With all the recent buzz about our nation's weak economy, I thought about my spending habits for a bit. I am a good example of how to pump money into the economy. I don't know if my contributions help any significant amount, but I do know that my once-healthy savings account has purchased some cool stuff for a lot of people.
Last year's holiday spending generally was not so rosy. Shoppers cut back on their holiday purchases because of rising fuel, food, and energy costs. Every year, my spending around the end of the year goes up. Last year, it went way up.
I do buy a lot of things for myself. I treat myself very well. Most of my purchases involve guitars, Amazon.com, or Starbucks. The Container Store figures in pretty well, too.
However, last year saw me spending lots of money on other people: friends and complete strangers. Maybe I get some jollies by seeing someone's small materialistic wish become fulfilled instantaneously. Maybe I just want to be a good friend. Maybe it's for the Amazon.com Platinum Visa card rewards points.
A look at where all my money went:
Guitars and amplifiers: It goes without saying that I'm a freak for great guitars and amplifiers. I call them "acquisitions." Not counting the Dick Dale Stratocaster I received in May, I bought five twelve-string Rickenbacker guitars (four were down payments, and they still have not reached the store) for my birthday. All the guitars were priced at over $2,000; the Carl Wilson Signature was over $2,600. I also acquired a near mint condition original 1964 Fender Vibroverb amplifier (highly sought after by collectors) for $5,000, and I had a custom Anvil Case made for the amp.
Amazon.com: Here's where the rewards points accumulate the most. I spent several thousands of dollars here. Most purchases included DVDs, books, and CDs. I also bought calendars, a computer, software, a high-definition digital hard disk camcorder, digital cameras, dress boots, lounge pants, and dress vests. Some items were gifts. Most of the books and some of the CDs were purchased only because Amazon.com decreased the price. I didn't need them immediately, and they were stored in my Shopping Cart for future purchases. As an Amazon Prime member, I got free two-day shipping on almost all of those items.
Starbucks: I had a staggering thought on Sunday while reviewing Starbucks receipts. If I cut Starbucks out completely, I could save two to three thousand dollars a year. When I worked in the jail, I went every evening and bought a venti coffee with one or two shots of espresso (two shots for a double shift) and two pastries, sometimes three or a sandwich. During the Academy, I went to Starbucks before and after work. The order was usually a quad grande mocha and two pastries in the morning, and a hot and cold drink in the afternoon, both venti. I always tipped each trip, and I rarely received discounts.
The one Starbucks trip where I received a generous discount, I refused it. This is an example of spending money on complete strangers.
On 8 December 2007, I went to the Willowbrook Starbucks with Kathy. Prior to that stop, we had sushi for lunch (I've been eating sushi more frequently lately, as well). Kathy knew what I had planned at the Starbucks, and she wanted to see what would happen.
I had a "Pass the Cheer" stunt planned. I ordered my drink, Kathy ordered her drink, I started to pay for both of us, and then I told the barista, "Keep it open. For the next fifteen minutes, put every customer's order on this card. But don't tell them what's going on or who I am." The barista stared at me in disbelief. Kathy said, "Yes, he's serious." I told the barista we would be at a table watching everything and wouldn't go anywhere. She said, "How generous of you," and the "Pass the Cheer" stunt began.
Kathy and I sat at a table across from the register and watched all the customers in line. This started at 15:30 on a Saturday during Christmas rush, so the place was pretty busy. We sat and watched and laughed at the strange looks on all the people's faces. It was amazing to look at how people reacted to getting something free of charge. For a little bit, I stood off to the side, and I heard the barista tell the customers there was a "Secret Santa" that day. People were looking all over the store and outside to see who this "Secret Santa" might be. And then some would point and whisper to one another a speculation.
After fifteen minutes, I walked up to the registers. There happened to be no line behind Kathy and me. The barista thankfully told me, "I've gotten so many 'Thank yous.'" Because most of the customers were intent on paying, some put more money into the tip containers. I said "Good" and asked what I was up to. The barista told me the amount, and I said, "That's it? It's going to have to be thirty minutes, now." Turns out they had given me some kind of executive discount. It ended up being about 30% off the total. I refused the discount adamantly, and another barista restored my tab to full price. I paid with the Amazon.com card and tipped them a twenty into the container, saying, "You might want to hide that. It looks unsightly on top."
After shaking hands and exchanging Merry Christmases with the baristas, Kathy and I left. After turning away from the registers, I muttered to Kathy, "Sucks to be whoever comes in now." We laughed and walked out.
Outside on the patio, a man wearing a Santa hat played upbeat jazzy Christmas music on an electric keyboard to a pre-recorded backing track. As I walked outside, I said, "Hey, there's a guy playing keyboard!" I walked up to the keyboard, readied my left hand, and played a low 'C' three times to the beat. The man stopped playing and looked at me as if I were going to play something. I stopped short, acted puzzled, and said, "Man, I thought I knew the song" and just walked off. Kathy cracked up, and the patio patrons laughed. The man laughed too, but I think it was more of a frustrated laugh, one that wordlessly said, "Hey, some a-hole just messed up my song."
I like to have fun like that a lot. Most of the time, no one is there to witness my antics, but I still do it anyway, for fun.
Food: I eat out occasionally, but almost all of the time it's by myself and simple, like a burger for lunch. When I am with a friend or even a group of people, I like to sneak and pay for everything. That's one thing I will always buy for someone else: a meal. The biggest example of this was dinner out at the Downtown Aquarium to celebrate Kathy's birthday. A total of nine of us went out: me, Bryan, Kathy, and some of Bryan's and Kathy's respective family members. It was hard, but I managed to alert the server I wanted to pay all of the bill. In the end, I did get the big bill, but Glenn almost got it away from me for a split second.
Guns: I went out to a gun show at Reliant Center with Bryan and Kathy, and our main purpose was to shop for shotguns. I didn't find one I liked, but Bryan found one that he loved. He gets in line to check out, fills out all the paperwork, shows all the necessary documents, and gives the salesman his bank card. It comes back as expired. We [me, Kathy, and Jonathan Dixon (a fellow Academy classmate)] all laugh at Bryan's misfortune and the priceless look on his flushed face. After I stop laughing and wipe the tears from my eyes, I handed the salesman my Amazon.com Visa and said, "Here. I'll pay for it. Can I do that?" I paid for Bryan's shotgun, he kissed me on the head, and all was well. Until...
We all went to Academy Sports and Outdoors to buy Kathy a shotgun. Bryan, being the persistent child he is, wanted to try his bank card again at the front register. He is convinced this time it will work because he will swipe the card himself on the console. The card comes up expired. Again, I laugh. Again, with the tears. Again, I pull out my card and hand it to him. We joked that I bought more guns with my card than they had the money to.
I eventually bought my own shotgun at Carter's Country. And then I ordered another handgun from C and G Wholesale last Tuesday. A holster was purchased for that gun, as well.
Gift Registries: My best Baylor roommate Russ got married on 29 December, and weeks beforehand, I contacted him about helping him with items on his and Meg's wedding registry. They were registered at Bed Bath and Beyond and Crate and Barrel. I ended up getting them a really nice linen set and a food processor from Bed Bath and Beyond. From Crate and Barrel, I picked the most expensive item they had listed: a five drawer chest. Why not do something nice for my best Baylor bud?
My Academy buddy Trey and his wife Erica were expecting a little girl. They were registered at Babies 'R' Us. I bought a crib for them. Trey called me during our Christmas holidays [I was sick] when he received the package a few days before Christmas and told me his wife said that just made her Christmas. That was a nice feeling.
Evelyn: Okay, so this doesn't fall into the end of last year, but I want to mention it because I don't talk about my crushes very often or... ever. Evelyn was a bank teller at Washington Mutual back when I worked at Café Ko. I'd see her when I deposited all my money weekly, and I developed a crush on her. She is beautiful. I used to buy little plush dolls and cards and present her with a little gift bag for each holiday. One time, I invited her to the Little Shop of Horrors performance at the Hobby Center. I remember her exact words when she declined to go with me: "I'm with someone." Sadly, I found no one else to attend the performance with me, and I went to the show by myself. One ticket wasted, one empty seat next to me. It was a good show, too.
Evelyn eventually promoted to financial services representative and moved to the desk to the right of the lobby. I visited her on Thursday (17 January) after picking up the cashier's check for the house closing cost. I was in full uniform because I had attended the Promotional Ceremony that morning at 701. I also knew she was still there after all these years because I had deposited some cash earlier in the week.
I said hello to her, she said hello and, "I didn't know you were a cop." I asked her, "What's new with you?" She shrugged and replied, "Just sittin' here." We talked for a short while. I apologized for not keeping in touch very well and jokingly told her not to get mad. Somewhere, I said, "It's like we're growing up." She replied with something like, "We must all blossom." I said "No." We had a semi-cute back-and-forth. It was like we were actual friends and not supercute bank employee-awkward customer.
I looked at her name plate on the desk at one point in our short conversation. Her last name was different. Turns out Evelyn is married now. I was disheartened, but happy at the same time. Seeing her new last name killed any chance I had of hoping she was single by that time and would even look at me.
That night, I went to Amazon.com and selected some items to send to Evelyn for late wedding gifts. I ended up picking out a great food processor, the same really nice digital camera I bought for myself, an Apple 16 GB iPod touch, and a leather case for the iPod touch. Maybe these gifts were a bit much for someone who doesn't know me outside of being a bank customer, but it shows that I care. Every gift had a little message saying Congratulations and such.
So that's where most of my money went. Other purchases include ordinary stuff: household items, gas, AT&T bill, fees, etc.
The goal now: pay off my credit cards, rebuild my liquid assets, and spend money on furnishings and work for the house.
The goal for the end of the year: have at least $20,000 in a high-yield savings account or have money invested in a broad index of stocks.
Can it be done? I shall find out.