Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Something Great for '98

With a little will power, you can get a free trip by this time next year.

By Paul Gerald

JANUARY 5, 1998:  The last New Year’s resolution I made was to give up New Year’s resolutions. I think that was back in the early ’90s. But in the mid-’80s I learned a little trick that I’ve used every year since. I learned it from Deadheads, and with it I have gone on all sorts of free journeys – Dead Tours back then, other long and purely pleasurable trips now. These trips seem to be free, since I do absolutely no work to earn them.

The trick is this: Throughout the year, generate and save all the spare change you possibly can, and throw it into a box in your closet; on top of that, check your wallet at the end of each day for any dollar bills that you think you can live without, then throw them into the box, too. It becomes an obsession after a while, and this year that obsession bagged me $926.

The money you save this way is entirely beyond your personal economy, since the pay you get from working is already (we hope) paying your bills. So you have a spare-change fund to do whatever you want with: do all your Christmas shopping, buy a stereo component, or pay off some credit-card bill. I once had a fund going for 15 months and wound up with $1,300. I got a six-week trip to Alaska with that one.

I am going to spend this year’s $926 on a several-week bus tour of the East Coast, visiting friends and family all the way. A 30-day Greyhound pass is $410, so I’m hitting the road with transportation and accommodations paid for and $526 in my pocket. My paychecks will handle the bills while I’m gone. I hope.

Think about it: What would you be doing with 926 free dollars right now?

It all starts with the coins. It is amazingly easy to set aside a dollar worth of spare change every day and never miss it. At that point you’re looking at $365 after a year. Ten bucks a week is $520. You can have serious fun in sunny lands for $520. But it’s not just about saving change; you have to make as much of it as you can. Pump the gas to five cents past the dollar and tell the guy you don’t have the nickel. Put dollar bills into every vending machine you use and keep the coins. Throw a bill into the tip jar at the coffee shop and keep the 65 cents you got in change. Sure, you’ll turn a lot of $7 lunches into $9 or $10 lunches, but the staff will remember you fondly, and besides, if it gets you a week in Florida ...

As an example, the picture running with this column is of two weeks worth of savings. There’s about $25 there.

There are only three rules to this trick:

First and foremost, never take money out of the box. If you need change for the laun-dromat, get it there. Once you become obsessed, you’ll find yourself buying a $10 roll of quarters and throwing $6.50 of them into the box when your clothes are clean. It’s a fine feeling at the end of the day to reach into the bottom of your pack or purse and pull out seven bucks worth of coins. They make a nice sound hitting the box, and seven dollars times 365 days equals one serious vacation in my world.

Second: If you do take money out of the box (and trust me, you will) always round up to the nearest dollar figure and throw it back into the box. If you take the $1.50 out for laundry, throw $2 back in. I find myself pulling as much as $10 or $12 out of the box and replacing it with a 20. But then, I’m totally obsessed. This is, by the way, the most important rule, because the whole point of this thing is to save money.

Third: Absolutely any amount of money which seems superfluous or unnecessary, money that you have planned the rest of your life without, goes into the box. Win $50 at the casinos? Throw it in the box. Somebody pay you back $10 you had forgotten about? Throw it in the box. I recently got a whopping 15-cents-an-hour raise at the YMCA, retroactive two months, so my paycheck had $17 on it that I wasn’t expecting. I got that $17 as cash-back from the deposit, and I threw it in the box.

One thing about this box: I know the sensible thing is to start a savings account and put your money in there. But money that goes into my bank accounts has a habit of disappearing, and it’s a lot easier to throw money into a box every day than to make an $11 deposit every week. Besides, I think it’s old-fashioned and fun to have a big box of money in your closet. Anybody know where a guy can get some mason jars?

I hope this adds something your life, even if it’s only a week of wandering around somewhere.

Happy ’98, everybody. I’ll see you out on the road.

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