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?

Refinancing, Timing, and Saving

A couple of years back, before becoming the Trustee for the Coco Trust, I looked into refinancing my mortgage.  I had read some articles about how mortgage rates had fallen to record levels and how anyone with any brains was refinancing.  I couldn’t be bothered to follow up on that, but one day the bank called me and told me I could probably save a lot of money by refinancing.  I figured, “sure, why not?” and told them to start the process.

I was working with the same bank that gave me the mortgage in the first place.  The only real changes were that my income had increased and I now had several years of on-time payments on my record, so I thought the process would be rather smooth.

Step right in - it'll be a painless process.
Step right in – it’ll be a painless process.

Despite what these blog posts may indicate, I am super-organized and am able to quickly lay my hands on most any document I need.  I put together a package of information and sent it to the bank.  The guy I was working with asked for some more information, which I again quickly produced.   I am short on patience and long on laziness, so this document-gathering was starting to annoy me.  Preliminary estimates indicated that I could probably save a few hundred dollars a month, though, which helped me fight my natural tendencies.

Eventually the guy I was working with passed me off to an “underwriter” (“underwriter” sounds very important – maybe Coco needs one; I’ll look into that).  The underwriter asked for essentially the same documents the first guy had asked for (I actually forwarded a couple of the emails to the underwriter that I had sent the first guy because the requests were for the exact same documents).

Um, so here's the first few pounds of what you asked for.
Um, so here’s the first few pounds of what you wanted.  I’ll go back to the truck for the rest.

The final straw was when the underwriter asked me to go to the condo board and ask for some documents.  She also asked me for a fee.  The condo board is made up of normal people like me (well, not “normal,” exactly; they seem like idiots, but I suspect most condo owners think that of their boards) and I wasn’t about to bother them.  I thanked the underwriter and the initial guy for their time and told them I wasn’t going to waste any more of my life playing their games.  A few hundred dollars more per month was great in theory, but I was beyond annoyed that the bank, which had reached out to me in the first place, kept asking for more and more documents from the same person they had been dealing with for years (who now had more income) about the same place they had been financing for years.

Fast forward a few years to the summer of 2016.

I had started the Coco Trust and my mindset was such that I was always looking for opportunities to add to Coco’s growing fortune.  I happened called the bank one day with a question and got a friendly representative at the bank’s offices in the hospitable south.  After answering my question, she said, “I see that your mortgage rate is relatively high; you could probably save money by refinancing.”  As luck would have it, the historically low rates from a few years before that wouldn’t be around for long were still low, if not lower.  The old me would have said, “no thanks; I’ve already been down that tedious road before.”  But, after I finished shuddering from the deja vu, I told her I’d be interested in looking into it.

In retrospect, the process itself was pretty similar to what it had been a few years before.  I worked with the first lady for a while (she was super-nice and more helpful than the previous guy) before she passed me off to the mysterious underwriter, who again asked for similar documents.  I paid a few fees and sent my documents along.  The main difference this time was that my mindset was changed.  Instead of getting annoyed when I had to send more documents, I just thought about it in terms of how little time I was actually spending.  Over the course of the next month, I put in less than eight hours gathering documents and signing paperwork.  I spent less than $1,000 in fees.

Then, the refinance came through and my mortgage dropped by $400 per month.

I am glad I didn’t go through with the refinance the first time.  If I had, I would have allowed that extra $400 to be absorbed into my regular monthly expenses, going to some frivolous extravagance.  But, because I was by this time the Trustee for the Coco Trust, I immediately set up an automatic transfer such that, every month when I pay the mortgage, the $400 I no longer have to pay goes into the Trust.  That’s $4,800 per year.  During the process, I got a few hundred dollars back due to some financial wizardry related to the payoff amount and timing, which I also transferred into the Trust.  There was a month between when the old mortgage ended and the new mortgage started so I didn’t have to pay the mortgage at all in September.  Rather than buy champagne and watch “Friends” reruns, I put an extra $1,000 into the Trust.

Already, Coco is $2,901 richer simply due to refinancing the mortgage, and that amount will continue to add up.

In four months’ time, I have already been compensated for the fees I paid and my time.  That is a recurring monthly amount that I can put aside.  Coco is certainly happy about the timing.  Rather than simply let the savings be sucked up by new expenses, I put it aside.

Thought about another way, spending a few hours of my time and investing $1,000 resulted in essentially getting a raise of about $500 per month.  In order to end up with $400 per month from a raise, I would need to earn $400 plus the taxes I would otherwise pay.  The tax rate each year depends on various deductions and such, but assuming a 25% effective tax rate, $400 after taxes is equivalent to a $500 raise.

December Accounting

Coco keeping an eye on a delicious turkey stock.
Coco keeping an eye on a delicious turkey stock.

I started 2017 off by conducting the December Accounting of the Coco Trust.  Coco was pleased to see $2,901.01 added into the Trust in December.  That’s well over the 2017 goal of $2,083.33/ month, but December contained a few non-recurring items.

For instance, I sold my digital piano on LetGo due to finger problems, the temporary tax situation netted about $650, there was the much-anticipated annual change counting that resulted in $211, and I even ended up with a little over $100 from Christmas gifts.

Looking at last year’s data, the December – March time frame had a higher average monthly transfer amount ($1,788.03) than did the April – October time time frame ($1,590.80).  The December – March months  seem to be the ones where the most one-off things crop up (i.e. tax refunds and end-of-year work bonuses).  I’ll be interested to see if 2017 follows the same pattern as 2016.

Finally, to follow up on a loose end, I retroactively accounted for the $25 in free money by attributing it to November, 2016, which is when the funds loaded into the new credit union’s account.  Fortunately, Coco’s fiscal year runs through October 31, so the addition won’t affect the annual accounting I performed.  It would be in very bad form to have to do a restatement of the very first annual report.

2017 Goal

Some people think it is trite to set goals for a New Year, but I like to have something to shoot for.  After all, how else can I quantify the extent of my many failures if not for some initial benchmark?

As Dee Snyder sang, "if that's your best, your best won't do."
As Dee Snyder sang, “if that’s your best, your best won’t do” (4:13, for the impatient).

In 2016 I wanted to read more and to formally account for the Coco Trust, and I managed to do a pretty good job.  I went to the library more and read more books in the past year than in the past five or ten years combined.  I certainly adhered to the second goal, and even started this blog to keep track of the Trust in prose form.

In 2016, in the absence of historical data, I didn’t have a good sense of what would be a good goal for the monthly amount I transfer into the Coco Trust.  Now that I have a little over a year’s worth of data, though, I can make a more informed goal.  As noted in the first Annual Report (of Coco’s 11/1 – 10/31 Fiscal Year), the monthly transfer amount for FY16 was $1,583.06 (for an annual amount of $18,996.72).  For FY17, I will shoot for a $25,000 annual addition, which comes out to $2,083.33 per month.

It is interesting that the FY16 monthly average (ignoring the cents) happened to end “83.”  That makes the additional amount needed per month a nice even $500.

Mathematical Note: it is not interesting that the FY17 goal ends in 83 – it is pretty likely that any arbitrary goal I set will be some multiple of $1,000, and any multiple of 1,000 divided by 12 will end in 83.  The FY16 average ending in 83, though, is pure happenstance.

We’ll see how that works out; it may be an aggressive goal.  But, what’s that old saying?  “Shoot for the stars, and if you miss you’ll go hurtling off into the oblivion of space and not have to worry about it” or something like that?

Ah, sweet oblivion.
Ah, sweet oblivion.

Change Accounting

Christmas Coco
Coco wearing a Santa hat and a fancy necklace that he received for Christmas in 2015.

I have returned from a Christmas vacation where I enjoyed spending time with family.  I also conducted the annual Change Accounting, which is something I have done for years and thoroughly enjoy.  Since I “thoroughly enjoy” it, you can be sure it is long and tedious and involves calculations and spreadsheets.  The change account is a (small) part of the Coco Trust, though, so I feel it is important to mention it.

When I was young, I had a jar in my bedroom full of change that I tossed in it every time I came home and emptied my pockets.  I never took money out of it.  One day, I was looking at the change jar and realized that the money sitting in it could be earning interest instead of sitting there idly.  In my mind, I connected change counting with Scrooge McDuck, who you may recall was counting his gold coins at a miserly table on Christmas Eve when poor Bob Cratchett (ably played by Mickey Mouse) asked for Christmas off.

For copyright reasons, I can't use the actual Disney photo of Scrooge at the counting table, so enjoy this photo of a real duck instead.
For copyright reasons, I can’t use the actual Disney photo of Scrooge at the counting table, so enjoy this photo of a real duck instead.

And so it came to pass that every year on Christmas Eve I began counting the change I had gathered during the year, rolling it up, and depositing it in the bank.  Like Mr. McDuck, I have a special counting table, and I have a glass of miser water to sip on as I count, since I can’t imagine he would indulge in a delicious Mountain Dew or Red Bull Red.  I count up all the coins in stacks of $1 each, and line them up like little soldiers on the table until I have finished (the nickels are stacked in $.50 piles versus $1 piles since they start to fall over after the half-dollar mark).  Then I roll them up and take them to the bank the next day it is open.

Initially, I put the money into my regular account and just spent it, but in 2004 I began putting the change into a separate, dedicated account.  Eventually, I started putting the amount into a one-year CD, and then adding the next year’s deposit with the now-matured CD’s value and rolling that amount into a new one-year CD.

Eventually, I noticed that I was finding a lot of money while walking around, and, because nothing is ever complicated enough that I can’t find a way to complicate it further, I started tracking any money that I found money separately from the change I got back from purchases.  I say I started  tracking found “money” (versus “change“) separately because I occasionally find folding money in addition to metal change.  I have found $20s, $5s, $1s, and $1 coins (which you can’t fold easily) over the years.  Sadly, I didn’t start tracking the found money separately until 2007, so I missed a few years of data.  The data set is fairly rich, as I record not only the total amounts, but the breakdown of how much of each type of coin I have (how many quarters I find, how many quarters I get back as change, and so forth for each denomination).  Enough time has passed that I can find fascinating patterns in the amounts of money I find and the change that I get back from purchases.

All right, fine, so maybe "fascinating" isn't exactly the right word. Would you take "interesting?"
All right, fine, so maybe “fascinating” isn’t exactly the right word. Would you take “interesting?”

As much as I would enjoy going into details about these findings, and insert graphs I have made and regression analyses I have performed, I will restrain myself and instead simply use this entry to report the facts about this year’s change deposit.

I deposited $211 for the year, which included $18.13 that I found.  Historically, both of those amounts are low.  $211 is tied for the third-lowest change deposit in 13 years (tied with 2010 when I also deposited $211).  The amount of found money is the second-lowest in the seven years I have been keeping records (2010 was the lowest, with $13.37).  The highest year for both was 2007, with a total deposit of $369, helped along by finding $52.70 (finding a $20 bill and three $1 bills didn’t hurt).

I had wondered for years what I would do with the money in the change account.  Since I spend so much time counting and tracking it, I didn’t want to blow it on some nonsense.  Thus, when I started the Coco Trust a year ago, I decided to count the change account and future additions as part of the Trust.  The change account value was $3,219.02 when I started.  I added $301.79 last year, and the interest from the account adds about $4.35 per month to the Coco Trust (as I noted, it’s in CDs).  At the end of last month, the change account value stood at $3,572.90.  Next month’s accounting will include the regular interest amount, along with the $211 from this year’s deposit.

So, the change account represents a little over 10% of the total value of the Coco Trust, a percentage that will continue to get smaller since additions are being made in other areas at a much higher rate than the couple-hundred-dollars-once-a-year rate of the change account.  For comparison, at the first accounting a year ago, before I had begun adding to the other areas in earnest, the change account represented almost 24% of the total value of the Coco Trust.  That’s a positive trend (well, it’s negative, but being negative is positive in this case) since it represents the fact that money is flowing into other areas at a faster rate.

It is interesting that $4,000 of Coco’s Trust came from nothing more than putting aside change that I have never missed and would have spent anyway.

I could drone on for page after page about this topic, but the further I go down that rabbit hole, the more I will be forced to contend with what is almost certainly some sort of undiagnosed neurosis.  So, I will save additional musings for future posts, appropriately spread out.  A long, rambling manifesto displaying intense interest in an unusual topic often gives rise to concerns about mental stability, while (I hope that) several smaller discourses over time will be interpreted as dedication at best or eccentricity at worst.

It is interesting, though, that $4,000 of Coco’s Trust came from nothing more than putting aside change that I never missed and would have spent on fleeting things anyway.

Saving the Foregone

The weekly transfer into the Coco Trust was $463.  $100 of that was his weekly allowance; $321 was a temporary, tax-related item (that may be the subject of a later post); $13 was in coupons; and the rest was savings from intentionally foregoing various expenses.

An example of that ambiguous-sounding last item is not going out to lunch when I otherwise would.  I’m usually able to work from home once or twice a week, depending on what’s going on at work.  In the days before the Coco Trust, I would go out for lunch when I worked from home, usually getting something from one of the hundreds of food trucks that flock to my neighborhood each day.  I would spend about $10, which I never gave a second thought to.

Mmm: Food + Wheels = truly one of the most tempting inventions of modern times.
Mmm: Food + Wheels = truly one of the most tempting inventions of modern times.

After beginning the Coco Trust, though, I was on the lookout for expenses I could cut out and put the resulting savings away.  Now, whenever I work from home, or whenever I’m not working and would otherwise have gone out to eat, I almost always make something at home.  Most importantly, I make a note of each time I do that, and transfer into the Coco Trust the $10 I would have otherwise spent.  On some weeks, Coco may get $30 or $40 from this line item (for example, if I work from home twice during the week and also am tempted to get, but forego, lunch on both Saturday and Sunday, Coco would get $10 x 4 days = $40).

Interestingly, on days when I go into the office, I actually started packing a lunch rather than going out.  I say “interestingly” because I don’t transfer money into the Coco Trust for those instances, so the motivation is not the Trust.  I wasn’t in the routine of going out to lunch every day at the office, so I can’t distinguish which days I forewent lunch and which days I didn’t.  And, since I only put money into the Trust that I was going to spend anyway, it would be conceptually inappropriate (though probably fiscally wise) to count those instances.  I suppose I could just put $10 into the Trust for every day that I make a lunch rather than buy it, but I’ll have to think of a conceptual workaround (I’m good at rationalizing things, so maybe I’ll do that eventually).

In any case, this post isn’t about lunch.  It’s about the underlying principle of identifying an area to painlessly spend less than before and then actually saving that money (by actually transferring it into a separate account).  There are several weekly line items that fall into this category.  Essentially, I’m sort of ratcheting down my spending from pre-Coco Trust levels, but banking the difference as if I was still spending like a drunken sailor on shore leave.

Actually, these gentlemen look like they were having more fun than I did.
Ah, what better way to celebrate shore leave than to sit around with the same people you were on the ship with and drink away the money you just made? I think the guy on the left actually doesn’t even have a drink – he’s the thrifty one in the group.  Well played, sailor, well played.

In addition to finding myself eating out less in general, another interesting development was how I started looking at the lunchtime world differently after instituting my $10 transfer practice.  Though I could probably live the rest of my life in my condo building without ever going outside again (note to prosecutors: house arrest is more of a reward than a punishment for me), I still occasionally go outside around lunchtime when I work from home.  I may go to the ATM, or drop off a package, or (gasp) walk around for a few minutes to get some exercise (assuming it’s not too cold or too hot or raining or too dry or too windy or too calm…).  When I do, I see the throngs of people pouring out of office buildings, condos, apartments, the woodwork and making haste to buy lunch.  A year ago, I would have been lining up with them.  Now, though, I silently look at the bags they carry and think ($10 + $10 +$10 …).  Rather than feel like I’m missing out, I look forward to getting back to my homemade lunch (and Coco keenly watches to make sure I make a note of it for his weekly transfer).

Now that I have over a year of data to review, it’s interesting to see how even something as small as banking foregone lunches can add up ($390 to date).

That's just an accumulation of single snowflakes.
That’s just an accumulation of single snowflakes.

Savings in the Land of Giant Chickens

Coco inspecting a freshly-roasted chicken.
Santa Coco inspecting a freshly-roasted chicken.

In the above photograph, taken earlier tonight, Coco is eyeing a chicken I had just pulled out of the oven.  The chicken looks good, though no amount of crispy chicken skin could compete with Coco in his adorable little Santa hat, Christmas socks, and scarf.

Because he has no digestive tract or internal organs, Coco’s interest in the chicken is obviously not alimentary.  Rather, he is salivating over the thought of the chicken-related grocery savings and subsequent increase in his Trust that took place a month or so ago when I bought the chicken.

The photo may not give a good sense of scale, but that chicken is huge.  For a chicken.  Like 10 pounds.  Essentially a small turkey.  It was also a Perdue chicken, which is usually more expensive (per pound) than the alternative store-brand chicken (despite the fact that they are both made of chicken).  Say what you will about steroids – they work.  The pre-Coco Trust me would have just gone out and bought a giant chicken whenever the mood struck me and cooked it.  It would have been great, and that would have been that.

But, because I now actively look for savings to transfer over to Coco (and because the chicken is the subject of a Coco Trust blog post), there is more to the story than just going out and buying a chicken.  The chicken helped Coco get coupon savings transferred into his Trust.  A while back, I discovered a “Manager’s Special” meat section of the grocery store.  I say “discovered,” but it’s not like it was hidden; it’s right in the middle of all the other meats.

Unlike this delicious flounder, which is very well hidden.
Unlike this delicious flounder, which is very well hidden.

I had seen that section in the past, but never paid much attention to it, always buying meat from the regular section.  After I started managing the Coco Trust, though, I gave this section a second look and discovered that everything in this section is marked down either 30% or 50%.  And, it had a nice cross-section of every meat the store offered.  Better still, those savings show up as coupons on the receipt.

That is an important point; I don’t put into the Coco Trust “savings” that come solely from using a store loyalty card.  I figure only a moron would go grocery shopping without a store loyalty card, so the non-loyalty price isn’t a price anyone would actually pay.  I concluded that because even I used the store loyalty card before starting the Coco Trust.  And if I was wise to something, I have to assume that everyone already knew about it.

But, the manager’s specials are actually scanned as coupons, and I have to make a special effort to shop in that section, so those savings meet the criteria as set forth in the principles of the Coco Trust.  I was leery at first, thinking the manager in question was offloading nearly-spoiled meat.  I  was pleasantly surprised, then, to find that the meat was perfectly fine.  I use it or freeze it for later just like any other meat, and have never had a problem.

And so it came to pass that I found 10-pound Perdue chickens in the Manager’s Special section at 50% off.  I bought three – one to make that night and two to make later.  The one in the photograph is from tonight and I still have one in the freezer.  I learned from the cashier that the store had ordered too much and had to get rid of it.  There happened to be a perfect storm brewing that day because I had a coupon for $1 off two Perdue chicken products.  I would have bought them anyway, but that just made it sweeter.

So, for $10, I got the equivalent of at least six chicken meals (I can freeze some, make casseroles or pot pies with some, and so forth).  And Coco got about $31 in coupons out of the deal (50% off of three $20 chickens, plus a $1 coupon).

Vehicle Expenses and Planks in the Eye…

I recently read an interesting blog article titled “How to Choose the Right Type of Car (Without Wasting Money)” by “Mr. Money Wizard“.  I’m not in the market for a car, but there was a section of the post about the costs associated with pickup trucks that resonated with thoughts I have when I travel back to my hometown.  In fact, I even left a comment on the post (that may have been the first time I have ever left a comment on anything I read on the Internet, now that I think about it).

I recently traveled back to my hometown and was reminded again of the truck phenomenon.  No matter how many times I visit, I never cease to be amazed at the number of large trucks being driven around.  When I say “large trucks,” I don’t just mean the kind of four-door, extended bed, tricked-out-bumper-and-exhaust-package models from the factory (though you see those, too).  Rather, there are an inordinate number equipped  with aftermarket lift kits and oversize tires.

Just going to drive my giant truck on down to the grocery store...
Just going to head on down to the grocery store…

Some of these vehicles get less than 15 mpg before you add the oversize tires and lift kits (even the 2017 flex fuel Toyota Tundra (4WD, 8-cylinder, 5.7-liter automatic) only gets 15 mpg).  Adding the tires and lift kits, and, given the way I see many people driving, I suspect some of the larger ones are getting 10 mpg or less.  And this is in a place where things are spread out and people drive a lot.

It’s none of my business and I shouldn’t judge, but most of the people driving these vehicles don’t seem like they have closets full of excess money to waste on fuel, expensive tires, requisite inflammatory bumper stickers, etc.).  And I can’t help but think of how much money they could save if they simply adopted a Coco Trust-style mentality and downsized their vehicle expenses and put the saved expenses into a dedicated account.

I did a super-quick calculation to compare a 32-mpg Honda Civic with a 10-mpg souped-up truck, driving 15,000 miles per year at $2 per gallon, and the difference is over $2,000 per year.  Combine that with money saved on expensive tires, custom exhaust systems, and so forth, and Coco is salivating at the thought of the thousands of dollars that could be put aside each year.

Of course, my cursory study probably neglects important considerations.  Maybe without a giant truck, you’d be subject to ridicule and find yourself friendless and without a romantic partner.  A big stack of money wouldn’t be that meaningful to most people if they had to sit at home in the quiet with no friends or lovers to pass the time with (that actually sounds pretty pleasant to me, but I’m sort of weird).  Nevertheless, as a purely financial consideration, I hadn’t stopped to think about just how much more money the people driving those trucks were choosing to spend each year, compared to someone driving a more pedestrian vehicle.  Pun intended – that’s what passes for humor here at Coco Trust Headquarters.

Fine, here's a little professionally-developed museum humor for you.
Fine, here’s a little professionally-developed museum humor for you.

Sadly, I have no truck to get rid of and replace with a smaller car, so Coco will not realize any gains from such low-hanging fruit.  But, enough of my criticisms.  As the scriptures advise, I should get rid of the plank in my own eye before criticizing the speck in someone else’s.  That means that I should look at myself objectively and see what foolish expenses I have, but don’t recognize, before I hastily judge others for their expenses that I consider wasteful.  And then put the excess into Coco’s Trust, of course.

Let me think on that...
Let me think on that…

Free Money…

I walked through the lobby at work the other day and noticed several booths being set up.  A cursory investigation revealed that there was an event going on where various vendors were setting up booths and giving out trinkets and informational packages.  So, at lunch I found someone who also didn’t have anything going on and we went to see what was what.

It turned out to be pretty interesting.  The event was health-related, so all the booths had something to do with that theme.  I ended up getting various free promotional items, such as an apple, two toothbrushes, some dental floss, eyeglass cleaning cloths, and so on.  I also got some free health screenings to confirm that I am on a fast road to an early grave.  I took a bagful of literature because I felt bad just taking all the loot (an insurance company gave me the bag).  The literature ranged from a diagram of the proper amounts of various types of foods to eat each day (it was suspiciously lacking in anything that ever walked or swam), to admonitions that having even an eyedropper of booze per day indicates a drinking problem.

Though we can all agree that having only an eyedropper of booze is a problem.
Though we can all agree that having only an eyedropper of booze is a problem.

I gamely listened to the stern lectures from health professionals at the booths while slipping swag into my free bag, when I happened upon a booth offering free money.  Really.  It was a booth for a credit union, and the free money wasn’t even what I noticed first.  Rather, there was a sign advertising a certificate of deposit at over 3%.  In a world of perilously low interest rates, I had to find out more.

I assumed the rate would only be for 100-year CDs, but instead I learned that it was good on both three-month and seven-year CDs.  Two marketing professionals were at the booth.  They didn’t need to advertise themselves as marketers rather than financiers – their answers to my questions did that.  When I asked how their institution could offer rates that high, one said that they were a multi-billion dollar institution with a lot of customers.  That answer dissuaded me from asking any follow-up questions (such as, “then, with above-market rates, doesn’t your size mean you’ll be losing money faster?”).  Who am I to argue with a professional?

Let me explain again how finance works...
Let me explain again how finance works…

In any case, I was interrogating them about the CD rates when the free money came up.  One rep mentioned that if you opened an account that day, they would fund it with $25.  After ensuring there were no catches (such as a $25-per-month account maintenance fee), I signed up.

Since then, I have verified that it’s a real credit union (I thought maybe a couple of enterprising identity thieves had sneaked in and set up a stand for a too-good-to-be-true credit union).  It even has a good financial health rating, despite its CD rates.  It has sort of a penny-ante user experience – I had to call twice to get the online account set up – but it is real at least, as is the $25 in my account.

I’m working on how to treat this for Coco Trust purposes.  The money obviously counts as unexpected income, which I will direct toward Coco.  But, it’ll be tedious to check the account balance each month, only to record the world’s tiniest interest gain (which might even be paid quarterly).  Closing the account and just taking the money seems like too slippery a thing to do (especially to an institution naive enough not to have a rule saying you can’t close your account and withdraw the money until a set length of time has passed).  I have a little while before the next accounting to decide how to treat it.  Until then, I will be content with the free $25 and hope I’m not missing something.

Let me just reach into this crocodile's mouth and grab my free money...
Let me just reach in here and grab my free money…

 

Mindset…

Maintaining the Coco Trust over the past year has been an interesting experiment, with the most notable aspect being the changed mindset that developed along with it.  Rather than finding the process tedious or burdensome, it is a game that I look forward to.

I like tracking the amounts transferred to the Trust.  I like the weekly transfers and monthly accounting.  I like reviewing the metrics, such as how the monthly addition compares to the overall running average.  Through the Coco Trust, the process of identifying ways to save money became a game.  Games are fun, and, when something is fun, it becomes something you want to do – not something you have to do.

For instance, I could probably count on two fingers the number of times I had used coupons before starting the Coco Trust.  I couldn’t have found a coupon if I had a coupon-sniffing dog.  I also wasn’t really sure how to use them, and had an image of myself going to the register, only to have the cashier and fellow customers laugh at my naivete for thinking the ridiculous coupon I had would actually work.  Even if coupons actually worked, I couldn’t be bothered to sit around and cut them out or add them to an app.

But, once I started the Coco Trust, I started enjoying sitting down and playing the game of looking for coupons that I could use.  And, since I spend a lot of time sitting idly around anyway, flipping through some coupons wasn’t sucking valuable time away from important tasks like writing the great American novel, reviving an ancient language, or working on my doomsday device.

Earth on fire.
We all need hobbies.

Coupons are only one example; every element of finding savings to transfer over to Coco became fun.  Rather than something I had to do, it was something I wanted to do and looked forward to doing.  The recent post about selling my piano on Letgo is the most recent example.  In years past, I would have just given it away or settled for donating it for a tax deduction.  But, the changed mindset caused me to look for another, more lucrative avenue, and, importantly, actually saving proceeds from that avenue instead of immediately buying something else.

That change in mindset was probably the reason the first year of the Coco Trust was fairly successful, and why I continue to maintain it.