Week 3 Results: Money Saving Experiment
Planned Expenses: $8.98
Unplanned Expenses: $32.82
Fried Pies, $10.37
Turner Falls Camping, $22.45
Reimbursement of Overdraft Fee: $25
Speaker return: $35
Total Spent: $767/$1,000
Overall I am quite happy with how this week went. My expenses were minimal, I got the overdraft fee refunded, and a friend and I were able to take an inexpensive camping trip to Turner Falls. Of course, you can't pass through Davis, Oklahoma on I35 without stopping at the Original Fried Pie restaurant there.
Just another week and a half left!
-Dillon Dakota Carroll
After rafting around Lake Konawa for an afternoon, I was determined to find an opportunity to use my $25 pool toy again.
I decided that taking it on a river would be best as I wouldn't have to paddle as much. Thankfully the Canadian River passes just south of Norman as it snakes across the state. On maps it appears as a fairly major river, the biggest one in the immediate area.
The appealing part for me is that the expenses for a trip like this are basically nothing. I packed some snacks and a thermos full of coffee, and I got dropped off right about where I-35 passes over the river. A short hike later, and I was on the riverbank.
The pump provided with the raft broke while I was inflating it, but I was able to get it sufficiently aired up by just blowing into the valve. With my gear stowed and the raft ready, I headed into the water!
...which was maybe about a foot deep, two feet at its deepest. When I got into the raft, it basically dragged on the streambed. I wasn't going anywhere like that.
Improvising, I tied a paddle to the front of the rubber boat and pulled it along behind me like a water sled as I waded down the river. This worked surprisingly well. I was refreshed by the crisp autumn water- it was a beautiful day, warm but not too hot- and I didn't have to carry anything. I just put it all in the boat and dragged it behind me.
Geographically I was very close to other human beings and their artifacts. Slowly working my way downstream, I wouldn't have believed it. In truth I was probably less than a mile away from the city of Norman at any given time, but only occasional airplanes from the OU airport passing overhead were witness to that fact.
I took a leisurely swim and stopped for a late lunch and coffee on a sandbar in the middle of the river. I wondered, how far could I follow this river? Where would it take me? So far, this didn't seem like a bad way to travel.
Unfortunately, the river becomes quite noticeably degraded further downstream. The pictures of that part wouldn't have been quite as pretty.
Looking for a place to pull off and hike back to a main road, I came across what I dubbed, quite creatively, Bare Earth Bay.
Bulldozers had cleared this strip of the shoreline, but for what? I guessed that it was some sort of restoration project, and I may not have been too far off. I wound up being offered a ride back to the highway, and my kind driver said he thought they were trying to seal an old city dump that had been back there and was leaking into the river.
Turns out, I chose a good place to end my half-day adventure (I was out for about 5 hours). Jenkins Avenue, which passes near my apartment complex, deadends at the newly-named Bare Earth Bay.
All said, this was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The river was for the most part beautiful, I got to explore a part of Norman I'd never seen before, and I was able to enjoy a wonderful day goofing off in the water before the weather turns cold and dreary.
I'm looking forward to a longer trip in my raft, perhaps combining a trip down a river with an overnight camping. Though next time I hope the river I choose is deep enough to actually float down!
Until the next adventure,
Dillon Dakota Carroll
Total Spent, Budgeted: $114.08/$130
Renter's Insurance, $16.53
Phone Bill, $55
Total Spent, Unbudgeted: $34.75/$10.64
MS Office License, $9.75
USAA Overdraft Fee, $25
Total Spent: $750.19/$1,000
Unpaid Expenses That Have Come Up
OU Parking Permit, $38
Unpaid Doctor Bill, ~$90
3 visits to the physical therapist, $75
Credit Card Account Fees, $75
First, despite what may seem like a lot of expenses this week, I noticed that this week was much easier than last week. It became easier to plan my meals in advance, or always have snacks on hand in case I got hungry. I worked from my apartment much more this week as well, helping to cut down on expenses. I used much less gas this week as I wasn't traveling to and from Oklahoma City.
I wrote last week that my computer wouldn't boot. I managed to get it working by doing a factory reset- yay! But that also meant that I lost my Microsoft Office license. I was still able to access OU's license for faculty and staff. Getting a legal license for $9.75 was a good deal, and I need the software suite for work.
I did unfortunately get hit with two $25 overdraft fees. I called my bank, and they waived the first one. When I called the second one hadn't shown up yet. I'm going to call tomorrow about the second overdraft fee to see if they wouldn't mind waiving that one, since both the offending charges occurred basically at the same time. We'll see!
The only real splurge would be that I bought an OU Parking Permit. And that's because I got a $25 parking ticket late last week. I talked to the OU parking office and they grudgingly waived the ticket for me (after assuring me that this would be the absolute last ticket they would waive), but with how much I'm still on the OU campus for meetings and audited classes I decided to play it safe and make the investment in the permit.
Big takeaway here- it never hurts to talk to someone and see if they can cut you a break. For about 10 minutes of effort I saved myself $50 in fees, between the overdraft charge and the parking ticket.
Okay, now on to the elephants in the room. A few expenses came up that threatened to push me over my budget, that I've decided that I'm putting off paying until at least November. Seeing as how I have a cash flow problem, that is, my expenses outstrip my income, delaying payment on these items seems logical until I have the income to pay for them. This feels weird for me to write because I've always prided myself on paying bills, debts, and so on promptly.
I am NOT saying this is an excuse for me to charge everything on a credit card- that isn't what I'm saying at all. Two of the unpaid expenses, with the exception of the physical therapy visits (and the bill for that hasn't arrived yet) were expenses made quite a while ago that only just now showed up on my radar. For example, the unpaid doctor bill was from May or June or something, and is frankly kind of silly. I was prescribed an ankle brace, which I mistakenly assumed would be covered by my OU medical insurance (surely they would have told me if it weren't...), wound up costing something like $80. For a tiny piece of nylon with holes in it and a shoe string through the holes. Not that I'm upset about it or anything.
I also benefited from a few free meals and groceries this week. Everyone from the summer business accelerator I participated in got a free breakfast from OU, as part of our biweekly meetups to hold ourselves accountable. I was also treated to breakfast by my mom. She also bought me lots of groceries. That was super nice and very much appreciated. Besides substantially improving my diet, it will also keep my pantry full for the next couple of weeks.
A final thought: One day while walking around OU's Campus Corner, I noticed that I felt a little out of place. I realized it was because I hadn't bought anything that day from any of the cafes or restaurants. Psychologically, I didn't feel like I had bought my place in public that day. It is completely silly, because I was on public streets. Regardless, there was a mental urge to validate my presence there by purchasing even something as small as a coffee.
That feeling scared me a little bit. In that respect, I hope that this experience will "untrain" myself to feel that way. It wasn't necessarily a strong urge, but feeling the need to buy something to justify my presence in public isn't something I want to encourage either.
I will also say that this whole experience is great motivation to start making income. As the saying goes, money doesn't buy happiness, but it doesn't hurt either!
Ah, yes, the quintessential American Midwest small town. The idyllic Main Street, USA. Oklahoma is full of tiny towns that are little more than 2 perpendicular highways that slow and dwindle at their crossroads into rows of shops and stores, a concentration of 500 or 2000 or so peoples. These towns, however, suffer from a grave problem.
The American Small Town, and by extension those who use and live in them, suffer from a lack of natural gathering points. Places like cafes, plazas, and town parks, spaces that exist somewhere in the middle of the public/private spectrum, where the chance encounters that they engender can create conviviality and spontaneity.
Restaurants, if they exist at all, are limited to fast food joints. The nearest public place is the local reservoir. A pedestrian can't comfortably stop on a ghostly empty Main Street, and the only seating is an occasional bench facing the brick wall of the building facade 6 feet away. It is a place meant for an automobile, not a human being on two legs.
A place like a church- and I choose this as an example only because it seems quintessentially small-towny- can't fulfill the function I refer to. It isn't public enough. it is fundamentally closed, belonging to a particular in-group. The interactions occur only at planned times, on certain days.
Yes, this is a rant spurred by some of the small frustrations of traveling through the back roads of a place like Oklahoma. Konawa, Wetumka, Eufala- in towns like these, one can't find a place to relax, perhaps eat tranquilly, pass the time. Are other states like this, beyond the South and the Midwest where I've spent most of my years?
I think about what alternatives I've seen, that I can compare it to. Small towns in the Mediterranean; in Spain or Italy, that have public plazas and centrally located parks where pedestrians naturally pass through en route to their destinations. Nooks, crannies, and ample seating allow a sense of privacy and security in a very public place. Passersby can afford to be friendly and open to strangers and acquaintances because of how public the space is, and the new gradients and nuances of privacy and publicness allow each to more effectively choose the level of intimacy they want with their fellow man.
Says Christopher Alexander (pattern 67):
Without common land no social system can survive. In pre-industrial societies, common land between houses and between workshops existed automatically- so it was never necessary to make a point of it. The paths and streets which gave access to buildings were safe, social spaces, and therefore functioned automatically as common land.
Cafes, and perhaps the American diner, can provide a similar social glue. Located on the public promenade or plaza, it serves to "anchor" the public street or square and provide passersby and an excuse to go leave their house, a goal to stroll or saunter towards. More sheltered and intimate than the street, it provides a psychologically and physically safe zone from which to view the life of the street, be around others, chat or pass the time in whatever way one sees fit.
Once again, Christopher Alexander (pattern 88):
In European cities and towns, there is a street cafe in every neighborhood- they are as ordinary as gas stations are in the United States. And the existence of such places provides social glue for the community. They become like clubs- people tend to return the their favorite, the faces become familiar... It helps enormously to increase the identity of a neighborhood. It is one of the few settings where a newcomer can start learning the ropes and meeting the people who have been there many years.
This is certainly not just a European phenomenon. A perfect example I can think of in Norman, where I live, is Cafe Plaid. Though it is infernally cold inside due to an overworked air conditioning system, it has the best terrace in town. It becomes a natural meeting place. One can just as easily go there to work, people watch, meet for lunch, on and on.
This may not seem important in a small town where everyone knows everyone else. But therein lies the problem. Do we want our communities to be stagnant by design? How can we open our communities, and by extension ourselves, to new people, places, and encounters? And how can these new interactions, beyond those at the local public school or the town's Sonic fast food restaurant or Kwik-E Mart, how can they enrich our lives?
Ultimately, I see it as a question of the culture we want in our communities. Surroundings matter- our surroundings to a large extent determine who we are and how we act. If you don't believe that, I will draw on an example I read on Steve Pavlina's blog many years ago. Imagine who you are right now, in the safety of your home perhaps, quite comfortable. Now imagine who you would be if you were suddenly locked up in a maximum security prison. Or an insane asylum. You are probably very, very different people in each system.
So my question is this: Do we want a stunted, stagnant culture- comfortable perhaps, but impenetrable and uninviting? Or a culture that enriches and enables greater nuances of meaningful interaction as well as the possibility for each to have greater agency in their social lives?
Since reading Microadventures, I've been fascinated by the idea of sleeping under the stars. Not in a tent, but actually outside, in nothing more than a sleeping bag.
I've done it before. But never alone, far away from comforts of home and hearth, in the wild. I suppose I'm still a bit afraid of the dark.
As I motorcycled east across the state, I was determined to do exactly what I dreaded: find a quiet, secluded corner of earth and wood all to myself and camp there.
Since I left Saturday morning and was returning on Sunday, I had only one night to try it. But by the time I finished up on the lake I was exploring and was on my way, the sun had set. I also hadn't eaten anything in what seemed like ages, and an empty stomach has a way of making itself a priority.
I've learned that it's best to scope out potential campsites during daylight. That may just be personal preference on my part.
I knew then what would serve my purposes. Earlier that day, trying to find the lake, I'd taken a wrong turn and found myself at a derelict, abandoned bridge. I would return there to sleep. I figured I would be safe from anyone stumbling into me during the night as the unused bridge was barricaded with earthworks and warning signs.
I love places like this, despite how creepy they can be (trust me, they are even more so during the night). I think they naturally incite one's curiosity. Where did this road lead? What places are no longer accessible after this road and bridge were closed? Why went into the decision to abandon the road versus repairing it?
Those were the thoughts as I had during the day. Now, at night, conscious thoughts fled as my senses became hyper-attuned to the sounds and sights around me. The rustle of leaves and twigs in the woods around me, slowly encroaching and consuming the asphalt. Broken glass grinding beneath my boots. The beam of my flashlight cutting through the darkness.
In the end, I went slightly beyond the bridge to a row a large, round haybales that lined the road. I can only guess that local farmers and ranchers used the abandoned road to store their extra hay. For now, it would make a great bed. I ate a second dinner and climbed up top with my sleeping bag and my rucksack as a pillow. Besides the rustling of what I hoped wasn't a skunk in the hedge next to me, the night passed uneventfully. And far from any major city, the stars were incredible. I don't think I make enough opportunities to stargaze. It's good for the soul.
I woke up at 4am damp and covered in dew. I should have used my bivvy sack!
1. The Cake-Colored, Crumbling Church
This fading, pastel-colored church just outside Lexington caught my eye because of its decadent beauty. The light, almost cake-like green and pink stand out as wonderfully refreshing to the eyes under the hot Oklahoma sun. It is the visual equivalent of drinking a cool glass of water. I don't think I've seen a building quite like it. I took a quick look around it, and quickly decide that it is certainly abandoned. All the doors and windows are boarded off and locked. I wonder what happened, that would make a congregation abandon such a unique house of worship. I'd like to return to this building, before it meets whatever final fate awaits it- renovation, demolition, or a slow, discouraging collapse into rubble and ruin.
2. The Impulsive Excursion on the Explorer
This is complementary to the story of my maiden voyage on the $25 inflatable raft that I wrote about here. Take a look for some context. I'll still be here, just for you, when you get back.
After securing my Explorer raft on the not-quite-defunct boat ramp, I followed the trail through the woods and to its conclusion. I was rewarded spectacularly.
3. Meditative Meanderings on a Melancholy Marina
On lake Eufala, in Arrowhead State Park, there sits the derelict Area 51 Marina Bar & Restaurant. Funny enough, I was directed there by the park volunteer staffing the visitor center. The place was quite obviously abandoned, and had been so for some time, but somehow the park volunteers don't know that.
I was really looking forward to a cold beer, but my disappointment was offset by having this quiet, eerie corner of the lake to myself. I say eerie- I think that the more recently a building or site has been abandoned, the eerier it is. Perhaps it's because it seems like the occupants could return at any moment, or because whatever caused their initial exodus could still be present.
Exploration inside was thwarted by locked doors, though a spiral staircase outside leads to a rooftop terrace. I'm a bit too exposed up there for my liking, so I return to the decking below. I sit on the dusty old patio furniture, under the expansive shade of the deep roof, and I make myself coffee on my tuna-can camp stove. All around me is the serenity of the blue lake water tinged talc-y white, its aqueous song punctuated only once by a passing boat. I watch, wait, and relax.
I finish my coffee and head home.
When I was a Freshman at OU, I competed in a cardboard canoe regatta for a class. My team's boat, the Feral Badger, won the race but sank in the process. Ever since then, I wanted to take a stab at building a better, waterproof canoe.
A few months ago, I finally built the Feral Badger II. I took it out to the pond behind my Mom's house for its maiden voyage. It wasn't as waterproof as I thought. It sank after 5 minutes.
I put my engineering education to use and decided that the material properties of cardboard aren't suited to watercraft, and the time vs. payoff of 2 weeks of building for 5 minutes of boating just wasn't quite worth it. So since then, I've been on the lookout for a cheap, portable boating solution.
Enter the Explorer, a $25 inflatable toy raft. Let's call it the Feral Badger III. The reviews were surprisingly good, so I bought one and made it a part of last weekend's Microadventure. It was a two day, one night trip across a couple of central Oklahoma's lakes. I was surprised at how much action I managed to pack into this trip! From breaking in my raft, to an unexpected infiltration (and some great views), sleeping under the stars on an abandoned bridge, to relaxing and napping on the shores of Lake Eufala, I put some miles on my KLR and broke in the new 50/50 Kenda 270 tires I installed on my bike a few weeks ago.
This post is part 1 of 4, arranged by topic. This article is about my rafting on the lake. I have written also about 3 of the structures on this trip that have stuck with me, my overnight camping on an abandoned bridge, as well as some observations on Oklahoma towns.
The first stop on my trip is at Lake Konawa, about an hour and a half east of Norman. To get there, I followed the State Highway 39 east from Lexington. It was a relaxing, scenic drive- few stop signs and basically no traffic. Fresh air. Wonderful.
First off, what is great about this raft is how lightweight and packable it is. The whole thing fit inside a duffel bag, with plenty of room still to spare. I was able to strap the deflated raft, my rucksack, and a sleeping bag to the back of my KLR with 3 bungee cords. It's a pretty optimum travel arrangement! I would just have to make sure that I could always make it back to my motorcycle somehow. I once read a travel website where the author was experimenting with using an inflatable raft (surely one a little better than mine) and a folding bicycle as the ultimate packable travel combination. In his case, he wanted to explore the canals of China. A motorcycle and an inflatable boat should work great for the lakes of Oklahoma where I don't necessarily need to take my bike with me!
The pictures below should give you an idea of what this thing looks like as you inflate it. It comes with a tiny little plastic handpump, and two plastic oars. I had to pump for about 10 minutes or so to get it seaworthy, and at first I couldn't tell if the pump was working or not.
Once I had it inflated, it took me about 20 minutes to get the hang of rowing it. It came down to all arm strength- with how I had to sit in this tiny boat, there was no way I could put my back into it. I started by rowing backwards, the way I'd always seen it done in movies (I've personally only ever paddled in a canoe or a kayak). It was pretty slow goings to row across the lake, especially to fight the wind and the water current. I did get some pretty views as I went across the lake, though. At one point I did get concerned- the wind stirred up the water enough that a few waves crashed over the back of the boat, which was low in the water due to how I had to sit in the Explorer raft. I solved the problem by reversing my rowing so that the pert nose of the raft, high out of the water, was facing the waves instead.
I was on the water for at least a couple hours, which was enough to wear me out and in the meantime travel a rough circle in the area immediately around the boat ramp. So this definitely isn't a speedy way to get around the water. Probably better than swimming, though.
Across the lake, on the other side of the shore, I did come a disused, weed-choked boat ramp that looked like it hadn't been used in years. My curiosity got the better of me, and I paddled ashore. I felt vaguely sneaky, struggling to clamber out of my tiny rubber raft without spilling gallons of lake water inside and soaking my gear (I had everything in the ruck in dry-bags, just in case, but still). I pulled my boat up out of the water and took a peek. Indeed, a dirt path led up and through the woods. I was here already, wasn't I? I might as well take a look and see where it went. In case my raft wasn't sea-worthy (lake-worthy?) enough to make it back across to my motorcycle.
Ah, but to see where it goes you'll have to take a look at the next post in this series.
All in all, I'm impressed with how well the raft performed. I want to use it again, perhaps taking some camping gear with me so that I can spend a couple days exploring in it, to offset its slow speed. Another option I'm considering is using it to float down a river. That way, I can use the oars to steer but otherwise not have to worry about tiring myself out rowing. In that case, I would hitchhike back to where I started. Depending on how I enjoy those trips, I may consider getting a nicer inflatable watercraft. Once I have some disposable income, of course.
Wednesday morning I got up at 4am to watch the lunar eclipse with my good friend Michael.
Trying to take these pictures at night made me wish I had a better camera!
I had no idea police motorcycles could be this cool. Complete with emergency lights, nightstick, water bottles, radio, and...
Assault rifles. Didn't see that one coming. Not sure why they need them, but they sure look cool!
Total spent, budgeted: $517.70/$516
Gas, $29.12 Over by $14.12, as I had to make 3 trips to and from OKC in 2 days for work.
Groceries, $23.83. Included a spaghetti dinner for a date I had.
Total spent, unbudgeted: $83.66/$96
Dinner at the Wedge in OKC, $27.89. I'd forgotten that we had a Levate team dinner out planned. I put the appetizer on my tab.
Donuts, $1.12. A late night moment of weakness.
Box wine, $25.50. For upcoming date nights. Surprisingly good. Cabernet Sauvignon, if you care.
Gym, $20. An expense I'd forgotten to include in the monthly budget.
Postage to return item to Canada, $9.15. I'll be getting a $40 refund on the item so this will turn into a net positive expense!
Tougher than I thought it would be. It is hard for me to be that guy who says, sorry, I can't go out tonight because I'm trying to save money.
I feel embarrassed that I basically blew through all of the unbudgeted emergency money in the first week. Proof, I suppose, of a variant of Parkinson's Law: expenses expand to fill the available budget.
I've noticed that I plan my days much more carefully now. I think carefully about how I'm going to get all three meals, as well as which meals I need to pack. When I go out with friends, a small flask accompanies me so that I don't need to buy overpriced alcohol at a bar or restaurant. When I go to a coffee shop to work, it is for a long stretch of time at a place that has free refills so that my caffeine addiction doesn't break my piggy bank.
After travelling to and from OKC three times in a row, and blowing through my week's gas allowance, I've noticed that I'm much more conscientious about when I schedule meetings. But it was also an expense I was happy to make, along with the dinner at the Wedge, because I'm not willing to jeopardize the progress of my startup, Levate, to pinch a few pennies. That to me would epitomize the saying Penny Wise, Pound Foolish.
Late last week, my computer wouldn't start. It looks like a boot file is corrupted, as the computer won't get past an error on the initial boot-screen. This is a problem because I need my computer for work. The alternatives to getting it fixed or replaced (spending money) is to work from a public computer lab (which is where I'm typing this post), or try and borrow a computer.
I lucked out, as a good friend of mine has his old computer after he bought a new macbook. He is willing to let me borrow it for now. In the meantime, I can try and investigate how to repair my computer on my own.
Modern technology is great- when it's working!
...sees much and knows much