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Archive for May, 2010

In the hole for the month of May

May 29th, 2010 at 11:49 am

I was kind of hoping that all the extra money I was earning from the Census Bureau could be socked away for, I don't know, winter heating oil expenses or something.

But because of a number of extra expenses this month, some unavoidable and one, umm, due to my own fiscal weakness, I've finished up May in the hole to the tune of $138.

I netted $1882 from 3 Census Bureau paychecks; that's about $454 more than what I'd get from 3 weeks of unemployment. In addition, I still got $188 from partial unemployment and $450 from freelance writing, which for me is a lot in a single month (as an out of work person). Plus I made $52 from online surveys. So my total net for May was $2,590 which is not bad at all, except for the following atypical expenses:

1. Cost of a plumber to declog a kitchen sink (my friends tried first) and fix a leaky toilet: $296 (THe toilet had been out of commission for well over a year.)

2. A set of 2 bamboo folding chairs: $117 (UNNECESSARY EXPENSE but i like them)

3. Clothing: I had an interview recently, plus the Census Bureau asks you to dress "business casual." Since gaining about 15 to 20 pounds since my layoff, none of my pants fit and i ended up spending $199 on pants, capris and a few tops. I really needed them; seems all i have in the way of summer clothing is tight-fitting t-shirts. but I could have tried harder to buy only discounted items.

4. The battery on my lawnmower died this spring, its 4th cutting season, and i picked up a new one yesterday to the tune of $136. This was definitely not on my planned list of expenses, but when the grass is growing, you can't delay mowing for long.

5. I spent $118 on gas this month, but that's due to the Census work I've been doing and much of it is reimbursable about 4x what I actually spent.

I'm wrapping up the Census work with just 2 surveys to finish. So I can expect 3 more paychecks from them, 2 of them for full-time work and this past week for about 15 hours worth. Doing the census work will also help me extend my unemployment benefits which, at this rate, it looks like I may well need to the bitter end.

Living absolutely minimally with absolutely no unnecessary expenses is possible for a month or even a few, but having done it now for 8 months, you sometimes feel you must "splurge" on entertainment or a meal out or SOMETHING or you'll go crazy. It's hard to keep it up without cheating a little. So today a friend and I will be visiting a garden. I'm using a coupon so we'll each pay just $3.50, but she'll likely be wanting to eat out, and I hope to avoid caving in to that, much as I'd like to. The Census work lulled me into a false sense of, "I'm earning money and can afford to spend a little more than I normally do here and there." I'm not sure I absolutely needed to spend $200 on clothing; I probably could have gotten by spending $75. The chairs, of course, unnecessary. I really need to try harder to stifle those spending impulses when they come, becus I often give in to them. A little here, a little there and it really does add up.

So after I finish up these last 2 remaining surveys, I should have a lull of no Census work for the month of June, and then hopefully will get a call early July for some "cleanup" work in other towns. That work will undoubtedly be harder becus finding addresses somewhere other than my hometown will be more difficult, but it will also translate into more money due to the mileage. I have no idea how much extra work there will be, or what towns they may send me to.

Job interview today and other stuff

May 27th, 2010 at 11:03 pm

this a.m. i had a job interview, a financial writer position in a town a good 75 minutes away withOUT traffic.

I figured I'd check it out. The plan was to "wow" them with me, seduce them into making an offer and then ask for partial telecommuting benefits.

I think the person interviewing me, who would be a colleague, liked me well enough and she said my book (portfolio) was "impressive." But i was surprised the interview only lasted a half hour, hardly enough time to show her all my writing samples and she never even really went into what the job was like.

I suspect she's doing the initial screening interviews and those who get called back will meet with the agency owner.

I've pretty much decided I can't deal with that kind of commute, and she made some comments early on that indicated telecommuting would be unlikely. However, she did ask me what my freelance hourly rate was and i told her. If i pass on the perm job, perhaps there's a chance i could get some freelance work out of it. I only regret i told her my rate ($60/hr) for my real estate clients, who can't afford anything higher. Financial services clients would easily pay someone $75 an hour. Oh well. Too late now.

My census work is winding down in a hurry. I only have 4 surveys left, and these are all "problem" cases where I've been unable to make contact with the resident. My crew leader is going to recommend me for some further "clean-up" work in early July, which would mean going into other towns to wrap up loose ends there. She's only recommending the top people, and I'm #1 in terms of productivity!

So aside from these 4 or so problem surveys, which i'd love to wrap up early this weekend, I'll have a nice month-long break in June to just get back to my own schedule.

I've been missing working in my veggie garden. Delicate and adorable cucumber, bean and squash seedlings have emerged from the hills I planted. It's always a miracle to me when seeds sprout. I mulched the potatoes again today and did some weeding. I also picked a cup's worth of basil leaves and made a yummy pesto sauce over pasta with the basil, walnuts, parmesan cheese and olive oil and garlic cloves in the blender. I get addicted to this stuff.

I also had a gigantic salad for 2 with lettuce from my garden with cherry tomatoes (why is all they sell now grape tomatoes??) and french dressing, which happens to be my favorite.

I'm really in need of FUN, so friend and i agreed to do a few things this weekend that may include trip to a local garden (I'll take pix fur sure) and trip to a Big Lots type store i don't usually go to and then hit the diner nearby for lunch.

Wasted half the day feeling sorry for myself

May 23rd, 2010 at 12:19 am

Sorry, folks, this will be a bit of a downer.

I don't think i want to go into details, but today was my first really bad day doing the census work, due to hitting two consecutive homes, the first ones i visited today, where the people were really, umm, bitchy. Then i hit a 3rd house just as bad, later in the day. I actually parked by the side of the road and cried. This after 4 weeks working full-time and for the most part enjoying the work.

I'd like to quit, but realize i really can't because it could affect the unemployment benefits I'm still getting. So i'll have to tough it out for another 2 weeks or so, which is when the work is expected to wrap up.

I called my crew leader to talk about it and spent the rest of the day here at home, not doing much but just feeling upset. I'm not used to people yelling the F word in my face. It's really shocking that people feel free to verbally abuse a stranger and then call the cops to complain about me.

I talked to the cop on the phone and it was no big deal. She just reminded me that when people start getting nasty, just leave immediately. Problem is, the CB wants us to try to talk people into doing an interview if they resist. It's a very fine line between recognizing someone who's just grumbling, but who will do the survey with you if you're patient and persuasive, and someone who goes from grumbling to furious in a matter of minutes and recognizing the futlity of trying to talk to them.

But there are many more nice people than not.

After the nasty people, I soldiered on and the next residence i went to, i was still feeling very shaky and the guy i was talking to picked up on it. I mentioned I'd had some particularly difficult homes to visit. He seemed curious about it and while i probably shouldn't have, i told him all about it. I needed to vent. He was very kind.

I've had others invite me into their home and offer me water to take along with me when the weather was hot. One man toldme he intentionally didn't mail in his survey becus his brother, who works for the Census Bureau, told him that the more people who don't mail in the survey, the more unemployed Americans will be put to work. I was able to tell him that I'm one of those people, and i was very grateful for the work.

I've had many interesting conversations and connected with a lot of people. I find that people often want to talk about whatever's on their mind and I enjoy the dialogue. But it just takes a single nasty person to ruin my day and it's hard for me to bounce back quickly.

I've been working 7 days a week, not full days, but 7 days nonetheless becus i need the money. Now i'm feeling gun shy about approaching a new house becus i have no idea if loose dogs are going to rush me (I always drive into the driveway for that reason; if there are loose dogs, the car offers protection) or, more importantly, are the people going to be nice or not.

I'm taking tomorrow off,and hope to regain some of my confidence early in the week.But I guess the novelty of doing this has worn off now.

So tomorrow i'm going to see Alice in Wonderland at the $2 movie theater with a friend. Maybe will mow the lawn.

1st Census paycheck and more on my census Experience

May 15th, 2010 at 11:45 am was so small, after taxes, if you compare it to what i used to make in my field, but compared to what I'd otherwise be earning now, as a long-term unemployed person? I netted $640 (gross: $860).

I'm enjoying the work. I've run into a few bitchy women (it's always the women, I'm afraid). I actually think some are jealous I'm talking to their husband. I was talking to one dad in the driveway while the teenage son was on the cell phone with mom. Son told me his mother said to move my car out of the driveway becus she was coming home. Geez.

I've had 2 compliments on my diamond peace sign necklace, and they were both from men who were from my generation. It's unusual to get compliments from men on jewelry, usually it's women who notice it, so I'll consider that a good sign that i picked a nice piece.

My assistant crew leader told me that he and the crew leader both agreed that i was, far and away, the most productive "enumerator" (Census worker) they had in my group of 15 or so. I think our crew leader made a mistake when she told us in training that the census bureau expects us to complete one survey per hour of work. Of course, that includes time spent finding an address, tracking down people who may not be home and/or looking for a proxy/neighbor who can give you basic info about the housing unit.

Still, i think that gave a number of people the false idea that they could generally goof off and get a day's worth of pay as long as they completed just 8 surveys.

I've been averaging about 16 a day, sometimes more. So they want to pile on the work and i said sure, bring it on. Otherwise, my crew leader's boss had threatened to "bring people in," meaning, enumerators from other towns, to finish the job, which i guess would be an embarrassment to her. Some people are going to school, or doing this on the side after another job, so that accounts for part of it. There's one guy i talked to who has a tree cutting service, and he only does his census work, which pays less than tree-cutting, on rainy days when he can't cut down trees.

But i made sure to clear my schedule so i could focus wholly on the census work, and my personal goal, as mentioned before, is to do as close to 40 hours a week worth of work as possible, becus once it's done, that's it. No more work (at least for another 10 years).

I'm scheduling my 1 day off for whenever it rains, so this week, that'll be Tuesday.

This past week my assistant crew leader needed to "monitor" an enumerator in action, so he went out with me, which i was dreading. They make a big point of your reading the questions EXACTLY as they're written on the survey and you're supposed to ask, for example, whether the person is male or female, even when you're staring them right in the face. Most people get impatient or irritated at that point since the answer is obvious and you're wasting their time. But anyway, he only needed to see me do one interview, and after that, he said I aced it and he took off.

In between census work, i manage to keep the lawn mowed and i've also continued planting squash seedlings in the garden. Yesterday i planted 5 very small tomato plants but i hope they mature quickly.

How my census bureau work has been going

May 8th, 2010 at 01:57 pm

I havenít spent much time around here lately because I recently started working with the Census Bureau.

Yes, they finally called me. I was thrilled. I completed 4 days of training in an unheated church hall, sitting on a cold, metal chair with about 20 other trainees each day, and as a result started feeling sick following my last day of training. Have been battling a cold ever since.

The timing couldnít be worse because theyíve told us that when the work, expected to last about 6 weeks, begins petering out, it will be the least productive enumerators who get let go first.

No oneís really sure how long the work will last, but I do know that the more affluent towns like mine had higher response rates to the mailed survey, so the need for in-person visits is less. The cities had lower response rates. They always have you work in your own home town, which is great because you tend to know the area better and have an easier time finding addresses.

When you get your addresses, you also get census maps for that area showing the GPS locations of the addresses, which comes in handy.

Iím determined to maximize my earnings (up to 40 hours a week max, no overtime), so Iíve been working pretty much 7 days a week. Not full days, mind you, but 7 days nonetheless.

Iíve been tinkering with my work hours to find the most productive time and itís clear that while you can visit homes and leave your notices to have them call you from 9 to 5 on weekdays, the vast majority of people donít bother calling you back, so you have to return to the address anyway.

So I've found the best time for me is from about 3 p.m. til dark on weekdays, and then i put in another hour finishing up the paperwork at home. All day on Saturday and Sunday is prime time, with the best chance of finding people at home.

Youíre allowed to make up to 3 in-person visits and up to 3 attempts to reach them by phone. (Youíre only provided with the street address, no phone or name, so itís up to you to do a reverse address phone lookup online. Iíve found the online listings to be less than accurate if people have recently moved.)

If you canít make contact with the people, you can try knocking on a neighborís door and, if theyíre willing, have them serve as your proxy for the other address. That method worked very well for me in an area of my town that has a lot of summer cottages on the water. I found a single year-round resident who was willing to walk up and down her street with me and serve as proxy for a half dozen summer homes. It saved me the trouble of going through the motions of repeat visits to clearly vacant homes. (You canít guess or assume itís vacant, you have to have the resident or a knowledgeable neighbor, realtor or landlord confirm that.)

Iíve been pleasantly surprised that 98% of people are cooperative and willing to do the survey. Some you can clearly see are resistant, but even then, most answer most of the questions, even with me asking fairly personal questions like, do you own the house with a mortgage? Whatís your age and date of birth?

I ran into one rude woman yesterday who came out of her house as I was getting out of my car to tell me, ďGet out of my driveway, my husbandís coming home soon.Ē As I began to do so, she told me I didnít have to, she was just in a ďbad mood.Ē She continued to grumble about the governmentís inefficiency becus she had mailed in her survey too late for it to be counted and now had to do the survey with me a second time. Hey lady, it takes all of 5 minutes and after this, you wonít see a census worker for another 10 years!

I considered getting some Mace from the drugstore in case of aggressive dogs, but I havenít had any problems yet. If I see a loose, barking dog in a yard, I donít get out of the car. In fact, I was at one address yesterday and waited in the car a good 10 minutes to see if the continuously barking dog would get the occupants to come outside. It didnít. I even lightly beeped the horn to try to get their attention, but they were obviously occupied. I finally gave up and left.

Iíve been enjoying the work and wished it would last longer. I like it becus you can make your own hours, adjusting when necessary, and you work on your own, which suits my temperament. And I really like exploring my own hometown, meeting residents and seeing homes and neighborhoods I never knew about.

While my town has a population of just 28,000, itís one of the largest towns in terms of square mileage in the county. Iíve gone to some really out of the way locations that remind me of Appalachia because of their remoteness and mosquitoes. These are people who like to be left alone!