March 12, 2012

The Trouble with Stuff

Books to go

Since meeting SB, I’ve moved six times, twice across the country and five of those times after we combined our household stuff. Through every move I’ve thought about the volume and weight of all this stuff. Every time we set up house in a new place, I’m faced once more with organizing, sorting and storing.

At every move we’ve left stuff on the curb, thrown things away and donated select items, but there continue to be those things that while no longer needed, seem to have some value. As I try to become more frugal, thrifty and organized, I decided that I needed to start selling some of this “valuable” stuff. After sitting on this idea for a year and researching the many options for liquidation, I started to sell late last fall.

My stuff to sell fell into two categories, books and objects. For the books I first sorted all my books into piles based on the average used book price on Amazon. The books that sold for $1 or less, I boxed up and took to a local used bookstore. There I made around $6 for most of the books. Those that the bookstore wouldn’t take I dropped off at a local library branch. Public libraries re-sell used books and also sell bulk paper for recycling, so even if the books are not worth anything, the library can still make a little money on the paper.

For the books that sold for more than $1, I created a sellers account on Amazon. So far I’ve only listed a few, see my storefront, and sold one for a profit of $10. The books in the photo above still need to be listed on Amazon. My plan is to let them sit on Amazon for a while and then downgrade them to the used bookstore and then the library.

The objects came in three categories, large tools, kitchen gadgets and light fixtures. The light fixtures came from our house in Atlanta and our house here in Madison, where we replaced these lights with ceiling-fans or more modern fixtures. Rather than try to sell the fixtures, I decided to donate them to our local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. I was able to claim the donation on my taxes and also give back to group that has helped us out with some great home deals.

The kitchen gadgets came out of the final stages of combining households. We still had some multiples of certain things and they simply did not fit in our small kitchen. These things I donated to Goodwill for a small tax write-off.

Finally, for the large, more valuable items, tools and appliances, I created a re-seller blog, for photographs and longer descriptions. Then I created a sellers account on craigslist and posted the items there. This has generated the most income and also helped me set-up and organize my wood shop.

Selling the books has been the most difficult part of the liquidation. The books I want to get rid of still hold more personal value than monetary value, so off-loading them for little money is hard. However, having them sit around in boxes or on shelves, just taking up space doesn’t make sense either. I guess it is time to add more books to my Amazon store.

January 9, 2012

Frugality

Paper Whites

When we decided to move back to Wisconsin from Atlanta, I knew that there would be some financial hardship. We were jumping off the cliff of any financial planning we had during our time in Atlanta and had no solid plan for the future. There were setbacks and uncertainty in the years that followed. What I didn’t realize was how long and difficult the recovery would be or how much the challenge would teach me about personal finance.

In the three years since the move, I have developed and refined a household budget, set financial goals and with literal enjoyment, regularly review my progress. SB says this new-found love for personal finance comes from my passion for checking things off the list. I have long been a list maker. I love the satisfaction of a good check-off and have learned to make lists that contain steps to a larger goal, so little achievements can be checked along the way. I am terrible at remembering accomplishments once they have been checked off, but that is a topic for another post.

To aide me in my list making, I have a stack of pocket/reporter notebooks. These are spiral bound, 4 x 8 inch, lined, notebooks and contain lists and notes, to-dos and measurements. They are the foundation of my tool set. During the big move, when it became obvious we needed serious budget control, I started using Google Docs, as a shared repository for budget documents. Since the documents are accessible to both SB and I, we can both refer and edit, making the budget a living plan. The notebook and the spreadsheet have gotten me through the past few years.

Recently, I started reading a new financial blog, Mr. Money Moustache (Mr. MM) – Putting the cash in your ‘stash. This blog has reminded me that I need to start thinking longer term and bigger. It isn’t enough to have a monthly balanced budget, I need to think about the future, creating a reality where retirement is possible. If you have talked with me recently, there is a good chance you’ve heard me mention this blog. One of my friends, on hearing about Mr. MM, said, “Isn’t he just re-stating things you already know? Guys like that are just trying to make money off stating the obvious.” The sub-text being, “I’m smart enough that I don’t need to read a blog like that”.

While that may be true for my friend, I find the Mr. MM blog energizing. What he writes is not new to me, but is like a big dose of a frugality vitamin. I do want to retire some day. I do want to see every dollar helping me reach for financial independence. His blog has made me realize it is possible and worth striving towards a more independent future. In recent years I have scoffed at the mere mention of retirement, “Not in my lifetime.” Now I have hope that I can actually make it happen.

To help me make a check list for a richer future, I just started using Mint. The nice thing about Mint, so far, is that it tracks my retirement accounts and stock, in addition to the more day-to-day finances. This gives me a bigger picture of my finances than I’ve had before and will help me set some new, longer term goals. I’m excited about my financial plan for 2012 and hope to keep learning new tricks that will set me up for a great today and tomorrow.

January 2, 2012

2011 in Review

Seed Pods

2011 in numbers:
– 1,275 visitors to this blog. July 13th had the most visits, Lola Swims
– 329 photos uploaded to Flickr
– 42 tweets
– 33 blog entries posted
– 20 books read (3 non-fiction, 17 fiction)
– 14 yarn projects completed (4 crochet, 10 knit)
– 14 concerts attended
– 7 cities visited Las Vegas, Sparta, Orem (x2), Chicago (x2), Cable, Atlanta and Portland
– 1 wedding attended

2011 was the year of the house and yard. The year started with tearing out trees and shrubs and planting new gardens in the front and back. SB hand dug a 30 foot drainage ditch and installed a french drain system, to keep our basement dry year round. We also resided and painted the garage and organized the inside of the garage, including lining the inside with peg board. I sharpened my trim skills installing chair rail, door trim and baseboard in the dining room. SB became an expert plumber, installing a new outdoor faucet and under counter dishwasher. We also painted the stairwell and continued organizing and donating stuff.

What am I looking forward to in 2012?
– House: Installing crown molding and picture rail throughout, painting the bedrooms, re-doing our upstairs bathroom, finishing the kitchen, which includes building some custom cabinets and putting in a privacy fence in the back yard. Now that the garage is coming together, trim and cabinet making will be much easier.
– Music: The monthly concert goal will continue. It really motivated us to see some great live shows and we are are looking forward to even more this year.
– Travel: I think we need to travel more this year, or at least more vacation travel adventures. Destinations to be determined.

The self-betterment wishlist includes yoga, fiscal responsibility and more personal blog writing. More on these goals soon. Happy New Year!

September 12, 2011

A Unique Tree (Shrub)

Unique Panicle Hydrangea

Ta da! Introducing our Unique Panicle Hydrangea! (It is the little plant closest to the camera.) After trips to two arboretums and a city garden, plus many hours wandering local garden stores, we finally settled on a tree for the front yard. Tree may not be the right term, since it is more of a shrub, but it will grow as a single or double trunk and develop an umbrella of foliage, much like a tree.

As my search for the perfect tree continued, I realized that the space I had for the tree could only handle something about six to eight feet wide and tall, which is a very small tree. Second, the spot is full sun, all day, and true trees that enjoy full sun tend to want to get much larger than six feet, which totally makes sense with all that solar energy. Finally, this is our butterfly garden, so having a flowering something that attracts wings, is just added benefit.

Thanks to everyone for their tree advice, especially Rosemarie, who wandered both arboretums with me and her husband, Matt, who can spot a paniculata from 1000 yards.

As you can see from the photo above, the rest of the garden is coming together as well. SB spent the past week digging out grass and filling-in with new dirt, mulch and edging. My Mom donated the mature peonies and peegee hydrangea from her garden to anchor ours. I can’t wait until next summer, to see this garden develop. The photo below are the blooms from a mature unique panicle hydrangea, they start green, go to pink and then finally to white.

July 29, 2011

A Half-Year of Music

Caravan Gypsy Swing Ensemble

This year I set a goal that we go to a live music show at least once per month. A little over half-way through the year we are doing well. June was the only month we missed but we doubled-up in July, April, and March. We also had one repeat performance and one show SB did not attend. Overall I give us an average of slightly above one show per month. So far, I think this is one of the best ideas I’ve had in a while. It is hard to complain about live music and getting out of the house and experiencing life and all. Here’s where we’ve been and who we’ve seen thus far:

– July: The Old 97’s at Summer Fest and Caravan Gypsy Swing Ensemble at Sh*tty Barn
– June: None
– May: Romi Mayes at High Noon
– April: The Old 97’s at The Barrymore and Jonathan Coulton with Paul and Storm at Majestic
– March: Momix at Overture and Portland Cello Project at High Noon
– February: Tennis at High Noon
– January: Ben Folds at Overture

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