The “Switch Witch” visits on Halloween Night

Halloween should be fun, so even though collecting 5 pounds of mass-market, chemical-laden, tooth-decay materials isn’t the greatest idea for a child, it would take a certain kind of mean parent to say NO to all that.

Luckily, there’s a way to let your child go trick-or-treating, and let them enjoy the fruit of their labor* without the feeling that you’re betraying your values just to not rock the boat:

The Switch Witch!

The Switch Witch is the Tooth Faerie’s mischievous sister. She goes to random houses on Halloween night, after children are asleep. She steals all their candy (except what they already ate that night) and switches it for cash! How much? Enough that your kids won’t be upset that their candy is gone. It’s going to depend on their age and how much experience they have with estimating the value of goods.

What you—I mean The Switch Witch—does with the candy after that is up to you…

* Knocking on a stranger’s door can be very difficult for a child, so to them, they’re working hard.

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Your Money Or Your Life, Step 1.5

[This is part 1.5 of a 9ish part series on the book Your Money or Your Life. See my original post about the book. Step 1 was too long for one blog post, so here’s the second part.]

In the first part of Step 1, I dug through records and receipts to figure out the total amount of money I’ve ever made. In my case, I found it was almost a million dollars! Of course it’s not possible to keep it all.  Which is where the next exercise comes in:

What do you have to show for it?

In this exercise, you’ll figure out your current net worth.  We do this because it’s a fundamental practice for any business—and you are a business. Also, it’s good to know your net worth, since you might be closer to Financial Independence than you think!

Your net worth is all your assets (money and belongings) minus all your debts. Finding the worth of your belongings might take a while but it’s good to be thorough.

The cash component of your net worth is the value of all your bank accounts and investments, plus the cash you have on hand. If someone owes you money, you can count that here too. If you use personal finance software like Quicken or Mint, this should be quick.

The “stuff” component isn’t so easy to figure out. You’ll need to take stock of all your belongings and discover or estimate their value. You’ll begin to see the burdon of owning material possessions that don’t bring you fulfillment. On the bright side, perhaps you own an antique or other item that has a lot of value!

I went through each room of the house and added the value of every item in the room. Then I looked outside, and also factored in the value of our car and scooter.

Next is debts, to banks or people. Count your mortgage here too. Add them up, and subtract your debts from your assets. That’s your net worth.

This took me a full afternoon, but it was well worth the time. I admit I wasn’t totally thorough. For instance, I estimated the value of all the items in the kitchen together, instead of going spoon by spoon.

After I added everything up, I found it to be around $150,000. At first I was proud of the fact that I have some savings. But then I looked back to the first exercise, and realized that for every dollar I’ve ever received, I managed to keep less than 20 cents of it!

The book calls this making peace with the past, and that’s the attitude you should have while doing this and the previous exercises. You can fold up the paper you used into a paper airplane and toss it into the recycle bin, because you’re about to have a total rebirth, when it comes to how you view your personal finances.

Stay tuned for Step 2!

Finally, a solar power option for renters*

* in Seattle, anyway

One of the few drawbacks of renting is that we’re limited in the modifications we can make to the house. Even though I know it makes long-term financial sense and it’s in line with my values, converting the house to solar power is out of the question!

I almost fell off the couch with excitement when I got this in the mail:

[Seattle] City Light is offering customers the opportunity to participate in Community Solar at Jefferson Park. When you enroll in the program, a portion of the electricity generated by the project will be credited annually to your power bill. Your name will become a permanent part of the ground-breaking Community Solar installation. And you’ll be pioneering a bright, new energy future for Seattle…

Each solar unit is estimated to produce 50 kWh of electricity per year through June 2020 when the program ends. The one-time, up-front cost is $600 per solar unit.

If you read the fine print you’ll find that the solar panels don’t fully pay for themselves in electricity bill credits. Even so, it’s an opportunity to make a local investment in sustainable energy and send a message to the rest of the country that our community is ready for renewable power.

If you live in Seattle, spread the word and consider signing up! My goal is to ensure that all 500 solar units are purchased.

How can I make my life simpler?

There’s no right or wrong answer to this question, but I love this list of suggestions:

  • Ask for help
  • Carry less stuff in your pockets
  • Clean out your house, purge your belongings of anything you haven’t used in five years
  • Eliminate clutter on you desk
  • Eliminate time wasting activities
  • Eliminate two things for every new thing you acquire
  • Hire some help, housekeeper, gardener, etc.
  • Know your limitations
  • Learn to identify and toss junk mail before it even gets to your desk
  • Learn to say no
  • Let go of perfectionism
  • Let go of the past
  • Live frugally, want less
  • Limit time you spend on any given activity (TV, media, Internet)
  • Move closer to work
  • Sever unhealthy relationships
  • Simplify your financial life and consolidate debt
  • Simplify your online life
  • Tell the truth
  • Turn off your cell phone [and anything else with a screen]
To expand on the “simplify your financial life” tip, I’d suggest taking a look at everything you spend in a month (you’re tracking your expenses, right? A topic for another post). Find things to eliminate: cable and netflix bills, ATM fees, the daily cup of coffee.  Be steadfast but realistic.

I’m tweeting at @fdryintheforest

Some content doesn’t deserve an entire post of its own. For example:

Use a small spatula to get the last serving of jam, etc, out of jars. Use a large one to get the last serving out of pots/pans.

Good thing there’s twitter, home of all the best half-baked ideas. I started a twit for Foundry in the Forest, it can be found here:

@fdryintheforest

I’ll tweet when a new post goes up, but also add some simple tips and tricks that you won’t find here on the blog.

How we got paid $200 to fly to San Francisco

This week, Venessa and I are taking a short trip to San Francisco. We don’t travel often, especially not by air. It’s bad for the environment, I don’t like what the government has done to our freedoms, and there are so many places in the Pacific Northwest that I haven’t explored yet, it seems like a shame to go somewhere else.

Largest caggage at the local fair

But every once in a while we get a travel bug that can’t be satiated by our environs. This one was prompted by some junk mail I got a few months ago. It was one of those frequent flyer credit cards offering a 50,000 point signup bonus. Equivalent to two free flights, they said.

A side note on credit cards: I have 2 rewards cards (REI and Amazon) and a Schwab cash-back card that just got bought out by Bank of America so I’m going to cancel it. Trent from The Simple Dollar has two good rules governing rewards cards:

1. It doesn’t matter what rewards card you have if you’re carrying a balance. If you won’t be able to pay your balance in full every month, cut up that card.
2. The best rewards program is the one that most closely matches what you buy and where you buy it.

Since I don’t buy airplane tickets very often, why’d I sign up for this card? Here’s the story:

I looked at the airline’s website and saw how many “points” out of my signup bonus a trip for 2 to San Francisco would cost. Then I looked at the same trip in dollars. It was $600, more than twice as much as the cheapest flight to San Francisco from Seattle, offered by Virgin America.

So here’s what I did. I signed up for the card anyway, and got the 50,000 points. Then I went over to the “other ways to redeem your points” section of the website, and spent all the points on $500 worth of Amazon.com gift cards. (I can’t believe they let you do this.) Amazon is a big enough website that their gift cards are extremely liquid, and we use it frequently enough that the cards about have the same value as cash for us anyway.

We booked the Virgin America flight for $300, and pocketed the $200 difference to use as spending money on the trip. After the gift cards came, I called the credit card company and canceled the credit card. I’m sure my credit score took a hit for this, but I don’t plan on borrowing money any time soon (if ever), so it’s not a problem. I even got the yearly card fee refunded since I had the card for such a short time. Never hurts to ask.

I might take a break from posting here since I’m not taking a laptop on the trip. See ya!

Your Money Or Your Life, Step 1

[This is part 1 of a 9ish part series on the book Your Money or Your Life. See my original post about the book.]

Step one in Your Money or Your Life is to figure out how much money you’ve ever made, including income and gifts. This gives you a picture of how powerful you are in bringing money into your life, which eliminates vagueness and self-delusion.

Here are some tips to help you figure out your life’s earnings:

If you’ve ever worked a job before, you have a file with Social Security and you probably get statements from them.  If you don’t have your most recent Statement of Earnings form, you can request the information online.  The SSA website changed recently but it looks like you can do that here, or call them 1-800-772-1213.

That should give you employment earnings. Here are other forms of income to consider (listed roughly chronologically). Some involve the WAG valuation method, which stands for Wild-Ass Guess. However you figure this out, be thorough and non-judgmental of yourself.

  • Under the table jobs or tips, that won’t show up on your Social Security statement. A popular one is…
  • Babysitting. Estimate your average pay per gig, number of gigs per month, and number of months you were a babysitter.
  • Allowance. Try to remember how much you received per week for the different phases of your life. (Or call your mother, I’m sure she’d love to hear from you).
  • College stipend. Were you lucky enough to get one of these?
  • Bar Mitzvah, or other life milestones where gifts are given?
  • Birthday Gifts. How much have you gotten every year, on average?
  • High school and college graduation gifts?
  • Other monetary gifts from family members. My folks liked to buy savings bonds in my name, every so often.
  • Wedding gifts, if you’re married.
  • Gifts you got at the birth of a child. (this is starting to sound like The Game of Life)
  • Lottery or gambling winnings

One side effect of completing this exercise is that I realized how generous the people in my life have been to me, and how lucky I’ve been to have had a financial safety net until I was old enough to make it on my own.

Once I added it all up, I found that I’d almost be a millionaire if I’d somehow been able to keep all the income I’ve ever received. Of course that’s not possible, but it’s still amazing to see how much money has come into my life. Next we’ll see what I have to show for it…