Do You Have a Rainy Day Cash Fund?

Everyone should have a rainy day cash fund.  Not an emergency fund.  Although, you should have one of those as well.  No, a rainy day cash fund should be exactly that.  Cash.  Easily accessible, and easily spendable. Ahhh!  Did he just say “easily spendable”?  Yes.  I did.  Why would I say something like that?  Common advice is that you should put your money in an account where it isn’t easily spendable.  Especially your emergency fund.  You don’t want any everyday “emergency” to drain your emergency fund dry.  It’s for real emergencies.  An engine in a car that stops working and needs repairs.  Although, some would argue that’s what a car repair fund is for. Those quasi “emergencies” aren’t what a rainy day cash fund is for either.  Sorry.  I’m sure some of you wanted me to tell you that it was smart to have a little stash of cash that you could hide away for those tools you really, really, “needed”.  But, it’s not for that.

What is a Rainy Day Cash Fund for?

Rainy Day Cash FundIt’s still for real emergencies.  Just not the kind that your emergency fund is for. Consider.  A major power outage happens.  You really, really, need a tank of propane to light up to heat your house until the power comes back on.  You get to the gas station, or wherever you buy the propane from, except they don’t have any power either.  Their credit card reader isn’t going to take your debit card.  In fact, they’re writing down transactions and calculating change with a calculator.  Without power, it’s a cash only transaction.  If you don’t have any cash, you’re headed back to your cold house without any propane to heat the house with. Taken to an even farther extreme (a Prepper extreme, you might say) you could find yourself in a situation where regional or national economies fail entirely.  Of course, having cash in that regional or national currency probably isn’t going to do you much good.  That’s why you hear all the stories about preppers stockpiling gold and silver.  They believe that in a situation of economic collapse, everyone will revert back to gold and silver for bartering with each other.  In the show, Revolution, which is about the total loss of the power grid and the destabilization that follows, you’ll often see people paying each other in diamonds. I’m not saying that you’ve got to have a couple of coffee cans full of gold coins out under the tree in the backyard.  For most of the situations you’ll find yourself in, a little of ol’ greenback will do you just fine.

How Much Cash in a Rainy Day Cash Fund?

Thousands.  Then, please send me a note with your address, and the exact location where the cash is stored. I’m only kidding.  Much like anything else, your rainy day cash fund is a bit variable.  It will depend on what you can afford to just put away in cash.  Although, for most, the rainy day cash fund is well within budgetary limits.  Really, what we’re talking about is having enough cash available that you can afford a tank of gas, or a loaf of bread should you be unable to use a debit card. In almost every case, something like $100 should be plenty.

Where to Put the Rainy Day Cash Fund?

The short answer is, wherever you want.  Just make sure that it’s reasonably secure, and easily accessible.  Buried in a can in the back yard is probably not the best idea.  Your wallet isn’t a very good idea either.  If you’re creative enough, you can find plenty of places to hide that small stash in your house.  If you’re not so creative, there are plenty of pre-devised ways to stealthily hide your money.  Here’s a few easy ones:

  • Tape the bills lightly (you don’t want to rip them taking them off) to the back of a framed picture in your house.  Most people won’t look there, and you’ve only got to take the picture off the wall to reach them.  Just don’t forget they’re there if you decide you don’t want the picture anymore.
  • Under your mattress.  Yes, really.  It’s an old joke, but it’s also a convenient place that’s easily reachable and that most people aren’t going to casually look in if they’re being nosy.
  • In a book.  Pick your favorite book, and your favorite page and place the bills in the books there.  Again, easily reachable, and less likely to be found.  Just make sure that if you ever decide that you don’t need that book around, that you take the money out first.
  • In the freezer.  This is another old one.  Throw the bills into an envelope and place it at the back of the freezer.  Easy enough to get to if you really, really need it, but not so easy that guests (welcome or not) will easily find it.
  • Behind the furnace.  Put the bills in an envelope, along with a decently strong kitchen magnet.  Attach the envelope to the back of your furnace or any metal surfaced appliance so long as they won’t be exposed to flame or extreme heat.  Easily accessible, but who’s gonna go poking around your furnace (or the back of your fridge) looking for loot?

That’s just a few ideas.  What it really boils down to is putting a little cash away for a rainy day when you need it, and placing it somewhere where it won’t easily be found by prying eyes. What do you think?  Should you have a little rainy day cash fund?  How much would you put in it?  Where are some other good places to put the cash?

Composting; You’re Doing it Wrong

Each and every year, for the last several years, I’ve said that I plan on finding a space for a compost heap and create one.  Several years ago, I went so far as to take all of the grass trimmings and garden trimmings and dump them into a pile in the back yard.  And that’s where they sat, untended, and somewhat forgotten.  I’m still hoping that this year is going to be the year that I get off my duff and actually create the compost pile that creates actual compost.

Every year, we end up buying several bags of garden dirt for our container garden, and it would be really nice to be able to just walk into the back yard, and load up the wheelbarrow with fresh dirt from the compost pile and add that to the dirt we already have before planting our garden.  A few days ago, I spotted this TED talk, which threw my idea of compost for a little loop.  You’ll have to watch it for the full rundown, but basically, the speaker is saying that we’re doing compost wrong.

How should we be doing compost?

Mike McGrath, the speaker, suggests that the commonly held belief that you just grab all the clippings, leaves, junk mail, and kitchen scraps is wrong.  According to him, those things don’t really compost all that well because they don’t break down very easily.  Instead, he suggests that your compost pile should consist of mainly the leaves from the trees when they are shed in the fall.  All the rest, your kitchen scraps and paper bits, he suggests would be better off in a vermi-composter, or worm farm.

Compost WrongIf it’s Not Broken, Why Fix It?

The method of throwing pretty much everything into a compost bin or tumbler is a pretty old method.  It’s the way that people have been doing it, and suggesting you do it, for years.  It obviously works to some degree, or it wouldn’t have reached that point.  The first few times it failed, people would have decided it wasn’t a very good way to dispose of refuse and would have moved on to something that worked better.  In short, it doesn’t appear to be broken, so why should we go and fix it, as Mr. McGrath suggests?

I think it’s about efficiency.  If you want to take your refuse (lawn trimmings, leaves, kitchen scraps, etc) and break it down into usable compost (a.k.a. super-dirt), doing so as efficiently as possible make some sense.  Of course, most people usually choose one or the other method (everything in a pile, or vermi-composting) so I haven’t been able to find any good examples of someone doing both.  I don’t think that McGrath would have any opposition to a person adding worms directly to a compost pile.  It’s probably not as efficient as having an actual vermi-composting setup where you can harvest the castings and throw them in with the leaves.

How do you Compost?

Here’s the place in this post where you get to help out the readers of Beating Broke.  Do you compost?  How do you compost?  What do you think of separating the leaves and the kitchen scraps into two systems? Too much work?  Ideal?

Is the Living Wage Realistic?

I recently found an interesting calculator (Via Lifehacker, via MIT), called the Living Wage Calculator.  The smart folks over at MIT put it together to”provide a minimum estimate of the cost of living for low wage families.” Normally, when I see one of these calculators, I try it once, scoff lightly, then move on to something far more useful with my day.  This calculator is a bit different from some other ones I’ve seen in that it actually gets pretty localized.  Others tend to use a generalization like “urban” or “suburban” and leave it at that.  The fault there is that the living wage in an urban setting like Los Angeles is going to be very different from a living wage in the urban setting of a city like Fargo.

The MIT living wage calculator gets localized down to the county you live in, and then goes a bit further and can go right down to the city that you live in in some cases.  I gave it a run based on my county, and then based on my city.  Not surprisingly, I got the same number in both cases.  The city I live in is both the county seat, and the largest city in the county.  I suppose it’s possible that the numbers could vary a bit at the two levels, but I don’t think it would be too much in any case.

A Living Wage: Example locations.

Living WageTo compare how the results fare based on your actual location, I ran it for a few different locales.  First, using the example above, for Los Angeles city.  In all cases, I used the 2 adult, 3 children number.  For Los Angeles, the calculator returned an hourly wage of $27.97 which translates to just a hair under $58,200.  (using $/hr * 2080)  For Fargo, the calculator returned an hourly wage of $20.56 which translates to about $42,800 a year.  To be honest, I was a little surprised by the small difference between the two.  Not that almost $16,000 is a small amount, but considering the difference in the size of the two cities, I really expected the living wage to much more significantly different.

For a second example, I compared Fargo against the city that I live in.  The numbers for Fargo are above.  For my city, the calculator returned an hourly wage of $19.20 which translates to about $40,000.  This difference was a bit more expected.  The two cities are only a couple of hours away, and their economic differences are pretty minimal.  I also got curious and looked up what it would spit out for a living wage for New York City (Queens County).  There, it estimates the living wage at $26.12 an hour, or about $54,300 a year.

I found it somewhat interesting to dig into how they were calculating the living wage.  They’ve estimated some of the expenses for an average family of a certain number of adults and possible children.  Based on our own expenses, I think it’s safe to say that some of them are a little low.  They’ve also assumed that any 2 adult family with children is a one-income family with no childcare expenses.  In fact, I’m not so sure that they aren’t saying that a 2 adult household with no children would be a one-income family.

Given all of that, it was a bit reassuring to know that our family makes more than what they’re assuming is a living wage for our area.  However, that’s with two incomes.    Which also means that we’re spending plenty of extra on child care.  If I use their numbers for expenses for 2 children and childcare, then add it to their 2 adult, 2 children number the resulting number is not that far from what we’re really making.  There’s still a bit left over above that amount, but it’s a bit of a reality check too.  Time to find some ways to increase income!

A Living Wage: Is it Realistic?

All the playing around brings a question to mind.  Is the living wage realistic?  It’s important, I think, to realize that the living wage is meant as an indicator of the amount of income that is necessary to assure that a family can pay for the bare necessities of “living”. Keeping that in mine, it might be realistic.  But, one of the key things I don’t see in the expenses categories is a line for any sort of debt servicing.  Which means they’re assuming that you’re renting a house or apartment, and that you don’t have any other debts.  And we all know how realistic that assumption is.  Or not.  I think, for this to be truly realistic, it’s got to assume that the family will be dual-income.  It’s also got to assume that at least one of the two adults will have some student loan debt.  More likely, both.  And it’s got to assume that there’s going to be some other debts that will need servicing.  Then it might border on a true living wage.  Otherwise, it’s just another way of saying poverty line.

Go and give the calculator a spin.  How close to the number are you?  Are you so far from it that it’s scoff worthy?  Or is it time for you to find a way to increase your income too? Do you think that the living wage is realistic?