Undercover Laziness: Crochet Update

It has been an unlucky 13 days since a Coco Trust update, largely due to a vacation Coco and I took to the mountains and a super-sickness I contracted that made me think Coco was going to be living off the proceeds of his Trust earlier than expected.

In any case, I logged back in to provide an update on the recent post about my foray into crocheting, and was shocked to see that someone had not only read the post, but had actually posted a comment. And the commenter wasn’t just some random lunatic, of the type I am told lurks around the Internet causing trouble. Rather, the commenter in question was Matt, co-star of “The Resume Gap,” one of my favorite blogs.

I am swoon.
I am swoon.

Unlike this blog, The Resume Gap is a real blog with a sleek look, exciting photos and, even more exciting stories about things like getting hassled by the cops, almost getting a reality TV show, and fascinating trips around the world.

Seriously, you should quit wasting your time learning about however many pennies Coco managed to pick up from his latest endeavor and head over there now.

Sadly, Matt’s comment may never make it to the site because I’m still figuring out how to let it past my spam-blocker. That’s fine, though, since there wouldn’t be anyone to read it anyway.

If a comment is made on a blog, but no one is there to read it, was it ever really made?
If a comment is made on a blog, but no one is there to read it, was it ever really made?

In a case of serendipity, I happened to find the comment to the crochet post when I logged on to draft a crochet update. I am pleased to report that the crochet project has resulted in some successes. I spent a week and a half learning some basic things and then spent a few days working on a scarf while Coco supervised.

Coco posing with my first crochet project.
Coco posing with my first crochet project.

Above, Coco is inspecting the finished product – a scarf with some decorative tassels. It turned out okay for a first project, though I certainly won’t be submitting it for an award to whatever serves as the crochet world’s version of the Oscars. I have since crocheted a dishcloth, a beer (or Fanta, I suppose) koozie, and  am working on another project as we speak.

I won’t say what the next project is, because, if it turns out weird, but I want to post a photo of it anyway, I may pretend it’s something else, so I don’t want to lock myself in by saying what I’m making

Did I say I was making mittens? I meant I was making an, um, crochet hook holder.
Did I say I was making mittens? I meant I was making an, um, crochet hook holder.

Crocheting has had one side benefit that I would be remiss not to report. Namely, it has the magical ability to convert laziness into industriousness!

There’s nothing sweeter than lounging around in a comfy chair, listening to the mellifluous tunes of Ke$ha or rotting the brains away with mindless nonsense on TV, while bathing in artificial light and studiously avoiding the troubles of the outside world (perhaps (or especially) with some trusty sipping liquids by your side), working toward a state of total and complete laziness.

Behold one who has achieved everything.
Behold one who has achieved everything.

Sadly, all elements of our society look upon such sweet ambrosia with the contempt that villagers with torches reserved for Dr. Frankenstein’s creations. Type A go-getters think of such (lack of) activity as time that could be spent getting ahead in life. Athletic and outdoorsy types judge it as a vigor-sapping pursuit. Young people consider it the peak of boredom; older people think of it as wasted youth and health. And so on.

But, if you take that same lazy, good-for-nothing ne’er do well and simply add a skein of yarn and a crochet hook, perhaps with a few rows of stitches that is beginning to look like a sock or something, a miraculous transformation takes place! Suddenly, the lazy bum has become the very paradigm of industriousness, mindfulness, and other important words that end with “ness” – a modern-day craftsperson who turns raw materials into finished product.

So, that’s pretty sweet, and I think I’ll keep on crocheting, for a while at least. I’m certainly enjoying learning a new skill in addition to hiding my laziness behind the guise of industry.

Laziness and Gift Card Savings

Coco and I did our best to set a world record for laziness the last couple of weekends. The weekend before last, after a morning walk, we settled in to watch TV for the rest of the day. We even splurged on a pizza delivery in lieu of making our own food.

We did make guacamole, at least.
We did make guacamole, at least.

Of course, I couldn’t buy a pizza without determining how to identify some savings for the Coco Trust. So, before placing the order online, I went to a website that brokers discounted gift cards between buyers and sellers. I bought a $25 gift card for $21.94, knocking $3.06 off the bill when I used it for my order. That’s about a 12.25% discount on the gift card. Of course, I transferred the savings into Coco’s Trust (I round up, so he got $4).

Buying discounted gift cards is a trick I learned a while back, but would never have bothered with before maintaining the Coco Trust. The mere idea of going to the trouble of buying a gift card before buying something else would have made me fall asleep from boredom. But, post-Coco Trust, finding such savings and recording them is like a game, so I look forward to it.

Speaking of recording matters related to Coco’s Trust, my records indicate that I have added $84 to Coco’s Trust from buying discounted gift cards, using them on things I was going to buy anyway, and then putting aside the difference.

The same sites that let you buy gift cards let you sell them as well. Because I don’t like having possessions, but do like giving money to Coco, I now like getting gift cards for ridiculous places where I know I’ll never shop because I can immediately sell them to one of the sites.

No, Aunt Alice, I actually LOVE the gift card you got me for the suspicious, unregulated herbal remedy shop that probably also sells mogwai.
No, Aunt Alice, I actually LOVE the gift card you got me for the suspicious, unregulated herbal remedy shop that probably also sells mogwai.

I don’t get a lot of gifts in general (which is great), and very few gift cards, but I did sell one $25 card I got for $18 since starting the Trust. The fact that I have no record of how many pre-Trust gift cards I sold or how much I sold them for is an indication that the Trust is a good way of putting money aside and actually holding onto it.

One other gift-card-related bit of money that went to the Coco Trust came from a gift card that I won at work through a guessing contest. It was only $5, and it was at a place I shop, but I considered it a coupon and put it into the Trust when I used it.

For those keeping track, Coco has received $107 through gift cards since the inception of the Trust ($84 + $18 + $5).

According to Wikipedia, 107 is a prime number, a Mersenne prime, a safe prime, the atomic number of bohrium, the emergency telephone number in Argentina and Cape Town, the police telephone number in Hungary, and the smallest positive integer requiring six syllables in English (when written as "one hundred and seven," of course).
According to Wikipedia, 107 is a prime number, a Mersenne prime, a safe prime, the atomic number of bohrium, the emergency telephone number in Argentina and Cape Town, the police telephone number in Hungary, and the smallest positive integer requiring six syllables in English (when written as “one hundred and seven,” of course).

To tie discounted gift cards in with laziness, you can buy most gift cards in electronic format. To buy my pizza gift card, for instance, the “gift card” I bought was actually a PDF document emailed to me immediately after purchase that had the gift card number and PIN on it. I just copied and pasted those into the payment line when ordering the pizza. It was only a few minutes between the time I searched for the gift card until the time I used it.

Suppose it took five minutes to save the $3.06 from the gift card (to be conservative, we’ll ignore the extra $.94 Coco got from me rounding up and the fact that it didn’t even take five minutes). Saving $3.06 in five minutes is the equivalent of $36.72 per hour. That savings isn’t taxed, of course. To earn an after-tax $36.72 per hour, given a 28% marginal tax rate, you’d have to earn $47 per hour, which is almost $49,000 per year.

And, it’s not like I was doing anything important with those five minutes anyway, since my daily goal was literally to laze around as much as possible. So, we’ll chalk that up as a win for Coco and laziness.

Savings: Theory, Practice, and a Burning House

The idea of “saving” money seems simple enough. But, the word “saving” connotes different things to different people. The magnitude of the difference is so pronounced, in fact, that it is common to see “saving” confused with its polar opposite, “spending.”

In fact, the biggest mistake people seem to make when trying to save money is neglecting to actually save the money.

There appear to be three mindsets around the idea of saving:

  1. Spending masquerading as saving,
  2. Legitimately spending less (but failing to save), and
  3. Actually saving.

The first mindset is pretty easy to understand (and relate to). It occurs when someone buys something they hadn’t planned on buying in the first place and then counts up the “savings.” For instance, a shopper heads off to the store for a pair of needed shoes, sees a dress that was originally $100 now “on sale” for $60, buys it, and then claims the $40 as “savings.”

This is obviously ridiculous. No matter how cute the dress, our hapless shopper has of course not actually saved anything. Rather, she has actually spent $60 she otherwise would not have.

Here, spending (buying the dress for $60) cleverly masquerades as savings (the ephemeral $40 that never actually manifests itself). Adding to the illusion is the fact that the original price, and, by extension, the “sale” price itself, is often a sham – the dress was probably never actually $100 (indeed, as this article notes, various large retailers have found themselves the target of a class action lawsuit for participating in a “phantom markdown scheme” where they allegedly made up the original prices in order to make the “sale price” look attractive).

The real story here is "how is that news to anyone?" I thought everyone just assumed that's how stores operated.
The real story here is “how is that news to anyone?” I thought everyone just assumed that’s how stores operated.

The error of the second mindset is a bit more subtle, but important. In this scenario, our shopper goes in for the needed shoes, which cost $100. But, wanting to save money, she employs some method for buying them at less than the $100. Maybe she goes online and finds a promotional coupon for $20 off. She buys the shoes for $80, and, voila, has saved $20.

Except that’s not quite right.  She’s certainly on the right path to saving, but the problem occurs when you think about what happens from a practical point of view, say after a few months have passed. Suppose I interview our shopper about her excursion for the Coco Trust. She remembers it vividly and first tells us how she successfully avoided the unspeakably cute dress that was on fake sale. Then she proudly recounts how she did her research to find the $20 coupon to use on the shoes.

But then, intrepid reporter that I am, I ask her where the $20 is now. This is where reality and practicality show up to the party. She probably has no idea where that $20 is. It looks, after all, just like all the other $20s (or electronic representations thereof) that she has. She almost certainly hasn’t tracked where that particular “saving” went. So, then, has she actually saved it in a meaningful way?

No.

In fact, in the intervening months, she probably just spent it on something else since it was commingled with her other funds and was never set aside or treated differently.

The last sentence suggests an theoretical (existential/ metaphysical) problem: after all, what is the “it” that sentence refers to? “It” refers to the $20, of course, – the “savings” we are debating – but, did “it” ever really exist at all? In a very real sense, the $20 – the “savings” – never existed. Rather, that $20 merely represents absence of something – the absence of $20 she would have otherwise spent.

If only I could figure out how to spend theoretical dollars.
If only I could figure out how to spend theoretical dollars.

So, from the theoretical perspective, the “savings” are never realized (they never come into being – the crux of the existential/ metaphysical debate). And, from a practical perspective, since the money wasn’t realized – that is, set aside somewhere – it was certainly spent on something else.

Referring back to the text I put in bold quotes at the top of this post, the biggest mistake people make when trying to save money is neglecting to actually save the money. Our shopper in the second scenario did pretty well; she just didn’t go far enough and actually save the money.

To consider the third mindset – the one where money is actually saved – imagine you just bought “Boating,” the famous (and super-expensive, if it went on sale) painting by Edouard Manet.

Not a bad addition to your current art collection, I imagine. It's on display at The Met if you want to go see it.
Not a bad addition to your current art collection, I imagine. It’s on display at The Met if you want to go see it.

Suppose you had the painting hanging in your house, along with a variety of similar works of art you had picked up over the years (presumably at high society art auctions and similar soirees involving fancy cheeses and caviar).

You'd be in good company. Above, Coco prepares to enjoy some delicious caviar (salmon, of course he IS a bear) in his prestigious top hat.
You’d be in good company. Above, Coco, wearing his prestigious top hat, prepares to enjoy some delicious caviar (salmon, of course; he IS a bear).

Now imagine that you had never bothered to insure the paintings and you come home one evening to find your house ablaze. Fire is pouring out of the windows and crawling up the walls while black smoke billows up into the sky. You rush up as close as you can safely get to the house and say, “oh, my precious, uninsured paintings! All my collecting efforts and all of those historical works – lost to both me and the world!”

As you wail and bemoan your sad situation, however, I come up (I’m your next-door neighbor in this scenario) and say, “don’t worry, Eunice” (your name is Eunice in this scenario), “I saved your paintings.”

You’re ecstatic. Your paintings are saved! You give me a big hug (easy there, Eunice) and thank me and make all sorts of (legally unenforceable) heat-of-the-moment promises to repay me in generous ways. But, after a few more thank-yous, you look around your yard (which by now is hopefully full of fire fighting personnel) and realized that you don’t see your paintings.

“Um, Trustee,” you say, “where are my paintings, exactly? You know, the ones you saved?”

“Oh,” I say, “I rushed in before the flames were very high and grabbed all your paintings off the wall and put them in the dining room. It took a lot of effort, but I saved them. Now, about those promises of recompense…”

You would probably look over at your house and the smoldering remains of where your dining room used to be, and mentally calculate the value of the smoke cloud being generated by the several-hundred-year-old paintings that had been there a few moments before.

Such expensive embers.
Such expensive embers.

The problem, as my parable has hopefully pointed out, is that I didn’t actually save the paintings at all. Like the shopper in the second scenario, I started out right – I took steps to lay hands on the paintings. But, I didn’t take the crucial step of carrying them outside. I didn’t set them aside. I didn’t get them out of the house. Because I didn’t set them aside, I didn’t save them at all. And so they burned up to worthless little crisps that will be hauled off to the dump.

The analogy should be clear. If you want to save money, you have to actually save it. You have to actually set it aside. If the shopper we have been following throughout this blog post bought the shoes, used the $20 coupon, and then set that savings aside in a separate, dedicated account, she would have actually saved the money in both theory and practice.

On the theoretical side, by moving $20 from the account she uses to routinely buy things into a separate account for savings, she converts the $20 from the absence of something into the presence of something. It has been imbued with reality. Sort of like when Dr. Frankenstein zapped the lifeless conglomeration of body parts with electricity and then yelled “it’s  alive” as the monster sat up. The $20 is no longer a mental construct to represent money she would otherwise have spent; it is money she actually saved.  Even the verb tense changes (from the hypothetical and squishy conditional perfect tense to the solid and substantial past tense).

And on the practical side, she extracted the $20 out of the account she uses to make routine purchases. This is like getting the paintings out of the burning house. By putting the $20 into a separate account, from a practical point of view, she saves it from certain doom and also creates a method of accounting for it (whether she affirmatively accounts for it or not).

Well, "certain doom" may be a bit of hyperbole to describe the fate of money spent on a cute dress.
Well, “certain doom” may be a bit of hyperbole to describe the fate of money spent on a cute dress.

The Coco Trust is built on this principle. Rather than just identifying ways to “save” money (taking paintings off the wall), I identify ways to save money and then actually save it by transferring it into the Coco Trust (taking the paintings out of the burning house).

Crocheting with Coco

Coco wearing his Valentine's Day ear-bow and showing off his new crochet tools.
Coco wearing his Valentine’s Day ensemble and showing off his new crochet gear.

Coco and I have decided to try out the art of crocheting. As it turns out, opposable thumbs are very important for crocheting, so Coco will assume more of a supervisory/ advisory role in this new endeavor.

I like to learn new things, and crocheting seemed like a useful skill to have. In addition to being fun, I may end up being able to make something useful, such as a a little hat or a pair of socks for Coco. My Mother would probably be impressed if I casually started crocheting a pair of gloves while visiting. Also, it seemed like a relatively inexpensive craft and if I end up living under that bridge I’m always worrying about, the ability to make warm clothes may prove useful.

Not sure I trust my future neighbor around Coco...
Not sure I trust my future neighbor around Coco. And what kind of recliner doesn’t have arm rests?

I compared knitting to crocheting, and, after getting over the shock at the number of websites dedicated to fiercely defending the merits of one over the other, decided that the latter was the better choice to start out with.

So far, it seems I was correct about the inexpensive nature of the craft. Coco was very pleased about that aspect – the more time I spend on inexpensive pastimes, the less time I have to fritter my money away and the more funds he is likely to get transferred to his Trust. I spent about $18 on a set of crochet hooks, a skein of yarn, and associated paraphernalia. I then slithered down to the library and checked out a copy of “Crocheting for Dummies” (assuring Coco that the title did not refer to him). And, a quick search of the library’s catalog and YouTube revealed that there is no shortage of free educational resources available.

The previous paragraph belies my already-increasing knowledge on the subject. Alert readers will note that I used the words “crochet hooks” and “skein” in the previous paragraph. Before embarking on this new adventure, I thought the little sticks were called “crochet needles” and didn’t know that yarn came in “skein,” “ball,” and “hank” form.

Who's ever heard of a cat playing with a "hank of yarn?"
Who’s ever heard of a cat playing with a “hank of yarn?”

I  have learned all sorts of other things as well. It turns out that crocheting is very complicated and tedious, which means it will fit in nicely with other matters related to Coco and his Trust. It took four chapters before the book even got to the part about how to actually start crocheting (not the book’s fault – there are a LOT of things to cover before the uneducated reader like me would be able to understand what goes into making an actual stitch).

It turns out that crocheting has it own language (called “crochetese,” of course), which is a series of cryptic abbreviations. These abbreviations, strung together, prevent pattern instructions from running on for hundreds of pages if written out in full words and sentences. Crochetese adds to the tedium, but actually seems very interesting, as I have always enjoyed studying new languages. Of course, I have never learned one that looked like “* Dc in dc, ch 2, skip next 2 sts *; rep from * to * 3 times, ** dc in next dc, 2 dc in next space **; rep from ** to ** 3 times.”

An actual example of very basic crochetese.
An actual example of very basic crochetese.

Coco and I are less than 100 pages into the book, so it may seem a bit premature to write a blog post about the new endeavor. In fact, I have intentionally referred to crocheting as an “endeavor,” a “skill,” a “craft,” an “adventure,” and a “pastime” in this post rather than a “hobby” because, philosophically, I am not comfortable claiming it as a hobby yet.

But, Coco looked so cute sitting beside his little crochet tools, and wearing his little Valentine’s Day bow and sparkly necklace, that I didn’t want to miss the chance to use that photo if I give up on crocheting before it becomes a legitimate hobby. As noted above, I like to try new things, but I often move on once I have learned the basics, rather than dedicate the hours and hours over years and years that would be required for true mastery.

In fact, I recall my Mother telling me one time, “think of all the things you would be really good at if you had stuck with them” and then rattling off a list of things I had dabbled in. She wasn’t wrong, but I won’t say any more about that (if I wanted to, I could start another (certainly more interesting) blog dedicated to an analysis of my Mother’s criticisms over the years, complete with speculation about the identity of the resulting, undiagnosed neuroses each one had induced in me).

This may be the last time the art of crocheting is referenced within the annals of the Coco Trust. Or, at some point in the (very distant, if the craft is as complicated as it seems) future, you may see a photo of Coco wearing a homemade something-or-other. Only time will tell.

One final, tangential note: in the fourth paragraph of this post, I mentioned that I “spent about $18” on supplies. Originally, I wrote that I had “invested about $18” in supplies. But, I recalled this article on the (seemingly-now-defunct) Lacking Ambition blog about a trend the author had noticed of people referring to “spending” as “investing.” It was an interesting post (as was pretty much every post on that blog, may it rest in peace), and I decided to change the word in this post because of it. I certainly don’t plan on making any money off of crocheting, which would put my purchase squarely in the “spend” category from that post’s point of view. But, I could potentially make an outfit that I otherwise would have bought, so that saved expense might qualify it as an investment. In any case, I thought it was worth writing the additional 177 words in this paragraph to mention why one word was used instead of another in a place that no one would probably ever notice or care about.

January Accounting Shows Growth in Coco’s Fortune

Ah, a new month is here, which is the best part of the month for me because it means I get to do another monthly accounting for the Coco Trust. Performing the monthly accounting is by far the thing Coco and I look forward to the most each month, without even a close second. Adding up the weekly saved amounts and setting up the transfers into the Trust on Sunday evenings is usually the most fun we have each week, and it almost makes me forget the horrors of having to go to work on Monday.

Yep, living the dream over here at Coco Trust Headquarters: looking forward to tedious accounting problems because it's better than the miseries of work.
Yep, living the dream over here at Coco Trust Headquarters: looking forward to tedious accounting problems because it’s better than the miseries of work.

I went out for lunch the last time I worked from home instead of making it myself, so Coco will miss out on that $10 transfer. I did find a dime while I was at the sandwich shop, but that only went 1/100th of the way toward compensating Coco for the lost income. Fortunately for Coco, news of the lost $10 was quickly overshadowed by a positive report on January’s monthly accounting.

January turned out to be an extremely lucrative month for Coco, whose Trust value increased almost $5,500 ($5,490). The fact that the value increased by a larger-than-usual amount was not an unexpected turn of events, since several one-off events occurred during the month. I was a bit surprised at just how much it had increased. I intentionally don’t keep a running total of how much the value is increasing as the month goes on because Coco and I like to be surprised by the final amount – it’s like opening a present.

See comment associated with previous photo.
See comment associated with previous photo.

The two largest drivers of the increase were two $1,800 line items: one from a portion of the third paycheck and one from a portion of a bonus at work.  Together, they accounted for almost 66% of the monthly increase. Without those payments, the increase would have been a much more modest $1,890.

But, as noted in the posts related to those two events, the point of putting those amounts aside was to “make hay while the sun shines” as the saying goes. Together, those two amounts have the same effect as if I had put an extra $300 aside each month for the year.

Note: those posts never actually mentioned the above-quoted phrase. Rather, the general message of those posts was consistent with the aphorism.
Note: those posts never actually mentioned the above-quoted phrase. Rather, the general message of those posts was consistent with the aphorism.

This was the highest monthly addition in the 15-month period during which I have been keeping Coco’s records. Again, that’s not surprising since I increased the amount of the work bonus Coco received by quite a bit over last year, and this is the first time Coco received a portion of the third paycheck. It is nice to see the effect of saving those amounts.

February or March should also see a small bump, since I will likely receive a tax refund from The Man, a portion of which I will send over to the Coco Trust.

Raising the Bar for Coco

We got a COLA, or “Cost of Living Adjustment” at work. The adjustment is not performance-based; even the lowliest loser gets it. The purpose is to ensure that salaries keep pace with inflation. Generally, it is supposed to track changes in the CPI (CPI = Consumer Price Index, a set of products whose prices the Bureau of Labor and Statistics tracks). If the COLA works correctly, a salary should have roughly the same purchasing power year after year, even if you never got a raise based on performance.

The word “adjustment” is something of a misnomer. “Adjustment” usually implies that something could go up or down. But, in my experience, the COLA has never adjusted downward. In 2009, for instance, the CPI was slightly negative (-.4%). Fortunately, though, the COLA was 0% that year, and zero is much better than any number with a negative sign in front of it. As I recall, the COLA was 0% for the next year or two as well, despite the CPI being positive. I wasn’t complaining, though; in those recessionary times, a 0% raise was better than losing my job living with Coco in a box under a bridge.

Coco prefers the foreground to the background.
Coco is far too domesticated to live the outside life of the normal bear; he much prefers the foreground to the background.

Fast forwarding to 2017, though, times are not quite as lean for The Man and the purse strings are once again loose enough for greater-than-zero COLAs. And so it is that the first paycheck of this year reflected a small increase. Don’t get excited; it’s larger than a rounding error, but I won’t be taking Coco floating down the canals of Venice with it, either.

Because I haven’t noticed my expenses going up too much this year, I will divert some of the COLA increase to Coco. This may be a bit tricky to keep track of on a multi-year basis. Each year there are a lot of variables that change the actual paycheck amount in addition to changes in salary. Health insurance, taxes, and so forth change every year. So, a COLA-related increase could be offset by an increase in health insurance premiums.

I don’t want to track a pay increase that ends up being wiped out the next year by an unrelated decrease. Coco would be sad to see one of his lines of income dry up. To offset that, I picked a round paycheck number and am going to transfer to Coco the amount above that number, attributing that amount to the COLA. In subsequent years, if other COLAs come in, I will just continue to put the amount above that paycheck baseline into the Coco Trust. That seems like a conservative method that will keep Coco in the COLA game (incidentally, “cola” means either “line” or “tail” in Spanish, though Coco doesn’t like standing in lines and doesn’t have a tail, oddly enough).

Coco's cousin, pictured  here on the right, does have a tail.
Coco’s cousin, pictured here on the right, does have a tail.

For this year, I just set up a $40 bi-weekly transfer since that was the amount above my arbitrary round paycheck figure. A big part of doing it is simply to start recording that line item. If the COLA proves too tedious to keep track of, I can always discontinue it (though avid readers of this blog have probably seen that very few tasks seem too tedious for me).

An interesting note about the cost of living: it is based on the CPI, which is the aforementioned collection of products that the hypothetical consumer buys. But, like a sales tax, your Individual Price Index (not an actual economic term) it depends on what you buy. If you didn’t buy anything, even large increases in the CPI wouldn’t matter. It is just nice to know that you can control the cost of living variable to an extent.

I considered rolling the COLA into Coco’s weekly allowance. The weekly allowance is sort of like Coco’s paycheck, so I could have just increased that. I decided against that for a few reasons. First, Coco’s allowance is weekly, so I’d have to alter every other allowance to reflect the bi-weekly COLA nature.

Second, by not tracking the COLA line item separately each month, I’d lose that data point and be unable to easily calculate how much of Coco’s wealth comes from this saving method.

Third, I have intermittently given Coco raises in his allowance over time, and by combining the COLA with the allowance, I would be conflating the two and lose the purity of the allowance data point as well.

And we can't lose those precious data points, now, can we?
And we can’t lose those precious data points, now, can we?

This post discussed the increased income due to a COLA. Perusing my records, though, I see that I got an actual raise back in the summer of 2016. In that instance, I have a note indicating that I raised Coco’s allowance by totally arbitrary $30(from $70/ week to $100/ week).

The raise was the impetus for increasing Coco’s allowance, but there was no correlation between the amount of the paycheck increase and Coco’s allowance increase. And, I didn’t track it separately, so I can’t easily distill out how much I saved due to that raise.

Well, I can; I’d just have to multiply $30 by the number of allowances since that date – not hard to do, but harder than simply tracking a dedicated line item. OK, fine, I can’t stand it; I’ll go do the calculation… Coco has received 91 weekly allowances since the raise, and 91 x $30 = $2,730. So, Coco is $2,730 richer due to that increase. So, not that hard to calculate after all, but still harder than if it were its own line item.

Sad how this blog is much more effective at documenting a descent into madness than changes in Coco's Trust.
Sad how this blog is much more effective at documenting a descent into madness than changes in Coco’s Trust.

It is good that the record-keeping is successfully reflecting my historical thought processes and decisions. When I got that raise, I didn’t consider banking a portion of it, as I did with the COLA. Rather, I just Coco a token raise in his allowance to mark the occasion (and probably skipped off to the nearest retailer to buy something). If any future raises come my way, I will revisit how I think about and track them.

52 Divided by 2 Minus 2 Times 12

The calculation/ title of this post relates to a conversation I had at work that will result in some extra money for the Coco Trust.

Before getting to the conversation and the financial implications of the mysterious titular equation, I will note for the mathematically-disinclined that the answer is two. If that’s obvious to you, or if you don’t care, skip over the next paragraph (or find another blog to read that doesn’t involve pretend trusts, stuffed bears, and math lessons). If you answered “288,” anything other than “2,” or didn’t bother to do the calculation, BUT are the sort of person who would be bothered by not knowing how to get the answer, the next paragraph’s math lesson is for you, free of charge courtesy of the Coco Trust.

Admittedly, free math lessons aren't as good as free kittens. But, if I had any kittens, I'd be keeping them for myself.
Admittedly, free math lessons aren’t as good as free kittens. But, if I had any kittens, I’d be keeping them for myself.

Recall that math’s “order of operations” requires that you perform multiplication and division portions of an equation like the one above before doing the addition or subtraction portions. Thus, “52/2 – 2 x 12” requires that you do the “52/2” and “2 x 12” parts first before you subtract anything.  52/2 =26 and 2 x 12 = 24.  And, 26 – 24 = 2. If you got 288, you did the equation from left to right, dividing 52 by 2 to get 26, subtracting 2 from that, and multiplying the resulting 24 by 12 to get 288. If you doubt you ever learned that, you may recall the phrase “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.” If that phrase sounds familiar, but you have no idea why, it’s because you learned it in school as a mnemonic crutch to remember the order of operations. The first letters of each word in that phrase are a reminder of which operations to do first in an equation (M for “multiplication” and D for “division” comes before S for “subtraction”).

I always had a soft spot for Aunt Sally and her devil-may-care attitude that left her niece always having to excuse her behavior.
I always had a soft spot for Aunt Sally and her devil-may-care attitude that left her niece always trying to excuse her behavior. “I’ll do as I please, young lady; now go roll Aunt Sally another one of her special cigars.”

So, then, blithely ignoring the question of why I didn’t just label this post “2,” I will get back to my conversation at work and how the number two relates to Coco’s financial aggrandizement. I will also avoid a photo of the number two and the super-clever caption “this blog post brought to you by the number two.”

Though I really want to...
Though I really want to…

The co-worker I was talking to is smarter than me, and she noted that, because we have 26 pay periods each year, there are two months each year when we get paid three times. She said that she pays her bills with the two monthly paychecks we usually get and then puts the third one aside on months when we get it. I didn’t hear exactly what she does with these miraculous extra paychecks because I was sorting out why it is that we get them in the first place. I didn’t ask her to explain, though, because I don’t want her to think I’m a simpleton and stop telling me these little tidbits that I can use to Coco’s advantage.

Like I said, she’s smarter than me, so it was intuitively obvious to her that we have 26 pay periods because there are 52 weeks in a year and we are paid bi-weekly (52/2 = 26). On the other hand, if we were simply paid twice per month, we’d be paid 24 times (2 x 12). So, the two extra paychecks come from the answer to the resulting equation that is the title of this post.

As fortune would have it, a couple of months after that conversation, January rolled around and January was one of the months with three paychecks. Recalling the conversation, and waiting for just such an opportunity, I decided to put some of that extra paycheck into the Coco Trust.

I say “some” and not “all” partly because I may have a use for some of the money myself and partly because this “third paycheck” business seems too good to be true. I have presumably been getting a third paycheck twice a year each year of my working career, yet I don’t see those extra paychecks stacked up anywhere. This is likely due to the phenomenon I have alluded to in various past posts – money that isn’t put aside ends up being spent (I actually have a post in the works dedicated to this phenomenon). But, I am nervous that this time next month I will find myself in debtor’s prison because I sent money to the Coco Trust that I needed to pay bills.

Note that, in this scenario, going to prison is better than taking money out of the Coco Trust. Once the money's in the Trust, it belongs to Coco.
Note that, in this scenario, going to prison is better than taking money out of the Coco Trust. But, once the money’s in the Trust, it belongs to Coco. Apparently debtors get to keep necklaces and earrings, though, and that prison garb is pretty swanky.

So, then, I decided to divert a portion of the third paycheck into the Coco Trust and then put the rest into my savings account. That way I’ll be ready to pull it out of savings at a moment’s notice next month if the extra money proves illusory after all.  I ended up designating $1,800 for the Coco Trust, which will have the same effect of adding an extra $150/ month for the year. If a few months go by and I find that there are no negative repercussions for this strategy, I will declare this an official new biennial line of income for Coco and make a note to set aside part of the next third paycheck that comes along.

New Coupon Method

Note: this blog actually garnered a reader. That was pretty interesting. She promptly noted that I should use one period after my sentences instead of two because it makes mobile reading easier. So, henceforth I will fight against the long-ingrained muscle memory that makes me involuntarily hit the space bar twice in response to a period and try to use one space instead. You’re welcome. If anyone else stumbles by, feel free to post criticisms in the comments or email them to Trustee@CocoTrust.com.

Umm, Trustee, about that math...
Umm, Trustee, about that math…

As I noted earlier, Coco gets savings from any coupons I use. This week, for instance, eight of the $35 I transferred to Coco came from coupons (the $35 doesn’t include his weekly allowance and annual bonus).

I saw the tantalizingly-titled “6 Secret Places to Find Coupons for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables” article at Money Talks News. I simply couldn’t resist reading an article that had both the phrase “secret places” and an enumerated list.

Note to self: write article titled "10 Secret Places Coco Likes to Hide."
Note to self: write article titled “10 Secret Places Coco Likes to Hide.”

After reading the article, I was intrigued by the review of coupon company SavingStar. I read more about it and decided to use it when I went shopping last Sunday. As the Money Talks News article title suggests, SavingStar has coupons for fruits and vegetables.  That is unusual – most coupons are on packaged goods (like in Redplum circulars) or meats (in the form of Manager’s Specials).

I downloaded the app, which is fairly straightforward. After linking your store loyalty cards to the app, you just find and select deals you want to use. When you check out, if you bought the things that qualify for one of your selected coupons, SavingStar puts the coupon amount into your account. They send your accumulated money (via PayPal or some other options) once you get to $5 or more.

Unfortunately, for some stores you can’t just link up your loyalty card. For those (and of COURSE my low-rent grocery store is one of them), you have to actually photograph the receipt afterward via the app. Even though I knew I’d have to do that, I figured I would give it a try for Coco’s sake and for my reading public (even if that is a readership of one).

I appreciate you.
I appreciate you.

The coupons on the app come in two flavors. The first is pretty traditional: buy Product Y, get $X back. For the second type, you have until a certain date to buy $Z worth of Product Y in order to get $X back.

So, I ventured out last Sunday to see how it worked. True to the review I read, there was a vegetable coupon. I think SavingStar has one per week. Last week it was “buy loose onions and get $.25.” I almost always buy onions anyway, so that was convenient. I wasn’t sure if the ones I usually get are loose or chaste, but made a mental note to get the right ones. I also found a cheese coupon (of the second type discussed in the previous paragraph) where I’ll get $4 if I spend $16 on cheese between now and March 26. I also loaded a third deal of the traditional type – buy a couple boxes of some sort of granola bar and get $1.

I bought the aforementioned granola bars, some cheese, and the loose onions.

Had my grocery store had the loyalty card option, I think that would have been all I needed to do- from what I understand, SavingStar and the card would have automatically linked up. But, as noted, I had to go through some tedious steps. For the cheese and bars, I scanned the bar code and then took a photo of the receipt. For the onions, I just typed in “white onions” since  that’s what they were called on the receipt, and took a photo of the receipt.

The bar code scanning and typing in “onions” wasn’t bad. The receipt scanning was terrible. My receipts are long enough to stretch across the finish line of a marathon, and you have to photograph one section, then the next section, then the next section, and so on until you photograph the entire receipt. And you have to do it for each item. Ironically, the fact that I use coupons and because a lot of what I buy is on sale actually works against me here – sales and discounts show up as line items on the receipt, making it longer.

I think I could have grown my own onions in the time it took me to photograph the receipt.

But, it seems to be working, at least. I received an email from SavingStar three days after I went to the grocery store saying they had posted $.25 to my account. They also had a little thermometer-looking thing showing that I had spent $6 of the required $16 on cheese to track my progress toward that coupon.

Oh, right, this is a blog; I can post photos instead of saying "thermometer-looking thing."
Oh, right, this is a blog; I can post photos instead of saying “thermometer-looking thing.” Awfully blurry screenshot, though.

The granola bars I bought were conspicuously absent. I must have done something wrong (bought the wrong type, not photographed the bottom three feet of the receipt, failed to say the proper incantation when submitting the receipt, etc.).

If I were doing a service review, I’d give it a 3/5, or maybe a 3.5/ 5. It works pretty well, but is pretty tedious to use if the store’s card isn’t linked. It is also annoying that there was no error message to explain why the granola coupon didn’t work. I will continue using it, at least for a few more weeks, to get more data points on the experience.

I should have calculated how long I spent using the app. Then, after a month, I could calculate how much I had saved per hour to get sense of the return on time investment. Maybe I’ll start that this week, interpolating last week’s time from this week’s time.

Any excuse to do tedious calculations and account for things. I'm beginning to think this blog is actually the manifestation of a psychological problem.
Any excuse to do tedious calculations and account for things. I’m beginning to think this blog is actually the manifestation of a psychological problem.

It would be interesting to know who is putting up the money for the produce coupons. Most coupons are put out by stores or manufacturers, who ultimately are profiting from the purchase, and who have an incentive give up a bit of the profit in order to make a sale to people who otherwise wouldn’t buy (a technique called “price discrimination”).  Most coupons are for differentiated products (i.e. a particular brand). Produce isn’t differentiated (Farmer Brown’s mango is indistinguishable from Farmer Green’s), so there usually aren’t coupons because there’s no one to put them out.

Maybe a produce grower’s association is taking the coupon hit.  Or, maybe SavingStar itself is fronting the money, using the rarely-seen produce savings as a gimmick to get people to use the app, and then making the produce money back on higher-margin manufacturer’s coupons (for things like cheese). It could be an experiment by a university to see just how much tedium people can undergo, or how little people actually value  their time. Interesting business, either way. On to next week (loose cucumbers are the vegetable du semaine).

Building a fortune one cucumber at a time.
Building a fortune one cucumber at a time.

Of Bonuses and Bills

I got a work bonus this pay period.  Coco was very interested to hear about that, as I had told him I would put some of it into the Coco Trust for him.  Unfortunately for Coco, I am not an investment banker or a partner at a multinational law firm.  If I were, Coco would be deciding whether to use his portion of the bonus to buy a cabin in Telluride or a condo in Bern.

Ah, Telluride - an ideal place for a bear of means.
Ah, Telluride – an ideal place for a bear of means.

Whenever bonuses are available, they are typically paid out early in the calendar year.  Because I started the Coco Trust in November of 2015, I actually had the presence of mind to set aside a portion of last year’s bonus for Coco when it arrived in January of 2016.  I have forgotten the exact amount I received for last year’s bonus, but, thanks to my Coco Trust Accounting, I know that I put $500 of it into the Coco Trust.

When this year’s bonus arrived, I considered about how much of it to divert to Coco.  I do not recall the thought process behind last year’s decision to put $500 into the Coco Trust (one advantage of keeping this blog is that I can track my thought processes and refer back to them later for historical purposes or to identify any intellectual errors).  Last year’s thought process was probably something like, “$500 is a nice round number, and it’s small enough that it will leave me the rest of the bonus to buy exciting things with.”

That logic seems sound enough, but the problem appears if we fast forward to today and you ask, “so, what ‘exciting things’ did you buy with the rest of your bonus last year?”  I would be hard-pressed to identify anything in particular.  I certainly spent it on something, but I have no idea what it was.  Coco, on the other hand, knows exactly where his portion went – it’s sitting peacefully in his Trust, perfectly accounted for.

This year I put more thought into how much of a bonus to give Coco.  My thought process was informed by the 2017 goal of a $25,000 addition to Coco’s Trust.  In order to get to that amount, Coco will need to average $500 more per month in 2017 than he did in 2016.  So, I framed the decision in monthly terms.  Last year’s one-time $500 bonus had the effect of bringing up the year’s monthly average by 500/12, or $41.67.  This year, I decided to put $1,800 of the bonus into Coco’s Trust.  That one-time $1,800 deposit is the equivalent of an extra $150 per month.  And, $150 – $41.67 = $108.33, which means that this year’s bonus will add about $108 more per month than last year’s bonus did.  That means I’m making headway on that extra $500 a month I need to come up with.

Logic always sounds better when you do some math
Logic always sounds better when you do some math.

Coco doesn’t get the entire bonus, of course.  I am keeping some for me “to buy exciting things with.”  This time next year, I will be interested to see how I think back on the two amounts (the one for Coco and the one for me).  I did make one small change to the amount I kept for myself.  Rather than just leave it in the checking account into which my paycheck is deposited, I transferred it over to my savings account.

There is an interesting postscript about the bonus.  When I checked my bank account the other day, I noticed that I was awash in money.  Closer inspection revealed that my paycheck had arrived, along with an additional credit, which I surmised was the bonus.  But, there was also a third credit.  It turns out that whoever it is that processes our paychecks accidentally paid the bonuses twice.

I was not the only person who noticed this little discrepancy, of course.  I didn’t bother saying anything because I knew it would be found and corrected soon.  So, I just waited for guidance on how they would fix it.  Others are not so calm: as has proven the case in the past with any paycheck discrepancy, no matter how small, HR was immediately inundated with emails about the situation (a while back, our paychecks arrived a day later than usual, and you would have thought fire was raining from the heavens and the Devil himself was riding roughshod over the salted earth from the panicked messages going around).

Panic - always the right choice.
Panic – always the right choice.

Our HR people never send one notice when 100 will do, so when I logged onto my work email I found a surfeit of notifications alerting everyone of the situation.  The notices were careful to explain that we couldn’t keep the extra bonuses (imagine that) and spelled out the plan for getting them back.  Rather than just electronically pulling the extra money back, they are going to “send a bill in the next two-to-three months” for the extra amount.  Hee, hee – they subscribes to the Coco Trust mentality of never doing anything the simple way when a more convoluted option is available.

As a psycho-sociological matter, I would be interested in whether anyone fails to set the extra bonus aside, and is unable to pay it back when the bill arrives.  The notices actually seem to anticipate this possibility, alluding to the fact that the forthcoming bill and messaging will identify various “payment options.”  Originally, I thought that just meant the option of writing a check or doing an electronic transfer.   But, I wonder now if they are anticipating that some people might spend it and need to do payroll deductions over a few months or something.  There is actually some language about employees being “strongly encouraged” to pay it back, and a note that the 2017 W-2s will reflect the correct annual pay, “as long as the extra bonus is paid back this year.”  So, it sounds like they are anticipating a lot of people having trouble paying it back.  We’ll see.  I hope that there’s an option for putting it on a credit card – then I could pay with my credit card, get cash back, and pay the card off.  That would be like a little bonus bonus for Coco, who gets credit card cash back rewards.

In a more bizarre twist, the two bonus payments were not an identical amount.  And they don’t differ by a few dollars, either – there is an almost $300 difference.  The actual bonus amount that is paid out is always much less than the full bonus amount, of course, because The Man takes taxes out of it.  But, I wonder why the amounts are so different.  Maybe the first one pushed me into a higher marginal tax bracket and some extra taxes were taken out of the second one.  I am assuming the smaller of the two is the actual bonus, so it will be a happy surprise if the bill that comes is for the smaller amount.

This is all an academic matter for Coco, whose $1,800 bonus is already scheduled for transfer into his Trust.

 

Cleaning Up on Dry Cleaning

In addition to having to drag myself into the office, my job requires me to dress up in fancy clothes.  I knew, of course, that those clothes couldn’t lower themselves to go into the washing machine with the regular rags that I wear around the house.  Rather, they require treatment at the dry cleaner with exotic chemicals that destroy health and life along with dirt and grime.

In reality, I wasn’t paying the dry cleaner for cleanliness.  After all, my job is more along the lines of moving papers from one side of the desk to the other than it is about turning spigots on oil rigs, so how dirty could my clothes be getting?  Rather, the dry cleaner provided an ironing service.  I absolutely hate ironing.  When I bought a condo and was getting rid of things in my old apartment, I have no words for how happy I was to throw my ironing board into the trash hopper.  It was a perfectly good ironing board, too (after all, I didn’t use it), yet I despise ironing so much that throwing the hateful ironing board and all it represented into the trash bin was one of the happiest days of my life.  I still remember the sense of relief I felt when I threw it away, thinking that I would never have to see another ironing board again in my life.

I have horrible flashbacks just looking at this awful thing.
I have horrible flashbacks just looking at this awful thing.

Then I moved into my condo, looked in the closet, and saw that the previous owners had left behind their (perfectly operational) ironing board.  It was too big to throw down the trash chute and I was too lazy to carry it down to the trash bin, so I continued right on with owning an ironing board.  I pushed it into the back of my closet, yet it still haunts me quietly every time I open the door, and sometimes I can almost hear it creaking negativity out at me from its miserable monster’s lair.

Still not as scary as the ironing board.
Still not as scary as the ironing board.

I apologize for that small tangential diatribe; talking about ironing stirs up intense feelings of hatred in me and it is difficult to prevent them from pouring forth.  In any case, as I was saying, my clothes need to be wrinkle-free in addition to clean, and the dry cleaner was the only plausible way I knew of for achieving that goal.

Or, at least that’s what I thought for years.  One day, I was talking to a friend, who noted that some of my clothes were from a company’s line designed for the frequent traveler.  In fact, the fabric was specifically engineered not to wrinkle.  It said so on the tag, though I hadn’t bothered to read it.

That was an interesting turn of events.  So, rather than take that garment to the dry cleaner the next time it needed cleaned, I put it in the wash and then gave it a good shaking after drying it to see if it was indeed wrinkle-free.  Obviously, I did a non-wrinkle-free garment in the same load so I could compare the difference.  I was suitably impressed (Get it?  “Suit”ably impressed?  No?).  The wrinkle-free one wasn’t as crisp-looking as the dry cleaner would have made it, but it didn’t look bad at all, and was much better than the other one.

I wore the wrinkle-free one that I had washed and dried myself to work, and was pleased to discover that I wasn’t ridiculed and/ or fired.  Rather, work carried right along as it always did and I went through the day undetected, with no one calling me out for the fraud I was.

Of course, I suppose for some professions, that fear occurs daily.
Of course, I suppose for some professions, that fear occurs daily.

It so happened that about half of my work clothes were in the wrinkle-free line, so I started washing and drying those at home, and just taking the other ones to the dry cleaner.  When I needed new clothes, I made it a point to buy the wrinkle-free variety, replacing my clothes that required dry cleaning with ones that do not.  At this point, I only have a few clothes left that are not wrinkle-free.

The next part should be obvious from the nature of this blog.  I realized at some point that every time I took a garment to the dry cleaner, I was saving money that I otherwise would have spent.  So, I started tracking every garment that I didn’t take to the dry cleaner, and transferring $2 into the Coco Trust for each one.

I said above that I realized “at some point” that I could be putting that money into the Coco Trust.  But, of course, I know exactly when that point was due to my obsessive-compulsive record-keeping.  I first recorded a dry cleaning transfer for Coco on April 21, 2016.  That is interesting, as it further underscores the changed mindset that came along with the Trust; the pre-Trust me would have just spent that money somewhere else, and not have actually saved it.  But, because I was actively looking for savings to put aside for Coco, I looked at that money differently.

So, how much are we talking about, exactly?  Well, Between 4/21/2016 and today, I have put aside $172 in the dry cleaning category.  That is 86 individual garments.  $126 of that (63 garments) was in Coco’s fiscal year 2016 (which ran from 11/1/2015 through 10/31/2016).  I assume FY 2017’s dry cleaning savings will be much higher since I didn’t start putting the money aside until halfway through FY 2016.

I guess the title “Cleaning Up on Dry Cleaning” is a bit over the top, since no one would think of those paltry amounts as “cleaning up.”  But, I think it’s clever, so I’m going to leave it (though I also thought my earlier “suit” pun was clever).  And anyway, a full year’s savings would probably be closer to $344 (2 x $172), so that would be about $1,000 every three years.  Not bad for something I won’t miss.  Coco will take it.

Two additional points come to mind on this topic.  First, there is also a lot of savings in terms of time and hassle.  I always had to find time to take the slip down, and then I’d have to carry the clothes back up to the condo.  And sometimes I’d want to drop clothes off on my way out somewhere, but wouldn’t, because I didn’t want them to ask me to pick up the ones I already had there ready for pickup.  It was super-stressful.  I went from dealing with the dry cleaner every week (they knew my phone number by heart) to only going every couple of months.

Second, I mentioned in another blog post that I put aside $10 every time I work from home and don’t buy my lunch.  Conceptually, working from home has the same effect on dry cleaning; if I don’t go into the office, I don’t wear an outfit that would need to be dry cleaned.  I could change my process to include a dry cleaning transfer for each day I work from home.  I will discuss that with Coco at our next meeting.

Wow, this blog is boring and tedious – a 1,200-word post about dry cleaning?