Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Why I am who I am

I haven't blogged in almost a week. I haven't been able to determine any good blog fodder. There was a question about how I became such a Peak Oil freak but I'm annoyed with Peak Oil so I'm trying to avoid that topic. Then there's the Grocery Game but I figure no one cares how much I spend on groceries. Geoff found a CNN mistake this morning (Traditionally Democratic western Tennessee is now the fastest-growing part of the state, but he region's economic expansion has bolstered an increasing GOP edge) but that's not worth a whole blog. There have been a few other things here and there but nothing substantial. Last night though, I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep, I was thinking about how a specific purchase we are making later this month won't actually be due on the credit card bill until APRIL. [Edit: People want to know what this elusive purchase is... we're just pre-paying the rent on our trailer storage facility for 6 months. The rent is going up by $6 a month but you have the option to pre-pay for 6 months at the old rate. Since the $6 a month difference is more than we would make in interest, it is worth it to pre-pay, especially since we know we will be at this same facility for that duration. Barring any great disaster.] That made me think about what has shaped me into who I am (finances-wise) today.

My dad was always conservative with money. I remember when I was little, he would always cut coupons, and he and my grandmother loved shopping at one particular Houston grocery store because they would double and sometimes even triple coupons. I also recall one time trying to go through and organize his coupon book (he had two - one black and one brown), but he told me that his store took expired coupons so I shouldn't take those out. These are memories from being under 10 years old. In high school, one of the Illinois state requirements was a class called consumer economics. Every student had to take this, it was only one semester long, and it was sometimes a scheduling issue for people who were in band, a foreign language, etc. So people who had many other classes and couldn't fit consumer economics in their schedule (like me) often took it in the summer. I believe I took it between my freshman and sophomore years (though it could have been my sophomore and junior year). Anyway - I remember how excited I was to take the class, even though it had a reputation for being kind of boring. I had already learned in a similar class in junior high how to balance a checkbook and things like that, but I loved doing it so I enjoyed that part of the class. I don't remember who my teacher was (I think it was actually a teacher from a different high school) but I remember the room the class met in. One day they were doing some duct work or something in that classroom, so we were in a different classroom. Well that day, I remember something the teacher said that day that I thought was just amazing - he said that by paying with a credit card, you can essentially get FREE MONEY for up to 2 months. I was intrigued! He explained... say your statement period ends on the 20th of every month and your bill is due on the 15th of every month. So if you buy something on February 21st, it will show up on your statement ending March 20th and that bill will be due April 15th. If that item cost $100, and you have that money just sitting in your account waiting to pay for that item for 2 months you can make like 60 cents on the money! By using a credit card and paying it in full every month, you actually MAKE MONEY!! I was amazed by this idea! And I've pretty much done it ever since. :) Looking back, it was probably an idiotic thing to say to 95% of the class (encouraging a room full of 16 year olds to use credit cards?!), but it was brilliant to me. When I was 16 and got my drivers license (the summer after I turned 16 - July 1998), I also got a credit card. It was one of those special credit cards for high school students, from Capital One, where your parents are really the owners but your name is on it but they want to teach you how to use a credit card so they give it to you. That same summer I worked at a place called Card and Party Outlet (where I stayed working for the next 2 and a half years). I think I made $5.75 an hour - whatever it was was a profound raise over the $5 an hour I'd made as a lifeguard the summer before my sophomore year. The lifeguarding summer I had saved up all summer so that I could buy a Gemeinhardt flute (silver head, B foot). I love that flute. Okay, back to finances... when I started working at CPO just after spring break of my sophomore year (my mom had to drive me and pick me up the first 4 months or so) I started saving for a computer when I went to college. I also developed a Beanie Baby habit. ;-) I had never cared about them or really even noticed the excitement of them before I had worked at CPO, but we sold them there and people called about them all the time and I got wrapped up in it. It was kind of silly, but I had so much fun with it - I bought the magazines with checklists so I could see which ones I had, I alphabetized them in several different storage bins, etc. My mom got into it a little bit with me... one day we went to the Ty store in O'Hare airport to see if they had any Beanies that I didn't have (they didn't). We had fun trying to find these crazy little things everywhere! I had probably 300 or so at my peak - I sold most of them the summer before I started college, and then sold all but 2 or 3 of the remainder later in college. I didn't make up what I had spent on them, but it was worth it for the entertainment I had collecting them. Good memories. BACK TO FINANCES! I had that credit card, and I also had a checking account to pay for my credit card... this got me in the habit of depositing my paycheck in the bank that was in the same shopping center as CPO, writing a check to pay for my credit card every month, etc. I don't remember what else I bought on that credit card... gas probably (it cost me $11 to fill my 1997 Chevy Malibu all the time... remember this was 1998 and gas cost 99 cents a gallon!). I would go to the Little Ceasars in the KMart next to CPO when I worked on Saturdays (which was rare - I was generally the Sunday supervisor) and eat lunch. But mostly I bought Beanies and saved money for a computer. The summer before I started college, I ordered a custom HP that cost me $2200. I wanted to have the very best to start with so that I would be able to use it for all 4 years of college (which I did - and my mom used it after that up until about 3 months ago). In college I spent my money on eating out a lot. I had no car my freshman year and no job either. I had an internship with UPS the summer after my freshman year... it was in my hometown (which was nice - it was going to be in downtown Chicago but the district IE manager there called the district IE manager of the Palatine Division and arranged for me to work there!). I worked 1 AM - 9 AM and mostly tried to save money for college the next year. Sophomore year of college, one November day I was sitting in econ class doing the crossword puzzle in The Daily Northwestern, and I read a classified ad looking for tellers at a bank close to campus. That sounded fun! I wasn't really in the market for a job, but really, that sounded fun. So I faxed in my resume and heard nothing for about 3 weeks. During Fall Quarter finals, I got a call from the bank. I went in and interviewed with the VP, and started as a teller after Christmas break. I loved that job! (I have actually loved every job I've ever had). The year after sophomore year, I quit the bank and returned to UPS. I did, however, refer my friend Russ to the bank and he started working there after me (I later referred him to UPS and he worked there, too!). That summer I also bought a car. My sister had turned 16 and got her drivers license during my freshman year of college, so she'd mostly been driving our car when I was at school and we shared for a summer, but it got more difficult the second summer so I decided that I would buy a car. I really wanted a Jeep Liberty (they had come out in 2002), but I knew I couldn't afford that so I considered a Hyundai Santa Fe. I could have afforded that, but my dad HIGHLY discouraged it because he claimed that it would be much better to wait a couple of years until I graduated and then I could get any car I wanted (rather than buying just a very bottom of the line Santa Fe). I have no idea why, but I listened to that advice. Instead, I bought a 1994 Ford Escort. It was black and a two door hatchback and really quite cute. It had those seatbelts that slide over you and I had to deal with manual locks and windows and turning on my own headlights (the Malibu had automatic lights and power locks). But the car was all mine, and I had paid for it in cash that I had earned with my internships and at the bank. I also took the car to school my junior year. That year, I was an RA and the editor in chief of the yearbook, so I couldn't go back to the bank. I did, however, earn free room and board as an RA and a quite generous salary as editor of the yearbook (in addition I got to decide on the salaries for my entire staff of 25 or so based on a fixed budget for salaries - that was cool! I also sat on the board of the Students Publishing Company - looking back that really was a great experience). I continued to spend the majority of my money on eating out (I love eating out!). That year, I accepted an internship in Oregon... the salary was much higher than at UPS, but I was going to have to pay for an apartment, utilities, furniture rental, etc. (things I hadn't paid for when I worked at UPS and lived at home). After all that I made less than I had when I worked at UPS, but it was worth it for the experience. That was the first time I got to make a full budget for myself - rent, utilities, etc. I STILL didn't have to pay for auto insurance, health insurance, etc., but it was a good start. I enjoyed having to actually spend my money on things that I needed to live, instead of just having it mostly as "play money" (above and beyond any real living expenses I was encurring). I was in Oregon for 6 months and then went back to Evanston for the last 6 months of school. While I was in Oregon I started dating someone I knew from Chicago - but he moved to California about 3 weeks before I moved back to Chicago! So I bought several plane tickets that year to go visit him in California - I also remember advice from my parents on this one, to not waste all of my money going to California all the time. This time I did NOT heed the advice and continued going to California. But that was an okay decision too... I had a grand time and really loved getting to know LA! Plus I very clearly remember that phone conversation... I was walking right in front of Scott Hall (the building where Student Affairs is housed) and it was the first time in my life I ever remember deliberately disobeying my parent's advice. But that was an important step to take, making an adult decision based on what I thought was best at the time. And while it may or may not have been the right decision, I'm no worse for the wear and it had to be done! (I know all of the really important moments in my life because I can picture exactly where I was when they took place). I accepted the first job I was offered (which was probably dumb but it made it easy - I didn't worry about any other interviews all year long) and since that happened in January of my senior year I was set after that. I was only taking a few classes, and one of my sorority sisters was doing tons of babysitting. I commented on how fun that would be, so she "gave me" one of her clients. I then babysat a LOT the whole rest of the school year (from late January - June)... it was a great gig. I made $9 an hour babysitting a 2 month old, and could even get some reading done when he was sleeping sometimes! Plus the family's apartment had air conditioning - a blessing as it was VERY hot for quite a bit of May and June that year. When I graduated, I bought my first car, a 2004 Jeep Liberty. [Edited to add: Geoff says this is NOT my first car, Scort was. I said that may be, but in my heart, Jake will always be my first car!] I picked it up on July 13, 2004. My dad was right - I was glad I had waited. I picked out EXACTLY the car I wanted - it was near the end of the model year, so it was hard to find, but they found one at a dealer about 100 miles away. It had 107 miles on it when I got it. AND I got the Jeep "recent college graduate" deal, which gave me the car for 1% under invoice! I sold the Escort (which hadn't been the perfect car - it needed a new transmission and a new radiator, but it served me fine for 2 years) to a nice fellow in a neighboring town - they had wanted to give me between $500 and 600 for a trade in, but I thought that was ridiciulous so I decided to sell it myself. This was pre-Craigslist in Iowa, so I put an ad in the NEWSPAPER and I got a call at 8:30 AM the first morning in ran. That same person (Herb) bought it from me for $1400 - way more than the trade in would have been! Then I moved to Oregon and became a grown-up. Sort of.

So I guess this wasn't really what I intended to write about when I first was thinking of this last night (I really just wanted to talk about that consumer economics teacher who taught me about the advantage of credit cards when used properly... and then maybe a few other things I could remember from my childhood and teenage years that affected me financially). But it ended up being an interesting trip down memory lane, and my various jobs and experiences did shape who I am. I don't know that this even told you who I am... but maybe it was interesting nonetheless. Have a good day! :)


marisa said...

very interesting! :)

Christine said...

Hahah beanie babies. And I didn't have to take consumer economics... I had to take micro economics..And you were lucky because you didn't have your parents move twice while you were at college... you got a little more stability than I did.