilbert, who just sold her Gut Soul Heart to Hollywood, went along with the product tie-ins that now adorn the aisles of a major retail player, and permitted a tour company to market her soul-searching itinerary to eager pilgrims, I wanted to run screaming into the zombie-ridden night.

Ethical concerns? Sure, that's part of it. Telling personal stories for profit is an iffy enough business, without all the marketing swag. I worry that the essential stuff at the heart of Eat Pray Love's apparent fluff--the hard-won struggle to be free--has been lost in the shuffle off to Hollywood.

But there's something else, not so pretty. Caitlin Kelly's recent post on Open Salon brought it to the surface. Although she was expressing dismay about women readers who condemned Gilbert's choice to flee her marriage, Kelly has also caused me to examine my high-minded outrage about Gilbert's economic choices since.

Ten years ago, when I was a fiction writer with modest success, my life was derailed by death. Many deaths, in fact, all crystallized by the one that looms largest now: the death of my husband.

Like Anne LaMott, I went looking for the book I needed, and it just wasn't there. I was going to have to write it, if I wanted it to exist.

I needed someone--even if it was only me--to articulate what it felt like to ask the local widows' support group if they provided babysitting. To drive around with my husband's ashes in a laundry hamper because I didn't know where else to put them on a car trip. To boycott taking the trash to the curb until my brother-in-law came to do it because it just wasn't my job.

It took ten years, but I am writing that book now.

I initially resisted, and then finally read (and really liked) Eat Pray Love last year, but I fear Elizabeth Gilbert. I fear her the way the scantily clad girl in Reel 1 fears the killer, and for the same reasons: She embodies my desire and my guilt, all in one.

How much do I tell? How much do I sell?

Don't get me wrong here. I am still reading Caitlin Kelly, and I don't envision any funeral home tie-ins or  tours of U.S cancer centers.

But still. As any zombie flick will tell you, when fresh meat walks into the marketplace, anything can happen.

Write. Publish. Pray.

[image by Merit Badger via Shawn Zender Lea]

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Adventure Capital: Week 6

Hey! Eyes down here please.

There's really nothing to see up there. Next week won't be any better, so don't get excited.

Good news: $3,129 saved toward the year's $12,775 goal. With 47 weeks remaining (we are beginning Week 6), that means I must save a little under $10,000.
Bad news: I'm going to fall behind this week and next, and possibly the next. Living hand to mouth till September 15, when I am back on the payroll where I teach.

(Awkward silence.)

Well. Here are some refreshing links to people who seem to be handling things pretty well. Maybe you could hang with them for a while:
  • Get Rich Slowly is a homey, eclectic blog that frequently opens up its pages directly to readers and guest bloggers, gaining many perspectives and approaches on the art of saving a buck.
  • Million Dollar Journey is a Canadian blog on personal finance, managed by a professional trader who is working to be worth $1M by his 35th birthday. His in-depth, wide-ranging articles are always of interest, especially if you'd like to move beyond U.S.-based discussions of money management. MDJ's regular reports on net worth were part of the inspiration for me to start posting weekly about my savings progress.
  • Slow Money is the hub of the slow money movement, a necessary companion to the slow food movement. Slow Money seeks to create an investing economy that supports local agriculture and food delivery systems.
  • Wise Bread's clean, dynamic interface is brimming with stories and columns on all matters related (and sometimes a bit unrelated) to money. 
So go forth today. Do as I link and not as I do.

Tomorrow, come back and I'll scare the pants off you still more.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Strip-Down Saturday: What We Keep

I figure there's a host of folks doing a pretty spiffy job of documenting this stripping-down business, including my soul sisters at things365.

Just for today, I wanna say something about what we keep.

I rediscovered this rock in a bag full o' crap I was just about to pitch before leaving Santa Fe. (Yeah, I lied. I did have unnecessary bilia in my valise.)

The first time I found this charming little messenger was in a scatter of rocks on the playground at Kalorama, about seven years ago. Most of the rocks were just ordinary, but many of them were like this one: satisfyingly real-looking balls of clay with encouraging messages.

I don't know who made them or put them there, or whether they were meant to stay, but they were lovely. I slipped one in my pocket.

(I thought about taking one of each, but I was with a lot of three-year-olds, so I decided to share.)

I loved this little stone for such a long time. It was on my window sill, encouraging me day by day. Then I lost it in a grand accumulation. I didn't miss it at all.

And never would have, execpt I found it. But now that I have, I'll never part with it.

"Nobody sees a flower really, it is so small. And to see takes time like to have a friend takes time..."
--Georgia O'Keeffe

Friday, August 20, 2010

Free Friday: One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

Yes, I realize this is a balloon animal.

The question is, what kind?

I have other photos that might help, but am posting this from the library where the bandwidth is regrettable. The reason I am here at all is the subject of another post for another week.

I won't keep you in suspense. I warn you though, you're about to slap your forehead and go "doh!"

It's a pregnant mouse on a Harley. Taking off for the mountains.

Don't you feel foolish now?

John Dukes, the Santa Fe Plaza Balloon Guy, made her for me on Wednesday.

He's this guy who works the tourist crowd day and evening and lives beneath of the radar of "all this." He has that dangerous air that only really funny guys who pinch balloons for a living and look like Robert Carlyle can have.

He doesn't care all that much if you pay him or not. He doesn't mind if you want to get a photo with him or do a blog post about him. He doesn't have a web site. He's just a guy who made Miss M a balloon hat and Miss J a monkey in a pink tree and Miss N--what'd he make for Miss N? I forget, I was so enthralled with my bright yellow souris enceinte.

Technically these balloons were free, although we did give John 12 bucks for his troubles. It was a pay-what-you-want moment, and we wanted to. The jokes were free though:

Joke #1: A couple of cowboys engage an Indian guide to take them into the back country. They get pretty far into the woods, when suddenly they hear drumbeats. One cowboy turns to the other and says, "You hear that?" The other says, "Yeah. And it doesn't sound good." The guide turns to both of them and says, "Sorry, that's not our regular drummer."

Joke #2: A German Shepherd finds the love of his life, a beautiful Bichon Frise. But she runs away with another dog. A few weeks later, an old friend runs into the Shepherd. "How you doin' man?" he asks. "Terrible," the Shepherd replies. "I can't eat, can't sleep, my fur is falling out in patches. I'm a mess." The friend says, "Man, you should see a therapist." "Nah," says the Shepherd. "I'm not allowed on the couch."

What do you expect for free?

In other, perhaps more relevant news, we discovered Dinosaurs and More in Santa Fe, where they have astonishing finds. If you're nice and bring in children who are equally nice, you'll get a free and amazing tour from Charles Snell--self-taught prospector, paleontology expert, and owner of these digs. I'll do a far better job of writing about him soon, but meantime, peep this millions-of-years-old nest of a mud dauber wasp.

Okay, that's it. That's what I got.

Hello? Hello?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Poetry Thursday: Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie was born to the Spokane/Coeur d'Alene tribes, and now lives in Seattle. But I met him this week on the streets of Santa Fe and I've adored him for 17 years, so he's my poet today, so suck it up.

My daughter made me do it. There he was, underneath the marquee of the Lensic in downtown Santa Fe, talking with friends or fans after the reading he'd given (which we found out about too late). Miss M, wearing a balloon hat of alien bunny ears that she'd just been made in the Plaza (long story), pushed me across the road. The dialogue went something like this:

Me: Mr. Alexie, I love your work, I teach high school, and...I haven't yet assigned my students The Absolutely True Diary, but I have been teaching Lone Ranger and Tonto for years and it always takes the tops of their heads off. I am so grateful to you. I just can't tell you how grateful I am. I just--I am just so grateful.
Alexie: Thanks. (To my daughter:) Nice ears.
Miss M: Thanks.

So. What have we learned?

Alexie has said some of the most important things about culture, money, entitlement, and human relationships of any living writer today. Plus he is frickin' funny, and he admits publicly that he watches American Idol.

Here is Alexie's 1992 poem on art, money, being Indian, and being human, "The Business of Fancy Dancing." Look what he does with the words "money," "promise," "we," "empty," and "reach."

In 2002 he developed the poem and related work into a much-acclaimed film of the same name.  Hanging Loose Press, the small press that believed in his work even before he was a big player, deserves much of the credit for this poem's existence in print.

The Business of Fancy Dancing

After driving all night, trying to reach

Arlee in time for the fancydance

finals, a case of empty

beer bottles shaking our foundations, we

stop at a liquor store, count out money,

and would believe in the promise

of any man with a twenty, a promise

thin and wrinkled in his hand, reach-
ing into the window of our car. Money

is an Indian Boy who can fancydance

from powwow to powwow. We

got our boy, Vernon WildShoe, to fill our empty

wallets and stomachs, to fill our empty
cooler. Vernon is like some promise

to pay the light bill, a credit card we

Indians get to use. When he reach-

es his hands up, feathers held high, in a dance

that makes old women speak English, the money

for first place belongs to us, all in cash, money
we tuck in our shoes, leaving our wallets empty

in case we pass out. At the modern dance,

where Indians dance white, a twenty is a promise

that can last all night long, a promise reach-

ing into back pockets of unfamiliar Levis. We

get Vernon there in time for the finals and we
watch him like he was dancing on money,

which he is, watch the young girls reach-

ing for him like he was Elvis in braids and an empty

tipi, like Vernon could make a promise

with every step he took, like a fancydance

could change their lives. We watch him dance
and he never talks. It's all a business we

understand. Every drum beat is a promise

note written in the dust, measured exactly. Money

is a tool, putty to fill all the empty

spaces, a ladder so we can reach

for more. A promise is just like money.
Something we can hold, in twenties, a dream we reach.
It's business, a fancydance to fill where it's empty.

From The Business of Fancydancing, Hanging Loose Press, 1992

[photo by Rob Casey]

Monday, August 16, 2010

Rent or Buy: Is the American Dream Really All That?

At least one of my astute readers (and quite a few economists) have aptly pointed out of late that the devalued choice of renting instead of owning one's home could be, well, coming into its own.

Me, I am a reluctant homeowner. I bought my house in 1998 only because I was married to a man who believed in the American dream and really wanted to own a home. We qualified using one salary and took out a really small loan on a really cheap house with a really modest mortgage. The banks were dying to lend us more.

My husband was the one who died. There I was with a baby and a mortgage. If we'd bought any of the dream houses we first looked at, I'd have been in deep with nowhere to go but down.

As it was, even with serious decreases in recent years, the house's value is more now than when we bought it. It was my ATM for a few years running, helping me qualify for a student loan and survive day to day through three refinancings.

And so what? What happened to me is the equivalent of someone wandering from the granny slots to the blackjack table in Atlantic City, and lucking out to win against the dealer. That's not a typical reality for most of America.

In fact, homebuying patterns in recent decades have trended toward lower downpayments, riskier loan terms, and higher assumptions among maxed-out buyers that houses always increase in value. As David Leonhardt says in today's New York Times Magazine, "bankers, mortgage brokers, and real estate agents were only too happy to encourage these fantasies."

There's an ugly ethical dimension as well: underlying the spoken American Dream has grown an unspoken assumption that homeowners can and should be able to cash in and move on within five years rather than putting down roots.

In 1998, our very nice realtor assured us that our prospective home, a pretty rowhouse in an economically and racially transitioning neighborhood, was a great "trade-up" that'd be worth double or triple its original value in a handful of years. When I suggested that it would be unethical for us to flip the house so quickly and drive up the comparables in a neighborhood with high rentals and poverty, she gave me a look so blank it made Keanu Reeves seem like a giddy schoolgirl.

America's cultural bias marginalizes and stigmatizes renting, meanwhile rewarding ownership with policies that make its apparent success a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our country has long equated home ownership with broad, national fiscal health. Tax breaks, loan sweeteners like the G.I. Bill, dream communities built by trolley czars and factory tycoons, and the eternal brass ring of house as collateral for still more credit have led us to take ownership = prosperity as an article of faith. both for private individuals and for communities.

It's enough to make a girl forget about the roof replacement ($10K or more every 10 years for me), the sudden appliance breakdowns (two water heaters in six years at our place), the rising taxes and electric bills.

In Europe, the picture is quite different: In the 1950s, when the American house boom began, most Europeans rented and unemployment was relatively stable or low despite several wrenching wars. Today, countries with high ownership rates--among them Spain, at 80 percent--haven't necessarily reaped great benefits, while the direct correlation of high rentals and low unemployment remains in place in countries like Switzerland.

Felix Salmon, a blogger for many venues including Reuters, offered a scathing and in-depth commentary on the home-ownership dogma that coincided with the release of the National Housing Survey in April. He reminds us that there is absolutely no correlation between high rates of home ownership and strong economies, citing Germany among other thriving countries with a high proportion of residential renters. Mexico and India, both struggling economies, feature home ownership rates a lot like those in Spain. In fact, there is evidence that housing markets with a lower rate of owner-occupation might be more recession-proof when housing prices tank.

In 2003, 83 percent of Americans felt home ownership was an unquestionably great investment, compared with 70 percent today. Yet across the board, we still can't let go of the dream. Why?

Here's Felix Salmon's dismal take:

The psychological reasons for buying a home are so strong — the nesting instinct, the idea that you’re not at the mercy of a landlord, the feeling that paying rent is “throwing money away” in a way that paying mortgage interest or monthly maintenance fees is not — that people simply delude themselves into believing that homeownership in general is (a) an investment, when it isn’t; is (b) a good investment, when it isn’t; and is (c) a good idea even now, when rents are cheap and the downside in the housing market is huge.

I profess no expertise here. I only just did what any one of us could do: I strapped on my fancy aviator goggles and flew through a few reliable online sources for information that wasn't unilateral praise of the almighty marriage of mortgage and equity.

I think, though, before more Americans commit, someone should sit all of us down and present an honest assessment of the pros and cons.

I volunteer this guy.

(If you actually use the calculator in the link I provided above, or just right here, let me know what you think. Are the assumptions straightforward or still purchase-happy?)

[still photo from It's a Wonderful Life at the precise moment when George realizes a security deposit isn't the worst thing in the world]

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Adventure Capital: Week 5

It was bound to happen.

This week, I ran out of steam and began to roll backward.

$13, a windfall refund, is not even yet technically headed for savings. I did get an additional $20 donation toward the bunny fund, which along with my match brings this week's total savings to a pathetic 53 theoretical dollars.

You just cannot save what you do not have.

Since I have nothing to lose, I thought I'd bring the make-believe total up above my $245 weekly target with a mental sleight of hand that even tops my original gambit. Don't worry, this won't be reported to Piggymojo, and next week's figures will be absolutely accurate.

But let's have some fun while Rome burns.

I've decided that if I don't follow up on this complaint, I will save myself hours of time and at least one full therapy session, the value of which is $400 in my book, thereby bringing my week's total to $453.

There. I feel better already.

One could say--and I agree--that to end a summer in which you traveled three times in as many months yet received not a single paycheck and still have about $300  in checking is an astonishing, if pyrrhic, victory. No bounced checks as of today, but then the summer's not over.

Next paycheck will be on or about September 15. This should be an interesting month.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Strip-Down Saturday: The Cost of Clutter

Judging from comments and emails, we've really struck a nerve with recent posts about clearing clutter.

In fact, a couple of visitors dropped us a line a few days ago about their site, Things365, where they are documenting the sacrifice of at least one thing a day. They're inviting photos from like-minded folk doing the same.

Since I am traveling this week, and at least in theory my suitcase is not full of crap, I thought I'd take this opportunity to sketch out  the relationship between clutter and money, at least in my mind.

At best, my clutter represents impounded money (stolen phrase, won't tell you from whom). In the past couple of months, I've recouped a little under $100 from useful or attractive items I simply didn't need or use.

At worst, my clutter represents sloth, avoidance, and plain unnecessary foot-dragging. This is the heap of cardboard boxes that need to be broken down and stored or recycled, the broken things that accumulate because I just don't make time to fix or dump them, the visual noise that simply doesn't belong.

The wide band in between is the hardest stuff to deal with: Things I or someone I love once cared for, things I keep because they remind me and I am afraid to forget, bad photos that need to be weeded out from good ones, clothing that never fit or suited me that I should give away, papers I promise I will go get it.

What this has to do with money is this: Buried in all that debris are perfectly good things I have been looking for, things I have to periodically replace for real money because I can't find or can't be bothered to look for the originals. Scissors, box cutters, tape, birthday candles, pens, linens of a certain size, flashlights...if you think this doesn't add up to hundreds of dollars a year, think again.

Paper clutter is its own topic. Who among us has not thrown away or misplaced a check, a really good coupon or gift certificate, an important document that costs $25 or $40 to replace, a parking ticket that expires and doubles?

Since my life has become less cluttered, I have found stuff and saved money in ways I didn't anticipate. And clean saves me in other ways too. In a clean kitchen, it's not nearly so depressing to force another Pancake Night on my daughter instead of calling for take-out.

Tomorrow, tune in for the weekly Sunday Savings round-up. This week's a real winner: Watch me spin a net $13 in savings into a regular Crapathon of rationalization. It's going to be a treat.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Free Friday: Santa Fe

This week I'm in Santa Fe, again enjoying the largesse of kind relatives. So I am thinking of changing the name of my blog to ParasiticBohemian.

As I cast around for an honest post, something really free to do in Santa Fe, I was tempted to post this Google Fail, because it's pretty funny and I'm sorry I didn't think of it on purpose. I mean, who doesn't need a little Frida Kahlo to kick off the weekend?

Speaking of strong women artists in desert lands, I was actually going to post this link to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum anyway. The current exhibition, Abstraction, takes us deep in a direction that is not heavily popularized,  and is the last in a traveling exhibition that originated at the Whitney in New York and was at The Phillips Collection in D.C. last spring.

Me, I'm hankering to pay good money for the next exhibition I won't be here for, O'Keeffiana, which name says it all.

But--wait for it--the GO Museum is free the first Friday of every month from 5 to 8 p.m. for grown-ups, and children always get in free. So I might just drop my kid off tomorrow with a packet of sandwiches and a medium-format camera.

(Kids are free every day at the Phillips and Whitney, too. Hm.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Poetry Thursday: Judith Hall

Poem for the Wheat Penny (1909-1958)

O beautiful
The amber the clamor the waves of grain
          The need for animal feed
     And liquor yes the need for heaven

I heard a voice in the midst of beasts say
A measure of wheat for a penny

O spacious
Voice that loafs and voids a day
          A voice numismerized
     Is it love my one

Nation leaning her cheek upon the grain

O love
The penny cried which wheat which voice
          Which night the penny moon
     Shall subsidize the need for heaven

I heard a voice need yes a prop abundance
The measured fat of the wheat the penny-wise

Oh say
Say the penny candy prayer
          The dawn a gleaming pile
     Of trampled swords and friends

(a repost, but I like saving everything)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Guest Blog: Rosemary Markowski, from Icky to Iki

Today in a continuing series of posts by people whose chief virtue is they're not me for a change, Rosemary Markowski.

Rosemary is...well,  I'll let her tell you herself, in her own plain, classic typeface.

I am a painter, sculptor, and do-it-yourselfer. I hate to see things go to waste and because of this my relationship with clutter is a complicated one. It might be that the gift of being able to find creative solutions and new ways of looking at things also predisposes one to finding a reason to hold onto things that might very well be useless… or pick them up from the side of the road on trash day.

For every successful makeover, there are three that never make it out of the garage.
I happen to be a dumpster diver and a neat freak - perfect combo for driving myself crazy. Here are a few tips I've come up with over the years to add control to the creative chaos:

  • Come up with a list for labeling bins without looking at the stuff you're trying to put away. It will be easier to edit what the important categories are. Those odds and ends that are left should probably hit the trash. 
  • Put organizational units within easy reach, not at the back of a closet or in the basement. Call those areas deep storage and reserve them for things that only come out a couple times a year. I hate wasting money on expensive bins at places like the Container Store ($25.00 for a square basket - and I need six!) yet having storage that is pleasing to the eye and within easy reach is valuable. You might need to bite the bullet and invest.
  • Place a time limit on unfinished projects and be honest with yourself about whether you will put out the money and time it takes to complete them. I find myself saying, "Imagine what these would look like lacquered and reupholstered!" way too often. My imagination isn't going to clean out the garage. If I haven't gotten to it in 3 weeks it's not going to happen - time for craigslist, freecycle, or the curb. After hauling all the forgotten projects back out of the house you'll use more discretion at the next estate sale.
  • I like to keep a collection of objects and images close to me in my home and studio; things with color or form that inspire me. I don't feel like I need to win a battle over my attachment to these little collections if I truly appreciate them. I give them an arena, a confined space within a larger, organized area. If it's small stuff, consider a shadow box frame. A shelf dedicated to the embarrassment of riches is wonderful (as long as there's only one in the room) It's in the contrast to minimalism that the collection shines.
  • I love bookcases with glass doors. They keep me honest about what’s going on in there, but make it a little harder to pile things up as I pass by.

  • It's all about the editing. If an object is not serving you exactly the way you want, let it go. This acts as a little exercise in the belief of abundance as the natural state. Yep, that heavy topic kind of slipped in there, but what are you really saying when you hold onto things that have become more of a burden than a service?
As you proceed think of the Japanese aesthetic ideal, Iki: "an expression of simplicity, sophistication, spontaneity, and originality....ephemeral, romantic, straightforward, audacious, smart and unselfconscious."

You could think of it as "chic" or a sophisticated kind of understatement. Ask yourself whether the items you're bringing into your home add to, or detract from that expression. A serene and well-designed home doesn't have much to do with spending money; it's about maintaining a gentle control over your environment.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sober Monday: Life, Vocation, and Money

There's a big vault at Oxford containing all the misfit words.

They're not rejected, exactly, although many have waited for adoption since before J.R.R. Tolkien was editing the O.E.D.

(Yes, you read right if you just clicked that last link: $995 for the full unabridged set.)

The unclaimed words are perfectly good, just unproven. See, once a word is in the O.E.D., it's forever, no matter what. So it needs to pull its weight, get vetted, go through a sort of secular discernment process, demonstrate its currency among enough people to warrant immortality.

An instance is not enough. A lucky break, a good idea: No.

Consistency, repetition, usefulness are what make a word a word. It needs to be called to service.

I'm thinking about all this because I've started a book. Among writers, saying this is like saying, I'm pregnant. It's similar in other ways too. Like, you can't be sort of writing a book. I don't care what your writer friends will tell you. You either are or you aren't. And I am.

The other way this is like being pregnant is, I've been trying and trying for years and it finally happened by accident. I only found out a few days ago. Plus, it's not really viable till I've actually had it, although it does start kicking just weeks into its proto-life.

Here's the rub. Miss M and I came home to a $190 electric bill, a dog that's overdue for shots, a tenuous job situation, and an ominous call from Social Security. It was the kind of day that really puts the cheap in CheapBohemian.

I came back from my happy discovery of all my own words again, those vulnerable, slightly clumsy playthings waiting for love, only to find that I'd better put them right to work. I hope to keep up the pace I kept all last week, or at least a decent sprog.

[Still photo from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, used completely without permission, because Johnny Marks still owes my husband's grandfather Hecky Krasnow money.]