Tag Archive for money

My Two Cents on Dollars

So, first post I’ve written on my tablet, but bed’s too comfy to leave and I got thoughts to chew on before I go to sleep.

It started by thinking about my current “entertainment” budget, then recalling how some friends of mine were scraping by, and how they think about money, and then how I treat money and what I’d found out recently about where I stand.

Maybe it’s best if I start with my situation.  My current job is salaried, and I honestly probably pay less attention to the amount than I should.  For example, there’s a bonus program going on for completing some training that we need to do anyways, but it had to be done on our own time.  I wanted to do it because it needed to be done anyways, and I had some art in mind I wanted to spend it on, but I almost missed the deadline because the money wasn’t that important – and it was half of a single paycheck in total!

Currently my life us fairly comfortable, though not extravagent.  Thanks to my current arrangements, bills are mostly covered, so most of my paychecks go into savings.  These are relatively temporary arrangenents though, so I still treat that money as if it was already spent, and ignore the total amount sitting in savings unless I need to move money. This keeps me from getting used to overspending and having issues later due to that.

My perspective on money is informed by this treatment of pay as well.  I still feel $200 is a lot to spend on anything, and spending $100-ish on single optional purchases still makes me internally cringe a bit. When I’m  using anything that’s triple digits in price, I usually go over it several times before pressing “buy.”  I still try to pay cash for most small offline purchases even!

Well I was looking at some statistics the other day about salary ranges and was surprised at the ranges.  I had thought I was in the lower-middle class range, but apparently I’m solidly middle class?  My dad before retirement was actually upper-middle, but it never felt like it growing up.  We never really lived like it either.

My friends on the other hand are in a worse situation, though it’s partly of their own making – they have too many dogs and cats to feed and care for, and at least one of them doesn’t really want to get rid of any.  They’be got 4 dogs, 9 cats I can think of, plus 2 more kittens, and then 4-6 people, depending on if either of those last two are covering their own stuff or not.

They’re basically running off two incomes at the moment, with a third partially contributing via rent. Money is tight, and even $3 can seem like a lot at times I think.  They still manage to squeeze in some “entertainment” purchases, it doesn’t feel like they really budget well in advance.  They’re basically going paycheck-to-paycheck right now from my perspective.

Now I’m wondering if I should see if I can help with some electronic budgeting.  At a basic level anyways.

Now I’m not sure where I was going with this.  I try to treat money as if I don’t have it, track my monthly spending on “toys,” balk at big purchases, but a meal out every now and then or an occasional $3-$10 purchase doesn’t seem excessive.  My dad on the other hand will buy a 6-month sub to an MMO he hasn’t even tried yet and think nothing of it.  I’ve got a co-worker who has been subbed to WoW since Vanilla, even though he hasn’t played in years.  And then for the people I mentioned earlier even a month of WoW is a significant cost.

When you don’t have it, money is precious.  If you have a lot and start to use it, your mental scale for what is and isn’t expensive can change, which can then lead to trouble later if your supply dries up, which I guess is all about lifestyle.  Find the lowest lifestyle you’re comfortable at, then put all the extra away in case you ever actually need it. Even if you don’t follow a hard budget, at least track it so you can catch yourself if you start overspending.  At least, that’s what I’m trying to do.

After all, there’s two tips I’ve heard in the past. First, is that to have a comfortable retirement, you want to have around one million in the bank these days.  With inflation that will only go up.

Second, is that you want to aim for putting about half your post-tax paycheck into savings.  Right now that’she not a concern for me, but once my circumstances change as I expect them to, I’ll be using that as one of my budgeting guidelines to aim for.

It just feels odd that despite having the lowest need to be responsible with budgeting currently of those I’ve discussed, I seem to be being the most responsible.  And yet, I still seem to care less about it than others.

Speaking about being responsible, one last tip: credit cards shouldn’t be used as small change loan sharks, but as condoms for your wallet.  If you don’t spend more than you have and pay it off in full, it’s no different than a debit card in convienience.  However, if someone steals you debit card number, that money is gone until you convince the bank to reimburse you.  If they steal a CC number, you still have all your money while you work with the bank to cancel the fraudulent charges.  Finally, if you don’t pay it off, interest rates can lead to you digging a hole for yourself that you can’t get out of. I was headed that direction once, but used my current money-handling methodology to free myself from that trap.

Don’t really have anything else to add to this rambling now I guess, so I’ll call it here and see if I can actually get some sleep now!

All we need is time, time, time…. time is all we need

So I’ve been trying to get this written for the past several days, but kept pushing it back since I didn’t have enough time with all the other things going on.  It seems to be something you can only ever have too little of or too much of; and once it’s spent, it’s gone.  All sales are final, no refunds or exchanges allowed.  As we only have a finite amount of time in this existence, that’s why we have to decide on what we actually want to spend it on.  Thus, the concept of opportunity cost and so on.

While I didn’t plan this to be my original topic, I actually think this might be worth further expounding on a bit, as it leads into what I was originally wanting to talk about.

Basically, opportunity cost is something people will tend to ignore quite a bit, especially in MMO games, and almost certainly in F2P/microtransaction-based ones.  Heck, I’ve done it myself in WoW.

The Auction House in WoW is a living example of this.  I used to play the auction house for a while, and I know when I crafted something and tried to sell it I usually compared it to the cost of the mats when pricing things.  If it went below the cost of the mats, I sold the mats instead.  There are enough people out there that do not do this however that sellers have complained for ages.

You see, for some people, they might spend 5 hours mining(this is all pre-WoD) and gather a bunch of stuff, craft it, then throw it up.  They get undercut, so they super-undercut to try and sell their stuff first, with the end result of the market for that item “crashing” to the point the major sellers either leave it alone, or buy up all the cheap items to reset the value and resell them.  The original seller though?  He didn’t care, because he considers all the materials he mined “free” since he didn’t spend gold on it, so any gold is profit.  What he neglects to account for is the 5 hours he spent gathering it, when he could have been doing something else like running dungeons or old raids.  heck, beyond a certain point he might have made more gold just doing that instead of mining and crafting.

Until recently, this was less obvious as gold in WoW did not have a (legal) fixed value in real money.  With the time tokens available now however, that gold can be quantified against the money you actually make working.

Now working is something we have to do whether we want to or not, at least in the US.  We give up some of our limited time in exchange for the resources to do all the other things we actually want to do.  Still, say you make $15/hour working a specific job.  That means you can quantify an hour of your time as $15, just for arguments sake.

Now a month of sub time for WoW is $15.  Last I heard, a sub token costs around 22k gold, so there’s a rough equivalency there.  So, if you were doing it purely for gold gain and had other things you would have preferred to do with that time, paying real money for X that was around 22k might be a better deal than trying to farm and craft it yourself.  Of course, this also doesn’t factor in that there’s other competition for your work money, and that there’s still a limited amount of time spent working, compared to time spent doing something else.  If you work your MMO gaming like a job though(and not enjoying it) and aren’t making the equivalent of your work salary?  Well, you’re just plain doing it wrong, by the numbers.

Note also that you can’t get the money back out of the game(unless you’re looking at Second Life) – once it’s sunk into the game, it’s gone, period, and you’re left with whatever you got back from it e.g. gear, enjoyment, etc.

Now WoW has added the follower mini-game in WoD, which allows for offline progression.  For example you might spend 5 minutes logging in and setting up missions, and then spend 5 minutes later that day collecting 500 gold(or more, depending on follower traits).  There usually tends ot be little bits of dead time here and there in people’s schedules(such as eating breakfast before work) so you can take advantage of things like this without much of an opportunity cost.

Now WoW is sub-based, in that you need to pay every so often to keep access to the game, so if you’re not having fun, most folks would cancel their subscription or just stop playing. F2P games on the other hand don’t have that barrier.

Instead they have Microtransactions.  Little things here and there that can add up to the cost of a sub or (much!) more. Say there’s a “Gotta-have” item in the cash store.  Someone might look at it and go “$10?  Pff, this is a free game, I’m not paying that!” and then spend 10 hours grinding some currency to use instead for the same thing.  Without that initial barrier, many people won’t even look at how long something might take, but instead just grind it in an effort to keep it “free” while spending way too much time on it.  On top of that, some games(especially Korean-originated ones) turn that grind up to 11 to try to entice these people into paying instead without (quite) driving them off.

In other words, take a good long look at how long it might take you to get something in-game, and if you really want it, before trying to grind it out when playing F2Ps.  It might be a much better use of your limited time, if you can afford it, to reward the developers with a bit of cash, as long as you don’t go overboard and turn into a whale throwing their entire bank account at a game that could potentially disappear within a few years.

That said, it brings me back to the more personal part of what I was wanting to talk about, Star Trek Online.  F2P, and I started playing it a bit a month or two ago during some WoW downtime, as I believe I mentioned before.  Well I’m enjoying it enough and WoW little enough that my limited non-work time has gotten totally flipped around!

Before, I was spending most of my idle time in WoW trying to find things to do and doing my few-times-per-day/week “chores” for more resources.  A few weeks ago now I actually totally stopped logging into WoW except for raid nights, and the last couple I’ve actually not even done that – I just logged into the battle.net client to see if they needed me to fill out the 20 spots.

It’s kinda funny.  Raiding with Prestige was fun, but as we got deeper into Mythic, the pressure and stress just kept building to keep performing at peak constantly.  It was still a good rush to get a new boss down ahead of everyone, and even bigger to get a Server First on a Mythic end boss, but the push and pressure to try and get it down ahead of everyone were making me start to dread raid nights.  I could see that performance-wise, while I was never top material, I was getting towards the bottom compared to the excellent players already on the raid team.  While I’m fairly sure we’d still get them down with me there, there was an impression, whether mine or among certain people, that I might be holding them back from staying on top.

My mindset in raiding has always been to push progression, but at the same time to focus on our own and ignore what everyone else’s progression is.  Compete only with ourselves.  While when I started running with them that may or may not have been the main mindset, with how long we stayed on top of the listings it seems to have taken over in large part, especially among leadership.  That’s not what I’m playing for(though it is an ego boost) and I just plain wasn’t having fun with it anymore. Still, I was showing up because I knew we were short on players and I had implicitly agreed to be there.  Recruiting has been working out better recently however, which has allowed me to start stepping away from the game finally, especially since I have other things I can do now(like STO).

The main downside has been getting people I know to play!  With WoW, there’s multiple people there I know, but STO was a blank slate in that regard.  A large part of the game there for me is the story missions which are easily single player, but when I went in to try and pug for the first time I found myself missing having guildmates or othersuch on vent to coordinate with and learn all these instances.  I was able to stick with the easiest one since I was just farming it for marks, but eventually I’ll want to see the others.

At least there’s maybe 3 people I know RL I’ve gotten to give it a look, so if they like it and stick around that would be a start.

Either way, with STO it’s all still fairly fresh, and I’m mostly enjoying even the grinds still.  When it started to feel a bit annoying to do one(such as when I was grinding Tholian marks on Nukara) it’s easy enough to just hop over to do something else for a bit.  Since it’s almost all time-gated, once you get a certain amount of buffer you can just keep it to a minimum, or grind it out in one big go(like I mostly did with Nukara).

To bring my earlier points into this though, STO actually has a very leniant implementation of F2P.  Paying for just a race unlock(for cosmetic reasons – busty feline captain ahoy!) and using just the free stuff I was able to hit level cap and play though most of the content.  I could have kept on going, but I’ve taken a “time-out” from following the story to beef up my main’s ship and gear.

Needing pay content and wanting pay content, however, are two very different things, as shown by my race unlock.  Looking around, it’s easy to see how you can spend a lot of money in that game, even if none of it is required.  Cosmetic options, “gambling” for gear via the lockbox-key system, and the highest end ships are all behind the paywall, as well as unlocking additional slots for inventory, bridge officers, followers, and so on.  Skill respecs are even nominally behind it.

At first glance, it looks like a lot.  However, there’s a time-gated in-game currency that’s tradeable for the cash shop currency in much the same way as WoW’s time tokens – one person buys the cash shop currency, then trades it for the time-limited currency to speed things up(since it’s tied to a lot).  Most of the prices are low enough that you can get what you want after a couple weeks of just playing normally.You see, this currency may be time-gated in how fast you get it, but you get it from doing almost anything in the game, and you can buffer it up!  Right now I have enough that if I did nothing but log in for 5 seconds to refine it, I wouldn’t have to do anything else for 2 weeks to use up my stockpile.  On top of that, the limit is per-character, so the more alts you play, the faster you can get the currency and the less time it takes – although to be fair, at that point it might turn into more grind than fun beyond a certain point.

Pretty much the only thing that takes a huge amount of time is new ships.  Given this is Star trek, the makers know that’s the high demand item, and it’s priced appropriately – $20-$30 for a high end ship.  Using the exchange I was talking about? 3-4 months with only a single character’s limit. Obviously that scales down with multiple alts, but as I’m new and don’t have the “alt support structure” I have on WoW, that’s outside the scope of what I was looking at for myself.

They also have regular sales of 15-20% off, which helps as well.  So this past weekend I took advantage of that to dump around $60 into the game, since my “entertainment” budget for this month had barely been scratched.  In fact, the only other expense on it was paying for one month sub for STO, as it unlocks a LOT more stuff that you normally have to pay a lot more for separately. Even better, you get to keep almost all of it when you go back F2P, and if I resub later, the character-based benefits will also apply retroactively.

Basically STO, while it may have its own issues with power creep and has a lot of monetization, is also extremely fair to the casual player and nowhere near “pay-to-win” in my books.  I chose to give them some cash, as I was enjoying the game and helps make sure the game continues – and I shouldn’t need to spend any more in the near future as I get more established and better able to take advantage of things like the cash shop exchange.

As to what I’m going to be using the money I put in for?  I’ve got my eye on a couple ships, and last year around this time they had a 15-20% off ship sale…

Best description of the US economy ever

I normally don’t write about this stuff, but this quote was posted on a private forum on a Transformers board I frequent, and it was too good not to share.  Since I can’t link to the actual post to share it, I’ll share it here!

The entire concept of trade, of capitalism, is the efficient allocation of resources. That it’s only marginally more difficult for me to build two or three tables than it was to build one, and that it’s only marginally more difficult for you to find and cook food for two people than it is to find and cook food for one, so I’ll give you my second table in exchange for you giving me a few meals. That’s barter.

But barter is a pain in the ass because trying to track down who’s willing to trade something you need for something you have a surplus of is really hard. So instead of barter, we had this rare, shiny stuff that we used as tokens to represent the nebulous concept of “value.” Which worked a lot better than barter, most of the time, but it had its own problems—sometimes there weren’t enough tokens to go around, or new tokens were going into the system too quickly and made the tokens everyone had less valuable, or people made fake tokens, or people tried to remove some of the rare stuff from those tokens and sell it separately while still presenting the token at the value it was originally set to represent.

So instead of tokens made from rare shiny stuff, or even tokens representing rare stuff stored somewhere, we figured out that it works better to just make cheap (but very, VERY difficult to fake) tokens that we can just make more of whenever we need more, backed by the credibility of the people who make those tokens instead of relying on the perceived value of a scarce substance. And we still try to ask for some of those tokens back, because making too many of them to pay for everything without trying to take any back hurts our credibility as the people backing them, devaluing the tokens much like too much of the rare shiny stuff devalued the tokens. Which is fine, that’s an easy enough system to manage (aside from where it’s really complicated and difficult to predict consequences of things)… as long as you know what you’re trying to accomplish.

Unfortunately, there’s a bunch of people out there with a lot of tokens who aren’t very nice. They derive their self-worth from the tokens, and not just how many tokens they have, but how many more they have than other people. They view how many tokens people give them as indicative of how much those other people respect them. They view the fact that they have tokens as proof of their inherent moral superiority to the people who don’t have tokens. They view their possession of tokens as evidence of all the hard work they’ve done, even though their parents had a lot of tokens too and that helped put them in a position to get all those tokens. They view anyone trying to take their tokens with suspicion. But worst of all, they use the fact that they have a lot of tokens as part of their resumé when they demand they should have the job of managing that token-making system, even though they’ve spent their entire life operating as though tokens are still that representation of a concrete scarce object and have no idea how to deal with it as an abstract representation of value.

So when one of those people gets into a position where they have a say over how the token-making is done… they tend to do very bad things with it. They freak out over the fact that we’re creating more tokens than we collect, even though a small amount of devaluation of those tokens over time helps to forgive people’s debts and encourage people to use their tokens more often. They freak out over the fact that we’re taking people’s tokens because taking things from people without giving them something they specifically asked for or doing something for them that they specifically asked to have done is mean. And they object to all the things we’re doing that benefit everyone, like making sure the roads are in decent condition and that people can go to the doctor if they feel sick, because they could just spend their tokens if they needed that and if anyone else wants those things, those people should have to spend just as many tokens as they have to.

Essentially, they forget that the point of those tokens isn’t to exist as their scorecard, their representation of self-worth, but to *facilitate the exchange of goods and services.*

So let’s all remember what the point of all these tokens are for!