My Own Private Mind Tricks

(I am going to write about the vacation, I swear.  But I really want to get this out.)

I read a lot of personal finance stuff online.  A lot. I don’t actually learn a heckuva lot these days, because the truth is that saving money is a lot like losing weight.  We all know how to do it if we could just do it.  But every once in awhile, an article has a small piece of insight that hits home.  Remember when the talking heads first started yammering about “the Starbucks effect”?  That we could all save a bloody fortune if we just gave up that stupid $4 cup of coffee?  That’s what I’m talking about.  For example, my friend Jodi quit smoking not long ago, and she can tell you with a lot of accuracy how much money that has saved her.  

So Huffington Post online has an article called “Nine Habits that Will Put You on the Path to Wealth” and I clicked.  Number three struck me:  Adopt your own private mind tricks.  It said, in part:

“Also known as ‘heuristics,’ these rule-of-thumb strategies we create for ourselves — such as not spending more than $15 on an item of baby clothing, or more than $50 on a pair of shoes — can help simplify the many choices we make in a day.”

I totally do this.

Notwithstanding dropping my own personal “Starbucks effect” – which was magazines at the checkout line of the grocery store – I have used several mind tricks and none of them involve freezing my credit card.

The first rule I made was that if I wanted anything from an infomercial or “as seen on TV” or QVC, I had to watch the informercial or program at least three times before buying it. This worked wonders and now I buy almost nothing from TV because:  1.  I have pretty much stopped cooking and 2.  I have pretty much stopped watching television in real time.  I don’t even need this rule anymore.

The second thing I tried was a brief moratorium on stupid shopping mall stuff that I was mindlessly buying.  Bath and Body Works and Yankee Candle seem to go together in every full sized shopping mall and strip mall that I know and it is so.  freakin’. easy.  To just go in and spend $25 on stuff I don’t need.  The trick I decided on was that I would only shop at these stores during the semi-annual sales.  The one after the holidays and the one in June.  I did this for three or four cycles, found I survived just fine and have pretty much broken the habit.

I had a $25-a-week Barnes and Noble habit and now I volunteer at a Used Book Store.  I still need to stop buying books.  But never mind that one.

Right now I am working on rules for the fabric stores.  The trap I have fallen into is that since it is “for charity” – i.e. Project Linus, it doesn’t bother my conscience that I am spending money needlessly and the spare room that I was using for a library is also storing a completely unreasonable amount of yarn. 

Yarn 2014


This does not include the bin, large basket and two overflowing bags in my bedroom.  I’m not in the habit of buying anything fancy, and I am all into the double up on the deals while shopping, but still.  This is a lot of yarn.  (Albeit not enough to impress the Project Linus ladies, I imagine.) 

I remember my friend Bob telling me that he and his wife were getting into fights about money because he would drop a couple hundred dollars on electronics without consulting her, but she would spend just as much money over a few weeks buying nonsense for the kids at Target.  It led to a really great conversation about the different ways that money was spent in the household.

I have a financial planner and he tells me that spending money is fine, as long as we do it thoughtfully and genuinely need or enjoy the stuff we buy.  Emotional spending is like emotional eating, I guess.

So just like mind tricks for the diet, we can have mind tricks for the spending.  Do you have any?

Sometimes, the System Works

I ran an errand this morning, then went to yoga.  When I was finished, I went back to my car and looked at my phone.  There was a voicemail from an 800 number that turned out to be Amex.  Fraud alert, please call.  So I did.

The last time I had a fraud alert, it turned out that my account had been flagged for making too many charitable contributions in the past week.  Seriously.  So I wasn’t worried.  In the automated system, they asked if they could text me the details.  I said they could and the system stayed on the line while I checked.

$1,300 to Continental Airlines.   Continental Airlines doesn’t exist anymore, but nevermind that.  I didn’t make that charge, so I clicked the button and the next message said that they were transferring me to a live person.

The live person asked me to confirm that the charge was fraudulent, confirm that one more charge was fraudulent, then ran through a bunch more charges that were legitimate including the one from this morning.  Then she reversed the two bad charges, cancelled my card and said a new one would be at my house on Monday.

This whole process took less than 15 minutes from my cell phone, sitting in my car.

When I got home, I logged in to look at my recent charges again.  Everything looks fine again.  I don’t know what kind of data mining action these people have going on, but this is the second time (the first was on my Chase card) that fraud was spotted and flagged before I knew there was anything wrong.  And then killed as soon as they got hold of me.

This, kids, is why I feel totally comfortable using plastic all the time.

The Real Year End Summary

One of the better things about using credit cards is that I know exactly where all my money goes.  When I bother to look, which is once a year.  For some chuckles and the official record, here are some highlights:

Gasoline: $2,002.42

My mother says this is obscene, and I agree, especially since this was not exactly a road trip year.  But there is nothing to be done about it so I’m not going to worry.

I spent $1,718.42 maintaining my car, which will be nine years old this Spring.  This doesn’t sound so bad and it tells me that I don’t really need a new car in 2012.

Noodles & Company:  $477.54  That seems low to me.  Oh.  Because that’s just the one in Glenview.  Hang on..doing math..$903.67.  Yeah.  That sounds right.

My biggest merchant this year was United Airlines, followed by a certain hotel in Washington DC, but I am not sure those count because they were my employer’s expenses.

Here is a shocker: $229.57 in bookstores.  That must be an adult-life all time low.  Eh.  Wait.  That doesn’t count  Double that number.

I will not be telling you the cost of my spa habit, because I am embarrassed.  I will not disclose the amount I paid to my veterinarian because it will make my mother cry.  And it would involve more math.

That, Ladies and Gentlemen, could sum up my year.  Travel, pet care, car and Noodles & Company.  I am now ready to do my taxes.

Financial Happiness

MSN had a good article:  5 Financial Habits That Will Make You Happy.

The article opens with a statistic that I heard no long ago:

“happiness rises as household income does up to about $75,000 ..but beyond that more money won’t make you happier”

I still don’t know how I feel about that one.  Anyway.  None of the five habits ticked me off – in fact I actually find them all to be true.  My favorite is #1:

“Get Pretty Organized.”

Personally, I can’t manage to get really organized.  I am too lazy to make a budget and too spoiled to stick to it. Example:

One trick my sister-in-law, Becky, uses is to grocery shop only every two weeks.  To do that, she has to plan meals for two weeks together.  I saw the list and was totally bewildered:

“But what if you don’t want that for dinner tonight?”

“Too bad,” was her answer.  I have nothing like that kind of discipline.

I can, however, manage to stick receipts in a file folder.  Archive e-mails.  My taxes are always in order.  I can tell you that I spent $1,500 on gasoline in 2010.  American Express says so.  I feel better now.

Saving for Retirement

I read a lot of articles about retirement. A lot. Occupational hazard. But MSN Money had one that made me think. 6 Smart Ways to Save for Retirement was the title. The first one was:

Don’t inflate your standard of living.

As you get raises and promotions throughout your career, it’s common to want a bigger house and nicer stuff. But part of each pay increase should go toward your retirement savings.

Instead of buying something with a bonus or trading up to a nicer car when you get a raise, some of that extra money needs to be tucked away for retirement.

Now, the bit about allocating part of our raises to retirement is something I already preach, thank you very much. But this made me think: you know why else we shouldn’t inflate our standards of living? Because it will be a lot easier to live within our means after retirement if we don’t.

What I am hearing lately is that the experts don’t even know how to answer the question, “How much will I need?” because our needs are all so different. The standard used to be 80%. We will need an income of 80% of our current salaries to live on after retirement. That number doesn’t work. Some of us will spend a lot less on clothes and commuting, etc. But some of us will want to spend a bunch on travel and other things we haven’t had time to do. So if we can manage to consume less now, we will have less trouble adjusting to consuming less later.

I suck at this. I love the Internet and I love to shop. Better get a handle on it.

I am a Convert

I may have told you that I do most of my banking online.  I was actually a pretty early adopter, because I fell all in love with the way you could schedule when payments are going to be received.  And the bank sends the funds in time to meet the deadline.  In however many years I have used this service, I have only had two problems.  The one that was Chase’s fault, they told me about immediately and offered to pay any fees that I may have incurred due to the delay.  The second problem was on the receiving end – and Bank of America was just wrong.

However.  I have held out on using the ATM to deposit funds.  For some bizarre reason, I have felt like I need an actual person to deposit my money.  Because people, you know, never make mistakes.

Well, Chase did some good marketing with those commercials, so I went over to Dominick’s to give it a try.  I figured that at the Dominick’s ATM, if something bad happened, like my check was shredded instead of scanned, there would be people right there.  People.

I endorsed the check with a “for deposit only”.  Then I started the transaction.  The ATM offers to print a scan of the receipt, with the scanned check on it.

It was beautiful.  It took less time than a teller, who has to type in your account information.  I just logged in to check my account, and there it is.

I may never set foot in my bank again.

Fine. I’ll Write Something Nice.

But it starts with:

I am so old that I have started reading “The Glenview Report”.  The newsletter from my village board.  Because I care.  Or something.  There were two pieces of news:

Most of the newsletter was taken up with an explanation of the new contract with the garbage collection company.  Three things happened:

  1. We lost the option of having twice weekly service.  That was fine with me since we dropped to once weekly service over a year ago and have been perfectly happy with it.
  2. We are all required to use the garbage collection company’s special garbage cans that are designed so that a contraption on the truck can lift and empty them.  The Village is going to pay for us to get them.  That is doubly fine with me since we already have said special garbage cans and will no longer have to pay the fee to rent them. 
  3. After these changes the monthly cost of the service is…wait for it…going down.

So we get the same service and pay less for it.  Go Glenview.

Also, in a small corner of the newsletter was a piece about Lockheed Martin renting space in our big, fancy police station for training and stuff.  Inasmuch as I think the big, fancy police station is a monstrosity (that I resent even further since the library has had to fight tooth and nail for every dollar) I have to say I am pleased to see that some revenue is being generated through it.  $75,000 was the number reported, I believe.

So thank you, Village Board.  You seem to have done some good work here.