Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Rural America: RIP

In my last post I derided autos for being largely resource hogs not worth the lifestyle they enable. A comment brought up something that always comes up when I speak about the future of transport: What about rural areas?

I come from a rural area actually and this is a comment that my grandparents always make. They report that having to commute to different jobs over distances by two parents requires multiple cars. Further due to the lack of a robust tax base in rural areas starting public transport programs is often out of reach. Heck even grocery shopping can be a commute in and of itself, the same goes for simple things like going to a movie.

They are right...and that's why Rural America must, is, and will die for the most part.

The national trend has been that younger people are moving toward cities while rural areas drop in population and the median age increases. Whats more they are not coming back, even after having children. Try as I may my grandparents don't get that their way of life is becoming a victim to statistics. The problem they point out won't be an issue in a generation because their won't be enough people living their to make their voices herd.

Today the town I grew up in has less than half as many people in it than when I was a child. Further the median age is now over forty when in the 1980's is was in the lower thirties. Those young families my grandparents talk about are an ever increasingly rarer breed. This is so true that many school have shut down or been regionalized because enrollment has plummeted. Kids that grow up where I grew up now have a 40 minute bus ride to get to school now that the school my friends and I walked to has been closed for over 10 years.

Towns all across my home region have had to get creative to keep property values from dropping. Several towns in the region I am from have undertaken "take down projects" where they demolish houses that have been vacant too long , plant trees on the lots, and let the forest take the land back. My grandparents town has had such a process since 2000; long before the housing bubble. In fact many towns are converting roads back to dirt because there are not enough houses on them anymore to justify the cost of paving.

The post-boomer generations are reshaping what it means to be American. This has been a slow process, but it is coming to a head now. Every year they vote to kill rural america by where they go to school, where they move to go to work so they can minimize commutes, and where they settle to raise children. More importantly they vote with their wallet by not owning or owning less cars, and driving them sparingly. The financial reality for younger Americans may seem bleak with high college loan debt, but they are using it as an opportunity to fundamentally shift this country to a more sustainable footing.

Cheap, affordable auto's created the rural American Dream; their decline will kill it. It's already underway.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

More Cars Solve Nothing

I am a big fan of non-car transport and firmly believe it is the only way forward. Especially here in the U.S. we need to use our feet, peddles, and public transport for a multitude of reasons. I believe so strongly in this that I have gone without a car since 2006. Yet, I have been noticing the buzz lately is around electric cars. The big push is that two car families should forgo having two gas guzzlers in favor of having one electric and one hybrid for truly longer distance trips.

Will this save a lot of gas? Sure. Does it do much else? Probably not. Less cars would have all the advantages and none of the drawbacks. Sure you could by the new Prius, go broke buying a Telsa, or get a shiny new I-MIEV but you are still buying a car and a more expensive one at that. It makes more sense to go down to one car if you are a two car family and work out strategies to be successful if you want to save money, cut down on CO2, or have gas left in the ground for your children. But make no mistake buying an electric car is no better than a gas one that meets high efficiency standards. I would love to see cars like the Smart or Mini become more common place before an electric car.

Why am I not a fan of electric cars? In my mind they are just a shell game shifting the pollution and fueling costs into the production process and national infrastructure and away from the consumers field of vision. If the average person knew what a Lithium or Nickle mining operation looked like and the kind of damage it does it would be obvious that it is no better. Further it seems so clean and futuristic to neatly plug your car in like a hair drier instead of going to a station and smelling the fumes. What the average person doesn't think about is where that electricity comes from: Coal. If you living near a coal fired plant you know its no better.

If you want to spend less on transport drop down to one car; if you are single you can probably have no car. It is better for your wallet, the environment, and future generations. Use your feet, grab a bike, hop a train or a bus and join the legions of people that know more does not mean better.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Solving Problems, with Confetti and Cash

After looking at my budget, my goals, and some of my bad habits I realized I have a problem sticking to my plans. In order to be successful with goals you need to acknowledge your weakness and address them before they tempt you. What I have decided is for day to day living one only needs cash. Cash is strait forward, when you run out there is nothing you can do. If you take your cash and put it in labeled envelopes you have to make the conscience effort to break a promise (like your budget) with yourself when you take money out of envelopes and use it for things its not meant for.

Debit cards seem like such a good idea and maybe they are better than credit cards; but they make blowing your money way too easy. When you can get access to your cash anytime, pretty much anywhere, and for whatever you want giving into the "I have had a terrible day and I just want take-out" urge is way too easy. I went back through my budget/spending (I have been very good at keeping track) and the months that become a problem are the months where I gave into the urges. When you are living on a tight budget, there isn't room for error; even a few extra take-out nights or coffees can mess you up which can compound over time. That is why I wanted to share with you a picture of my debit card as of today:

Starting today I am a cash only guy. I retooled my budget and will withdraw a certain amount on Friday's I get paid after paying my bills. I will then divide money up to cover groceries, bus fair, laundry money, and some spending money that I can use for whatever. Even if I loose my mind and spend all the money in cash I have there is no way I can go over budget making it hard to pay bills nor will I be able to easily dip into my savings since I can only access it during regular business hours.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Share a Bit, Get Alot

Whether you are a minimalist, environmentalist, anit-consumerist, anti-captialist, or just looking to not have to sell stuff to keep the heat on finding low cost ways to meet basic needs and desires have been pretty big the last few years. I have been using collaborative consumption for a few years now in one for or another; without realizing it was a trend. To learn more about how sharing became big check out the following Ted Talk:

There are some great sites out there to aid you getting getting rid of stuff you don't want while getting you things you do want. Carsharing gets folks to where they need to go, without needing a second (or first car) to do it. lets you trade things you have for things you want; its a great way to barter locally.

One of my favorites is SwapaCD, basically you give away CD's you own for credits you can then use to get other CD's on the site. There is the nominal shipping costs when sending a CD and when you get one you have to pay a small transaction fee. The site is better than paying for new CD's, downloading low quality MP3's, or rummaging through sale racks or used CD stores to get the music you actually want. They have a big library, a reserve service, and run similar programs for Books and DVD's. Best of all because you are trading for the actual media you can never be accused of pirating while at the same time keeping your wallet in a good mood.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Sugar isn't Always Sweet

Alec Baldwin recently lost thirty pounds by doing nothing more than two things: Cardio and cutting out refined sugar

I come from a family that has a real sugar problem, as well as salt. When I go to visit it is a real challenge to find things I will eat being a Vegan and that are not full of sugar as well as salt. I can totally relate to Mr. Baldwin's sweet tooth problem and am also inspired by his success with cutting it out.

I am not generally in favor of "extreme" diets that cut out a whole section of the food pyramid; I more in favor of finding a better balance of all things both good and bad. The challenge most folks have is identifying where things are at and what is "reasonable".

A few years ago I used a calorie counter, not to count calories per say but to see what my problem food areas were. I quickly discovered I was consuming three times the amount of sodium and sugar I should just from my everyday eating habits. So I cut out all obvious sources of salt and sugar like chips, breakfast cereal, candy, pickles, canned food, and so forth; I also retired my salt shaker and sugar bowl. Once I did this I tried the calorie counter again. You know what? Even doing that I was still consuming TWICE what I should in both areas. So many foods that do not require large amounts of salt and sugar have them such as bread, apple sauce, soy milk, juice, and most easy to prepare processed foods.

Basically the food pyramid advocates whole foods (rice, raw nuts, dried beans, unprocessed cereals), fruit, very little meat or other protein, and lots of unprocessed grains in order for things to stay balanced. This of course is the opposite of the reality in every grocery store.

I encourage all my readers to give a calorie counter a try to see where your balance is, I always suggest Calorie Count which is part of the About Network of sites. Until then lets hope we all find a balance and look as healthy as Alec when we are in our 50's.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Moving Forward

After taking a week to really follow-up on the points I made in my last post I think I finally have a handle on why I was not successful with a few goals last year. Here are my "discoveries", I am sure they are pretty common:

  • I am over extended. When I do my budget there is no money leftover; meaning if any non-regular expenses come up I have to dip into my savings
  • I am trying to accomplish too much, too quickly in the gym and with my general fitness. This means I wear myself out and can not stick to a regular schedule
  • I don't do enough cooking in advance to head myself off from eating out on days I am too tired to give a damn after work
  • I am far too reliant on my debt card; and in many ways having one is just too tempting not to use
  • I have many beliefs that I feel very strongly about; unfortunately they don't compliment themselves resulting in me chasing my own tail on the expression front.
  • Because I am over extended I was not able to invest to my cycling goal resulting in me barely even using my bike last year.
So, after taking stock here are a few things I will be posting on in the coming week:
  • I turned off my internet and Netflix for a reason last year; I lost sight of that. So tomorrow I will be canceling both once more
  • I need to find a way to curb compulsive buying
  • I have both a cycling challenge for myself and a conference I want to go to in the fall; I will be trying to figure out how to do both while not losing momentum
  • I will be coming up with a gym schedule that is less intensive 
  • By the time I get paid again in two weeks I will devise a food budget that fits my health goals and meets my financial requirements, this is going to involve a lot of research
  • I need to post my goals for this year 
So join me for another fun filled year of culling, living, laughing, and honesty! 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Big End of January Post

Some folks do resolutions to coincide with the beginning of the new year. I am not a big fan of resolutions because they demand immediate change. This of course is very hard. Changing habits can be much more complex than simply flipping a switch. I am all about setting goals and holding myself accountable if I am not successful though. That said I do think I need to devise better strategies to be successful this year.

Last year I had many successes, but I as look forward to 2012 I am more focused on what didn't happen. Further looking at the last couple weeks I clearly need to state goals going forward and prioritize the ones that were unsuccessful last year.

The end of January always hits me square in the teeth. For seem reason between Nov-Dec I am in kind of a daze just moving from one thing to the next with no real intent. January I usually come out of it and get my house in order. I think I subconsciously knew this and put in for the week off from work that I am currently on. Now that I have caught up my sleep it is time to get moving. So here are the things I am disappointed about from 2011:

  • I didn't write anywhere near as much as I would have liked. This includes this blog and my personal journal.
  • Meeting my cycling goals took a back seat, again. In fact other than riding around town during the warm months I barely got on my bike.
  • I did not save anywhere near what I was hoping for.
  • I did not stick to any kind of food budget
  • Though my gym workout has improved, especially since changing to a closer gym I am not pleased with my consistency with going to the gym.
I feel like last year turned out to be a infrastructure year in that I made several key decisions that make my daily routine more manageable and thus if I stick to my guns I can be very successful this year.  In order to make sure this happens I need to hit the ground running; like now. So I will be posting the following before I go back to work on Monday:

  • A new savings/debt repayment strategy to take effect immediately. 
  • A schedule that take into account my goal to write more and fitness goals
  • A shopping/food budget strategy to cut down on how much I spend and how much time I spend thinking about food. 
  • Set some new goals for this year that will keep me engaged and possibly head off my "bad months" this year.
Thanks for listening and I hope your new year is as fruitful as the one I am planning!