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Whipsawed, but in a good way

November 1st, 2008 at 03:21 pm

I hardly know where to begin. A few weeks ago, I was actually in tears because of money worries and now I'm trying to figure out how to divvy up a 45% increase in our cash flow. I just found out that my boss really went to bat for me, and got approval for me to go full-time with benefits! Not only is it more hours and free insurance, but also an increase in my hourly rate. Things sure can change fast, down or up.

I've been very worried about how we'd cope when DH's Cobra coverage ran out. That's a big part of the reason I went ahead and sold the rest of the ETFs I had in my IRA. I didn't want to raid the IRA to pay for health insurance, but I wanted to have the option if it came to that. If the stock market kept tanking, I couldn't be sure of how much I'd have available.

I've been trying really hard, running around to to buy things on sale, using coupons and rebates again, and had our freezer pretty well filled up.

One night DH got out some pizza and left the door open about an inch. In the morning, I heard it running like mad and discovered it. That's when I finally broke down and cried, fearing that all the food was ruined and money wasted. (We've been using the food up as fast as we can, with no ill effects so far.)

DH started looking for work, and finally signed up with a rather cheesy temp agency out of desperation. You can read about them here, and either be forewarned or just see how the bottom half lives:

http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2002/03/street_inc.h...

I even went so far as to tell my mother I couldn't chip in the tip anymore when she took us out for a meal. It was really embarrassing, but felt I had to do it.

She likes to get out to restaurants, but is housebound now and needs one of us to drive her. She pays for the meal, and we've been paying the tips. But what with gas prices, I didn't feel I could keep shelling out more money on tips than we could have made the whole meal for at home.

Now, amazingly, the tide seems to have turned. Instead of feeling stunned and unsure because of all the bad economic news, I'm now feeling stunned and unsure about how to handle this good fortune.

I really, really, don't want to blow it.




Asset allocation--any ideas?

October 5th, 2008 at 06:54 pm

Hi, and hugs to everyone who left a comment for me last week.

SCFR mentioned how some older folks may be in trouble because they never changed their asset allocation as their situation changed:
http://scfr.savingadvice.com/2008/10/02/still-around_43742/

I think that hits the nail on the head for me, also. When we had two incomes, a higher total income, and cheaper health insurance, it wouldn't have been so painful to see the balance in my IRA drop over $800 in one day. I could have just saved harder for a couple of months and made up the loss. But the way things are right now, it could take me a year or more of scrimping to make it up, if it's possible to do at all.

Maybe it isn't just fear that makes me want to lessen my exposure to stocks, but good common sense. I've heard you shouldn't invest what you can't afford to lose--and right now I don't feel like we can afford to lose ANY of it.

Here's our asset allocation right now,
roughly:

Cash 46%
Bonds 36%
Stocks 17%

Only $6487 is easily accessible, i.e., cash and not in IRAs. Most of the bonds are non-IRA, but it's not like I can count on the values holding up if I needed to sell them. I have a GMAC thing that's lost 2/3 of its original value, although it's still paying me interest.

Honestly, I think I could sleep a lot better at night if I cashed it all in and just paid off our house!

Even if I sold the rest of the stock, it still wouldn't be accessible because it's all in my IRA. But at least I'd know for sure how much I had. I did sell my S&P 500 index fund last week, and I don't regret it. It only went down from where I sold it, and then I read that more S&P 500 companies cut their dividends in Sept. than ever before. That doesn't bode well.

Any thoughts?

When poor folks have better crap than you

May 22nd, 2008 at 01:41 am

"It's bad enough trying to keep up with the Jones; when you have trouble keeping up with the guy living on the wrong side of the tracks, it's a source of constant aggravation." -- from an old blog entry by a fellow named Philip Brewer

www.wisebread.com/when-poor-folks-have-better-crap-than-you

There have been a lot of sob stories in the media lately, revolving around high gas and food prices and the mortgage mess. The one people are discussing in the forums happens to be about food stamp recipients. When you're feeling stressed about your own finances, it can be really irritating when you're asked to feel sorry for someone else who's made dumb choices yet still enjoys luxuries you don't have, or has walked out on the kind of responsibility you are fulfilling, or is getting help you aren't getting. I know I've gotten riled up at times.

But Mr. Brewer says something I hope I can remember:

"When people around you make unwise choices the appropriate emotion to feel is compassion, not ire. When you find yourself wishing for better crap the appropriate emotion to feel is gratitude for the crap you've got, not envy for someone else's."

He says it's the Buddhist perspective. All I know is, I'd rather learn to think that way than have my blood pressure spike up!

He also has a good piece on how voluntary frugality and poverty are two different things--even if the poor person and the frugal person are living on the same budget.

www.wisebread.com/voluntary-simplicity-versus-poverty

Death in the family

February 19th, 2008 at 02:02 pm

One day we got a call that my MIL had a stroke, but not to worry because it appeared to be mild. A week later we were hundreds of miles from home, attending her viewing. I can't believe everything happened so fast. She was 90, so it shouldn't have been a surprise, but it was. She was still driving til the end, and had just cooked a big dinner the night before the stroke.

Since this is a financial blog, I'll try to write about things from that perspective.

First of all, when you're in a crisis situation like this, you can't always do things the cheapest way. We took Amtrak, which probably cost a bit more than driving would have been. But we didn't want to drive that far in wintry weather, on roads we weren't familiar with. We could have gotten a AAA discount if we could have made our reservations sooner, but we didn't know the date of the viewing and funeral til after the discount deadline. I also just found out we could have gotten a discount on one return fare with a coupon code, but I didn't have time to search for codes beforehand.

I'm glad that we still had a credit card, and I hadn't closed it out as per Dave Ramsey. It was nice to be able to charge the train fare, reserve the rooms, buy DH some clothes and pay for the local obituary FAST. I had enough to do without running around, getting extra money into the account that has the debit card and waiting for the deposit to clear. OTOH, I'm glad we had some money in the Emergency Fund so we can pay the bill off right away.

It's a good idea to always have suitable clothes on hand for a funeral (or wedding), and sufficient traveling gear. We hadn't traveled in years, and had gotten rid of some crummy old luggage without replacing it. I had to run out and buy a cheap set of suitcases at the last minute. (Nope, I didn't have the time to check where they were made!) Luckily, I'd bought DH some dress shoes on sale awhile back, even though he rarely needs them. He also still had a suit that fit. But he needed a new shirt, and a coat to wear over the suit. His old bomber jacket would have just looked embarrassing. It would have been a lot less stressful if we'd had all of this stuff on hand to begin with.

My oldest BIL is executor, and when we last saw him he was having trouble even finding my MIL's social security number. He hadn't really been involved with her paperwork over the years, and lives at a distance, so he's going to have quite a job finding and making sense of things. I'm more determined than ever to arrange things so DH can manage if something happens to me. He doesn't do computers at all, so this will mean converting back to paper in a lot of ways.

Finally, and most importantly, my MIL's eulogy reminded me to spend less time on finances and more time on enjoying life. The contrast with my own mother is marked. MIL didn't end up with a fortune, but she had a lot of travel and other fun under her belt. She enjoyed trying new things when she had the chance. My own mother has been very careful about money and everything else over the years. Rather than trying new things, she's apt to wonder "why would anyone want to do that?" She's a worrier from way back. So I've been thinking about how I'd rather hear my life summed up, at the end.



Of Memory Banks and Banking Memories

December 19th, 2007 at 02:57 pm

I've been a Quicken enthusiast for 15 years, but I'm getting very close to giving up on it. Working on this blog entry has been a way to think it through...

128 MB. That's how much memory my computer has--and that was supposed to be the minimum requirement for running Quicken 2008 Deluxe. Well, actually running turned out to be an exaggeration--limping, crawling, or stumbling maybe. (FYI--I started using Quicken on my first computer, back in 1992. That old Quicken version had all the features I needed and worked just fine on 4 MB.)

I decided I was willing to live with the slowness and the quirks because I really wanted to play with the Savings Goal feature. But after installing a security update, it got even worse--now it won't open up and run at all.

I've put in many hours of troubleshooting already, and have another list of things to try from my new email friend, seemingly located in India. Why did I start using it in the first place, what problems did it solve, and do I still need it now? Is it worth putting in even more time trying to get it to work?

Era # 1 - No need for Quicken. Or even a calculator!

In high school and college, my finances were simple. I used a passbook savings account, a Christmas Club, and cash. With passbook savings accounts, you could see exactly what was in your account at any time by looking in the book. With the Christmas Club, you also knew exactly where you stood at all times. You could tell the balance by the number of coupons that were already taken out. And the bank always had a little display out showing what week the Club was on. If it was Week 10 and you were only paid up to Week 8, you knew you had some catching up to do.

Note, the bank provided the only tracking tools I needed.


Era # 2 - Chaos

For roughly 15 years, maybe 1977 to 1992, I could have used something like Quicken if it had existed and if I'd had a computer. I started to keep a checking account, started opening charge accounts and credit cards, and bought some savings bonds. The passbook savings accounts started to disappear, replaced by Statement Savings. The Christmas Club books started to disappear, and now worked like Statement Savings. Note the key here is the word Statement. Without the passbooks and coupon books, I now had to keep track on my own, between statements.

My tracking tools were a paper check register, deposit receipts, a pencil, and a calculator. Eventually I added two more tools--duplicate checks, and teller-provided printouts of recent transactions. They both helped me catch things I forgot to record in the register. My writing is rather large, and I've always had trouble writing in check registers. And even with a calculator I had a terrible time balancing the checkbook when the statement came. I really had no system at all for keeping track of credit card balances.

The first years DH and I were married, we lurched from one financial crisis to the next. It got so bad I was getting cash advances on one credit card to pay the minimum payment on another one. Low income, overspending, and chaotic record keeping all contributed. If payday loans had been invented yet, we might have been sucked into that. My best AND my worst purchase back then might have been that first computer I bought--for $2,000, financed on our Sears card.


Erica # 3 - Golden Age of Quicken

For the next 15 years, 1992 to 2007, I really came to rely on Quicken. It came on that first computer, so I gave it a try. It was intimidating, but the first time I went through the checkbook balancing process with it, I was sold. SO much better than doing it on paper. It seemed like a miracle. I really got into setting up categories and classes and fiddling with the budget feature.

Our financial life got more complicated. Credit union account with several subaccounts, IRAs, stock DRIP plans, more savings bonds. I opened even more credit cards for bonuses and 0% offers. I bought gift cards at a discount and had to track the remaining balances. I started selling books online, and tracked all the business income and expenses in Quicken, too.

But even with all that tracking, we've still had more unpleasant financial surprises than I would have liked--mostly due to counting on Quicken's budget feature. As I've written before, it doesn't take into account the timing of paychecks and bills. It will indicate a surplus for an upcoming month overall, without warning you that you'll go negative for a day because a big bill is due just before a paycheck. It gave me a false sense of security about spending money. So I'm no longer using it for budgeting, and I've spent a lot of time entering expected transactions months in advance, just so I can make sure we won't be going into the red at any point.

And I think our finances got so complicated partly BECAUSE of Quicken. If I'd had to deal with it all on paper, I would have kept things simpler. It seemed so easy to just keep adding accounts and categories in Quicken, til it suddenly became overwhelming.

Lately I've streamlined things. I don't have the bookselling business anymore. We don't own stocks outside of our IRAs. I'm not doing the gift card thing. Practically every transaction in and out of our accounts is predictible, if not automated. Direct deposit of paychecks, automatic transfers to savings, automatic bill payment. We still have two credit cards, but hardly ever use them. I'm trying to use cash instead of the debit card whenever possible.

There just isn't as much to track. And once again, the bank is providing the main tool I need--not in the form of passbooks and coupon books, but through online banking. Maintaining a complete written or Quicken register on my own between monthly statements just isn't as important. The headache of reconciling the account once a month when the statement comes isn't really necessary if I've been keeping up with things online.

The way I'm feeling now is, the computer is a great tool for managing finances. I wouldn't want to go back to pencil and paper. But maybe Quicken was only necessary during that period where banks were pretty much leaving us on our own, without the tools to track thngs between statements. Now with online banking, maybe the Quicken era is ending. I'm pretty sure it is for me.

The Thrift Club, or, Saving in the Great Depression (large image)

October 3rd, 2007 at 01:03 am

DMom and I were looking through my uncle's 1932 yearbook today, before she gives it to the local historical society.

I got a kick out of this page showing the Thrift Club, and was also quite impressed.



In the depths of the Depression, the students managed to add $2,500 in deposits to the school bank. In today's dollars, that equals $37,500! http://www.minneapolisfed.org/research/data/us/calc/

There were only a few hundred students at most, and it wasn't an affluent area. My grandfather had his hours cut to half-time, and felt lucky to have that. The culture of saving back then must have been really strong. Can you imagine 100% of a home room participating in a savings program today?

DH quitting job, with nothing else lined up

September 5th, 2007 at 02:18 pm

Vent Alert! Guess what the D stands for today?

I'm about as angry and frustrated and scared as I've been since I started writing this blog. DH told me the end of last week, and it sounds like he actually gave his notice at work a week before that--without even mentioning it to me beforehand.

I started out with a sense of calm, because I finally knew what was going on. See entry here: http://stressless.savingadvice.com/2007/07/27/fud_28650/

I know he hasn't been crazy about the job for some time, and it does sound like it may be getting harder. So I can understand it. I immediately got on the stick and started cancelling automatic transfers to savings, figuring out how much more I can get in take-home by adjusting my W-4, and looking up how much individual health insurance might cost. I've done a lot of thinking about how I can reduce the food budget more, and what else we can cut. My Weight Watchers membership, perhaps?

Then this morning, DH started picking at me about the state of the house, and how I should be spending my vacation week. A vacation week I scheduled out of desperation because I was already feeling exhausted and frazzled before he hit me with this news.

All of a sudden I'm not feeling like such a team player. He's still spending money on discretionary stuff, and hasn't applied for any other jobs yet. While I'm doing my financial fiddling, he's happily watching tv or sleeping. I've been trying to be cooperative, and then he has the gall to start browbeating me.

Right at this moment, I'm feeling like I shouldn't have to give anything else up. I've been working hard at getting our expenses down over the past few years. I'm not willing to go any further. I still need to lose weight. With him at home, it's going to be hard to find time to myself, and WW meetings would be a good escape. So that stays. I need clothes, and I already have money set aside. He's still spending money on books and cigarettes. AND I'M NOT THE ONE QUITTING A JOB! So today, I'm going clothes shopping as planned, dammit.

Oh, and to top it off I found out today the car insurance bill has gone up 26%.

Whistling in the dark

July 29th, 2007 at 01:31 am

Thanks for the comments about my health insurance worries. The support here is always great. Smile

I spent the best part of a day worrying about it, and have at least a month to go before we really have any answers. And it's not the only thing I'm worrying about right now, so..

At this point, I'm looking for ways to distract myself for the duration that 1) won't cost extra money, and 2) won't undermine my weight loss project. It's so easy to fall back into bad habits when under stress.

So, here's what I've come up with so far:

--Writing to a library that might have info on an author I've become interested in
--Getting back on track with housekeeping stuff
--Watching lots of movies
--Taking walks, exercising
--Reading
--Taking quiet time in the morning to relax, maybe write affirmations
--Listening to podcasts
--Playing Bookworm
--Closing out another credit card account, as an act of confidence in the future
--Getting to an extra WW meeting each week
--Going back to recording every penny in Quicken, and doing the 4-week reports again




FUD

July 27th, 2007 at 12:53 pm

That would be Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Wikipedia says it's an advertising term, but what I'm feeling is about DH's job and our finances.

His company has been sold, and so far DH and his coworkers have good feelings about the change. They are encouraging all employees to stay, and they have more generous sick and vacation policies. However, I'm antsy to know what the health insurance situation is going to be.

They have several Blue Cross plans to choose from, but not the cheap High Deductible/Health Savings Plan combo we have now. DH has no idea yet whether it's fully paid for by the company, or whether he has to kick in, and how much.

We could be looking at substantially higher or lower take-home pay. It could mean moving ahead on goals faster than we'd thought, or having to cut our Emergency Fund and New Car Fund savings down to a trickle. As it is, we really need to buy some life insurance on him, as the new company-provided policy will be half what it was.

I'm glad it looks like he still has a job. I'm glad we have no cc debt left. I'm glad we have enough in the HSA to cover the dental work DH is in the middle of. But I still can't help being nervous!

90th birthday dilemma, partly about money

June 30th, 2007 at 01:17 pm

Warning - Long!

Got a message from a family friend, asking if we were doing anything special for my mother's 90th birthday.

Back when DMom was 80, we did have a fairly large party--and now that I remember it, it was at the instigation of this same family friend. We dug out old photos and things, and put them on display. It was a nice group of guests, a mix of family and friends, and overall a very nice memory for everyone. But it also cost several hundred dollars at a time when I was using credit cards and spending money like water. This family friend whose idea it was did make a nice memory book, but didn't contribute to the cost of the party. She just made me feel like I ought to do it, if I were any kind of daughter.

So here we are 10 years later. I was planning on keeping things small, for a myriad of reasons.

My MIL turns 90 the same month, and we probably won't even be seeing her. We'll send her a larger gift than usual, and talk to her on the phone, but that will probably be it. It doesn't seem fair to go overboard for my mother if we don't do it for both.

Many of the people who attended the 80th birthday party have died, or have moved away to live with or near their children. Or they're in assisted living. Also, there really aren't many blood relatives of my mother to invite. I'd end up spending hundreds of dollars to feed distant relatives like my cousins' grandchildren on my father's side, so that other older relatives would have a ride to the event.

If I were still spending money like I used to, I might not think twice about it. (And if I weren't already devoting a fair amount of time and mental energy to my mother and her situation, maybe I'd be more willing, too.)

But right now my gut answer is "No, I'm not doing anything special for my mother's 90th birthday. If you'd like to do something yourself, feel free."

It makes me feel kind of guilty and cheap, but I just don't want to be roped into trying to recreate an event that should stay a nice memory. Or spending money because someone else thinks I ought to. (Someone, by the way, who is much better fixed than we are! And who is retired and has a lot more free time.)








Getting back on the wagon

April 15th, 2007 at 12:38 am

For the first time in a long time, I managed to get through a whole work week without hitting the vending machine, or picking up coffee at Wawa!

I switched our cell phones to 18 cents a minute all the time on Virgin Mobile. Our original plan was 25 cents a minute for so many minutes a day, then the price per minute went down. But our calls are usually very short, so we never got the lower price.

I made the extra trip to Pathmark this week, as they had some things on sale cheaper than Wal-Mart. I made the effort to get rain checks on things they were out of. I also asked at Wal-Mart about their price matching policy.

I've been taking out $100 a week in cash to try and get used to using it for groceries and such. I want to see if it really does cause me to spend less than when I use debit or credit cards.

Why? I want to find some extra money for fun stuff. I can't get psyched to find extra money for savings, but spring clothes and plants seem to be a powerful motivator!

IGA rant--why should I go to locally owned stores when they always mess up?

October 26th, 2006 at 07:52 pm

I haven't been going to the local IGA very often, but since my schedule is tighter now it seemed like a convenient alternative to Pathmark. But it doesn't save time if you frequently have to go back to get things fixed.

Today's fiasco--There was one checker on, the girl with one paralyzed arm. She really can't bag very well, so I bagged myself instead of watching as each thing rang up.

Since I record my spending in Quicken, and divide things by grocery, pet, nonfood and tax, I look at my receipts pretty carefully. As it turned out, she missed taking off some coupons, took another coupon off too many times, and one item rang up higher than the sale price. It wasn't easy to figure out as their receipt is very hard to read. I actually made up a spreadsheet to show the customer service person where the mistakes were.

The checker is one problem, the weird receipt is another, the final one is a store policy. Every other store around here gives you the item free if the price rings up wrong. Not the IGA. As a result, I ended up getting $2 back rather than $4.19. And that, after fooling around for 1/2 an hour trying to figure it out.

I've had problems there several times before, even though I don't go there very often. OTOH, I go to places like Pathmark, Target, Aldi, and Stop and Shop much more often and I can't remember the last time it happened.

I think it's worth my while to continue with Pathmark, even with the drive time. And, it's another example of why I don't feel guilty for shopping at chains rather than local businesses.

Full Baskets Foundation's Cheap Thrills

October 18th, 2006 at 01:14 am

This one's for everyone who's going through a rough patch right now. Sometimes you just have to de-stress before you can figure out how to solve problems. It's time for a lot of us to take a deep breath and enjoy some...

Free (or almost free) Entertainment

Take a walk. Notice the details of your surroundings.
Sit in the sun for a few minutes.
Take a walk while it's snowing and admire the patterns of the snowflakes.
Listen to your favorite music.
Dance to your favorite music.
Watch the sun setting.
Sit or lie down and do nothing (relax) for 20 minutes.
Go to bed early.
Read an engaging novel.
Cook a dish you haven't made before.
Rearrange the furniture.
Check the newspaper and plan outings that are free or almost-free. (In our area, museums have reduced prices during certain hours.)
Visualize or write out your dreams and goals.
Read a comic book for children or for adults.
Play a board game with the kids.
Watch the kids playing together.
Listen to birds singing.
Plan to have friends over.
Sing, hum or whistle.
Sort through and organize your photos. Watch family videos.
Plan your next vacation.
Write a letter to a friend.
Smile at someone or compliment them.
Go pick fresh fruit, whatever is in season, apples, strawberries, blueberries.
Make something by hand.
Take a nap.
Watch a good film on television or rent a video.
Listen to a book on tape.
Plan a practical joke on a friend.
Browse in a bookstore.
Try your hand at drawing.
Work a crossword puzzle.
Go see a concert. (There may be free concerts locally.)
Go skating.
Go swimming.
Go cross country skiing or snowshoeing; go for a long walk or hike.
Go for a cup of coffee or other beverage.
Eat lunch outside in the sunshine on a terrace or in a park.
Clean the car inside and out.
Pick some weeds that have flowers and make a wildflower bouquet.
Check out a book from the library and teach yourself something new, how to draw, paint, cook, invest in the stock market, sew, or a myriad of other things. Check out tapes and learn a new language.
Turn on your favorite music and take a long soak in the tub by candlelight.
Take a long, hot shower.
Try out different ways of applying your makeup.
Do your nails.
Wear perfume when you're not going out.
Take the time to apply lotion all over your body.
Dress up when you're not going out.
Do your hair when you're not going out.

Do what I can to change a difficult situation.
Accept what I cannot change.
Find something good in what I cannot change.

I've found this list at various web addresses over the years, but it keeps disappearing. I don't know what the Full Baskets Foundation was or is. If anyone associated with them has copyright concerns, please let me know and I'll remove this entry.

4-week report, ending Sept. 23

October 2nd, 2006 at 01:09 pm

Everyday Expenses came to $575, a little high but not terrible. Mostly because I had a bunch of cat food coupons to use up before they expired, so I bought ahead. It certainly wasn't from gas prices--only spent $80. Yay!

But overall, I did some SERIOUS spending this past month.

HSBC $1099, down by $50. But overall cc debt (purchases not yet billed or due) up to $1613. I purposely bought as much on the Citi card as possible to get one last rewards check from them. You have to have $50 in rewards to request a check, and I had to work to make it.

Emergency Fund $110, down $570.

But I have no regrets.

We spent $345 on car repairs and maintenance. Worth it for peace of mind.

We spent $250 on the lights for the back of the house.

I spent $78 on misc. household stuff such as curtains, a throw rug, miniblinds and a hose.

I paid less on the credit cards to reserve cash for the plumbing work we had done in September but weren't billed for yet. (It came to $515, which we'll be paying this week.)

It's gotten to the point where the undone repairs and maintenance are weighing heavier on me than the weight of unpaid debt. The main debt is at 0% through March, and the Citi charges are still in the grace period. I'd rather have two fully functioning bathrooms than have these paid off early for no reason.

So, a satisfying month even though the numbers say otherwise.

A $2 increase, I can live with! :)

September 27th, 2006 at 04:26 pm

As usual, I quickly got hot under the collar and prepared for a catastrophe when there was a logical explanation and an easy fix.

The CSR at the natural gas company said the computer's automatic adjustment of our equal payment plan was faulty due to an estimated bill last winter. The estimate was way higher than our actual use, and although it was later manually fixed, the high figure was used to figure the new monthly payments.

So our new equal payment plan is $160, $2 a month higher than it was. Crisis averted!

Sexist spending

September 18th, 2006 at 01:58 pm

First, thanks for the comments the past couple of entries. It really does help to know other people are in the same boat--whether it's in a positive way (learning to live with high tech) or negative (being behind on house maintenance).

I spent some time this morning trying to find the best paving company prospect for getting our driveway coated. I already knew there weren't any local companies listed on Angie's List so I thought I'd check on the Better Business Bureau website.

There were several that looked promising, but one jumped out at me. In business over 35 years, a BBB member with no complaints filed, and... the president is a woman.
I called to arrange an estimate.

If the price is remotely reasonable, and if they can do it before the fall festival, I'll go ahead and not even call another company. I have to say I like the idea of giving my business to another woman.

I feel funny about it, though. It feels like preferential treatment, or discrimination or something. But I guess it's kind of natural to want to help out one of your own--especially when you know they're a rare bird in their industry.


Prioritizing home maintenance

September 17th, 2006 at 01:03 pm

Like Dollars for Doughnuts just wrote, too many wants chasing too few dollars...

A few weeks back I decided the top priority was getting the lights installed on the back of the house. It's getting dark earlier all the time, and it had to be done before we switch to Standard Time. No brainer.

I kind of decided I should get the plumber next. There are three jobs that need to be done, one of which I'm kind of worried about putting off. There's a problem with our upstairs toilet, and even though we've turned off the water at the shut-off valve I can still hear the sound of water running. It just doesn't seem right, and I don't want to wake up to a geyser one morning!

Yesterday we got a flyer about the fall festival going on in two weeks. They are starting up the lawn decoration contest again, and probably coming down our street with a hayride. Our property looks horrible because of the driveway, and I'd love to get it coated before then.

We still need a new back step, a cabinet put up, and wallpaper removal finished. Also, I need about $300 worth of work done on my car, even at our neighbor's prices.

However, our official EF is pretty low right now. I have an extra $400 in checking now as padding because of the automatic payments I set up. $500 is sitting in the Netbank money market, the minimum balance for not getting hit with a monthly fee. I can't close the account yet or I'll forfeit the $75 bonus.

I could pay off the HSBC cc more slowly to free up funds. It's 0% into the spring. Or I could raid the "new car" account again.

On the one hand, I'm nervous about spending too much money, too soon. On the other hand, the house stuff is weighing on my mind. Anyway, our water bill was way up last time, probably because of the plumbing issues. Getting them fixed should save money in the long run. And our plumber bills us, so the cash doesn't have to be in hand this week anyway.

I think I'll go ahead and make calls tomorrow.

p.s. - Still glad I spent the money on the scanner. Have already got rid of lots of paper. There's actually some wiggle room in the file cabinet now. Smile

Spending money on techy stuff

September 16th, 2006 at 02:51 am

I kind of feel like I need to write a confessional. OTOH, I've decided that's silly.

OK, I've just spent $48 on a scanner, I've signed up for Verizon's voicemail again for an extra $6 a month, and I've decided to pay the $30 for Budget by Snowmint (virtual envelope budget software) after the trial period.

I could have spent money on making copies, buying more file folders, and so forth. I could have decided to keep wasting time leafing through papers, trying to stay offline when important calls are due, and playing around with free but cumbersome budget systems. Instead, I'm spending money on tools that actually do the jobs I need done.

Every time I spend money on techy stuff, part of me feels like it's a luxury, like I'm just trying out some new toy. I guess it's because I'm almost 50, and the highest tech thing I had as a kid was a transistor radio!

I'm seeing libraries get rid of stuff I never thought I'd see, because the information is now available online. I just bought a car part on Ebay for my mother. Even some homeless people have email addresses, laptops and blogs.
thehomelessguy.blogspot.com/

It's a new, digital world. So why should buying a digital tool feel less legitimate than buying, say, a hammer? I have the discretionary money on hand to pay for these things, and they serve my streamlining goal, so why not? But it still feels weird in a Future Shock sort of way.






Saved by a glitch in Amazon's checkout system

September 2nd, 2006 at 02:50 pm

The last eight days have been wild, and upsetting at times. DH is having trouble with his knee and back, and having emotional ups and downs because of the pain. He ended up bursting into tears while we were having ice cream and cake for his birthday. We found out my aunt has a form of leukemia. An episode happened at work where I had to call the police, and I'm still kind of shaken up about it. Many computer problems at work. My mother had to ask me what the rest of her social security number was; not a good sign.

By yesterday morning I started feeling desperate and wondering how I was going to continue dealing with this kind of stuff with the darkness of winter coming on. I've always thought about trying those light boxes people use for Seasonal Affective Disorder, and found a good deal on Amazon.

I guess it wasn't meant to be, because although I tried several times, the order wouldn't go through. It kept getting stuck when I tried to choose free shipping.

I felt better by later in the day, keeping busy at work, and boy was I glad the order hadn't gone through! As I told DH last night--I can buy a lot of chocolate, take-out meals and movie tickets with the $179 I almost spent, and I KNOW they make me feel better. Smile

A yacht. An (expletive deleted) yacht!

August 14th, 2006 at 03:59 pm

Survived the wedding reception Sunday, but needed two beers and some raucous music to shake the tension after I got home. I am not good with large crowds for long periods of time, and we were there for 5 hours. Then there's the fact that I feel I have nothing in common with these people except a tiny percentage of shared DNA.

I am so tired of being the poor relation/good listener. My one cousin asked me what was new, and I had to reply same old, same old. I made the mistake, perhaps, of asking what was new with him. First item was, he'd spent the previous day on a friend's yacht, watching a regatta. A yacht!
Also, he and his wife just came back from the west coast, and will soon be going to Florida and Europe where they will be buying this and that... etc., etc., etc.

We don't have kids to keep us busy at these events, or to brag about. We haven't traveled in years. We haven't been elected to public office or appointed to boards, like several people there. Our life is going to work, coming home, trying to pay the bills, and increasingly, keeping tabs on my mother.

There just isn't anything we can say (or think to ourselves) that can counteract being made to feel so very small and unsuccessful. Seeing these relatives is as bad as going to a class reunion!

The bride and groom are a gorgeous couple, are very charming, and seem very happy right now despite their debt. I sure hope they can stay afloat. They are involved with buying this house when he works in retail and she isn't currently working at all.

Now that I'm thinking about it, maybe their overspending is partly the result of feeling just like I do amongst the rest of those braggy relatives!

Reluctant gift-giving

August 9th, 2006 at 04:36 pm

This is what's so great about blogging. I started to write an entry about something simple and suddenly realized something deeper was going on. If I hadn't been writing about it, the insight wouldn't have happened.

This weekend I need to attend a wedding reception for a distant relative I hardly know. I probably wouldn't have gone, but I need to drive my mother. Since I'll be there, eating their food, I really need to give a gift. I figure on writing a check for $25.

The thing is, besides hardly knowing the guy, I have heard a lot about his financial blunders. He owes his father in the 5-figures, which his father has given up on getting back at this point. He still has student loans. And now he and his new bride are buying a built-to-order house in a new development. I have to say I'm a little miffed at giving him money when they'll probably end up blowing it. And when we could use the $25 ourselves. (Not to mention the $20 in gas for getting there and back.)

Also, recently at DH's job, a tenant came into the office and mentioned he was having trouble affording food. The ladies in the office knew DH visited with the guy pretty often, and wondered if he'd said anything to DH. DH's answer was no, in fact the guy often mentioned good deals he got at Aldi's. (The office ladies said "Aldi's is where the poor people go," and DH told them his wife shops there. Smile ) Also DH pointed out that the guy drives a 2005 car. (DH's is 1992.)

They started to talk about having some kind of a fund-raising drive for this tenant, and DH said no, he would not contribute. And I can't say I blame him!

I suddenly realized this morning that my point of view has turned around radically from last fall. See this entry:

stressless.savingadvice.com/2005/10/11/heartwarming-experien...

Last year I thought I knew that poorer people were more generous percentage-wise because they better understood need. This year I understand why people with more money might be reluctant to give.

This past year I've come to terms with what we can and can't afford. I'm very aware of what I'm giving up to reach our financial goals. When you can see that someone else isn't willing to do those things, you wonder why you should give them your hard-earned and hard-saved money when they are just going to keep living the same way.

Haven't become a Republican yet, though. Wink

Keepin' cool the low-class way

July 30th, 2006 at 06:18 pm

I've finally convinced DH to take our mattress down to the living room for the week. We're going into another heatwave, with no chance for thunderstorms to break it until at least Thursday. They are saying this is 10 degrees higher than our normal temps for this time of year.

We have central a/c which hardly gets upstairs at all, so we have a window a/c in the bedroom. Most of the time it works out fine, but in this kind of heat it just can't keep up.

I'm not on top of our kilowatt hours like Ima is, but I'm sure it costs plenty to run on days like this. Why waste the money and energy if it's a lost cause anyway?

I just hope nobody decides to drop in on us while we're camped out downstairs! (Next sofa we get has got to be a sofa-bed.)

Strange motivation for finishing taxes--but at least they're done!

July 27th, 2006 at 05:50 pm

I did work on our taxes back in the spring, along with my mother's. In fact, ours were virtually done. But I was so bleary-eyed and confused by April 15 that I just didn't trust what I'd done. So I got extensions for both my mother and us.

All this time, my sewing machine cabinet has been closed up and the tax stuff has been piled on top. But last night I discovered an open seam that's too long to fix by hand, and I want to use the machine.

So today I filed all three of our things electronically--federal, state, and the state property tax rebate.

Funny how $100 in tax refunds wasn't motivating enough for me to do it, but getting to the sewing machine was!

(I got my mother's federal one done last week. This week we took a birthday break; she was 89. Next week hopefully NJ will get finished.)

A little victory--treated self at home

July 26th, 2006 at 01:47 pm

Long story short, I wasted two hours this morning with Verizon, between their telephone menu hell, and rushing over to my mother's house to meet a repairman that I later found out wouldn't be coming at all.

On the way home, having had no breakfast yet, I found myself with a severe case of the "I deserve its". My automatic response to the aggravation was to think of treating myself to breakfast at Wawa, McDonalds or Dunkin Donuts.

But I recognized it for what it was--a trap I often fall into that makes me spend unnecessary money. I remembered I had a bagel in the freezer, plenty of cream cheese, and numerous packets of special flavored coffees I could brew at home.

Spending averted. Smile

Thinking about life after debt

July 15th, 2006 at 07:43 pm

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel as far as credit card debt. Right now I'm on schedule to have it paid off by the end of the year.

For a long while, I'd been thinking that once it was paid off, things would ease up and we'd be able to spend more on discretionary stuff. It seemed like there was no point in actually budgeting for things like household goods, clothes and recreation until things weren't as tight.

Then I realized that when I was finished with the $250 a month on debt, we'd have to start saving that amount toward getting a newer car in 2008. After we get the car, we ought to put that $250 a month on the mortgage so the balance is lower when it readjusts in 2010. (We'll either have less to refinance, or the adjusted payment won't be as bad as it would have been.) After that, we'll need to save that same $250 toward replacing the other car in about 2013.

In other words, that $250 a month is spoken for, for years to come, and can't really be spent on anything else.

So I really need to figure out how we can manage more of the fun, extra stuff on the money we have NOW. Because it's not going to change that much after the cc debt ends. (Hence, why I was googling around about clothing budgets.)






Yikes! At least I don't spend this much!

July 14th, 2006 at 12:35 pm

I was googling around, looking up clothing budget suggestions to try and figure out what is reasonable for us. I came across this thread in the forum at Lucky magazine, which admittedly is all about shopping.

boards.luckymag.com/message.jspa?messageID=46206

The amounts discussed are astounding, even to me. Only one person admitted to spending less than $500 a year. One person mentioned $7000! One entry, in particular, blew me away.

"Being a grad student, I think that I have been spending probably $1200-$1500 a year. The reasons for this are due to my budget, lack of closet space, and also because I don't need very many things - I can dress casually most days. However, I anticipate that once I complete my degree and enter the working world, my budget will go up more in the first year because I will be buying better quality clothing for work, plus I'll have the salary to match (hopefully closet size will increase too)."

When I was a grad student, I was working 3 part-time jobs, borrowing money left and right just to survive, and living in a pretty disgusting apartment, complete with raccoons living in the wall! Who ARE these people?

The mailman bringeth, and the mailman taketh away

July 13th, 2006 at 04:27 pm

The $50 Mercury Milan gift card came today, as well as some free shampoo samples from Dove and my free Giant magazine.

However, the property tax bill also came, and it's now $76 more a quarter. There was a note with the bill saying that the new mayor is trying to balance the township budget, which currently is in the red by $4 million.

There is enough in our Property Tax ING account, and it only comes to $25 a month. But still, it makes me nervous.

I just readjusted the amount going into that ING account every week, and thought I'd allowed a generous amount. Now it looks like it will just barely cover the taxes and insurance over the next year.

I wonder how much better fixed I need to be before stuff like this stops throwing me for a loop.

Consistently inconsistent (notes on several books)

July 9th, 2006 at 11:54 am

I just read Not Buying It, and enjoyed it. The author has a lively writing style, and I had to laugh out loud several times. The Take Back Your Time expert who was too busy to meet with her was priceless.

However, the inconsistencies in her plan jumped out at me from the beginning.

Fresh frozen coconut milk and $55 haircuts were apparent necessities and ok to buy. However, $1 "green rolls" they liked from a street vendor were a luxury they cut out--even though they didn't cost much, and the vendor could probably use the business. Commercially baked bread was ok, but crackers were out. Free entertainment was ok, and giving money to charity was ok. But paying money for a concert, when the concert benefited a nonprofit group, was not ok.

It would really have bugged me if I hadn't just read two other books.

In Rumspringa, I learned that it's ok for the Amish to power a washing machine with a gas engine, but not a tractor. It's ok for teenagers to run around and experiment with sex, drugs and rock and roll, getting pregnant at 16, but heaven forbid they want to attend school beyond 8th grade and play competitive sports. One family might be shunned for doing something that was perfectly ok for the family next door, because they live in different districts under different bishops.

In Treasure Hunt, I read about how middle-range products are dying out because people are buying mostly bottom and top end products. And not necessarily because the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Many people are apparently scrimping on things at the dollar store so they can afford designer purses and such.

Then there's my little research project on the NJ sales tax. Astringent is not taxable but moisturizer is. Apparently taking care of oily skin is a necessity, but taking care of dry skin is a luxury.

I guess my conclusion is that being inconsistent is just human nature. I'll try to remember that when I'm feeling critical of other people's decisions (and my own).


The Tea Solution

July 6th, 2006 at 05:02 pm

Thanks for all the comments from those who shared my disbelief over the teakettle that couldn't boil water. It definitely was a kettle, not a teapot--there was a whistle, and everything. This is the dumb thing, here:

www.target.com/gp/detail.html/sr=1-4/qid=1152204615/ref=sr_1...

I notice they haven't posted my bad review yet. Wink I did manage to get my money back without having the box, although I had to dig in my heels a bit.

Kudos to the Lipton tea people, though. They do still make the unsweetened tea! I was googling around and came across their online store. If I couldn't find it locally, I could order it online direct from them.

But even better, they had a "store finder" feature that's better than any I've seen. You can actually search for a store that carries the specific product you are looking for, instead of getting a list of stores who happen to carry the brand.

I found out only one grocery chain in my area carries this specific stuff, Acme. I never go there, hence I never see the product. So I made a special trip today and am drinking some as I type. Smile It's funny how little comforts like this can make your day, even when more important stuff is going on.

Whew, I can stop teakettle shopping, too!

Grrr... Product Rant

July 5th, 2006 at 04:37 pm

I didn't really want to buy a tea kettle in the first place, but...

I used to be able to get powdered instant tea by Nestea or Lipton, in a glass jar, with no sweetener or lemon flavor. Just plain, dehydrated tea. You even had a choice of regular or decaf. Now all I can find is sweetened, whether with sugar or artificial sweetener.

OK, so I'll make my own iced tea. But I got tired of spilling water or tea every time I tried to pour it from a regular pan. So when I was at Target, I picked up a tea kettle for $9.99. I didn't really want to spend the money, and I don't really have the storage space for it, but it seems like a necessity at this point.

So I go to wash it out and use it, and find the use and care instructions. In large, bold letters it says you can't use it on high heat!!! On either a gas or electric stove!!! How the heck do you get the water to the boiling point on medium heat? I gave up after half an hour.

I've written a one star review on Target's website, and I'm seriously thinking of writing a letter to Copco. I used to think that was a decent brand, and most of Target's stuff is decent quality. This was a total let-down; a completely useless product. I just hope Target will take it back, being I already discarded the box.

At this point, I still don't have an easy way to make myself some plain iced tea. Grrr.


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