New respect for our billionaires

Not that I’ve ever had a low opinion of them – in fact, the ones on this particular list don’t even get bad press. Or if they do, it’s so minor that I don’t even notice. But a couple of weeks ago, a whole bunch of the world’s richest secretly got together to discuss what they each think is the best way to manage their philanthropic efforts in this recession. The list of attendees included Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, Mike Bloomberg, George Soros, and a Rockefeller – those were the only names released, anyway. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall, the coffee pourer, or even the executive nose-wiper in that board room…my personal efforts are teeny tiny, and I’d love to know how those at the other end of the giving spectrum approach this. It also gives me a warm fuzzy feeling to know that these people, whose time is worth four figures a minute, thought that this was important enough to clear their schedules. Maybe they’re not just figureheads who sign the checks. Or maybe I’m just getting soft in my old age.

My Micro-economy: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

I’m in a little bit of a tizzy this morning (see The Ugly below), but yesterday I reviewed my income and investments so far this year and, I don’t know about the future, but the present is a little less bleak. I gave up two things – haircuts and travel – which, taking into account some sublet income, would have cost me $3500. And that is just about the sum total of…

THE GOOD

There’s a certain amount of money I need to make every week to cover all of my essential personal/business expenses – rent, health insurance, cell/internet/web hosting, food, laundry, etc. Four out of the first nineteen weeks of 2009, I failed to hit that number, while three of those weeks I exceeded that minimum by at least 75%. To put real numbers to this, I exceeded my survival-level income over those 19 weeks by $5000. So where is that money now?

–  $1000 finished off my 2008 Roth IRA contribution on April 1
–  $600 for the replacement laptop
–  $200 wasted on application fees for the apartment I decided not to take
–  $750 for professional services – accountant, doctor bills, 1 Rolfing session
–  $3000 is earmarked for my Whole Life policy premium due in September
–  $1350 “extra” sitting in my accounts waiting for me to do something with it

Umm…that adds up to $6900, not $5000. I’m doing something right and I have NO idea what. I might have to revisit my concept of survival-level expenses and see where I’m saving, like, $100/week. My income is down 20%, but I was worried it was going to be more like 40%, so this indeed all good news relative to the current environment.

Also, I’ll be making a passive $75-125/month handling the sublet of my soldier-friend’s apartment. I’ve already got two potential tenants lined up for viewing with the current sublettor, who it turns out gave the place a fresh coat of paint when he moved in. Assuming it’s not a bizarre color…phew! I’d have painted it, but didn’t really want to. Apparently the owner refuses to fix some constantly-running water problem in the bathtub, but I would gladly sacrifice some of my little side income to pay a plumber to take care of it. Heck, maybe I could hire one of my building’s maintenance men to do it on the side – I trust them.

THE BAD

My investments are still down about 40%, though my recent stock purchases are faring way better (one is down 17%, the other is up 360%). Despite the “leftover” money, I’m going to struggle to accomplish what I want to this year – $5K Roth IRA, $9K whole life, unknown amount towards tuition for Rolfing course (anticipating $3-4K). It’s killing me not to travel, but I can put that on the back burner for one year. I just can’t let it go on longer than that or else I start acting all nutso.

THE UGLY

Hoping it’s a minor obstacle, but since I’ve only known about it for a matter of hours, I don’t know yet. Although I wish it weren’t the case, I get most of my business through Craigslist – of all the places to look online or off for an independent massage therapist, this is the most high-profile site out there. I’m on others, but they’re only worth about 10% of my business. Yes, it’s that unbalanced.

I may have mentioned that since CL started charging to post in the Erotic (recently relabelled “Adult”) section last fall, the Therapeutic board has been swamped with massage parlor, escort and brothel spam. Traffic quadrupled overnight. Just to keep an ad in the first 200 (2 pages), you need to post every 45 mins. I technically break the rules by top-posting, but it’s really freaking minor compared to what everyone else is doing – seriously , is 175 live ads in a week not worse?? Well, in its unfathomable wisdom, CL decided to suspend two of my five accounts, and their help page pretty much said I had a snowball’s chance of getting it reinstated. Amazingly, in the midst of blogging, the ban was lifted on the one I emailed about, just hours after reminding them that they really need a lot more ads like mine, not less. Still, I’m quite sure this is only the beginning of the fallout from the Craigslist Killer and the ensuing negative press. It’s particularly ironic to be dumped on like this today – I got a thank-you note from a squash-playing doctor who came to me two hours before his tournament final last night a completely cramped up mess; he was an underdog, he won, and he was giving me some of the credit. And tonight I’m working on a high-profile retired 4-star general who, yes, found me on craigslist after sifting through about 60 pages of shady ladies. Bring on the ugliness…

Getting my hair cut on the barter system

I haven’t gotten a haircut since November, and it’s been looking downright ratty since March. I’ve been wearing it back in a clip all day every day, and I was planning to go to a cheap place on my next visit to my mother, where one of the stylists does a better-than-$15 job according to both of my very, very critical sisters.

I previously blogged about letting an almost fully-trained hairdresser-turned-banker cut my hair in exchange for extra time on his massage. His cuts are a bit plain, which doesn’t work all that well for my fine, silky, limp hair. Unlike the last two times he gave me a cut back in 2005-2006, he got very pushy about getting a discount on his massage. The cut is…eh. My hair looks better than it did before he cut it and the discount I gave him was half what I’ve been paying for a cut these past few years – but then as I was getting ready to leave, he said “don’t forget, you owe me 15 minutes on my next session”. If I wanted to pay the amount of the discount plus the value of that 15 minutes, I could have just gone to my regular hairdresser and left with a much better cut.

However, I’m in a phase where I don’t really care much about how I look, so it doesn’t really matter. So, since I only see him 2-3 times a year, I’m counting on him forgetting.

Thursday Update:  My opinion has changed – it’s actually a GREAT cut. Why the change of heart? Because it actually responds better to air-drying than blow-drying, which is how I like it. The only problem is that the front is a bit too short, but that’s my fault, I told him to.

When Olay is not Okay, they pay

I picked up a pricier-than-I-normally-buy moisturizer from the Olay Regenerist line as part of a deal at CVS about 2 months ago, and my skin didn’t like it. Heck, I didn’t even like it before it gave me a few pimples in places I never get pimples (cheek hollows) because it felt residue-y, which I hate. The break-out just gave me a good reason to email Procter & Gamble to ask if they had a satisfaction guarantee on this line of products. They emailed me acknowledgment, asked me to hold onto the product in case their lab wanted to test it for irregularities, and said they’d be in touch by mail.

Today I got a letter with a coupon for a free product of my choice from the Olay Total Effects line, which I think is the new name for the line of products I used to buy (it’s either that or Complete, I can’t keep track). Once again, I’m very happy with the response from Procter & Gamble. I really must make a point of sending them compliments as well as complaints.

Friday night shelter delivery: The Prom edition

I showed up at the shelter last night with 11 boxes of cereal, 2 gallons of milk, 15 deodorants and the 6 bottles of summery shampoo to find only about 10 kids there. I like going on Friday nights because there’s usually a large crowd – it’s when they tend to hold workshops about knowing your rights and stuff like that. It turns out that an organization nearby hosts a prom for either homeless or gay (or both?) teenagers. There’s nothing quite like seeing an 18yo trannie in a purple satin gown and gold dangly Magnum condoms for earrings.

One of the big gentle giant types, Black, thanked me for the great-smelling Tropical Falls Ban deodorant, and I told him I was still working on finding kitchen knives for him. He gave me this sweet look and said “Actually, the hypo-allergenic soap is more important. Did you bring any?” I’d completely forgotten, but I was planning to work the Neutrogena deal at Rite Aid today (soooo not looking forward to having my coupons scrutinized like they’re counterfeit) and I think their soap is hypo-allergenic. Hoping to walk off with 8 bars and will happily hand him half of that haul. Maybe I’ll get him a plastic case at the dollar store so he can keep it in his locker. In the meantime, I directly gave him a box of Apple Jacks to hold him over. I’m not entirely sure when I’ll make it back there because I’ve got three of my late-night business traveller clients in town next week (yay!!!). Hm, maybe tonight…

Update: Made it back on Saturday night with 7 lbs of bananas to make the trip “worth it”. Black wasn’t there, but I left his soap with “Sinead” (don’t know her name, a volunteer with a shaved head…yeah, I know, I’m showing my age, that’s called a Britney these days). I also brought another half-dozen deodorants, and they were snaffled up before I even had a chance to zip my empty bag closed.

Helping a friend sublet

I have a semi-friend* who is normally an investment bank-based accountant but has been called out of the Reserves for a tour in Iraq. He’s been there since January, and isn’t sure when he’ll be back in NYC – sometime between October and February. The sublettor for his studio apartment on the upper eastside of Manhattan is leaving earlier than expected and he has asked for my help replacing him. I totally anticipated this request and have been prepared with an immediate “yes” when the request came, because while he may have other friends to help him out, I have the most experience in assessing strangers for situations involving a certain level of trust. However, there are a few things about this favor that will make it a bit more difficult than it has to be…

  1. The problem is, his apartment is a bit – how to put this gently – neglected. Admittedly, I’ve only ever been there once and that was 3 years ago, but I’d guess it hasn’t been painted since he moved in a decade ago. Lots of scuffing, and marks from old plumbing leaks. I’m tempted to treat him to a paint job by yours truly, but I think he has high-ish ceilings and likely no ladder. 
  2. He plans to sublet it unfurnished, which I think will be problematic – while there is a market for such an arrangement, it’s much smaller than the market for furnished ones. He is willing to pull his bed out of storage if necessary, but there will be nothing else. Not that there’s a whole lot of room for much else, but you need some kind of chair and a table/desk/bureau. I may try to solve this through Freecycle and Craigslist if the need arises, or perhaps through people I know who are moving away.
  3. One small point of stickiness: he describes his studio as “large”. It is not. It’s small. Not tiny by NYC standards, but you’d be hard-pressed to even classify it as medium. I’m planning to avoid this awkwardness by listing the square footage if he knows it, or the dimensions of the main living space (taken by yours truly) if he doesn’t.
  4. There is no working air conditioner, and summer is nearly upon us. I think this will put off the better tenants out there. If that’s going to be a point of contention, I’m going to suggest that he have the tenant make out half the security deposit to me so I can take care of this and any other little things that arise.

He is just looking to rent it for what it costs him (rent + electricity), and has offered that I can keep anything over and above that if I’m able to get it. If it is rented furnished, he can legally and legitimately charge more, and since I’d be taking care of the furniture situation, I think this is fair. And that half-month’s deposit I’d get would probably cover any cut I might earn for the 5-8 months of the sublet, so that’s convenient. Generally speaking, I’m not looking to make a profit off him, but he has in the past acted strangely “deserving” of me paying for things (like his taxis, and I don’t mean shared rides), so I’m glad his sense of decency in fiscal matters has returned.

Hm, I wonder if there’s a sideline to be created out of handling absent people’s subletting woes….

* Semi-friend = a male friend who would opportunistically jump my bones in a weak moment. A real friend wouldn’t.

In other shopping-for-free news

Live from the Juror’s Lounge at the courthouse…

I stocked up on – I kid you not – 24 boxes of Kellogg’s cereals at CVS, for which I paid a total of $2. That should cover the teen shelter for a week of name-brand breakfasts! And since they all seemed so desperate for deodorant, I managed to pick up 15 this weekend for 100% free, mostly Right Guard and Adidas. At one point, I told my mom to scan the aisles for anything on clearance, and she discovered a whole bunch of Herbal Essences discounted so steeply that after our coupons, we got 6 bottles for just under a buck – perfect, since the shelter kids mentioned they had too much conditioner and not enough shampoo.

Oh, one of the slight problems I’ve stumbled across…there’s only so much toothpaste a shelter needs, and since it’s the #1 item that we can all get for free without much effort, I’ve accumulated about 20 tubes. I went to Craigslist Wanted and searched on “toothpaste”, and found a 3rd year dental student going to Thailand this summer to work on teeth at orphanages. She wants to bring lots of toothpaste and toothbrushes. Do you know how happy this makes me?? I love Thailand, I donate to a small Thai charity, I go there every couple of years for training and just fall in love with its sheer foreignness all over again. She leaves in early August, and I consider it my personal mission to fill up a duffle bag with supplies.

Anyway, for those wanting to make coupon games a hobby, you’ll find there are certain things you will never have to pay for again, and certain things that you used to think were a bargain at $5, you won’t pay more than 50 cents for. Shampoo/conditioner/stylers, for example, are super-easy to get for free with sales/rebates/coupons – especially if you like Garnier Fructis and Herbal Essences. Toothpaste and mouthwash you can actually *make* money on, and we’re talking state-of-the-art stuff (new products from Crest and Colgate), not your very basic Aim and Pepsodent. Deodorant? If you’re not brand-loyal, you’ll never pay a penny. If you are brand-loyal, you might have to cough up 50 cents to $1. Speaking of coughing, OTC meds are one of your sources for big savings because most people wait until they need something or run out at an inconvenient moment and don’t mind paying top dollar for Pepto, NyQuil, Theraflu, Robitussin, Excedrin, etc. Not easy to get free, but I haven’t paid more than $1.50 for this stuff all year (and even then, it’s usually with store “bucks back” credit). Feminine hygiene? I max out at $1 for anything, and I’ve already learned my lesson about store-brand alternatives – never again. I’ve got enough stock to get a teenager through menopause for about $5 all told. Yeah…gotta donate some of that before someone experiences a closet avalanche and thinks I have a problem.