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Archive for February, 2008

This blog is going to the dogs....

February 6th, 2008 at 07:57 am

I've decided I need to lighten things up here, so I'm going to write about two loving family members who could care less about whether I pay my debt off -- my dogs, Beauty and the Beast (not their real names.)

Beauty and the Beast are polar opposites.

Beauty is a purebred Bichon Frise show dog (except she's never been shown).

The Beast is a mix between a warthog and rabid hyena.

Beauty is 2 years old and the Beast is beyond ancient even if you're counting in human years (which we are).

And, to really illustrate how opposite they are, the Beast is the type of dog to sit loyally by your side for weeks when you drop dead and your body is left to decay undiscoverd in your basement while Beauty would eat your face off should you dare to lay down in a prone position with your eyes closed even for a second.

When we got Beauty, the vet told us that Bichons were prone to allergies and tear staining (the red streaks you often see under the eyes of white dogs). He suggested we feed her an all-natural diet and stick to bottled water for her.

So, while Alpo was fine and dandy for the Beast, I went in search of a low-cost natural diet to feed Beauty. I ended up choosing Wysong Synorgon chicken and rice canine diet. At $5.99 for a 4-pound bag, it was only $2 more than what I was paying for the Beast's food. (And, best of all, it's supposedly made of human-grade food so I could eat it should I be forced to eat dog food in my old age.)

As for the bottled water, well, what's the difference between bottled water and water from the filtered tap???? I say absolutely nothing....

Now I've got two dogs and two diets. Anyone who has two dogs knows feeding one the equivalent of Doritoes for dogs and the other organic health food is not going to work. Beauty turned her nose up at the good stuff and went straight to the Beast's bowl for dinner every night.

To solve the problem, I've now got two dogs eating an all-organic diet. Every now and then, I swear the Beast looks up at me with his sad little eyes and pleads "Where's my cheap junk food? This healthy stuff is for the dogs!!!!"

What is a compulsive debtor?

February 5th, 2008 at 09:31 pm

I've had a number of people ask this question today. To learn the answer, go to Debtors Anonymous to take the debtors quiz and read about the signs of compulsive debting.

In case you're wondering, in my case, I can not have a credit card ever again because I will spend like crazy if I have one. I do have a debit card, but I rarely use it. Instead, I tend to deal strictly in cash and I record every dime I spend. I have to think out every purchase I make and plot out every shopping trip I take so my compulsive debting doesn't kick in. Buying a pair of socks is tantamount to buying a new car for me.

I wasn't always like this. I used to be a pro at the 30-minute power shopping trip.
When I was still doing the high-powered corporate job, I would run to the mall during lunch and in 30 minutes buy a new wardrobe. It was retail therapy at it's finest.

Now, I know if I live that way it will ultimately kill me.

I attend 12-step meetings regularly for my problem. I do not have credit cards; and God willing, never will again. I tend to joke about my "problem" here, but it is a very serious issue in my life. Yet, I refuse to let it define me and I also refuse to live in deprivation.

The difference, though, is that I'm not debting to live my life anymore. Yes, I'm going on vacation -- paid in full with cash. Yes, I shop at Macy's -- with cash only. Yes, I have a maid -- paid with cash twice monthly because frankly it's hard to work two jobs, volunteer 8 hours a week, raise a child and keep a home.

Someone mentioned in a comment that I've dug a big hole but I have a big shovel to use in filling it. This is very true. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say I will be disqualified from any government rebates this spring because of the salary cap. Don't feel sorry for me, though, my bills are paid on time each and every month thanks to the hefty salaries my husband and I make and I'm in no danger of losing my home due to stupid mortgage mistakes.

I know people who have dug bigger holes than I have and have used every dime they had to pay it off and then had something catastrophic happen that left them wishing they had saved a little of their emergency funds to help them get through the rough patches. This is ultimately why I don't pay off my debt with my savings. Also, I'm not joking when I say I don't want to be eating Alpo in my old age.

I think that it's easy for people who are not in my position to think they know what will solve my problems, just like I think I know what will get smokers and alcoholics to give up their "vices." Unless you've been here, you have no idea....

Nancy, Nancy, Nancy

February 5th, 2008 at 10:01 am

Nancy, who I don't know, slapped my hand for shopping at Macys when according to her I should be shopping at Walmart's clearance aisle because of my debt.

Here's what she had to say:

"I just found this blog and have read about 30% of it. It's scary. Your credit card balances are so high and yet you refer to a housekeeper, manicures, vacations, and such, when in reality, when if ever will you ever get out of debt? The sweaters at Macy, for example -- go shop at WalMart on clearance. I hope this blog gives you insight and I will bookmark it because when I read it, it serves as a cautionary tale, indeed."

This was my response to Nancy:

"Sorry you're scared, Nancy, but I'm not sure what you're afraid of. I'm paying my debt off on time. I'm not late on anything. I own a house and have a huge amount of equity and I have a boatload of savings in other accounts (remember what you see reflected there is not my complete savings, but it is my complete debt). If I wanted to, I could pay off the debt today, but given that I'm a compulsive debtor paying it off in one fell swoop is not going to make my problem go away so I'm following a very set program for paying it off on my terms while not living in deprivation. I have a housekeeper because I work more than 40 hours a week. My husband does as well. We go on vacation by paying cash. The clothes I buy at Macys are paid for with cash. We have no more credit cards, so the debt is not increasing in any way. Deprivation is just going to make me want to spend more, so if I can live comfortably while still paying for my debt it really shouldn't scare you."

Now, having said all that, I've decided to clear up some of my vagueness surrounding my savings and debt. First. look over to the left and you'll see my savings has jumped drastically because I've decided to include the equity on my house. Note that I still need to add a bunch of pension money into that measly total, but I'll get to that sometime before I retire. Plus, I own some property that is being drilled on for oil and gas and I'm not sure what the current value is so it's not included here either.

Also, my debt is not all credit cards. My husband and I put a kid through a very pricey private university and I put myself through grad school, so a whole lot of that debt is in student loans. It's still debt, but I'd just like to clarify what kind of debt it is so that Nancy won't think I'm using credit cards to fund my sweater-buying trips at Macys.

An interesting tidbit....

February 5th, 2008 at 08:00 am

At the end of my pricey day yesterday, I went to the free financial class that I signed up for. The most interesting thing that I learned there was that the average American family has $29,000 saved up for retirement. Based on that, I figure I’m ahead of the game….

I lied....

February 5th, 2008 at 06:40 am

The $82 I spent on "medicine" yesterday after going to the doctor for the rash on my eyelids included $50 in jumbo size containers of Cetaphil facial wash and moisturizer.

According to the dermatologist who diagnosed the severe eczema on my eyelids, Cetaphil is the best way to combat the severe dry skin that people experience in this climate. The other $32 was for cortisone cream to combat the eczema when it flares up and Aquaphor healing ointment, which is suppose to clear up the scaly lizard look I’ve been sporting the last two weeks.

I don’t feel bad about spending that much on the non-prescription stuff because a few months ago I got sucked into buying a bunch of overpriced facial stuff from a woman whose son goes to school with Mini Me. The woman, who we shall call Julie, is the pit bull of Arbonne sales ladies. After months of saying I wasn’t interested, she hounded me until I finally gave up and bought a bunch of her lotions and potions at a supposed drastic discount.

But, even after her drastic discount, I paid tons more on the Arbonne gunk than I did on the truckload of Cetaphil I brought home today.

Plus, the Arbonne packaging drove me nuts – there was a lot of packaging and very little product, and the pump thingy kept flying off a couple of the bottles. I also had an issue with the scent of the stuff since anything smelly tends to give me a headache and this stuff spelled like a Florida citrus orchard.

The dermatologist thinks the Arbonne stuff probably contributed to the sudden appearance of eczema on my eyelids and told me to go the simplest facial care route possible to avoid having more problems – thus the bulk purchase of Cetaphil products yesterday.

Here’s hoping the lizard look goes away real soon….

A pricey day

February 4th, 2008 at 08:33 pm

My trip to the doctor for the rash ended up costing me a $40 copay plus $82.44 in medication.

I went to Macy's afterward to shop for some sweaters on sale. I've been wearing the same two green sweaters every day for two months and I was worried my husband was going to start referring to me as "Kermit the Frog," so it was time to remedy the situation. I ended up spending $89 on two sweaters and a long-sleeve shell to wear under them. I have an issue with itchy fabric touching my skin, so a long-sleeve t-shirt or shell is mandatory when sweaters are involved. If I had bought the three items when they were not on sale, I would have spent $300 so I think I got a good deal.

I also pre-purchased some makeup. Wednesday they start giving away freebies if you buy a certain amount of makeup. It just so happened that I was out of concealer (for the bags under my eyes) and blush, so I paid for the items today ($59) and will pick them up along with my free stuff on Wednesday. I have not bought lipstick for years by using the free lipstick that they give away -- who cares that it's usually neon pink ....

Somewhere between Macy's and my volunteer gig and the OT office, I managed to lose my very nice and pricey earphones. They were in my purse and fell out along the way. I'm hoping that they show up in the car tomorrow, but I have the feeling they are gone. I'll have to wait until next month to replace them. Ummmm... maybe someone will buy me some for Valentine's Day!

The pink envelope club

February 4th, 2008 at 07:36 am

A few people have been talking about the “envelope system” here, so I thought I would share that my husband and I belong to the “pink envelope club.”

After coming up with a workable spending plan that put our needs first and our creditors’ needs second, we gave each other – and Mini Me – a personal allowance (aka our expense accounts).

Every two weeks, I go to the bank and withdraw cash in certain denominations. Along with my withdrawal slip, I hand the teller a note with how many 1s, 5s, 10s, 20s and 50s that I want. Yes, the teller usually looks at me like I’m an anal-retentive freak, but I figure it’s better than handing the teller a note saying to give me all her cash and nobody will get hurt….

Back to the pink envelopes, the adults in the house get the exact same amount – ranging from $200 to $300 every two weeks depending on the month -- and Mini Me gets $10 in cash. In the case of the adults, this money goes toward clothes, shoes, personal growth, personal care, hobbies and lunches out; and each person has their own envelopes for each category. (Mini Me puts her money toward paying for unnecessary junk that she may deem necessary when we’re out and about.)

We came up with the amounts to stick in each adult’s envelope by recording how much we spent and on what for a month and then taking an average of each category. Because I’m more likely to spend $200 on shoes while my husband is more likely to spend $2 on shoes, we kept it fair by giving the adults the exact same amount of money to spread over the same number of categories. That usually means that I have to save my pennies up to buy shoes while he has to save his to buy wheels for his bike.

The basic rule of thumb is that it’s up to each individual to decide what he or she is going to spend their money on – unless the person is walking around in holey shirts and the fashionable spouse says it’s time to spend some dough on clothing or if you’re under the legal drinking age and you’re trying to buy tequila.

The other primary rule is that once your allowance is gone for the month, there’s no more to be had so you better spend wisely. This rule is not always strictly enforced; because if there’s extra money in checking, we can take an advance on the next allowance period. However, the advance cannot exceed the excess money in checking.

As for the significance of the pink envelopes, there is none. We simply had a bunch of pink envelopes lying around when we first came up with this money-saving idea, so that’s what we used.

Should I stay or should I go....

February 4th, 2008 at 07:31 am

My dermatology appointment is this morning. I had myself convinced that I could save the $50 copay and skip it because my eyelids were looking better, but then they started itching again. Plus, my excema on my hands is flaring up, so I think I'm going to just bite the bullet and go.

I'm volunteering at the insane asylum that Mini Me attends this afternoon, then she has OT (which will cost $75 out of pocket....). Tonight is the first of the three-part class I'm taking on women and investing, so I've thrown together a tuna casserole in the crock pot that should be done by the time we get back from OT so I can inhale my portion before running out the door again.

Assuming I get done at the doctor's office in time, I'm also going to swing by the nearby Macy's to buy some sale sweaters that I desperately need. I've been wearing the same two green sweaters for months now and I'm afraid my husband is going to start referring to me as "Kermit the Frog" if I don't find something else to wear.

I hate shopping, though, so I should be in a great mood for the kids this afternoon...

The pink envelope club

February 4th, 2008 at 06:29 am

A few people have been talking about the “envelope system” here, so I thought I would share that my husband and I belong to the “pink envelope club.”

After coming up with a workable spending plan that put our needs first and our creditors’ needs second, we gave each other – and Mini Me – a personal allowance (aka our expense accounts).

Every two weeks, I go to the bank and withdraw cash in certain denominations. Along with my withdrawal slip, I hand the teller a note with how many 1s, 5s, 10s, 20s and 50s that I want. Yes, the teller usually looks at me like I’m an anal-retentive freak, but I figure it’s better than handing the teller a note saying to give me all her cash and nobody will get hurt….

Back to the pink envelopes, the adults in the house get the exact same amount – ranging from $200 to $300 every two weeks depending on the month -- and Mini Me gets $10 in cash. In the case of the adults, this money goes toward clothes, shoes, personal growth, personal care, hobbies and lunches out; and each person has their own envelopes for each category. (Mini Me puts her money toward paying for unnecessary junk that she may deem necessary when we’re out and about.)

We came up with the amounts to stick in each adult’s envelope by recording how much we spent and on what for a month and then taking an average of each category. Because I’m more likely to spend $200 on shoes while my husband is more likely to spend $2 on shoes, we kept it fair by giving the adults the exact same amount of money to spread over the same number of categories. That usually means that I have to save my pennies up to buy shoes while he has to save his to buy wheels for his bike.

The basic rule of thumb is that it’s up to each individual to decide what he or she is going to spend their money on – unless the person is walking around in holey shirts and the fashionable spouse says it’s time to spend some dough on clothing or if you’re under the legal drinking age and you’re trying to buy tequila.

The other primary rule is that once your allowance is gone for the month, there’s no more to be had so you better spend wisely. This rule is not always strictly enforced; because if there’s extra money in checking, we can take an advance on the next allowance period. However, the advance cannot exceed the excess money in checking.

As for the significance of the pink envelopes, there is none. We simply had a bunch of pink envelopes lying around when we first came up with this money-saving idea, so that’s what we used.

How I dealt with my creditors

February 3rd, 2008 at 05:12 pm

Last summer, I saw a train wreck coming and was able to avert it by making a pre-emptive strike. Although I had rejoined my 12-step group for compulsive debting after falling off the wagon big time, the amount of money I owed on credit cards each month was way more than I was earning. I was continuing to debt by maxing out my overdraft account each month and bouncing checks. And I had virtually no savings readily available.

After reading Jerry Mundis’ book How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperou..., I met online with two members of my 12-step group who I didn’t know, but who had volunteered to have a “Pressure Relief Group” meeting with me.

Without any emotional ties to my situation, they helped me come up with a spending plan where my needs were put first and I was able to live very comfortably within my means. This meant no more living in deprivation – I actually had money each month to buy underwear, get my hair done by someone other than Ms. Clairol, and pay the mortgage in full and on time each month.

But it also meant contacting each of the credit card companies and telling them what I could pay each month, which was far below what they wanted me to pay.

This was particularly scary because in 20 years I had never NOT paid my creditors what they wanted when they wanted it.

As I called each of the credit card companies, I was adamant that I wanted to pay them every dime I owed them. I was also adamant that I had to do it on my terms – and my terms did not call for me to pay them off while I struggled to keep a roof over my head and food on the table.

Anticipating endless harassing phone calls, I requested during each initial call and in a follow-up letter that the credit card companies not contact me by phone, but instead only via letters. I reminded them that under the law, they had no choice but to abide my by request not to call.

Finally, I requested that they stop charging me late fees. And, I explained about seeking help from Debtor’s Anonymous.

During each of my phone conversations, I took copious notes and remained very professional – even during one phone call with a guy from Chase who was obnoxious and rude. No matter how much he tried to goad me into a fight, I just kept calmly restating my case and explaining that all he was getting from me each month was X amount of dollars.

Every month after the initial phone calls to my credit card companies, I diligently wrote out checks for what I could afford and sent them with a letter re-stating what I had already said on the phone. Even if my creditors hadn’t agreed to my terms, they accepted the money. And, whenever I had extra money available, I also sent this to the creditors so they would see that I was serious about wanting to pay them back.

Eventually I was able to work out repayment plans with each of the credit card companies. They all lowered the interest rates they were charging me and they all stopped tacking on late fees.

They all also pointed out that I was ruining my credit score; but as I pointed out, I was going to ruin it one way or another because I couldn’t afford to pay them what they wanted, so why not just be upfront about it and save us all a lot of grief.

As you can see by my debt totals over there on the left, my debt is no small potatoes. It will be years before I am debt free unless I win the lottery (probably not going to happen), or suddenly lose my mind and throw all my retirement money toward the debt (definitely not going to happen).

All I can do is not add to the debt by not using credit cards or overdraft accounts; and keep chipping away at that grand whoppin’ total “one day at a time.”

Grocery savings

February 3rd, 2008 at 11:15 am

The grocery guy came. I got $86.23 in groceries for $65.25 and that includes delivery. Not bad.

I'm still not feeling great. The quesiness has subsided, but now I'm dizzy. Of course, that could be the remnants of the Advil PM that I took last night for my headache.

I promised Mini Me I'd take her to see the Hannah Montana movie today (even though she went to the concert), so we're headed off to lunch and a movie with my sister and brother-in-law. That ought to do wonders for my health....

Another challenge update

February 3rd, 2008 at 09:05 am

I sold an item on eBay last night and made $4.91 to add to the challenge. The new total is $1195.08.

Updated the numbers and barfing....

February 2nd, 2008 at 07:38 pm

I tallied my debt and savings for the month; and although my debt went down, so did my savings. It was all due to the stock market decline. Fortunately, it wasn't a whole bunch, but it was enough that I noticed.

I still have no idea what's in the various pension funds from our previous lives and I'm just as vague about the home equity. I need to get off my bum and look into that, but both will require a bunch of digging around and phone calls so it's not happening anytime soon -- especially considering that I feel like I'm coming down with botulism or ebola. My stomach has been upset all day and it's making grumbling sounds. I feel like I need to throw up. I think I have a fever. And I know it's just a matter of time before I start bleeding out of my eyeballs....

The big breakdown

February 2nd, 2008 at 05:57 pm

I decided to pay off one of my debts with the challenge money I got today. I then put the remaining $227.68 into savings.

I have a bunch of eBay money from January just sitting in PayPal right now that I don't know what to do with. eBay still hasn't taken out its fees even though it was supposed to happen at the end of January. I don't want to move that money until the fees are taken out. Assuming that's done sometime in the next week, I'm going to throw more of that money toward debt and savings.

I believe in following the one-third rule when extra money is "found." One-third goes to savings, one-third to debt and one-third to immediate needs. However, all my immediate needs are more than taken care of in my monthly spending plan and I'm trying to build up the new car fund faster so I'm fudging on that rule for now.

More for the challenge

February 2nd, 2008 at 04:04 pm

The big corporate client finally forked over some dough -- only not all of it. Still, after meeting my basic spending plan income for the month and putting some away for taxes, I have $777.60 to put toward the challenge. The new total is $1,190.17.

It's time to start distributing some of that money to various accounts, so I'll break it down in a later post

Grrrrrrrr.....

February 1st, 2008 at 07:34 pm

I just want to say upfront that this post has absolutely nothing to do with savings, but I need to get this off my chest:

There recently was an incident involving Mini Me and a couple of other kids in her class. I won't go into great detail except to say the other two kids were hauled off to the office and their parents were called in.

Today while at the school for my weekly volunteering stint, the teacher was talking to me about the ringleader of the two girls not necessarily being a bad kid (trust me, what she did to my daughter was AWFUL) and then the teacher went on to say "well, you know her mom works full time...."

HELLO!!!! I work full time -- AND THEN SOME -- and you don't see my child exhibiting sociopathic behavior at age 7!

There, I feel slightly better already....

A little more for the challenge

February 1st, 2008 at 01:19 pm

As I mentioned this morning, I did have one item sell on eBay so I'm adding $25.74 to the challenge. The new total is $412.57.

No mo' money....

February 1st, 2008 at 08:08 am

Things on eBay have died down. One auction closed yesterday and I'll be making some money there later, but I have 9 other items posted and nothing even has a bid on it -- although there are a few watchers. I also have a buyer who seems to have vanished on me, so I guess I'll be posting a dispute claim on that one.

Then there's the issue of one of my major business clients having not paid me in a looooong while. They are very regular on payments, but in January they too seemed to have disappear as far as the money goes. However,I'm still getting plenty of work from them. I did cut them some slack last month since I figured the accounting department was busy with tax stuff, but I have decided to start hounding them Monday if I don't see a big check in the mail over the weekend.

To top it all off, I gave in and made a doctor's appointment. I've had a red, burning rash on my eyelids for the last two weeks. I thought it was due to dry skin, but it's not getting better so I figured I would dish out $50 to see a dermatologist rather than risk my face peeling off.

Off to volunteer at the asylum now....


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