Financial win

Yesterday, I ended the battle over the remaining money my family owes the hospital for my son’s birth. After an insurance review that went nowhere and several months of waiting and nerve racking phone calls, it’s finally over. And I won.

It ended with the hospital settling and discounting the balance we owed by 45 percent. This is a tremendous financial relief, as well as a major ego win for me.

It felt wonderful to confidently ask for a discount and get it.

And really that was my whole process. I asked what the options were. They said I could pay it in two installment. I asked what else, and they said over six months. I asked what else, and they said we could pay it over 12 months. I kept pushing this all the way out to 24 months with no interest on the balance.

I then asked if there was any way to discount the balance. They said they could take off 25 percent. Then I followed the same steps as above pushed to find out what the process was to get more, looked at the numbers, and asked for what I wanted. A few days later the offer was accepted.

I also had a recent and similar experience with my cell phone service. I won’t name my carrier here or what they did for me because I told the manager who helped me that I wouldn’t tell. Suffice it to say that it was good enough for them to want to keep it a secret.

However, now I wonder: in how many situations do I pay too much? Where can I get discounts by asking? I want to be financially smart, and part of that is paying as little as possible for the products and services my family needs.

I think what I’ll need to do now is go through my family budget, line by line (which won’t be too difficult since there’s only a dozen lines in today’s version). This will be a fun project that I’ll work on over the next several months. I’ll share my successes, I’ll try to share my failures (maybe), and I’ll share what I learn along the way.

Prices for most things are, to a great degree, arbitrary. They only represent a point of intersection between what people are willing to pay and what businesses are willing to sell for. However, what I’m willing to pay is usually below the price on the tag, and the real key is that the price business are willing to sell at are lower too.

Many purchases are small and the prices are set at a very low margin to begin with. However, other purchases are for services that will be paid for over a longer period of time, such as insurance of cell phone service. Small savings in monthly payments can easily translate into large long term savings.

The time and effort it takes to get these savings is a cost in itself. Haggling over the price of a soda or a pack of gum would not be worth it. The amount I’d save wouldn’t be in proportion to the time and energy it would take to come to an agreement.

However, if it takes two hours to lower my monthly premiums by $20, over the course of a year, that two hour effort would equal $240. I don’t currently make $120 per hour so I’d consider that a big win and a good use of my time.

These are the types of solutions I’m looking for. I’ll be exploring the blog-o-sphere for inspiration and answers, and will share here my progress and what I learn and what works in practice.

Finally, I didn’t snooze ’till seven

I made it to work by 6:32 a.m. Not to the office, but to the laptop to begin writing. I’ve been trying for a few weeks now to wake up earlier in the mornings to no avail. It seems like every week night, I’m able to set my alarm for 6 a.m. with no problem, but when it comes to morning I’ll hit the snooze button repeatedly until 7 a.m., which is last call for getting up and getting ready for work.

This may not seem like any great accomplishment, but for, me, a new dad, whose decided to become a writer, it is a real milestone because it creates for me a new 30 minute block of time in the day. I’ve been developing more goals for myself in the last several weeks, more things I want to do and accomplish on a daily basis. However, to even start working on those goals, I needed to create some more time in the day, so this was a major step forward.

If I can carve out this time consistently, it won’t all be dedicated to writing. I also have a 5k run coming up, and I want to make sure I finish. Therefore, part of this newly created time will have to go towards running to get in shape and to make sure I don’t come in last. It’s a corporate race, where many of my co-workers will also be participating, so I have to be sure not to embarrass myself. That should, actually, provide great motivation to get in shape, but I hadn’t thought of it in those terms before now.

I have not reached my final target yet, but it feels great to even accomplish part of a goal. The final step for me and mornings, or at least the current plan, is to consistently get up at 6 a.m., and get to writing or working out immediately. I may be a ways away from that still, but this morning was a good first step.

For me, getting up early is still a work in progress, but I’m looking for ways to develop this habit of getting up early. Here are a few ideas:

1. Get a reason

Waking up early for its own sake is a losing proposition. I need a reason to make it happen. I already had some new goals set for myself that I didn’t feel like I was adequately addressing, so now I’ve applied these goals to me my action items in this the newly created time. For a long time getting up at 6 a.m. was a goal in and of itself.

I think now, with some clear activities that I want to engage in during that time, it will be much more realistic and manageable. These goals and plans for the mornings are best if it’s something you really want to do that you feel like you don’t have the time to do otherwise. For me that’s writing and working out, but it could be anything. Whatever the case may be, getting out of bed in the morning is easiest when there’s a reason.

2. Banish the snooze button

This, for me, is still the biggest stumbling block. I need an alarm clock to get up in the mornings (and I don’t anticipate that changing), but one of its simplest functions seems to consistently be my undoing. The damn snooze button is so easy to use: just press it and enjoy 10 more minutes of uninterrupted sleep. I haven’t found a way (but I’m sure there is one) to disable that function, but this is not a technical issue.

The 10-more-minutes mentality is what really gets in the way. During that 10-minute snooze, where I promise myself that I’ll get out of bed when it rings the next time, leaves me with too large a gap to start rationalizing all the reasons why it will be better to re-set the alarm to later in the day and sleep until deadline. I’ll be far better off if I don’t give myself the opportunity to talk myself out of getting up. The best solution here is to get up when it beeps the first time, turn the alarm off and leave the bed room. I have a long way to go in learning the self-discipline to stat doing this, but that is another issue entirely.

3. Make gradual changes

I wanted to start getting up an hour earlier, but that could have been too big of a jump. I may be better off setting my alarm for 6:30 a.m. for a few weeks to get used to this new time, to develop my reasons to get up and to wean myself from the snooze button. Once I’ve gotten the hang of 6:30 a.m., I’ll move the clock back again in gradual increments until I reach my goal.

Who knows, with baby steps I may be able to move it back even earlier. Of course if I get really good and start getting up a 5 a.m., I’ll probably have to write and run every morning. I don’t think I’m ready for that.

Unsubscribe

I’m trying to reduce and simplify my inputs. I spent a lot of time the other day unsubscribing to feeds in my Google Reader. I’m trying to get more focused. I also took steps to reduce the number of bookmarks in my browser and programs in my system tray.

This is all in the interest of making technology a less noticeable part of my life. Don’t misunderstand. I love it and am not sure that I could live without it. However, technology is a tool and should be treated as such. If I can comfortably move it to the background and not give it as prominent of a place in my daily life, I’ll be able to free my mind to engage in other pursuits: really think and not just browse, which is what I have realized that I do with a lot of what I read on the web when I’m “computering.”

My personal goal is to make it more about the writing–the words and the language–and less about the technology and the medium.

I spend far too much time in mind numbing, thoughtless activity. I hope that this project can be a powerful force for change against that negative neurological waste. I want to be different and unique–like everyone else–and, like every other blogger out there, I think my blog will be the podium and platform by which I’ll be able to assert my uniqueness.

However, I understand that in this I am not alone, and I am happy for that. Instead, I get to join my voice with all the others. Maybe it will be a harmonious chorus of ideas, or maybe it will get lost in the noise, unnoticed. Either way, I’m becoming a part of it.

Unburdened technology

Technology brings many gifts to life. But it also bring many new burdens. The next step forward will be learning how to best integrate the modern marvels of technology, but to not let it get in the way. My question is how to let technology work in the background, to be able to benefit from it fully, appreciate it, but not have to think about it or let it get in the way.

One step is to figure out exactly how much technology is needed to complete a particular task. It is easy to upgrade to the latest version of a super sophisticated word processor, only to get so caught up in the new and improved features that you forget what the program was intended for in the first place.

I’ve reverted back to using notepad, a computer program that was probably less complicated to make than a pen and a pad of paper. (No offence to the programmer, but I’m sure making a pen and a pad of paper from scratch would be quite the accomplishment.) I’ve found just in this first post that I am much more focused on the words and ideas that I am writing, because I am no longer thinking about the other functions and formatting I’m sure I’d be exploring in any other situation.

A blog is a technical wonder in itself. But ideally, it can function as an effective medium to showcase the written word. This blog is rather advanced, I think. I probably bit off more than I can chew with the template, and the HTML I had to learn to work with it. However, now that it’s set up, I can forget about it and let it work itself. I know the few simple functions to make it look presentable and keep it up to date. This lets me now turn my attention to the content, where it should be.

Tools of the trade



I’m trying out a new tool for writing. Rather than using a complicated program like Word or Open Office, I’m now just using Windows Notepad. There are almost no functions or options, just a full white window with a blinking cursor.

But the software is only half the story. I’m also using an old Gateway laptop that I bough off a college buddy for $20. There’s no Internet connection or media player. Later, I plan to wipe the hard drive as well to get rid of any possible distractions. I want to have a tool that is entirely dedicated to writing.

I spent a lot of time over the weekend working on the look and feel of this blog, but now the focus has shifted. The most important item on the agenda now is filling the pages with compelling content that is worth reading. I could have the most beautifully designed blog of all time, but without that, I will not be able to attract or grow an audience.

It is likely that the first several posts on this blog will seem somewhat disconnected. This is part of my process of finding my voice. I am confident that after working for awhile that I will find that flow and rhythm that all good writers have. That, I don’t believe, are what my problem will be. Rather, as always, my problem will be thinking of what to write about, and having the confidence that my choice of subject is worthy of being read.

It turns out that my attempts to find a simpler method of writing is not without its drawbacks. In what was meant to be a distraction free environment, I’ve managed to spend more time figuring out how to get this dinosaur to recognize my jump drive and to recognize my plug in key board. The space key on the laptop is unreliable, and I’m not in the mood to back space over every few words.

However, I’m determined. I’m passionate. And nothing can stop me now that I’ve begun. The life of a writer is a difficult one, especially for a young father with a full time job that I’m dedicated to and a little family that I love, more than anything, to spend time with.

Finally, I figured out now how to both run my jump drive and my keyboard on this paleontological computer. I brought my brush and have scraped away the dirt, and now I am ready to go.

I have it set up now where I can comfortable type with my feet up, keyboard in hand, with my computer sitting comfortably at my side on the near by coffee table. This is a very comfortable way for me to write and to map out my ideas. I don’t know if it will bring me closer to being a writer or not.

But it seems like many writers have very peculiar habits, and need to have things just so to work. Maybe me too. Maybe I’ve found what I need to work effectively. I cleaned out much of the clutter, and I’ve tried to make it so my focus can be on creating something new without the constant distraction of things that are old at my fingertips.

More Voices Please

There is a lot of bloggers out there and that is a good thing. The more voices, the closer we (as a civilization) get to saying and thinking everything. Saying everything, however, like a hydra, will only make the number of things to say even more numerous.

I want to get in on this conversation and be a part of it. I’m am thankful to have that opportunity at my finger tips.