$100 From Morning Yard Sale

yard_saleOn Friday, on the spur of the moment, my wife decided to gather a minivan full of things we don’t need, and, the next morning take them to a local church that was renting tables at their church yard sale.  We paid $40 for the use of 2 tables, which we filled with our used children’s books, kitchen gadgets, dishes, and plates, Christmas decorations, and assorted other items.  Our rule was that we were only taking things that we no longer needed or wanted.  These things would be sold at the yard sale and if unsold would end up donated to Goodwill or put in the trash.

We priced things to sell.  An entire table was filled with items that we initially priced at $2 and after we passed the sale’s halfway hour, we reduced them to $1 each.  Later we sold the remaining items 2 for $1 and in the final 15 minutes we sold them 4 for $1.  Parting ways with these things was the goal.  We filled the other table with things that were priced between $3 and $10.  Some people were happy to pay the price we asked, but many times we accepted offers that were a little lower.  When someone made an offer on an item that had gone unsold after it had been seen by dozens of people, we were ready to accept it.  We also had a box of small odds and ends (kids arts and crafts supplies, paper goods, small items) that we gave away for free.  Kids liked looking through the box, which kept their parents looking at what we were selling.  There was also a girl scout leader and a couple of grandmothers who appreciated the free items.  At the end of the day we gave several books away to kids who seemed happy to get them.

The point of packing everything in the car and taking it to the sale was to get rid of things.  We tried not to put much stock in our own opinion of how much a thing was worth.  Something is worth what someone is willing and able to pay for it.

When the sale was done we had more than $100 (after deducting the $40 we paid to rent the space).  You might say that’s less than $10 per hour considering the time it took.  But money isn’t the only thing we got.  We had some very pleasant conversations with neighbors and old friends.  My wife networked with some people in the same line of work.  We bought a couple items at very good prices.

One consideration was whether we were better off renting a table at the local church, which cost $40 — or should we have held the sale in our own yard, for free?  My opinion is that the $40 for the space in the church parking lot was worth it.  The church is on a busy corner with lots of traffic.  The parking lot full of people and tables overflowing with things for sale certainly attracted attention.  We had potential buyers looking at our tables during most of the sale.  Our house is on a side street with little traffic.  It’s easy to imagine that we would have spent a lot of time alone waiting for buyers if we had held a solo sale in our own yard.  The people organizing the church yard sale advertised with street signs and online announcements, which we would have had to do ourselves if we held our own sale.  Overall, I’m happy to have spent the $40 in order to make > $100.  It feels good to convert a lot of stuff we don’t need into money.


Missed My Chance For a Free Mirror

door_mirrorFor quite a while I’ve wanted a mirror for the bathroom door.  I want a real mirror, one made of glass.  Not one of the cheap glassless mirrors that are sold at discount stores.  But real glass mirrors are expensive, so I’ve had my eyes open.  One afternoon, as I was driving through a residential neighborhood, I saw a pile of things on the curb that looked like they were garbage from a bathroom remodeling job.  And there was a large glass mirror!  It looked like just what I was wanting — and the price was right: free!  It was a beveled mirror without any frame that could have been easily mounted on a door.  I got out of the car to look at it and soon saw that one edge had a small chip missing, which created some sharp edges.  So, it was no good.  (Or so I thought.)  I left it on the trash pile.

Later, as I got to thinking about it, I realized that the mirror would have been usable if it were possible to cut an inch or so off the edge with the chip.  That would result in a mirror with 3 beveled edges and one flat edge.  That would be okay, though.  I could mount the mirror with the nice beveled edges on the top and sides and the flat edge on the bottom where it would be less noticeable.  Question was: would I have to take the mirror to a professional glass cutter? or could I do it myself?

A few minutes on youtube and I had the answer.  Several videos showed that DIY glass cutting jobs are easy with a few simple and inexpensive tools.  For the cost of a gass cutting tool (which is far less than the cost of a mirror), I could have a nice mirror for my bathroom door — and I’d have a new tool that I might be able to use sometime in future.

Live and learn.

I’m still looking for a mirror.

Power Strip With USB Charging Port Solves Problem of Missing Phone Charger

power_stripIf your household is like mine, you’ve got cellphones and other devices that need charging, and chargers that seem to “go missing” all by themselves.  I solved the missing-charger problem by getting a power strip extension cord that has a couple of USB charging ports.  I connected USB cables to the charging ports and attached them to the power strip with a cable tie that holds them firmly in place.  The TV and related devices plug into the power strip and the USB cable stands by, always ready to charge a tired cellphone.  It’s been a couple months and the power strip and USB cables are still in place.

Sunlight Brings TI Solar Calculator to Life

ti_15_calculatorWhile cleaning the basement a couple weeks ago I found an old TI-15 calculator.  It’s so old, I can’t even remember when we got it.  It was covered with dust.  I cleaned it with a paper towel slightly dampened with a spray of Windex.  Being solar powered (at least partially), I held it up close to the light for a minute and tried to turn it on.  Nothing.  I tried again, giving it more light, still nothing.  I was about to throw it away, but decided to give it one more chance.  The next day I put it on the front porch rail, propping it up in the bright light of the morning sun.  A couple of canvassers came by to talk to me about their party’s candidate.  I noticed they looked curiously at the calculator, but they didn’t say anything about it.  After 20 or 30 minutes in the sun, I picked it up and gave it a try.  It worked perfectly for a while, then stopped.  I took it to work and put it on a cabinet under a ceiling light.  After a few weeks, I tried it again.  It’s been working fine for several weeks now.  Makes me happy to have a quality product that has gone above and beyond the call of duty.  I’m glad I gave it another chance.  Instead of being thrown away, I can now use it or give it to someone.

[Update: Months later, it’s still working fine, as long as I store it where it gets plenty of light.]

The Cost of Credit Cards

Data from the Federal Reserve show that Americans owe close to 1,000 billion dollars of revolving debt* (which I’ll refer to as credit card debt).

Dividing the total credit card debt ($1,000,000,000,000) by the adult population of the United States (the 245 million (245,000,000) persons over age 18) shows us that, on average, every American adult carries a total balance of about $4,000 on his or her credit cards.

Note that this is an average for all adults.  Because we know that some adults have no credit card debt, we can be certain that the average total credit card balance of adults that do carry credit card debt must be higher than $4,000.  Many of them carry these balances for months, or years, or decades.

How much does it cost to carry a credit card balance?

The answer depends on two things:

  • the size of the balance
  • the credit card’s interest rate

Let’s assume Joe College gets his first credit card.  A short time later he has spent $1,000 — all charged on the card.  Thereafter, the credit card balance doesn’t go much higher (let’s say that’s close to the card’s credit limit, and Joe’s a smart guy; he knows he’ll be hit with a penalty fee if he goes over the limit and it will be bad for his credit score).  If Joe paid off the entire $1,000 as soon as he got the bill, then there’d be no balance and therefore no interest charge.  But that’s not what happens.  Joe makes payments in an attempt to pay it off, but too-often he gives in to temptation and uses the card to buy something he wants, or there’s something he urgently needs and he charges it.  Thus, the balance is sometimes a little below $1,000, sometimes a little above $1,000, but it averages $1,000 for an entire year.

Most credit cards have interest rates between 10% and 30% per year.  People with good credit scores (who are probably likely to have low balances) might get cards with rates that are lower, while those with bad credit scores might have cards with interest rates that are even higher. So let’s assume the interest rate on Joe’s card is 15%.

The average balance on Joe’s card is $1,000 and he pays 15% interest per year.  How much does that cost him?

The annual amount of interest paid is a simple calculation of the interest rate as a percentage of the average balance, or:

[interest rate] / 100 × [$ average balance] = amount of interest paid per year

which in our case is:

15 / 100 × $1,000 = $150


0.15 × $1,000 = $150 **

The $150 is broken down into monthly changes of $12.50 that are added to each month’s bill. If Joe pays only $12.50 per month, the $1,000 balance would never be reduced.  If he doesn’t even pay the $12.50 interest change each month, the credit card balance would grow as the interest gets compounded.  His debt would also grow because he’d be hit with a late fee that would almost certainly be even higher than the interest charged for one month.  A payment greater than $12.50 would reduce the balance by whatever amount was additional to the interest.

We assume that Joe makes the payments that are normally required, which takes care of each month’s interest charge and applies some additional amount to the balance — but, as already noted, Joe keeps making purchases with his credit card, so the average balance is continually around $1,000.

This costs him $150 per year.  Consider that for a moment.  After 7 years, Joe will have paid more than $1,000 in interest, effectively doubling the cost of the first $1,000 worth of purchases he made soon after he got the card.  If he keeps going he will pay for those purchases several times.  After another 7 years, the credit card issuer will have another $1,000 of Joe’s money, … and so on for as long as Joe carries that balance on his credit card.

If Joe ever pays late or misses a payment on this credit card or any other debt, it’s quite likely, nearly a certainty really, that the credit card issuer will increase the interest rate on Joe’s card.  In fact, the interest rates might go up on all of Joe’s credit cards.

If the rate goes up to 20%, Joe will pay $1,000 every 5 years.  At 30%, he will pay $1,000 in interest charges every 3 and 1/2 years.

borrower_is_slaveLet’s remember that Joe’s spending spree stopped when he reached the card’s credit limit.  After that — after he charged that initial $1,000 — he was able to keep new charges on his credit card and the amount he was able to pay each month in equilibrium.  It’s that initial $1,000 that made Joe a borrower.  If he had been able to find that equilibrium when the credit card balance was $0, and kept his average balance at zero by charging only what he could afford to pay off each month, he would have saved that $150 each year.

The Bible says that the borrower is slave to the lender.  (“The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” — Proverbs 22:7)  That should make us wonder:  What was it, in that first $1,000 of charges, that was so important, so essential, that Joe had to have it, even at the cost of turning himself into a slave?  It’s a near certainty that after he’s paid over $1,000 in interest, Joe won’t even remember what he’s paying for as he finishes paying for it for the first time and begins paying for it the second (or third …) time.  As the old saying goes, the purchase should outlast the payments.  If Joe can’t even remember what it is he’s paying interest on, can it be important enough to pay for it over and over again?

Think how much better off he would be if he had resisted the temptation to over-use his credit card.  If he had

  • cooked dinner at home instead of going out to a restaurant,
  • eaten DIY oatmeal instead of buying a fast-food breakfast,
  • invited friends to play cards or a board game, or just watch TV, instead of going to a movie, concert, or sporting event,
  • had friends over to his house to drink a few beers instead of going to a bar or club,
  • shopped for new (to him) clothes at Goodwill or similar thrift store,
  • gotten free or nearly-free furniture, television, stereo, etc., from Craigslist or hand-me-downs from friends or family.

Had he done those thing, he would have been at least $1,000 richer every 7 years.

Now consider that the average American has a credit card balance of over $4,000.  Take a look at Joe’s story again, but multiply every number by 4.  A balance of $4,000 at 15% costs $4,000 in interest payments every 7 years.  At 20%, it’s $4,000 every 5 years.  At 30%, $4,000 every 3 and 1/2 years — over $1,000 per year!

Look at yourself: Are you an average American?  Are you running a credit-card-interest tab (put it on the card, put it on the tab) that’s costing you hundreds, or thousands, of dollars each year?

Remember the annual-spending tip.  If you earn, say, $50,000 per year and you’re paying $500 in credit-card interest, then interest on credit-card debt is costing you a full 1% of your income.  Are you paying 1% of your income in interest payments to the banks when at the same time you’re not saving and investing even 10% of your income for your own future … and maybe telling yourself you can’t save 10%, there’s nothing you can cut down on.  Well, here’s an idea:  how about cutting down on the credit-card interest you pay?  Instead of paying interest charges to make other people (the people that own stock in banks, like me!) richer, you could be investing that money and earning interest and dividends for yourself.

The moral of the story should be clear: If you don’t have a credit card balance, do everything you can to avoid getting one.  If you have one, do everything you can to pay it off.

* Revolving debt is basically what people owe on bank-issued credit cards and retailer-issued store and gas cards, which allow the borrower to make additional charges without any additional application process. Thus, many borrowers add new debt as fast as they pay off old debt. Home equity line of credit (HELOC) loans would also seem to fall into this category, but the Federal Reserve does not include loans secured by real estate in total revolving debt.

** The actual calculation used by credit card issuers is a bit more complex.  It involves dividing the interest rate by the number of days in a year (~365) and multiplying that by the average daily balance each month.  But our approximation works well enough for our purposes.

Treating a Sprained Ankle

If you think you have a serious health problem, you need to see a doctor.  Don’t rely on the internet to treat serious medical conditions.

ankleThat said, I was suffering, but not from a serious medical condition.  A couple years ago, while walking in my own back yard, I slipped on some damp grass and sprained my ankle.  (What is it that’s often said about accidents happening close to home?)  The pain was so bad that I had to crawl on my hands and knees to get back into the house.  I spent most of the next few days on the couch, alternating between applying ice packs and a heating pad to the injured foot.  Within a few days I was able to walk, albeit with quite a bit of pain.

The pain slowly subsided over the course of a few weeks.  But several months later there was still notable pain.  Not severe, not debilitating, but still bothersome.  The ankle just didn’t seem to be getting 100% better.  I waited a few months more, but still the pain hadn’t gone away.

Finally (sometimes, I’m just slow), it dawned on me to search the internet.  I had a vague idea that a physical therapist would do me some good, but I didn’t want to take the time to actually go see a physical therapist.  I just wanted to know what a physical therapist would be likely to tell me.

Of course, within seconds of typing a few keywords (and what is a “keyword” anyway? why don’t I just write that I typed “words”) into my favorite search engine I found a blog written by a physical therapist that discussed what kind of exercises he usually prescribed for patients who complained of persistent pain from a sprained ankle.  There were also helpful videos on youtube.  Basically, it was standing one one leg, standing on tiptoes, and leaning and pushing against a wall from a distance of an arm’s length or more.  Also, while seated, stretching the heel, pointing the toe, and lifting the outer and inner sides of the foot.

I started doing the exercises a few times each day, and after a few weeks, hallelujah! I’m healed!  The pain was reduced to almost nothing.  The exercises were just the right thing.  The internet to the rescue!