Monday, August 01, 2011

1 AUG 11: Where Does the Money Go?

President Obama announced an agreement Sunday night to keep the U.S. government from defaulting on its debts. It came only days after a federal grant took over funding for 38 Alabama state troopers. If Congress votes down the agreement, drivers on U.S. 280 actually may be happy Wednesday instead of upset.

BLOG SPECIAL EVENT: For the last month I've kept track of all my cash spending, as requested by a survey firm. The "July diary" ended Sunday night - and I wound up reaching into my wallet and pockets for an average $2.11 per day. Well, I should correct that. I reached for my wallet a lot more - but the "green" was on a credit card.

Our Blog Cash Counter was unchanged Sunday, so we ended the month of July by spending $65.55 in U.S. currency. That may not seem like a lot. But it reflects a financial plan going back many years. I was striving to carry less than 20 dollars long before Domino's Pizza drivers bragged about it.

In most cases throughout my working years, I've withdrawn only 30 dollars on every payday. Then I've done what it takes to make those 30 bucks last. For instance, you're far less likely to buy things at the mall if you don't take any money with you.

This may seem hard to believe, but I don't struggle that much in 2011 to stretch 30 dollars over 14 or 15 days. I still use the same tricks to "economize" that I did 20 years ago. Why pay cash for a half-gallon of milk at the supermarket, when you can get a bag with chips and put the price safely into credit card range?

(True confession: I limited my cash carrying during my Atlanta years as a hedge against beggars. They seemed to be scattered across Marietta Street downtown in the late afternoon - and somehow they sensed the days when I had a 20-dollar bill waiting to be broken.)

There were only three times during July when I spent at least $3.50 in cash at any location. Two of those occasions were laundry nights - and the third came when I tried four new "barbecue Krystals" on Victory Drive. Adding cheese to two of them cost me an extra $1.11. Clearly it isn't government-issued cheese.

So since I don't spend a lot of cash every day, finishing the July diary Sunday was a breeze -- right? Well, no. The back of the little book had a series of questions about "ALL of your purchases in July, not just those made with cash." This obviously was a trap to make me feel guilty about something....

Thankfully, I glanced at the back of the book during July - and I tend to be a good record-keeper when it comes to checks and credit card receipts. But please, don't ask me to read back some of my notes from blog interviews conducted three or four years ago.

One of the questions asked "approximately how much did you spend in TOTAL in July?" The instructions allowed an exception for rent and mortgage payments - but with those included, the total was close to $2,000. Hopefully this will prove to eligible women that I really am a big spender....

But three questions later, I was asked to list "what percent of your total spending was in each of the following merchant categories." I had to sort out my receipts for everything from grocery trips to utility bills, then compare them to the grand total. "Discount stores" and "department stores" were on separate lines - making me glad I didn't shop at Wal-Mart, to figure out which one that is.

The largest percentage of July spending came under "all other services" - because from other parts of the diary, I knew that included donations to charity. That can happen when you tithe to church groups, as I've done for decades. Come to think of it, that also explains why I've pinched pennies in other places.

But the percentages of all areas were supposed to total 100 percent - and try as I might, I couldn't get all the July purchases to reach that total. I finally found a key reason why: 28 percent of my July "spending on all payment methods" was a credit card payment for purchases mostly made in June. There was no line on the page for that - as if the survey expected me to be irresponsible.

After going over my receipts and checkbook several times, I wrote in "28 percent" with a note on one line about the credit card payment - but even then, the percentages only came to 93. I had a seven-percent spending gap. And unlike the Alabama Governor, I can't pin that at all on education.

The survey company included a toll-free number to call with "questions and concerns." So I dialed it Sunday evening - and of course, the office is closed on Sundays. I do all this work, so they don't have to do any....

So if the survey firm expects me to put my diary in the mail today, I have bad news - instead I'll be calling them to express my frustration. I don't know how to classify a credit card payment, or even if I should do so at all. I'll also admit I've had easier times filling out federal tax forms.

Amidst all this, an e-mail arrived about an item in our Sunday Soapbox. But I'm going to let that rest for a day, because we need to catch up on other events from the weekend....

+ Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr promoted three officers - and WRBL noted two of them are female. Somewhere Mark Shelnutt said, "Two out of three is two too late."

+ Lee County Sheriff's officers arrested 12 alleged "deadbeat parents," in a sting operation. A phony club was set up at a former car lot, and suspects were promised free tickets to Auburn University football games. Imagine if officers had called Cam Newton's father....

+ A new environmental learning center opened at Oxbow Meadows. But the ceremony could have been much spiffier. Couldn't one of the staff members teach an alligator how to bite through a ribbon?

+ The Springer Opera House nearly sold out, for a screening of the 1950s film "The Phenix City Story." Dick McMichael's blog reports some people in the crowd cheered during key moments in the movie. Hmmmm - was Jimmy Wetzel stirring up people again?

+ Columbus American was whipped by Warner Robins 4-2 in the Georgia Little League finals. But Chuck Thompson's players can take comfort in one thing - they're far more likely to play for a state high school title four years from now than the Warner Robins players.

+ Atlanta's baseball team traded Jordan Schaefer to Houston for outfielder Michael Bourn. Bourn bats .303 in the lead-off spot, while leading the major leagues in stolen bases - so we can expect Atlanta to adopt a Bourn identity.

+ Instant Message to new Columbus Parks Director James Worsley: May I suggest building a "splash park" in the downtown area? After all, I saw plenty of young people using the Legacy Park fountains over the weekend for that very thing.

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