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Old 03-25-2010, 03:59 PM   #101
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... My $31 electric bill ...
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$31 electric bill this time of year?
Just for perspective, I don't think $31 is so remarkably low for one person.

Our 'off-season' electric bills get down below $70/mo, and that is with 3 to 4 people, so ~ $18-$24/month per person. Connection fees are fixed (~$10 for us), so not exactly apples-to-apples, but still kinda interesting ball-park-wise.

~ $0.10 per KWH here, another variable.

And only one of those people in our house is any good at remembering to turn off a light when they leave the room

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Old 03-25-2010, 04:17 PM   #102
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Just for perspective, I don't think $31 is so remarkably low for one person.

Our 'off-season' electric bills get down below $70/mo, and that is with 3 to 4 people, so ~ $18-$24/month per person. Connection fees are fixed (~$10 for us), so not exactly apples-to-apples, but still kinda interesting ball-park-wise.

~ $0.10 per KWH here, another variable.

And only one of those people in our house is any good at remembering to turn off a light when they leave the room
Yes, ours is never much more than $40-45 in winter and in spring/fall when the a/c and heat aren't running, they usually drop into the $30's. I think we have a $10 connection fee and $0.075 to 0.085 per kwh. Some months we don't use more than a little over 300 kWh. 4 people in a leaky old house. Natural gas for heating (hence low elec bills in winter).
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Old 03-25-2010, 04:26 PM   #103
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I really try to do my best but I also spend way less than Firecalc says and I usually have a surplus of $10,000 in my budget at the end of the year . Any suggestions on how I should spend it ?
Adopt me? I'm housebroken.
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Old 03-25-2010, 04:39 PM   #104
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I don't do explicit expense tracking. My days of spreadsheets and money expenditure tracking are OVER.
However, I figured out what it takes for us to live here, i.e. no discretionary categories included but with a built-in surplus margin based on maximum expenses when gasoline prices were $4/gal.
We both ante up 1/2 the amount needed on alternating Fridays, deposit it in the joint checking account, and let the autobill paying service of the credit union do its thing.
If we want to do something extra, then we can either both kick in more $ or use the surplus already built into the monthly minimal amount. Or do without.
I run a tight ship.
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Old 03-25-2010, 05:20 PM   #105
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Just for perspective, I don't think $31 is so remarkably low for one person.
If you re-read the thread, you will probably notice that the only person who did think that was low was Aaron. Aaron is living in what is probably the coldest part of the U.S. with electric heat and probably that explains his surprise.
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Old 03-25-2010, 06:09 PM   #106
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My real concern is that I have budget/expense data from 4-5 years ago pre-kids and I have no idea how close our current spending is to the old spending. And then there is the lifestyle creep, changed priorities, inflation, etc to deal with.
I tracked my expenses for years via the pen & pencil route . It did help me realize some of my expenses that needed to be trimmed . We have five grandchildren between my SO & I and five children & five spouses or SO's so we were always having to give presents . We started limiting the amount on the presents . It takes a little planning and coupon use but no one really noticed the difference . The other thing we did was start shopping at more than one grocery store for their specials . I was shocked that this trimmed $30 weekly off our grocery bills and since we are retired it's no big deal to do . I also planned my errands more efficiently and that has cut my gas usage . These were all simple fixes and they really made a difference without affecting our life style .
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Old 03-25-2010, 11:46 PM   #107
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...there is an easy way to pay cash and track expenses in Quicken more specifically than just a catchall "cash" category. For categories I use every month, I use the "envelope system" ....and record the ATM withdrawal as a "split" transaction in Quicken.(snip).
To each their own of course, but I shudder thinking about the envelope method! It sounds harder than using a credit card and just copy/pasting transactions...
Then it sounds harder than it really is. I only have five envelopes—groceries, gas, food at work, cat costs, and miscellaneous. The last three of those usually only get used once a month, and I could probably use my debit card for those categories without overspending.
I'm curious how this is implemented. For example, food at work - if you run out to lunch with coworkers and spend $7 on lunch, when do you take the money out of the envelope? Do you follow strict rules about envelope management? As in you forget to grab $40 for groceries from the proper envelope in the morning and you had planned to stop by the store on the way home. Do you still stop by and spend the $40, and then just reimburse your pocket cash from the grocery envelope?

I don't mean to be patronizing, I'm just curious how this system is implemented in practice. Maybe I really am not understanding the simplicity of the system. It just seems somewhat more complicated than using a single credit/debit card (or three). Is the motivation primarily emotional spending control that you would lose with a bottomless CC?
To answer your questions one by one, for everything but gas, I take the money out of the envelope when somebody says to me, "that'll be $4.95 please". For gas, I take the money out first and say, "I'd like $15 on pump number four, please".

I am not terribly strict about envelope management. I don't use paper envelopes, I have some little pouches that I use for each category, but any sort of change purse would work. Generally speaking, I carry the "lunch" pouch in my pants pocket, and the "gas" and "cat costs" ones live inside the console in my car. I have two pouches for "groceries" and two for "misc". One of each lives in my tote bag that I carry practically everywhere, and the others live in the car. So only rarely do I find myself somewhere without the right envelope, but if I do, I have been known to "rob Peter to pay Paul". Usually I reimburse when I get home, but if it's close to the end of the month I may just say "what the heck".

My motivation for using the envelope system is to test-drive my pension. I've tried to estimate my expenses, but I think the best way to see how much money you need is to pick out an amount and try living on it. The budget amounts are based on the pension I would have been eligible for if I had retired last year. My original plan was to use "this year's" pension every year, but due to budget cuts, City employees have ten days off without pay this year, so after maxing my retirement savings I don't have enough money left to spend based on the pension I would have received this year. So, I am accomplishing two things: I give a real-world test to living on my pension, and I make sure I don't short my retirement savings. But I think this method would work for anyone who for any reason needs or wants to keep within a definite budget.

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and I wouldn't get the random cashback rewards check of $50-250.
True, you wouldn't. I don't use credit cards and haven't for years, so this is a non-issue for me.
This is something that perplexes me. Why not take advantage of a free 1-5% of everything you spend, the consumer protections of anti-fraud, chargebacks for consumer disputes with a merchant, plus a month or two of interest free loans in the meantime? I assume you could incorporate credit card usage with envelopes by immediately transferring money from the proper envelope to a sixth envelope labeled "credit card bill". That way you know to stop using the CC if you deplete a particular envelope's funds.
I don't use credit cards for two reasons. The first is I just don't trust the credit industry. I remember years ago when I was unemployed for over two years during the early 80's recession, I was taking home less than $700 a month (unemployment benefit, temporary assignments when I could get them, and later a part time job in a fabric store) Paying $250 in rent and $117 on a car. And all that time I was still getting credit card offers in the mail. My thought at the time was "if you want to loan me money in the lousy financial shape I'm in, you've got to be out of your ever-lovin' mind!" Ever since then I have thought there's something fishy about the whole business. That was before I ever heard about people being bled white with credit card debt, raising interest rates retroactively and all the other scummy practices of the industry. Thank God I have never been there! The only thing I've ever owed five figures on is my house, and that's the only thing I've owed any money for more than fifteen years—probably twenty (though I did refinance the house to replace my car in 2006). I got caught with about $400 on my credit card when I got laid off, and it stayed there for years. It was as much as I could do, and sometimes more than I could do, just to make the minimum payments. Later, when I finally found a job, I got a big tax refund one year and was wondering what to do with the money....should I invest it, or what? (this was long before I had any ideas about ER) Then I thought of paying off my credit card. That's what I did, and you could say I've been making 18% on that tax refund ever since. My opinion is, credit cards are a rigged game, played with a stacked deck against a crooked dealer, and I'm not going there. I'm really looking forward to being retired and totally debt-free for the rest of my life. YMMV.

The other reason is, I know myself, and based on that knowledge I am pretty sure that eventually I would be late on a payment and get hit with the high interest, punitive fees etc. Then I would be mad at myself for being so dumb
Plus, I'd have to pay the credit card company a bunch of money I'd rather spend on something else, and likely as not wipe out any rewards I might have gotten before I messed up. I'm just not interested.
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Old 03-26-2010, 09:17 AM   #108
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To answer your questions one by one, for everything but gas, I take the money out of the envelope when somebody says to me, "that'll be $4.95 please". For gas, I take the money out first and say, "I'd like $15 on pump number four, please".

I am not terribly strict about envelope management. I don't use paper envelopes, I have some little pouches that I use for each category, but any sort of change purse would work. Generally speaking, I carry the "lunch" pouch in my pants pocket, and the "gas" and "cat costs" ones live inside the console in my car. I have two pouches for "groceries" and two for "misc". One of each lives in my tote bag that I carry practically everywhere, and the others live in the car. So only rarely do I find myself somewhere without the right envelope, but if I do, I have been known to "rob Peter to pay Paul". Usually I reimburse when I get home, but if it's close to the end of the month I may just say "what the heck".
Thanks for the explanation. Sounds like a little bit of work to me, but not unmanageable. I'm sure once you get used to "the system" it runs smoothly and like clockwork. As a guy, I would find it hard to carry something more bulky than my already overloaded wallet, so that may be a problem particular to me.

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I don't use credit cards for two reasons. The first is I just don't trust the credit industry... My opinion is, credit cards are a rigged game, played with a stacked deck against a crooked dealer, and I'm not going there. I'm really looking forward to being retired and totally debt-free for the rest of my life. YMMV.

The other reason is, I know myself, and based on that knowledge I am pretty sure that eventually I would be late on a payment and get hit with the high interest, punitive fees etc...
They can be a little bit of a hassle to deal with. Fine print, frequent annoying sales calls to pitch the latest and greatest credit protector plus (leeching service) that I don't need.

I think the analogy to a Vegas dealer is apt. Except I'd say they have the same house edge as casinos do in general. Most people lose to the house (that's how they can build the grand monuments that they have all along the Strip). The difference with CC's versus casinos is that you can learn how to count cards and beat the house. Not by a lot - probably 1-2% on average, but it is still "free" money in your pocket that you get for buying stuff you would have bought anyway. Clearly if one doesn't put the time or effort (or want to take the risk), then the game isn't worth it.

In general I have found that putting the credit cards on autopayments makes missing a payment nearly impossible. Much more reliable than sending a check in the mail or posting an e-payment electronically.

And in my lengthy experience dealing with CC companies, they will usually bend over backwards to waive a fee "just this one time since you are such a good and valued customer" in the event you do slip up.

The CC companies do come off as sleazy though. Just a couple notches up from knee-breakin cousin Vito that offers loans by the week and takes your bones as collateral.
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Old 03-26-2010, 10:26 AM   #109
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Thanks for the explanation. Sounds like a little bit of work to me, but not unmanageable. I'm sure once you get used to "the system" it runs smoothly and like clockwork. As a guy, I would find it hard to carry something more bulky than my already overloaded wallet, so that may be a problem particular to me.
Perhaps you could decide on what you plan to buy BEFORE you leave the house, and then just take out the money for that? For example, if you knew you were going to spend $40 on gas, then take $40 from the "gas" envelope, put it in your wallet, and only pump $40 (or less) worth of gas into your car. If there is any change then return it to the envelope when you get home.

I haven't tried this, but it seems to me that this method would completely eliminate impulse shopping.

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They can be a little bit of a hassle to deal with. Fine print, frequent annoying sales calls to pitch the latest and greatest credit protector plus (leeching service) that I don't need.
[...]
The CC companies do come off as sleazy though. Just a couple notches up from knee-breakin cousin Vito that offers loans by the week and takes your bones as collateral.
It is quite possible to maintain life without having to deal with that sort of organization, if that is your desire. kyounge1956 chooses not to deal with them, I choose not to deal with them, others do too. It's not something most people choose but it is one option.
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Old 03-26-2010, 10:40 AM   #110
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Thanks for the explanation. Sounds like a little bit of work to me, but not unmanageable. I'm sure once you get used to "the system" it runs smoothly and like clockwork. As a guy, I would find it hard to carry something more bulky than my already overloaded wallet, so that may be a problem particular to me.
Yeah, and I guess you don't have a tote bag either That would present a bit of a problem. I think it's possible to get a wallet with sections from some of the organizations that advocate the envelope system for budgeting. I don't know how well that would work once there's a lot of coin in each of the sections. Unless there's a need to be uncommonly strict, I think it would work OK to put the bills for each category into a section, and put all the change into a common change pocket. (Most wallets have a change pocket, don't they? I don't carry one so I'm not familiar with their interior arrangements.) Then, when making a purchase, pay as much as possible with bills from the appropriate section and make up the shortage with change from the pocket. If there's no change in the pocket, pay to the next dollar or $5 above the purchase price to get some. I think the change would probably take care of itself with that MO.
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[Credit cards] can be a little bit of a hassle to deal with. Fine print, frequent annoying sales calls to pitch the latest and greatest credit protector plus (leeching service) that I don't need.
They pester you on the phone, too? I didn't know what I was missing. Thanks for telling me—I feel even more validated now in my decision to have nothing to do with them!!

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(snip)In general I have found that putting the credit cards on autopayments makes missing a payment nearly impossible. Much more reliable than sending a check in the mail or posting an e-payment electronically.(snip)
It took me a long time to lose my fear of putting things on automatic payment. I get paid every two weeks, but the bills come every month, and when I first got my job there were a lot of times when I could have ended up overdrawn simply because the bill would hit a few days before the paycheck. Then for quite a while, I was spending a good deal less than my salary, but not yet saving a lot for retirement, so I got quite a surplus built up in my checking account, and there probably wouldn't have been any problem putting all the bills on autopilot. But I used up the surplus the end of 2008 when I realized I had miscalculated my contributions and was not going to hit the maximum without a drastic increase in savings the last few months of the year, and now that my normal living expenses pretty much use my whole take-home pay, the possibility of overdraft rears its ugly head again. Pension checks come monthly , so I may well put many of my bills on automatic payment once I retire. It's possible to have health insurance and estimated income tax automatically taken out of the pension check, and I will surely do that.
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Old 03-26-2010, 10:45 AM   #111
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Perhaps you could decide on what you plan to buy BEFORE you leave the house, and then just take out the money for that? For example, if you knew you were going to spend $40 on gas, then take $40 from the "gas" envelope, put it in your wallet, and only pump $40 (or less) worth of gas into your car. If there is any change then return it to the envelope when you get home.

I haven't tried this, but it seems to me that this method would completely eliminate impulse shopping.
I have never impulse shopped for gas! If it was $10 a gallon I'd still fill er up all the way.

Maybe for groceries. Walmart will have stuff on clearance for 50-90% off. Many times non-perishables. So I'll load up on stuff. A lot of it goes to the in-laws to feed their starving mouths (my kids stay there during the day, and my nieces and nephews who stay there like to eat food too! ). Constraining myself to spending a fixed amount would cause me to miss out on excellent one time value propositions.

I guess part of the issue is that we don't impulse shop unless the deal is a good value proposition and it is something that we would have bought anyway or a luxury that is priced similar to a staple. Or if it has resale value exceeding the cost of purchase plus a reasonable amount to offset the hassle of selling.


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It is quite possible to maintain life without having to deal with that sort of organization, if that is your desire. kyounge1956 chooses not to deal with them, I choose not to deal with them, others do too. It's not something most people choose but it is one option.
Hey, I know the deal with CC's. The CC/No CC debate is like the 4% SWR, pay off the mortgage (or not), mac vs PC, active vs passive management. I personally like extracting wealth from CC companies. But to each their own!
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Old 03-26-2010, 10:56 AM   #112
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Yeah, and I guess you don't have a tote bag either That would present a bit of a problem. I think it's possible to get a wallet with sections from some of the organizations that advocate the envelope system for budgeting. I don't know how well that would work once there's a lot of coin in each of the sections. Unless there's a need to be uncommonly strict, I think it would work OK to put the bills for each category into a section, and put all the change into a common change pocket. (Most wallets have a change pocket, don't they? I don't carry one so I'm not familiar with their interior arrangements.) Then, when making a purchase, pay as much as possible with bills from the appropriate section and make up the shortage with change from the pocket. If there's no change in the pocket, pay to the next dollar or $5 above the purchase price to get some. I think the change would probably take care of itself with that MO.
I don't think the typical men's wallet has a change pocket. Mine has I think 2-3 "folders" where you could separate a couple categories of spending I suppose. I just loath cash transactions and maintaining paper money in my wallet. I have it in there, but the hassle of getting more cash, counting it up, fear of loss or theft, DW purloining it, etc make me not use cash much. CC's are so much easier to maintain from my point of view.

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They pester you on the phone, too? I didn't know what I was missing. Thanks for telling me—I feel so validated now in my decision to have nothing to do with them!!
These calls take roughly 6 seconds to deal with. 2 seconds to dash to the phone. 3.5 seconds to hear the sales rep try to sell me some crap, then 0.5 seconds to slam the phone onto the receiver. In exchange for all the benefits I get, this is a rather minor inconvenience! I'd estimate no more than 1-2 calls per month now that I don't have the 50 or so credit cards I used to.


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It took me a long time to lose my fear of putting things on automatic payment. I get paid every two weeks, but the bills come every month, and when I first got my job there were a lot of times when I could have ended up overdrawn simply because the bill would hit a few days before the paycheck. Then for quite a while, I was spending a good deal less than my salary, but not yet saving a lot for retirement, so I got quite a surplus built up in my checking account, and there probably wouldn't have been any problem putting all the bills on autopilot. But I used up the surplus the end of 2008 when I realized I had miscalculated my contributions and was not going to hit the maximum without a drastic increase in savings the last few months of the year, and now that my normal living expenses pretty much use my whole take-home pay, the possibility of overdraft rears its ugly head again. Pension checks come monthly , so I may well put many of my bills on automatic payment once I retire. It's possible to have health insurance and estimated income tax automatically taken out of the pension check, and I will surely do that.
Sounds like you are "liquidity constrained". I don't do an emergency fund like most advocate, but I always keep at least enough cash in my accounts to meet the draws on the account as they come due. One goal I have is to keep roughly enough cash in my accounts most of the time to cover about a month's worth of cash flow ($3000 or so). Just in case my flaky employer has an oopsy on my auto-deposited paycheck.
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Old 03-26-2010, 10:57 AM   #113
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Perhaps you could decide on what you plan to buy BEFORE you leave the house, and then just take out the money for that? For example, if you knew you were going to spend $40 on gas, then take $40 from the "gas" envelope, put it in your wallet, and only pump $40 (or less) worth of gas into your car. If there is any change then return it to the envelope when you get home.
I find it even simpler to just leave the "gas" envelope in the car. That way I never get to the gas station without the gas money.

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I haven't tried this, but it seems to me that this method would completely eliminate impulse shopping.(snip)
It doesn't completely eliminate impulse buys—that's one of the things the "miscellaneous" envelope is for. I think if the budget is too strict and allows no deviations whatsoever, people would tend to rebel against it and it ends up not helping them at all. You gotta be able to buy the occasional little treat for yourself, after all. Better a budget with some slack, that you stick to, than a strict one that goes out the window. But the envelopes do limit impulse buying and IMO that is probably one of the main reasons that budget advisors are so gung-ho on people using it when they are deep in debt. You put the money in the envelope, and when it's gone, it's gone. A few times eating Top Ramen for breakfast, lunch and dinner the last week of the month would probably be a convincing argument not to raid the grocery envelope for impulse buys—likewise a week of having to walk everywhere after raiding the gas envelope.
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Old 03-26-2010, 10:57 AM   #114
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Pension checks come monthly , so I may well put many of my bills on automatic payment once I retire. It's possible to have health insurance and estimated income tax automatically taken out of the pension check, and I will surely do that.
It's working well for us.

All our bills are electronic now (not in our mailbox), and we've put almost all our bills on autopay. The only ones I still enter payment data for are the water bill (comes bimonthly, paid monthly) and the credit cards.

Kinda neat to watch the pension & rent deposits come in on the 1st and then watch everything get flushed out on the next few days.
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Old 03-26-2010, 11:02 AM   #115
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...likewise a week of having to walk everywhere after raiding the gas envelope.
Crap, I would have to walk down to the end of my block to spend $5 on a Starbucks frappamochalatte instead of drive the 1/4 mile...
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Old 03-26-2010, 11:04 AM   #116
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I don't think the typical men's wallet has a change pocket. (snip)
Where do men keep their change then?
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Sounds like you are "liquidity constrained". (snip)
You can say that again!! Right now I'm about as liquid as the Gobi Desert.
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Old 03-26-2010, 11:15 AM   #117
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Where do men keep their change then?
Frank puts it in his pocket, loose. When he gets home, on his way in the door, he empties his pockets and puts the loose change into his "change jar". He enjoys collecting change and then taking the change jar to the bank and depositing it - - he regards that as found money.

My father (deceased for 30 years) used to carry his change in one of those little foldable leather men's change purses, and then kept his bills in a money clip. Each to his own.
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Old 03-26-2010, 11:16 AM   #118
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Where do men keep their change then?
I hardly ever do a cash transaction that results in change. Mostly because I hardly ever do cash transactions. Maybe 1x a month I get some change, and I usually keep it in my pocket until I exile it to my desk drawer at work or my console in my car. The only thing that change is really useful for is parking meters I think. Change, and cash in general, is not very useful any more. Electronic money is much more useful (to me).

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You can say that again!! Right now I'm about as liquid as the Gobi Desert.
When a wealthy person doesn't have liquid cash in their savings or checking accounts, I call them "liquidity constrained". When a poor person has no cash (if they even have checking/savings accounts), they are just "broke".

If you ever get asked to do something that involves spending money (loan money to friends, expensive vacation with friends/family), and you don't feeling like making the expenditure, just tell them you are liquidity constrained at the moment.
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Old 03-26-2010, 11:24 AM   #119
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It's working well for us.

All our bills are electronic now (not in our mailbox), and we've put almost all our bills on autopay. The only ones I still enter payment data for are the water bill (comes bimonthly, paid monthly) and the credit cards.

Kinda neat to watch the pension & rent deposits come in on the 1st and then watch everything get flushed out on the next few days.
I do the same thing. All my bills are automatically deducted except for property tax and insurance. My pension and my equal monthly payments from the TSP are direct deposited. I keep several thousand extra in my checking account (from my emergency fund) to prevent problems. It's not like it would earn a fortune in interest if it was in savings instead.
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Old 03-27-2010, 01:10 AM   #120
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(snip) The only thing that change is really useful for is parking meters I think. Change, and cash in general, is not very useful any more. Electronic money is much more useful (to me).
Oh, then you will have to visit Seattle, because the parking meters here take credit/debit cards, at least the ones downtown. Then you won't need any cash at all.
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