What are we doing wrong?

I work 40 hours a week in retail pseudo-management (pay is somewhere between full management and average employee). My wife works 20+ hours a week in customer service and 10+ hours a week teaching various crochet classes. In her spare time she does crochet design work to bring in more income. In the Spring I make maple syrup and fight to make more money selling it than I put into the effort. So far all the wood for the evaporator has been obtained for free.

We have a smaller home than anyone else we know, but it’s still a $1000/mo. mortgage. Three years ago we disconnected the cable TV. Then we ditched the home phone service in favor of an  internet based phone that cost less per year than we had been paying monthly. We have the smallest bandwidth internet package our ISP offers. We do not own smartphones. We each have pre-paid flip phones, for contacting each other and for emergencies. The kids don’t have “their own” phones, media players or computers. No iPhones, no iPad, no iPod. No Nook, No Kindle. The two laptops we’ve had were both secondhand gifts. We have a Netflix streaming video subscription. All the rest of our video entertainment we find for free online and watch on our single desktop computer and 24″ monitor.

We hang out our laundry whenever we can to avoid the unnecessary cost of running the dryer. There is not an incandescent light bulb left in our home. The lights we use everyday have LED bulbs, all the rest are CFL’s. No light comes on in this house during the day, and at night, only the ones needed. We upgraded our windows to energy efficient units. In the winter, we keep the thermostat at 60 and opt for electric blankets on the beds over heating the entire house while we sleep. I installed a timer switch on our oil burner so that it can only run when we need it to, not all the time, needlessly keeping a tank of water hot. (This act alone saved us an entire tank’s worth of oil a year.)

We have a garden and raise chickens to save on food costs. We manage to feed this family of four for about $100 a week, and we eat well. (I am losing weight for the first time in 8 years, just from healthier food choices, and it hasn’t increased our food bill.) We sell our excess eggs. It largely covers the cost of feed, allowing us all the fresh, free eggs we can eat. We grow more in our garden than we can eat, and put the rest up for storage. In the last 2 years we’ve purchased and planted 5 apple, 2 pear and 2 cheery trees as investments in our own food and financial security.

I have sourced thouands of dollars worth of goods and materials through Freecycle, Craigslist, salvaged from worksites and accepted used from friends and family. From the building materials alone I’ve been able to build (instead of buy): all the raised bed planters in the garden; the clothesline; the permanent and mobile chicken coops; an apple press; benches for the yard; the gate to the chicken yard; a solar air heater; a food storage pantry; storage racks for my lumber; stairs, walls and ceiling in the garage; and at least 75% of both the sugar shack and deck. Other things we can enjoy that didn’t cost us one penny: the propane grill, all the lawn furniture, the stove, the dishwasher, roller blades, hoses, the exhaust fan, the tomato cages, fencing, and more that are too trivial to name.

I have taught myself to do my own plumbing, electrical and automotive work when needed.

While the kids still get injections of newer secondhand clothes from various sources, Sara and I wear clothes until they’re just this side of decent. I will often wear mine longer.

Sara and I will routinely trade vehicles so that the person who has to drive the farthest on any given day will take the most fuel efficient of the two.

We do not own a single credit card. If we want or need something, we have to pay for it, or we have to save for it.

We have successfully paid off a ten year old rolling personal loan. We own one vehicle and are borrowing another.

When gas prices go up, we hurt.

When heating oil prices go up, we hurt.

When electricity prices go up, we hurt.

When food prices go up, we hurt.

When my tax burden goes up, we hurt.

When I don’t get a raise, we hurt.

When my earnings are capped, we hurt.

When the cost or need for childcare increases, we hurt.

When banks add fees, we hurt.

When fees for things I am required to participate in by law go up, we hurt.

When I must by law purchase medical insurance and then its cost goes up or its coverage goes down, we hurt.

I have done every gods damned conceivable thing that is in my power to do to control my costs and expenses. We live as lean as we can. Every single cut we’ve made or increase in income we’ve squeezed in the last few years have done nothing more than maintain a net zero. We hang onto the vaunted middle class by our bleeding fingernails.

You tell me what I’m doing wrong, because I don’t see it.

Everything is funny in threes. Almost.

I learned three things today.

First, I learned to never put dog food in a compost pile two weeks ago, because if you do then today it will smell like four kinds of dead animal stuffed in a fifth dead animal’s ass. It’s the Turducken of nauseous olfactory overload. Oh, and maggots. There’s also maggots.

In retrospect, it’s an obvious thing to not do.  As it would happen though, two weeks ago my obvious was out on loan to the Casey Anthony jury.  Fat lot of good THAT did.  How many times have I been told to never put meat or oils in a compost pile? None, actually, but I’ve read it plenty of times. In the end, what is dog food but fats and protein and filler? (The filler is also made from fats and protein, and the fats and protein are made from roadkill, and the roadkill is made from animals that got too close to my compost pile.)

Soooo…. I won’t be doing that again.

Second, I learned to wear a pair of goddamned goggles when using my goddamned circular saw. Simply put: My eye! My glasses do NOTHING! Ten minutes in the shower eventually rinsed the splinter out of my eye, but left me looking like Matthew Broderick in Election. Don’t worry. It was temporary. I’m still sexy. And even sexier now I’m wearing giant, incessantly fogged up safety goggles.  This is just a reminder: my tools want to kill me.

And third, from cleaning the garage I learned that I have a crapload of 1/4 inch chipboard. Chipboard: the red-headed stepchild of construction sheathing. It is to laminated plywood what Velveeta is to cheese, or what a desk job is to work. I can’t use it for any outdoor applications, since the stuff swells up in the rain like a disposable diaper. I can use it in place of sheetrock to board up Sara’s side of the garage, though. And so I did. Two thirds of it, anyway. Tomorrow, I do the final third, and maybe remember to share some pics.

Then, bury the compost in a dumptruck’s worth of lime.

Fruition. My plans will soon come to it.

Coming at you like a 5 year old with a Christmas wish list and absolutely no concept of the value of a dollar (and that doesn’t even take into account the falling value of the dollar)…. It’s my projects list for 2011!!* Do the Kermit flail. Do it.

  • Finish the deck – The deck needs decking. Are you dismantling an old deck this year? Know someone who is? Then you also know someone who’s willing to do the disassembly for free if he can keep the wood.
  • Put a cupola on the sugar shack – My shack needs it’s crowning glory (well, and red paint, but we’ll get to that).
  • Build a back porch – enclosed, a place to put boots and coats a stuff.
  • Build 2 chicken tractors – movable chicken homes and enclosed runs all in one. We’re gonna employ the ladies help with getting the lawn in order this year.
  • Build a solar cooker/dehydrator – the plans are in my head. The materials are… obtainable.
  • New gutters – everywhere. House, garage, shack….
  • Rain barrel upgrade – The existing model needs to be higher, plumbed into a gutter, and have a larger output.
  • Terraced planters – I don’t know what else to call these. Essentially long planting troughs mounted on an A-frame. It should allow us to grow lots of leafy green in very little space.
  • Wind generator – I have some neighbors to annoy and some property values that need depressing.
  • Bedroom window trim – you know, from last years list.
  • Brew lots of mead
  • Brew lots of beer
  • Brew lots of cider
  • Solar shower – I just want an excuse to be naked outdoors.
  • The fire bush – remove it. With great vengence and furious anger. And a chainsaw.
  • The birch tree – the fire bush was just the warm up.
  • The big dying maple – pay someone to take it down. It scares the fuck out of me when the wind kicks up.
  • The garage – clean out and rearrange. Sara gets one side, I get the other.
  • Greenhouse – a winter home for the chickens and for early garden prep.
  • Plant at least two more fruit trees – one apple, perhaps a cherry.
  • The Super Secret Gift – you hope it’s for you, don’t you?
  • Establish a local food network/cooperative/thingy – much more on this later.
  • All other manner of other things
This is only what I’ve managed to dump out of my head in the last 72 hours. There will be more. Oh yes, there always is.

*Now 15% more unrealistic.

Just so we’re clear…

I might go for a jog tomorrow.

Forward Looking Statements

This blog post contains certain forward-looking statements (within the meaning of Section 27A of the Web Log Act of 2001, as amended, and Section 21E of the Words and Ideas Exchange Act of 1998, as amended) and information relating to Patrick Delaney that are based on the beliefs of the person of Patrick Delaney as well as assumptions made by and information currently available to the idea of Patrick Delaney.  When used in this communication, the words “I,” “might,” “go,” “for,” “a,” “jog,” “tomorrow”  and similar expressions, as they relate to Patrick Delaney or the manifestation of Patrick Delaney, identify forward-looking statements.  Such statements reflect the current views of Patrick Delaney with respect to future events, the outcome of which is subject to certain risks, including, among others, general economic environment and personal spending patterns, decreased (or increased) notice of the girth of Patrick Delaney’s person, low desire to wake early, functionality, use and frequency of use of the snooze button, possible risks associated with long distance running, possible disruptions in Patrick Delaney’s digestive tract, sinuses or the availability of treatment medications for the like, wardrobe malfunctions, loss of sense of self, over inflated sense of self, onset of single or multiple additional unauthorized personalities, road closings, failures in temporal constants or reversal of the accepted flow of time, thinking it’s Thursday when it totally isn’t, unanticipated decreases in temperatures, increases in wind speed or non-appearances of the Sun, online porn, ramifications arising from the unexpected appearance of dogs, the mitigating factors associated with of the various availabilities of good sneakers, the changing of Patrick Delaney’s mind, the performance of Patrick Delaney’s online, digital and other initiatives, good oral hygiene, possible effects of extended periods of pre-dawn wakefulness brought on by the availability of streaming episodes of Dexter, the repeated rediscovery of StumbleUpon or the relative lack of gore posted on Spaceghetto, higher than anticipated occurrences of bears, unanticipated adverse results or effects related to the use of the “sexy shorts”, unplanned inclusions of unfamiliar coffee sweeteners, breakfast shortages, lace knottages, wormholes, disagreements about the benefits of prolonged physical activity, Rachel Ray, loss of wallet, keys or cell phone charge, increases in mortgage, gas, credit, food, utility, childcare, entertainment or unicorn disposal costs, the outcome of Patrick Delaney’s evaluation of strategic alternatives, including the possible retirement of Patrick Delaney, as considered on August 3, 2010, shortly after lunch, and other factors which may be outside of Patrick Delaney’s control, including those factors discussed on occasion in Patrick Delaney’s blog, begun on  Jan. 6, 2007, and in Patrick Delaney’s other rantings made hereafter from time to time with friends, family, a goat, and co-workers. Should one or more of these risks or uncertainties materialize, or should underlying assumptions prove incorrect, actual results or outcomes may vary materially from those described as “I”, “might”, “go”, “for”, “a”, “jog”, or “tomorrow”. Subsequent written and oral forward-looking statements attributable to Patrick Delaney or persons, memes, or non-corporeal entities acting on his behalf are expressly qualified in their entirety by the cautionary statements in this paragraph.  Patrick Delaney undertakes no obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, reappearance of things once thought lost, future events, alternative future events, retroactive continuities, the rise of Atlantis, the Second Coming of the Great Prophet Zarquon, the return of Firefly or otherwise after the date of this communication.

Why I think you should vote

The problem with what Capitalism has become is that we are now being told that the well-being of the corporate entity is the most important thing – more important than the well-being of the individual. We are being fed – in slow, measured, half-truth doses – the idea that if the well-being of the individual needs to be trampled upon in order for the corporation to thrive, then that’s what needs to happen. And I use the word thrive on purpose. No corporation is content to simply exist. It has to grow. And it has to grow more this year than it did last year. If something comes along that slows that potential growth, or threatens to stall it, the corporation fights back. And they employ us to fight their battles for them. This belief that we’re no longer important, that we’re no longer a considerable part of the equation, is so ingrained that we will now come to the defense of the same corporate entities that consider themselves our superiors, and consider us as just tools.
Take the new Health Care law. Take Cap and Trade. These things threaten the businesses that make up the insurance and energy industries. They respond by making the argument that these laws will lead to higher premiums and rates, and that will hurt the economy/struggling families/the recovery/America. This is all they need to do to launch an army of screaming voices, howling that the law or the rule or the regulation is the enemy. “Kill the Bill!” “This law is bad for America!”   Instead of holding the corporations and big businesses and mega-banks accountable for the indignities and injustices they pass down to us, we will loudly and righteously blame the law, and specifically the lawmakers for our predicaments. How can we not? Under this belief we’ve been fed that corporations (and of course shareholders) have an inalienable right to make a profit, we can’t possibly believe them to be the enemy. If we’re being burdened by high fees, or bills, or premiums – the fault must somehow lie with lawmakers. Lawmakers make businesses do these things to us. If lawmakers would just leave businesses alone, and not tell them what to do, everything would be just fine.
Everything would be just fine for those businesses. They rest of us can just pull ourselves up to the table for another serving of shit stew.
Big Businesses have no soul, and are guided by no morals. They are guided by profit only.  Businesses don’t give a damn if you’re safe at work. They don’t care if you get paid a decent wage. They don’t give a fuck what happens to you if you get laid off. They have no good reason to treat you fair, and every reason to abuse you in order to make a profit. The ONLY thing that prevents them from doing this is our government, in the form of the lawmakers we elect and the laws they pass for our benefit. Laws passed by our government are the closest thing to morals that a business can have.
You have absolutely no say in who runs Bank of America, or Exxon, or Goldman Sachs, or any other business. You can’t tell them what to do. They don’t have to listen to you. You don’t get a vote (except in the form of stock, which you can buy). You do have a say in who runs your government. You can tell them what to do. They do have to listen to you. You do get a vote, and you don’t have to pay for it.
There are no lack of those who are telling you that there shouldn’t be laws that restrict how much businesses can pollute, or charge in interest, or fees, or premiums. If they argue that a lack of regulation will benefit you, you already know that’s not true. So you don’t hear this argument very often. Instead, you hear that the regulation will cause the businesses to take actions that will harm you. They say the regulation will lead to higher prices, higher premiums, job cuts, new and higher fees. They essentially make the argument that the regulation will result in the same negative outcomes that the businesses would be completely free to impose on us without the regulation. Somehow, unimaginably, there are people who see logic in this.
Your government, the one you are freely able to choose, is the only thing standing between you and the businesses that see you as no more than the means to a bigger profit. Your guns won’t stop them. Your god won’t stop them. Your outrage will not stop them. The only thing with a chance of stopping a business from doing whatever the hell it wants, to you, is your government – your elected representatives.
Would you choose to let go of your raft and trust that the ocean will treat you fairly? If you choose to elect people who insist that businesses have your best interests in mind, and that your government has no place in regulating them, you’re doing just that. And frankly, you deserve whatever awaits you as you drift helpless, having voluntarily given away your only chance at survival.
The government isn’t your enemy. Big businesses are.
Vote wisely.

I am voting YES on Question 3.

That pretty much says it.

But tell me, what exactly is the difference between casting my vote for a politician who promises to lower my taxes, or casting my vote to actually lower my taxes? I think you know as well as I do. The first vote only puts somebody in office, the second vote actually lowers my taxes.

The difference of course is that if the politician lowers my taxes it will be done by borrowing money to pay for it, which only makes our situation worse. If I lower my taxes I’ll do it by just keeping the money I’ve earned. Will it mean that Beacon Hill will have less money to work with? Sure ’nuff. They can step up and deal with it, or they can borrow more money and blame me for making them do it. I can live with my choice. And from what I’ve seen, apparently so can they.  So, let’s do this thing.

Unless you believe that a politician is the only one who can make a decision about your money, you should be voting YES as well. I can make my financial decisions just fine, thank you, and by my measure I’ve been doing a much better job of it than they have. I’ll bet you can, too.

It’s your money. Keep more of it, and do good things with it.

Both sides have it wrong

In one corner, the Republicans want  to “cut taxes, spend less” .  Is anybody even paying attention anymore? In order for the government to cut taxes, they have to spend more. It doesn’t matter who the hell is getting the damned tax cut: you, me, Richy McMoneybags, big businesses, small businesses….. the who is absolutely irrelevant from the standpoint of the dollars themselves. Every dollar in tax cuts is a dollar that the government would no longer have, and to make up that loss, they borrow. It’s no different than me taking a cash advance on my credit card and calling it a pay raise. It’s not. It’s a lie, even if you choose not to believe it.

It was my understanding that the government got its money from us, through taxes. I know now that that is a gross simplicity meant to distract us.  The government borrows the money it doesn’t have. When it can’t get it through taxes, or “gives it back” (read: doesn’t take it in the first place) though tax cuts, it simply goes to the FED and borrows it.

Spending is spending. Plain and simple. If I hand over $500 cash for a television, or write a check, or swipe the plastic – it’s all spending. You’re either spending money you have or money you borrow. It’s no different when the government does it. They would have you believe differently. They would have you believe it “more complicated than that”.

No. No it really fucking isn’t.

So when someone tells you that their grand plan to get our economy going again is to cut taxes and spend less, and you take a break from your beer long enough to give a “Damned Right!”, why don’t you go out and try it yourself first?  Sure. Tell your employer that you’re giving them a payroll cut – they no longer have to pay you as much. Then just go out and pay for everything else you need, or made promises to, or owe, or want – with credit. I’ll come find you in a few months and ask how much healthier your personal economy is doing.

In the other corner are the Democrats. The president wants a tax cut for the middle class. Brilliant! I’m the working class. That sounds like sunshine and lollipops. I haven’t heard them say anything about how much I might be getting (correction: keeping), but that doesn’t really matter, does it? Just as long as I spend it!

That’s right. Spend it. I need to spend it. I, and the rest of the middle class, are “the folks most likely to spend this tax relief”. Oh, oh thank you so much for letting me keep even more of what I make that barely gets us by so that I can go out and SPEND it. You will never hear anyone suggest that I save that money.

Again, there’s the ridiculous notion that if we spend, things will get better. Sure, things will get better for some people – namely those who own or hold large stakes in the companies with which we’re spending. All that spending we do will transfer directly to their profits. You know who won’t benefit? Almost every single person who works for any of those companies (and I mean real work. and you know exactly what I mean by real work.) Companies are not going to hire more workers because we spend more, not when they know that the money we’re spending isn’t real, or permanent. They’re going to continue to squeeze more work from the employees they have, and will probably cut benefits along the way. And for your belief that spending more will help make our situation better, you’ll be left with less, and no one will care.

Every single member of the working middle class should spend every last dollar of their tax relief on paying down their own personal debt. Granted, it’s really the government paying down that debt with the money they borrowed to allow you to keep your money – and that debt will come back to haunt us all soon enough. The best you can hope for right now is to have yourself in as secure a position as possible when that does happen. If you don’t have debt, (Ha! Right.) put that money in savings. Real savings. Not just in another checking account that you’ll use next month.

In the end, this is all about responsibility. Personal responsibility. Who the hell should be responsible for making things better? Are you going to lay that responsibility on your elected officials, or are you going to fucking OWN IT yourself? Are you going to believe the things they’re telling you, that you know don’t make sense, or are you going to use you own damned head and your own reason and do what you know will work? Are you going cry about the situation, or are you going to fight it?

Save more. Spend less. Live below your means. The way I see it, you can start now and do it on your own terms….

….or you can be forced to do it later on someone else’s.