Category Archives: Personal finances

Heart Of Glass

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it before, but over the past few years I’ve developed a strong interest in a particular style of glassware. It all started several years ago when I set up my cocktail cabinet (See “Hey Manhattan”). I bought six of each of the required glass styles and thought  myself pretty well set up. My then girlfriend then convinced me to ditch the standard stuff in favour of something a bit more impressive. You see, she was very much of the opinion that what you drink out of is as much a part of the experience as what you drink, and suggested I invest in something else.

As a result of some digging around on Etsy, I came across the work of Georges Briard. He was unknown to me at the time, but I could see that his work really stood out and so I bought three sets of his glasses, all in the same style. For those of you who don’t know, Briard was a a mid century modern (MCM) designer who produced glassware from the 1950’s until the 1970’s which was sold at such outlets as Neiman Marcus.

All was well and good, and I derived a great deal of satisfaction from using them. As cash has been rather tight over the past few years I haven’t added to my collection, but that all changed a few weeks ago.

Just before the whole world turned to shit, my sweetheart flew down to Palm Springs to visit her cousin. Being the incredibly generous soul that she is, she wanted to bring something back for me that was better than a tee shirt. I understand that Palm Springs has more than it’s fair share of antique stores, and while browsing she found what she assumed would be the perfect present for me. Without telling me too much, she asked about “The guy whose glasses you like”, so I could tell where her mind was going, so I told her and left it at that.

She later sent me a picture of a set of glasses and asked me what I thought. Take a look for yourself.

 

As she was on a tight schedule I answered her immediately and she snapped them up. Only later did I learn the full story. In addition to buying me eight of these glasses, she also bought me six of these:

5

Just so you know, this is a Double Old Fashioned, so it holds twice as much as a regular glass. Naturally, I was blown away by them, as I just love Briard’s use of gold in his work. Bringing them back on the plane was a bit of a hassle for my sweetheart, especially as the bag broke just as she got to the airport. Such was her plight that upon disembarking, she went straight to the Coach shop to see if she could buy a bag from them. As small acts of kindness go, giving someone a bag isn’t a big deal, but I do appreciate them for just giving my sweetheart a very sturdy paper shopping bag in which to put all the glasses.

You can imagine my delight when she got home, not just because I hadn’t seen her for five days, but the fact that I now had more glasses than I knew what to do with, resulting in me reorganising my sideboard to make room.

But wait, there’s more. We’d been looking on Etsy and she’d seen a set of glasses that she thought might appeal to me, and she was right. The problem was that the shipping was more than the glasses, so I passed up the opportunity but still left them in my cart, as did she, just in case. Guess what?  Last week she asked if I was still interested in the glasses, largely due to the fact that they’d caught her eye as well. I said yes, and so she ordered them. I asked her how much I owed her, but she just waved it away, saying that she’d pay as it was her idea. She’s a wine drinker and has no use for Lowballs, Highballs, Collins’s or Old Fashioneds, so it was doubly heartening that she would do this for me. As a result, I now have another six Double Old Fashioned glasses in my collection.

 

Yeah. I know. I understand now how people end up dying surrounded by thousands of commemorative Victorian teaspoons, match books or toy robots, but least I can use the glasses. You see, I don’t regard myself as a collector, but as a appreciator, if there is such a thing. I don’t buy them just to have them and look at them, but to use them for their stated purpose. I really don’t see the point of having something and not being able to use it. And I have to admit that my former girlfriend was correct. What you drink out of DOES matter as much as what you drink.

In a way, I’m glad I don’t have the money to indulge my love for Briard’s work, as I would need an aircraft hanger to store them all, and maybe that’s for the best, mind  you, I have a pretty good idea where my stimulus check money will be going…

 

 

 

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Filed under Art, Personal finances, personal relationships

Doctor, Doctor

There are, no doubt, a whole host of blogs and podcasts about the American healthcare system.  All of them well researched, insightful, educational and investigative. This is not one of them. As you know, access to healthcare in this country is determined not by need, but by employment. Without a job, people are forced to rely on the massively underfunded and difficult to navigate Medicare and Medicaid systems, both of which refuse treatment, exclude payment for certain procedures and indeed make it as difficult as possible for people to obtain timely, appropriate and effective treatment. Or indeed, simply go without coverage at all and go untreated, or find some type of Obamacare programme they can afford.

Most, but by no means all employers provide access to health insurance, but even so, the cost of providing coverage for a family of four can be eye wateringly high. And even so, there’s no guarantee that certain procedures or medications will be covered, nor that some services such as cancer treatment will not have lifetime payment caps. I’m not too badly off in that my job is unionised and as I’m single, my coverage is very affordable. I pay in the low double figures every month for coverage and I get three month’s worth of medication for less than the cost of a night out with the lads. So far, so good.

Late last year I received a letter informing me that my physician of many years was retiring, no doubt to give himself more time to hit golf balls off the back of his yacht, or whatever it is that retired doctors do. Of course, this saddened me as he’s a really nice guy, very thoughtful and he hadn’t killed me. As part of my ongoing programme to wean myself off my former place of residence I contacted a clinic that is on my route to work and by coincidence is run by the same company that provides my coverage. I won’t give too much away, but suffice it to say that their name rhymes with Scheisse Permanente. Not wanting to waste time, I simply asked if any of their doctors was accepting new patients and took the one offered.

As I would need a medication refill soon after, I set up an appointment to see my new doc. as a way to prove that I exist and preclude the need to see him at short notice should there be any pushback from my refill request. Everything was as you’d expect, with the M.A. doing most of the work before the star of the show arrived. We chatted for about ten minutes and then I headed off to work.

Imagine my surprise when about six weeks ago I received a form from them in the mail bearing the phrase “This is not a bill”. It certainly looked like one to me, but what confused me was the impression that I was being billed nearly $300 for a routine IN NETWORK  office visit. I tried not to perseverate on this until a couple of weeks later I received a very similar looking form that most certainly WAS  a bill.

There was absolutely no way I could afford to pay a bill like that out of the blue, so I called them to find out WTF was going on. You are all no doubt aware of the horrors associated with calling any form of customer (dis) service, so take that part as read. To cut to the chase I was told that I have an $800 deductible to meet before the insurance company would pay a penny. I also found out that had I not had not taken advantage of the  flu shot programme at work, the bill would have been $100 higher! I was passed on to another section and was told that any payment programme could only go out four months, so I hung up and pondered.

The thing is, I rarely go to the doctors’ more than once a year, if even that, so there was no way I would meet my deductible. In fact the cost of this visit would have covered two and a half year’s worth of medication refills. So effectively, I don’t have insurance I can use unless I have something major happen to me, and even then, I’m on the hook  for what is effectively two weeks’ wages. As you can imagine, I was not a happy camper.

I tried to find a way to work this new expense into my, I’m going to say “Budget?” Despite my best efforts the only way to do this would have been to invent an entirely new branch of mathematics. However, in an act of what I can only call true love, my sweetheart offered to pay the entire bill for me. See ” I Don’t Owe You Anything” for details of a similar event. I was truly humbled. At that point we had only been together for two months, so she was in no way obligated to bail me out, yet she did so anyway.

Thankfully, I’m in pretty good health, although I could do with losing some weight, but what’s new? With one less millstone around my neck I can breathe a little easier, but it has given me pause for thought regarding any kind of medical appointment. One decision I did make was to put aside a little cash every week just in case I need to see my doctor at short notice. Even so, I’m not shelling out that kind of cash just to walk through the door unless I have something terminal.

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Filed under lifestyle, Personal finances, Personal health

Ice Ice Baby

I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but it’s been a bit chilly around these parts of late. I realise that no one from the mid-west would even put on a topcoat for the weather we’ve experienced lately, but around here, it caused a bit of disruption. The arrival of 11 inches of snow brought life to a stop for several days, preventing many people, including my sweetheart from even getting out of the house for five days. I live close enough to walk to work, but even so, things have been far from easy.

You see, my house is pretty old, and made of the cheapest materials possible. My biggest problem has been keeping the house warm. This stems largely from the fact that the front door is about two sizes too small for the frame. Last winter was bad enough: I bought some weather stripping to no avail and even taped strips of cardboard over the edges of the door in an attempt to stem the draught that blew through day and night. I even bought a blackout curtain to hang in front of the door. None of these efforts made much impact, but last winter was not too severe, so I survived, if only just.

This year, however, was much worse. I know you are wondering why I didn’t just turn the heating up, that being the obvious solution, but the thing is, my house costs a fortune to heat and it’s simply beyond my means to keep the house at a livable temperature on a permanent basis. I only turn the heat on when the kids or my sweetheart are with me and instead rely on a small ceramic heater, extra layers and a heating pad to keep my self if not warm, then at least not too cold. Even in bed I was forced to don my patented Bronko Nagurski long underwear ( copyright “Car Talk”) to keep myself warm enough to sleep in reasonable comfort.

Seeing the wind blow through and cause the curtain to billow out despite duct taping the door shut and weighting down the curtain bottom was the final straw. I emailed the management company and in the meantime took some large boxes from my sweetheart to fashion a temporary solution. In true Blue Peter style I cut the boxes to size and used a glue stick and industrial strength duct tape to fashion a baffle large enough to wedge into place in front of the door. I can guarantee that it wouldn’t have won any design awards, but I’m sure it would have made John Noakes proud. of course it was not without drawbacks, in particular the fact that it constituted a fire hazard, was awkward to fit as I had forgotten to allow for the skirting boards when calculating the width and needed to adjust the curtain rod up every time I set the baffle in place. I know this may all sound a bit extreme, but returning home and seeing the thermometer register 44.8 Fahrenheit was more than I could bear.

Eventually the repair guy showed up and installed some weather stripping that seems to be doing the job as advertised. The house is still cold, but at least I don’t have an arctic gale blowing through the house, nor can I see daylight when I look at the door. I know I shouldn’t be surprised that the owners fitted the place as cheaply as possible. They don’t have to pay any of the bills, and for anyone of a decent income heating the house wouldn’t be much of an issue, but seeing as I’m not, seeing one’s electricity bill double due to running the heat six days a month is a bit difficult to stomach. Money is tight enough as it is without having to dig deeper into what little cash I have just to avoid shivering indoors. The forecast has changed quite a bit of late, so there is no more snow expected, but still, with the daytime highs in the thirties, I’m not looking forward to the next few days.

 

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Filed under lifestyle, Personal finances

I Don’t Owe You Anything

At what point do we become adults? When we’re old enough to vote, drink alcohol legally, join the military, qualify for a mortgage, enter the workforce full time? That’s very much a “Yes and” question, so I apologise. It’s all of those times, plus many more, as becoming an adult is very much a process rather than an event. However, in one important aspect, we never become adults, as I’m about to explain.

I am as guilty of this as anyone, but no matter how old we are, our parents always see us as children. My son turned 16 this summer. He’s already 6 feet 1 tall and shows no sign of slowing down. He is a technological wizard, a damn sight smarter than his old man and a very grounded and aware human being. He has great potential and no doubt a shining future ahead of him. Likewise my daughter the athlete, equestrian, artist and musician. According to her history teacher she has a deep understanding of the state of the Ottoman Empire in the period leading up to World War One, which is more than I have, and I’m the history buff in the family.

However, I have a photo on my fridge of my son when he was less than two years old, wearing a blue and white hooped onesie and sticking his tongue out. I still see him as that toddler despite the fact that he now towers over me. He still has the same haircut, though. Even though my daughter is well on her way to womanhood I still see the three year old in the pink and purple mohair skirt her mother knitted for her.

My dad has the same attitude towards me. My recent financial difficulties are well explored elsewhere in this blog, so I won’t rehash them. Suffice it to say that there were times when my only option was to use my credit card. Lest you think I was throwing money away on luxuries and trinkets, think again. Moving house is a costly experience, I had presents to buy for my kids and ex girlfriend on birthdays and Christmas, as well as car insurance payments and other incidentals. When on a limited income, this stuff builds up no matter what you do, and once you factor in the effect of interest things start to get out of hand. After paying my other bills I found it very difficult to pay down the balance, resorting to paying the interest plus a nominal sum over that in a vain attempt to convince myself that I was actually paying it off.

I had come to realise that at some point even if I didn’t use the card at all I’d have difficulty paying anything more than the interest, at which point who knows what? It would be a mild understatement to say that this was weighing on my mind and causing me no little angst, as there was no way I could afford to pay off the card without leaving myself desperately short of funds on hand. To some extent I had accepted that this was going to be a permanent state of affairs and accepted the burden as a fact of life.

So far the situation had all the elements of a Greek tragedy until in true fashion, a Deus Ex Machina appeared and solved the problem in one fell swoop. If  you haven’t figured it out by now, it was my Dad. He really doesn’t like using credit cards, nor even debit cards, so he invariably brings a substantial amount of cash with him. One benefit of this is that he can simply hand me some cash to pay for groceries, etc and not have to deal with the issue. I’d discussed my finances with him as he was concerned about my situation and without me asking, either directly or indirectly, handed me enough cash to pay off my credit card in one fell swoop.

Yeah. My response exactly. I took said cash straight to the bank and payed off my credit card the next day. You can imagine what a great relief it was to be rid of the burden that had been pressing down on me for so long. I also took the precaution of changing all my payment details to my debit card so all my future Amazon, Etsy purchases etc. would come directly out of my bank account and prevent me from simply building up another unsustainable credit card debt. I’m happy to say that so far I haven’t used my credit card at all, and don’t intend to unless forced to by an emergency.

Not to go into details, but the sum in question was a four figured one, so the idea that I would trouser $150 rather than take my then girlfriend out to dinner for our anniversary is outrageously risible, see “Don’t Let Me Be Understood” for background.  I will admit to being humbled by my Dad’s action. I don’t like the fact that I earn so little and that I have to juggle to make ends meet, that I can’t pay my way as much as I’d like and that as a fully grown adult I have to depend on my father to bail me out.  Like I don’t have enough inadequacy issues as it is.

Don’t misunderstand me. My Dad made no big deal of the issue, because as far as he’s concerned, that’s what you do for your kids: you help them out whenever they need it. Being a parent is a lifelong commitment, as I’m learning on a daily basis. This doesn’t mean I’m flush with cash, but it does mean that I have a little more wiggle room when it comes to daily finances. I won’t be splurging on luxuries any time soon, but I may be able to treat myself to the occasional grocery purchase above and beyond the bare necessities.

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Filed under Credit Card Debt, family, parenting, Personal finances