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Tag: frugality

Old friends, new friends & Vietnamese soup

If this week’s move out of Baltimore taught me anything, it’s that I probably shouldn’t be moving out of Baltimore.

Three friends showed up to help me load my rental truck, along with a fourth, from Philadelphia, who also followed me the 400-plus miles back to North Carolina in the rental truck.

There are two types of friends in the world — those who say they’ll help you move, and those who help you move. And while they’re all worth keeping, one must take special care never to take the latter type for granted. A friend who helps you move is right up there with the person who pulls you from the path of an oncoming bus: You are forever in their debt — at least until you help them move, or save their life.

Will Weaver of Philadelphia flew down from Baltimore, did most of the heavy lifting and masterminded the loading of my Budget rental truck in such away that the contents would not be crushed — at least I think so, we haven’t unpacked yet.

Three Baltimore friends showed up to help load, including the couple who, as they have before, let us stay at their home, which they occupy with a Boston terrier named Darcy. They even saved us a space to park the truck on the street in front of their house.

All the shows of friendship gave me second thoughts about departing the city — even if it’s only temporary. And as for Ace, he was thrilled to visit, reconnect and suck in the smells of Riverside Park. Despite his herniated disc, he frolicked as he hasn’t frolicked for at least two weeks.

But just as we when we left Baltimore 11 months ago to start our journey, the city made leaving a little easier, slapping a parking ticket on my rental truck sometime during the night. Though it was otherwise parked legally, apparently “commercial” vehicles aren’t allowed on the street. Cost of the ticket: $250, almost as much as the truck rental.

That pretty much crushed my efforts to move as frugally as possible — assuming I pay it.

The ticket was one of only two moving mishaps (so far). The other was when I stopped at my ex-girlfriend’s home (the real one, not the cardboard one). I was picking up a few items I left in her care, and Will and I grabbed lunch to go at the eatery across the street. We sat at her picnic table to eat, and, just after I took my last bite — as if it somehow that last swallow of cheeseburger put me over the limit — the legs on the bench cracked, sending me falling over backwards.

I was fine. The bench is not.

As for the cardboard girlfriend, I passed her on to another male friend, leaving her on his doorstep.

Yesterday, we pulled out of Baltimore in the rain, and arrived seven hours later in Winston-Salem, also in the rain.

That allowed us to put off unpacking until today. Instead, Will and I went out to eat at a Vietnamese restaurant, where we got soup in bowls bigger than my bathroom sink. I, the ever-frugal one, got what remained of mine packaged to go.

As we walked back to my car (which thankfully had no parking ticket this time), a large man approached me and said he wanted to shake my hand.

His story, as they always do, followed: Just got out of jail three hours ago, trying to raise $14 for a cab ride to his aunt’s house, already had $10, needed $4 more.

I informed him that, with his $10, he was in possession of more cash than me, but — feeling his pain and smelling his breath, and realizing I should probably stay on his good side – I offered up what I had.

“How about some soup?”

He thought about it and, while it was clearly his second choice, accepted the plastic vat before moving on to his next mark.

Being new to town, and not having my protector, Ace, with me, I figured it was better to make a new acquaintance than to have soup tomorrow.

For me, the choice was simple: Friend or Pho.

Techno-whipped? I pity the fool

In our eighth month of bouncing about this expansive and expensive country, Ace and I seemed headed for our most frugal stretch yet – thanks mainly to lucking out and finding some free housing upon our return to Baltimore.

For the first time, in our continuing effort to see America while spending less than what we were while sedentary and housed – about $1,500 for rent, food and utilities – we were looking at a three digit number instead of four.

Now, thanks to my stupidity, and with an assist from Verizon, we’ve blown it, and somebody has some explaining to do.

Before we left on our journey, I canceled my home Internet service (through Verizon) and signed up for wireless mobile broadband (through a different part of Verizon), allowing us to get online no matter where we were for $59 a month – the package they suggested for a heavy user.

It worked pretty great. There were only two or three locations in our 22,000 miles of travels, where service was non-existent or spotty.

I was so pleased, I even eventually sent Verizon the payment they were seeking from me for home Internet service for the month following the date I moved out of my house. It was basically a choice between paying the money I didn’t really owe, being regularly harassed by the credit agency to which they turned the matter over, or spending far too much time on the phone, holding and then some, to try and straighten it out.

All was going smoothly with my wireless mobile broadband — or so I thought until last week, when Verizon informed me that for the past two months I’d gone over monthly limit, and that I owed them more than $400. Read more »

Adventures in househunting, Craigslist style

Where I’d like to live and what I can afford are two different realms, two very different realms – a fact I bring up not because I’m the first person to experience that phenomenon, but because it is one of the reasons Ace and I are having difficulty settling down, even temporarily.

All I want is a small cabin or cottage — they being much more romantic than something called a house – away from the hubbub, with heat and electricity, perhaps on the water, with a view of said water, and maybe a porch, possibly a fireplace, and washer and dryer, either near a park or with a big backyard that Ace can romp in, for, say $700 a month.

I’m not set on that. I’d also settle for a huge artist’s loft, utilities included, under $800 a month, where I could spread out and tape notes to the walls and write brilliantly when I’m not at the neighboring dog park, or enjoying the downtown skyline of (insert city here) from my deck, or taking part in the thriving social scene and cultural activities within easy walking distance.

Am I asking too much?

Of course I am.

For those of you who haven’t been following the recent adventures of me and my dog Ace,  allow me to summarize. Eight months ago, we hit the road to see some America — freeloading off friends and strangers, staying at cheap motels, spending a week on a boat, a month in a camper, a few nights in the car and in my tent. Part of the reason was to find ourselves, and find home. Part of it was to see if we could be vagabonds, roaming the country for the same amount we’d previously spent on rent and utilities at our rowhouse in Baltimore.

The trip gave me a deeper appreciation of my dog and my country; a better understanding of its faults (the country’s, Ace has none); and it confirmed my suspicion that most of the great places to live, scenic-beauty wise, have been co-opted by the rich. It also instilled in me — if it wasn’t already there — a thriftiness that, while mandated by my economic situation, borders on obsession.

I just can’t stand spending money on overpriced things, like gas, fancy restaurants, hotels, electricity and rent.

Arriving back in Baltimore, still unsure where home was, we were lucky enough to land in an empty house near the Inner Harbor that’s awaiting its new tenants — three soldiers returning from Afghanistan, expected to be back at end of February. It more than meets my needs and my budget, as it’s a friend’s house that’s costing me nothing. I, essentially, am squatting, with permission. But the clock is ticking.

So everyday, I visit Craigslist, most often “housing, sublets and temporary,” looking for a place to live for March, maybe April and May, maybe longer. I’m not limiting myself to the Baltimore area. I’ve also searched, on the Internet, the Eastern Shore, North Carolina, Delaware, Philadelphia and, on really cold days, Arizona.

My options are limited because I’m hesitant to sign up for a year’s lease and, of course, by my  dog — but also by my cheapness. I will probably move to wherever I find the best deal.

For awhile, I thought I’d found it, in Wilmington, N.C. — a pet-friendly, two-bedroom home overlooking the woods on a quiet cul-de-sac close to Wrightsville Beach. At $695 a month.

I emailed about what sort of pet fees and restrictions might apply, and got a speedy response. The house was still available, and they allowed all dogs — except for for Rottweilers, Akitas, chows and pit bulls.

Ace — as some of you may know, and in answer to the question many of you have asked — is  a mix of Rottweiler, Akita, chow and pit bull.

The next day I found affordable paradise again –  a “cottage” in Ellicott City, Md., one that, from the pictures, looked just like what I was looking for. It was secluded, wooded, with two bedrooms and a porch, for only $700.

Again my inquiry was quickly answered:

“Thanks for your email and interest in renting my house..I am Banke Jur, the owner of the house you are making inquiry of. Actually I resided in the house with my family, my wife and my only daughter before and presently we have moved out due to my transfer from my work now in Warsaw,Poland. Presently my house is still available for rent for $700USD (rent already includes utilities). More so Now, i’m currently in the (West African) for an international Christian follower’s crusade …

“Await your urgent reply … please we are giving you all this based on trust and again i will want you to stick to your words, you know that we have not seen yet and only putting everything into Gods hands, so please do not let us down in this our property and God bless you more as you do this …

“The house is available for rent at the moment so you are free to move in as soon as you wish to. A Deposit of $500 (which happens to be the security deposit) is required before moving in. Arrangements on how to get the keys and other necessary documents delivered to you.”

Problem was, the same house was listed at $1,650 on a dozen other rental websites, including the Re/Max website, its official listing agency.

My findings thus far? What appears to be a dandy deal is often a sleazy scam. What appears too good to be true, generally is. And what I can afford seems to be a “sleeping room,” a roomate situation, or in a neighborhood that, while the house has been “rehabbed,” the neighbors, unfortunately, have not.

Searching Craigslist has given me some new pet peeves: ads that don’t include a price, address, or even neighborhood; ads for places that proclaim dog-friendliness, but limit that to dogs under 25 pounds; ads proclaiming dog-friendliness that turn out to charge an extra $100 a month for it (Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t “friendliness” you have to pay for generally called prostitution?); ads repeated so often as to make you scream; ads pretending to be offering a property that just funnel you into some other website, sucking up your time.

Not to mention they get no editing. There was one house whose owner boasted it was ”recently remolded.” Apparently the original mold wasn’t good enough.

Another ad on Baltimore’s Craigslist offered free rent for 2 months — on a farm, with pets and horses allowed —  in exchange for “painting services that equal 40 hours/week.”  I could do that. What I could not do, though, was pay the $3000 cash deposit they asked for.

I also came across this ”bachelor or bachelorette pad” at $875 a month, which features a built in bar, stripper pole, and, at least in the photos, what appear to be tools of restraint. I exercised some and didn’t seek more information.

There are plenty of ads for roomates. But at 57, I just can’t see moving in with a roomate, or two, or three. I thought some about this one in Canton, a shared rowhouse, for under $700 — three female roomates looking for a fourth of any gender. There were already some “mellow dogs” living there, according to the ad. Ace and I both fit into that category. While it did set me to humming the theme from “Three’s Company,” I didn’t make an inquiry — mainly because, as much as I’d try to be Jack Tripper, I’d come across as the token old coot. I am, come to think of it, a lot like Don Knotts/Mr. Furley on the inside, masked beneath the cool/sleepy exterior of Norman Fell/Mr. Roper. (Not that I actually watched that show.)

What all this is telling me is that humans, at least those on Craigslist, are not to be automatically trusted — that maybe newspaper classified ads, because people had to pay for them, were at least a bit more reliable, not to mention spam free.

It’s telling me too that that there should be a blacklist of landlords and insurers that unfairly blacklist entire breeds.

And, when I read between the lines, it’s telling me that maybe we’re not meant to settle down. Ace, I’m mostly convinced, wants to. Part of me does, too. But another part is saying that, if I invest in anything, it should be a home with wheels.

Maybe we should continue traveling the country, this time in an RV, Ace and me, perhaps with another zany sidekick – not Fran Drescher – simultaneously filming it for use as either reality show or sitcom.

You better hope I find a home, or you might have to watch it.

Spending big in the frugal state of Maine

Rolling into Maine, about the same time fall decided to, we’ve decided to lay low in Portland a few days, dry out from our camping experience and perform a little maintenance — on the new website, the car, the dog and myself — before we head into the remote, northernmost reaches of Maine.

Among those things needing to be dealt with: broken eyeglasses, dirty laundry, a shaggy and unkempt appearance (me, not Ace), and a seriously moldy smell in the car. In addition to all the wet stuff that had been riding in the back of the car for two days — I halfway expected to look back there and see Ace amid a field of mushrooms – there was still more wet stuff atop my car in my leaky rooftop carrier.

So we pulled into (you guessed it) a Motel 6 and got to work on our top priorities — for Ace, scoping out possible sources of treats; for me, doing something about the small lake that had formed inside the black plastic rooftop bag.

I decided a new rooftop carrier would be a good investment, because without it, Ace would be riding amid a mountain of camping gear, luggage and other miscellany. I hoped to get a carrier with a hard shell — one that would be easy to get stuff in and out of, and one I wouldn’t have to tie down with ropes and bungee cords.

I left Ace in the room and headed to the Sears auto center at the Maine Mall. While they had the hard-shelled carriers, they didn’t have the hardware necessary to attach it to my luggage rack, so I ended up with another soft one.

Since I was already there, I decided to get the oil change I’ve been postponing, and asked them to check my tires.

After a quick bite in the mall’s food court, I went into the Pro Vision Center, asking them to accomplish what I could not –  at least not without wearing my glasses, which one can’t do when they’re trying to reinsert that little screw that secures the temple to the front of the frames. They did it in two minutes, and charged me nothing, an act for which, by the end of the day, I would be even more thankful.

Sears called to tell me my car needed some realignment, and that my brake pads were wearing thin (which explains that squeak I’d been hearing.) I opted to have the back ones replaced and let the front ones live out what little life they have left.

That meant I had more time to kill, so I stopped for a quick and drastic (at my request) haircut, and — because the temperatures are dipping up this way and I brought no winter clothes along — bought a jacket at J.C. Penney. I opted for a black microfiber bomber jacket, though I plan no actual bombing in the near future and I have no idea what microfiber actually is.

From there, I picked up Ace so he could tag along for my next chores: doing the laundry, emptying and removing my old carrier and throwing everything that was wet into dryers – shoes, pillows, sleeping bag and tarps included. Despite my efforts, my workboots and a pair of sandals still had  strange fungi growing on them, so I disposed of them, along with the old and holey black plastic carrier and the massive amounts of dog hair left after I gave Ace a good Furminating.

When I tallied what I spent — $10 lunch, $15 at the laundromat, $20 (counting tip) for haircut, $40 for a jacket, $10 for batteries at Radio Shack and a whopping, but not unfair $473 at the Sears auto center — it added up to almost $600. Ouch.

And this just when we were completing the most frugal month yet of our travels.

In month four, we, for the first time, were headed for spending less than $1,000 for our food, gas and lodging combined — thanks mainly to staying still in Baltimore for a bit, and freeloading off friends both there and in Philadelphia.

September saw us spend only seven nights in motels, two at a campground, one in a car, 10 in the homes of friends and 10 on the boat of a friend. All tolled, we spent only $400 on shelter, only $240 on gas and about $300 on food. (Knowing we were saving money elsewhere, we treated ourselves to some nicer dinners than usual.)

Perhaps I need some lessons in frugality from the people of Maine, who, according to the stereotype anyway, have adjusted to living in a state where incomes fall far behind the rest of New England. The state’s farmers and fishermen are accustomed to an up and down economy, and know how to make ends meet during the downs.

This afternoon, while walking Ace behind the Motel 6, I noticed a group of four young people. One jumped into the Dumpster and tossed cans and glass and plastic bottles up to his cohorts.

They left with a full sack.

Frugality, they say, is a tradition here — though one can be both frugal and generous.

Take Gordon, who is temporarily living down on the first floor. He’s been a Motel 6-ite for more than two weeks.

He seems to limit his luxury purchases to treats for the dogs he meets at the motel and his daily cigar, which he steps outside to smoke, disposing of his stogies in an ashtray on the side of the building.

He spends much of the day sitting in the small lobby, handing out treats and making friends with the dogs who pass by. He plans to stay a couple of more weeks before going to visit some family in northern Maine.

If he ever needs to figure out exactly how many days he has been in this Motel 6, I know how he can do it. Just step outside and count the stogies.