This is what it looks like when you are watching your budget and having weekly meetings to review costs. It’s really not that different from when we were young and broke and lived paycheck to paycheck. It’s January 24th and we are running close on the food, home improvement, and gas categories. I thought I would share a few of the day-to-day decisions.
- Want Pizza Hut for the championship football game. Decide not to spend the money and eat what’s left of a bag of frozen french fries instead.
- Don’t go to that great sandwich place everyone says has great hamburgers just to “check it out.” Why tempt yourself?
- Menu plan using what you have in the rig. Limit purchases to essentials like milk and bread. No subs (which I have a craving for, but the components are very expensive) until February.
- If something breaks don’t fix it unless it’s mission critical. No puttering that might require additional parts.
- Don’t drive the truck unless you really have to. Try to stay in town if possible.
- Try not to go crazy and blow your budget Feb 1st so you don’t have to do this next month.
And then….we ran low on data. That’s pretty ridiculous because we have 80 GB, but as the old adage says you “spend” what you have. And it’s a big deal when we run out of data because it’s $15 for every extra gig. (Don’t even get me started with that. I think it’s criminal that we pay right around $ 3.75 per gig on our plan, but if we hit our limit, the “per gig” cost is $15. Ridiculous. Absurd. At the moment I can’t think of another business that penalizes their customers for wanting to purchase more of their product. And it’s one of the many reasons wireless companies are reviled by most of their customers. So if there are any AT&T execs reading, knock that crap off, offer a product people want instead of punishing them for wanting something you don’t offer. – Lee) With 5 days left in the billing cycle that could get out of hand really quickly. This is one of those “hot” topics of conversations for us also, so we always have a hard time talking about it without snipping at each other. This year though, the year of good decisions, we need to actually talk about it. We went over our data plan 4 times last year and here we are in one month and going over again. So we worked the problem. Lee took a look at the AT&T website and saw what reports they have. He’s also looking for apps to download on each individual device to give more information. And we went into our phones and Ipad and turned off every app for data and then went into each apps individual settings and changed them. Wow there was a ton of data drains in all of that. Here’s some of the things we did in the individual app settings. And to be clear, we have done this before, but it’s been awhile and things get changed over time by you saying yes to something in the heat of the moment.
- Background app refresh. Turn off, they suck data
- Location > Always Change to never or only when using, then make sure you close the app when you are done using it
- Automatic notifications . Change to off (I ended up turning texts, GMail, Messenger and Word Press back on as these are the main ways I communicate with people)
- Photos. Change to Off
- Usage Sharing Off
It’s not the end of the world or anything, but 5 days does seem like a long time. (And for us, who stream most of the TV we watch, by not watching them now, we are just moving that data usage to next month, so it’s a longer term problem. – Lee) And this requires way more self-control than when we had no money in the bank. Actually that may not be true. We used to spend irresponsibly because we had no money in the bank and it all seemed pointless when we were kids. At least now we are mature enough to understand the goal and hopefully make the right decision. It takes effort though, and it’s a lot easier to do when you have the distraction of lots of free, nature related activities.
(In addition to the above steps, I installed a free piece of software on the PC that tracks data usage by the day, and lets me know exactly how much data various programs are using, so I can see if there are any data “leaks” that I can plug. Right out of the gate I saw three pieces of software that use small amounts of data each day without any reason. It looks like a small amount, but 20Mb of data per day x3 x30 is 1800Mb. That’s the equivalent of 7 one hour TV shows, so that’s a lot. So far I’m seeing a lot of data wasted by ads, especially video ads, that continuously refresh on a page. And leaving three or four web pages open for long periods of time, or overnight, that do that can really eat data. – Lee)
We are also looking at each Apple device by day and keeping track of how much each one uses then resetting the data (located at very bottom of the screen) for the next day. I am doing mine at shift change (4am) every day for example. I can also see usage by app which is extremely helpful as I do play Facebook games and have no idea how much data those are taking. The information the Iphones and Ipad offer are really good and hopefully will help us track it down. It is important to note though that these feature ONLY work if you are using cellular data. Wifi usage is not included and since we routinely had these devices hooked to our wifi in the past all that data was lost. Now we are using cellular on each one and much better information. The computer and laptop have to use the wifi box though, hence the need for a special program to track each one of them. I actually was pretty happy Lee saw all those leaks so quickly because those are easy fixes. One of the programs was for our Truck GPS docking and took 25 MB every time we rebooted the computer. This software enables us to download our Good Sam Trip Planner into our GPS. IT’s a great feature, but only something we use ever couple of months and spending 25 MB a day unnecessarily is a huge waste. Anyways, I feel much better about things since we are really working the problem and we shared so much detail because I am sure everyone who doesn’t have unlimited data runs into this sort of thing.
Speaking of money, our RV insurance rates more than doubled in January and since we have never filed a claim we have no idea why. I have to say I am extremely disappointed in Millers Insurance, because I have sent emails and left voice mails and gotten absolutely no response. I am guessing they are inundated with calls because lots of people are running into this, but some sort of response is really needed. I would just move onto another agent, except I really like our Nationwide truck policy and felt they were very fair with us over the truck engine incident. Because of the lack of response, I called Nationwide myself. Turns out they still had my New Hampshire license on file and when that switched to Florida it looked like I didn’t have a valid drivers license. Once I gave them the updated Florida license information the monthly payments actually went down a little. They will be applying the double payment to upcoming payments and all is right with the world again. Weird really, since we have our truck insurance through them as well, and that didn’t change, but it is two different policies. Anyways I thought I would mention it because if you get a strange jump in insurance rates, it’s definitely worth the call. (More importantly, I think the lesson learned is to watch every transaction carefully. You will be surprised at how often things get screwed up, and if you don’t catch, who will? I went to the store the other day and one of the things I was buying had a coupon for $1 off. Normally I’m not a coupon guy, but hey, it was hanging right in front of my face, so I grabbed it. I handed it to the cashier and went through the whole “pretending to be patient” during the checkout process thing, and because it was such an incredibly short list, I noticed when I got my receipt that the $1 wasn’t taken off. Not only am I not normally a coupon guy, I’m definitely not a look at the receipt guy, and for just a second I thought, screw this, I want to get home. But no, I also wanted my damn dollar. So I asked for it, and got it. Now I have a dollar I didn’t have before. It all adds up, so review transactions carefully. – Lee)
OK, back to the daily account. Traffic has picked up and once again it appears we are in a new phase. The only way we know this is we get lots of new vehicles we have never seen before. Now that the big equipment is mostly in, we have gone back to checking all trucks in and out and it does take a little longer, the first time a vehicle visits. Since we share the road with the ranch down the way, it’s important we pull the trucks forward and keep an eye on what’s blocking the road. We have been told twice that truck drivers can get killed this way, by sticking out into the road. Since we have both gotten pretty good at entering info into the Ipad it’s not that big of a deal unless multiple trucks come together. This doesn’t happen that often, but occasionally a group of three vehicles from the same company come at the same time. In that case they absolutely will be sticking into the road, but you just grab the minimum info as quickly as possible and wave them through. Sometimes, we send them in and then get the details when they are on the way out. It’s much safer going the other way because they are on the ranch road.
We are also seeing LOTS of salespeople. Our friend Ted asked if there was a point to even gathering the names and in this particular case I would have to say not really. I have worked security before, when badges and ID’s were shown to gain admittance. This gate is not that. We were told that in case of accident the fire department would use these records to make sure everyone evacuated, but I find that unlikely, especially because we were not given any protocols to follow in case of accident or emergency. We were also not given any list of people who could not enter. So does it bother us to do something that is largely pointless? Surprisingly, no. We are here to make sure the deer don’t jump the gate and that’s OK with us. If we need to track entrances/exits to justify our existence, so be it. And to be clear, not all gates are like this. Some have very strict rules, some have armed guards, and others require gate guards to wear full fire protection gear at all times. This is quite a bit mellower and especially for our first time, we are fine with that. (I have noticed that some of the deer are trying to construct what looks like a pickup truck out of twigs and leaves in order to pretend to be oilfield workers and drive out, but they seem to be having trouble getting the wheels right. – Lee)
Lee left today and went to the AT&T store (an hour away) to change over my Verizon phone number to AT&T. Thankfully it was incredibly easy, and even manually adding the contacts from my old phone Lee’s old one wasn’t that bad because we had lots of the same numbers. The Iphone 4 does have a tiny little screen, but since I have my Ipad all I really need it for is phone calls and texts. We also got water today and should be on a weekly schedule now. Some gate guarding companies don’t have an issue with extra water deliveries, but ours was clear from the start that we get 300 gallons for the week. Lee will be monitoring our daily usage starting tomorrow so we can get a feel for how much we need to ration. I don’t think it’s going to be a huge deal, but we will see. (I’ve been meaning to put together a little detail on water usage for people to ooh and ahh over, this seems like a good time to do that. – Lee)
Also our neighbor gate guard stopped by on her way home from her shift and we had a nice long chat. She talked quite a bit about how much gate guarding has changed since they started four years ago, and how that has impacted their lifestyle. When they started, they were routinely paid $225 a day, and now the rates are routinely $125. (That’s not exactly accurate, ALL of the gigs we are seeing in a Gate Guard FB group are offering $150 a day. I can’t decide if our $125 rate was a one time “starter” rate, or if we were supposed to ask for more, or what. But we won’t be taking a $125 gig again. It’s just not quite enough. – Lee) That $100 difference adds up to a missing $3K a month, (even the $25 difference adds up to $750) which is obviously not insignificant. They used to make enough to work some and play some, but now are faced with the same situation as us where you kind of have to work most of the time. The community has also changed now that there is less work, and lots of social activities folks used to take part in, no longer exist. There was a woman’s group and a men’s group that included somewhat frequent get togethers. They have had some friends leave gate guarding and try other things, but they had trouble finding the kind of work where they could make this much money consistently. Don’t get me wrong, there is higher paying work out there, but it’s tougher to get and despite a potential oil rebound it may never get to the rates it was when oil was in the triple digits.
We don’t know any different of course, since this is when we started, but I did think it was good to mention. The point it made to me was even if you find something that is really working for you financially, just like real life things can change. For us really working on keeping our costs low is the most logical next step, because it opens up more options for us on what types of jobs we can take. There are absolutely limits though on how deep we are willing to cut, so simultaneously looking for revenue streams is also important. Once we finish up trying these traditional work kamping jobs, I’d really like to think outside of the box a little and try something different. We’ll just plugging away at it and see what happens.
Today we finished up trying to plug our data leaks and were pleased that our typical usage (Facebook, web searches, etc) don’t use an inordinate amount of data. That’s a relief. And I made a new fried fish recipe that turned out pretty good…so hooray for that! (She’s modest. It was excellent. Not like a raw ribeye, or pie, but really outstanding. – Lee) I should also say that even the failures aren’t completely a lost cause, because I am learning cooking techniques I can apply to other recipes when I make them. For example, I tried a cake that I microwaved in a bowl in under 9 minutes. The technique was pretty cool and the cake cooked OK, the taste just wasn’t quite right. (She made it perfectly, but the recipe was truly awful. – Lee) But that’s OK, because I will definitely try that again. I’m also close to finishing going through the last two years of photos (doing about 3 months a night) and I am pulling out food pictures, group pictures (I have this idea to try a wall mural with them) and our best couple pictures from every state. I would like to have a United States map and cut out pictures of us to put on them. For the record I never considered myself a very crafty person, but my sister definitely is and she inspires me to at least try. Plus now I don’t have the excuse of “no time”, so we’ll see how things turn out. Don’t look for anything on that real soon though. I am famous for starting the prep work on things and then never getting around to them. I am hoping I can change that, but the recipe book is absolutely my number 1 priority.
It would be going faster, but things have picked up in the evenings and between 4pm -9pm we have more traffic than before. That means true quiet time doesn’t start until about 10pm and even though I am not tired I find that my eyes are. I’m keeping the lights off in the rig to help with that, but going outside in the dark and back into the light does seem to make my eyes work overtime. Lee read an article though that said the blue based light reminds the brain of daytime so it is harder to go to sleep after so much screen time at night. (This is definitely a problem, and there are settings in some phones and apps to combat it. Basically the “daylight” color temperature is measured over 5000 kelvin, which is a very blue white, and traditional incandescent light is closer to 3400k, which is a very “warm” or yellow white. I’ve experimented with using the setting on my phone to make my screen white warmer after dark, and it definitely helps. It’s generally a bad idea to use screens before you try to go to sleep, but this helps. It doesn’t technically matter what the color temperature is, as long as it’s well below 4000k, which our brain reads as daylight. When the brain sees that color temperature, it suppresses melatonin, which is a hormone that helps us feel sleepy.- Lee) There is a way to adjust the light to warmer tones on some devices so I am going to try that and see if it helps.
Oh and one last thing. Lee finally got the guy at the warranty company to take his call and he has completely changed his story. When we asked for the reason the claim was denied in writing, he said the dealership didn’t provide sufficient information to approve the claim. So Lee left a message with the Service Manager at Camping World, and we will see when he calls back. Being the monkey in the middle on this is absolutely ridiculous. Thank heavens we aren’t sitting somewhere unable to move until the repair was completed. Will keep you updated as things unfold.
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