My Life Organized Into “Projects”

Social Security Poster: old man

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So now I realize that my wayward life has become a series PROJECTS.

I use the word “project” in the baseball sense. Major League teams are eager to sign talented young players who are promising “prospects.” Note the difference between a prospect and a project.

A “prospect” has a real chance to make it in the Major Leagues, after a year or two in the minors. Baseball scouts have high expectations for a prospect. He probably gets a bonus simply for signing a contract. Hence, the term, “bonus baby.” Millions, sometimes, for raw talent.

A “project,” on the other hand, is a young player who appears to possibly have the makings of a Major Leaguer. But the wise old men of baseball understand that this player needs a lot of coaching, and maybe years of seasoning in the minors. Developing this rookie into a Major Leaguer is a project for the long term.  The outcome is by no means certain.

My projects are never going to the Major Leagues, but they will require perseverance to reach humble goals. I’ve already mentioned the first two projects:

  • My Austerity Project. The first part of this project is simply keeping a record of how much money I spend every day, with a goal of bringing my budget under control. The record keeping is easy enough, and I’m sticking with it every day. The frequency of unbudgeted expenses, however, is discouraging. The $328.33 for routine 50,000-mile maintenance on my car this past week, for example. This project is going to be like pushing a rock up a hill every day.
  • My Fitness Project. I mentioned that I got a good deal on a one-year gym membership. So far, I’ve been using the gym every third day, sometimes walking on one of the in-between days. I’d like to ratchet up the Fitness Project to every other day at the gym. Even better would be working out almost every day. Just showing up is clearly 80 percent of the Fitness Project. So far, so good.

In addition to Austerity and Fitness, the care and organization of my small and disorderly living space has achieved the status of full-fledged project. My Apartment Project. More on this to come soon, with “before” pictures.

And now I see that the Holiday Project is upon us again. This is primarily a Survival Project. The Holiday Project will make all the other projects more challenging. Normal life resumes on Jan. 2, 2011.

After the holidays looms My Job Project. Talk about a humble project! It’s weighing on my mind a little. But not too much, thanks to Social Security.

I feel a rant coming on soon about politicians who want to solve the national budget and debt crisis by killing Social Security. They want to throw aging workers under the bus. Or put us on an iceberg and let us drift out to sea.

Excuse me, but I’ve been paying taxes into Social Security since I went to work at McDonalds at age 16. Social Security is not like welfare, or even food stamps. My Social Security is b0ught and paid for. I own it. It belongs to me. Do I make myself clear?

As you can see, I’m dealing with a full load of projects here. And I haven’t even mentioned the Laundry Project, which has reached the top of the priority list for tomorrow, or the Blogging Project, the one that keeps me typing until the middle of the night.

If it weren’t for the Blogging Project, consisting of three different blogs (which is two blogs too many), I’d have more time to focus on the important projects.

— John Hayden

Austerity Project, Day 10

ITPB Health Club

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It’s too soon to know whether the Austerity Project will be a success. I’m defining “success” to mean reducing my spending to match my income.

The total damage for Austerity Project, Week No. 1, was $189.13. Issues from Week No. 1: I ate pizza three times. That number has to come down. My biggest single expenditure was a fill-up at the gas station, with regular at $2.76 a gallon, for a total of $33.68. After rent, health insurance, and food, gas for the car is my next highest monthly expense. Soon I’m going to need an oil change and some regular maintenance, which is not included in the monthly budget. And looming in February is the $700 annual payment for car insurance, which is also off-budget.

The first day of Week No. 2 was my first day with no expenditures. Not a penny. Tuesday was $16.23 for miscellaneous household goods at Walmart.

Today, I signed up with a health club, aka “gym,” with a commitment of $19.95 a month for the next year! I did not make this decision lightly. There is no health club line in my monthly budget. I don’t know where the $19.95 a month is coming from. But you have to admit it’s a good price for a health club membership.

With a fancy new health club opening, there’s something of a price war going on among health clubs in my area. I found the $19.95 price at a so-called “bare bones” club. It doesn’t have a sauna or whirlpool or spa. The locker room is small. No towel service. But the place is bright and airy, and they’ve got more equipment than I’ll ever use.

I’m thinking that at age 62, with creakiness in the bones and weakness in the muscles, the health club membership comes close to qualifying as an essential.

It’s not as if I’ve been inactive in the past year. For much of that time, I worked as a security guard, which was mostly walking, walking, walking around a large building and grounds. In other words, my job was to be a moving, human scarecrow. Since August, I’ve spent a lot of time on political campaigning, which also involved lots of walking. I got a sunburn, and then a tan, on my face, but I can’t say I feel any healthier for all the walking. The campaigning resulted in two disappointing losses, first my own in the primary, and then the candidate I volunteered for in the general election.

Now, with the security guard job and the campaign over, and winter coming on, I feel like I’m facing rapid deterioration if I don’t keep these old bones moving. The health club is less than $1 a day, and it will give me another place (in addition to the library) where I can go to get out of the rain and snow.

I’m starting the health club adventure at near rock bottom (I always feel rock bottom this time of year, with the shortening daylight and the sun low in the sky). Job one is to get myself to the health club almost every day. It will be interesting to see if the exercise makes a difference. Any improvement in health of mind and/or body will be well worth the $19.95.

Stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted.

— John Hayden

Austerity Project, Day One

On this first day of November, in the Year of Our Lord 2010, it’s time for me to begin.

After a lifetime of free spending, I’m changing my ways. I’ve never had expensive tastes, and in the past two years, I’ve downsized my lifestyle and focused on simple living.

Now, I have to get really serious. In June, I turned 62, and in August, I received my first Social Security payment, direct-deposited into my checking account. For a variety of reasons, it looks like I’ll never have a middle-class job again. So it’s me and Social Security, and whatever part-time or seasonal work I can find. The rent is covered, and a few other items that I still think of as “necessities.” (Food comes to mind.) But there’s no budget line for “discretionary spending.” There’s no financial margin for error or excess.

Therefore, I will begin today, Nov. 1, 2010, to keep a record of everything I buy, everything I spend, down to the dollar. Hopefully down to the penny. I call it my Austerity Project. I should have done this a long time ago.

I have one of those old-fashioned elementary-school composition books, bright red color, made in India, I forget how much I paid  for it. (See, that’s my problem. I never pay attention to how much I pay for the things I think I need. I need it, so I buy it.)

In this bright-red composition book, I will record every expenditure, every day. On this, the first day of the Austerity Project, I did one load of laundry at the laundromat ($3.25). While waiting for the clothes to dry, I had the off-season special from the Pizza place next door ($4.23, including tax, for two slices and a large Coke). I invested in an eight-pack of budget paper towels, which were on sale at Food Lion ($5.08). I bought a gallon of Turkey Hill iced tea and two bananas at Super Fresh ($3.65).

Total damage for Day One: $16.21.

Today was the last day of the 2010 election campaign, and tomorrow, Election Day, will be a long day volunteering at the polls. So I knew these first two days of the project were going to be hard on the budget. Tomorrow, I’ll probably grab a quick lunch at McDonald’s or someplace. The polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., so that probably means a couple shots of caffein during the day. Maybe a doughnut. Hey, Election Day is a special day for me. I’ll even go to a  party after the polls close.  Whether it’s a funeral or a celebration, I’ll buy at least one Coke at the cash bar.

Wednesday, the day after, will be hangover day, nothing to do but drive around and take down the campaign signs. No more excuses about hamburgers at McDonald’s or Cokes at 7-Eleven.

I never thought it would come to this. But then, I never was much of a realist.

I never thought a newspaper or a Coke would be a luxury I couldn’t afford. I can still enjoy those luxuries, but now, I must have discipline to drink the Coke at home, and read the newspaper at the library.

I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going.

— John Hayden