Archive for March, 2009

A Simple Household Budget & Expenses Tracker

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

It is good to keep track of your expenses even during good times. With the economy in the gutter, it becomes essential.

You want to know:

  1. What is your balance (income – expenses)? If this is negative on average, you will go broke sooner or later. If this is the case, you absolutely need to act.
  2. Where is the money going? Having this information allows you to act effectively to improve your balance sheet.

I use a budget spreadsheet that looks like this: Budget. If you follow the link, it will take you to Google Docs. Use ‘File’ -> ‘Create a copy’ to create your own copy to play with.

Copy

The spreadsheet has three sheets: ‘Budget’, ‘Transactions’ and ‘Formulas’.

Sheets

The only thing ‘Formulas’ is useful for, is changing the start date of your expense tracking, so the averages are correct.

Start date

In ‘Transactions’, you report every time you spend or receive money. Each transaction needs a date, a description, a code, and an amount.

Transactions

The date will make sure the transaction is recorded in the appropriate month column in the ‘Budget’ sheet. The code has to match one of the codes from the ‘Budget’ sheet, and will make the amount appear in the budget row associated with that code.

The ‘Budget’ sheet shows you all transactions broken down by category (code) and summed up to a monthly average, current month and previous month.

Budget

The balance row at the bottom will tell you whether you’re in good shape or not.

You can add and remove categories as you like, just make sure the code you choose matches the code you enter in the ‘Transactions’ sheet.

The Corporation

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

Here’s a great documentary: The Corporation. It should be well worth your time.

OptiMap + TomTom = Powerful Routing Application

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

I’m finally announcing the most requested feature on OptiMap: The ability to export itineraries easily to TomTom GPS navigation devices. GPSes are becoming standard in cars, and are invaluable to anyone who is doing deliveries or needs to visit unfamiliar locations. Those people often go to many places in a single day, and can benefit greatly from OptiMap in terms of time and gas saved.

In-car navigation systems have several advantages over printed directions:

  • No need to stop and look at a map / textual directions
  • You know where you are all the time
  • If you make a wrong turn, you get re-routed
  • No paper and ink wasted

To send directions to your TomTom device, do the following:

  1. Make sure you have TomTom HOME installed.
  2. Use OptiMap to calculate your trip as you normally would.
  3. A new button labeled ‘Send to TomTom’ appears above the driving directions. Click it.
  4. Click the ‘+TOMTOM’ button that appears in a new page. This will launch the TomTom HOME application showing the route.
  5. Follow instructions in the TomTom HOME application to install the itinerary on your device.

Please also note that I coded this solution completely in the dark, since I do not have a TomTom GPS. This means that I have not personally tested how the solution works on various real devices. Below is a list of devices that have been tested by various visitors of this site.

  1. TomTom GO 720 (itinerary download works, have not navigated route yet)

Please post a reply to this thread if you have tested devices not listed above, or if you encounter problems.

The Most Effective Thing any Environmentalist can do

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Here are some things you can do to ease your load on the environment:

  1. Drive less
  2. Fly less (I’m a sinner on this one, though…)
  3. Wear a sweater instead of turning up the heat
  4. Use a clothesline instead of a dryer
  5. Carry your own shopping bags
  6. Avoid bottled water and over packaged products
  7. Cancel cable TV (really, it’s complete junk)
  8. Change to energy efficient light bulbs and turn off the lights you don’t need
  9. Recycle your trash
  10. Buy local

Aside from the obvious positive effect this has on the environment, it will make you healthier and save you money. Now, you’ve probably heard these suggestions a million times, so if you’re still reading, you likely care about the environment and wonder if there is something else that you can do. You didn’t think I would write a post with a bunch of old, off-the-shelf actions that you already knew of, did you?

Provided you have money in the bank, which you should have, since you’ve been saving money on the above actions, the most effective thing you can do is simple: Withdraw it.

The money in the bank is not just sitting there. It is continuously fueling someone else’s consumption and causing environmental mischief around the world. The bank takes your deposit and lends it to some schmuck, let’s call him Joe, who wants to buy something, say a car. Joe then takes the money and gives it to the seller of that car. The seller, James, deposits the money in the bank. Both you and James think you own the money in the bank now, but which one is it? The answer: The fastest one of you. Of course, you will have to outrun many others as well, since the bank takes James’ deposit and lends it to Jill, who hands that money over to Jack, who puts it in another bank and so it goes on.

The only thing that limits this monetary game of musical chairs, is the fraction of each deposit the bank is required by law to hold as a reserve. If the reserve requirement is 10%, then the bank can only lend 90% of your money to Joe. The total amount of money that can be created is 0.9 + 0.9^2 + 0.9^3 + … = 1/(1-0.9) – 1 = 9. That is, 9x the original amount. So while you may think you’re saving the environment by your frugal lifestyle, your savings account is hard at work wrecking environmental damage to the tune of 9x the amount you put in there.

Well, 9x is a very conservative measure. In the USA, the reserve requirement for checking accounts is 10%. The reserve requirement for savings accounts is 3%. So if you want to earn some small amount of interest on your money, it is wrecking damage to the tune of thirty-two times the amount you put in there. There are 32 James out there who think they own the same money you put into the bank. There are 32 Joes out there who are buying Hummers, constructing McMansions or are otherwise living beyond their means, courtesy of your nimbleness.

In most of Europe, the reserve requirement is 2% for checking and savings accounts. You get 50x the wasteful spending. If this makes you feel sick, let’s look at this system in another way: It’s a giant amplifier for your voice. By taking your money out of the bank, you also force all the Joes and Jills out there to live within their means and adapt the same frugal ways that the environment so craves. You destroy the wealth of the James and Jacks out there who sell crap that you (and they) can easily live without. The same excessive leverage that fueled this consumerist monster, is also making it extremely vulnerable: If only 1% of deposit holders in Europe did this, half of the credit-based over-consumption would stop.

Where do you store money if not in a bank? Well, you can put it in the bank’s safe deposit boxes. There exists a popular misconception that this is somehow illegal. It is not, as long as you report it on your tax return. The banks, earning most of their money on the crazy money expansion they do, are not particularly happy to store cash in their boxes (conflict of interest, anyone?). They usually have a clause that you may not store cash in the box in the lease agreement. This does not matter, because the bank does not have the private key to the box, and they don’t want to know what is in your box anyways. If you have very large sums, you can get a safe instead.

With the cash safely stored in a vault, enjoy your new fifty times greener conscience. Your hard-earned savings are no longer speeding around cutting down rainforests, enabling fifty Jills to drive gas-guzzlers or buying already filthy-rich CEOs palaces, yachts and learjets.