Friday, October 27, 2006

Oh, go jump in the lake...

Do you get the sinking feeling that chemicals that have affected critters' reproductive systems are starting to affect animal behavior as well?

I mean, when otters attack (as there have been two that I've heard of this year, including one involving a pregnant woman in Roanoke), deer jump into the Tidal Basin, and a man is critically injured by a (normally docile) sting ray, something's rotten in Denmark. Now, the case of the deer may be different, as another sad situation may be causing their flights into futility--huntin' season. That's right, it's been demonstrated that deer-automobile collisions (like the one that took place the other morning in Virginia) increase dramatically during deer hunting season, which is also the time of year they are most likely to be reckless, being also mating season and all. The Tidal Basin rescuers showed stamina and bravery in rustling the frightened critters out of the basin, considering the unusual nature of the situation. Before this week, I was unaware, like most folks, of the deer's desire to perform aquatic ballet!

Unfortunately, with the end of daylight savings time coming tomorrow, I'm more afraid than ever of hitting one of these walking (and leaping!) studies in grace.

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Perhaps I should save my worries for driving the Beltway (which I studiously avoid anyway), as this past weekend youngsters threw rocks and bricks onto vehicles. Miraculously and thankfully, no one was seriously injured. Whatever possesses people to commit such simultaneously stupid and cruel acts? (Especially after someone was seriously injured only a couple of years ago in Virginia by just such behavior.) Considering that this happened on a part of the road near the construction for the National Harbor project in Oxon Hill, it's a wonder that even more confusion didn't ensure, as the general area, as you can imagine, is a maze of turns, with traffic lights placed in new locations, and a new exit to the Wilson Bridge being built there, too, the rock-throwing idiots are fortunate that they didn't get run over getting to the construction site to find objects to lob at people's vehicles.


One thing that puzzles me about planning for the harbor is whether anyone has openly considered what effect this hubbub will have on historic Oxon Hill Manor, which is right next door, so to speak, to this glitzy megapolis-to-be. When the manor's renovation is completed, will people want to pay the county to have weddings and other events there, now that the peace and quiet that used to be there(although it was never far from Route 210), will be gone? Considering that the area near the manor is primarily residential, single-family homes in the immediate area, what impact will Vegas east have on traffic on the adjoining streets? (I can't properly consider Livingston Road a side street, but still...) Have there been plans to upgrade public transportation in the area, as buses only run morning and evening weekdays in that area? I don't recall a politician bringing up the subject, which is odd considering the exponential increase in congestion that the project is likely to scare up.

I better get a few more good looks at the area before it's developed to a point that I won't recognize it, which won't be too long.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Not for Kids Only, Part II, or, the Mo' Money Edition

I'm pleased with myself, finally taking to heart Suze Orman's advice not to spend the change, but save it. The practical difficulty, until recently, has been in finding a good place to park the coins.

A small "toy" (well, that's how it's marketed, unfortunately), to the rescue--the Money Savvy Pig. I got one as a giveaway, at the Wachovia booth at a convention, and I've been using it ever since. A modern-day incarnation of the old faithful savings device, this piggy is translucent, and available in a number of colors to boot. Most important, instead of the one drop-in slot for the loot, there are four slots, as well as four piggy feet that you use to empty the plastic porker, each slot corresponding to a foot, which you open to empty that particular chamber.

Although the four chambers are labeled "save," "donate," "spend," and "invest," I use the compartments my own way, of course, and ignore the labels. Instead, I designated each slot for a particular coin denomination--the first for pennies, the second, nickels, etc. That way, as each compartment fills up, I can open its foot, and slide its coins into a roll or rolls, which will prove a big timesaver over having the coins mixed, which meant having to separate them into separate stacks for rolls.

The pig is available at, of course, as well as other Internet sites, for about $15. It's the creation of a company called Money Savvy Generation, a corporation started by a mother wishing to teach her children about money and saving. (It markets another product called 'Cash Cow.')

As great as I think the product is, I think it's a mistake to limit the marketing primarily to the schoolyard set, as people of all ages need help learning how to save, and all the practical encouragement that they can get, if the recent statistics on the dismal American savings rate are any indication.

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Mo' Money, Mo' Money...

A website that generally dedicates itself to the time management principles of GTD ("getting things done") has recently focused on sites that deal with money management--the other side of the coin to time management, so to speak. 43 Folders' emphasis on all things monetary had various strategies for keeping (and even earning) more money. What a concept!

I agree with many of the sentiments in the Free Money Finance article, The Fastest Way to Get Out of Debt, because it works! (I've used the same principles in the past to pay off debt.) I would add that to take full advantage of the timing of your income, particularly to pay off the largest debts (or to make a large purchase in cash), it's best to take a calendar to map out a year at a time, circle every payday, and note the months in which you have more than two paydays. Depending on the day of the week you are paid, the number of months in which you have more than two paydays works out to two to four months of the year! Combine this knowledge with snowballing the payoff of debts, as Dave Ramsey recommends [which, I can say from experience works, and which I did before I even heard of Mr. Ramsey], and you will see great progress in debt reduction in a year's time.

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The most practical book I've read (and, more importantly, purchased) on personal finance is All Your Worth, co-authored by Elizabeth Warren and her daughter Amelia Warren Tyagi, because the ladies tell you which financial moves you should make, and, crucially, in which order you should make them--should you pay off your debts first, or save for retirement first? (Or at the same time?) Warren the Elder and the Younger tell you how, why, and even give permission to have a little fun money! (Thankfully, the book is a no-scold zone.)

Elizabeth Warren, who used to be a Republican until she started research on the reasons that people declare bankruptcy, currently writes a column, Warren Reports on the Middle Class for the blog TPM Cafe, concentrating on financial issues that affect the average person, particularly on how companies are trying to wheedle more money from our pockets. A must-read.

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Granted, this topic does not affect me, as I use a prepaid cell phone (don't blab enough to justify a bill of $40 a month, at a minimum), but bet'cha didn't know that you can ditch your cell phone contract without incurring the wrath of a termination fee! In fact, you don't even need to give up your phone number. Good news!