Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Poetry Thursday: Darrell Grayson

The Nature of Being
by Darrell Grayson

Through humor, love cascades
As a display of stars—these
The gods have reasonably essayed—
And further, they whispered the
Punch-line into clay to ease
Their boredom.

Essence is conveyed as light.
These artists crafted the senses through
Bold explicit strokes, painting us
Breathlessly across a winking sky.

Portends tragedy
Sweetens the earth like music
Caressing the senses, in
Blue jazzy waves.

The Temple of Our Familiars
Mazes of reason are conquered
Allowing us to consume dementia
And expel rose-colored bubbles
Our gossamer wings
Shimmer in quiet desperation.

Brilliant abstraction no longer loll
Over horizons that once captivated
Or swayed us through chants
From ego-centric lands, where
Philosophies eat souls as tender fruit.

That singular crown of a face
Edified to the magnificence
Of hearts redeemed.

Monday, March 5, 2012

On Saving, and Saving Again

Behind this modest update lies a world of pride.

About two years ago, I started this blog after realizing that a costly, avoidable tax mistake had jeopardized a once-in-a-lifetime trip overseas with my daughter.

To put a keener edge to the blade, the extra amount I owed for taxes was roughly the cost of the trip.

It was a preventable mistake. Most money mistakes are. Problem is--I, like many people I know, was terrified of money. So I'd lived for years skimming the surface of my own finances, afraid to look too deeply. Who can blame me? Deep in one's wallet, there be monsters.

The little screencap above represents less than 10 percent progress so far on my second public savings goal, a two-year project to clear $26,000 in consumer debt, leaving only my student loan and mortgages thereafter. (Read about both savings goals here, along with money-hacking tips for changing your own habits; or check out all of the posts via The Big Drift, updated monthly).

It doesn't look like much, but this week I realized how far I had come. Not because of what I've paid down, but because of how quickly I bounce back from big, out-of-pocket expenses.

You know the drill. You get caught up, maybe you even start dreaming about paying cash for something you've been wanting, and then BAM. The car needs a repair or an appliance needs fixing, often in the same week. Maybe a great opportunity arises (I got a scholarship to this conference but still have to pay my travel), or you want to throw a big birthday party, plus an out-of-town wedding, plus accommodate the Passover weekend all in a period of six months.

Well, you don't, but I do.

Turns out, although I am not out of the hole just yet, my still-new savings habits have enabled me to budget for thousands of dollars of unexpected expenses during the past six months, without changing my bottom line. My daughter's big December birthday party at a restaurant was paid for by the end of January, and during the first two months of this year, I have been able to identify funds to pay off major expenditures (wedding deposit, plane tickets and hotel for a conference) within 60 days of incurring them.

It doesn't prevent me bitching, mind you. That's a blogger's prerogative.

Three things you can do today to get more savings in your pocket:
1. Set a goal to save 30% on groceries. For a family of four, this could be about $150 or more per month. Consider a grocery delivery service like Peapod, and seek out coupon-strategy sites like CouponMom. Here are other tips for surviving the couponing wars.
2. Scrutinize your debt, and shift it like a fat cat. Use a debt payoff calculator to figure out the big picture. Don't be sentimental. The principal debt may look worse initially while the long-term debt improves. In April 2010 I had about $18,000 in consumer debt, including a car loan, all at interest rates between 8 and 16 percent. Today, about 90 percent of my consumer debt is interest-free. My overall debt (including mortgage and student loan) has dropped by $5,000 during that time.
3. Celebrate the victories and have fun. I have the attention span and temperament of a magpie, and if I can't enjoy what I am doing, I move on to the next shiny thing on the pavement. So I use sites like SaveUp and PiggyMojo to make saving as fun and shiny as I can.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Poetry Thursday: Matsuo Basho

In 1689 a man left his home and traveled for 1,200 miles with a companion, a few changes of clothes, writing brushes, and notebooks. The two walked throughout their homeland of Japan for five months. He was already known as the master of haiku, a poem form that relies on a foundation of 5- and 7-syllable verse.

The poet did not know then that he had only five years remaining to live. Today, the trail he followed on his final journey is a pilgrimage route held in high esteem.

This ruined temple
should have its sad tale told only
by a clam digger

[via The Illustrated Poems of Matsuo Bashō. Image via Wikimedia Commons]