Books read in September 2012

Yes!  Only five books read!  This month has a nice selection of fiction/non/mystery/play and even a frustrated surrender.

Neil Gaiman
Matt and I read aloud.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a Neil Gaiman book and this was a nice introduction.  I loved the London setting and the fantasy element was just right.

Broken Habor
Tana French
This was another great Tana French novel, I would probably rank it second on the list. (Here’s my rundown:  The Likeness; Broken Harbor; In the Woods; Faithful Place) I had great empathy for the main character and loved how French knows just how to twist the plot at just the right moment.

The Man Who Quit Money
Mark Sundeen
Interesting insight into a guy who hasn’t used money since the early 2000s.

The Crying Tree
Naseem Rakha
Read for Kenton Book Group
This was an okay book, mostly it was a relief to be able to read it after attempting and giving up on the September selection and slogging through–though ultimately loving–the August selection.  In comparison to Midnight’s Children and Jane Eyre, this was a breeze.  I found the writing to be so-so in places, and I sometimes found the characters a bit cliched, but it was a good enough book.

10/16/12–This just in!  Thanks to the Library, our book group was visited by Naseem Rakha, the author of the book and she was rather mesmerizing.  Listening to her talk about her experiences as a reporter and her experiences with people surrounding the death penalty issue gave me a deeper appreciation of the book.  Thanks to the Library and thanks to Ms. Rakha for talking tonight.

Measure for Measure
Wm. Shakespeare
Boy howdy, but I have completely fallen off the horse on the “read before you see” project as we watched Northwest Classical Theater company perform this in the spring.  I did not love this play, with so much moral quandary and double crossing.

Started and did not finish
Midnight’s Children
Soloman Rushdie
Book Group Selection.
I’ve not read any Rushdie before and I still haven’t read any.  I made it to page 94 before giving up.  The prose was too dense, the setting too foreign, the plot too plodding.  Except for one person, the other eight of us in the group didn’t finish this book.  I’ve heard Rushdie’s essays are good, perhaps I will investigate those.

Three sentence movie reviews: 10 Years

Like nearly every movie I’ve watched that stars Channing Tatum, this was much better than expected.  It was free of poop, gratuitous sex, and possibly profanity (my filter isn’t very good in that realm anymore) and was populated with solid actors (I went home and looked up all of them, saying repeatedly, “Oh yes! I remember him/her!”) and interlocking stories.  Though some of the plots fell apart upon reflection, ultimately this was just a tremendously nice movie, which I mean in the best possible way.

Cost:  $10.50 (I know!  But Channing Tatum calls.)

Where watched:  Regal Fox Tower.  It was me and one other guy and that was it.  I can’t even remember the last time I was so alone in a theater.

poster from:

ps.  This movie has a forgettable title and probably the worst poster I’ve seen all year.

Essay: Patricia’s Money Philosophy Series. Part IV of IV: Tracking & Involving Others.

I believe in paying attention to your money.  I think that how you care for it and what you
spend it on make a difference—not only for your own piece of mind, but also in
the context of the universe and energy and whatnot.  Money ignored is money that won’t be around
for long.  So here’s an incredibly long
and detailed four-part series about how I manage my money.  To see the entire series look for the tag

I devote time to tracking
my money
My money management system is overkill.  I know this. But it brings me comfort to keep
an eye on my cash.  Please keep in mind
that if you develop a system to regularly manage your finances, it need not be
this complex.
I keep track of my accounts two ways:  the analog method and the digital
method.  I still have checkbooks and
savings account registers which I fill in with pencil and use a calculator to
do the addition and subtraction for me. 
My early pledge to always figure my checkbook transactions in my brain
led to many hours of fixing addition and subtraction errors before I decided to
depend on technology to keep my sanity in this area.
I also use a computer program to keep track of the activity
on my accounts, but also to tally my budget and keep track of how much money I
have in each spending category.  My
software program of choice for many years was “Microsoft Money” which came free
on a computer I bought in 2001.  I used
this in conjunction with a spreadsheet from the Simple Dollar to keep track of
my budget spending amounts.  This changed
when Microsoft decided to not continue updating the Money program and I bought
YNAB (You Need a Budget, pronounced “Why Nab”). 
YNAB keeps track of my daily spending, helps me adjust my budget each
month, as well as keeps track of category spending levels.  It’s a really amazing program and I highly
recommend it.  It was a bit of an
investment ($60.00) but has saved me time and is easy to use.
Here’s what my money tracking looks like.
Ideally, I check in (hah!) daily with my checking and
savings accounts and update them.  Actually
this happens about one to three times per week. 
First, I check my electronic statement from my bank and update the
pen-and-paper checking account and update all the math in the register.  I used to use a physical calculator to do
this once upon a time, but then eventually realized that there was a calculator
on my computer and I use it instead. 
Lately, I’ve set up an Excel spreadsheet to do the math for me because I
find I make fewer mistakes if can see a string of entries and what I have typed
in for the number.  I also use this time
to check off anything that has cleared the bank.  I don’t check it off using the official
column where you check off items used for monthly statements, instead I make a
checkmark on the line that divides the transaction description line and the
payment amount.  This helps me keep track
of how much money is actually in the account. 
It also lets me know when I’ve entered something in the wrong checkbook,
or paid cash for something and written it down in the checking account.  When everything around the item has been
pre-checked off, and that one still has not, I start thinking more deeply about
how the transaction was transacted. This part takes five minutes if I’ve kept
up with the accounts or it can take longer if I’ve been neglecting my baking tasks.
After that is done, I do any transfers necessary.  I have two checking accounts and a savings
account and the boyfriend and I have two checking accounts so there are usually
transfers to do.  The reason I (and we)
have two checking accounts is because of Mary Hunt.  Hunt advocates for a regular checking account
for all the regular purchases you pay monthly (Groceries, student loan
payments, mortgage) and then a Freedom account where you regularly transfer
monthly amounts of money for things that you don’t pay monthly, but come more
intermittently. Think car insurance, vacation expenses and—in Portland—the
Water/Sewer bill which only happens every three months, for some unknown reason.  We used to keep track of these amounts on a
spreadsheet or ledger and then pay the bills when they intermittently arrive.  Having two checking accounts keeps a person
from the psychological mistake of thinking, “Oh, I suddenly have an extra
$200.00, I can buy that overcoat I’ve been wanting) and then spending your car
insurance payment on said coat, leaving you scrambling for money when the
insurance bill arrives.  I’ve also found
that having two checking accounts means fewer errors in computation.  However, the budget/money management software
I currently use manages the category spending amounts so well that it eliminates
the need for more than one checking account. 
But we soldier on with two.
The transfers I do between my own accounts are generally one
big transfer at the beginning of the month to move my Freedom money over from
checking.  I’m paid once per month which
is tough until you get used to it, and then it seems normal.  The advantage of once-per-month pay is that
what is there at the beginning of the month needs to last until the last day of
the month whether the month is 28, 30 or 31 days.  It’s also handy because most people are
taught to budget monthly and the money arrives with the beginning (or end) of
the month.
Our joint checking accounts do not have debit cards attached
to them.  When we set them up we opted to
opt out of that technology as the things the joint checking pays for all work
well with checks and I didn’t want the extra confusion of us both having debit
cards or us trying to manage one debit card together. You will hear more of
these categories in the last segment of the series when I talk about how we
manage our money jointly.  Transfers
between joint accounts and my own happen most often when we go out to dinner
and I use my debit card to pay for the dinner. 
In that case, the dinner gets charged to the account “Money Loaned—For
Home” and I make a note in another spreadsheet of transfers to do.
I’ve found that for some reason, making transfers is my
biggest stumbling block in keeping the checking account running smoothly.  I have to force myself to do it and I’m not
sure why.  Perhaps it is because I am
miserly to my core, with hints of a spendthrift who pops out now and then, and I
don’t like to see any money leaving my account. 
Plus, there is room for error. I might transfer from the wrong account
into the wrong account leaving me with more transfers to make to put things
right.  When it’s time to transfer, I
take a deep breath and give myself a good mental push.
After that, I type the information from my paper and pencil
ledger in to YNAB, my money management program. 
After entering each transaction, I compare register balances to ensure
my math is correct.  This helps
tremendously to catch computation errors and it’s the main reason I keep both a
paper and pencil record and an electronic record.  Once that is done and all computer account
totals match paper account totals I am done. 
If I’m keeping up on a regular basis, this daily routine takes fifteen
minutes or less. If I’ve fallen behind it takes longer.  Sometimes I devote a bigger chunk of time to
catch up, other times I set a timer for 15 minutes and work several days in a
Monthly, I have some other things to do.  At the end of the month, right after I am
paid, I make sure all my transactions for the month are entered in the
register, and I count my cash to see what I haven’t correctly recorded this
month.  I have chosen to keep track of my
cash as if it was a checking account, and reconciling the difference at the end
of the month.  This means I count my change
every month.  I realize that most people
would find that a bit much, but I have always loved stacking and rolling coins
and because it gives me great comfort I do it monthly.  I’m usually off in my cash account by a few
dollars, but I put those into the Cash register in the category “missing money”
and then subtract the amount from my Random Fun Things to Do category.  I only keep track of cash in my electronic
software, I’m not quite so obsessive to also use a paper register.
Once the cash is reconciled and the checking accounts are
updated, I look at a report in the budget software that tells me my income and
expenses amount.  These numbers get
transferred to a separate spreadsheet which has income and expenses, as well as
account balances at the end of the month. 
Looking at this spreadsheet I can see my account balance total for the
month as well as the monthly difference between income and expenses, which
ideally would be a positive number, indicating a bit of savings each month, but
is not.  This is mostly because of some
big-spending months (the time around Christmas for instance, or, when I am
taking college courses, when tuition is due) when I am spending down categories
in which I have budgeted larger amounts. 
Businesses avoid these fluctuations by depreciating things, but my budget
is already complex enough.
I’ve involved my
When the boyfriend and I moved in together the first thing
we did was open up a joint checking account. 
People who know me and my feminist self, are sometimes surprised that I
have a joint checking account with my partner, but I agree with Suze Orman and
she thinks having a joint checking account is a good idea.  Here’s why. 
We both have retained our own money that we may spend however we please.  We pay our joint expenses into an account
once per month which makes it easy to pay our bills.  It also allows us to adjust what we pay based
who makes more money.
Right now, Matt and I are pretty even in salary.  He pays 53% of our total joint expenses into
our account and I pay 47%.  However,
figuring your total joint expenses and dividing the total by percentage is one
of the better pieces of advice for couples I’ve seen.  What if suddenly one of us gets a high-paying
job and is making much more than the partner? 
Would it be fair for someone making $100,000 per year pay 50% of joint
expenses when the other partner is making $25,000 per year?  No.  So
if the couple’s joint expenses were $1,000 per month (probably not likely, but
I’m using this example for the ease of the math) and each were paying an equal
percentage of their own salary into their joint account, the person making
$100,000 would pay $750.00 per month and the other person would pay $250.00 per
month.  Both are contributing equally to
the joint living expenses and each partner still has their own money for their
own expenses.
The second thing that happened is that we established what
our joint expenses would be.  The current
categories are:
Food—we currently buy our own groceries, but this pays for
our fruit delivery and for about one meal out together per month.
Mortgage, land lease fee—Because we bought our house through
a land trust, we pay a small amount each month for the land our house sits on,
as well as a maintenance reserve.
Phone—Matt has a cell phone, which he pays for himself, but
we both still use the landline so this is still a joint expense.  It’s also part of our internet expense as we
get our internet through a local provider who also contracts with our phone
Supplies—the things in the house we both use including soap,
detergent, toilet paper etc.
Water/sewer—Portland combines these two expenses into one
bill, for better or worse.
Furniture/decoration—the category appeared when we bought a
house.  We’re set on the furniture, and this
is mostly toward decoration at this point.
Garbage—we both make the garbage and so we both pay it.
Insurance, Life—This is another category which appeared with
the house.  When we bought it, we took
out a joint term life policy for $200,000 so if one of us dies we can pay off
the balance and have some money left over as a cushion.  This is a pretty small amount for a life
insurance policy, but our mortgage was not very much, we both work outside the
home and we have no children.  If any of
those things were different our policy would be much more.
Insurance, House—back when we rented, this was renters
Yard—a nominal amount is paid each month for expenses
related to the yard.  This includes new
plants, or straw to put down.  Someday it
might include gravel for the paths in the yard or bricks for a paved walk down
the side yard.
Alarm—this category appeared after our house was broken into.  We budgeted to pay for the alarm,
but never actually got around to activating the alarm system and so the money
eventually went to buy our new washer and dryer.
Vacation—for our joint vacations, this account is
underfunded, but perhaps will expand as we continue to work and ideally, get
Dates—for joint dates such as plays and the like.
Cleaning—each month we combine our money into a $50.00
pot.  During the month we keep track of
the chores we do to keep the house running and at the end of the month we tally
our efforts and then pay out an amount to each of us based on the points split.
It is both of our goals to get back more money than we put in.  I then use this money to fund my Random Fun
Things to Do category.
Another category of our budget is what I have termed
“floater” which is our joint savings account for the house.  Various sources recommend homeowners save
various amounts per year for big maintenance projects such as a new roof or
painting the house.  Our current
“floater” amount saved is just under 10% of our total combined expenses.  This way we have joint savings and I have
individual savings.
We meet regularly to
pay our bills.
This was an idea from various sources such as Steven Covey,
Suze Ormond and my friend Kelly.  Matt
and I meet most Sunday evenings to check in with each other about the state of
our relationship, plan time together and to manage the household expenses.  I think it’s especially important to do this
if one partner would entirely be in the dark about finances and what bills
should be paid if the other partner became incapacitated.  We have a regular agenda which means that we
regularly pay into our joint account, the bills are paid in a timely manner and
both of us share in this task.  I’m
confident that if I were to be hit by a bus Matt could carry on with the
finances side until I rejoined him.
So that’s my financial system.  It has evolved over the years and will
continue to evolve and change as needs arise. 
For many, my process is labyrinthine and complex and overwhelming, but I
believe that everyone can develop a financial system that works for them.  Your money deserves your attention and care
and you will feel peace of mind.

Three sentence movie reviews: The Hurt Locker

I knew this would be a tense film and I didn’t want it to keep me up late at night on a school night, so I came prepared with knitting to distract me.  This was a fine film, with fabulous performances by all and some excellent cinematography.  I’m quite glad it won best picture, even if it did take me over two years to see for myself.

Cost:  free from library
Where watched: at home.

Essay: Patricia’s Money Philosophy Series. Part III of IV: Learning & Saving

I believe in paying attention to your money.  I think that how you care for it and what you spend it on make a difference—not only for your own piece of mind, but also in the context of the universe and energy and whatnot.  Money ignored is money that won’t be around for long.  So here’s an incredibly long and detailed four-part series about how I manage my money.  To see the entire series look for the tag “Money.”

I learn
When I was first out in the world on my own, I started reading heaps of personal money management books.  It got so I would just wander over to the section of the Dewy Decimal System in the library to see if there was something I hadn’t read that caught my interest. Most of them say the same thing in different ways, so after you’ve read five, you can move into skimming mode once you hit say, the “how to budget” section.  From time to time I dip back in if a book interests me.  I’ve gleaned good advice from these books, and all for free.  Thank you, public library system.
If you are looking for somewhere to start I recommend Your Money or Your Life, All Your Worth by Warren and Tyagi. I have also found the debt-free philosophy of Mary Hunt to be inspiring.  Also, anything by Suze Ormon is good.  You can also follow my example and find the personal finance section at your local library and choose books at random.
I save
Since my first job in high school, I’ve always put some percentage of money aside.  Not that the money has always gone toward my far-future. In fact, the savings from that first job financed my personal spending in college.  I’ve saved various percentages of income over the years, from as little as $50.00 per month during the grim, incredibly boring and low-paying job I got after graduate school all the way up to 20% of my net pay in a brief heady time when I finished paying
for my certificate program and other things hadn’t cropped up.  With all that saving, I’m probably sitting on a pretty big pile of cash right now, right?
Not so much.  Though it’s a bigger pile then I’ve ever had.
In my mind, “saving money” is a particular thing where you put money aside and never, ever touch that money so it grows and grows until you retire when you can use it.  I’ve never met that standard with my savings.  A graph of my savings account over the last ten years would show peaks and valleys.  For instance, I saved over $5,000 to fund my move from Massachusetts to Portland.  Well done!
Those were the years where I had no debt and my living expenses were quite low.  I made the most of my savings, concerned about the many potential expenses that could crop up during the move.  So the move took up $2,200.00 of
the savings and the subsequent unemployment while looking for work ate away at some of the rest.  I took on temporary work and the company hired me and I had a brief period of saving until I entered graduate school.
Beginning with graduate school, I began to draw down the savings.  This was not an easy time for me.  Once, while once again withdrawing money from savings, I sighed while handing over my paperwork.  The bank teller inquired as to what was wrong.
“I hate having to pull money out of savings.” I told him.
“But that’s the point of savings accounts,” he replied, “so you can draw from them when you need them.”
This concept was exactly the opposite of my “put money in account never touching it until you retire” savings concept, but I had to conclude that he was right.  Without that savings account I would have exited graduate school with not only student loan debt, but also credit card debt.  It’s always better when you can be your own emergency credit card and I still hear that bank teller’s words from time to time today.
So the savings account was humbled by graduate school, but the six months of unemployment following graduate school made an ever bigger dent.  I counted on steady temporary work, as I always had found in the past, but temp work didn’t materialize over the summer.  Nor did any jobs.  The temporary work picked up in the late autumn, giving me a new appreciation for the paycheck incredibly mundane tasks provides.  Then I made a rather large financial mistake and took a job I was extremely overqualified for.
In my year and a half as a secretary, I went slowly crazy, both from boredom and disgust at my pay rate.  I was paid less than $10.00 per hour, which at the time was only a few dollars over Oregon minimum wage.  I’ve never had to watch my finances so closely.  My rent took nearly half of my gross pay and I shopped carefully for everything.  If I had loved the job, or even liked it, I would have done these things happily, but there was little work to do at my workplace and that made the scrimping even more grim.  I was barely putting anything aside, and my goal to save $5,000 was being fed by a trickle of $50.00 per month.  I didn’t want to do the math to see how long that would take.
Things improved when my boyfriend and I moved in together.  The rent we paid together on our one bedroom was only a bit more than I paid on my studio and sharing expenses really gave me some breathing room. I eventually landed my current job, which came with an $8,000 per year pay raise and my savings could begin again in earnest.  Over the last six years, the graph of savings has been more of a steady upward climb, though it has dipped now and again, as
things have cropped up.  I accept those dips, and set my course to recover the savings as soon as I am able.

Three sentence movie reviews: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

This was much better than I remember it* and fun in an incredibly embryonic Joss Whedon way.  First of all, it’s totally the “girl gains her power” story I keep complaining there aren’t any of in the movie world and it also provided me with the bonus that fashion in the movie coincided with my high school fashion years so I know that I wasn’t being weird when I wore a dress with dorky shoes and socks, that was actually a fashion forward move on my part.  Also, I have now been reminded what that Luke Perry thing was all about.

Cost: free from library
Where watched: at home.

*I can clearly recall that I found it to be “kind of weird.” when I saw it during high school.  And maybe Ms. Sterner and I saw this together? Maybe at Overland Park?

“we think you will be too!”

My whole life the newspaper people have been changing around the paper which drives me out of my mind. On top of switching up things that are just fine they way they are is that they always say something to the effect of, “And we think you will love it too!”

Um, no.  It makes no sense to me to put the “living” stuff with the “travel” stuff and make the “arts” stuff separate.  The former section with the “living” and “arts” together with a separate “travel” section was working just fine for me.  But clearly someone needed to justify keeping their job, or needed a promotion or something, so I will roll with it until you change things up again and I get annoyed all over again.

Three sentence movie reviews: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Having never seen this movie on the big screen, I was happy to spend a Sunday afternoon seeing Harrison Ford in the glory days before he developed his wattles.  The movie holds up pretty well and it’s an interesting contrast to see Action Adventure before CGI (like in this movie) compared to the previous night’s viewing which was all CGI.  Also, Karen Allen is the best Indiana Jones heroine.

Cost:  $8.50
Where watched:  Regal Lloyd Cinema 10

Three sentence movie reviews: The Avengers

I greatly enjoyed this movie when we saw it in May, but if you had asked me to recount the plot to you, I would have only been able to stammer “Uh, it’s pretty funny.  Um, and. Uh.”  Watching it this time was an experience of repeatedly thinking “oh yes!  I remember this part, this was quite enjoyable.”  I think it was the frantic pace that caused the post-viewing amnesia in that I was all in during, but there was so much that happened my brain just got overwhelmed and forgot it all.

Cost:  $3.00
Where watched:  Portlander Inn Cinema. (at the Jubitz truck stop)

(I was looking for one with Agent Colson on it, but no dice.)